Game Franchises Part 2

On N'Gai Croal's Level Up blog, they posted the final Vs. section where Croal and Totilo finish talking about Zelda, and I'm still thinking about why I look forward so much to the next installment of Mario or Zelda. Totilo's problem with the Zelda series now is largely this:

And so, you know, clearly where I'm at is at a spot where I'm just saying, "Look, I've played the ideal Zelda." I was able to play it in 1998 when, at the time, it was running on technology that blew my mind so my memory of that Zelda will always be a bit as an ultimate experience.

So for Totilo, Ocarina of Time was as close as Zelda will get to perfection, so the others feel like pale imitations or incomplete versions of that perfect one. I think to some degree he's right, but I've been thinking more about my own feelings towards franchise continuation. Since Ocarina of Time, I think most of the Zelda games I've played have been different enough that they felt fresh and different. I haven't played Majora's Mask, although I want to, but Wind Waker, set in a nearly endless ocean, felt completely different from previous entries. The Minish Cap felt a little similar, but the gameplay and story were extremely tight and well-crafted on the GBA. I think my strongest feeling is that Twilight Princess, which I just completed on the Wii, was overall slightly disappointing because it felt like it was just trying to be Ocarina, which everyone's already played. If that's the case, just update Ocarina with better graphics and a few new elements, rather than making a Zelda game that's pretty similar to a previous one. Although I had a blast playing it, especially with the Wii controls. So I'm super excited about Phantom Hourglass on DS, much like Croal, because of the unique touch controls.

Similarly I can't wait for Mario Galaxy, because it looks like a big departure for the Mario series, while maintaining many of the elements that make Mario so much fun. So maybe for me, that's the difference between movie and Nintendo sequels. Movie sequels are typically the same exact thing, just flashier and louder. Nintendo, though, often puts a great deal of effort into making follow-ups that are unique and different enough from their predecessors. A new Mario game still feels like Mario, but it brings a lot of new stuff to the table too. And it's good that a new game of a major franchise like Mario or Zelda isn't released every single year (mm-hmm, Madden). At any rate, within 1 or 2 days, I'll finally have Mario Galaxy, and will disappear with my Wii for several days.


Video Game Franchises: How Many is Too Many?

A recent post on N'Gai Croal's Level Up blog over at Newsweek made me start thinking about vieo game franchises. The post is an exchange between Croal and Stephen Totilo over at MTV News, both of whom are excellent, intelligent video game writers. Their joint "Vs." post derived from talking about their impressions of the new Zelda game, Phantom Hourglass. Croal had, surprisingly, never played a Zelda game before, while Totilo had played pretty much all of them. Nonetheless, Totilo was a somewhat let down by this newest iteration, and is trying to figure out if he can blame Nintendo. He says:

I would like to blame Nintendo. I would like to blame them for not finding a way to get their wing of the gaming industry in step with the book, music and movie industry. George Lucas doesn't keep making new "Star Wars" movies for me year after year. . . Nintendo got Zelda just right a few times already. More than a few times. Can't they just keep re-releasing the really good ones, polishing them up for new platforms, and make some newer non-Zelda stuff? I've heard all the arguments about limited development resources, but I'm unconvinced that remaking Ocarina wouldn't net Nintendo more money and do a better job of solidifying what is great about the series than routinely iterating sequels. The era of Zelda-as-rough-draft is past.

I really like his analogy to Star Wars, but it made me think even more about the differences between movies and video games. There have been over a dozen Zelda games. Very few movie franchises achieve that number, and of those that do, most of the sequels generally suck. Take for example, Friday the 13th or Halloween. In fact, as something of a critical movie watcher, I generally despise sequels. Most movie sequels are cash-ins by the movie studios trying to make some more money on a popular or new franchise. For example Pirates of the Caribbean. The 2 sequels were basically just the first movie wrapped up in more special effects, longer, and with bigger stunts. Oh, and those three movies are based on a fucking amusement park ride.

