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.

 

Soulcalibur VI is killing it right now

Well, Evo 2019 has come and gone and the fighting game community has had its fill of exciting news. However, as much as I class myself as a fighting game devout, I must admit that I was a bit tardy on keeping up with all of the announcements from the event. I kind of like it that way though. I could have stuck with a live Twitter feed or whatever but there’s something about gorging on ALL of the news in one go post-event.

So yes, lots of exciting stuff was shown but there was one reveal that made me sit up and take notice: the immediate return of Cassandra Alexandra to the Stage of History in Soulcalibur VI!

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[Source]
Pre-release, I made a post listing the characters that I’d most like to see return for SCVI and Cassandra was on that list. In fact, she is the fourth character from that list (counting the honourable mentions section) to make the cut, following in the footsteps of Seong-Mina, Tira and Zasalamel so I think that I’m doing quite well here with regards to my wants list.

The best thing about that Evo 2019 announcement was that we only had to wait a matter of days to gain access to Sophitia’s spunky lil’ sister. Being late to the Evo newsfeed meant that Cassandra was already available so I immediately put the game disc back in my PS4 and updated it, once again thankful for owning the season pass that came out of the otherwise rubbish Collector’s Edition.

First impressions: Cassandra is really fun to play with. I’ve always “mained” Sophitia throughout the series and can’t say that I’ve ever sunk much time into her sister but I can already tell that her moveset has been much overhauled. Nevertheless, she retains her more aggressive, beatdown style of play. I also really dig her Critical Edge attack and haven’t yet tired of the animation. Additionally, I think I appreciate her sassy and self-confident personality a lot more than I have in previous installments. She’s just a lot of fun, especially in her all-new story mode chapter that the development team went to the trouble of creating.

[I’m also a sucker for another buxom blonde sporting notably bouncy physics. Seriously, SCVI gives DOA a run for its money with certain characters, Cassandra most certainly included…]

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You also get this old-school SCIV outfit for Cassandra in the form of character creation components. Much appreciated. [Source]
Cassandra aside, SCVI is going to keep on giving thanks to the announcement of a second season of DLC which promises four more characters and even more creation parts. What’s more, one of those characters is going to be Haohmaru from SNK’s Samurai Shodown series! It’s a perfect crossover of franchises from different companies and one that I have often wished for in the past.

More importantly, this is DLC done RIGHT. I tend to hammer SCVI then shelve it to play something else (currently: Yakuza 0) but I will be straight back on it as soon as new content is released. It’s keeping me playing the game and – as far as we can see anyway – it isn’t cynical DLC conceived pre-release and held back. All of the new characters that have been released thus far are faithful to previous iterations for example, but have been heavily updated gameplay-wise so it is clear that effort and love is being put into SCVI by the development team. Yes, I didn’t have to intentionally buy my season pass but I will 100% be purchasing the pass for the second season on the strength of how well the game has been supported post-release so far.

My faith in Project Soul has been well and truly restored after the disaster that was Soulcalibur V and I am still so impressed with VI as you can tell by the way I’m banging on about it here as if it’s the second coming. The gameplay, the character roster and the general feel were all so well-realised this time around and that’s before taking into account the post-launch support that I’ve just been talking about.

As far as I am concerned, you can keep Street Fighter V and Tekken 7 because Soulcalibur VI is the most enjoyable fighting game of the generation and just a real success story that speaks to the fans. The only other fighting game that comes close this gen for me is The King of Fighters XIV for pretty much the same reasons: fantastic gameplay, enjoyable DLC, spot-on legacy respect and plenty of content right out of the gate.

I can’t wait to see what comes next and that enthusiasm isn’t always in abundant supply when you’ve been gaming for over twenty years so I know that this game is doing something extremely right.

 

(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.

Ar Tonelico 2 SE
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.

My Playlist for April-May 2019

We’re only five months into 2019 but I can already say that this has been my most barren year for gaming so far. Not a great thing to publicise on a gaming blog, huh? Well, a combination of things has stunted my gaming enthusiasm:

  • Being stuck on ‘big’ games for too long
  • Less available time than before
  • A general lack of desire

With that said, I have still managed to get my game on during April and May and play a few things…

Dead or Alive 5: Last Round (PS4)

doa6-1Earlier in the year, I posted about why DOA5 was such a great fighting game in my opinion. With the arrival of DOA6, I decided to get back into its immediate predecessor again. There are a few aspects of 6 that I’m not overly happy about hence why I haven’t purchased a copy yet. That and the fact that I didn’t ever get the most out of DOA5 despite playing all of its revisions. I tend to stick with Ayane and a few other characters for the most part so there is still a lot for me to get from the game which is why I wanted to get back into playing it. I think, as a gamer, you just KNOW when you haven’t mentally finished with a game and this is certainly the case with me and Last Round.

