Dashed Expectations

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 Post subject: Re: 30 Years,, 30 Games
PostPosted: Fri Nov 18, 2016 9:33 am 
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2011 - Pokémon Black/White

Posting this just in time for a new Pokémon generation to begin! This is actually, as of this writing, my favourite Pokémon generation of all, #5, begin with the games Pokémon Black and Pokémon White.

Up until this point, Pokémon has always been about the Pokémon themselves, as you would expect it what with the entire franchise being named after them. However, with this generation, it seems to be taken more of a turn but making the humans who stand with them a far bigger focus than ever. I'll get into detail in a bit, but let me just get a few things out of the way.

Of all the gens, Black/White introduced the biggest number of new Pokémon ever, at 156, breaking the initial record of 151. Part of the reason fo this was due to the fact that you couldn't encounter any old favourites until after the main story as the devs wanted people to have that same sense of discovery and wonder that Red/Blue provided to both old and new players alike. I'm not exactly sure how well that worked since a fair number of these beasties seemed a bit, how to say, uninspired and filled roles that were already perfectly fine with the older gen ones. I still like a few of them, but in terms of ratio, bigger does not always mean better. It also tried a few new ideas that didn't quite pan out. Seasons were more of an annoyance than anything since if wasn't the right season, you weren't getting that TM you needed. It also introduced Triple and Rotation Battles which seemed neat, but as of Gen 7, have already been phased out in favour of the standard Singles and tournament standard Doubles. And ultimately, it can feel super linear by the end of it all.

I had to bring attention to those points first because they are legitimate detractors to Black/White. But I am able to look past them, personally, because the thing that it does so very well in my eyes was its storytelling and putting more focus on the characters surrounding the Pokémon. As someone who, since 1998, had come to expect the same song and dance of finding 8 Gyms, defeating an evil organization, and then become Pokémon Champion, the plot here actually took me by genuine surprise.

It starts off as you'd expect: You get a starter from the Professor along with your two rivals and then go on your merry way to fill up the Pokédex and become Pokémon Masters. But it doesn't take long before things take a swing in a different direction when we are introduced to Team Plasma, who puts up an interesting question:

Why do we make Pokémon fight and work for us?

I have known some people who did equate the games to glorified animal fights minus the whole animal cruelty bit, so the fact that the "evil" guys are actually challenging this notion was already pretty interesting. Not to mention that their leader, a young boy named N, really fundamentally believes in his convictions, all the way to the point that each time he battles you, he releases his Pokémon that he caught on that Route. And unlike the Rockets and Galactics of the past, these guys are literally everywhere. Other Teams would just show up to harass a town for their ultimate plan only here and there (like, 3 or 4 gym badges) but Plasma was a constant threat. They seemed far stronger than any other Team up to this point., even if their ultimate goal didn't seem as earth shattering as, say, recreating the whole universe like Galactic wanted to do.

And this ultimately comes to its head when, at the time you would normally battle the Pokémon League Champion, N actually succeeds in his goal and is ready to declare everyone to release their Pokémon by order as the new Champion. In fact, by the end of it all and you are able to defeat him (and then one last enemy that was ultimately pulling the strings all along), this became the first and thus far only main series Pokémon game to run the Credits WITHOUT you being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

And that's just one aspect I absolutely adored. It's not just N and the other members of Team Plasma that got much more character added to them. Your rivals also get some much needed development when it comes to them deciding what exactly they wanted, with one such even having to confront her own father, who didn't want her to leave the house on a Pokémon journey. The Gym Leaders were also much more active, with every city giving you a glimpse as to what they are as normal people living their daily lives as opposed to standard NPCs just sitting at a Gym waiting to battle. The game even took steps to try to make things more streamlined by making the HM moves not required at all to finish the story (save for one instance of Cut), which for those who don't like carrying HM Slaves all the time, was actually pretty huge.

But yeah, ultimately, with the memorable cast of characters and relatively simple, yet serious, storyline, Pokémon Black/White really set a high bar for what I want in a Pokémon game going forward. A bar I hope Sun/Moon, which are out today, can top.

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 Post subject: Re: 30 Years,, 30 Games
PostPosted: Sat Nov 19, 2016 9:21 am 
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2012 - Xenoblade Chronicles

My favourite RPG of all time and the last great game to come out for the Wii, Xenoblade Chronicles was a journey I almost didn't take due to how daunting it was, but ever so glad I did.

In fact, initially I only bought the game more or less to send a message to Nintendo of America. Now, I did hear it was good, but ultimately, the choice was brought about because of a little thing called "Operation: Rainfall." What had happened was that, at the end of the Wii's life, very few games were being localized for a North American audience, so a group of fans tried their best to bring attention to NoA to let them know we want more games. See, while games like Xenoblade Chronicles had already been released in Europe and Australia in 2011, there was no word of a NA release date. Eventually, NoA said they would finally release the game, however, there were two things: One, the English localization would be exactly the same as Europe's, complete with British accents, and two, it would be released in limited quantities exclusive at GameStop/EB Games. Since I was so dead set on wanting Nintendo of America to want to try new things (I am particularity salty that we never got Mother 3), I preordered the game just to make a statement. Seems to have worked pretty well, actually, since the game actually sold best in NA and now Shulk, the main protagonist of the game, is in Smash with a sequel also available on Wii U without any wait this time.