But strangely enough, I LOVE looking forward to certain video game franchises. Super Mario Galaxy is released here in Japan on Thursday, and I've hardly been able to contain my enthusiasm for about a month. God only knows how many Mario games there have been, not even counting the innumerable spin-off series. I feel the same way about Zelda, Metroid, and to a lesser extent Castlevania. But Totilo raises an interesting point. Are these endless sequels of the most popular franchises just too much? They come out at least once per system, sometimes more. In fact, of the 3 new consoles, I chose to only own a Wii due to lack of time for video games. But I chose the Wii specifically because I love Nintendo's established franchises. But of course, I also love innovative new games. Why are my feelings so different as compared to movies?

Perhaps it's because some of these games, such as Galaxy or Phantom Hourglass, aren't true sequels so much has more innovative and unique versions of Mario and Zelda. As much as I hate movie sequels that haven't been planned out from the beginning, I will always look forward to the next Mario game. Maybe nostalgia has something to do with it?


Dragon Quest Swords and Tetris DS: My Impressions

As promised, here's a post about my impressions of my 2 new games. First up is Dragon Quest Swords for the Wii. It has the style, visuals, and character of a Dragon Quest game, but the gameplay is very different. I don't know much about the plot, since my Japanese is still pretty crap-tastic, but it looks like you play the role of a typical young hero, trying to save the kingdom with the help of a few like-minded friends. So far, the general pattern of gameplay is walk around the town, talk to everyone, leave town and fight monsters, fight a boss, return to town, and repeat. Granted, I've only beaten the first two areas and bosses. But from the little info I've found online, it looks like this pretty much repeats for the rest of the game. Movement generally resembles an on-rails shooter, with RPG sword-swinging instead of constant shooting. So far, the battles are not challenging at all. You're stopped by a group of enemies at several points, and must figure out which of the few attacks work best on them. For example, Babbles can only be sliced vertically, some enemies attacks must be blocked before they're vulnerable, and some enemies fire projectiles that can actually be hit back at them. While the enemies do sometimes damage my character, I think this is more the result of my inexperience with the mechanics and that I'm still getting used to the enemies patterns. Nonetheless, it's an entertaining game so far, and well worth the cheap price I paid for it.

Second, Tetris DS is a lot of fun, even though I've never been a big fan of it. I see now why so many people have been voting for the L-Block over on the character battle at Gamefaqs. The Standard mode is as fun as ever, with a few new additions. Now you can see an outline of the falling block on the bottom row, so you know exactly where it will land. A related new feature is the ability to press Up and have the block instantly lock into place on the bottom. No more waiting or holding Down for a while. You can also spin and slide a block indefinitely once it's on the bottom row, allowing you to catch your breath and plan out your next move. I was only able to get to level 15, but as I get more used to these new mechanics, I think I can do much better than that. There are also several great new modes added to this classic game. So far, I really like the Metroid-themed Catch mode, in which you control an entire group of blocks, and can rotate the whole bunch of 'em. I also like the Touch puzzles, where you have to slide blocks around to complete a set of directions, as well as a whole Puzzle mode where you must clear the Tetris blocks with only 3 other blocks. But perhaps best of all, even beyond these new modes, is the numerous Nintendo-themed backgrounds. It seems like they've added cameos from many of their best games, including several Mario games, Metroid, Zelda, and even Yoshi's Cookie. It's a great game, and I'm glad I finally picked it up.


Game Surprises

Today accidentally became New Game Sunday for me. My girlfriend and I went shopping, and somehow the idea had crept into my head that I needed to get a new game. Of course, this thought should be pretty nonsensical since I'm planning to buy Super Mario Galaxy on Thursday or Friday. So I hardly need to be buying any new games today. My general hope was that I could find a game I wanted either on sale (which seems to be rare for new games), or a good price on a used copy of something. The first store we went to was Hard Off, which is a Japanese sort-of used goods store, especially regarding video games, CDs, DVDs, guitars, and other electronic stuff. No luck. They only had 2 Wii games, and for some reason, most of their DS games I may have been interested in were new copies, not used. Weird.

