Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

Board Stiff: Dixit (ft: Amy Reid)

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

When you live with three other girls who are much more interested in watching Hollyoaks than playing a game of Dominion, you quickly began searching for entry games that you can actually stand to teach and play with them. In my case, there was one game that truly saved the day in my household. Now, I regularly get asked “Are we playing board games tonight?” – they actually ask that, these girls that previously thought games were for geeks. Am I proud of my accomplishment? Yes, I am very proud of this. Of course, I have to give some credit to the game that sparked their interest in all varieties of board games: Dixit.

Dixit01

In the beginning, Dixit was not only a new game for them, but also for me; I had only played deck-builders and worker placement games. I sort of skipped most entry games and went straight into titles like Thunderstone, and Spartacus: Blood and Treachery. As for story telling, I was never really interested in it. However, Dixit is now a personal favourite – partly because it’s an interest I share with the people I live with, but also because it’s a relaxing play for an advanced gamer.

So what is Dixit all about? I guess it can be summed up as “a game about describing beautifully illustrated cards in such a way that the some of the other players can select your card from a line-up, but not all of the players” – the key is not to be to obvious; I’ll get to that in a second. First a note about the rulebook: it is tiny! On a single sheet of paper it explains and shows an illustrated example of a game. I know it’s an entry-level game, so that’s expected, but it’s still rather refreshing. There’s nothing I hate more about a rule book so thick I’ve forgotten how to setup the game by the time I reach the end of it. With that in mind, let’s start from the beginning again, with how to play Dixit.

A game of Dixit starts with every player being dealt six cards, then the first player takes on the role of the Storyteller and creates a sentence (or noise, sound, whatever) around one of the cards in their hand. What they say can be a description, movie quote, song lyric – anything that relates to what is depicted on their chosen card. After they’ve confirmed the other players know the “clue,” the Storyteller puts their card face down on the middle of the table. After much internal debate, the other players then pick a card from their hand which best matches the Storyteller’s description, places said card face down in the middle with the Storytellers, and hopes for the best. The cards played are all shuffled together, face down, and the Storyteller places them in a line on the table, numbering them as they go. The other players now have to vote for which of these pictures they think is the Storyteller’s by selecting a tile from their set that matches the number of their choice.

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The scoring mechanic in this game is what I particularly like – if the Storyteller is too obvious and everyone guesses their picture, the players will get points but the Storyteller will get none! If no one votes for the Storyteller’s card, they’ll end their turn having received no points. It’s in the Storyteller’s best interest to pick a phrase that is vague enough so as to not be obvious, but not so obscure as to be alienating – it’s a balance, and sometimes it’s not an easy one. That all being said, if you as non-Storyteller play a card that gets everyone else thinking that yours is the Storyteller’s, you’ll score points instead – there’s no penalty for being awesome when you’re not the Storyteller.

The score board for Dixit is built into the bottom half of the box – which is a nice little touch. You move little wooden rabbits up the paving stones painted onto the cardboard inset to keep track of your score. After every round is completed, you sweep up the cards played into the discard pile, restore everyone’s hands, and then the role of Storyteller passes to the next player. Play continues until someone reaches 30 points, or until the deck of cards is depleted.

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With every game there are downsides, and surely playing this game too much can get repetitive. People start to learn what all the cards are, learn what phrases are most common for each card – but that’s actually okay. This is actually why I really like Dixit – it becomes more challenging for repeat players to create new descriptions and clues. If even that becomes too easy, there are various expansion packs available, which I believe are all top on my roomates’ and I’s Christmas lists. Another positive or weakness, depending on your personal views. Overall, while Dixit might not have a strong theme (or one at all, really), it’s cute, light, and a lot of fun to play with gamers and non-gamers alike.

Dixit a brilliant party game for up to six players because it’s really rather sociable, and very easy to understand. You can play it with as little as three, though it must be noted the rules differ slightly with only three players: players put in two cards rather than one. The Storyteller still only plays a single card, but this rule modification ensures there are five cards for the two non-Storyteller players to choose from – much more interesting than the three they’d have to pick from with the normal rules. Even with this tweak to the rules, three player games still have a flaw in the potential for a third-wheel situation. If you’re playing with a couple, or  two best friends, they tend to have a lot of  in jokes and inside information that can keep the third player out of the loop, not knowing what kind of card to put forward – let alone vote on. This obviously depends on who you are playing with, but it is a real problem with the game in smaller numbers, hence why I would recommend playing with as many of the six possible players as you can muster up.

This game appeals to a wide range of people, and with a suggested age limit of eight and older, Dixit really is a game for the entire family. Pick it up for the holidays and get your family gaming in no time.

