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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Whats Next?

In case you’re wondering, I haven’t forgotten Phantasy Star Portable 2 at all. I just submitted my (abridged) review for it to my college newspaper this week, but I have to go more in-depth with it and add a lot more material that would help flesh it out before I post it here. One benefit to reading my blog here is that you guys get to see all of my work, not just a portion of it!

Hey readers, it’s that time of the year – the Holiday season is quickly approaching! Christmas trees will soon be up, decked out in lights and ornaments, the egg nog will be flowing like water, and even a number of games will be rolling out Holiday-themed events. Most importantly, gamers are going to be flying out of nearly every retailer with a number of great deals. To make things better, I’m on the prowl for a new game as well.

So, I’ve been eyeballing my next purchase, or two.

First, Need for Speed Hot Pursuit has me definitely interested. I’ve never really cared for the NFS titles that focused on being like a simulation racer, since Gran Turismo (which is just about to release this month as well) and Forza Motorsport has had that under control. Honestly, the one and only NFS game I liked was Most WantedCarbon, Prostreet and Shift just didn’t do it for me, but I suppose the upside is that the franchise has tried other styles of racing. Coming back to its roots with Hot Pursuit has gotten my attention, because I liked the level of arcadey’ racing that made Most Wanted good. It wasn’t painfully realistic or constrained with so many rules and mechanics that made driving a real car more exciting. Also, if I were to pick this as my new game, it would be the first racing game I would review! As you probably guessed, my forte is Role Playing Games, but it would be good to show some range by reviewing something out of that circle. Until the next wave of RPG’s in 2011 start showing up, I think I’ve covered the games I’ve had my eyes on in a while, so a genre switch would be a breath of fresh air.

I mentioned Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock a few blog posts back, but I stopped paying attention to it since I had picked Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep to review. Even so, since I’ve been powering down from Phantasy Star Portable 2, I’ve been getting that itch to pick up my plastic guitar and shred again. Most of the time, I can only listen to music while I’m driving. As odd as it sounds, I’ve been air “guitar’ing “more and more often to whatever I’m hearing! In addition to that, the article I wrote recently comparing and contrasting both Rock Band and Guitar Hero has also piqued my interest. As much as I hate spoilers, it has led me to look at the note charts during game play videos of Warriors of Rock. Needless to say, I’m impressed with the music they’re featuring this time around. There’s one caveat though. The TV that my Xbox 360 is connected to died out again. I had gotten a projection lamp in the mail some weeks ago, but the TV has either burned out the lamp in a matter of days, (it usually takes about a year or so. I know, it’s ridiculous) or is seriously defective. Either way, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy Guitar Hero in the best possible location for me at the moment, but that doesn’t stop me from moving it to my room temporarily…

We’ve come to another poll! Which game do you guys think I should review? Need for Speed Hot Pursuit, or Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock? Don’t like either of those choices? Suggest another game!

Phantasy Star Portable 2 First Impressions

There was such a large gap in time between writing articles and playing through this game because of my studies and work, that I’ve already finished this game. Excuse my lateness!

Around this time last year, I was chomping at the bit, awaiting the release of SEGA’s Phantasy Star Zero for the DS. I routinely patrolled PSO-World.com, gathering information to keep me busy until I got my hands on the game itself. In one of the posts on the front page, I had read that the Japanese demo of the soon to be released Phantasy Star Portable 2 was accessible on American PSP’s as well. After a little leg work of getting it up and running, I had in my hands a demo that many gamers had no clue existed (unless they frequented the site as well). It was relatively short and most unfortunately in Japanese, so I couldn’t absorb much about the game. From what I could understand, I knew that this game had some real potential. Now, a year later, Phantasy Star Portable 2 has materialized on American shores.

So, What’s New?

It’s best to think of PSPo2 as a complete stripping down of nearly everything that made up Phantasy Star Universe, and subsequently revamping it all from the ground up. In short, this was very successful! While most of the changes have to do with alterations to the mechanics, most of them serve to make the game much better overall. Mentioning all of the changes are difficult to cover here, but a here are two key changes that already make this game shine, especially when compared to previous entries in the series.

1.       Combat Overhaul

–          In earlier iterations of Phantasy Star Universe, your character’s PP (the equivalent to MP, or magic/skill points) was connected to each weapon you used. Whenever you used a Photon Art (which are physical techniques, or magic spells that required this PP) it would deplete. You could regenerate this naturally from using normal attack combos, or you could refill it with an item. Alternatively, you could also pack a bunch of the weapons, and just empty their individual PP gauges, and switch to another weapon with a full tank of gas, so to speak. Obviously, skills deal much more damage than regular attacks, and in theory, you could just run through a mission doing your best attacks, all of the time. This made for relatively boring gameplay, since monsters were pretty easy to begin with.

–          All of this was changed this time around. Your character now has a personal PP bar, which is connected to every weapon you have. While Photon Arts still function the same, a single full combo can deplete your entire bar. Your PP can automatically regenerate, and this process can be hastened by using regular attacks. While you pepper regular attacks on your enemies, your character is constantly building up a chain. The higher the chain, the more damaging your Photon Arts become, which makes Photon Arts act as finishers, rather than the bread and butter of your arsenal. With a group of likeminded players, one member could dedicate themselves to building high chains, while another plows through monsters with their photon arts. In addition to these changes on the offensive front, two welcome actions –dodge rolling and blocking, make playing defensively much better as well. As a result, combat stays fresh and doesn’t become a mundane affair.

