Reader’s Choice Awards 2010

When I think of ‘Game of the Year’, I ask myself: “If I had to pick one title that would be representative of an entire year of gaming, what would that be?” What qualifications does this game in question have to meet? Is this a game that everyone knows about, or does it have a small yet dedicated following? Can it just be a personal favorite?

I think it would only be fair if I were to choose games that I have accrued a substantial amount of knowledge on – in other words, only the games that were released and I reviewed in 2010 could apply here. With that said, I’ll run through each candidate with a small excerpt from my reviews and my personal thoughts on them:

Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep

“If anything, it’s hard to realize that this is still a portable game. Sometimes, I had to notice everything that was happening was indeed going on in the palm of my hands, rather than on a television. Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep is an excellent Action RPG that will definitely keep you at the edge of your seat from start to finish.”

I’d venture to say that the Nintendo DS is the more popular of the two portable systems. However, games like Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep are shining examples of the sheer advantages of higher technology the PSP wields over its rival. Without a doubt, this is a fully fledged Kingdom Hearts game on a portable system you can take on the go, which is really excellent. While the majority of the main quest was a tad redundant due to the fact that you tour the very same worlds three times, it was done through three different perspectives. I loved each of the heroes, and was genuinely sad to see their fates at the game’s climax. However, like every Kingdom Hearts game, the ending always sheds some light on the future game, where each of their fates will be rectified.

White Knight Chronicles

“White Knight Chronicles doesn’t bring anything extraordinary to the table. It’s a solid RPG for sure, and going online with your Avatar will be the reason to why you would still be playing after the story mode is finished. Aside from Geonet’s thoughtful interface and the exciting, but shortchanged combo system, it tries to be a MMO from the mid 2000’s. I’d like to think we’ve evolved from slow combat and lifeless quests. By haphazardly relying on the innovations of games in the past, White Knight Chronicles ultimately fails to set itself apart from the pack.”

Despite the few good things White Knight Chronicles has accomplished, it took a hefty beating for recycling a lot of conventions that helped define the JRPG. This ranged from very linear characters, inanimate quests that weren’t very involving, and an archaic battle system. While doing this, it couldn’t help but seeming like a combination of a lot of overused mechanics strung together. This Frankenstein of a game simply didn’t cut it.

Final Fantasy XIII

“Final Fantasy XIII will divide many fans. For those who rely on tradition, there will be some shock to get over. Once that has subsided, what remains is definitely an excellent adventure. It made a bold move to take a chance and change a lot of the elements players have held dear. In the pursuit of innovation, the result is a great game, and it deserves to stand proud in the canon of RPG’s.”

Despite being a household name in terms of RPG’s, Final Fantasy XIII is easily the most polarizing title in the long running series. Never before have I seen so many fans divided over the merits and complaints of this game. Regardless of your personal thoughts, it was a risk to change so many traditional concepts that Final Fantasy is known for. However in light of that, JRPG’s have been getting denounced for doing the same thing over and over again. If anyone were to shake up the pot, I’d like to think that Final Fantasy would have the most favorable results, right?

Need for Speed Hot Pursuit

“Need for Speed Hot Pursuit is deceptively simple. Because the focus is completely on what you experience behind the wheel, there are no distractions to take away from driving. While we never will be able to realize our fantasy of speeding down a highway going 140 miles an hour evading the law, or enforcing it ourselves, this is an excellent break from reality; a great racing game that never fails to disappoint.”

I had a blast with Need for Speed Hot Pursuit. Racing games like this are just what you need sometimes: Frantic aggressive action that never lets up until the race is over. While a lot of people may have gone straight to Gran Turismo 5 since it released in the same month, I’m one of the few that believe there’s other really good choices for those who want to get their racing fix. Fun fact: The last Need for Speed game that ever won an E3 award was the original Hot Pursuit, which came out in 1998. Even though twelve years have passed, a successful formula like this always will come out in first place.

Phantasy Star Portable 2

“By now, if you’ve heard of the Phantasy Star series, you either hate what it’s become, or have been sticking around, hoping that it will come around to achieve its former glory as one of the most prolific Action RPG series of this decade. (Phantasy Star) Portable 2 drives remarkably closer to that nostalgia that originally drew us in. This is definitely a game to get your hands on.”

