Friday, January 29, 2010

Nintendo Announces The Last Story

Well, Mistwalker promised their new big RPG would finally be announced this year, and here it is, much sooner than I anticipated.

The revolutionary action-RPG that Sakaguchi has been talking about on his blog consistently for the last year or so has finally been revealed to be a project for Nintendo. Titled The Last Story, the game is currently planned for an unspecific release on the Wii sometime this year in Japan.

Like Xenoblade, The Last Story has no real media or details worth speaking of at the moment, other than a teaser site up on the official Nintendo site. And, like Xenoblade, the game's site features little beyond a logo and some background music - though both are admittedly very nice.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this announcement. On one hand, I couldn't be more pleased to see that the game is a console title instead of a handheld one. On the other, I bought my 360 partially to play Mistwalker's first two games, and still prefer to play my 360. I also don't particularly love motion controls (which every Wii game has the possibility of possessing). Further, I am actually quite surprised to see Nintendo funding a Mistwalker game after the dreadfully disappointing sales of Archaic Sealed Heat.

But, hey, I'm still excited to see what it's all about, and I'm quite impressed with Nintendo of Japan's efforts to put more RPGs on their console.

As a bit of bad news, however, Nintendo's most recent finacial report only lists The Last Story for Japanese release, and is completely absent on North America and Europe's release forecast. That doesn't necessarily mean anything, but it would have been more reassuring to know The Last Story won't meet the same Japan-only fate that ASH met.

Thoughts?

[The Last Story Official Japanese Site]

Nintendo Announces Xenoblade

Since last year's E3, Nintendo has been surprisingly impressive in their resolve to promoting RPGs on their systems. One RPG that was teased at E3 09 but then fell mysteriously silent was Monolithsoft's Wii RPG, Monado: Beginning of the World.

Though all that was released was a single teaser trailer and a name, many eagerly anticipating the next thing from the studio that created Xenosaga and Soma Bringer were understandably excited.

Since then, it seems that the game has undergone a name change, and has been officially announced as Xenoblade, and according to Nintendo's most recent financial report, will be released this Spring in Japan, with a slightly more vague 2010 release planned for North America.

Currently, the only official media we have since the name change is Nintendo of Japan's official site for the game, which shows off the game's logo while a loop (presumably from the game) plays in the background, and a promise that the official site will launch "soon."

Sweet.

[Xenoblade Official Japanese Site]

"Really Naughty Limited Edition" Planned for Record of Agarest War

So, I don't remember if I've truly covered Aksys' decision to bring Compile Heart's 'Soul Breed' SRPG, Agarest Senki to North America.

For those who don't remember this slightly obscure title, the game is basically a classic Japanese SRPG, complete with gridded fields, turn-based strategizing, and anime-style still art taking the place of cutscenes. Really, nothing specular there. Where the game sets itself apart is in the 'Soul Breed' system, which allows the player to choose a wife to bear his posterity for several generations. Which girl the player chooses to (ahem) procreate with will determine certain traits of his successor.

Along with this admittedly 'mature' subject matter comes the obvious fanservice - arguably the game's true selling point.

The original title was released in Japan in 2007 on PlayStation 3, then ported to the Xbox 360 in 2008 as Agarest Senki: Reappearance, and contained different and bonus content.

Aksys games has been known for some time now as the North American publisher for the title, but it was pushed back several times to allow for the 360 version to launch simultaneously here. With that, Aksys has claimed that the PS3 and 360 versions are now identical for the NA release, though it is still unclear whether that means the extra content was added to the PS3 version, or stripped out of the 360 version.

Though Aksys claims that this prevents rampant fanboyism over the title, they have chosen to release the PS3 version exclusively through PSN, while the 360 version will receive a classic hard copy, destroying any fanboy peace they may have been striving for.

To further the gap, Aksys has recently revealed a limited print edition (yes, only for the 360 version) that will include a soundtrack disc, a mousepad with boobs wrist rest, and a saucy pillowcase (pillow not included) for, er, more private encounters (I guess?), all wrapped up in a fancy collector's art box.

If you have the choice, I would imagine most gamers will prefer the hard copy, but maybe that's just me. I admit that the special edition sounds like the best deal (and a lot of swag) for $59.99, but I would never get it past my wife. Regular box edition will have to do for me. :P

Record of Agarest War will be available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (via PSN) on April 27, 2010. It is already available in Japan.

[Kotaku]

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Capcom Announces Monster Hunter Frontier 360 Port


Last week Microsoft put up a teaser splash on their official Xbox Japan website which read "Capcom x Microsoft 2010.01.26" and promised a new game announcement. Many Japanese gamers assumed it was the announcement of the Xbox 360 exclusive DLC for GTA4, so I made no effort to report it last week.


However, the mini-event held in connection with this teaser announced many things, the biggest of which is the revelation that Capcom will be porting its highly-popular-in-Japan action-MMO, Monster Hunter Frontier, to the Xbox 360 this summer.

Aside from being run on different servers, it is currently unclear if there will be any major changes from the PC version, and will reportedly have a pay-to-play monthly fee similar to the PC version as well, though the details are still a bit fuzzy.

Though I have no real interest in this series (or MMOs in general), this is undeniably a huge boost for the 360's image in Japan.

Monster Hunter Frontier will be available for Xbox 360 sometime this Summer in Japan. There is currently no word on a possible North American or European release.

