Authors Posts by Ryan

Ryan

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is the de facto editor and mastermind here at 30lives. He is also unbelievably bad at self-introductions. :sadcam

DSC02511Despite popular opinion, Nintendo is actually a company of iterative refinement—a company that does not simply rest after unleashing its creations, instead finding ways to subtly improve on them. This is especially true in their hardware offerings, all but one (the beleaguered and short-lived Virtual Boy) receiving some sort of incremental upgrade during their respective lifetimes. Remember those mystery ports on the NES and SNES? Though often appearing stunted from a technological standpoint, Nintendo always seemingly looks ahead and somehow sneaks in some sort of improvement in their consoles or handhelds, mysteriously forcing their consumers hands and snaking in a quick payment when, really, the “old” version of the hardware worked just fine.

Whether it’s slapping add-ons to the system (the Famicom’s Disk System), miniturization (SNES Jr., Game Boy Pocket), slight spec bumps (Game Boy Color and this very piece of hardware), or correcting a terrible, terrible mistake (the Game Boy Advance SP and its actually-legible scren), all of us have paid for a “standard” mid-cycle Nintendo upgrade one way or the other.

DSC02514I suppose where I’m getting at with this is, yes, Nintendo has a giant hard-on for improving their existing hardware, for better or for worse. Enter the “New” Nintendo 3DS. In what’s probably the least-creative console rebranding this side of the PlayStation twos through fours, the New Nintendo 3DS (or NN3DS, as abbreviated by absolutely nobody) is simply just that, a newer, mid-cycle version of its vintage-2011 Nintendo 3DS handheld awkwardly slotting in a couple years before its real successor comes out. Unlike the Nintendo DSi right before it, Nintendo isn’t immediately halting sales of the “older” 3DS units in lieu of this iteration, instead puzzlingly choosing to market this in North American regions as a premium version of the 3DS hardware. Irritatingly, Nintendo of America has decided to not release the New 3DS XL’s smaller sibling at all, choosing to keep the “old” 3DS and XL, as well as its forlorn stepsibling, the adorable but maligned 2DS. It doesn’t take a marketing degree to realize that they’ve made a mess out of this.

That aside, the short story with the New 3DS is that its actually a worthwhile upgrade to the original 3DS and 3DS XL. Much unlike how a typical Nintendo fan fails to refine him or herself into a nuanced adult, the NN3DSXL feels like a more premium, mature product. Even the intangibles such as heft and gloss were taken into account when crafting Nintendo’s final revision of the 3DS product. On paper it sounds like a dicey cash-grab, but when you actually have one in your hands, the New 3DS XL looks, sounds and feels exactly how the handheld should have been in the first place.

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Small things, such as the volume slider being relegated to the top of the clamshell instead of its irritatingly easy-to-cajole former home on the bottom half of the console, turn into vast improvements once you spend some more time with the console. Little nuances, such as the brightness controlling itself automatically, or the Wi-Fi no longer needing to be switched on and off, pop in every now and then and remind the end-user that, yes, this is a better 3DS than the one you had. And of course, there are the tiny, irritating screw-ups that remind you that this is a Nintendo product: the MicroSD slot being nigh-inaccessible is definitely a Luddite decision that the tiny Kyoto company would make. I’m not even surprised that the New Nintendo 3DS doesn’t come with a charger: they know their target audience for these things, and their target audience has like four or five of those things kicking around from the DSi’s heyday. Whatever, I don’t even use them—I vastly prefer and recommend those knockoff USB chargers from China. Plug ’em into a sentient box that has a USB port (such as a cable/digibox) and voila, instant charging station.

DSC02515One immediate drag with owning a New Nintendo 3DS is the system transfer process. I can count the number of digital games I have with one hand, yet it still took four hours to move less than four gigabytes worth of data from my old 3DS XL to my New 3DS XL. It’s almost useless to hope for at this point, but it’s 2015 and the fact that Nintendo still doesn’t have a unified account system at this point is borderline laughable. I can literally run to the store, buy a new 2000-series Vita, download roughly 64GB of game data and saves from the cloud, make myself a mean osso bucco, and still clock in less time than it takes for a standard 3DS system transfer to finish. It’s insane.

Let’s talk about super-stable 3D: it’s awesome. Forget the bad, disjointed 3D experience from the old 3DS, that’s dead and buried now. The New 3DS tracks your head with some sort of proximity sensor and adjusts the 3D image in real-time to compensate, making playing in 3D on the darn thing actually feasible now. I hardly ever use the 3D feature on my old 3DS because it was such a pain to get into that “sweet spot” to enjoy the effect, but I have 3D permanently turned on with my New 3DS and apart from the quick jitter ever now and then when it fails to adjust for whatever reason, its totally seamless and immersive.

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DSC02512As for the new control features, they’re alright. The C-stick feels a lot like the eraser-nubs on old IBM Thinkpads, and is surprisingly solid-feeling once you get a hang of it. After clocking in a few hours on Monster Hunter 4 and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, sweeping the camera across the screen came as second nature, and the little nub deftly did its job when needed. I can’t see the C-stick ever working for FPS games, but given the fact that so few of those come the system’s way, I’m sure it’s not even a concern. I forgot the ZL and ZR triggers even existed, given how sparingly MH4 used ’em. I suppose we’ll have to wait for a “real” NN3DS exclusive to come out before we even see the little buttons get used.

DSC02517A small sidebar on software compatibility: it may be placebo effect, but games do in fact load faster on the New 3DS. Newer titles like Majora’s Mask and Smash Bros. aren’t a surprise since they were probably developed with the New 3DS in mind, but even older titles that I’ve revisited such as Snake Eater 3D (still a bad port) and Pilotwings Resort (super-underrated, even as a launch title) seemed snappier to load. My hope is that Nintendo and its third-parties patch out some of the older titles to fully take advantage of the New 3DS’ hardware, even to improve simple things like framerate and draw distance.

So for better or for worse, the New Nintendo 3DS is just that: its a New Nintendo 3DS. Despite the minor spec-bump, the system still sports sub-iOS level graphical capabilities, an insultingly low-resolution screen (exasperated by the XL’s massive berth) and shockingly bad online capabilities (the eShop is still a poorly-designed nightmare). Still, there’s a reason these things crush the competition, and thats simply thanks to an amazing software lineup. For those that happen to enjoy the 3DS’ roster of fine videogames, the New 3DS XL is almost a required purchase as it improves the 3DS experience so much.

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Disclosure: 30lives received a review copy of The Evil Within from Bethesda Softworks.

The Evil Within_20141013014022It amazes me how much goodwill Capcom has managed to piss away nine years after releasing Resident Evil 4—a game that (deservedly) sits on every videogame enthusiast’s all-time top five. After releasing two lackluster sequels, a couple more middling spin-offs, and about half a dozen ports, it’s safe to say that we’re all ready for this series to ride off into the sunset (hah! thought I’d make a zombie joke, didn’t you?), at least for the time being.

