Tag Archives: PlayStation

Dark Souls 2: To Live and Die in Drangleic

bmuploads_2013-04-05_1984_dark_souls_2_logo_tm_fix

Recently, I have been playing Dark Souls 2 for the PS3 and I will admit, I have been thoroughly enjoying myself. Even though I’ve struggled a bit and have only just last night, finished the main game, I thought I would take this opportunity to give you all, my most recent thoughts and opinions on this latest entry into the Souls series. Keep in mind, even though I have been an ardent fan of From Software games, since the mid 90’s (see my King’s Field Retrospective for a bit more info on that series) it doesn’t mean that I will blindly give this game a free pass.  So, let’s take a look at Dark Souls 2 and explore my thoughts on this new world of Drangleic.

A Brief History of the Souls Series

Before we get started on Dark Souls 2, let’s take a brief look at the history of the Souls games. Don’t worry, I’ll try and make this quick as I can.

demons_souls

The Souls series began with Demon’s Souls, published in 2009 and released in Japan, the United States and Europe. As a PS3 exclusive game, it was labeled as the “spiritual successor” to the King’s Field series, which had been released some fifteen years earlier, for the PSX. Released in the U.S. by Atlus, the game gradually gathered a strong cult following, made up of dedicated, hardcore, challenge seeking gamers.

From the control scheme and game mechanics, to the games brutal difficulty, Demon’s Souls laid the ground work for what we now know as a Souls game. It also re-energized the From Software brand, propelling them out of obscurity. I spent hours and hours on this game, exploring the world, learning spells and fighting along side my fellow PSN friends. That was one of the key reasons why I liked Demon’s Souls so much, it had a fantastic multiplayer setup, combining a thrilling system of co-op PvE and intense PvP. It was like nothing I had ever played before. It was absolutely fantastic.

468px-Dark-souls-logo-tops-mainDark Souls

Similar in design, play style and visuals to that of Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls was said to be its spiritual successor(From Software really likes to use that term ‘spiritual successor’, don’t they?) It was released for both the PS3 and the XBOX 360 in 2011 and finally for the PC in 2012.  This time it was Namco Bandai, who took the publishing reigns, releasing the game in both the United States and Europe, while From Software handled the Japanese release.

Dark Souls built upon the success of it’s predecessor, keeping alive the Demon’s Souls style of brutal game play, while adding a few new game elements into the mix. Now, depending on your play style, not all of these changes were seen as a good thing, for example Namco Bandai decided not to use a dedicated server and instead went with a Peer to Peer type player connection. If you wanted to play with a particular friend, it was very difficult to accomplish this with 100% accuracy and many players found that annoying. On the plus side, this method allowed you to play with anyone from around the world, but many of my friends had no interest playing with random players.

dark-souls-II-logoNow on with Dark Souls II….

Dark Souls II was released on  March 11, 2014, for both the PS3 and the XBOX 360. While it has been stated that this game is NOT a direct sequel to Dark Souls, there are obvious connections spread throughout the game, linking both these storylines together. Of course, the entire story has yet to be fully flushed out by the online community, but they have made huge steps in that direction.

So far, this game plays very much like the other games in the Souls series. The graphics are slightly improved and the storyline seems to be far more cryptic, but all of the core elements that made the Souls franchise, are still intact. What are those core elements you ask? Well let’s take a look…

Gameplay Difficulty

So far, all of the Souls games have been brutally difficult and extremely challenging. They don’t pull any punches or coddle the player in any way. They force you to focus and to think about each move you make. Diving headfirst into a fight and not being aware of your surroundings WILL get the player killed. Being rash is not a good mindset to have with any Souls game. Remember, in these games, everything wants you dead and your enemies are willing to sneak up on you, overwhelm you, shoot you from a distance, set you on fire, push you off of ledges, drown you, eat you, poison you… the list can go on and on.

Yes, Dark Souls II is punishing and unforgiving, but that isn’t a detriment to the franchise.  The game wouldn’t be a Souls game if it wasn’t difficult. That might sound strange, but it is true. In fact, most of the fans that I know, crave its brutal nature and the challenge and frustration that these games bring. It has become a staple of the series and a major selling point.

Of course, since these games are very difficult, you are far more prone to killing off your character and losing progress. We fans have come to expect this facet from a Souls game, but it can be a rude awaking for the more casual gamer.

With that being said, death in Dark Souls II doesn’t feel empty or meaningless, like in some games. As long as you are paying attention, each and every death teaches you a valuable lesson. To illustrate this, what follows is a small list of ideas that I have personally discovered, while playing the Souls series and DkS2:

  • Always be aware of your surroundings.
  • Don’t assume anything.
  • Never think that you are safe from death, even in the early parts of the game.
  • If an enemy looks like it can kill you, it probably will.
  • If an enemy looks like a pushover, he’s probably going to kill you.
  • Never be rash.
  • Never drain all of your stamina, if you can help it.
  • Take your time. Never try and rush through an area or try and speed things up.
  • If you get stuck, try thinking out of the box, try new approaches.
  • And never, EVER carry large amounts of souls on your person. Especially if you are going into an uncharted area or new boss room.

I’ve learned all of those things (and much, much more), just by playing the game, by trying new things, testing my limits, exploring my surroundings and watching others play. The game didn’t hold my hand. It didn’t coddle me. It tossed me into the fray, into the cold and unforgiving world. Sink or swim, it is all up to the player. I love that; being left up to my own devices, going at my own pace and doing things my way. It is quite empowering!

Storyline

I have always found it fascinating how FROM Software can tell us a story, without really telling us anything. Sure we might be given the bare minimum of basic world information, but everything else, the rest of the puzzle is discovered entirely through lore, item descriptions, dialogue and visuals. Players aren’t generally given much more than basic world information,  but that is just enough to get you to want more. Players tend to discover and stumble upon the story, rather than be slapped in the face with it.

If you doubt the extensiveness of FROM Software’s storyline in DkS2, just look at all the work the online communities have done. They have collaboratively pieced together an epic and fascinating story, connecting plot lines and story points across the entire game.  Also, they have done all of this with only the smallest bits and pieces of lore, spread throughout and around the new Kingdom of Drangleic. That is pretty impressive.

Personalizing and Identifying with Your Character

The Souls games have always had a great, fully customizable character creation system that allows the player to chose and adjust a host of features. You can tweak almost everything about your person: gender, body type, hair style, hair color, eye shape, cheek shape, check color, skin color…. If you can name it, you can probably adjust it. It is as in-depth and as powerful as you could ever want.

Now, if you are anything like me, you might spend far to much time on this part of the game. Don’t feel bad, the last time I built a character, I spent almost an hour playing with different settings. Why did I spend so much time on her? Simply put, I like to feel connected to my character. I feel more in tune with an avatar that I have painstakingly created, then I ever do with those average, generic, stock creations. It keeps me rooted in the game and get’s me invested in my choices. Since I never want anything bad to befall my character, I find that I am more careful and deliberate with my actions. That means less deaths and more fun. Maybe that’s just me, but either way I usually have fun with the whole process.

white-sign-soapstone Online / Co-op Play

Like the other entries in the Sous series, DkS2 has a very in-depth system of online play.  For me, its main appeal is co-op PvE, but there is a strong sense of competitive PvP as well. Starting with Demon’s Souls, the Souls series has had some of the most heart pounding multiplayer that I have ever experienced. If you have never played it, let me try and give you an idea of what it is like.

