Splinter Cell: Conviction. Some Revised Thoughts.

Time to obey the statements I see on walls.

Almost every mission in Splinter Cell Conviction begins with a little swooping flyby of the area Sam Fisher is expected to navigate. Then the game's camera sort of wobbles right behind Sam's right shoulder. A few words will be projected onto some nearby wall or crate - usually some espionage boilerplate along the lines of "PLANT THE C4" or "FIND THE SCIENTIST" - before acceding control to the player.

These little preludes are very well done, bringing to mind those kinetic tracking shots in the Dardenne brother's movies. You're primed for some espionage action when that camera swoops in over Sam Fisher's shoulder as he slurs some final thoughts before the mission proper begins. (Here's an aside: Michael Ironside, who has been the VO guy for Fisher in all earlier Splinter Cell games, must have gotten hard alcohol negotiated into this most recent rider, because he sounds inebriated and disinterested in the entire acting gig.)  

I'm sure those prelude sequences were the result of countless iterations and collaboration between the many talented people at Ubisoft's Montreal studio. Still, that throwaway little bit of scene setting never failed. and someone had to animate all those virtual camera movements making sure it worked like they assumed it would in at least one early draft of SC: C's lugubrious dev cycle - and that person needs to be singled out. Looking though the game's credits, I'm guessing Juan Esteban Diaz, listed as the "Camera Animator," is the guy who deserves to be Singled Out. So, Mr. Diaz, you did an excellent job! Let me buy you a drink sometime after you meet Jenny McCarthy and Chris Hardwick.

Start moving Fisher around, and witness how Splinter Cell: Conviction continues to sell the game's assured and stylish presentation with an abundance these neat little gimmicks. I don't mean that in a pejorative way, let me stress - gimmicks are what separate a lackluster game from an exemplary one. Active reload is a stellar gimmick. Terrain deformation, at least as it was implemented in LucasArt's nearly forgotten Fracture, is not. The freedom to vault your way about a city during a firefight in Uncharted is a pretty good gimmick. Being one of an Army of Two in Army of Two is not.

So most of those clever gimmicks work great in Splinter Cell: Conviction. Like the black-and-white projections of mission objectives or brief vignettes of Sam's memories that pop up in the environment. Or the handy silhouette marking Sam's last known position, if one compromises whatever stealthy plans one was foolishly trying to implement and must resort to other improvised plans. Or the brilliant, intuitive, and quite lovely way the environment flips from color to black and white whenever Sam is hidden in the darkness.

The pièce de résistance, however, is the aforementioned virtual camera, wobbling and shaking in response to terrible acts of violence, nowhere more so than during the handful of morally dubious "interrogation" sequences. These pop up maybe half a dozen times throughout the campaign. In essence, these are sequences where one guides Fisher though a series of scripted beatings(ones Jack Baur would find excessive) to extract perfectly accurate intel from people as varied as scumbag dope dealers to powerful African American politician arms dealers. Incidentally, Fisher beats this latter man up in the Lincoln Memorial. Right there, at the feet of the Great Emancipator himself. I found myself wondering if the developers thought they had delivered any of the dramatic irony during this tasteless and insensitive set-piece or if they just thought the Mall was a great place to smash a guy's head though a wall of televisions at.

This once had an African American bad guy's head inside it.

Still, when that gentleman's head gets smashed into a wall of televisions as the camera circles and vibrates like something out of Children of Men, it looks amazingly painful and very cool. Sam Fisher may not have all the information on how appallingly unreliable information gathered through torture is, but I don't believe Fisher was ever steered wrong by his detainees over the satisfying, if brief, single player campaign.

However, one gimmick felt very pedestrian and flat to me. It was the most highly touted "feature" in all the pre-release coverage of this game, this "Mark & Execute" gimmick. Melee dispatch a dude with the B button, and you're on your way to Mark & Execute somewhere between 2 and 5 other dudes. Press the right bumper when said dudes are in your line of sight to capital M "Mark" them, then slam that X button down with AUTHORITY to capital E "Execute" those suckers.

