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Sunday, 27 November 2011

BLOG -- Has a video game ever influenced you beyond the scope of gaming?

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving in the US. I live in Canada, so I don't celebrate Thanksgiving then. On that Thursday, though, I read a neat posting on Siliconera celebrating Thanksgiving and sharing with readers the games that influenced them beyond the scope of gaming. They also asked their readers to do the same. I thought that was really cool and neat.

But it got me wondering: has a video game influenced me beyond the scope of gaming? I know the answer is yes. I mean, I've been playing video games all through my life. I grew up with them. Even when I didn't own any game systems, I still found ways to play video games (please don't ask for any more elaboration on this ;) ). So some of these games must have influenced me beyond the scope of gaming... but which ones?

I'm so tempted to say certain ones because I loved playing/experiencing them and I want to give props to what I love (I'm just like that). But I'm not sure if they really did influence me in that way.

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For example, I want to say Final Fantasy VI (named Final Fantasy III back then) for the SNES.

 
That was my all-time favourite childhood game, and I would still play it now. The story, the characters, the music -- ahhh, sooooooo awesome and breathtaking. It was the first video game that showed me that games can have a story -- where video game characters can experience pain, despair, hope, love, happiness, sadness -- it was a video game world that was alive.

Some scenes were so touching -- I cried! That was the first time I ever cried while playing a video game. I'd like to say that Final Fantasy VI changed me in some way -- maybe helped me think more deeply when writing characters in my stories -- or helped me to be more empathetic -- but did it? I... don't... know...

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Another game that comes to mind is Odin Sphere for the PS2.


Gosh, what a wondrous game. A game of five separate stories interweaving as one. I guess you can say that what blew me away were about the same things that blew me away with Final Fantasy VI: awesome story, charming characters, and beautiful music. While gameplay wasn't the best (because I just sucked at it), I played on, wanting to know more of the story and what the characters did next.

When I beat the game, all I did was lay on my bed (yes, my bed is my couch for playing video games), watching the credits roll, letting its serene music fill my being with warmth and utter satisfaction. It was the first time in a long time that I felt such satisfaction after completing a video game. I still get desires now and then to go through it and experience its loveliness all over again.

But... here comes the question: did Odin Sphere influence me beyond the scope of gaming? I think that if it existed while I was still going through school, some of my stories would have been influenced. Beyond that, I'm not so sure...

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Well, I've mentioned the games I wanted to mention. I absolutely love those two games. Now to mention what I know for sure has influenced me beyond the scope of gaming. I only know for sure for these games because they're fairly recent. Looking back to older games, I still can't say, but I will write another blog if they ever come to me (really, sometimes it takes years to realize when something or someone has changed you).

Since these two games affected me in pretty much the same way, I will mention them both here.
They are: Daigasso Band Brothers DX for the DS, and iDOLM@STER 2 for the PS3


I was very excited about Daigasso!! Band Brothers DX. I played the first game and loved it. The new, neat thing about Daigasso!! Band Brothers DX was the feature to use Wi-Fi and download up to 100 customized songs that other players have created and uploaded. What a way to customize your gameplaying experience! 

I had read somewhere that the download list would be in katakana and hiragana (the two Japanese alphabets). Guess what I did? Months before Daigasso!! Band Brothers DX's release date, I slowly taught myself those two alphabets. I've always wanted to learn Japanese, but it was this game that drove me to finally get to it. When Daigasso!! Band Brothers DX was released, I was able to slowly but successfully read the download list and download the songs I wanted. After a while, I would check the download list (because new songs got added almost every day) regularly as some kind of katakana/hiragana reading tool. I've stopped checking about two years ago since I've reached that 100 download limit long ago, but if I ever buy myself another copy... :)


iDOLM@STER 2 is influencing me in about the same way, but it is currently driving me to take learning Japanese to the next level -- learning sentence structure, verb conjugations, vocabulary, and then the dreaded kanji (the characters that look like Chinese characters). I... really want to understand the stories in iDOLM@STER 2. I want to know the story behind each idol, and I want to be able to make the choices I want to make (whenever I'm presented with choices that I currently can't read). I would like to fully experience that game. It's quite embarrassing, but whatever. I like what I like, and I don't need to hide it. :)

I may fail in my quest to learn Japanese (learning/mastering a new language can take a long, long time), but I hope that as I go, I will learn more.

