I’ve been in a good groove lately, jumping around with a handful of games that I’m really into. A bunch of games have come out recently and I’ve tried hard to focus on finishing or revisiting some games that I’ve had for a while.

Over the past couple weeks I’ve revisited Yakuza 5. I think I completed the main story of Yakuza 4 back in December of 2015. That was a free PlayStation Plus title that happened to be exactly the game I wanted to play at the time. I was always in love with the premise of the Yakuza series but never got around to playing them. Yakuza 4 gripped me hard with its overly excessive violence, fun gameplay and skill progression system. The story caught me a bit off guard for how good it was. In the end, I think it took me about 40 hours to complete, while I expected it to be somewhere in the 20 hour territory.

Now that you’ve got my backstory, Yakuza 5 was released on PS Plus almost immediately as I mowed through Yakuza 4. I was kind of fatigued with it at that point, and it didn’t help that Yakuza 5 starts off incredibly slow. A few weeks ago I was reminded that Yakuza 6 comes out next month so I decided to take another look at Yakuza 5.

The game starts with the protagonist Kazuma Kiryu hiding out in a new city as a taxi driver. It starts you off having to do taxi missions and highway race battles (in typical over-the-top Sega fashion). Not so much fighting so it starts pretty slow. Once the game settled in, it’s pretty much more of the same. In this game, you’re running around a few blocks of Fukuoka. It’s a much more mundane environment compared to the red-light-district of Kamurocho, where the majority of Yakuza 4 takes place. I believe there are other cities in this game, but I don’t think they’re as big. I’m looking forward to what happens next as if I’m looking forward to the next episode of a soap opera. So many twists and turns and backstabbings. What you’d expect from a crime story.

I’ve been taking mental notes about the structure of the game. It’s basically an old school beat ’em up game but it’s got a lot of layer to it which make it more interesting. You’re free to wander the open map and get into random battles with enemies wandering the streets. The found the streets generally more restricted compared to the more open areas of Yakuza 4, so it can be more difficult to avoid battles when you’re not interested in fighting. You’re rewarded for fighting by gaining experience, which gives you skill points when leveling up. These skill points are basically used to make you more god-like by giving you greater abilities to grapple, dodge, and special attacks.

You can eat at various restaurants to gain buffs to stength, defense, stamina and your life bar. You can craft weapons and armor. And there’s an endless amount of side content that you may be awarded for (missions and mini-games). I like the semi-non-linear approach and I’m starting to consider something like that for a future game. I really love the idea of an open town hub, that also has random battles.

The Heat system is main event when it comes to fighting in Yakuza. These are special attacks that you can use when charging a special meter by damaging enemies. It also drains when you take damage. All you have to do is press Triangle next to an enemy while your Heat guage is above a certain threshold. The best part is that it’s context sensitive so the action will change depending on where you are in the environment (smash an enemies face into a pole), which item you’re holding (smash a fallen enemy with a bike), or what position you’re in (being grabbed from behind). This can be fun to setup a situation where you can execute the most devastating attack. It helps break up the monotony.

I don’t think any of this is new for this game but the actual Heat attack animations have been switched up. I believe you switch to other characters later on in the game. In Yakuza 4, different characters had slightly different fighting styles which helped switch it up a bit. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes, but I think I just really want to see what a Yakuza game looks like on PS4. I’m hoping I can make my way to Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami soon. Continue Reading…

“Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” opening, song by Yoko Kanno

  I’ve finally finished watching the anime series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. The first season, at least. I watched a few subtitled episodes of the show around the time when it was released in Japan in 2002, but at the time it wasn’t something that could hold my interest. At that time, I was deeply enamored with the colorful ninjas of the Hidden Valley of the Leaf in the show Naruto, which was just starting to take the world by storm. To its merit, Ghost in the Shell: SAC had exciting robots and futuristic weaponry, but it functioned as almost a backdrop to a detective story of political corruption and turmoil. A lot less sexy than the mastering of jutsu’s and fighting tournaments of the early episodes of Naruto.