Imagine this, you are going about your business, killing monsters and exploring the dark corners of the world, when out of no where, you are invaded by another player. This is called a Black Phantom. He is there for one reason, and one reason only….to kill you! What do you do? Do you run? Do you fight? Do you hide and hope he won’t find you? What do you do?

Then you see him. A ghostly figure, shrouded in a red and black mist. He is looking for a fight and you have no choice but to defend yourself.

bp-satsuki-large-rearBeing jarred out of your quiet, solo experience is one thing, but to have another player, violently hunt you for sport, is a totally different story. An invasion always got my heart pounding.

DkS1 had a very similar feel to that of Demon’s Souls , but with a greater emphasis placed on online interactions. They instituted the idea of player covenants, added different types of invading phantoms and gave PvP players a variety of ways to battle other PvP’ers. They also made an attempt to legitimize invasions, by creating a covenant reward system that added a reason for these types of interactions.

Covenants were designed to enhance and add depth to the online invasion system, but I’m not sure how well it really worked. It did introduce some very interesting ideas, but the system was not as easy to utilize, as it should have been. I ended up hardly participating in multiplayer for Dark Souls 1, due mainly to the very limiting P2P server set up, that Namco Bandai had instituted. Plus with the increase in lag and connection instability, multiplayer became just plain frustrating.

In Dark Souls 2, multiplayer is back in full force and it has taken a lot of the ideas from Dark Souls 1 and placed an even greater emphasis on elements like PvP, covenants and dueling. Fortunately, with Namco’s decision to utilize dedicated, region based servers, multiplayer actually works! Summonings have been greatly increased, invasions are more frequent and there are even a number of items to increase the ease of joining your friends! There seems to have been a great attempt by the publisher and developer to appeal to as many types of players as they can, giving everyone something that they can enjoy about the game’s multiplayer system.

Overall Thoughts

Over all, I’m pleased with FROM’s latest entry into the Souls game and I plan on playing this one, for a long time. That is not to say that this game isn’t without some minor issues. For example, the auto-target system is very twitchy, sometimes jumping from enemy to enemy, at the worst possible time. Camera angles will sometimes move erratically, disorientating the player. Some bosses seem to have inconsistent AOE attacks, that end up dealing damage to the player, at unexpected times. Controller input can sometimes lag slightly, causing you to panic-press the same button and end up swinging or rolling, WAY more than you intended. But, despite these issues, the game is very well done and it is a lot of fun to play. If you haven’t played it or were still on the fence about it’s worth, I would recommend giving this one a shot. Now, if you will excuse me, I have souls to collect….

I’ll see you in Drangleic.

~GB

Advertisements

The King’s Field Retrospective: Part Two – King’s Field (North America)

King's Field - Front CoverKing’s Field (North America)

As I mentioned in the first part of this retrospective, our King’s Field was not the first game in the King’s Field series, a fact that many of us North American gamers did not learn, until late into the 90s. It was actually the 2nd installment, following closely to the Japanese only  game, with the same title. As you can imagine, I was pretty surprised when I found this out.

The fact that we never got the original King’s Field is unfortunate, since the Japanese game introduced a huge amount of lore, characters, items and game play elements that were to become staples throughout the entire series. Names like John Alfred Forester, the Dragon Gods, the Moonlight Sword, Dragon Crystals, Earth Herbs, Antidotes, Verdite, Moon Stone, Blood Stone, the Truth Glass… all of it originated here, in King’s Field (JP). Our first King’s Field, usually called King’s Field (North America) or King’s Field (NA) was actually the 2nd game in the series. 

Like all of the King’s Field games, King’s Field (NA) was developed by a relatively unknown and obscure, Japanese game development studio called From Software. You might recognize that name, because of the success of the recent Souls series: Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2. Much like their predecessors, these are fantastic games, renown for their difficulty, challenging game play and unforgiving brutality. These games are often known as the spiritual successors to the King’s Field legacy.

It Begins….

King’s Field (NA) was released here in the U.S. on February 15, 1996. That gives this game the honor of being one of the first role-playing games ever released, for the PlayStation, here in the west. I will admit that King’s Field (North America) was not my first taste of the King’s Field series. I was actually introduced through the U.S. King’s Field 2, (actually King’s Field 3 in Japan), but after just a few minutes behind its controls and a handful of deaths, I was hooked. I wanted to know all I could about the world of King’s Field, uncover all of it’s secrets and watch its story unfold. However, I did not want to start from King’s Field 2, I wanted to start from the very beginning of the series. I thought, ‘Hey, if there is a King’s Field 2, then there has to be a King’s Field 1.’  So, that weekend, I went down to the local gaming store, found a copy of King‘s Field (NA) and bought it. That was such an awesome day!

The Story Unfolds….

King’s Field (NA) can be classified as a first person, dark fantasy, hack and slash, roll playing game. Taking place on a mysterious island called Melanant, you assumed control of a knight named Alexander, who had just washed up on the island’s rocky shore line. You are the only survivor of a powerful expeditionary force, sent by King Forester, to find and retrieve the stolen, legendary, Moonlight Sword. Of course, having lost all of your supplies in a powerful storm, you have nothing, save for the clothes on your back and your trusty dagger.

King’s Field (NA) was a very difficult and unforgiving game.  The enemies were relentless, the environments allowed for very few mistakes, and the buttons stand as some of the most complicated controls I have ever mastered on a console. I racked up so many deaths within my first few hours of game play, it was staggering.

However, despite all of that, the game compelled me to push on, to fulfill Alexander’s duty and to retrieve the Moonlight Sword.  For me, it was the lure of the unknown, the challenge of exploring the winding and claustrophobic interiors of the island and discovering the bits and pieces of lore, spread throughout Melanant. The entire experience was epic.

As you progress through the game, you begin to uncover a myriad of terrible secrets. You learn about the dark history of the island, the fall of ancient kingdoms and the rise of a mysterious warrior calling himself Necron.

You eventually discover that Necron controls Melanant and has enveloped the island in a powerful darkness. We also find out that he serves the dragon demi-god, Guyra and has obtained powers that allow him to summon monsters and control the undead. Greed, despair, and death, seem to permeate the interior tunnels, passageways and halls of Melanant and its inhabitants are doomed to a miserable existence, toiling in the underground crystal caves, trapped, having to relying on the island’s healing water, to keep them alive.

Playing King’s Field can be a very solitary and lonely experience. There are only a few small villages, homes, and communities dotted around Melanant and most of these locations are empty and deserted. Of course, you do find a few NPCs along your travels, but most of them have been driven half mad by the islands dark energy and trusting them can sometimes be a dangerous proposition. It is a good idea though, to talk to everyone you meet and to gather as much information as possible. Otherwise, you will have no idea what you are supposed to do. (Don’t worry, they do tend to let a few trustworthy tidbits slip out, from time to time.

Like most RPGs, you can find a few shops and merchants, littered around some of the villages, but they all seem to have an insatiable lust for riches and charge WAY to much gold, for even the simplest of items. It is my experience that most of the good weapons and armor available in the shops, can be found for free throughout your travels, so leave them in the shops.

Melanant is a dangerous place and it punishes you at almost every turn. The island is littered with secret tunnels, mining complexes, ancient shrines and the ruins of once mighty kingdoms. Unfortunately, most places are now teeming with vengeful monsters, the undead and restless spirits, so you must tread lightly.