As cliched as this may sound, The Evil Within is a true return-to-form for the series; albeit one produced under a different moniker, for a different company, and with an entirely different cast of characters. The essence stays the same however, as TEW is directed by Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami under his new development studio Tango Gameworks. It’s no small coincidence that the series started slipping as soon as Mikami released his reins; and if anything this game proves that Mikami can produce excellence without being constrained by Resident Evil’s now-convoluted mythos.

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Messy!

It is painfully clear however that Mikami has some sort of affinity for policework (and vaguely hispanic avatars): your protagonist Sebastian Castellanos starts off as an unassuming investigator that somehow winds up in a city filled with grotesque zombie-like creatures (wink), creepy raven-haired kids, and of course: a chainsaw-wielding brute set to tear you to pieces for some reason. I always assume it’s because you banged his sister. You never mess with a man’s sister. Anyway, Sebastian and friends find themselves in this twisted environ and feverishly attempt to escape, and of course are met by exceedingly-absurd opposition from not only the ugly creatures that populate their coordinates, but—only a spoiler if you’re an absolute idiot—also themselves. If you haven’t gathered from the game’s title (or hell, even the Japanese title Psycho Break), a good chunk of the game is dedicated to questioning the human condition; yours and your comrades.

For anyone who’s seen a horror movie from the last fifteen years, The Evil Within’s narrative may feel like predictable, run-off-the-mill pap. I’ll concede that point and fire back that its way better than 90% of the garbage most of us have to wade through. (without a skip button!)

Instead of simply relying on horror tropes for quick scares, The Evil Within also features more contemporary chills: you’ll see a lot of non-sequitur scenes in this game, much in the vein of Alan Wake or Deadly Premonition, except far more unsettling.  For instance, a madhouse door leads into a field of sunflowers… But why? Without spoiling too much, at that point in the game, you’re already questioning every single wrench the game throws at you, a sense of helplessness that I haven’t felt in a videogame since Capcom’s own Haunting Ground. (say, whatever happened to that game?)

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A fair warning to all the s-a-w-f-t gamers out there, softened by eighth-generation console trappings: this game is hard.  Harkening back to the first Resident Evil, weapons and ammo are in scarce supply. You essentially have five guns in the entire game, and a pretty badass multi-functional crossbow, but none of them are of much use as you’re probably going to spend the majority of the game scampering around to avoid enemies and find what little scraps of ammunition or curative items the game provides throughout each of the fifteen chapters. Hey, the genre is called survival-horror, ain’t it? Its tough, but fair, a quality that I found endearingly old-school.

That’s not to say that the game completely lacks modern game design niceties: of course the game offers an (optional) upgrade system, one that is fueled by “green gel” (pause) that you find hidden throughout each of the acts. I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the game as it felt to me that there was a real risk and reward system at play here: given that

Everything has to be a god damned Metroidvania nowadays, huh?

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Its not all sunshine and sunflowers however: at times I found the game’s reliance on trial-and-error—especially during boss battles—to be incredibly frustrating, further compounded by the fact that the game is inexorably unoptimized, with long loading times cropping up everywhere; puzzling because the game installs on first load and seems to page from my system’s hard drive a lot. .

Alas, these are but small complaints in the grand scheme of things. The Evil Within is the Resident Evil 4 sequel y’all have been pining for. And even if the game aspired to be nothing but that, I can dig it.

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Danganronpa 2 Goodbye Despair Screenshot (13)The first Danganronpa was quite the deceiving little gem: underneath the guise of its saccharine-sweet visual style, (deceptively) shallow characterization and general swathe of uguu~ anime charm lied a narrative that painted itself with the same dark and light swatches that its raison d’etre Monokuma displays. One that consistently leads its protagonist and the player through murder, mystery, and the loss of the human condition, segueing at times into what can be construed as a… dating simulator. I booted up its sequel, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair with both excitement and trepidation; expecting another well-spun yarn leading me through another twenty or so hours of furrowed reading, attachment to characters who—spoilers—might not even make it through the end of the game, and the eventual existential crisis the game puts the player through. At the risk of sounding like a total putz, Danganronpa is a very emotionally-demanding videogame.

As with the first game, the plot centers around the ominous Hope’s Peak Academy, a school vaguely located in Japan that recruits only the best of the best. Goodbye Despair expands upon the first game’s cast of Ultimates and comes up with new über wunderkinds to interact with; and while some of them may sound lame or forced at first glance, each character once again has several underlying secrets hiding behind their archetypal titles.

Danganronpa 2 Goodbye Despair Screenshot (11)

Danganronpa 2 Goodbye Despair Screenshot (10)Unlike the first game, which cast the player as the “Ultimate Lucky Student,” a faceless, unremarkable schmuck that only got to Hope’s Peak because he won a random drawing, the events of Goodbye Despair are now told through the eyes of one Hajime Hinata, a bombastic, oft-arrogant and sometimes unlikeable avatar that professes to be the ultimate…. Plot twist! He doesn’t actually remember what he’s supposed to be at the game’s onset. Even this simple bit of unreliable narration clues the player in to the game’s greatest asset: being able to take what is essentially an unbelievable set of circumstances and somehow weave that together into a narrative that appears to be spun-out by the first chapter, off-the-rails by the middle of the game, and somehow neatly tied-together by the game’s conclusion.

For those that haven’t had the opportunity to go through the first Danganronpa, the game can best be described as a strange amalgamation of 999 (or its sequel, Virtue’s Last Reward) and Phoenix Wright, with the design sensibilities of Persona hewed in. The game plays like a standard visual novel for the first half of every chapter and abruptly segues into a morose version of Ace Attorney where you gather clues about each murder, pointing out contradictions later on in the classroom trial and ultimately piecing all of the information you’ve gathered to finger a final suspect. At its core, however, the game is a visual novel through and through, with exploration elements that undoubtedly give the player some semblance of freedom; that is up to the point that he or she realizes that a certain character or event is awaiting to be triggered for the storyline to progress.

As a sequel, Goodbye Despair does not disappoint. The first game ended on a little bit of a cliffhanger, and while the second game does expand on the first game’s lore a little bit, it stands alone well enough without relying too much on the first game’s keynotes. That being said, I think you got to stretch your suspension of disbelief with this game a little bit more than you had to with the first game. It’s not quite the claustrophobic, urgent thriller that Trigger Happy Havoc was either—while one could understand why someone would go stir-crazy in the first game’s sealed, cramped school corridors, the deaths in Danganronpa 2 hit you way harder than they should in that “aw man, why’d you have to do that” sense, simply because there appeared to be a common goal between the participants in part deux of this sick social experiment.

Danganronpa 2 Goodbye Despair Screenshot (3)

Goodbye Despair’s failings come at the hands of its own linear trappings. As with its contemporaries in the adventure game genus, solving the game’s myriad mysteries oftentimes falls under the hands of the player understanding the writers’ and developers’ logic, rather than the player’s own. No matter how early or late the player’s own “whodunit” epiphany comes into play, during class trials you are still at the mercy of the game’s pacing, and each mini-epiphany that leads to each chapter’s crescendo needs to be played out first; and that may frustrate some. I personally am numbed enough by “videogame logic” where I can shrug my shoulders and exclaim “welp, comes with the territory” whenever this happens.