Scene from the Ghost in the Shell film (1995)

In the 90’s, Mamoru Oshii’s animated film Ghost in the Shell was one of the most popular vectors for anime discovery before shows like Dragonball Z and Pokemon brought anime to the mainstream in the United States. I remember anime as an underground culture back then – you kinda had to know somebody that knew about it. I remember glimpses of anime in the back of gaming magazines or a few tapes in the back of a video store. I probably ended up first watching the Ghost in the Shell film after a friend let me borrow a VHS tape of it. Even finding it hard to follow the plot, it’s always been a favorite film to watch simply because of the visual detail.

Jumping back into Ghost in the Shell: SAC show, I quickly discovered why I lost interest in it in the first place. It’s a great looking show, but a lot less flashier than the film. Sure it has some robots and shooting and explosions, but it also has a slow methodical pace. Most episodes have a whole lot of talking about things you know little about, with only a few scenes of action if you’re lucky. GitS: SAC must be watched intently as every line of dialog seems like its there for a reason. From the first episode, you’re dropped into the situation and there’s not a lot of scenes with overt exposition explaining the situations. This is a good thing because if you’re engaged, everything you need to know will be eventually spoon-fed to you over the course of its 26 episodes. It’ll make good sense in the end. Most of it, anyway. Continue Reading…

Over the years I’ve been working to keep up with what’s hot in gaming. Even if it’s not a game I’m too excited about, I try to get an idea of what people dig about it. I struggle to find something that excites me not only on first impression, but also after 10 hours into it. My game of the year is undoubtedly Bloodborne for PlayStation 4, which singlehandedly sold the system for me, but it’s rare for me to find something that resonates with me so well.

For the most part I’ve been gravitating towards Nintendo’s games. These tend to be well designed and easy to jump in and jump out, without lengthy tutorials. You don’t have to put in heavy work to get some joy out of it. The multiplayer gameplay is also brings me back to Nintendo’s games, since it seems like the entire game industry outside of Nintendo has forgotten why game systems have multiple controllers. More often these days, I find myself gravitating towards older games.

My main game of the moment is Final Fantasy VII.

These fun moments make me smile.

I played through this game when it released. I was 13 years old. After playing Chrono Trigger and Super Mario RPG, I was hooked on RPGs. I couldn’t get enough RPGs and this was by far my most anticipated game. And what do you know? It actually exceeded my expectations. I long considered this my favorite game of all time. This fact was definite until I played through Xenogears and Ico. Then, it became a toss-up. Over the years I’ve dabbled in emulated versions of FF7 but never replaying it more than the first 8 or so hours, which the first arc of the story within Midgar. It took me about 60 hours to beat it the first time, so it’s a relatively small chunk of the game. Continue Reading…

This is not only a review, but my highest recommendation of what I believe to be the most comprehensive text written on the Japanese game industry in the 80’s and 90’s. At least in English! 😉 The book I’m talking about, as you might’ve guessed by now, is the following…


The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers by John Szczepaniak available on Amazon.com

Yes, the title is a mouthful. The book itself has a lot of writing as well at over 500 pages, so I’ll try to keep this short. If you have an interest in knowing what the Japanese industry was like “way back when,” or you want to know the story behind some of the cherished and/or niche titles you grew up loving, this might be the only place for you to get a glimpse of that world. Continue Reading…

 I got a few new games in the last few months and I’ve really been trying to buckle down and finish them all! I got Super Mario 3D Land for Nintendo 3DS as an Xmas gift. I was looking forward to it as I heard it had a lot of old-school-ish Mario action. To me, it’s the best Mario game since Super Mario Galaxy — it’s even made by the Super Mario Galaxy team.

The game plays something like a mix between Mario Galaxy, Crash Bandicoot, and Super Mario Bros 3. The stages are generally short with a focus on a theme. For instance, there’s the “underwater level” and then the “spinning helicopter floating down platforming level”, and the “running on spinning gears level”. Similar to Galaxy, each level introduces slightly different gameplay mechanics and keeps things fresh. I finished the game and there aren’t many stages that even feel similar.

For the most part, the game is pretty easy for experienced gamers. My girlfriend was terrible when she started but she kept at it. She brought to my attention that the game actually blatantly helps you out when you die a number of times in a stage. It’ll give you a special white tanooki suit which appears in a floating “?” box, which makes it optional to collect if you’re too proud.