Eventually, you face off against Necron, who you learn has become a pawn of Guyra, the Black Dragon. Once Necron falls to your blade, Guyra awaits, guarding the fabled Moonlight Sword, the very sword you were tasked with retrieving. Only after defeating him, can you reclaim the sword and rid the island of all darkness and evil.

Final Thoughts…

King’s Field (NA) stands as one of my most treasured games and I spent well over 150 hours playing the game (that was a lot of hours back then). Exploring the island’s vast network of tunnels and ruins was extremely addictive and the game was amazing for it’s time. Being in a fully explorable, 3D world, surrounded by the unknown was something that I had yet to experience in a console game. Everything about King’s Field (NA), held me spellbound, even after countless deaths and game overs. The environments, the music, the characters, the enemies… it was all pretty awesome.

Even though I loved King’s Field (NA), I have to admit, this game was not without it issues. Graphically, the game was filled with strange visual anomalies. Surface textures had the annoying habit of distorting and tearing, draw distance for faraway objects seemed to fluctuate wildly and the graphics were not really the prettiest to look at. The game also suffered from inconsistent frame rates and massive slowdown, all of which could get you killed… very easily.

Never-the-less, I adored King’s Field (NA) and I still consider it a classic. It is amongst my favorite RPGs of all time. Aside from Final Fantasy Tactics, this game stands out as my 2nd most played game of the 90s. I have such found memories tied up with this game and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good old-school RPG, as long as you can get passed the outdated graphics. If you haven’t played it, you really should. If nothing else, at least watch a Let’s Play over on YouTube! It is quite a game.

Up next, we will spend some time taking a look at the awesome sequel, King’s Field II. So stay tuned.

~GB

Minecraft: What a Game!

480px-Minecraft_dirt_block_hd_by_benderxable-d4wbq8w

First off, let me start by saying that Minecraft is AWESOME! For such a simple, straightforward game, it is truly an epic and mind altering, gaming experience. No other title has impacted me in quite the same way, and I have played A LOT of games over the years. It might sound somewhat strange, but if you’ve never played Minecraft, you have no idea how purely addicting it is!!!

Of course, this is just my opinion. I know that this game isn’t for everyone and compared to your average FPS series like Call of Duty or Battlefield, Minecraft just doesn’t get as much media attention. But, that won’t stop me from talking about it or fully enjoying the game. So, let’s dive in and explore the magical, open-ended world of Minecraft.

Freedom…Horrible, Horrible Freedom…

Minecraft is truly one of the only games that I know of, that contains such an open world. Truly, if you can see something in the distance, you can go there. You can scale any mountain, dig to the very bottom of the world, explore dizzying heights, search a myriad of tunnels and mine complexes, carve out existing caves, explore expansive ravines and even sail across massive oceans to unexplored and untouched lands. It is truly as “Open-World” as you can get. It has such a feeling of freedom, that it can sometimes be overwhelming.

Picture this, you are standing in the middle of a forest, surrounded by huge, ominous trees. You have no idea where you are, no idea where to go and no clue what to do. All you have are the clothes on your back and a will to survive.  What do you do? Where do you go? Do you find shelter first or do you try and make weapons to fend off the coming night? Time is ticking and your next move could either spell ultimate disaster or glorious salvation.

Well, not to worry. Luckily, this is Minecraft and the world is yours for the taking. Whatever you can imagine, whatever you can dream up, you can create it in glorious three dimensions. You can mold and arrange every block of this world, into your very own personal vision and that is something, few games now-a-days, can claim.  So it’s time to punch some trees, make some tools and start building your world.

iron_pickaxeTo Craft or not to Craft

I first came across Minecraft, a few years ago, in 2012, while I was browsing around YouTube. I kept seeing Minecraft this and Minecraft that. I thought, “I wonder what this Minecraft thing is?”  So, I clicked on a video from the always awesome DOCM77, just as he was beginning his latest Minecraft World Tour series. It only took one video to become instantly hooked on both DOCM77 and Minecraft. I ended up subscribing to his channel that very day and just a few days later, bought my very own copy of Minecraft.

Since then, I have loved every block filled moment. Exploring, digging, building, questing… it has all been extraordinary. So far, I’ve started a handful of single player maps, had the opportunity to play on a few servers and have even completed several large and complex builds (at least large and complex for me). Still, I have only scratched the surface of this awesome game.

So, what is the allure of Minecraft? Whats the big deal with this game? Is it really all that awesome? Well, I can honestly say, YES it is that awesome! The allure of Minecraft really varies per person, but from my point of view, it’s the sheer expansiveness and open-ended nature of this game. Think about it, you can do anything you want, go anywhere you want, and build anything you can imagine. You can break the laws of gravity, mold the world any way you see fit and truly be the master of your own destiny.  Aside from Skyrim, I have never felt as free or as unhindered as I feel in Minecraft.

MC vista editThe Zen of Minecraft

Minecraft is not just a game, it is an epic, mind-altering experience. As strange as it is to say, there is a zen-like quality to many aspects of Minecraft. For example, recently, I have been spending hours upon hours just digging and mining. Block by block, pickax by pickax, slowly I have transformed my little home into a sprawling, underworld labyrinth of tunnels and hallways. These have been some of the most relaxing, contemplative moments that I have ever had in a video game. Hunkered down on my little island, I can just loose myself in the task at hand, allowing my mind to wander, decompress and re-evaluate things. It may sound boring and monotonous, but as a Minecraft player, it has a very calming effect. Really, with this faster-then-light pace that we all seem to live in, it’s good for your brain to have a bit of down time.

This is also true for designing structures, sorting  materials and building your own visions. Placing each block, studying the ascetics of your work, redesigning if need be and blending your building into its surroundings, is amazingly relaxing. There is just an overwhelming calmness to the entire Minecraft process.

Now, I don’t mean to give you the impression that there isn’t any danger in Minecraft. It isn’t all meditative block placement and introspective mining. From zombies, to endermen, to bow wielding skeletons and exploding creepers, nighttime is your worst enemy. Everything is out to kill you! These creatures can shatter your newly found inner peace with an unexpected hiss, the twang of a bow string or a sorrowful, bloodthirsty grown.

Truth be told, I have had harrowing experiences with all of these jolly fellows and each time seems to be more terrifying than the last. Despite this, Minecraft holds a very special place in my gaming collection.

Final Verdict

Even after numerous set backs, multiple deaths and the occasional server crash, I am undeterred in my search for Minecraft Nirvana. I have become a huge fan of this game, more so then any other modern/recent game. It is quiet an adventure, an open-ended, fully customizable game that has the potential to transcend today’s all-to-common and monotonous FPS genre. If you haven’t played Minecraft yet, I suggest you go give it a try. Head over to Mojang’s Minecraft site and check it out. It is available for the PC, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and even today’s mobile devices. I’m certain that you have never experienced a game quite like this one before.

~GB

PlayStaion 4 – My Impressions

My thoughts on the PS4

By now, I’m sure most of you have had the opportunity to check out the latest game videos, reviews and editorials on the newest entry into Sony’s PlayStation line up, the PS4. Perhaps some of you have even had the chance to play this “Next Gen” console. I know most of my online PSN friends have been playing theirs almost none stop, since it’s release and even I have had a chance to test it out. Since the PS4 has been out now for a few months, I thought I would take this opportunity to share my opinions on this black, sexy, eraser shaped beast. So, here we go!