Danganronpa 2 Goodbye Despair Screenshot (8)I cannot deny the stigma that the game faces as being part of the visual novel pantheon (a bias that, unfortunately, most cannot look beyond as the genre is saturated with less-than-savory entries). However, with expectations in check I can guarantee that any player will find Danganronpa’s convoluted tale one of the most compelling chronicles to be found on any videogame system, ever.

Platform Publisher Developer
PlayStation Vita NIS America Spike Chunsoft

Disclosure: thanks to the folks at NIS America for providing us with a pre-release copy of Danganronpa. Class starts today for the R3 release at your friendly local Datablitz or iTech-type retailers. The game comes out on the US PlayStation Network this September 2nd.

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hyperdimension neptunia producing perfection (2)Upon final reflection, there really isn’t any sensible way to describe Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection (which I am abbreviating to PP for no other reason other than the fact that I am an immature cad). It’s easy to compare the game to contemporaries that some may have heard of (i.e., Idolm@ster or even the Princess Maker series), but there aren’t any checkboxes, descriptors, nor genres that accurately depict the game’s scope, much less in a Western gamer’s context and worldview.

The game opens up with you, the player (clearly assuming that you are a heterosexual male, of course), somehow finding himself within the confines of Gamindustri, Hyperdimension Neptunia’s game world. As one can surmise, the world is a metaphor for the game industry, with four Goddesses lording over it: Neptune (the series’ protagonist representing Sega; let’s not laugh at the irony here), Noire (cold, raven-haired vixen representing Sony’s monolithic corporate values), Blanc (meek and introverted, somehow signifying Nintendo), and Vert (Xbox-tan, shockingly the only character that appears to be over 18, also has the largest rack out of the group because ‘MURRICA). Somehow the player has to help either one of these fine gals become the number one idol in Gamindustri and defeat the looming menace of rival group MOB-48, who are slowly winning over the populace’s love with music and (assumedly) hips that won’t quit.

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I suppose the most apt one-liner that describes the game is that it is an “idol raising simulation.” No doubt this summary raises even more questions about the game’s milieu. Perhaps “Tamagotchi with underaged anime girls” would be a more apt description? Either way, the game plays out as a fairly competent management sim, albeit a little more shallow than others. Essentially you plan out activities that raise your charge’s abilities in singing and dancing, while keeping their stress levels down by getting to socialize with the other goddesses, taking short vacations, or even going out with them on dates yourself (conflict of interest alert!). At times you do get to man the producer’s booth and plan out concerts featuring your idol, letting you pick the setting, attire, and song for the day, and later letting you blow up pyrotechnics and change camera angles while your idol is actually on-stage.

The whole management aspect of the game is actually fairly fun and light-hearted, with the only problem being that there isn’t much motivation to soldier forward. The plot moves at a glacial pace, with surprisingly few snags on your idol’s way to success (I jest, but shouldn’t every idol have to deal with bulimia, cocaine addiction, and unwanted pregnancies?). Depending on your tolerance for the game’s brand of humor, you may find the dialogue and jokes Neptune and gang spit out endearing, or simply a reason for NIS to have a “skip” button. I personally found the game’s dialogue detestable and jammed on the skip button with incredible eagerness.

hyperdimension neptunia producing perfection (6)With that being said, PP is clearly a niche game for a niche audience. It’s actually in a very odd space; a casual game wrapped in a presentation that unfortunately most won’t be able to look past. I’ll concede that the pace is okay for a handheld game where one can only stomach thirty-minute spurts at a time, but it’s a tough sell even for Vita owners that are desperate for any sort of games on their handheld.

It’s tough to give Producing Perfection a solid recommendation either way. Starved Vita gamers have lots on their plate over the next few months if they’re in the mood for niche Japanese games. Neptunia fans, the weird lot they are, will probably buy this game for the simple opportunity to see their favorite console-tans dolled up in highly-questionable clothing. I’d like to support the fact that NIS America continues to localize extremely niche titles, but unlike Danganronpa, this may be too niche of a title, and could have stayed in Japan.

Alas, it’s that time of year again where every otherwise-rational gaming enthusiast turns into drooling manchildren, evacuating their trousers for games that will never live up to their expectations. It must be E3 season!

Due to… scheduling conflicts (yeah let’s go with that), 30lives won’t be able to actively cover E3 this year like we were able to last year. However, we promise that we’ll be sending out smarmy tweets and Facebook posts whenever appropos, so make sure to watch our social media pages for ’em. Predictions? We haven’t been paying much attention. Personally I’m pining for a Fallout 4 trailer (with gameplay this time) and for Nintendo to pull something cool out their behinds. Otherwise, it’s looking like a “safe,” sterile and uneventful E3 this year, as none of the expected announcements really excite me.

If you’re new to E3, you’ll soon figure out that the actual press conferences (i.e., where the actual hype/hilarity happens) actually take place a few days from the conference. That’s right, starting tomorrow, all bets are on as to which company’s PR/marketing department deserves to be fired. Microsoft will kick off the pressers at 9:30am (PST, which is… 12:30am Tuesday Philippine time), followed by EA, Ubisoft, and Sony. Nintendo won’t have a live press conference; instead they’ll be broadcasting a live Nintendo Direct to take the company’s yearly dump on their fans. I really liked this chart from NeoGAF, so I’ll be stealing it. For those that didn’t make it past grade school, the Perth/AWST schedule is what you’re supposed to be looking at.

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Twitch.tv will be the official streaming partner for this year’s E3, and will be broadcasting a smorgasbord of content throughout the next week. For your convenience, here’s what’s on their schedule; please note that all times specified are in Pacific Standard Time.

Monday 6/9 PT

  • 9:30am – Xbox E3 2014 Media Briefing
  • 11:00am – Xbox E3 2014 Media Briefing Post show
  • 11:30pm – Hotline Miami 2 (Dennaton Games/Devolver Digital)
  • 12:00pm – EA World Premiere: E3 2014 Preview
  • 1:00pm – Battlefield Hardline Live Stream
  • 2:00pm – EA World Premiere: E3 2014 Post show
  • 2:30pm – Battlecry (Bethesda)
  • 3:00pm – Ubisoft 2014 E3 Media Briefing
  • 4:00pm – Ubisoft 2014 E3 Media Briefing Post show
  • 4:30pm – Witcher 3 (CD Projekt RED)
  • 5:00pm – Dying Light (Techland)
  • 5:30pm – Final thoughts
  • 6:00pm – PlayStation E3 2014 Press Conference