Find Mii for 3DS, I’m addicted to this game.

I’ve been in love with the 3DS since I figured out how the Play Coin system works and discovered the “Find Me” mini game installed. Find Me is a super basic RPG game where the goal is to defeat monsters in a series of stages. You draw random fighters by spending Play Coins, which is a built in 3DS currency you get by walking with the 3DS. The hired fighters can make one move, attack or magic. The type of magic they use is determined by the color shirt they have (i.e. blue shirt = water, red shirt = fire). It’s soooo ridiculously simple but I’ve been taking my 3DS with me wherever I go so I can earn Play Coins — hoping that I can spot pass with people to help me along. When you finish it twice you unlock the sequel, which was added in a 3DS system update. Not bad for being free!
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I’ve been excited to get started with Xenoblade for Wii. I imported the Limited Edition with the red classic controller from game.co.uk. I had to mod my Wii to play it because I wasn’t going to let Nintendo of America get between me and the game!

I’m a huge fan of Xenogears and I’ve heard that this game is one of the best RPGs in recent years. Something with that JRPG feel that you know and love. So far so good, the game hooked me from the start with it’s intro setting up the conflict and letting you explore a world living on top of giant robots.

The game focuses a lot on exploration, you get experience by traveling to new area and discovering landmarks. The flow of the game is super quick — it even lets you transport to any landmark you’ve been before at just about any time.

Battle system’s a realtime-menu based one — those are all of the rage these days. I’m not amazed by it yet, but it’s easy to understand from the get-go.

Here is an example of how the battle system plays out…

My time’s been split with Zelda: Ocarina of Time for Nintendo 3DS.

I wanted to get a 3DS when it came out. Beyond it being expensive, I managed to convince myself not to get one because there wasn’t even anything I wanted to play on it. But I played Zelda at Target for about 3 seconds and I knew I had to buy one. I waited a few more weeks and the price dropped.

Words can’t explain how amazing this game is. Each part has such intricate attention to detail, I can’t think of many games that compare to it. The 3D looks great but you sorta get used to it after a while. But it’s the graphical overhaul that really makes it worthwhile. Higher resolution textures, new models (Link has fingers now), better character animation. But they didn’t mess with the timing of anything, feels exactly the same. The controls are annoying sometimes — partially because it’s an old game and partially because of the 3DS stick.

I want Nintendo to make another game on par with this!

I’ve also been playing some Final Fantasy 13 on PS3.


It’s by far the most consistently beautiful game I’ve ever played. It got a lot of flack for its linearity and how the first 10 hours of the game are basically tutorials for the battle system — but I believe it got a lot more criticism than it deserved. It was questionable that they hold your hand through so much of the earlier battles. They reveal features of the battle system slowly, and it’s easy to win by just tapping X as fast a possible. But once you start to get an understanding of the whole system, it’s very awesome. Story does seem pretty lame though, unfortunately. Everything else is top notch.

I like that it’s very easy to pick up and play. The linearity does help me jump in and play 30 minutes before I go to work or some other times like that. Not having to remember which quest I was on the last time I played it helps me come back to it and progress speedily.

It’s interesting how these RPGs are streamlining gameplay to make them more accessible to their aging audience. The last RPG I finished was The Lost Odyssey and that was very old school, which I liked, but made it so that you had to dedicate yourself to it (2 hour long dungeons with few save points) to move forward.

If all I knew about games were what I had read, I would believe them to be the revolutionary, new zenith of human culture; a marriage of man’s greatest accomplishments in art and science. The problem is I’ve played them too.

Most recently I played Jason Rohrer’s new Inside a Star-Filled Sky. Rohrer’s been a key figure in the ‘games as art’ discussion since it first gained momentum and I’ve admired his aims. I enjoyed Inside a Star-Filled Sky too. I have my complaints, but that’s no shocker. What should come as a surprise is how few criticisms target the pseudo-intellectual banter that surrounds Rohrer’s work and projects like his.