The Look

First, let’s talk about the overall look of the console. Like its “Fat” PS3 predecessor, the PS4 is a good looking addition to any entertainment center. I really love the gloss black finish! I was extremely disappointing when Sony unveiled the later incarnations of the PS3. I just didn’t like the looks of the slim versions, mainly due to their lack of any glossy black sheen. Luckily, the PS4 has a good healthy amount of that smooth ebony finish and that is alright by me.

Size wise, the PS4 is about the same size as the PS3 Slim, but far more angular. It really does resemble an old school eraser with it’s prominently sloped front edge. I’m not complaining about the look, mind-you, it just warrants a mention.

Performance

Now, I know that we have just entered into the beginning of this gaming generation and we have yet to really put the PS4 to the test, but already I can tell that the PS4 is a pretty powerful little system. Based on my extensive use of the PS3, the PS4 is quite a bit faster. It opens my games, the XMB and the PSN Store way faster than the PS3, it loads and syncs my trophies in seconds, rather than minutes and it boots up very rapidly. It can also multitask, something that the PS3 could not do very well. You can play a game, download something off the PSN Store, update an existing game, all while chatting with a party over the new XMB chat feature. That’s pretty nifty. We wont have any games that will REALLY put the PS4 to the test until February, but I like what I have seen so far.

Graphics

As we should all expect, the PS4’s graphics are VERY nice. Textures are noticeably cleaner, there is a big improvement in draw-distance, lighting effects and partial effects and running at a native 1080p makes things sharper and smooths out the details. I am overall very pleased.

However in my opinion, it is still difficult to see any DRASTIC or GIGANTIC improvements over the PS3, because all we have to compare, are games that were designed to be multi-platform releases. Games like Call of Duty: Ghosts or Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag were all designed to work on as many systems as possible, so these games must have all been designed with respect to the lower performing PS3 and Xbox360.  It just seems to me that the creators must have had to hold back, in order to narrow the gap between the current gen and the next gen. When we start seeing the huge PS4 exclusive games, I think then we will have far better graphical benchmarks.

The Controller

One of the most obvious changes to Sony’s PlayStation line up is the new controller. I will admit, at first I was on the fence about the new look. I thought, “why mess with the classic design?” But, after a good deal of gaming time, it has grown on me a bit more.

I will say, it is pretty comfortable to hold, not that the PS3 controllers weren’t either. It generally feels very nice and fits well in my hands. The buttons are also improved. The R2 and L2 buttons are larger and feel like they have a greater range of motion, the D-Pad feels a lot better and the touch pad is a nice addition as well. Also, I like the option to plug a headset into the controller, even though I use a USB headset and mic, it is still a nice touch.

However, I do have a few issues with the new design. First off, I don’t like how small the R1and L1 buttons are. They just seem undersized to me. Plus, my R1 button sticks, so that is VERY annoying. Also, my thumbs tend to slip off the Thumb Sticks way to much. I’ve never had that issue with the older PS3 controllers, its just with the PS4. The touch pad is cool, but it takes up a huge spot on the controller face, pushing the Options and Share buttons off to either side. Both of these buttons are recessed flush into the controller (for obvious reasons of course), but they are tiny. This makes them difficult to hit, even when you are actually trying to push one of them. Not really any deal breakers here, just slight grievances.

Problems and Issues

In terms of errors, issues and problems with the system, there are of course a few. What launch edition system wouldn’t have had a few issues. Some issues range from the more annoying like sticky controller buttons, to the downright horrible like no video signal or hard drive failure. I have been lucky and have only experienced a sticky R1 trigger button on my controller. I’m not sure what causes this, but I intend to figure it out. Everything else has been pretty smooth and without issue. (Keep your fingers crossed that it remains so.)

I do have one friend that has had to send his PS4 back to Sony due to a Hard Drive issue, but he tells me that it has been a decently pleasant experience. I guess the technicians at Sony did spend a good amount of time working with him and trying to trouble shoot his issues. Even so, it is unfortunate that he has had any problem what so ever.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I like my PS4 and I haven’t had any real issues that would sour my love for Sony or for the PlayStation. Recently, I have been using my PS3 more than my my PS4, playing games like Dragon’s Dogma, Grand Theft Auto 5 and Grand Turismo 6, but I am confident that as soon as more games are released for PS4, I’ll be migrating more and more to the new console. Until then, let’s hope that my PS3 holds strong.~GB

GentleBen’s Favorite Games of All Time (PlayStation)

PlayStation (PSX)

Let me start off by saying, I love the PlayStation! For me, Sony’s entire line of PlayStation gaming consoles have been superb. I have been an ardent PS fan since 1995 and have purchased every iteration of the console, all the way up to the present day PS3. I even pre-ordered the PS4, displaying an unprecedented level of faith in the Sony brand. (Please don’t let me down Sony!) That probably makes me a Sony Fan Boy, but I am OK with that. Heck, I’ve been called much worse.

I first caught a glimpse of the PlayStation in 1995, at my friend Wellang’s house. I can remember thinking “Man what a game changer!” Not only did it use a CD instead of a cartridge, you could save your game on detachable memory cards, the controllers were loaded with buttons and you could even play your music CDs through the  gaming console! It was an amazing little system and I have been a big fan ever since.

Back in the day, it seemed like PlayStation had all the games that I wanted to play. For the PSX, they had games like Final Fantasy 7, King’s Field, Xenogears, Lunar, Colony Wars, Wild Arms, Mega Man X4, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil 2 and Gran Turismo. When the PS2 came out, it was a similar story. Games like King’s Field: The Ancient City, Devil May Cry, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Resident Evil 4, Gran Turismo 3 & 4 and God of War were so much fun. Even the PS3 has its fair share of great games: Call of Duty World at War, Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim, Bioshock, Boarderlands and Grand Turismo 5.

PlayStation consoles were everywhere in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Lots of gamers ended up owning all three systems, including me. There was a huge amount of Sony brand loyalty. It just goes to show you, the PlayStation has treated us pretty well.

Now many PS fans will admit, Sony lost a substantial chunk of the gamer population with their less than favorable launch for the PS3. However, I think the PS4 will re-claim a lot of their former glory. I’m very excited and can hardly wait to see what PlayStation 4 brings us. That being said, I wanted to take another stroll down memory lane and look back at my top 5 favorite games on the PlayStation 1 (PSX). Hope you enjoy.

#5: Command and Conquer

Now before you start, I know that Command and Conquer (also known as C&C) was NOT originally a PlayStation 1 game. I know, I know……. it was a PC game that was just ported to the PSX. And yes, I know that it was less than a perfect port. Sure it had clumsy controls, lacked the ability to save in the middle of missions, was missing a few musical tracks, had lower resolution graphics and did not have any form of multiplayer… I understand all of that. BUT never-the-less, C&C was one of the main reason’s why I first purchased a PlayStation 1. Let me explain…

Back in the early 90s, I had been watching my friend Arkalius, play through C&C on his PC and I had absolutely loved the entire concept of the game. Being able to control vast armies of troops, vehicles, tanks and aircraft, all while designing a base, building up an army and crushing my enemies, seemed like good times to me! We would sit there in front of his computer for hours, Arkalius playing and me watching. I would vicariously play out the missions, plan attacks, offer suggestions and share in the experience as much as I could. Most of which fell on deaf ears.

Unfortunately, my friend was not the most sharing of individuals and I seldom got a chance to put my well-planned strategies to the test. So, when I heard that C&C was due out on the PlayStation, I thought “AT LAST! Now I can play my OWN copy of the game!” My only other option was to buy a PC, but that was WAY more of an expense then simply picking up a PSX plus the game.

