Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Legend of Legacy's another 3DS JRPG to put on your wish list

We're coming up on the one year anniversary of Bravely Default's western release and, while there's been some major progress made on the sequel, fans are still chomping at the bit for a comparable JRPG experience.

That is, of course, unless they're already playing Super Smash Bros. or are currently queued up at the Nintendo World Store to pick up a copy of Pokemon ORAS this Friday.

Anyway - the point here is that there's a new RPG worth putting on your radar and, to be honest, I've kinda been avoiding writing anything about it because of the name: Legend of Legacy... which actually isn't too far off from Bravely Default Flying Fairy if you think about it.

It's also worth noting that Legend of Legacy isn't too far off of Bravely Default in terms of aesthetics or raw style either either.  Check out the trailer below and be sure to watch out for: hand drawn backgrounds, cute pop-up cityscapes, chibi 3D characters, and some sexy, sexy turn-based combat.

But unlike Bravely Default, it's got an anthropomorphic frog knight as a playable character.

If that frog seems like a throwback to Chrono Trigger that's not entirely a coincidence. Legend of Legacy has some huge starpower behind its development team at FuRyu including staff that have worked on Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy X, the SaGa series, and The Secret of Mana.

What makes it particularly innovative as a game, however, is the approach it takes toward storytelling. Rather than guide you through the plot like many other JRPGs, Legend of Legacy will attempt to tell its story without the use of linear quest progression.

In other words, you'll pick a three-member party from a cast of seven - ranging from the comely Eloise to Filmia the frog - and set out to adventure around the world however you like. Once you complete the one main goal that Legend of Legacy throws at you, it's up to the individual player to decide how to proceed and who they'll be proceeding with.

If this doesn't sound like enough to get you excited, the English subtitles in the just-released combat trailer below probably should.

Impressively, Legend of Legacy has almost completely flown under the radar during its development and is scheduled for a Japanese release on January 22, 2015 (eg, less than 2 months from now).  There's no word on a western release just yet - but hey, English subtitles!

Incidentally, Bravely Default's sequel Bravely Second is also expected to hit Japan sometime in early-to-mid 2015, so next year's already shaping up to be a banner one for 3DS owning fans of JRPGs.

...who are lucky enough to live in Japan.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Say 'I choose you!' in style with this Pokemon engagement ring

A little over a year ago, the internet was teased with an image of a pretty sweet Pokemon-themed engagement ring.

I say "teased" because the shop in question was suspended shortly after the ring went viral, and so legions of disappointed, diehard Pokemon fans had to turn to other, geeky ideas for their engagement rings.

Thankfully, these fans won't be disappointed any longer - provided they have about $2,000 to spare and aren't opposed to the idea of a cubic zirconium ring.

What you're looking at is the, ahem, "Having a ball and holding a ball" ring which does a pretty great job of replicating the signature look of the iconic white and red Pokeball design without actually mentioning the word Pokemon anywhere in its description (which is smart).

Created by the insanely talented Paul Michael Designs - whom you might remember for their R2-D2 and TARDIS themed engagement rings - this ring is pretty much everything an out-and-proud Pokemon fan would dream of being proposed to with.

The only catch is that the eyecatching piece of jewelry doesn't come cheap.  $1,850 (which is pretty darn reasonable by engagement ring standards) nets you the ring above cast in 14k white gold and set with cubic zirconia.  Adding diamonds to the mix jumps the price to $3,975, whereas opting for platinum over gold puts you in the $4,200 (CZ) to $5,120 (diamond) range.  On the upside, shipping will only set you back about $10 or so regardless of what configuration you choose.

Some might see this ring as tacky, but these sad people will never know the joy of catching a shiny, breeding a perfect IV Gothitelle, or finding someone to share in - or at least accommodate - your geeky passion for turn-based RPGs.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why you shouldn't feel guilty about playing it: Senran Kagura edition

I kicked off this year (or, rather, closed out the last one) by encouraging everyone to play good games. Y'know, the games you'd actually like to play as opposed to the ones that you access out of convenience.

Tied to this call-to-arms was another bit of implied encouragement: don't be ashamed of the games you like, even if they involve you spending 80+ hours paying off a debt to the raccoon mafia or beating a teenage ninja girl until her clothes fall off.

If that last sentence caught you by surprise, then chances are that you're not familiar with the Senran Kagura franchise.

Launched just three short years ago in Japan, Senran Kagura is an old school, arcade-style beat 'em up in the spirit of Golden Axe or Streets of Rage.  You fight your way through a stage full of average baddies (mooks) before a standard-issue boss fight pops in at the end of the level.