[Monster Hunter Frontier Official Site]

Darksiders 360 Patch Tomorrow

Despite being highly derivative - especially of Nintendo's famous Legend of Zelda series - THQ and Vigil's Xbox 360 and PS3 action-adventure-RPG, Darksiders, is quite good. ...Except for some very obvious tearing issues on the 360 version, which were highly headache-inducing for me during long play sessions.

However, Vigil has claimed that this problem is an "easy fix," and had promised a patch soon.

Despite my skepticism that an "easy fix" should have been in the game when it shipped, Vigil has announced that the patch is complete and will be available for all internet-enabled 360 users Wednesday, January 27, 2010 (tomorrow).

It's a little too late for me, as I'm already finished the game, but for anyone who held off until these glitches were fixed should now have no trouble.

[Darksiders Official Blog]

Old News: New Legend of Zelda Coming This Year

Nintendo may not be known as an RPG publishing powerhouse, but the RPGs they do have under their belt tend to be quite good. Above even those, the Legend of Zelda action-adventure-RPG series is known and loved by gamers who can't even spell RPG. It should be no surprise, then, that many have been waiting intently for the next main console entry of the series since Twilight Princess back in 2006.

In an interview with Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has been quoted as saying the long anticipated newest entry in the Legend of Zelda series is nearing completion, and is planned for an end of the year release.

With 2010 already off to a very encouraging start, seeing a brand new console Zelda title would definitely be a nice addition to the year.

However, before your hopes get too high, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime has warned fans on the Nintendo Week monthly report that the new title will be released "when it's perfect." In other words, if it's not perfect in 2010, we will still be waiting until it is.

I'll cross my fingers for early perfection if you will.

[Asahi Shimbun]
[Nintendo Week (YouTube)]

Monday, January 25, 2010

RPGs of the Week: Massively Effective Edition

This has to be some kind of RPG record. Here we are, the last week of January - traditionally one of the slowest, if not the slowest month for RPG releases - and we've had at least one RPG per week. This trend is highly encouraging, and one that I hope continues throughout 2010.

...Except now that I said that, it might jinx it. Crap.

Anyways, check out what RPGs are hitting shelves near you this week (January 25 - 30, 2010):

North America
Mass Effect 2 – BioWare, EA – Xbox 360, PC

Japan
Ar Tonelico III: Sekai Shuuen no Hikigane wa Shoujo no Uta ga Hiku – Gust, Namco Bandai – PlayStation 3
Dragon Quest VI: Maboroshi no Daichi – ArtePiazza, Square Enix – Nintendo DS
End of Eternity – tri-Ace, Sega – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Last Rebellion – Hit Maker, Nippon Ichi – PlayStation 3
Tales of Destiny 2 (The Best) – Namco Bandai – PSP
Tales of Rebirth (The Best) – Namco Bandai – PSP

Europe
Mass Effect 2 – BioWare, EA – Xbox 360, PC

Japan has a huge flood of RPGs this week, with three at once for the PS3. We're just breaking records all over the place this week. Namdai and Gust's latest in the Ar Tonelico series, along with Nippon Ichi's first all 3D PS3 title, Last Rebellion, and tri-Ace's first true multiplatform title ever, End of Eternity. The choice is much easier on 360 with just End of Eternity. Meanwhile, the last of Square Enix's Dragon Quest DS remakes, Dragon Quest VI is out this week. Plus two budget reprints of Tales of ports for the PSP, and you have yourself a whole lot of choice in Japan this week.

North America and Europe have decidedly less to choose from, but the only choice is thankfully a good one with BioWare's latest sci-fi epic, Mass Effect 2.

Anything looking worth your cash this week?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Atlus Announces Persona 3 Portable for North America

Just in case you haven't played Persona 3 enough yet, Atlus has revealed that they will be bringing their PSP port of the rather successful little (actually quite large) RPG to North America.

For the uninitiated (and just what is wrong with you if you haven't played Persona 3 yet?!), Persona 3 follows a group of Japanese high school students who awake to the reality of a "hidden hour" everyday in which demons roam our world freely searching for humans to feed on. Using the mysterious power known as 'persona,' these teenagers seek to unravel the secrets of the 'Dark Hour' while balancing their school and social lives.

The PSP port contains various additional features to the original game, the most significant of which is the ability to play as a female protagonist in order to build different social links and romances.

She has a pretty cool character design, but I don't know how interested I am in hitting on dudes. Just a personal preference.

Persona 3 Portable will be available in North America for PSP via traditional UMD or downloadable via PSN on July 6, 2010. It is already available in Japan.

As much as I love Persona 3, I just can't see myself going out of my way to pick this up again. I bought Persona 3 FES, and honestly never touched it. But if you like to game on the go and missed out on this the first two times, might as well go for this one.

[Persona 3 Portable Official Site]

Old News: Vanillaware Teases... Something (NSFW?)

...And I mean teases in the naughty sense of the word.

A week or so ago, the splash image below was uploaded to small Japanese developer Vanillaware's main webpage (possibly NSFW).

The image depicts 3 strategically censored naked blonde women lying together on the ground. The artwork is unmistakenly George Kamitani's work - the president and lead artist at Vanillaware - and is accompanied by the following cryptic message:

Three Graces 2010 Vanillaware George Kamitani

The image is now gone, but not before the internet has had plenty of time to let loose on the speculation wagon.