More Board

If you decide to give Dixit a go with a few new players and if they like it, I would then recommend Once Upon a Time as a similar game. Gloom also features a storytelling element wrapped around a similarly light hearted – if not dark – game, with a much stronger theme and better working mechanics. It doesn’t hurt that it adds a ‘take that’ mechanic to the game, which I enjoy. On the other hand, if your non-gaming group ends up not enjoying that much Dixit, then take them in another direction – how about with Ticket to Ride?

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This week’s Board Stiff guest writer was Amy Reid, a British film student who now has the honor (or horror?) to be living in a household of passionate gaming girls. You can find out more about Amy by following her on Twitter @ByAmyReid.

Board Stiff: Skyline (featuring Stephane Brochu)

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

There’s something about dice. Those little cubes, be they with their familiar pips or with numbers, or with icons and strange markings, always look friendly, and no one is really scared of dice. Even the ones with more than 6 faces. There’s a fascination when you show them around, to people who’ve never played the game you’re about to explain. More than any other game piece, dice tend to both fascinate and ease the non-player. Can’t be that complex, right? After all, it’s got dice in it. skyline02 There’s another aspect to dice, which is that of chance. Unlike cards, where you have to track what has been played, what can be played and what you should play, with dice, there is always a chance that you might get what you want. There is that thrill of throwing the dice and waiting to see what happened, be it in a game of Settlers of Catan (did I get the goods I wanted?), Aeroplanes (did I manage to keep on flying towards my objective?), Blood Bowl Team Manager (did I land that tackle?) and so on. There is always that tension, that “If only…” that happens between the time the dice leave your hands and when they stop spinning and settle down on the table. Dice, a game designer’s best friend. I’m a long time game player, both of the cardboard and the digital form, with many a foray into pen-and-paper RPGs and some sports (but not much). I love games. I design video games for a living and have a nice little collection of about 600 boardgames at home, which gets cleaned out semi-annually to make more space for newer arrivals. My wife, Tanya, not so much the gamer. She is somewhat interested (after all if I like them so much, there must be something to them, no?) but so far it’s been really hit and miss. I’ve managed to get her to play a few things, such as Carcassonne, Can’t Stop and Elder Sign (but only on iPad) and the one attempt at teaching her something more complex (Agricola) ended up in her swearing off meeple farming forever. Skyline01 So when I got a copy of Skyline (Tasty Minstrel Games) by David Short, I thought she m ight enjoy it. It had dice (a whackload of ‘em: over 60!), simple rules and elements of “push your luck”. We didn’t get to play it right away, but when my mother-in-law came visiting in August, I figured that it might be the perfect opportunity to pull it out. It was simple enough that I could explain it quickly, with some interesting decisions and wouldn’t require all our attention so that we could continue talking about other things while playing. The game centers around 60 special dice, which are used to create skyscrapers, and thus earn the players points. They are broken down into three types: ground floors, upper floors and penthouse dice. On each of these dice, 3 of the faces will be purple (except for the penthouse dice, where they will be blank), 2 will be blue and 1 will be orange. On their turn, a player will go through 4 distinct steps: first, decide if they want to grab any 3 dice from the construction yard (the common dice pool), or take all the dice in the abandoned pool (which can be anywhere from 1 die to 4 or 5 dice, but the player is stuck with the type of dice that are there). They then roll the dice and attempts to use at least one face, keeping a few simple rules in mind: they can’t mix colors in a skyscraper; they need to start with a base; they need to end with a penthouse or a cap; and they must respect the maximum and minimum height for each building color. If they used at least one die (they can use more if they can), they pick up the remaining dice and roll them again, seeing if they can use some of the newly rolled dice. If they can’t use any die, they have two choices: put all the dice in the abandoned pool or scrap one building (it can be a finished building or one that isn’t done) and thrown out one dice by placing it back in the construction yard. skyline03 Once a building is complete, take the appropriate small card, which will state the value of the building and put the dice back in the construction yard. The value of the building is simply the size of the building squared. For example, a 2 dice building is worth 4, a 3 dice building is worth 9 and so on. The game ends when everyone has had 9 go or if someone builds a 6 dice building. The game is playable in roughly 15 minutes and flows very well once everyone grasps the rules. This is not a heavy game but it was perfect for my wife and my mother-in-law: just enough luck to be interesting and with some nice decision. It’s light enough that it doesn’t become the focus of the people who are playing, but at the same time, you look forward to having a go again, trying to get your buildings to be as big as possible. The simple scoring mechanic helps with this, with the decision being score less but more often or go for the big score, knowing that it might take you a few turns to get it. We played 2 games in the space of 1 hour, with everyone playing quickly and the game going smoothly. There were a few moments of tension, like when Tanya went for the big, 6 dice building and failing 2 turns in a row and finally pulling it off but losing the game anyway. It’s always tempting to go for it, but you need to make sure you’ve got enough points to go over the top. There’s always the temptation to go for the dice in the abandoned pool, especially when it starts to grow over 5 dice. It always depends on what you want, but another strategy is also to look at what the next player will need. skyline04 It went over well enough that we ended up playing again a few weeks later, this time just me and Tanya. It may not be the deepest game that I own, but it’s still one that I’m glad I have. Now, if you forgive me, I’ve got to try and get Tanya to try out Dungeon Roll… I hear there’s dice in there.

