April 2020 Updates: Reviews, New Content and What I’m Playing

I don’t like to make these sorts of update posts. For one, if I’m going to spend time typing something up for this blog, then I want it to be real content, such as a review or discussion piece.

Secondly, I don’t have a big enough ego to believe that the internet cares about what I’m doing. This blog has about fifty followers and, while I certainly appreciate any views and the odd comment, I’m a realist. Fifty followers isn’t even a grain of sand in the blogging world.

Yet here I am, doing what I just said I don’t want to do.

So why, then? Well, I’m on a small roll here, having put out two mini-reviews over the past few days. I want to keep that ball rolling. New reviews are in the works and I want to get back to doing some more in-depth discussion things. The irony is that this sudden spurt of motivation isn’t even linked to me being stuck indoors due to the big, bad C-Virus. My job means that I will still be going to work full-time unless a) I fall ill or b) my workplace shuts down, which is – fortunately – unlikely given that I work in the food distribution industry.

Once the day job is done and dusted however, I can get back to enriching the internet with entirely unnecessary reviews of games like this:

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Yes, I decided that Dead or Alive Xtreme 3‘s sunny beaches, chilled music and bodacious babes would be the perfect antidote to all the misery and worry gripping the planet right now. Was I right though? You’ll find out in the upcoming review which is currently baking in the oven. I probably could have had the review finished by now but I had a lot to say about Xtreme 3 and the resulting review should be reasonably meaty.

I’ve also been on a retro kick, specifically a Playstation one as you will already be aware of if you’ve checked out the previous two mini-reviews on this blog. I’ve dug out another old favourite which has stolen a lot of my gaming time in recent weeks:

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Expect a review of this too, once I’m done perving on digital girls with improbable proportions, that is. Priorities and all that.

Elsewhere, I’m continuing my Yakuza marathon with Kiwami 2 – the most excellent remake to my favourite game from the entire series (Yakuza 2, duh). As ever, I was aiming for that sweet 100% completion and, again – as ever – it’s looking unlikely since I absolutely cannot be arsed with the Japanese gambling games. Even the casino has been making me angry. Several hours of trying to win 1000 chips in one sitting to satisfy Haruka’s request has that sort of effect on you. Still, you don’t need that 100% rating or a platinum trophy in your virtual cabinet to enjoy one of the best story-driven series’ of modern times.

Finally, I’ve been dipping in and out of Soulcalibur VI again, especially since I paid up for the second season pass after months of putting it off. So I now have access to Hilde (who actually looks awesome to play as) and her stage, which has such good music that I don’t even feel the need to swap it out with a classic BGM from one of the earlier games in the series’. As a bonus, it looks like I’ve bought in to Season 2 just as Samurai Shodown‘s Haohmaru is about to be added, along with some new creation bits.

tl;dr: expect DOA Xtreme 3 and Destruction Derby Raw reviews very soon and (hopefully) some new discussions/articles.

Most importantly: stay safe, stay sensible and look after each other.

 

My 2019 in Gaming inc. my GOTY

Yes, posts have trailed off here on Darkstalker90 Gaming but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t still being playing videogames. I’ve just been spending less time with them, and have had even less time to write about playing them. But I thought it would be a wasted opportunity NOT to look back at this year and the games I’ve played.

First of all, this might be first year that I’ve not played a single new release. Everything that I’ve spent time with or completed has been pre-2019. On the flipside, I’ve also not spent much time at all with retro games. 2019 has been about catching up on my backlog and playing stuff from recent years that I just hadn’t gotten around to until now.

My list of completed games looks like this (links to my reviews where available):

So, not very many then but that’s an accurate reflection of the sort of year I’ve had: not many games completed and most of those that were finished took me ages to get through, purely due to a lack of time and, in some cases, motivation. I can’t lie: I did fall out of love with gaming at several points in 2019 and simply couldn’t be bothered with it.

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But what I did play, I really enjoyed. Spyro Reignited Trilogy and Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy were two mighty fine remasters that I heaped praise upon. Spyro Reignited in particular impressed me no end. The Spyro games were, after all, some of my absolute favourites of all-time so I was concerned that the Reignited Trilogy might do too much meddling and piss all over my happy late-90’s memories. I needn’t have worried though. Yes, there were some unforgivable glitches and, yes, there were a few small alterations to pander to our overly-sensitive modern society, but otherwise this was how you remaster games.