Certainly it is conceivable that the art could be a teaser for the stuido's newest game. 'Three Graces' could refer to the hypothetical game's title, its protagonists, its theme, or something else entirely. '2010' could hint at the reveal year, or even the release year. 'Vanillaware' and 'George Kamitani' are fairly self-explanatory, I would imagine.

Another theory is that the image may simply be a New Year's greeting. It is a very common practice in Japan to send New Year's greetings, and many Japanese graphic artists do a new piece specifically for that purpose. This doesn't explain the 'Three Graces' title, however, unless we're missing some inside information. (2010 is the Year of the Tiger in Japan, which has nothing to do with 'Three Graces' or with the artwork.)

Either way, it will be interesting to see what Vanillaware has up their sleeve next, and a new title this year would certainly be welcome news.

[Vanillaware]

Old News: EA Announces Dragon Age: Origins - Awakenings

It's no secret that I enjoyed BioWare's latest WRPG, Dragon Age: Origins. Easily my second favourite RPG of 2009. I've been playing it more or less consistently, and I think I'm finally getting close to wrapping up the main story.

Tiny, overpriced morsels of DLC aside, I couldn't help but wonder when I would get a chance to experience more of Dragon Age's world. Well, EA and BioWare have recently revealed that the wait won't be as long as I might have thought.

Coming this March, EA will be releasing Dragon Age: Origin's first 'official expansion,' Awakening.

Awakening reportedly takes place after the events of Origins, and puts the player in the position of the new Commander of the Grey Wardens. Players can choose to keep their original character, or start fresh with a new character from Orlais with a new origin.

Unlike the DLC packets which typically unlock a small amount of additional content, Awakening will introduce full story complete with five new recruitable characters (plus apparently one 'favourite' from the main game).

Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening will reportedly be available on March 16, 2010 in either digital or retail versions, and will set you back $39.99 regardless of your platform choice.

I don't usually buy add-ons to games, but this sounds actually pretty tempting.

[Official Dragon Age: Origins Website]

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

RPGs of the Week: Heraclean Edition

A little late, but let's just jump right into what new RPGs are hitting shelves this week (January 18 - 23, 2010):

North America
Glory of Heracles – Paon, Nintendo – Nintendo DS
Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgement – Konami – XBLA, PSN

Japan
Moe-Moe 2-Ji Taisen Ryoku Deluxe (SystemSoft Selection) – SystemSoft Alpha – PlayStation 2
Senjou no Valkyria 2: Gallia Ouritsu Shikan Gakkou – Sega – PSP
Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgement – Konami – XBLA, PSN

Europe
none

The nearly secret release of Nintendo's Glory of Heracles marks the first iteration of the series (yes, it is a series) outside of Japan, while Konami's unsettlingly awkward resurrection of the Vandal Hearts series, Flames of Judgement hits XBLA (and I think PSN, though I'm not 100% on that).

Meanwhile, Japan gets a reprint of an SRPG I doubt you would ever be interested in playing, as well as the sadly pitiful PSP sequel to Valkyria Chronicles. (Sigh), and I thought Sega would finally be able to do something right with their RPG franchises for a change.

Europe, unfortunately, is left out again this week. Sorry. :(

Anything worth picking up for you this week?

Rumour: Final Fantasy XIII Collector's Edition Leaked?

Square Enix's upcoming PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 RPG Final Fantasy XIII is apparently a big deal, and big deals tend to get Collector's Editions. According to GameStop Italy, FFXIII will indeed be getting the Collector's Edition treatment.

According to the listing on the site, the bundle in question will reportedly contain a soundtrack, art book, prequel story, comic book, and collection of art cards. Oh, and the game. Obviously.

The Collector's Edition will reportedly run for €80 (~$110). Pricey. But, I guess that is a lot of stuff.

Since this is the only reported listing at the moment, we're going to have to take this one with a grain of salt and a good old RUMOUR tag, but the FF Fanboy in you wants to believe it's true, right? ;)

[Kotaku]
[GameStop Italy]

Old News: feelplus Working on a Large Scale RPG for Microsoft

If you've been following JRPGs closely this generation - or been at least paying some attention during credit sequences after a few RPGs - you'll likely be aware of the development studio feelplus. Though they are most readily acknowledged for their development of Mistwalker and Microsoft's (opinion) best (/opinion) JRPG, Lost Odyssey, they have also had a hand in the development of Infinite Undiscovery and Star Ocean 4, and are the leading developers behind the upcoming Ninety-Nine Nights II.

With N3II making its debut in both Japan and North America this Spring, feelplus is up to something new. And, according to a recruitment ad on DODA (a Monster.com-esque site in Japan), that "something new" is a 'large scale RPG for Microsoft.'

Though no further details have been provided, many have begun to speculate on the inevitable sequel to Lost Odyssey.

If the large-scale RPG is indeed Lost Odyssey II, it would reason that Mistwalker would be involved in some way. But with Mistwalker's other "next big thing" planned for this year - not to mention N3II releasing this year - my educated guessing powers deduce that we shouldn't start salivating for this new title until next year.

Plus, forcing Lost Odyssey II to compete with Final Fantasy XIII just doesn't seem like a wonderful idea. Just my opinion.