Soulcalibur VI (PS4)

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Fighting games have always been my favourite genre but I seem to have fallen behind lately. Thankfully, the wonderful Soulcalibur VI has reignited my passion for fighting games and even though I haven’t sat down with a controller nearly as much this year, this is probably the one game that has hooked me enough to lose track of time on numerous occasions. To tell you the truth, I’m still in shock at how good this game is and how we came from the awful Soulcalibur V to this, a sequel which is right up there with SCII and SCIII for me. Every time I take a bit of a break, Namco drop some more DLC for the game that gets me all excited again and makes me feel the way I did earlier in my gaming life when I wasn’t so jaded. I love creating characters for example and Namco keeps adding new customisation parts that encourage me to make more new characters and go back to my older ones to update them. Oh and as of typing this, they just added in the OSTs from SCII and III to customise the game with! SCVI has pretty decent music in fairness but II and III were the high points for me so this was AMAZING.

Metal Slug Anthology (PSP)

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Last month I decided to charge up and use my handhelds just to look after the batteries. What I didn’t expect was to end up playing a fair bit of Metal Slug Anthology on the PSP, a game that I sold a long time ago but had had the foresight to retain on my custom firmware-enabled memory stick. Of course, you can’t just have a “quick go” on a Metal Slug game; they are addictive and it just doesn’t work that way! So I ended up playing all of the games and reviewing the compilation. What I re-learnt was that the classics don’t age and neither does Nazca’s mind-blowing art style. I adore these games and playing them granted me a strong hit of love for videogames in general.

Yakuza 5 (PS3)

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This was the “big” game that was bogging me down and had been for over a YEAR now. Yakuza is one of my most cherished videogame series’ and so it must be stressed that I wasn’t burnt out on it and I hadn’t had enough. The problem was that I had decided to go for 100% on Yakuza 5 which turned out to be a bad decision. Eventually (for my own sanity) I had to turn back and be satisfied with 95% completion. So I finally, FINALLY completed the game after 170 HOURS of playtime. Fucking hell; how did that happen? All the wandering around, fighting and trying to get the 100% I guess. This is easily the hardest game in the series to 100% in my experience and so I don’t feel too bad about abandoning my quest as much as it hurts the obsessive part of me. I don’t enjoy or understand the Japanese gambling games, the Ito fish is impossible to catch (seriously, fuck that fish – it doesn’t exist!) and the hardest level of Winter Combat is something I ran out of SOUL to continue attempting. It was a superb game though and it’s a shame that it was a digital-only release here in the West as my Yakuza shelf looks incomplete without a box showing the number ‘5’ on the spine. I have Yakuza 0, Kiwami and 6 all ready to play on the PS4 (still need to pick up Kiwami 2…) but I think I will take a bit of a break from the series to avoid burnout.

3D Streets of Rage 2 (3DS)

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As part of charging up my handhelds, I played this again on my 3DS since I have very few retail games left in my collection and have nothing new to play. This is no bad thing however as Streets of Rage 2 is one of my all-time favourite games and a masterpiece of design. These days I tend to stick with the mighty SoR Remake on PC but there’s still something nice about going ‘pure’ and playing the second game as it was intended. M2 did a sterling job with the 3DS port and all the lovely options/settings it comes with and so I always have a blast coming back to SoR2. As with Metal Slug, games like this make me feel happy without even trying. I can’t wait for SoR4

Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (PS4)

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This has been sat on my shelf since Christmas and I’ve only just taken the wrapping off the box. I’ve played Activision’s remasters in the “wrong” order and completed the Spyro Reignited Trilogy right after receiving it (also a Christmas gift) but then I got distracted by other games and the mountain that was Yakuza 5 so Crash got neglected. Spyro was always one of my Playstation favourites though so those remasters were ALWAYS going to get played first. I finally got stuck into the N.Sane Trilogy yesterday and so far, so good. I’ve aways considered the original Crash Bandicoot to be the trickiest of the original trilogy with a more merciless level design that holds little room for error and I’m not finding it much easier this time around. That’s probably because the OG game was tight and short of dumbing down the game and level design, there wasn’t anything else that could be done. I’m glad that they didn’t meddle however because otherwise, I simply wouldn’t be interested in these remasters. It’s nice to be playing these games again in lovely PS4-o-vision but at the same time, I’m feeling a bit ‘meh’ about revisiting the original Crash Bandicoot. Don’t get me wrong, I still adore it but I feel like I’m going through the motions. It probably doesn’t help that I downloaded the first game on my PSVita not that long ago so the game is still relatively fresh in my head. Still, it’s fun enough and the 90’s PS1 fanboy in me is enjoying the nostalgia hit. I played these games when they were new back then and I can’t understand where the time went!

That brings me up-to-date with my gaming situation so far in 2019. I plan to take a break from the bigger, more time-consuming stuff for a while now so that I can focus on having a greater variety of gaming experiences rather than slogging away at the same few games for an eternity.