Tuesday 6/10 PT

  • 9:00am – Nintendo Digital Event
  • 10:00am – Deep Silver (Unannounced title)
  • 10:15am – Deep Silver (Unannounced title)
  • 10:30am – Dragon Age: Inquisition (EA)
  • 11:00am – Ubisoft (Unannounced title)
  • 11:20am – The Division (Ubisoft)
  • 11:40am – Farcry 4 (Ubisoft)
  • 12:00pm – Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Activision)
  • 12:20pm – Microsoft Studios (Unannounced title)
  • 12:40pm – Microsoft Studios (Unannounced title)
  • 1:00pm – DRIVECLUB (SCEA)
  • 1:20pm – Evil Within (Bethesda)
  • 1:40pm – Lords of the Fallen (NAMCO)
  • 2:00pm – Destiny (Activision/BUNGIE)
  • 2:20pm – The Order: 1886 (SCEA)
  • 2:40pm – Nintendo Demo
  • 3:00pm – Evolve Special Tournament (2K)
  • 4:00pm – Super Smash Bros. Invitational (Nintendo)

Wednesday 6/11 PT

  • 10:00am – Alienware
  • 10:30am – Twitch Time
  • 11:00am – Sunset Overdrive (Insomniac Games/Microsoft Studios)
  • 11:20am – ID@Xbox (Unannounced title)
  • 11:40am – Killer Instinct: Season Two (Iron Galaxy/Microsoft Studios)
  • 12:00pm – Square Enix (Unannounced title)
  • 12:20pm – Square Enix (Unannounced title)
  • 12:40pm – H1Z1 (Sony Online Entertainment)
  • 1:00pm – EA (Unannounced title)
  • 1:20pm – Batman: Arkham Knight (Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment)
  • 1:40pm – Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment)
  • 2:10pm – Nintendo Demo
  • 2:30pm – Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (Unannounced title)
  • 2:50pm – Crytek (Unannounced title)
  • 3:00pm – SCEA (Unannounced title)
  • 3:15pm – SCEA (Unannounced title)
  • 3:30pm – Hohokum (Honeyslug, SCE Santa Monica Studio)
  • 3:45pm – Helldivers (Arrowhead Game Studios/Sony Computer Entertainment)
  • 4:00pm – Alien Isolation (The Creative Assembly/SEGA)
  • 4:20pm – Civilization: Beyond Earth (2K)
  • 4:40pm – Diablo III: Reaper of Souls – Ultimate Evil Edition on PS4 (Blizzard)
  • 5:00pm – Evolve Special Tournament (2K)

Thursday 6/12 PT

  • 10:00am – Tetris w/creator Alexey Pajitnov
  • 10:15am – Zombies Monsters Robots (Ying Pei Games)
  • 10:30am – Guinness World Records – certificate presentation
  • 11:00am – Fable Legends (LionHead/Microsoft Studios)
  • 11:20am – #IDARB (ID@Xbox)
  • 11:40am – Project Spark (Team Dakota/Microsoft Studios)
  • 12:00pm – Nintendo Demo
  • 12:20am – Square Enix (Unannounced title)
  • 12:40pm – PlanetSide 2 PS4 Edition (Sony Online Entertainment)
  • 1:00pm – 505 Games (TBD) 1:20pm – Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (Unannounced title)
  • 1:40pm – Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (Gearbox/2K)
  • 2:00pm – Ubisoft (Unannounced title)
  • 2:20pm – The Crew (Ubisoft)
  • 2:40pm – Nintendo Demo
  • 3:00pm – Tecmo Koei (Unannounced title)
  • 3:20pm – Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes (Disney Interactive)
  • 3:40pm – SEGA Sonic BOOM! (SEGA)
  • 4:00pm – Evolve Special Tournament (2K)

Freedom Wars, SCE Japan Studio’s interesting action-RPG hybrid with a Foucauldian twist, will receive a local release via Sony’s official retail partners on June 26th for the price of PhP2499, coinciding with its Japanese release. The interesting bit about this news is that we’ll apparently be getting the Japanese-language version on launch, with a completely different launch for the Chinese-language version to follow in August. Not sure what this means for us indios who deal strictly in Latin-based alphabets, but we’ve contacted Sony to clarify.

Maybe there’s a stealth English translation on the Japanese release we don’t know of? Japanese-release games having a complete English translation on launch isn’t that far-fetched; the first three Phoenix Wright re-releases had dual language on the Japanese carts, for instance. Anyway, press release follows after the cut!

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Hey MMO gamers! Through some happenstance and magic, we happened to stumble upon 400 beta keys for the much-anticipated Southeast Asian release of Phantasy Star Online 2. After quickly finding out that online gaming beta keys aren’t accepted as currency or barter for, um… questionable things, we decided to whip up some code sorcery and give ’em out to you, our wonderful readers.

Phantasy Star Online 2 is coming out at an unspecified date courtesy of Asiasoft, giant corporate entity most recently known for buying out Level Up Philippines. The publisher plans to release the game throughout their SEA area of responsibility, which includes Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. So if you happen to be in that area of the world (if you’re reading this very post, chances are, you are), please enjoy the unique beta key below this post.  Oh yeah, this is for the PC version of the game; yes we are equally upset that Sega won’t get off their FAAAAT ASSES and localize the game’s Vita version.

Fine print and details ahoy!

  • Date: Thursday, 10 till Sunday, 13 April 2014
  • Beta Starting Time: 1500HRS (Philippine time, GMT +8), Daily
  • Beta Closing Time: 2359HRS (Philippine time, GMT +8), Daily
  • Beta Activation Page: http://bit.ly/PmhHJa

Developed by SEGA Corporation, Phantasy Star Online 2 is a Massively Multiplayer Action Online Role Playing Game (MMOARPG) where players get to experience revolutionary combat in an action-driven gameplay, to take a journey into an immersive sci-fi fantasy narrative and to explore mysterious worlds to unravel their secrets.  For more information, check out the game’s official website: http://pso2.playpark.com/en/ and follow the game on Facebook for community updates: https://www.facebook.com/playpso2.ph.

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Around this time last year, five surly kids were busy laughing at how terrible games coverage was being handled in this country. Shaking our heads at how the majority of sites and publications out there were essentially fronts for large companies to hawk their wares or people with “in-debt knowledge” (actual line from an actual site) begging said companies for free shit; we figured that it was about time to give people out there a serious alternative from what was out there. We didn’t really have any grand ambitions in mind, just something that would, at the very least, keep us and perhaps a small contingent of our mutual friends entertained until we got bored and moved on. After some thought, we decided that we’d call ourselves “30lives” for no other discernible reason other than it gave us the very cool domain-hack, http://30liv.es/

Around two hours later, I slapped together a boxed CMS theme, popped it in one of my spare server boxes sitting in a co-location, and 30liv.es was born. Two weeks later, we decided that we all made a huge mistake and Google thought we were a Spanish-based site as we were using the .es top-level domain. We rechristened ourselves at 30lives.net and started writing about… things. Mostly things that made us angry. Even though we weren’t really angry. For a while, our editorial style was based on faux vitriol, and we’d write about things about the local and worldwide gaming scene that we thought didn’t make sense. This didn’t win us any favors or friends, and we didn’t really care. Someone had to dish out some real talk, and being sycophantic parrots that copy and paste press releases wasn’t really our style. Looking back, the way we’d rapid-fire posts every single day was actually fairly insane (not to mention unsustainable).