This sort of gameplay has been seen hundreds of times before, but what makes Senran Kagura stand out from other entries in the genre is its all-female cast of ninjas and unexpectedly deep storyline which features a spot-on deconstruction of moral absolutism.

Also, there's its sheer, almost defiant, love of fan service.

Much like Master of Martial Hearts or Ikki Tousen before it, Senran Kagura games let you literally beat the clothes off of another girl as you make your way through a fight.  In the criminally underrated Senran Kagura Burst (3DS), this stripping stopped at lingerie swimsuits - but on the PS Vita SK games, you can bash those away to leave the loser in a heavily censored state of undress.

This outfit is conservative by Senran Kagura standards

But here's the rub - Senran Kagura isn't necessarily erotic.

Sure, there's a lot of eroticism on display and - yes - the girls all blush and cover themselves out of embarrassment when they're divested of their outerwear, but series producer Kenichiro Takaki masterfully imbues each game with an insanely subtle, blink-and-you'll-miss-it critique of fan service and the trend of modern games and anime that embrace it.

If, for example, you spend $2 on the PlayStation Network and download a "naughty apron" (naked apron) DLC outfit for your ninja girl of choice, you can freely swap her special shinobi outfit out for the far more impractical, yet far more revealing, apron.  But when you actually get around to putting it on a character in the in-game dressing room, you'll be subjected to a torrent of scorn and abuse that ranges from "You really are the worst person on earth" to "What an unbelievable pervert".

Sure, there are some people enjoy that sort of talk - but one has to imagine that Takaki is laughing to himself as he counts the dollars from the DLC purchases.

Each individual player is ultimately free to dive into a Senran Kagura game for its story, gameplay, eroticism, or mixture of the three, but those who flock to it for the eroticism alone might miss how heavily the game pokes fun at them for their choices.

This level of self-aware satire is actually kinda poignant, since Takaki has said that he would like to return to making other, traditional games like his excellent Half-Minute Hero - but for now, he's more than content to be the breast-obsessed standard bearer for the boobacious brawler that is Senran Kagura.

Yet what most people don't realize is that this version of Takaki is (almost assuredly) only a persona he adopts to help sell the games.  Takaki is, first and foremost, a gamemaker, and almost every game in the Senran Kagura franchise is built upon a satisfying, combo-focused style of gameplay sure to appeal to arcade action enthusiasts.  Those who enjoy narrative over juggling mooks with launchers will find a story that swings from silly to tragic in the blink of an eye.

But above all of this bounces the pert, perky perfect pair of fan service and a tongue-in-cheek critique of fan service which combine to become - sometimes literally - the icing on the cake.

In short, while many might view the Senran Kagura games as everything that's wrong with the male-dominated games industry, the simple fact of the matter is that they're surprisingly capable, fun, and self-aware satire machines that will keep you happily button mashing until the final curtain falls.

Or the final bra comes off.

The point of the matter is that they're good games and they're built from the ground up to not be taken too seriously by fan or critic alike.

Either way, be sure to check 'em out if you have access to a gaming handheld and approach them with an open mind.  But above all else, never - for a minute - feel guilty for enjoying them.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Final Fantasy XIV's Garuda looks even better in Lego

Now this is a feat of inspired bricksmanship!

While Garuda has been in the Final Fantasy franchise for quite some time now, "it" didn't become a curiously hot "she" until the summoner job sneaked its way into Final Fantasy XI back in 2006.  Gone was Garuda's mythologically accurate angry, bird form and in its place was a long-legged, red-eyed feathery green avian with a suspiciously curvaceous body. 

Also, it had boobs. No idea why a bird would need those but - well - there they were.

Anyway!  Fast forward to two years ago, and the fan-favorite fowl flapped her way over to Square Enix's other MMO - Final Fantasy XIV - in a suitably dramatic fashion, sporting a new set of hooves and an extra pair of wings.

But serving as an instanced raid boss for yet another MMORPG just wasn't enough for fans of the green, gale-gliding gull gal - they wanted more.  Specifically, they wanted to put Garuda on their desks. And now, thanks to a rather talented lego artist, they can do just that.

What you're looking at is the drool-inducing handiwork of Mike Nieves, who built this semi-articulated statute entirely out of Lego system bricks as a custom commission project.  It's actually the second FFXIV-inspired piece he's done, as it turns out, with his earlier work being a rather impressive female Miqo'te.

Unfortunately, Nieves didn't disclose the price that either client paid for their commissions - but he did include an email address if you'd like to get in touch with him for a custom piece of your own: Retinence [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you'd like to see what else he has to offer (a bitchin' Protoman, Leafeon, Ultralisk, and Charizard among many, many others), head on over to his Flickr and take a gander.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Make the most of your Halloween with games, vocaloid, and anime

So uh *shuffles feet* sorry about that whole two week absence between posts!