I spent hours upon hours playing C&C, going over each and every level, building epic bases, designing different layouts for defense and planning detailed and sometimes overly complex battle plans. Sometimes I’d win, other times I’d loose, but it was always a blast.

My favorite level in C&C was one of the last stages on the GDI disc and I played it over and over, to the point of exhaustion. It was soooo much fun! I still remember the password for that level too: GTJ2PV460. Usually, I would setup a series of fortified walls, Advanced Guard Towers and Machine Gun Towers that would chop the enemy to pieces. I would also capture the main tiberium field and keep NOD’s harvesters blocked. No tiberium = no money. I also loved using coordinated attacks to push through the enemy’s forward base, distract their obelisk towers and use an APC filled with engineers to capture their 2nd construction yard. It was in the far southwest of the map, right across a small river so it was easy to defend and nicely out of the way. That would open up the ability to build NOD weapons and add their tanks, troops and gun turrets to the mix.

Today, even thought I have the classic C&C for my PC, I still love to play the old PSX version. There are so many awesome memories wrapped up with that game and such a huge amount of nostalgia, I can’t help but love it. Plus, it sure made a huge impact on me, opening up the flood gates on a ton of other RTS games.

#4: Tomb Raider

When it comes to puzzle solving, adventure games, it doesn’t get much better than Tomb Raider. This game blew my mind when I first saw it. The graphics, the music, the freedom of movement, it was all spectacular.

Not only could you walk, run and jump, but Lara could perform a host of other varied and complex interactions within her environment. Lara could side-step, dodge, perform a handstand, climb across ledges, hang off cliffs, roll, dive, and even swim. It was the most realistic movement any of us had yet to see, in a video game.

You searched for clues, solved puzzles, discovered treasure and uncovered lost civilizations. You faced off with wild beasts, poachers, and even a few fellow treasure hunters. You spent a good deal of time escaping death from a multitude of disastrous traps and environmental elements. It was a fight for Lara’s very survival and you felt extremely connected to it all.

Of course,  Lara was far from defenseless. She could really handle herself in combat, usually carrying her two trusty pistols, but also using shotguns, magnums and even dual wielding Uzis. It was all great fun and really stands out in my mind as one of the most well known games of the 90s.

One element that I remember most in Tomb Raider was the puzzle solving.  My friend Wellang and I would always work together on the trickiest puzzles, coming up with ideas, trying things out and making suggestions. We both felt connected to the whole experience. It was as if our very survival depended entirely on our wits. Sometimes we succeeded, sometimes we failed, but each time it was a blast.

I also remember the deaths in Tomb Raider being pretty gruesome for its time: plummeting to my death, burning alive, drowning, being electrocuted, becoming impaled on spikes, getting killed by human enemies, and even being eaten alive by wild creatures. To this day, I can still remember the last boss picking me up like a rag doll and slamming me into the ground, over and over again until I was dead. What a horrifying moment.

Despite the graphics not aging very well, this game is still a lot of fun to play. I recommend that anyone who has not played it, to give it a try. Even to this day, I would still this one pick and relive a few wonderfully brutal, Tomb Raider moments.

#3: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (SoTN)

When Castlevania fans talk about their favorite Castlevania games, a large majority of them will rank Symphony of the Night as one of the best in the franchise. They would be correct in doing so. Everything about the game just clicked together so well, that many fans and gaming publications still rank it as one of the best games on the PlayStation 1. I still own the original Symphony of the Night and it is definitely one of my favorite Castlevania games of all time.

SOtN was actually a direct sequel to a Japanese only title called Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, for the PC-Engine.  To us North American fans, who had no prior knowledge of this fact, Symphony of the Night seemed like an entirely new type of Castlevania adventure, with maybe a slight connection to Dracula X on the SNES.

SOtN was quite a departure from the older NES and SNES Castlevania games. Sure, it was still a very action oriented, side-scrolling game, but many of the similarities stopped there. First off, it no longer starred a Blemont, you now played as Alucard, the half-human-half-vampire son of the infamous Count Dracula.  Because of his lineage, Alucard was extremely powerful and very skilled. He could equip a ton of different main weapons, sub-weapons, armors, capes and accessories. He could use a wide variety of items, cast magic, use familiars and even transform into a wolf, a bat or a cloud of mist. Compared to the members of the Belmont Clan, Alucard was vastly out of their league. You felt unstoppable.

Also, SOtN was not your typical level based linear game, either. It was geared more towards an open world environment, with elements of exploration and discovery. It still took place in Dracula’s castle, but instead of your standard 8 or 9 levels, the game gave you the entire castle to explore.  This allowed the player to move from area to area seamlessly and to explore each and every dark recess of the Castle.

Each area was connected by a short, creepy, transitional hallway, completely devoid of any background music, that served both as a loading screen and safe haven from the Gothic horrors that surrounded you. A bit of respite in a brutally savage game.

SOtN was a great game, but it was so much more than that. Not only did it utilize the classic, action oriented, side scrolling style of game play, but it introduced a number of RPG elements and game mechanics that I had never seen before in a Castlevania game. It kept it’s dark Gothic atmosphere and included a ton of visual enhancements, control improvements and a killer soundtrack that was nothing short of epic. It also spawned an entire line of hand-held  SOtN style games and has even been included in the PSP release of Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles. It has spawned a legacy all of its own and I count it as one of the all time greats.

#2: The King’s Field Series

Any one who knows me, knows that I am a big fan of FROM Software.  In fact, I have been a fan for some time now. More recent gamers might know FROM Software from their recent work on the Soul’s games: Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, but they have been around since November 1986 and have developed their fair share of awesome games. I could bot choose between the two games, released here in the U.S., so I’ve grouped them together.

In the mid 1990’s and early 2000’s, they released an obscure, first person, action RPG series called King’s Field and it quickly became one of my favorite RPG series of all time. Why did I like it so much? Well, for me it was a combination of the game’s atmosphere, level design, music, story line, characters, and fully immersive, 360 degree environments. It was revolutionary for its time, and it had everything that I enjoyed in video games: swords, sorcery, knights, monsters and an engaging fantasy mythos. The entire series was awesome!

It was my friend Wellang, who first introduced me to King’s Field by renting King’s Field 2 and giving me the opportunity to spend a few hours behind the controls. Right from the start, King’s Field 2 was NOT an easy game. It didn’t have very a intuitive control scheme, your attack speed was painfully slow, enemy attacks were brutally devastating, the environments were unpredictable and you were given very little instruction or direction. The first time playing King’s Field 2, I was promptly killed only 2 mins into the game. In fact, it took me about an hour of playtime before I had even a BASIC grasp on the controls. Even then, in the heat of battle I would often hit the wrong button. It was a rough introduction, but oh so much fun. It was so much fun in fact, I went out a few weeks later and picked up the first game in the series, simply called King’s Field.

Unlike most other mid 90’s RPG’s both, King’s Field 1 & 2 took place entirely in a 3 dimensional, fully-explorable world. It was also in real-time and you controlled every aspect of your character’s actions. You could look up, down, left and right, you could circle strafe, you could aim in all directions, you could attack with swords, magic or ranged attacks…. I fell in love with both games. King’s Field also gave me a reason to buy a PlayStation 2, since King’s Field: The Ancient City was only available on PS2.