We’ve significantly toned ourselves down since then, and just write about cool games or events around the country whenever we can (or share a funny picture here and there on Facebook). It’s not that we’ve become lazy, or complacent, or anything, but because we’ve exhausted everything we’ve wanted to put out there. Which is why we’re using this message as an open invitation to our community: if anyone out there reading this wants to say something, perhaps use our reader base as a platform to get a message out there, or even contribute a piece of news that hasn’t flown by our radars, get in touch with us!

Of course, we’d have pulled the plug on this thing months ago if it wasn’t for our awesome readers. We’ve had some asshats pop in and out every so often to deride us, but for the most part we’ve been having fun interacting with the little community of readers we’ve started to build. If we haven’t made it abundantly clear before—thank you. We started this project as simply a way to keep ourselves entertained, but we are thankful and humbled that there are actually people out there who enjoy reading what we’ve been putting out.

Here’s to at least another year of doing whatever we’ve been doing.

– The team at 30lives (Ryan, Cheena, Alex, Shin and… Borge I guess)

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I’m playing a visual novel that stars high school students physically and psychologically pitted against each other by a sadistic, faceless higher authority figure binding them with the allure of freedom and the constant fear of death and betrayal. What game am I playing? If you answered 999, Virtue’s Last Reward, or even Corpse Party, then you are wrong. Danganronpa (5)Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc takes place in (what appears to be) Hope’s Peak Academy, home of only the most elite students Japan has to offer… And you. The protagonist, Makoto Naegi, is your standard faceless teenager that happened to win the opportunity to join this elite school as part of a random drawing. Unlike most of his schoolmates, Naegi has absolutely zero special skills or remarkable characteristics apart from his apparent luck in being picked to join Hope’s Peak, hence he is dubbed the “Ultimate Lucky Student.” Other such “Ultimates” reside in the school with equally-wacky titles such as the “Ultimate Biker Gang Leader,” the “Ultimate Swimming Pro,” and even the “Ultimate Fanfic Creator.” After much proselytizing from the main character on how lucky he is to be part of that elite academy, he steps foot into the school and faints, awakening to find that all is not what it seems: He and fourteen other schoolmates meet in a soiree of confusion, fear and uncertainty as a deceptively-cute headmaster named Monokuma explains their current predicament in no uncertain terms: they are trapped. Trapped indefinitely inside the very school they wished to attend, with only one option for escape: kill. More precisely, kill and not be caught by the rest of the student body. The game can best be described as a strange amalgamation of 999, Phoenix Wright, and some elements of Persona hewed in. The first comparison shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as both games were birthed from the twisted minds over at Spike Chunsoft. The game plays like a standard visual novel for the first half of every chapter and abruptly segues into a morose version of Ace Attorney where you gather clues about each murder, pointing out contradictions later on in the classroom trial and ultimately piecing all of the information you’ve gathered to finger a final suspect. Danganronpa (3) The characters are but the emptiest of empty vessels and simply serve two purposes. Firstly, to provide the player a fetishistic reference to an understandable common context he/she can latch on to; hence the fifteen initial students presented to the player are relatable, one-dimensional caricatures that the player has probably seen in other media (i.e., anime “archetypes”) or in real-life, perhaps drawing upon his/her experience as a forgettable, nondescript high school student with no discernible skills or abilities (already assumed). Secondly, as each character has unique strengths and inevitable character flaws, they inevitably serve as glorifed storyline cues and ways to advance the plot. Danganronpa (4)To be fair, you do get to know more about each characters’ respective back-stories by building relationships in the game’s “free time” mode, a more shallow take on Persona’s “Social Link” dating-sim aspect wherein the player receives the option to seek the rest of the game’s cast leisurely strolling about the campus. Once you’ve found your target, the game mechanically asks you if you “want to spend time” with that character, which pulls up a choice to give your “date” a gift. Gifts are trinkets that can be won on the game’s solitary capsule machine, which the player can discern and match up to his current date as to what little curio is appropriate to hand out. Positive responses give you additional Skills and Skill Points that make the “lawyer-y” parts of the game a little easier. This, however, exposes an inherent issue with the genre—one can spend easily spend 30 hours taking the “scenic route” in Danganronpa, talking to each and every character, pushing every switch, opening every door; but invariably it will always be the same character that triggers the next sequence in the plot. I realize at this point that deconstructing the mechanics of a visual novel of all things isn’t really giving the game any justice. Ultimately, the game provides the player with a linear path from point A, the opening, to point B, the conclusion; with several false endings strewn throughout. It’s shallow entertainment and isn’t supposed to let the player in on the true meaning of the human condition or anything like that. Danganronpa (2)I suppose a more legitimate reason to fault the game is because it tries to do too many things at the same time. Instead of presenting evidence directly and pointing out contradictions like in the Ace Attorney games, one of the class trials’ (many) mini-games has you shoot “evidence bullets” towards statements that fly by the screen to point out inconsistencies in your classmates’ statements. Then after that you get to play hangman (Hangaroo for the plebians out there) by shooting letters that fly into the screen to suss out key words that turn the case around. Then after that you play a rhythm mini-game reminiscent of Bust a Groove to shoot down any further objections. After you’ve proven your point, you get to rebuild the whole scenario as it played out by putting panels on a little comic sheet that illustrates what really went down during the case. If this all sounds incredibly convoluted to you, that’s because it is; and the same confused design ethos follows through the other mini-games and distractions that permeate this title. They don’t appear frequently enough as to hinder the rest of the game, but are definitely jarring experiences. Danganronpa’s aesthetics shine on the Vita’s OLED screen, with crisp character portraits and bright UI elements that take more than just mere inspiration from Atlus’ Persona 4. And for once, high school kids in a Japanese game look vaguely like high school kids should—i.e., not like toddlers with bolt-on breasts. That said, the audio side of the presentation fares just as well, with a variety of aurally-pleasing tracks that range from cheery to spooky to downright terrifying. The English voice-acting team also deserves similar praise as each character’s voice is spot-on and adds a lot to the game’s ambiance. Maybe I’m a sucker for this particular subset of the genre, but I had a hard time putting Danganronpa down. There’s nothing particularly sophisticated about the game’s plot, game mechanics, or presentation; but as someone who barely reads fiction, I’m assuming my experience with the game wouldn’t be that far from what most would feel reading a good novel from cover to cover. Perhaps it’s because my current living situation mandates I live a boring, vanilla suburban life but I simply could not lay my PS Vita to rest until I reached each chapter’s conclusion and find out what messed-up situation these kids get into next. Thanks to the folks at NIS America for providing us with a pre-release copy of Danganronpa. Class starts tomorrow on the PlayStation Network and at your friendly local Datablitz or iTech-type retailers.

Word.
Word.

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Now that our abrasive hashtag has your attention, on to some real news: according to a recent report from Nikkei, Nintendo will announce this week that they will start creating content for iOS and Android devices, in the form of free promotional mini-games, apps, and trailers for upcoming releases. #Nintendoomed they are not, this doesn’t mean that the company is heading towards the mobile game ghetto but it does make for some interesting headlines, doesn’t it?