I may have just played the game wrong, but I only did this between 3 and 6 times during the entire course of the game (if we exclude those moments where the act is mandatory to continue). If one truly embraces this system, it might help them get out of some of the hairy moments the late game can throw Sam's way -- but I found it more trouble than it was worth. I just aimed for a dude's head when no one else was looking.

I'm woefully under-qualified to review a Splinter Cell game in context. I've never played one before this installment. I make no claims for my gaming prowess. I have little of it. I've been stuck at 75% in the XBLA game Limbo for nearly half a year now, and I've played it just about every week since I bought it. I've done everything save watch a Youtube clip explicitly telling me how to solve it.

Still, I'm recommending this game. It's 20 bucks on Games on Demand. I spent about that much on a belt today.

I've enjoyed the belt much less so far.


Tips for the NBA2k13 demo available now on PS3 or XBOX live: sefolosha sefolosha sefolosha

*Note: these tips may or may not improve your NBA 2K13 demo skills. 

*Note: These may or may not be "tips" so much as "suggestions to amuse yourself while playing NBA 2K13's five minute demo."

Here's my list:

 Tip #1: don't slam on all the face buttons while waiting for your demo to load. NBA2K13's demo will hard lock your system if you hammer random buttons. If you've grown accustomed to hammering random face buttons, vainly attempting to bypass NBA legalese or middle ware logos, quell your impatience. 

Tip #2: press 'start' to enter the pause menu. Find the option "choose sides." Press A after it is highlighted, then press left twice on your left thumb stick to select the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Tip #3: Unpause the game. You will now be in control of overpaid center Kendrick Perkins just as the first jump ball of the demo leaves the referee's hands. Tap up on the right stick at some point; it matters little, because Chris Bosh is going to get that initial tip 70% of the time. 

Tip #4: Press the "A" button to cycle through the starting lineup of the OKC Thunder. If Miami has the first possession of the game, avoid direct control of Theo Sefolosha or Kevin Durant, because Wade or James is going to get by you and make you feel silly. In fact, don't bother trying to play "real" defense. Just try to jump into as many passing lanes as you can. 

Tip #5: After LeBron James or Dwayne Wade score, inbound the ball to Russell Westbrook. Direct him to walk across mid court and begin moving towards the near (left) sideline just outside the three point arch. Slam down the sprint button (RT) and head towards the paint for an uncontested layup.

Tip #6: When on defense, try to play as Serge Ibaka at all times. Take an unorthodox approach: freelance at all times. Ibaka has no designated assignment and no designated position in a five minute demo. Attempt to draw as many charges as possible (to draw a charge, press the B button). It won't usually work. Have Ibaka full court press, by himself, every possession. Try to get as many fouls as possible against the elite competition. 

Tip #7: Kendrick Perkins and Theo Sefolosha are not allowed to score, even after an offensive rebound. Have either of them kick it to Durant or Westbrook - one of them is almost always beyond the three point line - and the numbers favor one of your stars swishing that three vs. letting those two chuckle heads attempt any low post put backs. If Kendrick Perkins scores, restart the demo. If Theo Sefolosha scores, he is the only player allowed to shoot for the rest of the demo. 

Tip #8: If you feel as though either Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant has missed a shot they'd make in real life, reenter that pause menu, switch over to the Heat, and force Shane Battier to take a mid court three pointer. It is likely to miss, and OKC is likely to get the rebound.

Tip #9: At some point, Russell Westbrook's going to have between 12 and 18 points, and the entire Heat defense will collapse on him. Start driving into the paint and passing to out to whomever is standing on the right wing. If it is Kevin Durant, take the corner three. If it's Kendrick Perkins or, God Forbid, Theo Sefolosha, continue passing around the horn until Durant has the opportunity to take a three. 

Tip #9a: Every now and then, let Durant try to muscle his way to the basket. Unlike Westbrook, there's no guarantee that Durant will get past LeBron James, but the disruptive move will free up even more Westbrook scoring opportunities.  

Tip #10: This game is only five minutes long, so it doesn't matter how much your opponent scores so long as you remain at least tied at the conclusion of those five minutes. Don't bother trying to adjust any shots or switch off on pick and rolls. The sooner the Heat score, the sooner Westbrook's getting another and 1.