Well, that's what I've got to say. Now the question goes to you: has a video game ever influenced you beyond the scope of gaming? :)

Sunday, 20 November 2011

REVIEW/THOUGHTS [Anime - Movie] -- Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva

Format Watched: DVD 
Approx. Runtime: 99 minutes (1 hour, 39 minutes)
Language Watched: Japanese with English Subtitles
Other Language(s) Available: English
DVD Extra Content? None
Type of Movie: Mystery, Puzzle, Adventure
Overall Impression: Enjoyed it! A slow start but a strong finish. And lovely music, too!


PRE-REVIEW WARNING
If you haven't played the 4th game, Professor Layton and The Last Specter, and you are somebody who likes to experience their franchises in order (I am one such person, usually), you may NOT want to read this review yet. Professor Layton and The Eternal Diva contains a character who's introduced in the 4th game. If you don't mind, then go ahead and read!





PERSONAL STANDING (Pre-exposures, thoughts, etc.)
Ever since I played the first game, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, I have always thought that this series could be made into an awesome anime series or anime-style movie. They [Level-5] were already partway there with their high-quality, uniquely-styled, animated cutscenes. All they had to do was attach the cutscenes together, and create a few more cutscenes as transitions.

So when I found out that there was an animated movie out in Japan, and that it was getting licensed, I was very happy and excited!!

STORY/PACING
Engaging plots were always a strong point the Professor Layton games, and this movie does not disappoint. Professor Layton receives a letter from former student (now famous opera singer) Janice. The letter talks about Janice's deceased best friend, Melina, coming back in the body of a young girl with the same memories as Melina. Melina claims that she has received the gift of eternal life. So Layton, Luke, and Emmy travel to investigate the matter. Ooo, mystery!

Left to right: Emmy, Luke, Layton

PACING
It's very minor, but I thought the pacing was a little slow in the very beginning. The movie starts with Layton solving a completely different mystery, which we know nothing about. It's probably there to establish Layton as a puzzle, mystery-solving expert. For me, it was a little unnecessary and distracting -- I kind of wanted to know more about that mystery, but we never get to find out anything more about it. The pacing gets better after that.

PUZZLES IN A MOVIE?


No Professor Layton movie is complete without puzzles! And there are a few here. For those who have played the games, it would definitely bring an air of familiarity, seeing those numbers and hearing the same puzzle music track that's played in the games. The puzzles weren't detracting from the movie at all.

ANIMATED STYLE + VOICE-ACTING
As you can tell from the screenshots, Professor Layton and The Eternal Diva is done in a different style from anime, and it works. The characters look charming; the setting and atmosphere look charming; everything about Professor Layton looks charming, simple, and unique.

The voice-acting is good and believable. I watched the movie in Japanese with English subtitles. I listened to a bit of the English dubbing and it sounded quite good as well. Layton, Luke, and Emmy all had British accents, which fits. The English dubbing doesn't always match with the English subtitles, though, which makes me wonder which script is more... accurate to what each character says.
MUSIC (Awesome, as always)
The music in Professor Layton and The Eternal Diva follows the same style as the Professor Layton games, and it's awesome -- string and piano pieces done in Baroque style (sooooo gooooood!). The music enhances the mysterious atmosphere and works in expressing every scene, whether light, comedic, tense, or emotional. Some of the music from the games are also featured as re-worked tracks, while other tracks are new. You can take a listen to the opening movie track, which is a slight re-work of Layton's Theme in the video games.


STAND-ALONE-FRIENDLY? (Yes)
There isn't much to say here. You don't have to play the games to understand the story or the characters in Professor Layton and The Eternal Diva, as the key characters are introduced well enough. A few character relationships aren't explained, but it doesn't detract from the overall enjoyment.

CLOSING THOUGHTS (Hmm...)
Watch this movie! I greatly recommend it! It's a lovely story told by charming characters and wonderful music. It's a very enjoyable experience.