Second stop was one of my favorite recycle shops. It's big, has lots of decent clothes, a section of random household goods, and a decent little video game area. Again, no luck. There were quite a few games that looked interesting, but most of the prices were too close to the new price to be worth while. Finally, I was successful at a Hachimonjiya, which is actually a bookstore, but this particular branch has an enormous video game section. After watching some pretty cool videos about both Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2 (which just came out in Japan) and Dragon Quest XI, I found one of the games I was thinking about: Tetris DS. I've never really been into Tetris much, but all the additional content on the DS version seemed too good to pass up, especially for under 3,000 yen. I also really dig all the Mario backgrounds on the various Tetris levels. This was all I intended to buy, but as I was browsing, I saw another game that was an even better deal. I found Dragon Quest Swords for the Wii for more than 50% off. This is the first time I've ever seen a used Wii game discounted this much. I never would've bought this game at full price, because I had heard how short and relatively easy it is. But for around 2,500 yen, it looks to be well worth it.

I've played a little bit of both of these, but I'll post my impressions of them both tomorrow. I'm still just waiting for Super Mario Galaxy.


Sin City - Not Vegas

The other night I finally got around to watching Sin City. To sum it up, it was full of bad-assery. It was tough, gritty, and sometimes scarily violent. I really loved the noir-feel of it, where the men were as tough as they come, but in this case, so were most of the women. It featured a stand-out case, such as Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Clive Owen, Michael Clarke Duncan, Elijah Wood, and about a million others. Thankfully, most of them didn't stand out as stars, but rather filled the shoes of their characters perfectly. This was a great film, and while I haven't read Frank Miller's original graphic novels, I can easily see how people could call this a beautiful adaptation. It's almost literally a comic book transposed onto a film screen, featuring beautiful black and white shots, with the occasional splashes of color. Especially the color of blood. Lots and lots of blood. Sin City is super violent, but loads of fun. I loved it, and would easily watch it again.


What do you spend your time on?

Recently I've started wondering how much of my time is spent playing video games. Especially after reading this blog post on Japanmanship about one person's obsession with Tetris. Maybe I should start keeping track of my video game time, and see what that aspect of my life amounts to. It's nearly the end of October, so I'll set a date of starting on November 1st. Hopefully I'll remember, but I might not. I would estimate I spend on average about 7-10 hours a week playing video games, but my perception could be totally skewed. In just over 1 week, I'll start the count.


Hooray! It's Over!

After much struggle, I finally conquered The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess today. It only took me nearly 11 months, but I finally did it. I must say, I really enjoyed it. It didn't suffer from a tedious fetch quest like in Wind Waker, and it felt very true to its 3D origins in Ocarina of Time. Best of all, it was long. In a good way. With 9 dungeons, and a gigantic world to explore, I thought it truly felt epic. I don't think that longer length is inherently a virtue in games. Just as many movies are too long and should be cut, so should many games. But this title didn't feel padded out or artificially extended as some games do. On the other hand, it was a little too easy. I'm not sure I died at all. Although I may have. I can't remember since my playtime was spread out over so many months. At any rate, it's a fantastic game, and I'm very glad I bought a Japanese Wii to play it.

Now, I can go back to finishing up Final Fantasy VI Advance. I'm near the end. I think I might just go on to the last dungeon (Kefka's Tower) and finish the main storyline, and probably not do the bonus content. It truly is one of the best RPGs of all time, and I'm eager to go back and play it again, fully exploring every corner of the game world and (hopefully) finding every secret. I'm also well into Dragon Quest III, which is a huge improvement over the first two in terms of storytelling, and just being a lot more fun. Although I can't wait until the later DQs so I can use more user-friendly menus. The menus in the NES DQ games are a pain in the ass when you need to manage several character's inventories. I also want to start the third case of the third Phoenix Wright game, and patiently, patiently await the arrival of Super Mario Galaxy on 11/1. Whew! Too many games, not enough time.


