Musings of a Gamer XX
1. Yakuza 5
The Yakuza 5 demo is now available on the Japanese PS store and, as expected, I loved it. The demo offers a teaser for one of the five cities available in the full game, providing a brief look at Kazuma Kiryu's story and allowing you to explore the many distractions that are bound to turn a fifteen hour adventure into a thirty hour investment.
Kazuma has once again moved away from Tokyo in an attempt to turn his back on a life of crime and ugly suits. He must’ve lost interest in running his orphanage, as he is now moonlighting as a taxi driver, a driver who might just knock out your teeth with a toffee hammer if you don’t have the correct change. As is always the case, Kazuma has failed to move far enough away from his old life, having been tracked down by some respectful but violent gangsters, who get their heads kicked in. The combat is brutal, the dialogue over the top and brilliantly macho, and the city feels alive, but it was the optional activities, more specifically the SEGA arcade, that made me stick with this demo far longer than the narrative required. Virtua Fighter 2 and Taiko no Tatsujin can both be found in the arcade, one bringing back wonderful memories of the Saturn, the other reminding me that I'm shit at drum games. Yakuza now includes Purikura – a spruced-up photo booth that allows you to add cute effects, decorate and annotate your snaps. Kazuma doesn't think twice about stepping into the booth on his lonesome, kicking off a mini game where you must time his manly poses to coincide with the flash.
Yakuza is fast becoming one of my favourite series, one that I can enjoy even when it's trying to sabotage itself. However, I don’t feel that there is a definitive entry. As good as Yakuza 4 was, it'd be a stretch to call it one of the top five games of this gen; I'd love for Yakuza 5 to bring everything together and be a game I could reference as a modern classic alongside the likes of Uncharted 2, Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect 2 etc. SEGA would need to localise it first, which is not guaranteed, given their overhaul of Western operations earlier this year. I will play the Japanese version if I must, but I'd much rather be lazy and follow subtitles, so that I may concentrate on the things that really matter: which background to choose for my next Purikura shoot.
2. All I Want for Christmas is a Mega CD?
Of late, I’ve taken to searching eBay for retro games and consoles that I don’t need and won’t play. The Mega CD (Sega CD in the US) caught my attention and I’ve been considering it as a potential Christmas gift, to me from family. I will forever associate SEGA consoles with the festive period, as my Master System, Mega Drive and Saturn all arrived on Christmas days in the 90's, and I think my new found interest in the Mega CD may be an attempt to recapture some of the childhood magic of Christmas. The Mega CD is the only retro console missing from my collection that I have any real desire to own - I had a bit of a crush on the 3DO a few years back, until I remembered that it's rubbish and moved on to more contemporary infatuations - even if there are scant few games that tickle my fancy. Sonic CD is the obvious choice, Road Avenger looks appealing, and if I ever had the overwhelming urge to burn £150, I could do a lot worse than buying a copy of Snatcher, but that's pretty much it.
Chances are I'll remain Mega CD-less into the New Year, but I am now dead set on getting something retro for Xmas, preferably SEGA. I wonder how the wife would feel about a 32x?
This always happens when I play FIFA!
4. New Doesn’t Always Mean Better
Sony's redesign of the aging PlayStation Store has put a dampener on what has otherwise been a triumphant year for games on PSN. The old store absolutely needed a new lick of paint, but at least it was functional. Each trip to the new shop tests my patience, as nothing is where you'd expect it to be and even the most simple of actions are painfully drawn out by unnecessary sequences of pop-up screens and incessant loading. The night before last, I sat through five minutes and at least four forms of checkout screen before I was finally able to commence downloading the free, Ni No Kuni demo. I already know it's £0.00, it's a fucking demo! It may look smarter than the old store, but it's such a pain in the arse that I've begun avoiding it, going some weeks without even checking the update. I hope that things improve over time, as the PS Store had become an important part of my PS3 experience and one that I do not want to avoid.
5. 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
Word of mouth and some outstanding reviews convinced me to pre-order a copy of Virtue’s Last Reward for the Vita. I knew nothing of the series up until last month and was excited by the prospect of discovering something new. The more I started to read about it, the more I realised that I'd be better off playing the first game, 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors before jumping into the newest entry, so as not to miss out on a huge chunk of narrative in what is essentially an interactive, visual novel. So that’s what I’m doing, having imported a copy and spending my evenings playing a DS game, much to the bemusement of my Vita and 3DS.
999 is about nine strangers who wake up aboard a full size replica of the Titanic. They have nine hours to solve puzzles and move through a series of nine doors, making good their escape before the ship sinks. Thanks to their mysterious kidnapper, they have all ingested explosives set to detonate if they do not follow the simple rules of the game, rules that test friendship, loyalty and trust. Although I’ve spent most of the game wondering why they don't just drink the curdled milk in the kitchen and shit out the explosive devices, the plot has been fairly decent thus far (I think I'm around half way). Unfortunately, the characters are comically generic - tough guy with a woman's haircut, cute school girl, dancer with massive tits and no understanding of her correct bra size etc. - and the game suffers from god awful writing, which may be down to a far too literal translation from the original Japanese. In spite of this, I have found myself invested in the story and am pleased to have discovered something new. I look forward to moving onto the sequel in the New Year.
6. The End is Nigh
Another year, and another twelve months without The Last Guardian, Timesplitters or a Bubsy reboot. I'll soon be running the usual year in review posts, including my best and worst of 2012 (see 2010 and 2011). Looking back, it occurs to me that the games I have enjoyed most this year have been re-runs, such as Mass Effect 2, Metal Gear Solid 3 HD and a trophied-up MGS4. I have no idea what I'll end up choosing for game of the year – there are a handful of really good games in the running but nothing that blew me away. I was hoping that one of Far Cry 3, Dragon's Dogma or Need for Speed Most Wanted might make a late and lasting impression, but thanks to a lack of gaming time in December and Royal Mail's insistence on delaying or losing half the games I order, I'm not sure that's going to happen. You’d best check back later this month to discover whether Final Fantasy XIII-2 wins game of the year by default.