P.S. As always, if you're curious about anything or would just like to comment on anything, go ahead and respond! :)

Sunday, 13 November 2011

REVIEW/THOUGHTS [Video Game - PS3] -- iDOLM@STER 2

Playthrough Status: COMPLETED ONCE
Approx. Length (Story): 25 hours
Approx. Length (Other): Many on the S4U mode (free-play performance mode)
Language: Japanese only
Type of Game: Visual novel; Management sim; Mini-games
Overall Impression: Greatly enjoyed it! Could have enjoyed it more, though (language barrier reason)

PERSONAL STANDING (Pre-exposures, thoughts, etc.)
Ever since I've heard about iDOLM@STER, I have always wanted to play it. My first exposure was an entry on Siliconera. The entry looks archived, but take notice of the date: January 30, 2007. That's over 4 years ago! When I read that entry and watched those videos, I was instantly taken. The way the characters danced -- the way their hair (and sometimes costume pieces) flowed and bounced with every movement -- the way their eyes would subtly shift to the camera with every close up, as if they were alive and aware of their surroundings; I had never seen so much detail placed on a video game character in my life -- you know, besides in a cutscene. Take a look at this video if you'd like to see what I'm talking about:


The first iDOLM@STER game was only released for the Xbox360, so there was no way I could have played it. I don't own a Japanese Xbox360, and I couldn't bring myself to import one just to play one game. Years later, iDOLM@STER was released on the PSP, but was broken up into three different versions, each one featuring a few different idols. I eventually bought a copy, but stopped 5 minutes after when I saw boxes of Japanese text that continued automatically. How the heck am I supposed to read that?! My eyes are also sensitive to the brightness of the PSP screen (even at the lowest setting), so I knew that I wouldn't be able to play it for more than hour.

Then in August, I found out that iDOLM@STER 2 was being released on the PS3. Oh, joy! I have a PS3, and Japanese PS3 games can be played on North American PS3s. I can finally play it and watch the idols sing and dance on my TV! Then I bought it and the rest is history.

TL; DR: There you go -- that's my personal standing with the iDOLM@STER series. I am a long-time fan and enjoy watching the characters sing and dance in their funky costumes. I was already excited about this game before playing it.


GAMEPLAY/STORY
In iDOLM@STER 2, you play the role of a producer who puts together a group of three idols, and you have 55 weeks to promote them and get their songs to the top of the music charts. Insert a rival group in some of the scenes and critical plot points, and that's the gist of the story -- or at least that's what I gather with my very limited knowledge of the Japanese language. Each idol has their own individual story as you play through the weeks, which I just can't talk about (because I don't know enough Japanese!).

A TYPICAL WEEK IN iDOLM@STER
iDOLM@STER 2 is a very text-driven game. There are scenes and conversations (all of the idols are fully voiced as well as some of the NPCs); then the locations change and there are more conversations; then some mini-games may occur depending on what you scheduled for your idols. You can schedule up to two activities, though plot events, auditions, lives/concerts, and festivals (song battles) can only be scheduled once since they take up the whole day. Various activities include promoting your idols' current song, shopping, watch I just mentioned before, and lessons, which can increase your idols' stats (yes, there is some stat-building!). You can also dress your idols in various outfits, each costume piece upping different idol stats. Then there's a conversation in the evening. Then the week is done and it starts all over again. During many of the conversations you will need to make timed choices which will affect your idols' moods and how some scenes/events will go. Here's a photo of my group (left: Makoto; middle: Yayoi; right: Chihaya):


MINI-GAMES
The neat thing in iDOLM@STER 2 is that you can skip many of the mini-games. I originally wanted to say that the mini-games are rhythm-based, but that's not true -- there are a variety of short mini-games, ranging from rhythm-based (hitting buttons to a beat), to voice recognition, to good old-fashioned rock, paper, scissors. The mini-game you do depends on what you've scheduled for your idols. Many of the games are straightforward and fairly easy. The mini-game for doing performances, though, takes some strategy if you're aiming to get a high score or to even win a festival or audition.

PERFORMANCES - CAMERA MODE/ANGLES
While your idols are singing and dancing, you can press the "select" button to get into camera mode. In that mode, you can take up to five photos of your group. You can take more photos, but it will save over what ever photo is highlighted. If you press the corresponding buttons, you can also change camera angles and focus on a specific idol and take photos. At the end, you'll be able to save any of those photos into an album for later viewing.

Changing camera angles and idol-focus also affects the "music video" for that performance. At the end of every performance, the game asks if you'd want to save the performance for later viewings. So if you really wanted to try conveying the emotions of a song through some detailed camera work, you can!


GRAPHICS (The idols... whoa...)
I can't stress this enough -- the detail work on the idols is simply amazing. They are completely 3D in all aspects of the game. If one of your choices make the idols happy during a conversation, they will do a gesture -- and you will see that gesture animated.