I’m very much looking forward to getting around to the Crash Team Racing and Medievil remakes in 2020 when I finally pick them up. Hopefully, the positivity can continue (I haven’t read any reviews of either and I’ve mostly avoided gameplay videos).

Finishing Yakuza 5 after starting it years ago (literally!) felt like an almighty relief. I’m a completionist you see, and Yakuza 5 is possibly the most bloated of all the games in terms of 100% completion requirements. In the end, I had to just give up and complete the main game to get it out of the way but I did achieve well above 90% completion. I never did manage to catch that damn Ito fish nor beat the toughest difficulty of Winter Combat, though. As for the Japanese gambling minigames? I’ve decided that I’m never going to bother with these, even if it does mean forfeiting 100% completion in all Yakuza games going forward.

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[Image Source]
There was more Yakuza to come in 2019, however. After a little break, I decided to get into the PS4 generation of games and play Yakuza 0/Zero. What a game this was! First up, there was still a lot to do but Zero was nowhere near as vast as Yakuza 5 so it was definitely a less intimidating challenge. Again, I skipped the gambling games and just went for my own custom “100%” completion and did manage to complete everything else. The storyline – set in the 80’s bubble of real estate and excess – was fantastic and really helped flesh out the events of the Yakuza canon prior to the original game. The combat was much improved too with a selection of different fighting styles to master. All in all, Yakuza Zero was more of the same but, paradoxically, felt incredibly fresh, despite it being the sixth installment in the series that I have played. It’s a true testament to the quality and consistency of these games that I can play what is essentially the same thing for well over a decade and still be utterly absorbed by the experience.

So I give my Game of the Year award to Yakuza 0.

2019 was also the year in which I reacquainted myself with Platinum and their signature brand of off-the-wall, crazy action games. I started by replaying Anarchy Reigns (PS3) and finding – much to my pleasure – that I enjoyed it a lot more the second time around and, despite the many flaws, I was able to appreciate it for what it was. I then moved on to the Bayonetta games. Yes, I was well behind on playing these but that didn’t detract from the experience. The first game, for example, blew me away with its amazing style and challenging gameplay. The sequel was more of the same but not quite as impactful in my opinion. It was much more sedate near the beginning and, on the default difficulty, I didn’t die a single time, rarely having to dip into my swollen stash of health-restoring items. That said, I still got a lot out of Bayonetta 2 and, in a way, the lesser challenge allowed me to enjoy experimenting in battle a bit more. Overall though, I believe that the original is still the best.

Aside from games that I can actually say that I completed, I also put a lot of time into two fighting games this year: Soulcalibur VI and Street Fighter V. I won’t go into great depth about either here (because I’ve done enough of that this year on this blog) but suffice to say, I have really enjoyed both. Street Fighter V was a game that initially didn’t sit well with me at all and, while there are still numerous elements that I will likely never accept, I gave the game a second chance and did at last gel with it in terms of gameplay.

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I have put a considerable amount of time into gittin’ gud with Sophitia’s sister, Cassandra, since she was added to the game via DLC.

Soulcalibur VI, meanwhile, has retained its crown as my favourite fighting game of the current generation (out of those I have actually played of course…). The DLC has never failed to please me and the gameplay itself is just so much better for feeling closer to SCII/SCIII than the deflating SCV. The support shows no signs of slowing down either with a second season of DLC right around the corner kicking off with Samurai Shodown‘s Haohmaru, SCIV veteran Hilde, new moves and more customisation items. I can’t wait.

In closing, I won’t make any resolutions or promises for 2020 because I know that I likely won’t stick to them. However, I feel that I played far more games this year that I enjoyed as opposed to games that I didn’t, so if I can have a similar strike rate for next year then that would be enough for me.