Russell Westbrook: 14-22 points
Kevin Durant: 4-9 points
Ibaka: 2-4 points
Kendrick Perkins: 0 points
Serge Ibaka: 0-12 points (depending at what time he scored his first basket) 

I have found this to be a most entertaining way to play the five minute demo for NBA 2K13 produced by Jay-Z, and I've put over four hours into it.


What We Write About When We Write About Our Failures

There has been so much wasted time trying to perfect the newest Shop Keeper's Unit for this intellectual property of mine. Usually, I'll spend something like 2 hours wrangling a bunch of jottings written down as I played a video game. I'll write things down on whatever is handy, be on paper, be on textedit, sometimes in the notes section of my phone. I'll get tired of that around 3 or 4 in the morning and just publish whatever I got. So what I hoped would be a think piece about the evolving nature of virtual cameras and the redefinition of cinematography through third-person shooters becomes a bad review with lots of stupid jokes in it. For a couple of weeks I remember "oh yeah I'm not the dumbest or worst writer in the world." Those feelings crater after I re-read my output. Then I panic, because something published under my own Christian name is out there for the world to see, without any copy editing. So down that thing goes, because maybe I would like to get back into a more professional capacity vis a vis this whole writing thing.

So instead of giving up, I'm going to try to show more of my work. I bet I will not succeed. Any blog-post missive that signals a new commitment to the format or a promise to redouble the output on the aforementioned blog is ultimately the sign of a dead blog. 

But oh well. Plus, I barely have I life so I've played quite a few games!

For instance, in the last twelve I have played to completion: Splinter Cell: Conviction; Mass Effect 1 and 2; Dust: An Elysian Tale; Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days; Fable II; Bayonetta; and Assassian's Creed II. I guess you can't really beat Trails Evolution, but I've certainly logged multiple hundreds of hours playing it. 

I have thoughts on these games! They aren't all timely, or coherent, but they're mine, and I think people should be free to explore my thoughts if they so chose! 

 So maybe I'll try throwing some of this stuff up more frequently, no matter how much it reads like a freshman's English free-writing exercise. 

So here's a little taste of my thoughts on Mass Effect 1 - including my thoughts re: my talent at expressing the aforementioned - which is a game that is nearly 5 years old when I type this:

There's going to be a lot of unorganized thoughts and insufficiently proofread paragraphs. There will be sections where I missed a crucial punctuation mark or even entire half sentences in my zeal to move certain paragraphs into more fitting contexts. There's going to be jokes that go nowhere. There's going to be outright falsehoods. To wit: at one point, I promised not to spend much time detailing the mechanics of the gameplay, because you could read all about that stuff in an IGN review or whatever. Then I spent something like 800 words detailing a gaggle of mechanical details. You will read jokes that go awesome places, because I'm not bereft of any talent.

I want to write about these games because I liked them. Not as much as QWOP, of course, but I did like them.

I want to write about these games because In the AAA space, the first two Mass Effects qualify as brave. Choices have consequences; those consequences can be profound and disquieting. Mass Effect do not let you critical path your way to a flawless ending. People will die, on orders given by your Shepherd, in this virtual world. Some of them will be members of Shepherd's crew, people who have volunteered to serve under your command and confided their shames and triumphs with Shepherd. Some will die at Shepherd's own hand, pleading for undeserved mercy.

I want to express my profound appreciation for Jennifer Hale's excellent performance as "FemShep," and I want to continue some of the dialogues my roommate and I have been having about this game since I picked it up on the relative merits of "BroShep." 


Persona 4: Not Much To Say, It Turns Out

Well, that last thing didn't turn out so great. Let's hope for something a little less... grotesquely malformed this time around. Persona 4 is what prompted me to return to very bad games writing, after all, yet here I see nothing about Persona 4 yet posted on the blog. Don't think it has been a lack of trying on my part -- well, it has largely been due to a lack of trying, but half a dozen attempts have been made to untangle this particularly unwieldy ball of twine. Sadly, the inexorable passage of time has somewhat dulled and fuzzed  any perceptive insights I might've once had on the product, and there is little chance I can contrast those illusive insights into something that is not a fever dream.