The games industry, including and especially the so-called indie game movement, appears to be suffering from what I call ‘premature congratulation.’ Games without the depth of a poorly written soap opera are regularly applauded for their artistry while patronizing speeches are given by industry moguls patting themselves on the back for the snail’s pace of the art form’s maturation. Universities had no trouble constructing game academia overnight by cutting it down to meaningless abstractions and inventing predictions on the future of gaming despite their disconnection from actual game development. In this market, talk is real cheap.
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I started playing through Earthbound to see what it was about. There was a great little article on the original that never made it stateside in issue 5 of GameSpite Quarterly, the NES 25th anniversary issue. Just another reminder that I needed to play through this game! The only time I played it was back in 1998 on a SNES emulator, which barely ran on my 200Mhz Pentium 1 computer. Today, I’m running a much more developed version of that same Snes9x emulator, with a much better dual core processor and USB controller. No reason not to keep playing!

The first time I played, I only made it through the intro and a little farther after that. This time, I discovered why. Once the game opened up to the first town, it became a puzzle to determine what to do next. Back then, it was too frustrating with the choppy framerate of my slow computer. Now, I took the time to figure out what the game is about.

The gameplay of Earthbound is pretty much your typical Japanese RPG — think Dragon Warrior or Pokémon. You wander around locations and encounter random battles when you bump into enemies, similar to Chrono Trigger. You can obtain an advantage if you encounter the enemy from behind — and you start the battle at a disadvantage if they get you from behind. The battles are of simple menu driven variety. No cluttered menus and overly complex sub-systems.

What separates the game from everything I’ve mentioned is definitely the scenarios and dialogue. The scenarios are pretty random and wacky from what I’ve seen — from fighting thugs at their arcade hideout to fighting police. The dialogue is always on the side of humor and satire. It’s just goofy and funny! Makes me smile simply by reading it, wondering what was going on in the Nintendo translators’ heads in 1995. They did a great job! In addition to the writing, the game starts off with allowing you to answer questions from the NPCs early on. This will usually affect how they respond. But sometimes your answer affects your progress through the scenario. For instance, you may have to answer with the alternate response for something to happen. I got stuck at a part like that.

The music is great as well. I was like “right on” when they played a little reggae track when you enter a house. Great attention to detail with the tunes, it seems like they even sampled songs for many of them.

What I love about the game is that even though it’s so simple, it’s apparent that a lot of love went into it. I love that it’s not afraid to poke fun at it being a game. I even feel like if you took a lot of the gameplay out of it — like removing the battle system — it’d still be an enjoyable experience because of the definite world it creates for itself. Playing, I feel like I just gotta see what happens next.

Till next time…


  • First-Person Shooter. Check.
  • Post Apocalyptic World. Check.
  • RPG Elements. Check.

I had held off from getting an Xbox until Halo 3 came out. There was all the drama with the Red Ring of Death and there were lots of rumors of a new motherboard with less problems, coincidentally around the time of Halo 3’s release. After playing through Halo 3 I ended up getting a Wii and Super Mario Galaxy — mostly using my Xbox for XBLA games ( Braid, Rez, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Banjo Kazooie, etc.) Last Fall I decided to get caught up with Xbox retail games, and borrowed a bunch from Ricky.


Bioshock was high on my list. It was mega-hyped, looked pretty cool, and one of the prettiest games out at the time. There were a lot of demo videos leading up to its release, demonstrating the variety of ways you could interact with the enemies and environment to get through situations. Using electricity to deactivate machines, using fire to make enemies run for water, making the Big Daddies fight on your side, and the like. It looked exciting and I had to see what the game was about since it was one of the best examples of our game technology.

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Play The Dream Machine at www.thedreammachine.se

I had contacted Anders Gustafsson, creator of Gateway II, and he gave me a preview of the first chapter of his latest game — The Dream Machine by Cockroach Inc.

I had played the demo before and while it was presented well, I didn’t know what to think of it. It was so short that it felt like it was over before it ever began. But after playing through the first chapter, I can now rest my worries. I can’t wait to play the rest!

First off the game is well written. While Gateway had some dialogue, its story was mostly told visually through the animation of the characters. In The Dream Machine, the characters have some great dialogue, which I find believable. The game start with your character, Victor, just moving into an apartment with his girlfriend. You get a good feel for their relationship through their talking. The game has dialogue branches which allow you to respond in a more serious or joking manner if you wish. It helped me to believe in the characters — okay, Game Creator, you’ve got my attention.

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