Either way, I'm extremely interested in seeing what Microsoft's Japanese studios have up their sleeves sooner than later, so this is very welcome news.

[DODA]

Old News: Mistwalker's Next Big Thing in 2010, also iPhone

If you are anything like me, you've been waiting on your hands for the next big thing from Mistwalker since 2007's highly awesome Lost Odyssey. Sure, there have been some decent DS games from them, but nothing that has sufficiently satiated my need for more epic awesomeness.

Followers of Sakaguchi's blog will know that the studio is indeed in the thick of a new, large scale "blockbuster" project, and that they had planned to unveil it last year. Obviously that didn't happen, but Sakaguchi has declared in his blog that 2010 is the year of his new blockbuster.

From previous blogposts, we know the game is an action-RPG, and will combine high quality visuals and integrated FMV, likely pointing to a console release. We still haven't been told who is doing the development (programming, etc.), who their publisher is, or even what platform it will be on yet.

Previous evidence suggests that Microsoft, AQ Interactive, or even Namco Bandai are possible publishers, and if the title is indeed a console game, Xbox 360 is my first guess, but this generation has taught me that anything is possible.

Since the game is confirmed to be an action-RPG, I have trouble believing it will be a Blue Dragon or Lost Odyssey sequel, but again, I suppose anything is possible.

Speculation aside, I suppose we can do nothing but wait and hope at the moment, but the sliver of hope that the game will make it out this year is reassuring if nothing else.

Incidently, Sakaguchi also said that he is working on an iPhone game, which is also scheduled for this year.

[Mistwalker]

Old News: Atlus Announces Hexyz Force for North America

Some readers may recall that Atlus acquired Knights in the Nightmare and Dokapon Kingdom developer Sting last year. Since Atlus has published most of the developer's titles in recent years, the acquisition was not entirely surprising.

The newly acquired studio's first joint game with Atlus was a turn-based RPG for the PSP released last year in Japan known as Hexyz Force. The PSP title is based in a world divided into two - Light and Darkness - each with its own main character, Cecilia and Reivant, respectively. The game promises different story and characters depending on which protagonist you choose to play as.

Atlus announced that it would be bringing the game to North American PSPs on May 25, 2010.

[Hexyz Force Official Site]

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Opinion Fest 2009: RPG of the Year

Well, it's taken a lot longer than I thought, but we are finally down to the last and most prestigious award: the best RPG of 2009.

If you have been following the previous awards, you have no doubt noticed that RPGs contain a lot of different elements. Story, gameplay, music, graphics, etc. While I like to recognize games that do any of these well – and preferably with some vision – the best RPG ultimately combines all of these elements into what I like to think of as the “complete package” in order to create an experience that is both fun and memorable. The best RPGs usually have a soul or a purpose to their existence beyond making money.

The following are what I felt did the best at delivering the best RPG in 2009.

Honorable Mention: Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story – Alphadream, Nintendo – Nintendo DS

Though perhaps too casual for many hardened RPG fanatics, Mario & Luigi 3 managed to combine not only gorgeous 2D visuals with brilliantly fun gameplay, but was able to remind me what I love about Mario games in general: a charming world with a simple yet fun game premise.

Honorable Mention: Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes – Capybara, Ubisoft – Nintendo DS

As with Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlock before it, Clash of Heroes proves that an RPG built on top of a single puzzle game can be not only fun to play, but down right captivating. Though its reliance on its puzzle system to do absolutely everything prevents it from cracking the top three, its testament to well-planned innovative design makes it hard not to recommend.

3rd: Star Ocean: The Last Hope – tri-Ace, Square Enix – Xbox 360



Though not quite as fresh as fan-favourite Star Ocean 2, The Last Hope manages to simultaneously tip its hat to the series' long-time fans while telling a brand new story. SO4 ends up being more story-heavy than any of its predecessors, but does so with an interesting plot that takes several interesting turns and provides plenty of food for thought. Though I feel that the Star Ocean series still has a lot of potential to explore, it is a decent last dance.

2nd: Dragon Age: Origins – BioWare, EA – PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3



Dragon Age has been in development for a long time (it was first announced at E3 2004). What exactly went on during those roughly 6 or more years is anyone's guess, but the sheer volume of story and history present in the stand alone game itself is evidence that BioWare has been incredibly dilligent in the creation of its latest epic.

Dragon Age: Origins follows the last of the Kingdom of Ferelden's Grey Wardens – an ancient organization created to destroy the Darkspawn – as they rush to build an army against the coming Blight. Its seemingly clichéd approach to Western RPG storytelling belies its deep and thoroughly captivating tale which not only allows for the player's choice of advancement, but also changes according to it.

Those who like their RPGs traditional and of the high fantasy variety would do themselves a disservice by passing this one up.

1st: Magna Carta II – Softmax, Namco Bandai – Xbox 360



Like Dragon Age, Magna Carta II has been in development for a long time. Announced for the 360 before it even launched, the title has been on the operating table for longer than most would care to think about. However, all the time appears to have been worth it, as Magna Carta II offers what I feel is the most complete RPG of 2009.

The beginning of the tale is a familiar one. A young man named Juto has been living a peaceful, if dull life, on a small island village, despite a severe case of amnesia. When a relic of an ancient war is discovered on the island, the resulting clash of warring forces steals from him his loved ones and his home.