Whenever I talk about anything related to Phantasy Star anymore, I feel as if I have to play Devil’s Advocate. In our ever growing history of video games, wherever I turn, it seems that the pages where this game would be mentioned are suspiciously left blank, or smudged over! The main thing that I like about this game is that at its most basic components, it is a port of the same game that came out in 2006. However, because of the numerous additions the game has had in the form of an expansion and a boatload of added content like tweaks to the mechanics, many new missions and equipment to hunt for, there was always stuff to keep players busy. This game is the pinnacle of all of that content, shrink-wrapped and ready to take in your pocket.

Now that each choice is pooled here together, it’s time to choose! Unfortunately, this year is the ‘Battle of the RPG’s plus a racing game,’ so I want to apologize for a lack of variety in genres. Next year will be better in that aspect! What game do you guys think should gain the honor of Hit Points’ Game of the Year 2010? Vote for your favorite game! Stay tuned, I’ll reveal my choice by the end of the year.

 

When I think of ‘Game of the Year’, I ask myself: “If I had to pick one title that would be representative of an entire year of gaming, what would that be?” What qualifications does this game in question have to meet? Is this a game that everyone knows about, or does it have a small yet dedicated following? Can it just be a personal favorite?

I think it would only be fair if I were to choose games that I have accrued a substantial amount of knowledge on – in other words, only the games that were released and I reviewed in 2010 could apply here. With that said, I’ll run through each candidate with a small excerpt from my reviews, and my personal thoughts on them:

Final Fantasy XIII

“Final Fantasy XIII will divide many fans. For those who rely on tradition, there will be some shock to get over. Once that has subsided, what remains is definitely an excellent adventure. It made a bold move to take a chance and change a lot of the elements players have held dear. In the pursuit of innovation, the result is a great game, and it deserves to stand proud in the canon of RPG’s.”

Despite being a household name in terms of RPG’s, Final Fantasy XIII is easily the most polarizing title in the long running series. Never before have I seen so many fans divided over the merits and complaints of this game. Regardless of your personal thoughts, it was a risk to change so many traditional concepts that Final Fantasy is known for. However in light of that, JRPG’s have been getting denounced for doing the same thing over and over again. If anyone were to shake up the pot, I’d like to think that Final Fantasy would have the most favorable results, right?

Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep

“If anything, it’s hard to realize that this is still a portable game. Sometimes, I had to notice everything that was happening was indeed going on in the palm of my hands, rather than on a television. Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep is an excellent Action RPG that will definitely keep you at the edge of your seat from start to finish.”

I’d venture to say that the Nintendo DS is the more popular of the two portable systems. However, games like Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep are shining examples of the sheer advantages of higher technology the PSP wields over its rival. Without a doubt, this is a fully fledged Kingdom Hearts game on a portable system you can take on the go, which is really excellent. While the majority of the main quest was a tad redundant due to the fact that you tour the very same worlds three times, it was done through three different perspectives. I loved each of the heroes, and was genuinely sad to see their fates at the game’s climax. However, like every Kingdom Hearts game, the ending always sheds some light on the future game, where each of their fates will be rectified.

Need for Speed Hot Pursuit

“Need for Speed Hot Pursuit is deceptively simple. Because the focus is completely on what you experience behind the wheel, there are no distractions to take away from driving. While we never will be able to realize our fantasy of speeding down a highway going 140 miles an hour evading the law, or enforcing it ourselves, this is an excellent break from reality; a great racing game that never fails to disappoint.”

I had a blast with Need for Speed Hot Pursuit. Racing games like this are just what you need sometimes: Frantic aggressive action that never lets up until the race is over. While a lot of people may have gone straight to Gran Turismo 5 since it released in the same month, I’m one of the few that believe there’s other really good choices for those who want to get their racing fix. Fun fact: The last Need for Speed game that ever won an E3 award was the original Hot Pursuit, which came out in 1998. Even though twelve years have passed, a successful formula like this always will come out in first place.

Phantasy Star Portable 2

“By now, if you’ve heard of the Phantasy Star series, you either hate what it’s become, or have been sticking around, hoping that it will come around to achieve its former glory as one of the most prolific Action RPG series of this decade. (Phantasy Star) Portable 2 drives remarkably closer to that nostalgia that originally drew us in. This is definitely a game to get your hands on.”