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Stephane, or as his Twitter friends know him, @GenialGenius, writes most of his mussing over at Strawpixel.com. There you can find gaming session reports, game reviews, Kickstarter game thoughts/reviews, and a whole slew more info about games.

Release of the Week: Gran Turismo 6 (PS3)

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

Gran Turismo 6If the console launches have taught us one thing, it’s that Friday is the new Tuesday. While most video games hit store shelves early in the week, the past month has been full of Friday releases.  The last major release of the year, Gran Turismo 6, is no exception. Unlike Microsoft’s marquee racing franchise, Sony’s first-party sim racing franchise will be releasing on the previous generation of hardware. It isn’t that surprising when you see the absurd sales numbers the franchise puts up. Gran Turismo 5 sold over 10 million copies and is easily the best-selling PlayStation 3 exclusive. Sony couldn’t make PlayStation 4’s fast enough for every Gran Turismo fan that wants to buy the game to also get the new console, so to old hardware it goes.

As you would expect from Grand Turismo, there are several new features in the game’s physics engine. Suspension, tires and aerodynamics have all been remodeled to give the player a better feel for the driving experience. The number of cars in the game is increasing to 1200, including everything from historic cars to the latest and greatest race cars. The total number of racing locations has gone up to 37, pushing the number of layouts available up to a full 100. You can’t argue with that amount of variety.

As part of a 15 year anniversary celebration, Gran Turismo 6 will have a “Vision Gran Turismo” festival celebrating the Gran Turismo, the two-door sports car that is the game’s namesake. This festival will consist of the unveiling of new “Gran Turismo” cars as designed by some of the world’s top automobile manufacturers specifically to celebrate this event. There are even a couple concept cars from non-automobile companies such as Air Jordan and Nike.

It’s strange to think that a Gran Turismo game won’t be the best looking simulation racer on the market when it releases. Even so, it is definitely the most full featured game in the genre. Gran Turismo 6 will give fans plenty of content as they wait for the new consoles to build steam, or sit on store shelves long enough to scoop up. For more information on all the new features, check out the Gran Turismo website.

READ.ME – Incoming!

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

The visual novels available in the West are pretty awesome. Traditional titles like My Girlfriend is the President and KiraKira alongside excellent hybrids in the vein of Aselia the Eternal and Yumina the Ethereal, coupled with in-betweens with in-context minigames such as Koihime Musou and Kara no Shoujo make for a fairly decent pool of games to choose from.

But the comparison to these games’ country of origin is absurd. The disparity in (officially localized) games to play is as wide as the Mariana Trench is deep, and it shows little sign of shortening.

OR DOES IT? (dun dun dunnnnnn) Localization companies are indeed hard at work bringing some great games from the East, and this week we’ll take a look at a few promising hopefuls.

1. Stein’s;Gate

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Stein’s;Gate is part of a collaborative series of games by 5pb and Nitroplus featuring heavy science-fiction themes. This particular title in the series which has already seen an anime adaptation (which was also dubbed and localized for English) is regarded as quite the masterpiece thriller.

Featuring time travel as the technology du jour, Stein’s;Gate follows the exploits and adventures of Okabe Rintarou (who prefers to be called Hououin Kyouma) and the “Future Gadjet Lab,” a fancy moniker for a group of friends. Set in Akihabara, the epicenter of otaku culture in Tokyo, Japan, this random group of college and high-school students accidentally stumble upon various methods of interfering with the temporal continuity of the world as they know it, setting off a chain-reaction of events that embroils them in a conspiracy far beyond their wildest imaginations.

What truly sets Stein’s;Gate apart from the rabble is its believability. Making use of a number of real-life entities and phenomenon (think CERN and the Large Hadron Collider), Stein’s;Gate manages to feel like “this could actually happen,” similar to the subgenre of “hard science fiction”. Of note is the game’s theory of time and time travel, which for the most part manages to avoid many of the usual complaints regarding temporal paradoxes, etc.

Available for pre-order at JASTUSA, this is definitely a novel worth reading. Featuring many branching narratives and an incredible cast of characters, Stein’s;Gate is one not to be forgot.

2. d2b vs DEARDROPS -Cross the Future-

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Something of a combined sequel AKA fandisc, Cross the Future continues the timeline of KiraKira and Deardrops by taking endings from the games and pursuing those scenarios.

In KiraKira, the true ending consists of Kirari embarking on a career as a singer where Deardrops’ ending for Riho has Shoichi returning to Germany to take up the violin professionally once again. The story appears to take off from there, as Riho catches a TV special of Shoichi and Kirari performing together onstage.