Despite its worn-out opening, Magna Carta II develops into a tale that is involving as it is sincere. The story and characters are remarkably human for their subject matter, and adding in a deceptively deep battle system and high production values, the game is a true ghestalt – far more than the sum of its parts. Magna Carta II was easily the most fun I got out of an RPG in 2009, and is highly recommended to anyone with a love for the genre.



Well, that's it. Though 2009's RPGs were much more sparse than 2008, it had a few good titles that arguably stood out more this year due to less competition. Now a few weeks into 2010, the new decade looks bright with quality RPGs already upon us.

Again, sorry it took so long to get these all up. We will be back to regular updates on Monday.

Best wishes to everyone in the new year, and thanks for reading Sword Machine!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Opinion Fest 2009: Most Anticipated of 2010

Though all Opinion Fest awards are based on subjective thought, the Most Anticipated award is by far the most irrational. Besides screenshots and the occasional trailer, it is rarely possible to form a truly accurate opinion of a game without actually playing it. Being heavily drawn towards the genre from a very young age, it typically takes little to get me salivating over the next RPG, big or obscure.

Thus, the only criteria for this award are the absurdly subjective “how much I want to play it” level, and decent acknowledgement that the game will be released within the year. Ultimately, I would love to put things like “Mistwalker’s next big game” on the list, but regardless of developers’ hints, such statements tend to inhibit credibility. So anyway, check out what I want to play the most in 2010.

3rd: Arc Rise Fantasia – imageepoch, Ignition – Nintendo Wii

Though turn-based RPGs used to be the staple of the genre, they have become increasingly rare. And good turn-based RPGs are nearly extinct.

Arc Rise Fantasia is one such surviving turn-based title that looks to cater directly to fans of the traditional JRPG. Its bright look and emphasis on traditional JRPGaming has my interest piqued, despite its overly-lengthy delay here in North America.

2nd: Final Fantasy XIII – Square Enix – PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

If there is one JRPG series that anyone can recognize, it is Final Fantasy. In generations past, Final Fantasy was synonymous with quality RPGaming, and most other RPGs could only hope to hold a candle to it.

Times change, and though the Final Fantasy name is more recognizable than ever before, many longtime fans feel betrayed or disillusioned. Final Fantasy XIII, the latest official numbered installment is nearly upon us. Though the game is hoping to win back lost faith in the series, and has indeed revived my interest, I am not holding my breath.

1st: Tales of Graces – Namco Bandai – Nintendo Wii

After playing Tales of Vesperia, I had a hard time imagining I could ever care about a Tales of title in standard definition again. But then Tales of Graces appeared and has made me a believer. From Mutsumi Inomata’s character designs down to classic monsters and artes, Tales of Graces appears to be indeed be worthy of the latest main installment.

Though the game hasn’t received an official confirmation for North America at the time of writing, the existence of an English version of the main theme (which you can check out here) is a strong sign that its publications could be more than a groundless dream.

Opinion Fest 2009: Best Story

Though I have been playing video games since the NES era, it was not until I discovered that a precious few games under the then extremely obscure genre known as ‘RPG’ not only had interactive quests, but also had meaningful characters, human emotion, and complex and interesting plots. From the revelation that games could be about more than just “save the princess,” my interest in gaming became solidified, and my love of the RPG genre was set in stone.

With less time now than ever before, a game must prove its worth to me much more rigorously than when I was 12, and much of that relies on its story. In fact, if I have to force myself to stay interested in a game’s story, it’s likely the game won’t stay in my console for long.

Thus, the Best Story award is not one I give lightly, and is probably the second most prestigious award (next to RPG of the Year).

Honorable Mention: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor – Atlus – Nintendo DS

The Shin Megami Tensei series has built its name on doing things different, particularly in its narratives. Where most RPGs are anxious to tell you a story about knights and princesses and dragons, MegaTen would rather tell you about a kid on your block who becomes possessed with a demon through the internet and somehow survives the end of the world because of it. And Devil Survivor is no exception.

Following a group of high school students who receive possessed DSes (they aren’t called that in the game, but it’s fairly obvious) with days to live, they must figure out how to avert fate and possibly prevent the end of the world. For RPG fans who don’t mind reading more than playing, Devil Survivor is a well-told story.

3rd: Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled – Studio Archcraft, Graffiti – Nintendo DS

Despite its sickeningly high encounter rate, Black Sigil promised an epic tale, and an epic tale it told. With frequently engaging writing and a refreshingly original take on the classic RPG formula, Studio Archcraft has proved that even if it doesn’t know what gamers are looking for in terms of a game, they do understand what makes for an interesting plot.

Black Sigil’s story proves that solid, well-thought-out writing can make a game stand out even despite its otherwise deal-breaking flaws. Now if there were some way to get it in book form so I didn’t have to actually play it…

2nd: Magna Carta II – Softmax, Namco Bandai – Xbox 360

To anyone who only played an hour or so of Softmax and Namdai’s latest RPG, this award may seem like a mistake. Magna Carta II’s premise is, after all, just about as clichéd as you can get: a reluctant amnesic hero is thrown into the midst of a war when his hometown is destroyed and his loved ones are slaughtered. And at the beginning of the game, I would have agreed with you. Pretty presentation and interesting battle system aside, the game was shaping up to be another cliché-fest.