Obviously my plan to stick to a strict two-post-a-week schedule hasn't really worked out - but hey, I'm still here and have every intention to roll out some quality posts as 2014 draws to a close. Look for regular updates to resume next week.  Now then!

There's been a lot and more to talk about lately - the whole Gamergate scandal, my deep-seated love affair with Hyrule Warriors (and Bayonetta 2), the obscenely priced $69.99 DLC costume pack for Hatsune Miku Project Diva F 2nd... but that can all wait, because - hey - today's Halloween!

Once upon a time, when I was at the fringes of the games industry and had more time to update this site every day, I came up with a few Halloween-themed lists to help you make the most out of the holiday season.  There wasn't much need to update these lists this year (although Costume Quest 2 is certainly worth checking out), so I'll provide the links to last year's recommendations in case you missed them... or are looking for last minute ways to soak up all the glitz, glamor, and candy corn that this weekend has to offer.
  • Need some new music to rock out to this weekend?  There's a surprising number of great, Halloween-themed Vocaloid songs if you don't mind replacing "Monster Mash" with some of the chirpy, vocal stylings of Hatsune Miku & Co.
  • If you prefer vidya games over Vocaloid, you're also in luck since there are a bunch of great horror games to play on pretty much every platform.  Also, if you have a 3DS, you can pick up the critcally-panned Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir - new - at GameStop for less than $5.00.  I managed to find it new for 99 cents. Sure, the game's kinda terrible... but it's worth it for the Club Nintendo points alone at that price!
  • Finally, if Vocaloid and video games aren't your thing (shame on you!) there are a few great animes out there that are absolutely perfect for some Halloween horror.
...and that's about it for this Halloween catch-up!  If you need some more sweet treats to hold you over until the end of the work day, be sure to check out the adorably twee trailer for Costume Quest 2.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Royal Stockholm Philharmonic performs an inspired FFVI soundtrack arrangement

Strange as it might seem, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic orchestra is quite familiar with the music of Final Fantasy.  As the symphonic group featured on the first two Distant Worlds albums, it's even fair to say that Stockholm's own is the premiere group of Final Fantasy musicians in the west.

And the best part is, they're still not done with the music of Nobuo Uematsu.

Earlier this week, the Philharmonic posted a new arrangement of Final Fantasy VI's iconic soundtrack titled "Final Fantasy VI: Born with the Gift of Magic" which features a pretty noticeable lack of poetry.

What it features instead is an amazing tour of the major melodies, leitmotifs, and themes from the sprawling 16-bit RPG from "Kefka's Theme" to the lesser known "Esper World".

And best yet, it all fits into a slender, 18-minute arrangement.

If you want to watch the Stockholm Philharmonic perform the song live, you can do so at their website.

For those curious readers out there, "Born with the Gift of Magic" was preformed as part of the Final Symphony concert series - which has yet to land on North American shores.

With any luck, western (western) fans will get the chance to hear this song, and the many others from the tour, performed live - probably by the National Symphony Orchestra, given the clout that the tour's commanded to date.

But until that chance comes, well... at least we've got the video clip.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Grant Kirkhope releases free 160+ track Banjo-Kazooie album - this man should be knighted

...or, I dunno, maybe sainted?

You might not recognize the name Grant Kirkhope right away, but chances are good that you're familiar with his works if you ever owned a Nintendo 64.  The legendary Rare composer scored the iconic OSTs for Goldeneye, Banjo-Kazooie, and Donkey Kong 64 (among many other titles) - and left an indelible mark on the collective memories of millions of gamers around the world.

Recently, Kirkhope began a one-man campaign to get his music into the hands of fans again when he noticed someone selling a copy of his Perfect Dark soundtrack on ebay for $500.  Incensed at the price inflation, Kirkhope releases three of his most famous soundtracks for the low, low price of free.

As if that wasn't cool enough, he then went ahead and released the soundtrack for Donkey Kong 64 for free as well.

Now Kirkhope is going back to one of his most beloved projects - the soundtrack for the quirky 3D platformer Banjo-Kazooie - which he's remastered as a 164-track "Everything But the Kitchen Sink" edition.

Oh yeah - and it's absolutely free, too.

The incredible soundtrack contains everything from full tracks used in the game to 3-4 second long sound effects that would absolutely awesome ringtones.

As always, you can pay whatever you'd like for the soundtrack - which means, of course, that you can pick it up for free.

Considering how comprehensive this one is, however  - it even contains the lobby/central hub versions of the various game worlds' themes! - you might want to find it in you to send a few bucks to the man who's single-handedly trying to bring mid-90s VG music back into the mainstream.