“Battle of the Bands” is the phrase best applied here and the concept is solid. Both Deardrops and Kirakira were top-notch visual novels. Featuring traditional visual novel gameplay (i.e. choices and nothing else), the titles also incorporated excellent musical themes and superb soundtracks along with well-written characters and deeply emotional scenarios unafraid of showing the darker side of humanity.

A must for fans of either game (and if one is a fan of only one, please try the other!); if one hasn’t played either, neither should be overlooked.

3. ef – the latter tale

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ef – the first tale was recently reviewed here at GrE, and the official recommendation is a resounding “play it.” Never mind that the game features some of the best art seen in a visual novel or a tear-inducing soundtrack composed by legend TENMON, but the setting and story itself are as fundamentally human as can possibly be without being trite of cliched.

ef – the latter tale continues the story in the framed narrative of the storytellers Yu and Yuko; in the first tale Yuko spoke of the individuals she influenced and now asks Yu to do the same. the latter tale focuses on Renji, Chihiro, Kuze, and Miyuki and their various stories and problems. Disease, chronic memory loss, and earnest loves are but a few of the themes abounding in the latter tale and all are told in a beautifully endearing manner.

ef is a fantastic series, not just for its visual and aural beauty but also for its storytelling. Like most slice-of-life visual novels some of the characters within are affect by rather extraordinary circumstances but the protagonists more often are not. ef does an excellent job of keeping things “real” in a definitely surreal setting, keeping the reader engaged while still offering elements of the unreal.

Both titles under the ef name are available via Mangagamer.

Thus endeth this particular preview session. Aside from Stein’s;gate, the titles mentioned were either a sequel or a fandisc. If ye haven’t played the core games, it is strongly urged to do so! All are great reads and well worth the time – and then some.

Swords and Zippers: Persona 5 Officially Announced

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

When I first heard about the Persona series it was at a Christmas party in high school. Not the one with relatives I hadn’t seen in a jillion years, but the kind with friends and ladies, nerds all.

One of those friends, who was really a friend of a friend at the time, was embroiled in a discussion of awesome games with another friend. Intrigued, I initiated the encounter and was having a great time until Persona 3 came up.

“Persona 3?” I inquired innocently. “What’s that?”

“Oh, it’s a JRPG. You like Final Fantasy and stuff, right?”

“Definitely.”

“Then you’ve got to get this game. Oh! And make sure you get the FES version.”

“Alright, sounds good.”

I was then regaled as to the merits of the game without receiving a single iota of information as to what the game was actually about.

Fas-forward a couple years to being a sophomore in college, and I had an Amazon giftcard with nothing to spend it on. I recalled my conversation with this friend, and secured a cheap, new copy of Persona 3: FES.

The rest, they say, is history.

The graphics are quaint, but sharp. The game itself? Priceless.

The graphics are quaint, but sharp. The game itself? Priceless.

This was my first entry into the Persona world. Needless to say I was hooked, and 324 hours later I was ready for more. Fortunately, Persona 4 had just been released; I snapped up a copy, waited eagerly for its delivery, veritably ripped it out of its packaging when it arrived, and 170 hours later I placed the game back into its case.

Persona titles have that effect on gamers, especially the last two. While I did go on to retroactively play the first few titles in the series – and they are indeed excellent – the recent titles will always take the crown for me for their stellar writing, incredible characters, and fundamental grasp of what it is to be a human.

So naturally, I assumed that Persona 5 was inevitable. The franchise was too good, too successful, too critically acclaimed for the developers to not want to pursue this project further. Yet year after year I was treated to near-misses: Devil Survivor – twice – along with remakes of Persona 3 and 4 for the PSP, all the while clinging to those few-and-far-between news releases that Persona 5 was out there, somewhere, waiting for its moment of glory.

persona3_junpei

And based on the tidbits of “news,” it looked like the fifth installment in the world would be a grittier, nastier version of the games in the realm of the first few titles. While I definitely enjoyed Persona 4 and do not contend that it was excellent in everything, it felt slightly less , less . The themes of inter-personal relationships, death, and the meaning of life were all present but the overall impression of the game was slightly more whimsical than its predecessor.

Which is not to say that P4 was more childish than P3; rather, P4 was one of the first games (to my experience) that directly tackled homosexuality in a main character (by way of example). P3, however, had a scale of an epic while still maintaining a tightly-knit cast and a core setting. The stakes were the world, while P4 vaguely mentioned that the effects on one city would spread worldwide etc, etc. The overall texture of P3, from its color palettes to its characters, was a more noir-ish experience and it remains my favorite to this day despite being somewhat less critically acclaimed than P4.

The background image from the Persona 5 teaser site. Excited? I know.

The background image from the Persona 5 teaser site. Excited? I know.