Enough history. Let's look at the game itself. The setting is a very intriguing concept. Many eons ago, two great Titans, the Bionis and the Mechonis, battled one another over a vast sea until nothing more than their lifeless corpses remained. However, as time passed on, new life emerged to live on the remains of the Titans: the flesh and blood people of Bionis, and the mechanical beings of Mechonis. And the two are engaged in an everlasting war against one another. The people of Bionis seemed to have no hope against these warring machines, save for one sacred blade: The Monado, the only weapon capable of defeating these machines. Originally used by the soldier Dunban, the power of the Monado overwhelmed the forces of Mechonis, but at the cost of Dunban losing use of his right arm. Some time later, the Mechon returned to attack Colony 9, home of our protagonist Shulk, a researcher. After Dunban is unable to continue to use the Monado any further without risking death, Shulk takes the weapon himself and discovers that, with its power, he is able to see into the future, allowing him to predict enemy attacks and major events, including seeing the death of his childhood friend Fiora before it happens. Even though he tried to warn her, her life was lost, and after much of the Mechon was forced to flee Colony 9, Shulk and his friend Reyn set out to seek revenge for Fiora and to stop the Mechon once and for all, taking the Monado with them.

The gameplay, at first, was super daunting. The game, even by really good players, is said to last over 100 hours, and for good reason. There are side quests littered everyone in this grand world, and while you don't need to do them all to experience the story, they do help in building up your characters as well as getting smaller story details. There is an absolute boatload to do in the game if you want to complete absolutely everything and will take a lot of patience and time to get through. When I first found this out, I shelved it for some time until I watched some videos of it and decided to give it another go.

I could describe this game kind of like a single-player MMO. You've got a number of side quests that involving collecting and killing monsters and the battle system plays a lot like one, with abilities and cooldown periods thrown throughout. And the combat can get pretty fun once you fully understand it, especially Chain Attacks where choosing the right attacks can deal a lot more damage than normal. And do I even need to mention just how gorgeous the whole world looks? Even by Wii standards, it still looked really great.

But, like any good RPG, it's really the story that sells it here. What I described was just the beginning of this adventure. Along the way, you'll meet a wonderful cast of characters that I've come to really adore and there are a few twists and turns that made it very different from what I had initially expected and that not everything appears so black and white.

It was 100 hours of my life, but 100 hours that was very well spent.

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 Post subject: Re: 30 Years,, 30 Games
PostPosted: Sun Nov 20, 2016 10:49 am 
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2013 - Fire Emblem Awakening

A bit of history to go with this one. Whiel Fire Emblem was mildly successful, it never did get its start in North America until the seventh game released on the GBA in the early 2000s. Even though it gained some fans, the franchise wasn't really doing much for the company, and so they had to take a brave gambit or drop the franchise into the abyss. And they managed to find their footing with Fire Emblem Awakening.

While various Fire Emblem games will often rotate where the game takes place to keep the stories and characters fresh, this one takes place in the same universe as the original one, where Marth hails from, though its been many centuries since his time. Chrom and his band of Shepards come across an individual laying on the ground (default name is Robin) and lend an aid. After dealing with some bandits, they encounter bizarre humanoid monstrocities known as Risen, who try to relentlessly attack Chrom and his Shepards. However, they are saved by one identified as the Hero-King Marth himself and warns that a great danger is coming if they do not protect the Fire Emblem. The plot only becomes more complex from there, involving time travel and betrayal.

The gameplay is very much like the original games, though much more streamlined. Everything is quicker, tutorials show up on the bottom screen as necessary, and there are even more difficulty options for those who were intimdated by the game's infamous permadeath system (if a unit in your army dies, they are gone forever, but Casual let's you cotinue using them after they fall in the next chapter).

And I can't keep talking about this without also bringing up its expanded Support System. Not only are you no longer limited to just 5 Support Conversations per character for the entire game, but you can also gain what are known as S Supports, which can lead to marriage and a new chapter involving their offspring coming from the future to help in the current timeline. I'm sure some hardcore fans were really bothered by this change, but many people fully embraced the concept, allowing for even deeper customization than ever before, and ultimately, making this one of the most successful Fire Emblem games to date, saving the franchise from certain doom.

A great title for beginners while still offering some fresh content for classic fans, Awakening is a must play.

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 Post subject: Re: 30 Years,, 30 Games
PostPosted: Mon Nov 21, 2016 9:17 am 
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2014 - Shovel Knight

As we progress further and further with our graphics and processing power, sometimes, you just want to go back to a simpler time, with more simplistic sprites, more simplistic sound files, more simplistic stories... And that's where Shovel Knight comes into play!