The detail work on the costumes is also quite amazing. There can be some layering issues, depending on how you dress your idols. As your idols move (during a performance or conversation), various costume parts like a necklace, tie, skirt frills, skirt, etc. will also move with the idol, giving a neat feeling of realism to something that is very obviously not.


MUSIC (Good)
The music is good! The music is generally upbeat and energetic, but for serious moments, a slow, grim piano piece is played -- the atmosphere is set pretty well. The songs are mainly Japanese pop, dance, and ballads. If that's not your cup of tea, then you may not enjoy the game as much.

One thing to note, though. Each idol is voiced by its own voice actor, so each singing voice is slightly, subtly unique. Some voices are very distinct. When you make your idol group, the vocal harmony will change depending on who you choose.


IMPORT-FRIENDLY LEVEL (Ehh...)
If you want to understand the story of the idols and pretty much just about anything besides the scheduling and doing mini-games, iDOLM@STER 2 is NOT import-friendly for you. On top of automatic text, there is a lot of kanji. Somebody just starting to learn the Japanese alphabets would not be able to read or understand everything before the text changes.

If you only want iDOLM@STER 2 to see the idols dance and sing in funky costumes, then go ahead and import. There are some wiki sites available to help step you through the basic menus.


REPLAYABILITY & DLC (Lots)
There is a good amount of replayability IF you are one who would want to:
-buy/collect/unlock costume pieces (money carries over with each playthrough)
-view all the different endings (there are four)
-promote/interact with all the idols at least once (there are nine)
-see all the individual character stories for each idol (you will only get to see group leader's story in full during one playthrough)
-unlock characters if you haven't during your first playthrough

There is also a hefty amount of DLC available for iDOLM@STER 2. Up for DLC are costume pieces, mail from the idols (probably for more character development/flavour), songs, and in-game money. The Xbox360 version currently has 6 catalogs of DLC, so... DLC can be quite expensive if you're one to collect them all.

CLOSING THOUGHTS (Umm...)
I am quite aware that iDOLM@STER 2 is not a game for everybody. A heavily-text-based game with multiple choices, dress-up, dancing, singing, mini-games, scheduling strategy... it's quite a mix.

As somebody who can be driven to play through a game based on story and character development alone, I can only say that I would have enjoyed iDOLM@STER 2 more if I could attach the facial expressions to actual words I can understand.

That said, I am very happy I got to experience what I did. Long-time fans who never got to experience any iDOLM@STER games for similar reasons as me should definitely try it out. I should warn you, though. If you play it for the fun of playing it (like me), you will most likely get the BAD ENDING the first time through (pictured below). Have fun!



P.S. If there's something I missed that you'd like me to cover/talk about, please leave a comment. If you think I type too much, sure, tell me that to, if you want. I can't guarantee that my style will change, though!

-Ironix

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Nature of This Blog Space

Hello to everybody who has stumbled upon this site!

As the first blog, let me just introduce what this space will be about: anything. I don't exactly know what I'm going to do with this space. Originally, I intended to use this space to write reviews about anything that I've been exposed to, like video games I'm playing, anime I'm watching, movies I've seen, foods I've eaten, etc., etc. But... and here's the big but: I may not always want to do that. I may want to write about my current thoughts about the world, or I may want to talk about something that's currently happening in the world, gaming or anything. I may even want to write about something personal. I am also not sure if I'd be updating frequently enough if I only posted about my exposure to various media / experiences -- some weeks I can spend most of my time at home just daydreaming or hanging out with my friends or playing the game / watching the anime that I've already blogged about. So... I'm leaving this completely open.

I'm hoping to blog at least once a week, just to get into the habit of setting aside that time to do this. I would also like to mention that this blog space will, hopefully, be only a temporary space for my mind. I'm ultimately aiming to set up my own website -- once I learn the ins and outs of html, css, and whatever other internet languages I need to learn; and once I can afford it (my money is being used for other things right now -- don't want to spend money unless I know I can commit to it for a good chunk of time).

With all that said, thank you for reading (if you did -- you never know with people on the internet -- you could have just scrolled down to see if I wrote a "tl;dr" bit)! And if you like my style of writing, enjoy your stay! If you'd like to know my thoughts about anything specifically, ask me! If I have time and can comment honestly, I will!

-Ironix