Based on the official announcement, it looks like those hopes won’t be disappointed. What will be disappointing, probably, is how long it will take Persona 5 to be localized – or maybe not. P3 took over a year from its Japan release to make it to North America, but P4 only took a few months. Based on that trend, it’s possible that this time around P5 will make it to English-speakers within a month or so of its release. Whether that’s wishful thinking, only time will tell.

At best, we can only wait, see, and trust mankind’s fate to the cards….

Board Stiff: Spartacus (ft Nate)

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

It’s late afternoon, it’s Saturday and some of your gamer friends have come around to hang out. As you sit chatting a weather reports comes on over the wireless (Radio to you young ones) warning people not to travel. Basically everyone is snowed in and your buddies are stuck at your house until tomorrow. This is your chance! You have all evening to get an epic game to the table and this time none of the players can leave when their partner phones. What game am I getting to the table in that situation? And yes, I can live with the controversy and backlash this is going to cause: Spartacus – A Game of Blood & Treachery – and we are going to play the long game.

Spartacus01

Spartacus, I hear you say – Isn’t that just one of those licensed games to make money off the back of vaguely dodgy TV show (The Walking dead, I’m looking at you). Aren’t they all rubbish? The answer is no! This one is great and I’m here to tell you why.

In Spartacus each player takes on the role of a Dominus, the head of a gladiatorial house in Ancient Rome. Your aim is to gain the most influence by any means possible. You have to scheme and plot against the other houses while building your team of battle hardened gladiators. Ultimately, your gladiators will be fighting for the glory of your house on the sands that form the Coliseum.

How does the game play? This is an asymmetric game where each house has a slightly different start point and very different special abilities. You’ll begin the game with a small number of weak gladiators, slaves and guards. Gladiators cost you gold and fight for you, slaves gain you gold and guards offer some protection to your house; achieving a good balance of these can be tricky.

Spartacus02

The main game breaks down into three distinct phases, each joining together to create a thematic and challenging game. Once you have completed the Upkeep (a little bit of book keeping) you start with the Intrigue phase. This part of the game is very much a card driven “take that” mechanism. Cards can be anything from simply gaining gold to murdering a gladiator or destroying the reputation of an enemies house. The interesting “twist” is that to pull off a lot of the coups you often need more influence than you have; but it’s ok someone else can lend you their support. At any point, deals can be done, gold can change hands and promises can be broken, which is where this games true beauty lies. Very few deals are binding and you are encouraged to occasionally backstab a business partner.

…So your guards have stopped a plot to steal one of your slaves and you have sent a telegram to the senate defaming a rival, let’s move on to the Market phase…

In the Market phase, you start by trading openly between players and selling assets to the bank. Then the auction takes place, this is a classic blind bidding mechanism but much like the Intrigue phase there is a subtle twist. If two players tie for the highest bid, then they enter a bid off which continues until one player wins or both bid nothing (if this happens nobody wins the lot). This might not seem very interesting, but the dynamics of the auction can be dramatically altered by the fact that people can conspire to allow no one to win a specific item, gladiator or slave. The last thing to be bid on is which house will host the Games; you will see the importance of this later.

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The Arena phase. As you would imagine it’s at this point that we all get to see some blood. Whoever is hosting has a number of advantages. Not only do they gain influence for being the host but they choose who to invite to put forward gladiators. Houses can refuse an invitation, but do so at the cost of influence. “But what if my house is not invited? Won’t this bit be boring?” The answer is no, you can still be involved by placing wagers on the outcome, not just on who will win but also if there will be an injury or death. Failing that, just subtly throw insults at another player while their gladiator get his head chopped off. Combat is both simple and interesting. Each gladiator has three statistics; speed, attack and defence. For each attribute point they gain dice of that colour. To move, attack or defend you simply roll the respective pool of dice against your opponent’s pool. If you take damage you lose dice. The combat ends, when one gladiator has no dice of any colour.

…So your gladiator survived the combat but wait! The host still has the power to choose if they live or die. It’s the thumb thing people, the thumb thing…

Spartacus03

I’ve given you just the essentials of how the game works, but now let’s look beneath the loin cloth. No game is perfect and Spartacus is not without issues. First, this game will not make you friends! If you truly are snowed in after playing this game, make sure you either sleep with one eye open or remove any sharp objects. Also, this has an adult theme and some of its card text is not suitable for the delicate or young. Lastly, the reason this game does not get more play time with my group is its length; there are three choices of play time, long, very long, or snowed in.

All that said, this is one of my favourite games. Any game that has a “spirit of the game” section in the rules that climaxes with “BUT – don’t be arse about it” is worth a look in my books. Spartacus has tension, drama, backstabbing and fun. It has simple to understand, intuitive but reasonably deep choices.

All in all, if you have the right group and enough time, Spartacus is the game for you.

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Nate is from far too many places around the Internet, but we love him just the same. You can find him over at the Ministry of Board Games (@MofBG on Twitter), or you can find him running the two best things to hit Twitter and board gaming since myself: @BoardGameHour and @BoardGamersAsk, both of which are weekly board game-related events that happen on Twitter. You can find out more about Nate or his events at the Ministry Of Board Games website.