FROM Software created such an interesting world, with a great story line, mysterious characters and an engaging battle system. I couldn’t help but be wrapped up in their epic journey. Wondering and fighting through an unfamiliar landscape, surrounded by powerful enemies, all while discovering a rich collection of lore, really made me feel like I was an intricate part of that world’s fate.  It was an awesome experience and a great adventure. If you haven’t played either of them by now, I recommend you go out and give them a try. If nothing else, at least watch one of the rare Long Plays over on YouTube. I guarantee, it is well worth it.

#1: Final Fantasy Tactics

What?! Final Fantasy Tactics? Where is Final Fantasy 7?!!! Now, calm down, let me explain.

For any die-hard Final Fantasy fan, the 90s were probably some of the best years for that franchise. Final Fantasy 3/6, Final Fantasy 7 and even Final Fantasy 8 were all solid games with great music, wonderful characters and awesome story lines. I know for a fact that many of us spent hours upon hours of our time, exploring their respective worlds, leveling up and falling in love with each game.  Everyone I knew  was hooked the moment they put those games in their systems.

In the 90s, one of the most popular games to take over my small group of gaming friends was Final Fantasy 7 and everyone I knew was completely obsessed with that game. Why not, right? It was a fantastic game. Not only is it known as one of the best RPGs of all time, it STILL has a gigantic, very dedicated fan base. This is very impressive considering it has been some 16 years since it’s release date.

Now, even though Final Fantasy 7 WAS a great game, it never held my full attention. By the time I got a hold of the game, I had already witnessed all of the most pivotal moments. I had seen Aeris’ death multiple times, I had witnessed the destruction of the Emerald Weapon and Ruby Weapon, even spent hours farming and racing chocobos. My friends had all beaten the game countless times and I had seen that ending more times then I had ever wanted to. There was just no surprises left in the game for me and I didn’t feel any great urge to play it further. Since my friend Wellang had first purchased it, FF7 had been passed around my entire group of friends and I had been with each of them, through most of their individual runs. I was simply burned out.

Besides, I wanted a game that was new, fresh and all mine. A game that hadn’t been played by all of my friends. A game that required skillful planning and surgical execution. Something similar to Command and Conquer. For me, Final Fantasy Tactics was that game.

FFT was not your typical Final Fantasy game. It was a turn-based, tactical RPG with a strong emphasis on character creation and proper utilization of very specific, strategic elements. Concepts such as elevation, line of sight, terrain and weather all played key rolls in your victories and in your defeats.

FFT utilized a system of fully customizable characters, specializing in various jobs and class skills. It was like nothing that I, nor any of my friends had ever seen before. Each and every character could become any one of twenty distinct character classes. This allowed players to customize their party with a host of character classes such as: Summoner, Wizard, Priest, Monk, Lancer, Thief, Samurai, Ninja, Mime, Bard, Dancer, Squire, Chemist, Orator, Archer, Calculator, Knight, Geomancer, Time Mage and a Mediator.

Also, each character was given a zodiac sign and each sign had a certain level of affinity with other zodiac symbols. It was a complicated relationship that could moderately alter certain battle actions like the amount of damage you inflicted on certain opposing signs, the amount of HP you could restore with healing spells, casting battle magic, hitting with a critical strike and a host of other in-game elements. In reality, I rarely took into account my character’s zodiac signs in my battle strategies, but I was aware of their existence and they did come in handy from time to time.

Instead of a fully open world, like the one found in FF7, FFT used a static map of towns, cities, forts and battle points all connected by predefined travel paths. Journeying from one of these points to another point, equaled one day of travel. After a while, weeks, months even years of in-game time would just slip by.

Random battles, story battles and even cut scenes would all occur on certain, pre-set locations. After you had activated a random encounter, set your 5 person team and set your battle formation, you would be placed on a 3D, isometric, rotatable playing field. Then, based on your character’s speed rating, and the speed rating of your enemies, you would all go in turn until you were either defeated or victorious.

The storyline in FFT was a thing of beauty, but far too massive to retell here.  The basic idea is that you control a young noble named Ramza as he grows and matures in a world filled with political intrigue, internal power struggles, murder, love, hate and disillusionment and a host of various trials and tribulations. The game made quite an impression on me and I loved every moment of it.

FFT was a wonderful game that combined my love of strategy games with the vibrant and powerful world of Final Fantasy. I became a master at this game, learning how to make the best use of terrain, status effects, character speed, elevation, magic, summons,  and a host of other powerful job skills. It was the first Final Fantasy game that I ever beat entirely by myself and it was my very first game where I broke over 250 hours of game play! (Even though the counter on the save slots stopped at 99hrs’ 99mins’ 99secs’, the in-game counter told a different story.) I rank Final Fantasy Tactics as one of the best Final Fantasy RPGs out there. It is also my favorite PSX game of all time. Final Fantasy 7 is good, but for me, Final Fantasy Tactics is superior. It just doesn’t get much better then this one.

Final Thoughts:

During the late 90s, I had the privilege of hanging out with some of the best gamers that I have ever known. They were dedicated, proficient and amazingly talented. From PCs to consoles, I used to aspire to game more like they did, but I never quite made it.

One of their favorite gaming consoles was the awesome PlayStation 1 and we all put a huge number of hours behind that little grey box. It had such a great lineup of games, it was difficult to come up with just 5 of my favorite titles. Those days were some of the best days of my early gaming life and it is so much fun to remember the “Good ‘Ol Days”. This is just a short list of games, but for me, these are some of the most significant titles I have ever played. I am hoping that the PS4 will continue to provide such wonderful content, but only time will tell.

Thanks for reading,

We’ll see ya soon…

Trophy Hunting: Confessions of a Platinum Hunter

tumblr_static_clusterQuick question for all you gamers out there: Are you that type of gamer to try for 100% completion on games or could you care less? If you strive for that 100%, is it a testament to your gaming tenacity or a confirmation of your personal insanity? I’d love to know, because either way, it’s good times!

I am a PS3 gamer, so I have a lot of friends that crave a 100% Platinum for many of their titles. They live for the thrill of the hunt, the challenge each trophy brings and that earned sense of accomplishment, game after game, trophy after trophy. It is almost an obsession and if not kept in check, the desire to earn that 100% can overshadow all else. It can get pretty intense and if you aren’t a trophy hunter, you might not fully understand the whole picture. Trust me, it isn’t for everyone.

Depending on the game, getting a platinum might be just a few hours of playing or it could be days of painstaking work. It can be a VERY involved process, requiring careful planning and thorough researching. You sweat, you feel incredibly frustrated, you break controllers, you get angry and sometimes you just end up nursing a pair of very sore thumbs. What a strange obsession. In real life they are absolutely useless, but I still find myself drawn to the hunt.

For me, I love getting Platinums. It is so satisfying to hear that “BING” sound and to see that trophy icon pop up. What a great feeling of triumph. After I get a new one, I often sync my list and just admire that little icon, so shinny and new, while basking in the artificial glow of the television.  That 100% looks pretty sweet too.  I always feel so proud of my accomplishment.

In my experience, there are hardcore hunters and casual hunters. The hardcore hunters place their main emphasis on the trophies themselves, not necessarily the gameplay or the storyline. Their main goal is to complete the game as efficiently as possible, with the fewest number of playthroughs, gaining 100% completion AND their Platinum trophy.  They might do research on websites, read walk-throughs, watch video guides or even find short cuts and exploits to give themselves the extra edge. No matter what, they are always driving towards that 100%.

The more casual trophy hunters, allow themselves to focus on the game and storyline while attempting a few of the trophies along the way. It seems like they are far more likely to immerse themselves in the game play and the overall experience, while considering the trophies more of an afterthought, not the primary driving factor.