(Not so) Special Edition

One of E3 2019’s biggest stories was the new footage of Final Fantasy VII Remake. Expo-goers seemed to love what they saw and much frenzied fanboy whooping and cheering ensued. Hitting the videogame news outlets a little more quietly was the information on several special/collector’s editions that will be available when the game releases in 2020. The most premium of these editions will include a statue of Cloud astride his Hardy-Daytona motorcycle and be available exclusively available at Square’s online store. It’s also going to be very expensive. If you want the details then I suggest you check out Strange Girl Gaming’s blog since that’s where I learnt about it.

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But I’m not here to talk about this particular special edition specifically. This pricey collector’s piece is simply the inspiration that I’ve needed so that I might collate my thoughts on special editions in general and put my opinion out there. You see, in the past, I would have been all over a product like the FFVII 1st Class Edition and making sure that I slapped that pre-order down before it was too late. Times have changed however because the 2019 version of me doesn’t lust after collector’s editions anymore.

In fact, I think the majority of them are just garbage. There; I’ve said it.

The market for special editions wasn’t always this way of course but you have to cast your mind back to a time when special editions were the exception rather than the rule. Younger readers amongst you might not remember but most games prior to the PS3/360 generation only shipped as standard copies. Special editions were unusual and the ‘special’ in the designation actually meant something. They were actually limited (today’s “limited” editions have pretty big print runs in comparison), difficult to find and came with bonus items that actually had some thought and money put into them.

There were two examples that immediately sprang to mind when I first started thinking about the evolution of special editions and how the older examples were simply much better. The first was The Last Ninja 2 on the Commodore 64. Here, the special set came with a real shuriken (imagine that being permitted now!) and a wearable ninja mask/hood. The other was the Ecco the Dolphin boxset for Sega’s Mega Drive. Manufactured in tiny quantities, proceeds from the sale went towards a real dolphin in the London Aquarium that had been named ‘Ecco’ as part of the tie-up.

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[Source: ebay]
But somewhere along the line, publishers realised that they could charge a small premium on top of the standard RRP of a game by placing the regular game case within a flimsy card outer sleeve and including a non-comprehensive artbook and sometimes a soundtrack CD (again, non-comprehensive and usually more of a sampler CD). JRPG’s were the first genre to frequently receive this treatment in the PS2 era and while nobody can deny the appeal of some nice extras, the problem for me was that if you enjoyed the art of the game THAT much, then there would usually be a ‘complete’ artbook available to buy from Japan which included ALL of the concept art. Likewise, a complete version of the soundtrack would be available in a standalone CD set.

The trend wasn’t so bad when confined solely to JRPG’s though. After all, JRPG players are more likely to be collectors in general so a pretty boxset that offered a little more than the usual retail release was a welcome option. But then the concept spread to pretty much every other genre and by the time of the PS3/360 era, seemingly every game had a special/collector’s/limited edition. Steelbook editions became a widespread trend as did packing games into oversized boxes with massive figurines or statues. Some games had multiple special edition variants exclusive to different retailers and then came the ‘Day One’ editions of games which usually included a voucher with some free DLC on it (did you feel ‘special’ buying those ones?). I seem to remember one of the Call of Duty games going a step further and shipping with a ‘Day Zero’ special edition.

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The JRPG side of the PS2’s library regularly featured boxsets like this Ar Tonelico II special edition of mine that I recently sold.

The reasoning for all of this was actually quite simple. Videogame publishers were losing money thanks to the a) the pre-owned market b) retailers slashing prices within a week or two of a game’s release in order to be ultra-competitive with their rivals and c) the ignorant, entitled consumer expectation that they should receive incredible gaming experiences and pay nothing for them. Eliminating manuals, reaping extra revenue through DLC and selling season passes were methods employed to recoup some of the profits they were losing. Exploiting the materialistic magpie in us was another.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, the contents of the special editions would cost more to produce in the first place so the publishers wouldn’t make that much money on them.” It’s a fair point until you consider that a great chunk of these collector’s editions were packed with cheap tat that really wouldn’t have cost that much to manufacture. Outer boxes were flimsy for example. Many steelbooks were produced from cheap tin, as evidenced by how many older ones are rusty or corroded at this point in time. And the bundled statues were cheap, low quality efforts that paled in comparison to dedicated releases from specialised figurine/toy outfits, trading on their eye-catching size rather than finish.