A Wii Cannot Stand Alone

A million and one blogs have posted their comments about Don Reisinger's comments on CNET on the importance of a Famitsu study. In the survey, Famitsu found that 67% of Japanese Wii owners aren't using them much. Is this important? Maybe. Certainly, Nintendo has a huge installed base with the Wii. While the consoles may not be played much now, they're definitely out there, awaiting the next big game that appeals to all gamers, including the new demographic Nintendo is increasingly marketing to. Personally, I barely touched my Wii until a couple weeks ago when I started playing Twilight Princess in order to get ready for Super Mario Galaxy. But this has been the same of almost every console I've ever owned. I get really excited and finally purchase a new console to play just one game; Wii - Twilight Princess, Gamecube - Metroid Prime, XBOX - Halo, PS2 - Final Fantasy X, etc. Then, I play that game for a while, sometimes beating it, sometimes not, until I start to get really excited about another new game. Then I purchase that new game, play it for a little while, then get distracted by another high profile release. My consoles usually don't get constant action, but I do try to keep plugging away at games. Regardless of Japanese Wiis maybe being on a break right now, I think the more important point is simply that they're already out there in people's homes. Waiting.


The Waiting Game

Here in Japan, Super Mario Galaxy comes out exactly 2 weeks from tomorrow! I can't wait. I've been working on finally completing Twilight Princess, only a year late, in order to justify buying a new game. On Zelda, I just finished the 7th temple, I think. It was the sky temple. I really like Zelda, but since I don't know enough Japanese to always know what to do, my tendency has been to follow a guide to get from plot point to plot point, and then do the dungeons completely on my own. It's worked out pretty well so far. Only 2 more dungeons to go, and then it should be about time for MARIO. In playing Zelda this much recently, I've noticed how close together the last few dungeons have been. Going from Snowpeak Ruins, to the Temple of Time, to the Sky Palace place had very few requirements to get to the them. In contrast, I remember there sometimes being hours of game play between the first 2 or 3 dungeons. I also don't know why, but this game is pretty easy. Maybe it's just that Zelda games are rarely difficult anyway, or maybe also that I'm now very used to navigating 3D worlds. It's still a lot of fun, and I love seeing the huge, creative bosses, they're just not that difficult. So, back to waiting for Galaxy, while alternately playing Twilight Princess and Dragon Quest III on the old NES.


The Mysterious Missing Blogs

What is up with all the game series blogs quietly drifting away. Blogging Zelda was taken completely off Blogger, so I can only assume that author is 100% finished with that experience. But my other 2 favorites haven't updated in ages. In Blogging Final Fantasy, the two authors had just started Final Fantasy VI before the updates trickled to a halt. The haven't updated since September 3, which is like a month and a half ago. Where are they? And on Blogging Dragon Quest, Artadius was on Dragon Quest V before he explained about a couple of personal crises that needed to be taken care of. Thanks for the explanation, but the last post was even farther away, on August 7, almost 2.5 months ago. Surely he's settled by now, right? I hope they both return soon. I really enjoyed reading their travels through their respective series. I especially liked the DQ blog. I had never played any of those games, and it actually made me go play and beat DQ I and II, and I just started DQ III. Come back soon.



I wanted to use this blog post to highlight my favorite (albeit only) movie podcast. It's called, simply, Movies You Should See. Basically it's 4 guys and a girl talking about movies. Each week they select one movie, the criteria for the selection differing weekly. They have some loose requirements, such as the movie should (though not always) be above a certain rating on IMDB, or that a majority of the members should agree on the movie. At any rate, their commentary, more than anything else, is funny and entertaining. When taking time out of my week to listen to an hour long podcast, it really needs to be interesting and entertaining. They often go on many tangents, which may or may not agree with you. I personally like the wild places their discussions sometimes end up. It's a fantastic podcast, with a great group of commentators. I highly recommend it. I wish I had seen every movie they talk about, because I only listen to the episodes of movies I've seen, not wanting to spoil anything about an as-yet undiscovered great film.