2.       Difficulty

–          PSU was never considered a difficult game. A well balanced party who knows how to excel at their roles appropriately could steamroll the most difficult of missions. For example, when PSU’s expansion, Ambition of the Illuminus, was released, it was touted as having tougher bosses to match the ability of the players better. In one mission, players charge a temple, rushing forward until they come toe to toe with a two headed dragon. This is all well and good, because on average, the mission lasts about eight to ten minutes, culminating in a boss fight that unfortunately lasts about thirty seconds, if the boss gives the party some trouble. The new bosses simply didn’t have enough HP to last very long with an entire party laying waste to it, and simply wasn’t very difficult to handle. I’m willing to bet that the people that continue to play PSU are more than likely still running this mission, only because it’s the easiest, and yields the highest rewards, despite very really easy.

–          In an attempt to turn players on their ears, PSPo2 makes nearly every mission an active attempt for survival, provided that you’re going against monsters close to your own level. Enemies are much smarter this time around – they can block, evade your attacks, and work together to take you down. In story mode, if you die, the mission ends immediately, without giving you a chance to try again. Furthermore, bosses have had a dramatic spike in HP as well as difficulty. For example, De Ragan, who used to be a pushover, is actually a pain in the neck to take on without the proper preparation. In multiplayer mode, death is not as unforgiving, since you can respawn and come back to where to you died. However, this severely impacts your rewards for clearing the mission at hand.

I’m really excited to dive right into this game. Personally, I’ve logged over 500+ hours on Phantasy Star Universe, but like many others who played with me, got bored of the repetitive combat system and the obvious impediments general experience that caused me to lose interest in the first place. So far, I’ve already seen my major complaints rectified, so we’ll see what more there is to discover!

Come on SEGA…

How many games get released in any given month? How many of them are titles you’ve been waiting a long time for? You’ve been quite the busy bee, reading up on every news report, press release and advertisement just to satiate your desire until you can get your hands on the game itself. If you’re going through this much effort, that’s a pretty good sign that you’ll eventually buy it. If this sounds like you, then please, continue as you are. The games you’ve been looking for have had a sufficient amount of coverage to follow, and I’d imagine all is right in the world for you. After all, you got what you’ve been waiting for.

On the other hand, how many games slip through your radar, only to be silently released with very little buzz? Unless a game is really popular, it needs try that much harder to force itself into the consciousness of the public. If people aren’t hearing about a game, how can developers expect them to sell, and more importantly, how can gamers on the fence be able to make an informed decision?

It’s becoming very obvious nowadays that aggressive, if not just prudent marketing tactics, are as important as having a game that’s actually fun to play. If a good game is released but no one really hears about it, what are we supposed to do?

I don’t know if it was just a really bad coincidence, but last year, SEGA released the Nintendo DS RPG Phantasy Star Zero (Which I reviewed, found here) on the same day as Infinity Ward released Modern Warfare 2. I ventured to a number of Gamestop and Best Buy stores in town and each and every one of them didn’t know what I was talking about when I mentioned Phantasy Star Zero, but they all had an absurd mount of copies of Infinity Ward’s pride and joy ready to throw in my face. Could you chalk it up to bad timing? I would say so. Did any of you know something else released on the same day as Modern Warfare 2? I doubt it.

Was that a smart idea? Of course not.

The same cycle has repeated again this year. SEGA’s Phantasy Star Portable 2 was released on the same day as Halo: Reach. Let that sink in. Another game was released on the same day as Halo: Reach and I highly doubt anyone knew about it. I hope it’s not just me, but I believe releasing anything on the day of a game as prolific as Halo is suicide. I think the worst thing to do to a gamer is to release two (good) games on the same day, because more often than not, they will be standing in line, making a decision on which game they’ll be spending time on. In this case, I’m sorry to say that SEGA seriously harmed its own game because of poor timing. Doing this once is understandable, but when the exact same scenario plays out for the second time, can we really just chalk it up to a bad coincidence?

Sure, PSP2 and Halo: Reach belong to two different genres, Action RPG and Shooter. They inherently would be getting the attention of different audiences, and theoretically, their subsequent sales shouldn’t interrupt each other right? To a degree, yes. However, what about the gamers who haven’t decided yet? How will they choose what to buy? It’s just like an election year. Presidential candidates of their respective political parties don’t have to do too much legwork to secure the votes of their own supporters, because they’re busy focusing on garnering those important votes from those that are undecided. Be it aggressive commercials, attack ad’s, it doesn’t matter how they do it, but they force their way into our homes, and more often than not, the one that makes a more memorable presence will be the victor.

I had my eyes on PSP2 last year, when I got my hands on the Japanese beta. I was instantly hooked, and couldn’t wait till it’s eventual release in the States. Of the various video game news sites I frequented, I never heard anything about the game, except for the thriving fansite PSO-World.com . To be more specific, SEGA put out a trailer, and an E3 booth for PSP2, but hardly any of this coverage made its way to more mainstream publications, where a lot of people go to for their gaming news in the first place.

It’s as if it didn’t even exist- although it has to be sitting on the sales racks of most video game stores now, I wonder how many people are still waiting for some kind of news about it to break.

Perhaps it still doesn’t exist.