So this is what I have to say about Persona 4:

Persona 4 is a lot of things, but before anything else, it is a staggeringly competent product. In a world run by a kind and just God, this wouldn't be such a big deal. However, considering the state of the Japanese RPG in the world of 2011, seeing a JRPG that:

  1. Has a sure sense of itself, of what it is attempting to do, of pace and plotting, of basic gameplay mechanics - in short, a raison d'etre 
  2. Was released on time and on budget
  3. Is mostly (...mostly) lacking in the kind of abhorrent moe fan service plaguing the Japanese development scene 

...well, that's just short of a miracle.  

One day, I'll get back to it. (No I won't).


"Bully!" - Theodore Roosevelt


Bully, the 2006 Rockstar Vancouver PS2 game, is so very close to an unqualified success. At the time of its release, no Rockstar product was even close to Bully in those nebulous and subjective categories at the bottom of, like, an IGN review. It looked better, sounded better, played better, felt more cohesive. It was less self-congratulatory. Yet the experience of playing the thing can be - nay, must be - extraordinarily infuriating, because an open-world game, by definition, is one wherein the game's narrative and the player narrative's can diverge grotesquely, with no consequences. The ludo-narrative dissonance has only grown more pronounced in the aftermath of Grand Theft Auto III, and this, I cannot cotton to.

Bully is set in this idyllic little resort town, one built over the dilapidated remnants of some bustling 19th Century factory town or iron works. The school itself is both highly exclusive academy that caters to the inbred sons and daughters of business tycoons and Senators and reform school for 50's greasers unstuck in time.

Searching for consistency at Bullworth Academy is a lot like looking for a bus stop in a city where you aren't sure if there's a bus line.

So this is kind of where everything begins to crumble. Like, Groton does not share a campus with some Hardass Military Reform School. For every articulate line of dialogue or genuinely moving storytelling beat, there are five incest jokes that are not funny, not original, and not well delivered. For all the refined and clever twists on familiar open world bullshit story mission tropes, there's still all those mandatory races these damn games cram awkwardly between more interesting moments. Each gem of an idea is isolated in a barren, somewhat disjointed simulacrum of adolescence. There is no firmament to bind this place together, to bind all the disparate gamey bits, all the cut scenes, all the absolutely immaculate Danny Elfman-esque soundtrack cues, all the interminable bike races, all the dodgeball games, all that is interesting about it together. Instead, there's a Qix minigame one must master to improve their ability to woo young women. Or there's the sub-Contender (Contender being a little remembered and very awful PS1 boxing game released in 1999) boxing minigame one must master to progress beyond the first quarter of the game's narrative.

While no one has any genuine use for A Separate Peace made manifest in a world of video games, I would have liked to see it woven throughout Bully. If Bully had been A Separate Peace without all that gay subtext and crew team stuff I feel confident I would hate the game much more. Let's face it. That's a horrible idea. Even so, at least A Separate Peace would have generated an active, interested kind of hate. Instead, it's all so "meh"  Bully has a lot of genuine things to say about adolescence, about what is just in an environment that respects violence above all, and there's a genuinely unexpected and resonant twist near the end of the story.

The road traveled to that conclusion, all thirty-five hours of it, is largely filled with bike riding and savage beatings -- beatings Jimmy is only tangentially involved in starting, but once shit gets real, there's a lot of knees to the balls and cricket-bat whackings. Jimmy is presented as a bit of a simpleton, willing to go along with almost any preposterous scheme if it involves vandalism or protecting his staggeringly incompetent, drunken English Teacher from a deserved firing. All high school problems can be solved with violence. Girl problems are a little different, and even easier to solve. Flatter, give flowers, and prepare for make-out central. If a girl you've made out with sees you making out with another girl, they'll fight, but they'll forget all about it the next time the roses get broken out.

There's no memory here. Everything is ephemeral, and pointless. Unlike the other high school game I'm going to contrast this with one of these days, swear to God, Persona 4, each day's event's are isolated little vignettes that build a larger narrative like a late period Godard film, or if everyone in Groundhog Day retained some kind of Jungian collective unconscious.