Also, their website, Simply Syndicated, has several other podcasts that they're involved in. I've never listened to the other podcasts, but I hear they're ok. I think their Star Trek podcast is quite popular, but I have no idea.


Playing the Wii

I've finally gotten back into Zelda: Twilight Princess. By the time I finally beat it, it will have been nearly a year since I bought it. My motivation was purely selfish and personal. While I like this Zelda game, it's pretty near perfect, I want to beat it before Super Mario Galaxy comes out in Japan on November 1. I feel more justified in buying Mario Galaxy if I've beaten one of the Wii games I already have. Of course, I'm going to buy it regardless, but in the past week, I've probably played more Zelda than I have in the past 6 months. I beat the 5th and 6th temples, the ice temple on Snowpeak and the Temple of Time. So I should only have two or three more dungeons to go. I'm not exactly sure of how many there are. I'm also going to do most of the sidequests, or at least as many as I can before 11/1, although I won't feel bad if I don't finish everything. Because Galaxy looks amazing. I wasn't excited about it until a couple weeks ago, as more and more gameplay videos started being released. I can't wait.


Not For Kid's Anymore

Here's something interesting by N'Gai Croal of Newsweek, although it's been extensively posted and reposted all over the Internet. Basically, he appeared on CNN's American Morning. The point of his interview, while talking about Manhunt 2, that I think is important is how Mature games aren't supposed to be sold to minors. It's hardly the videogame industry's responsibility if children get hold of a violent game like Manhunt 2. It's the responsibility of a combination of retailers and parents. Retailers should try to follow the law and not sell to minors, and parents should be supervising and talking to their kids about this.

One thing that's not mentioned is how even though kids aren't supposed to buy these types of games, I think they are largely still marketed to them. Even though Manhunt 2 is extremely brutal, violent, and maybe sadistic, it's supposed to be seen as fun, cool, and outrageous. Regardless, N'Gai makes a great point that many people not familiar with video games thing of them as toys or games for children. Possibly the biggest segment of the market is young men, from say 17 or so to 30ish. That's hardly kid's stuff, although children are a big part of the market too. It's all about the perception.


My Current Favorite Author - Michael Chabon

I just finished The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, which was one of my birthday presents. As the title says, it was amazing. I absolutely loved it. It's Chabon's third novel, and I've read all of them up to that point. K and C is a massive story, told on a grand, epic scale. It's similar in size and scope to novels like The Grapes of Wrath, or Lonesome Dove. The book covers some 20 or so years in the lives of the two title characters (who are cousins), and focuses on the rise of the comic book industry in America. Along the way, you run into famous figures (Houdini, Orson Welles), Nazis and WWII, magic and escape artistry, comic books (of course), and even a fight against the Nazis in the frigid wasteland of Antarctica. It's an absolutely incredible feat of writing, well deserving of the Pulitzer. I can't wait to read it again. Unfortunately, I have many other unopened books sitting on my shelf at this point. One of which is Chabon's book of short stories, titled Werewolves in Their Youth. He's a very talented writer. Highly recommended.


Film Festival Mishaps...and Other Things

I was planning on attending possibly two more documentaries today at the film festival, but ended up making it to none. I missed the first one, around 1:00, because it was a cold, ugly, rainy, day, and the girlfriend and I didn't feel like leaving our comfortable apartment. We tried to meet up with a fried for the second movie, but when we arrived we were told they had standing room only left. So we decided to wait. When our friend arrived, we went back in, but, alas, they were now completely full. Oh well. I don't really care too much. A coffee shop was probably better than the film anyway.

In other, completely unrelated bits of info, I finally played Twilight Princess a little more tonight, after I don't know how long. It was good to get back to it. I'm on the fifth dungeon, the ice one, called something like Snowpeak Fortress or Mansion or whatever. It was a lot of fun, although it took me a while to get used to the controls again, and I only made it a little over halfway through. But I did pick up the ball and chain weapon, which is a lot of fun. It's definitely the best new item so far. I was partly motivated to pick this game again to justify buying
Super Mario Galaxy
in the first week of November. I have 4.5 dungeons left, I think. So if I beat 1 dungeon a week, I should be able to finish this and feel better about the awesomeness of Mario. Of course, I'll end up buying it now matter what, but this just makes me feel a little better.


Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival

As you can see from the title, my city in Japan, Yamagata, is currently in the middle of it's biannual International Documentary Film Festival. It's the first film festival I've ever been to, since there aren't really any near me back in the states, and I'd never really had the desire to go to one before. Although I don't know much about documentaries, having only seen a handful, the two I saw were today were very enjoyable and interesting.

The first one, of which I forgot the title, was about a group of Indians in eastern Canada, Quebec. Basically it was about how they are sort of dying out due to bureaucratic definitions. As more and more Indians married and had children with 'white' people, their grandchildren were coming to be defined as something like 'non-Indian' or 'non-aboriginal.' So part of the film was about how they're trying to get the rights back for their members. There was also a lot just about that culture and community in both Quebec and New England.

The second film was called The Monastery, and was more biographic, about a man named Vig in Denmark who wanted his run-down castle to be used as a monastery by the Russian Orthodox Church. What was most surprising was how absolutely funny parts of this film were. Vig was quite old, and was basically living in this really old castle, trying to fix it up some before some Russian nuns came to evaluate it. It was an incredibly good documentary, and I really enjoyed it.

I'm probably going to see 2 more films tomorrow. Should be a good day. I can't imagine, though, how people (or movie reviewers) can go to film festivals and watch 4 or so movies every day for a week or more. My ass was tired after just two today. Anyway, I feel like I'm really lucky to be here in Japan while such a big film festival is going on.


Deadwood: Another Brilliant HBO Show

I started watching Deadwood tonight. I know the series is over, but I often get around to watching tv shows a little too late. As part of my western kick right now, I really like it. It's gritty, dark, and violent, which makes sense given the town of Deadwood at this point in the show is literally lawless. I also especially like Timothy Oliphant, who I only remembering seeing in The Girl Next Door. He's a good actor, but I like his style and attitude more than anything else. I only watched the first 2 episodes tonight, but I can tell the story is going to be excellent. That's all for tonight. I'm tired, as always.


Books Are Consuming Me

Lately, especially since my birthday, what I've mainly been doing is try to catch up on some reading. I got 4 new books or so for my birthday last Friday, in addition to several others I have sitting around that I haven't read yet. I was most exciting about Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a sprawling epic set during the rise of the American comic book. I also received and am waiting to read a collection of short stories by Chabon, called Werewolves in Their Youth, a collection of short stories by Dan Chaon called Among the Missing, and The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard. There's just not enough time in the day.

I've also seen a few movies in the past couple of weeks. I rewatched High Fidelity, because I had just finished the book and was dying to watch it again. The first time I saw it I was mildly bored and disappointed, but this time was fantastic. It's a very enjoyable, humorous movie. I've also watched The Magnificent Seven (which was disappointing compared to Kurosawa's version), Irma le Deuce, and I've continued watching as season 2 of Heroes begins. I'm just too busy to take in everything I want to. Maybe I can stop sleeping or something.



Usually in Japan, it has felt like the seasons shift very suddenly. It seems like just last week I would be sweating all day at work, before biking home to strip down and sit directly in front of a fan all night. Today, however, I woke up slightly shivery, confused as to what month it was. Unfortunately, the seasons change faster than my brain can adjust, so I'm still wearing summer polos. The mornings are chilly, but the afternoons still promise a dose of bright comfort.

Unrelated to my weather musings, I thought I'd talk a little about my sumo tournament experience a few weeks ago. Surprisingly, a significant number of wrestlers are not Japanese, with the biggest subset being a number of Mongolians. My particular favorite is a Bulgarian, named Kotoushu. Not only is he the tallest wrestler, but he also sports a forest of chest hair. Perhaps I like him best because he's easy to pick out of a group photo.