However, within a few hours, these thoughts had been replaced with something that is increasingly rare in mainstream RPGs: emotion. Indeed, the further I played, the more I became aware that each of Magna Carta II’s characters were complex creatures, each with strengths, desires, and anxieties. What appeared at first glance to be a derivative plot soon revealed itself to be not only astonishingly deep, but also genuinely interesting.

1st: Dragon Age: Origins – BioWare, EA – PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

If EA’s marketing of Dragon Age: Origins was to be believed, the game was going to be about blood, sex, and goth metal music. Thankfully, that PR team should be fired for so grossly misrepresenting a deep and obviously painstakingly developed narrative about tragedy, racism, religious tolerance, and perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

As the game’s seemingly endless codex will attest, the world of Dragon Age is so thoughtfully crafted in every respect imaginable, it’s easy to forget the game is fiction. From characters reluctant to share their own fears and motivations, to simple beggars on the streets, everything and everyone is meticulously scripted together into a living, breathing universe.

Though the game’s gameplay and graphics could stand some work (for console gamers), Dragon Age: Origins’ writing is clearly a labour of love, and any RPGamer looking for a good story need look no further than BioWare’s latest masterpiece.

Opinion Fest 2009: Best Soundtrack

Though – as I mentioned previously – games are mainly a visual medium, other elements make up the overall experience. One of those elements that plays a large role in a game’s subconscious identity is its music. Music has been in games for so long that most people pay it little conscious attention, though I’m willing to bet that most of you can still hum the Chrono Trigger theme.

The winners of this award were able to not only implement memorable or ear-pleasing tunes, but were able to do so in a way that compliments the presentation and adds personality.

3rd: Ar Tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica – Gust Sound Team – PlayStation 2

Haunting and dissonant at the same time, the composers that make up the Gust Sound Team – Akira Tsuchiya, Ken Nakagawa, and Daisuke Achiwa – have again created a soundtrack that carries the sub-standard visuals that Gust is known for into fantastic and memorable worlds. The returned involvement of Haruka Shimotsuki, Takashige Inagaki, and (of course) Akiko Shikata help set the music in the Ar Tonelico series in their own field.

Though the soundtrack isn’t as memorable, as original, or as pleasant as its predecessor, Ar Tonelico II’s OST is worth listening to, and is one of the high points of an otherwise disappointing follow-up.

2nd: Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled – Jan Morgenstern – Nintendo DS

Jan Morgenstern’s work is well-respected in many underground communities and projects, and is recognized even by mainstream outlets. It should come as no surprise, then, that his score for the unfortunately squandered opportunity known as Black Sigil, is similarly praiseworthy.

At once both fresh and nostalgic, the combination of epic scale and retro sensibilities gives much of the game an air of believability; if you didn’t know better, you might think this was once a great SNES game. Since this was the goal of the developers, its soundtrack, at least, got it right. It’s too bad that there is not outlet to buy or download the soundtrack directly at the time of writing, but I will keep my fingers crossed, as it is well worth listening to.

1st: Magna Carta II – Jang Sung-Woon – Xbox 360

At times charming. At others, evocative. Occasionally chilling. Often gorgeous. Jang Sung-Woon – though a name in music composition I am not familiar with – has done some wonderful things with Magna Carta II’s soundtrack, and the effort is recognized and appreciated.

Though, as I noted earlier, Magna Carta II’s visuals are stunning, the music really helps to solidify them in the player’s mind and give them a sense of character that carries them beyond the ending credits. I can still remember the first time I set foot into Navyblue Marsh, or the blood-stained rocks of Dunan Hill. Such is the signature of a great soundtrack: musically worthy of solo listening, but so complimentary to the game that the listener can’t help but see and feel the world from the game all over again.

Monday, January 11, 2010

RPGs of the Week: More Sand, Less World Edition

Welcome to a new week of RPG stuff.

Sorry Opinion Fest is taking so much time. Sometimes describing why I think a game deserves the award it gets is a lot tougher that I would imagine. I guess I could just say, "this is good" or something, but that just doesn't seem to do it justice.

Regardless, I hope to be finished with it and back to regular updates soon.

In the meantime, here's what new RPGs are going on sale this week (January 11 - 15, 2010):

North America
Sands of Destruction - imageepoch, Sega - Nintendo DS

Japan
Bleach: Soul Carnival (The Best) - SCEI - PSP

Europe
none

Nothing much to speak of this week. North America finally gets the year-and-a-half old World Destruction under the much more pedestrian name of Sands of Destruction, while Japan gets a budget reprint of Bleach for the PSP.

Between Darksiders and finishing up my 2009 backlog, though, I suppose it's nice to have a break.

Anything looking good to you this week?

Opinion Fest 2009: Best Graphics

Though gameplay and story are what every game needs, gaming is a visual medium. Indeed, many games are (often unfortunately) held up to scrutiny based on their graphics first, and the actual core of the game as an afterthought.

Though many "mainstream" gaming publications like to talk about technical things like framerate, lighting, anti-aliasing, and bump mapping, graphics - in my mind, at least - are most important in their creation of a game's look and feel. Any readers familiar with my observations of games will know that I will take a beautifully styled title over one with "realistic textures" or "cutting-edge bloom lighting" any day of the week. With that in mind, check out what I thought the most graphically impressive RPGs were in 2009.