You know what? Go read Tom Bissel's piece on LA Noire at Grantland.com. That's my problem with barely keeping a blog about videogames, a topic I'm not sure I much enjoy right now anyway. Tom Bissel and Chris Dahen and Michael Abbot are just super good at it, and they don't need to make lame jokes like I do.
and for no reason, here's a picture of God Hand.

You know what? Just go play God Hand. That needs to be placed into the western canon, alongside Paradise Lost and Joyce's Ulysses.

Fuck, that didn't turn out at all how I hoped it would. Tough cookies, all 12 of you who read this.   


Bully, Persona 4, High School, & The Perils of the Open World: Introduction

Consider the high school. While the advent of the institution as we think of it today is less than a century old, its tendrils have burrowed so completely into our consciousness it seems to have existed forever, outside of time. It is something mandatory, something we view with a mixture of contempt, romance, and bewilderment in our adulthoods. Everything was the most important thing to ever have happened for about 20 minutes, replaced by the next greatest event. After Jimmy Stewart and Robert Michum died, every movie was either set in a high school or calibrated to appear as though everyone in it was in the arrested emotional state of a 10th grader.
High school was a thing that did not exist for most of the medium's history. River City had one, of course. It even organized sporting events. The Garden in Final Fantasy VIII was kind of like high school, for orphaned killing machines. Otherwise, nothing. 
Nothing, save Atlus's Persona series. An offshoot of the Shin Megami Tensi franchise, Persona has overtaken its parent and straddles the Japanese RPG world like a colossus. 

I started playing Persona 4 shortly after it came out Winter ‘08, smugly assuming I would discover all of its mysteries and defeat the major antagonists well before April 11th, 2011. That was some crazy future-day. A special one, to be sure, the day this sickly, bespectacled teenager (I named him Chris, because that is my name) from the big city was to arrive in a quaint little resort town for the school year, knowing not what terror lay ahead for he to thwart.

Well, I beat Persona 4 a handful of days ago - I do wish I'd have done it on April 10th 2011, because of my largely fictional OCD. The game clock reads 103 hours. That’s, let’s see, about 9 minutes a day of linking my socials and fusing my Jack Frosts with other Jack Frosts. It wasn’t a perfect game - Pac Man Championship Edition CX is the only perfect game - but it brought  all the things I adore in the frequently maligned Japanese Role-Playing Game genre into a high school setting.

Persona 4 is not the only game set in a high school that I've randomly played recently. There is also Rockstar Vancouver’s Bully. Released in 2006 for the PS2, this game must have sold well, because I don’t think any secondary marketplace - your Gamestops, your pawn shops - has fewer than 90 copies of it lying around. Like, there’s more copies of Bully than all the Madden games put together.

Let me be upfront: I have huge, irrational problems with Rockstar and their games. I’ve hated their sophomoric jokey tone and their functionally broken camera and aiming mechanics. I've hated the dissonance between the open world, let’s fuck around sandbox aspects and the mainline story missions. I’ve hated the number of those story missions that are simply janky races on ill-defined courses. I’ve hated the half dozen or so impossible roadblock objectives where you have to pilot a goddamn remote control helicopter or whatever that no reasonable person can be expected to satisfactorily complete, but which must be finished to unlock more of the entertaining sandbox stuff, and I’ve hated how smug their entire enterprise reads to a guy who mostly just wants to see dudes with anime haircuts hit each other with swords, be it an RPG, a fighting game, or that dubious moniker “character action”: the Devil May Crys, the Bayonettas, and the like.

Rockstar has started to win me over - Red Dead Redemption told a story worth telling, although in typical Rockstar fashion, our protagonist was required to sometimes act heinously on the behalf of some vile yokel in direct violation of his redeemed character. The wild west setting kept that ludo-narrative dissonance from bothering me as much as it does in Grand Theft Auto. LA Noire sounds pretty neat, and Ken Cosgrove and Peter Bishop are in it.

