Showing posts from 2020

Saying Goodbye from 6000 Miles Away

I said goodbye to my dad over the phone. I told him that I loved him. 
He passed away a few minutes later. I listened in, helpless in my grief.
I'd always told my family that I could be back in the UK within a day, in the case of an emergency. I often repeated that in conversation, to reassure myself just as much as it was to put my family at ease. Until very recently, it was accurate.
The greatest fear when living abroad is not being able to be there for your loved ones back home, when they need you the most. You know that there will come a time when your world will be turned upside down, and you'll be pulled in two directions at once.
My dad had been battling cancer on and off for the last decade. It seemed like he'd beaten it, until he fell ill again last Christmas. Surgery followed in the New Year, and I was able to be there for him, alongside my mum and brother. I didn't realise it then of course, but that would be the last time I'd see him. The last time I could …

The Impossibility of a Next-Gen Preorder

It has been a week of abject disappointment.
No one will take my money.

I've refreshed Amazon into oblivion. I've signed up for special club-card memberships to access limited preorder opportunities. I've registered for notifications, emails, faxes. I've entered countless lotteries but I'm no closer to securing a next-gen preorder than I was a week ago.
It has been a right mess here in Japan. If Twitter is to be believed, it hasn't been much better in other major markets either. Last Thursday, Sony announced that retailers would be accepting orders on Friday. Apparently, many retailers weren't ready. The PS5 went live on Amazon Japan at 10:00 and most of us couldn't even find the page, let alone get an order in. The vast majority of major electronic retailers opted to stick to their own timetable, and start things the following week. Things = lotteries, where you enter to win the chance to spend ¥55,000 - a horrid system that makes you feel like a loser fr…

Pre-Binning Backlog Burning Blog

We're a little over a month away from THE NEXT GEN, which means it's almost time to swear off the current-gen bullshit. There'll be no time to play or even think about anything released before November 2020. PS4, Xbox One, Switch all in the bin.
Actually, let me get that Switch back.
As we prepare to stagger over the generational finish line, I've had the overwhelming desire to clear out my current gen backlog. To play the games that have been weighing on my conscience since I bought them several months, or even years, ago. Those that have been sat on my shelf for ages or loitering on my hard drive longer than they ought.
Finishing them provides more than just a false sense of achievement, as some of them are properly good. Not new-game good, obviously, being that they are slightly older and therefore badder. Decent, though.You know, for something that is old.

I kicked off the year with Yakuza Kiwami 2, the first of three Yakuza Studio games I'll play in 2020. I don…

$7.5 Billion is a Lot of Money

$7.5 billion is a lot of money.
Yesterday, it was announced that Microsoft is buying ZeniMax Media, parent company of Bethesda Softworks, in a move that is set to shake up the games industry. Shake it up proper good. This deal brings a number of studios and franchises under the Xbox umbrella, including The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, and it came just 24 hours before Series X/S preorders are set to go live. Truly, exquisite timing.
The news hit twitter last night, just as I was settling down to play some Judgment on my PlayStation 4 entertainment system. I'm enjoying Judgment, but it has fallen victim to several distractions that have prevented me from becoming fully invested. These have ranged from trying to close a deal on a house - it fell through - to an uncharacteristic NBA 2K bender that I might write about later this week. Microsoft throwing its money around was the latest setback for Judgment, ensuring that I went to bed having barely played it. The Mole is getting away with m…

A Shell of a September

September is supposed to be the best month. An early Christmas, full of games, games speak and me proudly wearing a press pass. September is supposed to be the month of Tokyo Game Show, but not this year, for obvious reasons.
For 2020 at least, TGS will switch to an online format, with countless streams running from this Thursday. Streams that even normals, like you, can watch. I didn't even need to present my flimsy press credentials or hastily print off some official looking business cards. I won't be sending out dozens of to-be-ignored pitches to online editors, or spending a week carefully composing preview posts for my audience of twenty - I love you all, btw. They'll be no hands-on demos, no Yakuza tissues, no profanity-laced tirades on twitter about filthy nerds, and no smug pictures of me standing next to someone/thing important. I won't be getting pissed-up at industry parties, and I won't be catching up with friends. I'll miss not being in my element f…

Compose Haiku to Earn New Headbands

Compose haiku to earn new headbands. Words as wise as they are ancient.