Honorable Mention: Borderlands – Gearbox, 2K – PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

With the myriad of brown and grey post-apocalyptic shooters on the market right now, Borderlands needed a facelift - something to make itself stand out. When it resurfaced last year with a new cell-shaded look, it was the talk of the town, and for good reason. With a colourful, more imaginative feel about it, Gearbox was able to give Borderlands the identity boost it needed, and its success speaks for itself. That said, the game could really use some variety in its locales. Beautifully painted or no, a wasteland still looks like a wasteland.

3rd: Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story – Alphadream, Nintendo – Nintendo DS

Generally speaking, DS graphics are awful. Blocky models with low-res textures over ugly environments are, unfortunately, the rule on the system. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, however, is not a subscriber to that rule.

With detailed and colourful sprites, complimented by imaginative and lively environments, not to mention fluid and fun animations, Mario & Luigi 3 really exemplifies what can be achieved on the DS hardware. 2D graphics are not dead, and, as this award proves, can compete with even high-def console offerings, given the right care to detail and commitment to quality. If only games like this were the standard for DS rather than the exception.

2nd: Magna Carta II – Softmax, Namco Bandai – Xbox 360

Like Tears of Blood before it, Magna Carta II’s developers have proven that they have an eye for beauty and detail. From the stitches and embroidery on the townspeople’s clothing to rolling hills, mystic swamps, and cursed mountains of the continent of Lanzheim, Magna Carta II is teeming with variety and life.

Though occasionally awkward character animations keep this title from the gold, the visuals here are as beautiful as they are artistic. Magna Carta II is one of the most gorgeous looking RPGs of 2009.

1st: Muramasa: The Demon Blade – Vanillaware, Ignition – Nintendo Wii

I have always been a firm believer that any game with enough style – and enough courage to stand behind that style – could stand out above even games employing the most powerful / most expensive technology on the market. Vanillaware’s Muramasa: The Demon Blade is a testament to that. Using “obsolete” 2D graphics, and running in inferior standard definition, Muramasa exudes art and beauty out of every pixel.

As is to be expected from the creator of Odin Sphere and GrimGrimoire, Muramasa looks and moves like an interactive painting. Gorgeous sprites beautifully animated on top of a variety of picturesque locales not only prove that 2D still is a force to be reckoned with, but can outshine even the biggest budget titles. Muramasa: The Demon Blade is by far the most aesthetically pleasing game of 2009. (Now if we could just get it in HD…)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Opinion Fest 2009: Most Innovative

Many critics of the RPG genre like to complain that the RPG formula (especially the JRPG formula) has become stale and outdated. Though this criticism may hold true for some games, it is my experience that many developers are constantly trying to refine and innovate within the genre. The Most Innovative award seeks to recognize those games that rocked the boat the most this year. Even if the games themselves aren't as highly venerated as other, more pedestrian titles, these games will build stepping stones for more creative content in titles to come.

Honorable Mention: Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story – Alphadream, Nintendo – Nintendo DS

Mario & Luigi 3 takes ideas from its predecessor and expands on them to create a truly enjoyable little title that utilizes the DS in almost every capacity. From blowing fire with the mic, tapping the touchscreen to execute special attacks, and timing different button presses to knock things back and forth, Bowser’s Inside Story is a title that proves that Nintendo is still finding new things for the DS to do, even in a relatively stiff genre, like RPGs.

3rd: Half-Minute Hero – Opus, XSEED – PSP

The demon lord is planning to destroy the world, the princess has been kidnapped, and the fate of humanity rests on your shoulders alone. Sure, the plot of Half-Minute Hero sounds like about as cookie-cutter as you can get; why does it deserve an award for Most Innovative?

Well, take that basic concept, and then squeeze it – and just about every other classic JRPG cliché you can think of – into 30 seconds, and you suddenly have something so different, no one else has ever done it! Not to mention that saving the world in 30 seconds gives gamers with less time on their hands something interesting to do on a quick break. ;)

2nd: Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes – Capybara, Ubisoft – Nintendo DS

The Kingdoms of the world are on the brink of war as an army of demons threatens the world with destruction. With all the legendary heroes slain in a surprise attack, the next generation of the champions of justice have only one choice: match up three 16-bit sprites of the same colour so they can charge up a few turns and hopefully get to the top of their opponent’s puzzle screen. Obviously.

Clash of Heroes combines linear RPG storytelling with unit-based puzzle combat that extends beyond Puzzle Quest’s “match up coloured gems” for something that feels incredibly fresh, and manages to stay interesting both in and out of battle.

1st: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers – Square Enix – Nintendo Wii

By now, waggle controls are old news. Most core gamers are tired of and maybe even a little vexed by the term “motion controls,” mainly due to the seemingly constant stream of waggle-based mini-game compilations.

But what if there was an RPG with high production values, a legitimate storyline, and motion controls that were actually made for the title, and not just tacked on? That is what Square Enix set out to do with The Crystal Bearers, and while it not be as epic as the upcoming FFXIII, its clever and meaningful utilization of the Wiimote to do everything from butt-battling to throwing huge boulders at monsters stands as a testament to legitimate motion-controlled RPGaming.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Opinion Fest 2009: Best RPG Console

As any fanboy could tell you (even if you didn’t ask), not all gaming platforms are created equal. With different media formats, different storage methods, different processing methods, and different feature sets, no two consoles are the same. However, what really separates consoles from each other in most gamers’ minds is just one thing, that rarely has anything to do with the console itself: the games.