Whenever I talk about anything related to Phantasy Star anymore, I feel as if I have to play Devil’s Advocate. In our ever growing history of video games, wherever I turn, it seems that the pages where this game would be mentioned are suspiciously left blank, or smudged over! The main thing that I like about this game is that at its most basic components, it is a port of the same game that came out in 2006. However, because of the numerous additions the game has had in the form of an expansion and a boatload of added content like tweaks to the mechanics, many new missions and equipment to hunt for, there was always stuff to keep players busy. This game is the pinnacle of all of that content, shrink-wrapped and ready to take in your pocket.

White Knight Chronicles

“White Knight Chronicles doesn’t bring anything extraordinary to the table. It’s a solid RPG for sure, and going online with your Avatar will be the reason to why you would still be playing after the story mode is finished. Aside from Geonet’s thoughtful interface and the exciting, but shortchanged combo system, it tries to be a MMO from the mid 2000’s. I’d like to think we’ve evolved from slow combat and lifeless quests. By haphazardly relying on the innovations of games in the past, White Knight Chronicles ultimately fails to set itself apart from the pack.”

Despite the few good things White Knight Chronicles has accomplished, it took a hefty beating for recycling a lot of conventions that helped define the JRPG. This ranged from very linear characters, inanimate quests that weren’t very involving, and an archaic battle system. While doing this, it couldn’t help but seeming like a combination of a lot of overused mechanics strung together. This Frankenstein of a game simply didn’t cut it.

Now that each choice is pooled here together, it’s time to choose! Unfortunately, this year is the ‘Battle of the RPG’s plus a racing game,’ so I want to apologize for a lack of variety in genres. Next year will be better in that aspect! What game do you guys think should gain the honor of Hit Points’ Game of the Year 2010? Stay tuned, I’ll reveal my choice by the end of the year.

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Final Thoughts on Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep

These stats were from when I first cleared the game. I spent about 20 more hours getting through post-game material, and a more accurate statistics sheet would blow the information here out of the water!

As an owner of both a Nintendo DS and a PSP, I always have a number of portable games on tap to nestle into bed with, or to carry on the go. I love them both equally, but when I focus on a game on my DS for example, my PSP will be secluded in my desk, collecting dust for weeks, even months at a time. Over the past year however, the tide has definitely changed in favor of my PSP. My DS has already been entombed in it’s carrying case for at least six months, and when Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep took a residence in my game collection, it’s continued to remain there. The PSP has more often than not been the destination for half-assed ports, lackluster franchise revivals and games that just “weren’t as good as they could have been”, but this latest entry in the Kingdom Hearts series is sure to propel itself past any of those categories, as well as make any remaining naysayers of the PSP take a second look.

As I mentioned in my review, this game clearly showcases the power that the PSP is capable of. I thought there were very few things that Birth By Sleep failed to do on a grand scale; I was entertained from start to finish. Most importantly, there wasn’t at any point in my play through that I said to myself, “Oh, this is just a portable game,” and subconsciously lowered my expectations. In fact, there were a number of times where I said to myself, “This could definitely exist on a console!”

Overall, I appreciated the storyline, because it explains what was going on prior to Sora’s time, so to speak. Contrary to what a lot of other gamers are saying, I thought Terra, Ventus and Aqua were casted pretty well, and their voice actors did a good job projecting their respective characters personality, which helped me make a better connection with the three of them.

When I played as Terra, I felt the internal conflict he was dealing with between doing what was right and going along with what Master Xehanort guided him to do, and genuinely was upset with how things turned out for him in the end. Just like Anakin Skywalker before him, it seemed as if he had the potential to become very powerful, but it goes to show that evil can still work to ruin you, if you walk close enough to it.  Ventus’ youthful nature made it easier for him to interact with the Disney characters. Perhaps it was because he was the youngest of the group, which appealed to the kid inside all of us. We’ve all wanted to interact with the likes of Mickey Mouse, a Disney Princess, or be able to fly with Peter Pan at one point or another in our lives – and Ven made that childhood dream come true on screen. Aqua, whom I saved for last, was my favorite. I liked her the most, because she represented a pretty lacking demographic in the Kingdom Hearts universe until now: a strong feminine presence. Aqua could not only hold her own in combat, she had a strong personality and never played the damsel in distress card (cough Kairi). Of the three heroes, I would like to see what’s in store for her in future games.