These Rockstar games are all open world games, promising you the freedom to do all sorts of fun things. Because games should be fun. Fun fun fun free fun. Persona 4 comes from different stock - the dreaded “linear” “Japanese” school of game design. In this case, “freedom” is the hobgoblin of small minds. Outside of Nethack, the games designed by Yasumi Matsuno, Clint Hocking, and that fellow what made Minecraft, Persona 4 gave the illusion that there were more opportunities to push the limits of a game’s systems and mechanics than the stereotypical JRPG, and invested me in its world more successfully than I can readily recall. Bully... well...


Holding Pattern

We are coming up on a year since words have appeared here at A New Sku, an ostensible resource for C.P. Ervin themed commentary on games and their intersection with video, design, and alarmingly ill-conceived meta humor.

Is this most marginal of blogs offline forever? Not at all. In fact, I hope to have a few pretty neat things posting here in the next three months, assuming I can wrangle my mess of notes, asides, jokes and silly ideas into a coherent argument. It can be rough to extract cogent thought from a 15,000 word Google Doc about high schools in videogames, I've learned.

Now the promise is out there. I can't welsh on the 2 of you who still have this in your RSS readers.


Goodnight, Sweet Prince: Cavia's 10 Year Run

I somehow missed a sad bit of news last week: cavia [sic] ceased to be a going concern. Happily, most of the developers are still employed, as it sounds like the majority of the studio's employees were absorbed into parent company AQ Interactive. While this isn't the most shocking studio closure in history, considering cavia's uneven (to put it kindly) track record and general profitability, this is one that hits close to home.

Cavia took a lot of contract work, pumping out Playstation 2 games with suspect anime licenses. This kept the lights on and the capital flowing into their original intellectual properties - not entirely unlike WayForward, a studio whose profile rose significantly after Scribblenauts' surprising sales. Cavia, alas, had no surprising successes, critically or commercially. I guess Neir seems to have attracted a cult following - deservedly so, considering how wildly ambitious and varied it is - but no developer can survive on cult hits when the HD console space's cost of entry is stratospheric.

So why mourn the passing of this studio? Why should those responsible for Bullet Witch and Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance get any postmortem respect?

A lot of my feelings are divorced from reason, I'll admit. They stem from a simpler time in my life, when all a game needed to impress me was a sweet dragon. As a child, I just loved dragons. I no longer carry such passion in my everyday life for the mythical creatures, but if I see a $4 copy of some game I'd never heard of that obviously is about dragons, I'm buying it. Cavia developed exactly that kind of stupid impulse purchase dragon game, and it was called Drakengard here in America. Maybe I got it in 2005? In any event, to me this PS2 game was an unknown, mysterious thing, dangerous and enchanting. I had no idea what kind of game I was to be playing before I slammed it into my system, and I still don't know what I had gotten myself into.

Seeing the SquareEnix logo cheered me immediately - there's a company that releases high quality games, usually. Formulaic, yes, but quality. And then the cavia logo found its' way onto my television. I liked the name of the studio - even a usually infuriating affect of a company not capitalizing their title, flying in the face of how I expect proper nouns to be presented to me - and I liked the logo: clean, with a stark black/white/red color scheme.   

"This augers well!" I thought.

The game is a Dynasty Warriors knock-off. I say this with no enmity - Dynasty Warriors is hugely popular in Japan, and any sane company would try as hard as it could to exploit the market. No matter how much we clamor for innovation, a well made knock-off is what we will spend our money on. This Dynasty Warriors knock-off takes place in some fantastical world with dragons and civil wars and faeries and boulders and lute playing ninnies. There's a princess, who might be a god, or something, and you control her brother (I think he's her brother, but they also imply something incestuous between them, or maybe they're related by marriage... it was all very confusing). About ten minutes into the game, Caim (our protagonist and playable character) merges his soul with that of a dragon. This costs him the use of his voice, further complicating matters of exposition and plot development. The dragon talks to Caim using some kind of telepathy, but everyone hanging around the dude can also hear what the dragon's saying, so maybe sounds are being produced though the magical markings on Caim's tongue, maybe? Oh, and once the dragon starts talking, it sure doesn't shut up. Much of the conversation is philosophical in nature: the dragon asks Caim 900 times why he is such a murderous bastard. Because Caim cannot answer, the discussion grows tiresome. Very, very tiresome.