This award goes to the platforms that had the most and best RPGs released in 2009.

3rd: Nintendo Wii

Though the Wii has received the stigma of a console for little kids and senior citizens, its respectable lineup of RPGs this year has proven that it is far from irrelevant for gamers. From sleeper hits like Rune Factory Frontier, to mainstream attention grabbers like Crystal Bearers, the Wii has done a lot to keep up with the best of them. Still, the abnormally long wait between Japanese and Western releases, and the delay of several titles we really should have seen this year (Fragile? Arc Rise Fantasia?) kept the console from moving higher on the list.

2nd: Nintendo DS

Still the undisputed king of RPG exclusives, the DS seems not to be aware of any economic slowdown that other consoles have been feeling in 2009. With titles ranging from quirky to innovative to downright fun, the DS may be the ugliest duckling in the pond, but has plenty going on for it to keep it ahead of the pack.

1st: PC

Though many PC gamers may have felt forgotten in years past, it is difficult to believe so this year. With superior (and less expensive) versions of the majority of big name RPGs this year, the PC proves it still has a lot to offer. Additionally, with the most accessible development tools in the industry, and an outlet for almost anyone to earn some spotlight, the PC also has plenty of original content to keep even the most obsessive RPG fan content.

If there was ever a year to finally get around to upgrading that old graphics card, 2009 was it.

Opinion Fest 2009: Best Battle System

Though it is rare for an RPG to be remembered for its battle system only, a good battle system can push a good game into greatness, while a poor battle system can drive away fans. This year’s Best Battle System award recognizes those games that made monster killing both fun and interesting.

Honorable Mention: Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier – Banpresto, Atlus – Nintendo DS

Besides the copious fanservice, Endless Frontier is really only notable for its battle system. Giving players the opportunity to unleash a flurry of gravity defying attacks, and encouraging them to prevent their enemies from ever being able to touch the ground again is surprisingly entertaining. With wonderfully animated sprites and cool-looking attacks, Endless Saga’s battle system never got old for me, though almost everything else eventually wore out its welcome.

3rd: Magna Carta II – Softmax, Namco Bandai – Xbox 360

As I previously mentioned, Magna Carta II has made a huge effort to correct the issues of its previous title, the main problem being its battle system. Unlike Tears of Blood, Magna Carta II leans more on the side of an action-RPG, giving the player full control of all party members. However, unlike most action-RPGs, characters cannot attack indefinitely, forcing the player to either wait for their character to “cool down” or, ideally, chain attacks with other party members.

Magna Carta II succeeds at creating a battle system that is both dynamic and strategic, adding plenty of variety for players who prefer to change things up with multiple fighting styles, special attacks, and magic spells. The only thing that holds it back is the sometimes “clunky” feeling that comes with the turn-based elements.

2nd: Muramasa: The Demon Blade – Vanillaware, Ignition – Nintendo Wii

Unlike Vanillaware’s previous action-RPG, Odin Sphere, Muramasa is distinctly focused on combat over story, and it shows. Even with no experience going into the game, the player will be able to easily pull off elaborate combos and special moves, sending enemies flying in all directions.

Muramasa does an impeccable job of making the player feel awesome about his or her skills (or even lack thereof). With multiple weapons, tons of different combo variations, and over-the-top awesome special moves, Muramasa’s battle system continues to be fun, even once you realize there’s not much story to back it up.

1st: Star Ocean: The Last Hope – tri-Ace, Square Enix – Xbox 360

While tri-Ace may not always tell the best story in the business, they have proven many times over that they know how to make RPG combat (typically remembered for its monotony) fresh, fast, and fun. Star Ocean 4, while perhaps not their most innovative battle system, gives the player so much variety and strategy, while simultaneously cranking up the speed, it’s hard to really hold anything else up in comparison this year.

If jumping behind a giant dragon robot, pummeling it with a sword, punching it up into the air, shooting it millions of times over, blowing it up with an eruption of fire, then sending a flaming hell beast to rip its face off is wrong, frankly, I don’t want to be right.

Monday, January 4, 2010

RPGs of the Week: RPGs for the New Year Edition

Happy 2010! I wish all of you all the best in the New Year!

I will wrap up Opinion Fest 2009 this week for those of you who like to read other people's favorite lists. In the meantime, check out what RPGs are shipping out to ring in the New Year (January 4 - 9, 2010).

North America
Darksiders - Vigil, THQ - Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Divinity II: Ego Draconis - Larian Studios, cdv - PC, Xbox 360
Fable II (Platinum Hits) - Lionhead, Microsoft - Xbox 360

Japan
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep - Square Enix - PSP

Europe
Darksiders - Vigil, THQ - Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

North America gets the turn-into-a-dragon WRPG, Divinity II, which Europe has already been playing for over a month now, as well as a budget reprint of Fable II.

North America and Europe both get a chance to try out THQ's Zelda-meets-the-apocolypse action-RPG, Darksiders, which I know a lot of people have been looking forward to.

Japan, meanwhile, gets the latest Kingdom Hearts, and all portable-like for those long commutes.

Overall, its not a bad haul, especially for the first week of the year. It happens to be my birthday today (!!!), so I believe I will treat myself to a new game. ;)

Anything looking worth it to you this week?

For the first week of the year, not actually a bad showing.