I love how unashamedly video game-y Ghost of Tsushima is. The video game tropes somehow compliment an otherwise serious and thoughtful tale of honor and sacrifice.

As Jin Sakai, we are asked to consider our place in the world, to reflect upon the impermanence of life and the cruelty of man. We are encouraged to revel in the beauty of an idealized and exaggerated rural Japan, made all the more gorgeous by an uncluttered screen, to ponder the change of seasons and the ebb and flow of the tide. Ghost of Tsushima is a quiet and considered experience, albeit one that isn't afraid to give you headbands for poetry or throw you into a thirteenth century turret section.

Usually, that kind of disconnect would be jarring, yet it didn't bother me here at all. In fact, I really enjoyed the contrast. A beautiful game, brimming with brilliant video game nonsense.
In the moonlight, The color and scent of the wisteria Seems far…

The PlayStation 5 Reveal

We're not getting E3 press conferences this year. However, thanks to the PlayStation 5 reveal, I still found an excuse to wake up at 4:45 in the morning to stare at video games.
Sony packed a lot into its almost 90-minute, PS5 Reveal. There were plenty of games I want to play and, barring a prohibitive price point - I'm "good" up to ¥50,000, but would have to think long and hard for anything above that - I intend to buy a PS5 at launch. However, overall, I came away underwhelmed.
Let's start with the box. We've all seen the router jokes, which are 100% accurate and 100% done to death. It is over-designed, has a weird collar, I don't like the colour scheme, and I'm a little concerned about the size. The disc drive looks like an afterthought, hanging on to the console for dear life, and while the unit does sit horizontally, it appears ill-suited to this position. Of course, appearances don't really matter, as it'll sit under my TV for the next sev…

Mafia 3 and a Messy BBQ

I have to locate and gun-down some white supremacists. A guilt-free delight. 
I'm playing as Lincoln Clay, a black veteran and an absolute unit. My pasty targets have congregated in an affluent suburb of 1968 New Bordeaux (New Orleans), so I'm going to stand out like a sore thumb. They are having a BBQ in some cunt's back yard. There'll be burgers, chicken, ribs and a side helping of old-timey, Southern racism.
I forgot to bring a bottle, but I did bring a rifle and a fist full of grenades.
I arrive outside the property and see the red markers appear on my radar. That means I've found my villains, but I'm confused by several blue symbols that seem to be mingling with the reds. Blues are cops. Blues aren't my friends, but for the most part they have been a separate enemy, better avoided than directly confronted. But they're here at the racism tea party.
I approach cautiously. I hop the chainlink fence and hug the wall alongside the house. I can hear the BBQ …


1. Vita-ing in 2020

As I mentioned a few weeks back, I recently un-retired my Vita. Unfortunately, my memory card was corrupted so I lost all of my saves and everything needed to be re-downloaded. So, over the last month, I have been reinstalling my library piece by piece. While I was at it, I decided to try some of the dozens of untouched titles that I'd accumulated over the years, most of which came from PS+.

Severed was the best of the bunch. I bought it in 2018, but discarded it early on; I just wasn't in the mood. My experience was very different this time around, however. I love the art style, the manic swiping and the dark, vague story, and I played it right through to the very end. I also finished Burly Men at Sea, an adventure as short as it is charming (it is quite charming). I was starting to get into Titan Souls, but the 15-20 seconds delay between dying, respawning and re-confronting your foe is too long in a game where death is constant. It desperately needed a S…

The Secrets of Sega Rally

I am a fraud.

I had a copy of Sega Rally Championship from 1996-1998, back when I owned a PAL Saturn. I rebought it in 2006, when I grabbed a Japanese system, and have held onto that version ever since. It is one of my favourite games on my favourite retro console, and is something that I've played on-and-off across four different decades. It is arcade racing perfection - fun, colourful, inviting, easy to pick up but difficult to master.