I WAS a hardcore trophy hunter for a short time, and when those games and Platinums were rolling in, I felt incredibly skilled, like nothing could stand in my way. Complete Veteran Mode on Call of Duty: World at War? Did it! All rare weapons in Demon’s Souls? Did it….twice. Finished Dark Souls with each ending? Piece of cake! Complete Dishonored without being detected and without killing ANYONE? Done!

However, a trophy hunter begins to look at a game in a very different light and after awhile I just started to burn out.  Instead of being excited to play a new game, I started basing my game choices off of their trophy lists. I would often end up ignoring certain games based purely on their trophies. I’d ask myself: “Does it have Multiplayer trophies?” “Are there trophies for each difficulty level?” “Are there trophies for multiple endings?” “Am I going to have to collect a ton of items?” “Do I need to reach a certain character level?” “Are there trophies for learning different moves?” “Do I have to perform a series of combos flawlessly?” “Do I need to beat the game without dying?” If the answer was yes to any of those questions, I found myself hesitating on picking up any of the new titles.

Now, I don’t want to say that hunting trophies makes you lethargic or lazy, but I felt like, why start a game that can’t be platinumed? I eventually became extremely frustrated with how much of the joy trophy hunting was taking away from gaming. Playing games became a chore, instead of a fun hobby.  I remember getting so angry when I’d run across a game that couldn’t be platinumed because of issues outside of my control, like bugged or glitched trophies, laggy servers, hacking players, tiny multiplayer fan bases, broken matchmaking systems, or just impossible expectations for very little reward. Sometimes I’d just skip certain games altogether, like Assassin’s Creed Revelations, Batman Arkham City, Boarderlands 2, Tomb Raider… Trophy hunting was stopping me from playing some great games.

So I temporarily pulled the plug on hunting and after a few months of very little gaming, I felt renewed and invigorated. I was ready to hunt once more, however with a new set of priorities. Now-a-days I hunt with a much more well-rounded approach to platinum trophies. Sure I still look at the lists and plan a few directions to take, but I’ve stopped placing so much emphasis on them.  Because of this, my gaming sessions are more fun and far less stressful. I have become more interested in gaming with friends and lending a helping hand in THEIR trophy hunts and Platinum scores. I still love that “BING” sound and I still hunt for those Plats, but I do so at a much less intense pace.

Of course with PS4 hitting the market later this year, I do wonder if I’m going to stay so calm or if I’ll go full speed again. I guess time will have to tell.

I would love to hear from other Trophy Hunters out there. Tell us your trophy stories. How many Plats do you have? What games are you most proud of completing? With PS4/XboxOne coming out soon, are you slowing down or speeding up the pace for this current generation of games?

Feel free to share your comments.

“Next Gen” There is Hope After All

shut-up-and-take-my-money

Now-a-days, we gamers are constantly being bombarded by the term “Next Gen.” It’s “Next Gen” this and “Next Gen” that. We hear the term in gaming publications, on internet forums, on promotional websites, in game previews, press conferences, game revels, etc. etc.. We hear “Next Gen” so often that by now it has taken on a life of its own. It has become synonymous with the latest in cutting edge technology, mind blowing graphics, innovative hardware, the latest in gamer interaction, device interconnectivity and the most epic of gaming experiences. It is a catch-all term that encompasses a world of unknown possibilities and limitless potential. Am I right? Are you excited yet?!

Well, up until a week ago I was NOT AT ALL excited. I had grown tired of all the hype. Plus, with all of the horror we were hearing from Microsoft and the XBOX One, I was very nervous about the upcoming trends in gaming. I was really having some serious doubts whether this next era in video gaming was going to be worth it. Then I saw the Sony press conference and I felt a renewed sense of hope for this “Next Gen”, or at least for the PS4. With what looks to be a solid lineup of games and a pretty robust spec list, there is a good chance that Sony will reclaim some of their former PS2 glory. I know a lot of us PlayStation gamers are rooting for them.

But, despite all the good news from the PS4 camp, the truth is that our consoles today might be starting to suffer from something very similar to the law of diminishing returns. Meaning, even though these companies are hyping their wares and throwing a boatload of money at their new “Next Gen” devices, we might not be seeing that many HUGE, graphical, game changing, improvements. Instead, we might just start to see more subtle, incremental enhancements, like the addition of reactive smoke, cleaner visuals and more dynamic environments.

Take a look at Tom Clancy’s: The Division. It looks like a great RPG that utilizes some awesome visuals and the latest in “Next Gen” hardware. I know I am VERY excited about this game, but I can’t help but wonder if the graphics are really THAT much of a night and day difference. When we compare them to the BEST, most recent graphics on our PS3s, sure they are cleaner and less muddy, but they are still very similar. The same goes for Watchdogs, great graphics, but I have a feeling they are only slightly better then our current gen.

I know many of my friends are very excited about the how “cool” these new games are going to look and I too, think that these graphics are going to look awesome! I’ve even gone out and pre-ordered my Watchdogs/PS4 bundle. But, the question is, should we be expecting such DRASTIC, game changing visual improvements right out of the “Next Gen” gate? Personally, I think the systems will need some time to find their stride.

I know a lot of gamers are going to be more than happy to play some new games on new hardware, but I’m sure most of us will still be playing on our LCD/LED screens, running at 1080p.  So unless you have a new t.v. that is 4K 2K, which is probably unrealistic, I don’t think there will be such an immediate WOW factor as what some of us have been expecting.

I will say that I AM looking forward to these new consoles and I am sure that they will pump new life into the industry, but as far as graphics go, I’m just not yet as BLOWN AWAY as I was expecting to be. I am impressed for sure, but it might take some time before they completely knock our socks off. For now, I am perfectly fine with a slower, incremental progression of visual improvements. Since I have taken the plunge and pre-ordered the PS4, I’d rather have a greater emphases on stability, reliability, longevity and user interaction, than a gigantic leap in graphics. Make the system as bombproof and as stable as possible, with plenty of internal cooling since my guess is that these things are going to run hot. I don’t want an overheated and dead system within a few short years, at the cost of graphical perfection.

Always Online….Are you out of your mind?

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about our “next gen” games and gaming consoles requiring a permanent online connection, in order for us users to access content or use the systems. Many of the larger companies like Microsoft, Blizzard and EA all seem to be on board with this idea, going so far as to begin implementing this into our current generation of games. Whether or not we like it, we might start seeing this practice used more and more in the next few years and that is a real shame for us gamers.

Why do a lot of gamers…including yours truly, have issues with this idea? Does it really matter in this day and age, when so many of us have constant connections to the net? Well, let’s take a look and see.

Let’s start with the basic fact that not everyone has the internet. Even in today’s technologically driven society, there are those of us, who do not have access to the net. Yes, it’s probably a small percentage in most large cities, but what about in more rural areas, where internet is nonexistent or extremely spotty at best?  Unless they can obtain a reliable internet connection, any system or game that requires a persistent online connection, would be out of reach.

Those individuals should be able to play the console or game of their choosing. Why punish those potential gamers for circumstances beyond their control? Now, I’m no CEO, but aren’t customers and brand loyalty a good thing? How is “always online” helping win customers over?       Simple… it’s not. It is far too restrictive.