Sharp readers may remember that Nintendo, by way of The Pokemon Company, released several Pokemon-related apps for smartphones, acting in a similar fashion as promotional tools. Sony in particular has been doing very well with their PlayStation app for smartphones, which one would imagine be Nintendo’s template for success in this sort of venture.

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Alright trivia fans! What was the last Super NES game ever released in the system’s storied history? If you answered Konami’s Frogger (1998), then you… probably looked it up on Google. As of today, you’re also wrong. The Super Fighter Team, who previously brought us Beggar Prince for the Sega Genesis, has announced that they are shipping out copies of Nichibutsu’s unreleased SNES gem Nightmare Busters to fans who pre-ordered via their official channels and Kickstarter.

I’ve always had a soft spot for obscure prototypes whenever they’re released, and Nightmare Busters definitely qualifies as one. Originally slated for release back in 1994, the game was shelved indefinitely, and at least the SNES version of the game never saw the light of day until 2007, when it was found, traded for and eventually copied released as a reproduction cartridge. Oddly enough, this charming platformer somehow found its way to J2ME-enabled handsets in the cut-down form called Flynn’s Adventures, released by a company called In-Fusio in 2004. Kinda makes you think—how many other unreleased games eventually made their way out through less-glorious channels?

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Look at this abomination. If you consider atrocious “vectorized” graphics, an inconvenient touch UI, and complete Spanish Inquisition-style depredation of your childhood memories hallmarks of a good videogame, then please consider Final Fantasy VI Mobile, out now on Android devices for a paltry sum of $15.99.

If the company’s “remake” of Final Fantasy V was any indicator, you folks are much better off hunting down a cheap Game Boy Micro and a copy of Final Fantasy VI Advance if you want some on-the-go Final Fantasy hijinks. Really, the smoothed-out visuals wouldn’t be such a problem if Square actually put any thought on the UI in these games. Apart from inexorably ugly, it’s probably the least-intuitive user interface I’ve ever seen in a mobile game (and that’s saying a lot).

Let’s see which one of you suckers breaks and puts down money for a copy of this. We’re watching you.

One would be remiss by dismissing Yasumi Matsuno’s (Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy XII) next big project Unsung Story: Tale of the Guardians as yet another example of golden-age videogames talent “slumming it” through the usual channels of Kickstarter and mobile gaming. Co-developers Playdek are no slouches—the team was responsible for  Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, in my opinion the premiere trading card game sim out there for mobile devices.

unsung-heroes2The game is scheduled for release on iOS and Android devices sometime next year, however Matsuno and his development teammates over at Playdek have turned to Kickstarter to drum up funds to not only bring it to more platforms (PCs/Macs, as well as the 3DS and Vita handhelds), but also to help bring in fresh, familiar talent to the project. Stretch goals include adding luminaries such as Alexander O. Smith (responsible for localizing many of Square’s great RPGs), as well as vaunted composer Hitoshi Sakimoto. To reiterate, the Kickstarter isn’t meant to hold the game’s release hostage: “Playdek and Yasumi Matsuno will continue to develop Unsung Story regardless of whether or not funding is met. The main focus on the crowd-sourcing isn’t to create the game but rather to bring the game to the platforms requested by our fans and to help further the immersive world being created by Mr. Matsuno.”

Before getting too excited, remember that Matsuno won’t be exactly as hands-on with the game as he was with prior projects. Speaking out on Twitter, Matsuno echoes, “There was some concept art [for the game] that I’d never seen in the article, but I like that it doesn’t have the typical look of my projects. My involvement in the project is limited to providing the original design plan, the story, and the setting, so I have no idea what the actual game will look like and what the UI will look like.”

The project has a fair chance of meeting its funding goal, with $136,549 already raised as of this writing.

Y’know, it just doesn’t seem right that we’re twelve days into 2014 but we haven’t even decided on our collective GOTY candidates. Since objectivity runs into subjectivity on these lists, we’ve decided to take the scientific route and use some actual math and statistics to determine our true collective games of the year, based on the 30lives team’s myriad tastes. True science at work, dear friends!

tomb-raider

10. Tomb Raider (PS3, Xbox 360)
Lara Croft makes a triumphant return in the most engrossing and action-packed Tomb Raider ever. There are few dull moments and you really see Lara’s character develop throughout the game. A brilliant inventory system, great level design, and responsive combat mechanics makes it a perfect introduction to Lara Croft for the new generation of gamers. – Shin (read my full review here, dolts)

rabidsmt9. Shin Megami Tensei IV (3DS)
My second foray to the Shin Megami Tensei world (Persona 4 Golden being the first), SMT4 was one of the games that kept kicking my ass. What a refreshing game for a change too, in a world where today’s games kept holding your hand through the tough levels, SMT will keep kicking your ass until you scream no more and change the difficulty level to Fellows. – Cheena

We reviewed this game a while back too! Point your browsers right here.

8. Dragon’s Crown (PSVita, PS3)
I like 2D scrollers and dungeon crawler games. This became an insta-favorite for me and my constant gaming buddy since it’s one of the few co-op games that we both enjoy. I even bought a Vita version so I can level up my sorceress on the go. – Cheena

Check out our review of Dragon’s Crown right here!

7. Pokemon X/Y (3DS)
Pokemon X and Y
represents the series’ apex as it marks several technological and gameplay refinements that may upset some, but ultimately level the playing field down so new players and those that haven’t been paying attention to the games for a while (this guy) can play at a much higher level than in previous iterations of the series. I truly appreciated how scaleable the game can be: you can either choose to simply partake in this game’s respectable 30-hour quest, or catass yourself all the way to tens of thousands of wasted hours breeding and IV training and such. I would recommend talking to friends and loved ones first before making the latter choice. – Ryan

ni no kuni

6. Ni No Kuni (PS3)
I have been waiting for a spiritual successor to Dragon Quest VIII (one of the greatest games of all time, in my opinion) and this is probably the closest that I’ve accepted wholeheartedly. Ni no Kuni has the elements for a legendary RPG: good writing, lovable lead characters, collectible monsters and crafting. What’s even better is that the game is ensconced in a perfect Ghibli-rendered world. Absolutely breathtaking. – Cheena

Read Ryan’s take on the game here.

5. Saints Row IV (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
To me, video games are ultimately trivial hobbies—this is why I loathe games that take themselves too seriously, or try to pretend to be anything else than an interactive time-waster/rollercoaster ride. Saints Row IV is the ultimate “fuck around” game and in my opinion curbstomps (pause for inappropriate visual) Grand Theft Auto V where it counts the most: the “fun” department. Don’t get me wrong, I had a ton of fun with GTA V but Saints Row IV simply outclassed it as an open-world game (despite recycling much of SR3’s assets) as well as a multiplayer experience. – Ryan

fire-emblem-awakening-624x4044. Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)
Turn-based strategy games will always be my favorite game genre and Intelligent Systems has revitalized an old franchise by producing a high quality game. I instantly fell in love with all the characters with all the ‘shipping’ features plus the introduction of the Casual mode embraces all noobs who want to play without the stress. – Cheena

Click here to read Cheena’s musings on FE: Awakening!