And as I touched on earlier, the vast majority of these so-called premium variants were not as limited as many believed. Some were still readily available from major retailers months after release with heavily discounted price tags to encourage buyers to take these hunks of plasticky shit off the hands of stores. The Duke Nukem Forever ‘Balls of Steel’ edition for example was far cheaper than the RRP of the standard game in no time at all. I too got burnt when I bought the special set for Driver San Francisco, only to discover that the bundled Dodge Challenger model was nowhere near as good as I’d expected. Worse still, it launched for around £60 before tanking to the £20 territory.

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Looked impressive but rapidly lost all value. [Source: Youtube]
Whichever way you choose to analyse the market for special editions, there is only one truth as far as I am concerned. That truth is that publishers saturated the market with this crap and forged a paradox where something ‘special’ isn’t actually ‘special’ anymore. Take billionaires for example: we see them as extraordinary people with masses of cash that lead the kind of lives we can only fantasise about (unless you, valued reader, are a billionaire too in which case I feel a little honoured by your presence on my blog!) but if everybody was suddenly to become a billionaire then none of us would be extraordinary. In fact, we all be extremely average and ordinary. Boring, even. It’s a similar thing that has happened to special editions.

To put it another way, you EXPECT there to be a some form of limited/special/collector’s/ultimate/Day One/Day Zero/steelbook/exclusive (delete as applicable…) variant of any new release these days. There’s no surprise anymore; no value. We all could have safely bet next month’s paycheck on Square unveiling a lavish special edition for the Final Fantasy VII Remake but the odds on such a bet would have been incredibly low because we’d all win that wager.

I very rarely show interest in special editions anymore. Partly because of what I’ve discussed so far in this post but there are other reasons too. Storage space is one. These big boxsets take up a lot of room and when you are buying a lot of special editions, that space is eaten up rather quickly. They also cost a lot of money and investing both space and money into piles of cardboard and plastic that is often never used or displayed (just stored in boxes, cupboards or attics for the sake of ‘having’ it) is not something I see much logic in doing. For me it is just straight-up materialism and I am personally attempting to move away from materialistic personal values. I want a more minimalist, rooted approach to life where I own a few things but not excessive amounts of products that don’t enhance my life.

You might be wondering if there was a specific tipping point or collector’s edition that broke the camel’s back and you’d be correct in asking that question. For me, it was the Soulcalibur VI collector’s edition on the PS4. I was hyped for this game and pleased to say that the end product surpassed all expectations I had – SCVI is fantastic. Unfortunately, that hype led to me pre-ordering the collector’s edition which I consider to be one of my biggest wastes of money.

The big draw was the large Sophitia figure that takes up most of the box. Sophie is my favourite character in the series and so I was enticed by the prospect of owning a decent model of the Greek warrioress. Unfortunately, the actual figure felt cheap and unimpressive once I had her in my hands (I’m sure the real thing – if Sophitia wasn’t just polygons and code – would be less disappointing!). If I’m being generous, it was extremely average and not something I was happy with.

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Looks good from a distance and in pictures but up close, I wasn’t impressed. [Source]
To add salt to the wound, I then discovered that we’d been utterly shafted here in Europe by Bandai Namco. Our soundtrack was a download voucher rather than physical as in the North American version of the collector’s edition. Also, we didn’t receive the artbook or steel case. The Euro version of the SCVI CE felt like a cheap, watered-down imitation of the American counterpart. Worse still, the pre-order price for this (incomplete) edition was £130. At the time of writing this article, that translates to $163.41 which is an utter joke when you consider that the US equivalent launched for $149.99…for MORE extras.

Right now, the Euro version of the CE is still available from Amazon for just under £80. So…it’s still in stock and cheaper than it was when idiots like me pre-ordered the fucking thing. Thus proving my earlier observations that CE’s are over-priced, undesirable and nowhere near as exclusive as made out.

All I had to show for my purchase in the end was the game and bundled season pass (which has proved to be great in fairness). I struggled to sell the figure, soundtrack voucher and box on ebay for more than £25 so had to take a massive loss on the chin and learn a valuable lesson. I won’t be buying any more special editions in a hurry, that’s for sure.

What is your opinion on special editions? I’d love to read your comments/thoughts on the subject.