Sega Rally Championship features three courses - Desert, Forest, Mountain - and two cars - the Toyota Celicia and the Lancia Delta. This was known. Or at least it was, until my world was turned upside down over the weekend by a picture retweeted into my timeline. It was a screenshot of a fourth course and an unfamiliar car, claiming to be from Sega Rally Championship. Must be some sort of PC mod, I thought to myself. Those PC gamers are out of control.

But then I dared to dream. Could it be possible that I'd been completely unaware of an extr…

Final Fantasy VII Remake - MidYah or MidNah

I still can't believe that those mad bastards remade Final Fantasy VII. I always dismissed it as a fanboy fantasy, for which Square Enix would never have the appetite. I was wrong.

I finished Final Fantasy VII Remake last week, and I'm glad that it exists. It adds something worthwhile to the VII menagerie. It works both as a companion piece to the Seven canon and as an interesting deviation.

I enjoyed it, but much of that enjoyment was down to nostalgia. Remake is good, but Remake is also bad. It's complicated then, but so are most games that are worth remembering.

In an attempt to organize my thoughts, I have committed them to a "wot I liked" and "wot I didn't like" blog. Or a MidYah and MidNah blog, if you will.

Because Midgar is the setting of Remake, and Yah sounds like a exclamation in the affirmative and, well, you get it.

SPOILERS, obviously.
MidYah: Nostalgia
Square Enix invented nostalgia two decades ago, when they started repackaging and re…

Danish Assassins

I'm in need of focus this week, as the work-from-home marathon enters its second month. So I'm going to use some of the time I'd usually spend commuting to write a short post every day, Monday-Friday.

The last two Assassin's Creeds, Origins and Odyssey, were outstanding. Long since freed of the Desmond nonsense, and paying minimal attention to the always boring modern-day rubbish, the are hugely entertaining adventures set during fascinating periods in history. They also gave us interesting characters for the first time since Ezio departed in 2011.

It's really nice to be excited for Assassin's Creed again.

Following some time off, the series is set to return with Valhalla. It was announced yesterday via a weird drip-feed stream, and we're expecting more concrete details later today. Based on the reveal, it's safe to assume that this will be the long rumoured Viking AC. The prospect of marauding across Northern Europe is a tantalizing one, and I wouldn&#…

Not Good at Being Good at Video Games

I'm in need of focus this week, as the work-from-home marathon enters its second month. So I'm going to use some of the time I'd usually spend commuting to write a short post every day, Monday-Friday.

My five-year old daughter can, on occasion, beat me at Street Fighter. In my defence, she's almost six.

Street Fighter has become part of our work/play-from-home routine. A snifter of Ultra IV to finish up our lunch break before I get back to Zoom-life and excel nightmares, and she returns to colouring Disney princesses and making Lego towers. We usually go a few rounds. She likes Cammy, Chun-Li, Ryu and Zangief; I like to mix it up. From time to time, she beats me. Sometimes I let her win, but other times I'm desperately trying not to lose. I'm happy for her but I'm also despairing at the ongoing atrophy of my already lacklustre beat-em-up skills.

I'm good at knowing about video games, but I am not good at being good at playing video games.

I didn't g…

An Unlikely Cover Star

I'm in need of focus this week, as the work-from-home marathon enters its second month. So I'm going to use some of the time I'd usually spend commuting to write a short post every day, Monday-Friday.

During the 1994-1995 season, Sam Cassell appeared in all 82 regular season games for the NBA Champion Houston Rockets. A key role player, he came off the bench in all but one of them. He was good, and would later become very good, but he was never a star nor a household name. He was certainly not someone you would expect to find on the front cover of an NBA video game.

Yet there he is, gracing the sleeve of the US and Japanese versions of Total NBA '96 (Japan and EU) / NBA ShootOut (America land). He is immortalized mid-layup, presumably about to notch up two more points. Exciting stuff for fans of layups and/or Sam Cassell.

The Total NBA series was generally well received, before fizzling out in the early-mid 2000s. It was developed in-house by Sony as an alternative to …

Burly Men and Me

I'm in need of some extra focus this week, as the work-from-home marathon enters its second month. So I'm going to use some of the time I'd usually spend commuting to write a short post every day this week, Monday-Friday.