Release of the Week: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Zelda A Link Between WorldsWhile the new consoles dominating the conversation the past two weeks, a couple of key titles on other hardware hit store shelves. Chief among them was The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on the Nintendo 3DS. The game is a return to the top-down view of the original Zelda games and takes place in the same world as A Link to the Past. The games share a relatively similar overworld, although A Link Between Worlds contains all new dungeons that make use of the handheld’s 3D functionality. Hopefully gamers with the new Nintendo 2DS systems won’t feel too left out.

A Link Between Worlds doesn’t contain the Dark World that occurred in the previous game. Instead there is a parallel  kingdom called Lorule which is ruled by a princess Hilda, as opposed to the classic Hyrule ruled by Princess Zelda. Unfortunately there is only one Link, so it’s up to him to save both worlds from the evil sorcerer Yuga. The sorcerer uses his power to turn Link into a painting on the wall. Luckily, Link finds a way to go in and out of this two dimensional form, allowing him to jump onto walls to get around bottomless pits and squeeze through cracks in the walls.

Unlike in previous Zelda games, your magic meter will refill on it’s own in A Link Between Worlds instead of requiring potions. This is good because bombs and arrows will depend on magic now instead of requiring ammunition. Rupees will also play a much larger role in the game. Items can be rented for a small fee, but Link loses them should be die. For a significantly higher price, Link can purchase items to unlock them permanently. These items are key to solving puzzles and defeating enemies, so unlocking them will ensure you have the right item at the right time.

The Nintendo 3Ds has had a strong year, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is just one more strong title to help cap off the year. It’s a great blend of nostalgia and utilization of modern technology. It should be a solid game for holiday traveling, standing in lines or just curling up at home. For more information, head to the official Nintendo website.

Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)

While the focus has been on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One launches, Nintendo would like to kindle remind you about the Wii U. What better way to do that than with the release of a new Mario game? Super Mario 3D World, or “the one with the cat suits”, features Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad in some side-scrolling fun through the Mushroom Kingdom. In a call back to Super Mario Bros 2, each of these characters has their own unique controls and abilities. That’s right, Parachute Peach is back! Oh, and that cat suit? It allows players to run fast, use unique attacks and climb walls. And every once in a while… meow.

Tearaway (Vita)

Nintendo isn’t the only one that launched games against the noise of the new consoles. LittleBigPlanet developer Media Molecule released Tearaway on the PlayStation Vita. This third person platformer exists in a papercraft world and utilizes most of the Vita’s quirky features. You might need to stick your fingers up through the world using the back touch pad or even take a picture of some real-world object to create a skin for a paper animal. The game will definitely provide an experience you can’t have on any other platform.

READ.ME: Novels the West Will Never See

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

Japan is the home of the visual novel. Possibly dating as far back as 1983, the format we have come to know and love today – detailed character images over a static background over which a text box is superimposed – has been around for more than a decade. Recently gaining a small niche popularity in the West, the medium has seen some major media attention thanks to titles such as 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors. Official localizations are on the rise, and aside from a few controveries visual novels and the West seem to be on the right track.

Unfortunately, despite all the good news for visual novels there will always be – for those brave enough to venture forth onto the Internet of things – a hole in the hearts of fans who remain ignorant of some of the greatest titles ever to be created. This week, we’ll take a look at a few favorites that will most likely never get released in the West. (And yes, that’s a challenge.)

1. Fate/Stay Night

facestaynight_rin

Anime, books, more anime based on those books, a movie, this is a franchise that has seen it all. Released in 2004, it has since been re-released as “Teen”-rated game on the PS2, PC, and eventually the PSVita. At its time of release, it was the highest selling novel.

Fate/Stay Night tells the story of a young man, Shirou, and his inevitable connection to the Holy Grail War, a re-occurring battle throughout the ages where magi summon “servants” in the form of heroes of legend and myth and do battle for the Grail. A hallmark of fantasy, interactive storytelling, and branching narratives, Fate/Stay Night as a visual novel is a paragon of the medium.

Weighing in three different storylines which are easily the length of novels in their own right, Fate/Stay Night’s writing is second to none. With a diverse cast of characters and mature themes abound, the philosophical themes of the game are matched only by its fully-realized world of modern magic and sorcery.

2. Little Busters!

littlebusters_kyousuke

Little Busters!, released in 2007, was the most popular visual novel of its time – and with very good reason. Set in an alternative universe, the story focuses on a narcoleptic high schooler Riki and his adventures with his friends who call themselves the “Little Busters.”

It makes this little list of incredible visual novels for its incredible representation of humanity and relationships. Disguised as a run-of-the-mill slice-of-life setting, Little Busters! takes the classic formula of protagonist-romances-heroine and gives it a complexity unlike anything ever seen.