 

Assassins-Creed-IV-Black-Flag-screenshot-9

3. Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag (PS4, Xbox One)
Assassin’s Creed IV made me forget the whole obnoxious memories entertainment “corporation x conspiracy” theories because: Pirates. Fond memories of Sid Meier’s Pirates were rekindled in a much more badass and violent manner. There is so much swashbuckling to do that I almost forgot I was playing an Assassin’s Creed game. It’s that good! -Alex

Last2. The Last of Us (PS3)
Though probably on the top of most gamers’ and outlets’ collective GOTY lists, in my honest opinion The Last of Us falls short for the simple reason that—under any real scrutiny—it’s a solid B+ game and nothing more. Though Naughty Dog has crafted a fine narrative in spite of the staid source material, the game screams “AAA” through and through, splashing on a beautiful coat of paint on your standard “monster closet” design. -Ryan; my full thoughts here

1. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
A Link Between Worlds reinvents the best Zelda game (A Link to the Past) to make it compelling to play in a concise package. I have not played a game all year long (2013) that made we want to pick up my 3DS and play for consecutive days as long as I could. This is the one 3DS game you shouldn’t miss and one you can repeat through-out the years in the form of speed runs.  -Alex

And there you have it, that’s our GOTY list. Any other games you folks felt should be on our list? Feel free to drop us a line on our Facebook page!

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In possibly one of the most surreal CES keynote speeches ever presented in the event’s history, the WWE (read: decrepit wrestling company) today announced a rather forward-thinking initiative, the WWE Network. Going live on tablets and streaming devices (including the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PS4!) on February 24th, the service will cost $9.99 and will feature a fair amount of programming from past and present wrasslin’ organizations that have been absorbed into the company’s umbrella. More importantly, your monthly charge lets you stream every pay-per-view event the company puts out going forward.

Kind of a bold move from the company who pretty much created pay-per-view television. Unlike similar networks from other sports organizations (cue the irony of implying that professional wrestling is a sport), you get a lot for what you pay for: on top of first-run, original programming running 24/7, you get a Netflix-like archive of past events to wade through; almost 150,000 hours have been digitized for the Network’s purpose so far.

 

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This year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) served as some sort of weird coming-out party for various PC OEMs. It’s both bewildering and frustrating to see companies attempt to salvage whatever they can on their diminishing returns on x86 hardware on ideas that seem—quite frankly—horrible on paper. We started the week with both Intel and AMD holding hands and acting like being able to dual-boot a mobile OS is a fantastic idea; granted, near-instantaneous boot-times would have been a big deal five years ago, but running a half-baked version of Android on my desktop does nothing to me personally in this age of SSDs and ten-second Windows 8.1 cold boots. Now Tuesday rolls along and I see my news feeds stuffed with news about the myriad of soon-to-be-available Steam Machines and an interesting concept computer from Razer codenamed “Christine.”

This is Christine. You probably can't afford her.
This is Christine. You probably can’t afford her.

Both ideas are as different as can be. Steam Machines are designed to be console replacements; prepackaged glorified HTPCs running off-the-shelf hardware and pre-loaded with Valve’s SteamOS—a Linux fork that essentially auto-boots Steam in Big Picture Mode (yes, I am aware that there’s more going on than that). Nothing particularly novel nor revolutionary about that, as prefabbed computers have been around since the dawn of time. Razer’s concept, on the other hand, sounds intriguing on paper: it’s essentially a stylized (well, as much style as you can pack in with Razer’s patented tawdry black matte and green LED combination, at least) rack that houses upgradeable “modules” for CPUs, video cards, RAM and storage that you plug into the main unit straight away—no cables required. From the looks of things, they all run off the same bus type and are cooled independently as well.

Here’s my problem with both concepts: they’re trying to reach a niche that does not exist, and for equally-different reasons.

steam-machines-ces-1-1-600x350

Steam Machines are already being shunned by the Valve stalkers followers out there for being cheap, vestibular extensions of the PC platform they love; forcing developers to “water down” their games to fit into these machines’ fixed hardware for the next five years. They aren’t too far off: PC gamers have suffered for the past six years to a phenomenon known as “consolization:” nobody is making games that even tickle the highest of high-end hardware anymore as they have to make targeted assets that are recyclable to  (or recycled from) the more-profitable console versions of their games. Console gamers, on the other hand, see Steam, PC gaming, and everything associated with it as inherently complicated and something that they’d rather not deal with. The fact that Diablo III sold so much on the PS3 (despite being an unoptimized, year-late port) speaks volumes about this inherent and unfortunate fear.

Conversely, being fully aware that it’s a concept, Razer’s Christine is also a bad idea in the same regard: it’s a product seemingly aimed at both the mass-market and the hardcore PC audience, and it doesn’t take much postulating to figure out why both audiences will completely dodge Christine’s svelte ebony frame. Penny-pinching PC gamers who have a hard time ponying up $60 for each major release will scoff at Christine’s expected high asking price, relegating it to the “cool, but not $2000 cool” echelon as the company’s Edge Pro tablet and Blade laptops. It being a tower computer is already intimidating enough for Joe and Jane Q. Public, but (a) Razer isn’t quite deserving of the Apple premium yet despite their lofty aspirations; and (b), the ship has already sailed for the desktop PC formfactor. People would rather buy a tablet; or failing that a cheap Dell off-brand econobox to read their emails.

At the end of the day, Razer can prevent Christine from being friend-zoned by the collective public by ultimately resigning to the fact that this modular gaming PC for the less tech-inclined is a good idea, but something that they won’t be able to price or market competitively to make it more than a niche product at the end of the day.

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Although some apprehensions have been raised about the feasibility of Dragon Quest VIII making it to mobile devices, it looks like Square Enix has actually pulled off what seemed to be the impossible, and now have a final working build of the game ready for public consumption. The company has released a teaser video of their progress, in the form of a Square Enix representative playing the game on what appears to be an iPhone 5S. After reviewing the footage, all we can say is… yikes.

So what makes us so squeamish about this footage? Let us count the ways:

  • The framerate appears to be very low; and that’s on a phone that’s barely half a year-old. This will probably run like chop city on my iPhone 5. What really worries me is that this is supposedly the final version of the game, ready to ship.
  • It took about nine seconds from initial loading to landing on an actual menu screen during a battle. Not good; Dragon Quest has always been known for its brisk battles. Granted VIII was an exception to this, but still, this is a mobile title meant to be played in quick bursts where brevity is always appreciated.
  • I actually like the fact that the game is played in portrait mode, but controlling the camera and menu actions appeared to be cumbersome even for what’s supposed to be a cleaned-up promotional video.

“Blah blah blah, let’s wait for the game to acually ship before reserving judgment,” right? I don’t know, man—this promo video doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. At all.