Of course, the game expects you to watch the secret ending this time around. The regular ending left me hanging, but the extra scenes really set us up for the EVENTUAL release of Kingdom Hearts 3. At this point, I really want to just frown upon any more side stories, prequels or anything else, because it’s been five years since we’re played through Kingdom Hearts 2. I can’t imagine there has to be that much else to develop in the storyline, but we have Kingdom Hearts 3D and Re:Coded to play, when they get released.  For review purposes, I played the game on Standard Mode, meaning that in addition to beating the game, I had to collect every treasure chest, meld every ability, kill every monster at least once.. Are you asleep yet? Yeah. It certainly gives you something to do, but I got bored of completing each world with a 100% rating before I hit the halfway point in each storyline. Playing Standard Mode requires you to do many more “chores” to get the privilege of seeing the true ending, but luckily, if you play on Proud or Critical (Hard or Very Hard) Mode, you just have to clear the storyline. Whether you actually have the patience to complete this laundry list if you’re playing Standard Mode is up to you, but if that’s too time consuming like it was for me, Youtube can fill in the blanks!

Although I expected it, Birth By Sleep is also getting the Final Mix treatment. What’s worse is that news about Final Mix releasing in Japan (only, of course) happened to go around as soon as the States finally got the original game. For those who don’t know what Final Mix is, its basically a remixed edition of the game, with extra content like new boss fights, more cutscenes and the like. To me, it’s not worth justifying shelling out top dollar for largely the same game, but I immediately felt like we got the inferior game in comparison.

Overall, Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep was a very successful game. The PSP is clearly getting into it’s later stages of life, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Sony were to reveal a successor to their handheld during next year’s E3 convention. The silver lining in this is that until then, the PSP games that we’ll be getting in the meantime are very likely to be using every ounce of power the PSP is able to offer, and if more games are as fully featured and well done as Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep keep coming down the pipe, I know I’ll be just fine.

Ventus, Complete!

I’m a little bit surprised that I cleared Ven’s storyline in four days. More or less, he romps through the same worlds as Terra, and now I’m seeing the point of the three-pronged approach to this game. It’s nice to notice when more than one hero is in the same world, and how their actions are seen from another person’s perspective; again, its encouraged to clear each story to get the full picture.

Gameplay wise, I would say Ven’s game was easier than Terra’s – that is to say, he plays the most like Sora, making him the easiest to get back into playing a Kingdom Hearts game. They’re both nimble, quick, and of course – they can fly. I went through Neverland as Terra just waiting for Peter Pan and Tinkerbell to sprinkle him with magic dust so he can take flight. It never happened, so I guess adults really can’t fly, oh well.

I liked Ven as a character. He’s the most cheerful of the three heroes, and his personality and interactions with others made each scene memorable. Terra’s brooding nature seemed to drive a wall between the bubbly Disney characters, but I’m just being nitpicky. Ven connected with people like Stich, Mikey, Donald and Goofy. The first thing that drew me to him was his obvious resemblance to Roxas, from Kingdom Hearts II. Why does he look just like him? Is this some kind of ploy to get all fans to collectively say “wtf, who is that?” Well, if I were to answer that, then what’s the point in all of you planning to play it? I’ll just say that it’s an interesting plot twist. Regardless, the overarching plot is sometimes difficult to follow, and when you have a new character that looks like someone we’ve already met five years ago, it’s a lot more complicated than just passing them off as something like an older twin…

To build off of my previous note about Final Fantasy’s presence in this game- I’m sad to report that no other characters have been found. Still, a young iteration of Zack is so far the sole representative for Final Fantasy, which is kind of odd. One of the main draws to Kingdom Hearts is seeing a universe that combines the elements of two really big properties: Disney (Duh) and Final Fantasy. Having only a side character (at best) weakens that very easy way to market this game to those fans who swoon at the chance to see someone like Cloud or Squall/Leon again. I still hope that this isn’t the case, but time is running out. Perhaps a bunch of characters are just hiding in Aqua’s story!

I suppose in defense of this decision, having a deficiency of Final Fantasy characters allows the game and the players to focus on the central protagonists. As a prequel, their actions are very important, and this game serves to answer a lot of those questions that still haven’t been answered, or have been speculated on for years. It’s all up to the individual player, but I’m sure a lot of Final Fantasy fans would be dissapointed there isn’t much for them.

If I learned the basics of Birth By Sleep with Terra, then I’ve gotten proficient with Ven. Chances are, what I’ve learned with him will make Aqua’s story a breeze-  but we’ll see.

Well, I’m off to start Aqua’s storyline. Happy Gaming!

Terra, Complete!