Where Little Busters! truly shines is with its characters. Featuring a balanced cast of guys and gals with colorful personalities and deep, dark secrets, Little Busters! tells a story of a world where friendship can save the day – if it can pierce through a dark veil of tragedy and despair.

Despite those words, the majority of the game is delightfully bright and comedic. The developer, Key, has a reputation for delivering experiences that excel at juxtaposing tragedy and comedy. If this game is to be played, tissues will eventually be a must.

3. Muv-Luv Alternative

muvluvalternative

If I could have everyone on the planet read one visual novel perfectly translated into the language of their choosing, it would be Muv-Luve Alternative. It’s a curious franchise, as the first game in the series is largely disregarded for its repetitive comedy and average writing – a fairly standard slice-of-live novel. The second game, Muv-Luve Unlimited, kicks things into high gear by taking the story to an alternate world where mankind has been forced to the brink of extinction and improves the experience, but Alternative simply awes.

Set in a post-apocalyptic past, Alternative picks up the story at exactly the same place Unlimited began: the main character, Takeru, is in a world completely alien to his sensibilities. Rather than a peaceful neighborhood he is confronted with a wasteland ravaged by war where an alien existence, the B.E.T.A., invaded Earth in 1983. Where Unlimited featured a bumbling Takeru struggling through military training and ultimately failing to make a real difference in the world, Alternative rewinds the clock three years and gives him a chance to do it all over again.

From the franchise, Alternative is the shining beacon but the full experience requires at least a little knowledge from the first two games. The epic tale of love, loss, betrayal, intrique, politics, humanity, inhumanity, extinction, triumph, and failure woven by Alternative is best experienced through the lens of the first two games. As a story it is incredible, and the groundwork for Alternative can be felt throughout the series.

If you only want to read one novel, this is it.

There are, of course, a dozen more novels out there like these that have yet to be officially localized in the West. One can only hope that someday we’ll see their release as these are experiences that are truly unforgettable.

(Editor’s Note: Now, as stated it is highly unlikely that these games will be released to the West – officially, that is. For each of these titles, fan-made translations exist for those that have the Japanese game. I strongly encourage you, reader, to support the developers and purchase a copy of the game before seeking the fan translation.)

The Vault – Ants, Godzilla, and Mechs? Oh My!

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

For many gamers, new consoles are a thing of beauty. People line up for miles in freezing cold weather for a taste of new technology. It doesn’t matter that launch titles are usually terrible games. They don’t show off the new technology very well. Gamers are always eager for new, better, and more powerful. Who could blame them, especially this time, in the longest console cycle we have ever seen? Congratulations are in order for both Microsoft and Sony for what appears to be a great start for both the Xbox One and Playstation 4.

As good as new consoles are for gamers, here in The Vault it is a sad day. Playstation 3 and Xbox 360’s are now slowly being replaced. Within the next year or two they will just be fond memories as many the buy the new and send their old friends out to die. Do not shed tears for them yet! We the curators of The Vault shall make sure your old friends are not forgotten and your achievements did not go to waste.

Going forward, The Vault will now be including some of the early titles of the last generation. By the time you have all been converted to the next generation, we will be reminding you of your friends like Halo 4 and Last of Us. To get us started, I am going to talk about an early budget game for the Xbox 360 that surprised many of us.

EDF Ants

With a name like Earth Defense Force 2017, many including myself scoffed and went back to playing Gears of War. It wasn’t until a used game sale at a local Gamestop did I pick it up as a joke to play with my roommate. In the end, Earth Defense Force 2017 was one of the best purchases I made for my Xbox 360. No, SERIOUSLY! Don’t look at me like that!

Earth Defense Force 2017 is different. It came out in a time when games were all being a bit too serious. Halo 3 was on the horizon and Gears of War had sent many games in gritty direction. Many were eager to copy, almost to the point of being ridiculous. Earth Defense Force 2017 was like a cheesy Godzilla movie. The last time I had seen something like that done had been back during the era of the NES.

The plot? Awful. But that is part of it’s charm! Aliens have arrived on Earth and the UN is trying to make contact. They have been dubbed the new arrivals “Ravagers” and that is before they decided to drop giant ants on Tokyo. Big surprise I know. As a captain of the Earth Defense Force on the ground, it is up to you to defend the city. Every time you think it couldn’t get worse, the Ravagers change tactics. Over the course of 50 plus stages you battle Godzilla style lizards, giant mechs, spiders, and even little fighter planes. It is a random assortment of craziness that never really gets explained.

EDF Mech

This game was made by people that just wanted something that was fun to play. Your starting weapons are a rifle and rocket launcher. Doesn’t sound like much until you fire your first rocket. They are not very accurate. When you miss your first ant and hit a building, you will lose your mind. The sight of a skyscraper falling is jaw dropping. It’s not pretty, but hilarious to watch. The building is just gone! No mess and no fuss. Firing rockets at your enemies is just as much fun too. Piles of ants, spiders and mechs flying through the air when the get hit never gets old. There are about 150 weapons to unlock as you play through the game. They are all fun and make playing the game at harder difficulties more fun. I think the EDF troops might do more damage to Tokyo than the aliens running amok.