Designed deliberately as a call back to the 8-bit era of video games of the mid-late 1980s, Shovel Knight stars the titular hero who brandishes the most knightly of weapons: the shovel! He traveled together with Shield Knight, but had lost her due to a cursed amulet at the Tower of Fate. Shovel Knight left the land in grief, and during his absence, the evil Enchantress and her band of knights, known as the Order of No Quarter, spread evil all across the land. Now, Shovel Knight has returned to bring justice back. For Shovelry!

Everything is played out as simply as you can. You have movement and two main buttons for jumping and attacking and that's it. Even the very controls menu shows an NES controller! Because the controls are so simple, actually playing it feels just as simple, with "guides" and "tutorials" being done through gameplay as opposed to text boxes. For example, Shovel Knight can "pogo" his way on enemies and objects to bounce up and reach higher places, and this is showcased in a singular screen where nothing more than a bubble floats in mid air for him to pogo off to explain to players one of its purposes. And this form of game design is spread throughout the game as Shovel Knight finds more abilities to use in his journey, a very good example of show, don't tell. By letting the player figure out how to do things themselves, it better teaches them instead of a giant text box explaining everything.

The level designs themselves are also a treasure to explore. The game is quite difficult, but never at the point of feeling unfair. Even in areas where the screen is literally pitch black save for our hero himself, they still manage to balance it enough that every death feels like, "That was my fault," as opposed to, "That was a cheap shot!"

Honestly, the only knock I'd give it is that the game looks too good. I say that only because NES games never had backgrounds and colours that which Shovel Knight displays. It most definitely does not detract from the game itself and is still very fun to dive in, it's just that for a game that is so purely based around the gimmick as being a lost 80s treasure, it didn't quite go far enough. Still, everything else was pretty much pitch perfect. The sound effects, the music, even the few dialogue boxes that do occur are very much simplified using a standard computerized font in a black text box with white font colouring. It's great how far they went with this game, feeling like a big smorgasbord of several classic games rolled into one.

Shovel Knight is the Indie Success Story other Indies try to aspire to be. It has received wide acclaim, has appeared on multiple platforms, and even has its own amiibo, the first ever non-Smash Bros. 3rd Party in the entire collection! There have been many developers that tried the "retro" style feel, but only Shovel Knight has managed to get it the closest while still remaining a solid game all throughout.

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 Post subject: Re: 30 Years,, 30 Games
PostPosted: Tue Nov 22, 2016 8:41 am 
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2015 - Ori and the Blind Forest

Some of you may remember last year's Top 10 I did...and this title did not appear at the top. I had my reasons and I still stand by them, but doing this project gave me a lot of self reflection about what it is that I loved about the games I put as my absolute favourites for each year, and I came to the conclusion: Ori and the Blind Forest meets those practically to a tee.

First, it has a rather lovely, if simple, plot. Our little forest creature Ori gets lost in a storm and is raised by Naru. Over time, the Spirit Tree sends out a single to Ori to try to get Ori to come back, but Naru shields Ori from harm. Soon, the forest begins to whither after the Spirit Tree's light died out. With little food left, Naru ends up dying from starvation and Ori is forced to leave the only home it's ever known. Seemingly collapsing on the forest floor, Ori's revived by the last bit of power the Spirit Tree can muster. Ori soon comes across Sein, who was ripped from the Spirit Tree, and wants Ori to restore the forest back to what it once was so that life may flow through it again. But while it sounds simple at first, things become rather complicated once you learn the truth behind the Spirit Tree's light and why the forest became blind.

Another thing I noticed thinking back was that the gameplay of Ori was absolutely solid. Jumping around and performing abilities just feels really good, especially the Bash ability, which changes just how you look at it as a platformer. And let's not forget that I have previously stated that I am a huge fan of "Metroidvania" games, which Ori very much is, though with a minor mistake in that you couldn't backtrack to certain areas (that was what ultimately held it back originally).

It is also absolutely stunning to look at, like a moving painting. Something I found while looking back at the games was that I also praised a game's graphics if it happens to have a good art direction as opposed to just high poly count, and Ori has some of the best out there.

But the thing I learned most of all was that each of the previous 29 games I mentioned are ones where I asked myself, "Will I play this again? Yes, yes I would." And of all the 2015 games, Ori and the Blind Forest is definitely one I can say that to. And I did, enough times to get every single achievement, even the ones that required near perfect precision.

This wasn't the only year where I was changing my mind about what my favourite game of the year was. This was a constant thing I was doing throughout the entire project. It was a bit of self reflection about what it is I love about video games. And it all falls into place right here with Ori and the Blind Forest.

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Last edited by The Great B-Man on Tue Nov 22, 2016 8:44 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: 30 Years, 30 Games
PostPosted: Tue Nov 22, 2016 8:43 am 
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And that will do it. Those are 30 of my favourite games over the past 30 years of my life. Tomorrow will officially begin my first day at age 30 and I look forward to what the next 30 years of video games will provide us.

This was quite the journey I went on, and I am glad for all of you that walked it with me.

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