Drakengard tries to spice up the hack-and-slash-and-hack-some-more repetition common in all Dynasty Warriors clones by inserting a motherfucking dragon into the fray. At nearly any moment, hitting select will summon your flying friend. Caim can mount the dragon (heh) and fly across these preposterously large maps to another area lousy with evil, just incinerating legions of enemies ill-equipped to handle a goddamn dragon. Later in the game, magicians and trebuchets will provide overpowered countermeasures to this death from above, ruining a lot of the braindead fun.

Breaking up these large scale battles, some flying sequences happen. These are reminiscent of those open boss battle levels in Star Fox 64, filtered though Panzer Dragoon's lock-on mechanic and general love of dragon riding. The game, surreal enough as it was, achieves a sort of transcendent nonsensical atmosphere here. My personal favorite moment: when the dragon is attacked by what appear to be flying dressers or silverware cabinets.

I would have loved Drakengard had it not been for one absolutely crippling flaw: the game is sloooooooooow. This fantasy universe must have tremendously heavy air molecules. Caim, a fit young warrior by any standard, is not much of a runner. The glacial pace of this game, a game that absolutely requires some serious manic energy to work, slaughters much of the potential fun.

Which is a shame, because -- dragons! And magic! And a story so confusing it entertains on a basic, campy level! Also: it was clear an insane amount of work went into constructing this bleak, nihilistic fantasy world.

There's something like 80 weapons Caim can acquire, each with a lengthy backstory you can read in between missions. If there's a thing you can do in the game, chances are experience can be earned by doing it. The RPG elements are laid on inelegantly, but with such enthusiasm it doesn't matter. Caim levels up. The dragon levels up. Each individual weapon levels up. The spells associated with each weapon level up. It's impossible to keep track of all this, and ultimately futile - the default sword is about the only thing to use, because by the time the rad lances and maces are acquired, these new, sexier weapons are too underpowered to be of much use. Momentum is the utmost concern during the Dynasty Warriors bits - chaining a few hits together will grant Caim the ability to unleash a powerful thrust capable of knocking to the ground foes nearby. The default sword, having been in use for more of the game than any other weapon, will inevitably be the most momentous weapon available.

Drakengard 2 significantly sped things up - yay! - whilst gutting much of the intriguing story elements - boo! Crucially, the game engine and graphics were not updated or improved up one iota in the intervening 3 years between the games. While the budget for the first game must have been at least moderately large (there's quite a few impressive CG cut scenes), it's pretty clear almost no money was spent making the sequel.

So Drakengard (called Drag-on Dragoon in Japan, which is a much more amusing name if nothing else) holds a weird place in my heart. So does Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, a fully functional PS2 third person shooter from Japan that most definitively does not hold up today, but had wonderful pacing and some neat mechanics for the time.

The greatest product cavia produced, however, wasn't exactly a game - it was a tool, a fairly powerful and affordable tool, for the Nintendo DS.

The KORG DS-10 is a fully functional synthesizer modeled after the MS-10, complete with four different emulated drum machines and the ability to use the touch screen to simulate the KAOSS Pad, all for $30 bucks. There's some serious limitations to the software: the step sequencer is basically Fruity Loops, only not as good; while the program emulates two synthesizers, each one is monophonic, so chords are out of the question; because the DS is not a multi-touch screen, the KAOSS Pad is not fully functional; the interface, while classy and modeled after the MS-10, can prove slightly more cumbersome than one may desire; you can't change sequences while they're playing, which is a huge bummer... it's still just $30, one tenth of the price of an entry-level KAOSS Pad. And the emulation of the MS-10 is unreal, coming from a DS cart. While I haven't personally found much use for it in my own musical compositions, mostly because I don't know how to properly deploy flanger effects on the busted ass drum programs I hesitate to say I "compose," it's still a lot of fun to play around with.  

So yeah, cavia. I have more things to say about both Bullet Witch and Neir, but those need their own posts, written at a time when I'm less tired.