Publisher D3 took a huge risk attempting to sell something like Earth Defense Force 2017 to a US market. I really wish I knew what those meetings were like. Can you imagine? “No, the graphics are more like a PS2 game but your rockets can take down skyscrapers. I know that is unrealistic but that’s why it’s fun! What are they shooting? Giant ants, Godzilla-like lizards, and Mechs. What do you mean that won’t sell in America? I tell you sir, it will!”

EDF Ships

The risk seemed to pay off too. D3 released the sequel dubbed Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon a few years ago, plus this title got ported to the Vita. Rumor is that Earth Defense Force 2025 is coming to Playstation 3 in February. That could be one of the last new titles I pick up new for mine.

While it easy to praise this generation of consoles for games like Halo 4 and Metal Gear Solid 4, let us not forget the crazy risks some studios took to put some unique games out there…Earth Defense Force 2017 is just one of many. Not all of them were great, but I like to think their success well outweigh the failures. They at least helped break the repetition of sameness the AAA games we have seen recently. Now go blow up some skyscrapers…um…I mean ants.

Swords and Zippers: The Mystery of Aquapazza

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Recently Atlus somewhat confounded me with the announcement that Aquapazza, a 2D fighting game featuring characters from a number of visual novels, would be localized and released in the U.S.! Surely this was a cause for great excitement as another chance for English-speaking gamers to be introduced to another gem from the East.

Indeed, I can’t help but feel optimistic – cautiously optimistic.

Any of these characters look familiar? No? Didn't think so.

Any of these characters look familiar? No? Didn’t think so.

See, Aquapazza looks and seems to play like a pretty standard 2D fighter similar to Blazblue: Calamity Trigger and Persona 4: Arena. Players choose from a cast of characters, select a partner for assists, and proceed to beat the living hell out of each other in fully-animated action-filled battles. But unlike recent titles like King of Fighters XIII Aquapazza’s primary draw seems to be the collaboration between Leaf and Aquaplus, two Japanese game companies who developed and released the games from which Aquapazza’s fighting cast comes from.

And not a single one of those foundation titles has been localized in the West.

It doesn’t seem like a wise decision, then, to take a game featuring characters completely unknown to Westerners and try to sell it to them where one of the great draws to the game is that this is a well-known and beloved cast.

To be fair there is actually somewhat of a bone to be thrown: two of Leaf’s games – Utawarerumono and Tears to Tiara – were adapted to anime and localized for English. This isn’t the same as having the games themselves, and whether the crossover recognition will be enough is yet to be seen. From the response thus far, at least, it does appear that fans in the West are just happy to get an excellent-looking fighter featuring attractive gameplay and characters from Atlus.

Truth be told, it hardly matters whether you recognize these people or not. Watching a small girl ride a giant Siberian tiger into battle is pretty awesome.

Truth be told, it hardly matters whether you recognize these people or not. Watching a small girl ride a giant Siberian tiger into battle is pretty awesome.

It does beg the question: what made Atlus think that this game was worth localizing for the West? It’s obvious that they believed there was enough of a draw to their usual customer base to make releasing the game profitable, but in a case like this it still seems bizarre.

It would be similar to… well, actually this sort of situation only really applies to the JRPG world. Many JRPG’s over the years – Cross Edge and Trinity Universe most notably – featured mashups of a number of popular franchises. Darkstalkers, Gust’s Atelier series and Ar Tonelico series combined with Disgaea, the critically-acclaimed turn-based strategy RPG, all take prominent roles in these games. The attraction is clear right from the get-go, the names immediately recognizable.

To Heart2’s Manaka. Tears to Tiara’s Arawn. Utawarerumono’s Oboro. These names are not immediately known. In fact, it would be suprising if they were; even the anime adaptations of the latter two debuted in the States quite a few years ago. For the most part, these are complete unknowns.

There is a distinct Japanese feel to the comedy in the game.

There is a distinct Japanese feel to the comedy in the game.

But maybe this is a really good thing. Like all these sorts of games, Aquapazza brings with it the potential for crossover interests. Fans of the anime from which the game draws many of its fighters might be attracted to the game, and fans of fighting games might develop a taste for the Eastern brand of storytelling.

This would be the best-case scenario. At worst, most wouldn’t touch the game for fear of not having enough of a reason to play. Nevermind that the games Aquapazza is based on are all adult visual novels.

We can only hope that Aquapazza is met with a positive critical response, for once. Instead of getting panned as too much of a niche title, this could be an excellent chance for another fighting game from the East to make a sizable mark on the West’s gaming tendencies.