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If you remember, Capcom announced earlier this year that Breath of Fire VI will be coming to smartphones in an immensely entertaining (in terms of Internet reaction and Schadenfreude) press release. Quite frankly, it seems that the company is going into its post-generation cyclical “scumbag mode,” which we’ve seen several times in the past; in just the past two years Capcom has angered and alienated its own fanbase by way of:

  • Cancelling the much-anticipated Mega Man Legends 3
  • Also cancelling any future Darkstalkers games because the HD remakes did not sell
  • Releasing a half-baked mainline Resident Evil title and tarnishing the series’ remaining goodwill
  • Questionably releasing HD remakes of their Dungeons and Dragons arcade games mere months before spiritual successor Dragons Crown
  • Refusing to release a physical version of the latest Ace Attorney title despite clear demand from fans
  • Announcing a fourth iteration to Street Fighter IV as a separate stand-alone title
  • Arguably exploitative/shady DLC practices (Asura’s Wrath being a prime example of this)

And now, it appears that Capcom won’t be winning any of these fans back as the company has announced plans to invest into the mobile scene (an arena where they previously dabbled with using outsourced developers) by opening a new mobile-centric studio in Osaka to the tune of 4 billion Yen. Capcom has gone as far to say that the profits used to fund this venture came from excellent sales of their latest Monster Hunter title, and that it’ll bring the company a much-needed financial shot in the arm.

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Nintendo sure is the master of puzzling corporate decisions. Surely, the company realizes that people are still confused about the whole Wii/Wii U naming structure; but here they are again, releasing what is literally the red-headed stepchild of the Wii family, the Wii Mini. Later this month, confused parents will head out to toy stores and make some of the biggest mistakes of their collective adult lives by purchasing the Wii Mini instead of the Wii U. Christmas will come early for little Johnny as he discovers the red-and-black box of joy that features the following endearing back-of-the-box bulletpoints:

  • No online support, despite being packed-in with a game that heavily relies on it,
  • No SD Card slot, ergo no WiiWare
  • No component output (enjoy your glorious 480i games… in 2013)
  • No GameCube support

Just… why.

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In a cruel twist of fate—or shipping/production dates—Sony had shipped us our extra DualShock 4 controller three weeks before the PlayStation 4’s official launch. Without a console to actually… control, more adventurous denizens of the Internet have found out how to use these things on PCs and Macs; apparently they work fine as wired or wireless (via Bluetooth) devices via DirectInput (more on this later). To serve our loyal 30lives readers—who have stuck with us through our sabbatical/terrible additction to the street drug known as “Pokémon“—we present to you this surprise impressions post of Sony’s latest iteration on the DualShock brand… Let’s pretend the SIXAXIS mistake never happened, shall we?

DSC01660What’s In The Box?

Nothing. Just the controller and some instruction sheets. Bafflingly, Sony never seems to have the foresight/budget to include the necessary cables to power their accessories; in this case a very-ubiquitous MicroUSB cable. This is a step up from the MiniUSB cables that power the DualShock 3, the collective existences of which seem to be dwindling away from my household (five years ago I was drowning in these things, enveloping my bedroom much like a multi-segmented Anime tentacle monster). At any rate this at least spares us from any pathetic attempts at “unboxing videos,” which are a bane of modern existence and the single, solitary reason of why bad things happen in the world today.

Do You Want To Play Lucky Hit?

DSC01685As I mentioned above, any PC or Mac will recognize the DualShock 4 as a standard, HID-compliant controller when plugged in via a MicroUSB cable. I believe Macs also have the ability to pick the controller up via Bluetooth, but I haven’t tested if there’s a solution out there to make this wireless connection happen in Windows a la MotionInJoy. At any rate, I was excited to put the controller through its paces with a few games on my new Windows computing device of choice, Dell’s Venue 8 Pro tablet (which is an excellent tech product in its own right; I’ll be reviewing it soon). As expected, only the main set of buttons were recognized, no touchpad support for now, although you can register “pressing down” on the touchpad as a button press.

At any rate, the controller worked wonderfully for this purpose; and to inject some smarmy PC gaming elitism into this post—I can’t wait until console gaming finally goes under so I can buy a bunch of these things to use as computer joypads. Although feature-incomplete at this state, I was able to run NullDC and a few random Indie Steam games I had installed on the tablet with relative ease.

Four Ain’t Much, But It’s Better Than Three

I put in about an hour of Grand Theft Auto V on my PlayStation 3 to make sure I was completely acclimated with the DS4’s predecessor before busting the thing out of the box and trying it out. Having first tried it on a tethered demo station back at E3, the first thing that caught me by surprise was the DualShock 4’s overall heft, or seeming lack thereof. At 7.4oz, it’s a little heavier than the DualShock 3 (which weighs in at 6.77oz), but doesn’t quite feel as heavy as the PlayStation 3’s controller du jour. I’m thinking it could be because of more even weight distribution, a wider grip on the handles, or a combination of both; but the DS4 honestly felt a little lighter (and by association, “cheaper”) when I first wrapped my paws around it.

DSC01674While we’re on that train of thought, let’s talk differences for a second. The first and most welcome difference that the DualShock 4 brings are bigger, more ergonomic handgrips. Coupled with the new, matted texture that envelops the back, sides, and part of the controller’s front I doubt that anybody will disagree that the DualShock 4’s overall feel is a huge improvement from its forerunner. Another welcome change is that the L2 and R2 buttons are now convex instead of concave; which means instead of your finger slipping off every so often on a trigger-intensive game (say, Call of Duty: Ghosts), you’ll find your fingers comfortably resting on these trigger buttons; certainly a natural evolution as these analog triggers have grown in importance since console shooters gained new relevance five-odd years ago. Strangely, the triggers have lost a bit of resistance compared to the DS3; I happened to like that amount of feedback and snappiness. Finally, to round out that side of the controller, the not-as-important L1 and R1 buttons have been given new prominence with a larger, rounded button area.

DSC01664Just to mention it very briefly since it’s such a miniscule change and probably won’t affect any game, ever—the face buttons are now equipped with digital instead of analog button sensors. This means that instead of measuring how hard the player pushes down on the X, O, Triangle, and Square buttons, they will simply register an “on” or off” switch. Given that you can count the number of PlayStation 3 titles that used this feature with one hand, I’m fairly confident that this is no substantial loss. Apart from that change, the buttons feel as responsive as ever and are possibly even more responsive given that there’s less data to transmit from the controller back to the device.

Finally, Sony’s learned from the Vita’s excellent foray into handheld controls, borrowing its more focused, “dipped” directional pad, which is more akin to the formerly Nintendo-patented cross D-pad than anything Sony’s put out before. Granted, each iteration of the Dual Shock has received progressively better d-pad designs, but this puts the DualShock 4 one step closer from being an acceptable controller for 2D platformers and fighting games. The addition of lips on the analog sticks is another innovation borrowed from the Vita; and while I’ll be sad to see the old “nipple” sticks disappear from good, I like the feel of these shorter sticks much better.

So that about wraps it for our impressions; we’ll have more to say when we can actually get our hands on the PlayStation 4. Other than that all we can say about the DualShock 4 is “gee, it sure is a half-decent controller for PC games!” Make sure to hit us up at the comments area below if you folks have any particular questions!

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