To those of us living in the cities and towns with a net connection, this might not seem like a big deal. Who cares if I have to be online to play a game? Chances are, I’m online anyways. This might be true, but we need to look a little deeper. If I go out and buy a game for $60 dollars I’m going to want to play it, but on my own time, in my own fashion. However, it might not be that easy. In my experience, if the game requires an “always online” connection, one of two things can happen…

Best case scenario, I get online right away, connect to their servers, download all the launch patches and bug fixes, maybe set up a user name and password for their service and THEN I can play the game. There are some extra steps involved and I might have to jump through a few hoops to get everything working, but I would eventually get in the game.

Worst case scenario, their servers are overloaded and I can’t get on. That means I can’t download any patches, I can’t get into the game to set up any preferences and I definitely can’t play. Until they sort it all out, my new $60 game is useless. Titles like Diablo III and the new Sim City have become poster children for this exact scenario. When Sim City was released, it was virtually unplayable.  Servers were severely impacted and wait times were hours longer then they should have been. Believe me, I’ve had this happen and it is VERY frustrating.

Gamers buy a game with the expectation that we can play it whenever we want, for as long as we want. Look at the NES, SNES, Genesis, PS1, Gamecube, Xbox and PS2 consoles. As long as they still work, I can play any of my old games. Games on the PS3 and 360 consoles are not 100% replayable, but the majority of the games will work, even after the “next gen” takes over. If these “next gen” games and consoles require internet and server connections to run, what happens when those server connections go away? Look at Sim City or Diablo III, what’s going to happen when EA or Blizzard stops supporting those games? Since you are required to be online AND connected to their servers to play them, if those servers are no longer there, you can say bye-bye to all of your hours of gameplay, your customized characters and all of your worlds. They will simply cease to exist. When the money drys up, so does the online support.

All of this makes me extremely angry. If this is allowed to happen, we can say farewell to our current idea of game ownership. We will no longer be buying games to keep, we will be buying a $60 online pass that lets us play the game, but only until the servers are taken offline. At that point, we are forced to move on. Our ability to play “always online” games after that point, would be contingent upon their parent company still being able to make a profit off of us. If not, they will move on to greener pastures and we gamers will loose that game and eventually the entire console.

Let’s face it, video games should NOT be reliant on an internet connection to play. This “always online” foolishness is simply a means to protect AAA companies and their intellectual and creative property, from pirates and piracy.  I suspect that their PR and advertising machines are going to try and make these new features appealing to us gamers. I hope we don’t fall for their tricks. I for one, do not want to sign in EVERY TIME I want to play a game or turn on a console. This is especially true if the game is a single-player title with NO multi-player or co-op modes. The AAA’s can doctor it up and spin it any way they want, but it’s still all about the money. “Always online” is in THEIR best interest, not ours.

I have a feeling that difficult times are on their way and that we should expect the AAA game companies to raise prices for their “next gen” games, to help mitigate the increase in costs for servers and “always online” functionality. I hope I’m wrong, but the money has to come from somewhere.

Recently, Sony has assured gamers that their PS4 console will NOT require an “always online” connection. That is quite a relief, but Sony has a reputation for changing their minds, so I wouldn’t rule them out just yet. Despite a lot of rumors, Microsoft is still officially keeping quiet. However, unofficially some of Microsoft’s spokespersons have hinted that the new Xbox WILL require a persistent internet connection, if you want to use their system. That is a scarey thought. Ultimately, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. I really hope that they all come to their senses and they keep the internet and gaming two separate, yet equal entities. Neither one should be reliant on the other.

Gentleben94

The King’s Field Retrospective: King’s Field Part One (A Brief Introduction)

King's Field

In my humble opinion, the 1990s were a GREAT decade for gaming. We witnessed the birth and the death of some of the most legendary gaming systems: Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, Atari Jaguar and even the vaulted PlayStation 1. It was the heyday of many of our “classic” video games. The 90s gave us Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990 in the U.S.), Super Mario World, Act Raiser, Super Castlevaina 4, Super Metroid, Mega Man X, Final Fantasy 3/6, Star Fox, Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy Tactics, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Golden Eye 64, Doom, Doom II, Command and Conquer, Unreal Tournament, Half Life…the list can go on and on.  In those 10 years, we saw massive changes come to the industry. Games made huge strides in the area of graphics and game design, levels became more intricate and environments began to be fully rendered, 3 dimensional landscapes. It’s safe to say that the 90s blew our collective gaming minds.

However, there is one particular series of games, born out of this gaming renaissance that are often forgotten and overlooked by mainstream gamers. Personally, I always include at least one of them in any list of my all-time favorite games; an obscure, 1st person, action RPG series called King’s Field.

Combining gloomy and foreboding elements of dark fantasy with knights, swords, sorcery, dragons, gods and even demons, King’s Field was an engrossing, multifaceted world with a rich and captivating storyline. It was truly a unique experience and one that forever changed how I played video games.

Created by FROM Software, the King’s Field series was groundbreaking amongst RPGs of the time. Utilizing a first person view and a fully 3 Dimensional environment, the first installment of the series helped to launch the original Japanese PlayStation system, in 1994. King’s Field showcased the system’s rather impressive capabilities and was one of the original launch titles for the new console, but only in Japan. Unfortunately, we in the U.S. would never see the first King’s Field as an official disc based release. This game, which is unofficially referred to as King’s Field Japan, can only be found through fan translated ROMs running on PlayStation emulators. Of course, these are notoriously difficult to get working, but they are the only way to play the original title in English.

In Japan, FROM Software created a total of six King’s Field games, however here in the U.S. we only received the 2nd, 3rd and 4th installments. Since King’s Field Japan gathered a dedicated fan base throughout Japan, it spawned two direct sequels for the original PlayStation, one title on the PlayStation 2 and eventually two titles on the PlayStation Portable. The King’s Field series also helped to create other games such as Eternal Ring, Shadow Tower and even today’s Souls series (Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2). I’d consider that a pretty impressive set of credentials wouldn’t you?

Most of the King’s Field games shared common ground with one another. They all used a good deal of the same weaponry, armor, items and magic spells, while pulling from and building upon the same pool of characters and lore. Weapons like the Moonlight Sword or items like Earth Herbs or Antidotes are perfect examples, popping up throughout all of the King’s Field games. Some of these elements even managed to make their way into the current Souls games, giving us King’s Field fans, a much needed sense of nostalgia. Also, the brutal and unforgiving nature of the original King’s Fields have continued right down to the present day, becoming a major selling point for both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. (We’ll explore these two games later on, as I have very strong feelings for both.)

In the King’s Field series, players were left up to their own devices. There was NO hand holding here. If the player was going to survive, THEY had to uncover all the items, weapons, secrets and lore. Since the game’s NPCs gave little help, this was always a challenge. At the start of each game the player was stranded in a strange landscape, with little to no equipment. Which way you went and how you developed your playing style was up to you. That was a freedom of game play that, back then I had yet to experience.

When I first played the American King’s Field, I fell in love with it and I became an instant fan. It was the perfect combination of 3D visuals, creepy and engrossing sound, brutal difficulty, catchy music, underlying fear and a profound sense of anticipation for the huge journey that lay ahead. It set the benchmark for every other action RPG that I played and in my head… few live up to the comparison. Over the next few posts, I plan on diving in and exploring each individual game, as I remember them. I am only going to refer to the American releases to try and limit confusion, but I do plan on eventually doing a separate post to give information on the Japan only titles. Up next, we will take a look back at the American King’s Field, as seen through my eyes and my controller. I hope to see you there.

GentleBen94