The picture basically explains it all. But, if you want to somehow dodge any harmless picture that could be construed as a spoiler, I’ve just finished Terra’s portion of Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep. Overall his game wasn’t too difficult, but the final level for his storyline gave me a run for my money. Even though I was on standard mode, I was getting way too many game over’s for my own good. I’ll leave his last boss anonymous, but relatively speaking, he was pretty damn tough (hard like Sephiroth) compared to the rest of the boss battles in the game, at least for Terra. Kingdom Hearts does an excellent job with each boss battle, I was never disappointed.

As far as Terra goes, he only grazed the surface each Disney world he visited. In the short time he interacted with each character most of us have grown up with, the eventual boss battle signifying the end of his portion of the world occurred sooner than I had expected, and after that, he would be off towards the next destination, and at times, very abruptly. With Snow White, he meets her and protects her from a horde of Unversed. Like the frail girl she is, she runs at the sight of danger into the forest (Yeah, the same forest where the trees come to life and grab at her). Terra turns around and sees the boss behind him and defeats it easily. “What does this all mean? Maybe I will find my answers elsewhere…” Snow White’s world is complete. I can understand this approach to the narrative, as it makes me want to play through the next character to see what happens next in each world after the previous hero leaves. Later on, I find out Ventus shows up with the Seven Dwarves to take Snow White to the cottage.

Hopefully this is just Terra’s problem, but Final Fantasy characters have been nearly non-existent – I’ve only seen a very young Zack from Final Fantasy VII, for about ten minutes. So far, all of the other (popular) characters have yet to make an appearance. I hope that gets rectified soon.

That’s all for now! I would have been more diligent in completing everything there is to do, but since I’m reviewing this, I had to fly through as fast as I could. I’m working through Ven’s story now, so stay tuned!

Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep First Impressions

Getting my hands on Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep was no easy task. Without getting too descriptive, I’ll just say that it was a stroke of luck, and a bit of ingenuity, because if one variable were to be off, I wouldn’t have this gem of a game to play and write about right now! I’ll be clear with you all; Birth By Sleep is one of the very best RPG’s for the PSP this year, hands down. Not many games have been able to make me come to this conclusion in under 4 hours, so this is a very worthy precedent.

Birth By Sleep follows Square Enix’s pattern of delaying the inevitable; releasing Kingdom Hearts 3. Although they’re not moving the story “forward,” this is the game alluded to in the secret video if you completed all everything in Kingdom Hearts 2. Remember those three mysterious armored people fighting? As ambiguous as that preview video was, players finally get some answers to what it all means here. Since this game is a prequel to the entire series, it tells the story of three Keyblade users before Sora comes along – Terra, Ventus and Aqua. I’m still getting to know each character, but a past Game Informer article established pretty spot on comparisons with Star Wars Episode I-III characters. Terra is a lot like Anakin Skywalker, Aqua mirrors Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Ven is like Ahsoka Tano (if you watched the Clone Wars cartoon… I didn’t).

Terra, Ven and Aqua have their own storyline, and you choose one to play to completion. I found it interesting that although you’ll be effectively visiting each world three times, each character experiences a portion of it. For example, Terra visits the Castle of Dreams (Cinderella’s world) and watches as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother transforms her, glass slippers and all. He then escorts her to the royal ball, fighting Unversed (this game’s iteration of Heartless) along the way. After she dances with the Prince, she runs away as the clock strikes 12, just like the story. While Terra’s about to leave, Aqua appears to take over. Since I’m playing as Terra at the moment, I would be off towards the next world, while people playing as Aqua would be present for the next events in Cinderella. Eventually, Aqua will finish her portion, and Ven will come to finish it up. Each world and the events within them play out just like their respective Disney movies, and the player exists within it without ruining the original story. I think this is really well done. For the Disney fans that are also gamers, Kingdom Hearts’ very faithful usage of the Disney license is a treat.

I figured since Birth By Sleep was on a handheld system, the controls would be difficult, and I would have to be practicing some extreme hand-yoga to fight, but all of the movements and actions are positioned well for the PSP’s control scheme. Combat is fast paced, and fun to watch play out.

Birth By Sleep will be the first game I’ll be working on since Final Fantasy XIII, so I’m really excited to get back into the swing of playing games to review again. It’s been quite a long time between April and September, but nothing has come around till now to get my interest. If you have a PSP, like RPG’s, and Disney, what are you doing with yourself? Get out there and get this game!