A week ago, I turned on my Vita for the first time in two years. I was delighted to rediscover bubbles overflowing with games. Vita-exclusives, indies, retreads, PS1 and PSP standouts and a massive helping of PS+ offerings. For a console that had no games, the NGP was home to a shit tonne of worthwhile titles.

Unfortunately, I couldn't play any of them. My 64 GB bastard memory card, filled to the brim with games, was corrupted. So I had to reformat it, losing all of my game saves in the process. I foolishly assumed they'd been uploaded to the magical cloud, but apparently that's an option you have to enable in the menu and is not an automatic function. Cloud saves continue to be a mystery, a decade-long crapshoot as to what will be preserved a…

PS3Hundred Yen or Less

It's been ten days since I last scoured a video game bargain section.

Almost two weeks since I rummaged through a junk bin, visited a Book Off, shook my head disapprovingly at an over-priced Saturn game, or fingered an off-white Famicom.

I've been working from home most of the last week and a half, and have kept myself stashed away at the weekend. Even if I were moving more freely, I'd think twice before visiting a used-game store. Nerds are filthy creatures.

I miss the excitement of finding an unwanted game from generations past, for only a couple hundred Yen. A game that passed me by initially, now at a price that's perfect for a test drive, with limited expectations and no promises of lengthy time investments. A chance to add yet another game to my "tried that" list and cement my position as the unassailable gamer. A guilt-free taster for the cost of a convenience store coffee.

Pre-working from home, I had bought a handful of very cheap PS3 games. I adore…

A Shootout in Virtua City

Seventeen polygonal criminals are squatting behind a counter at the back of a jewelry store.

"There must be some kind of mistake".

Gary, a career criminal, is very unhappy with his current predicament.

"Steven. Steven, mate. There's no way seventeen of us are gonna find cover behind this counter. We're going to get shot to pieces. One of us should say something".

"Fuck up, Gary. I ain't saying shit. Team Leader'll kick my arse. Just stay quiet, stay low and please stop elbowing me"

"I can't stop elbowing you; there's no space here".

Gary is right. There is no space, and he has particularly pointy elbows.

"Oh god, don't look now. Gareth is coming over........ and he's seen us".

"Hey guys, budge up". Gareth is here.

"No, fuck off. This counter is full. There is no more room at the counter". Gary can not fathom having to make space for yet another gunman behind what is, at best, a mediu…

Catch Up 2020

It's been a strange few weeks since my last post.

Feel free to skip the next paragraph if you want to avoid the germ chat.

We've been dealing with Coronavirus here in Japan for around a month. Or not dealing with it, as the case may be. Measures have been put in place to limit the spread - voluntary self-isolation for returnees from abroad, nationwide school closures, encouraging people to work from home - but honestly, the vast majority of us are going about our daily routine as per usual. This is because we don't have a say in the matter. The commuter trains are still packed, just marginally less so, and there are slightly more people wearing masks. Entertainment venues are suffering terribly as our weekends become more isolated, because that's when we have the freedom to stay at home. But on weekdays it's business as usual, as we're in the office and out and about.

A strange few weeks, indeed.

Anyway, let's take our mind off that for a bit and talk abou…

A Buffet and The Obra Dinn

In 2007, or thereabouts, the wife and I had a very memorable dinner in Okinawa. It was a buffet with several counters, each serving different types of local food. Lots of fresh fish, fruit, pork and other good stuff. You'd walk up with your plate, hand it to the man, he'd fill it, you'd clear it. Rinse and repeat.

You are probably familiar with how a buffet works.

It was a two-hour course that also included beer, which ensured that I was shit-faced by the end, but pleasantly so. The dinner was a little pricey, but it was very much worth it, as every mouthful was a delightful mish-mash of new and familiar flavours. It was the perfect start to a wonderful weekend away.

This blog post is about video games, I promise.

We went back the next year and it was nowhere near as good. The selection had been reduced and what they had didn't taste the same. Or maybe it did, and we had just unreasonably inflated the original experience and set our expectations impossibly high. We we…