The Japanese Role-Playing Gamer

Playing unique games, new and old


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Elder Scrolls Oblivion: Living in the Free World

oblivion1

Over the last three years, I’ve played a Western RPG that is larger than life–Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion. I’ve played quite a few of these types of RPGs, but none of them compare to the giant experience in Elder Scrolls. Oblivion is an immersive world chock-full of memories.

The game is an extraordinary experience. The entire open-world environment of Elder Scrolls 4 will take over 100 or so hours to explore fully. The whole land is full of towns, villagers, monsters, dungeons and side quests. Thankfully, the hero doesn’t have to spend all that time running from one place to another. Each landmark has a fast-travel marker. This allows the main character can instantly travel there by using the map in the main menu.

Unfortunately, there are also plenty of disappointing problems that ruin the atmosphere the game. Almost every villager has the same voice actors. Some of the character types might seem different, but most of the characters sound almost identical to each other. If that wasn’t bad enough, they keep repeating the same boring dialogue all the time. For example, the store owners all kept asking me to tell my friends about their store. It seems silly for me to put in a good word, when all the store owners are so similar to each other.

The opening storyline of the game is also very disappointing. It begins in a jail, where the main character is serving some sort of sentence. The king of some Imperial City is trying to escape from a group of assassins, called the Mythic Dawn. The guards want to kill the protagonist, but the king stops them because he saw the main character in a dream. Sure, whatever.

oblivion2

So anyhow, the Mythic Dawn killed the king. In his dying words, the king asks the main character to bring some Amulet of Kings to his son. And so, the story begins. The whole death scene looked incredibly bland and disappointing. There’s no drama whatsoever.

After I played through so many hours of the main quest, I appreciated the story a lot more. Much of this journey involves some quest to find a new king and to save the world of Tamriel. The villains of this game are the assassins from the Mythic Dawn. The game does a decent job at showing just how this clan is terrorizing the kingdoms in Tamriel. The game ended a little too quickly after a specific cutscene, but I really enjoyed the final battle. It has everything–hordes of demonic enemies and some giant monster thing.

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It was a grand lifetime of touching moments to save a kingdom from peril. However, it all felt like very shallow entertainment, because the voice actors showed very little emotion in their dialogue. They were saving their most intense lines for hours, until the very end of the game. Even the final conversation at the end was a bit disappointing. I was expecting a little more from a game with such a magnificent landscape to explore.

I truly enjoyed the world in Oblivion, though. Perhaps it just reminded me of a more magnificent time, when I roamed freely in the beautiful environments of Final Fantasy 7. Even after finishing these RPG masterpieces, the warm memories of that age still remain in my heart forever.

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The Breathtaking World of Final Fantasy 7 – A Retrospective

MidgarWay back in 1998, I played Final Fantasy 7 for the first time on the PC. That game literally changed how I played video games forever. It was one of the longest role-playing adventures at the time and all the 3D graphics looked amazing. However, I never really remembered the ending of the game very well. So I decided to download the game onto my PSP system, just to revisit those fond memories.

I have to say, the Final Fantasy 7 experience still looks as breathtaking as it did when it first came out.

Sure, the graphics might not look as detailed as the current-gen 3D games. However, Final Fantasy 7’s world has a cinematic flair like no other game. The opening sequence itself sucks people into the dark, grungy alleys of a city named Midgar. For the first time, the cities in Final Fantasy look more like modern-day cities, complete with spewing smoke and trains. Everything looked bigger and grander than any other game before it.

Final Fantasy 7 slums

The story also plays out in an unusual way in Final Fantasy 7. Most of the Final Fantasy games start in a large, grassy overworld. In sharp contrast, 7 starts in the dangerous world of an underground eco-terrorist group named Avalanche. The entire opening sequence is jam-packed with battles, big robots and explosions. And these aren’t those lame 2D explosions in the Super Nintendo days. These are huge explosions where characters could burn and die. The entire game has a classy cinematic style.

Final Fantasy 7 also introduces characters into the game in a unique, intimate way. One of my favorite moments is when the main character, Cloud, meets a girl in the ruins of a church. He literally falls hundreds of feet into a flower bed in the middle of a church chapel. Once there, he meets Aeris, a kind girl in the slums who talks about how she loves to take care of plants and nature. She literally appears like a shining beacon of hope in the middle of the dirty city of Midgar.

finalFantasy7Church

All the characters in Final Fantasy 7 have their own complex history. I always had a fun time learning about the detailed background that each character contributed to the adventure. The rest of the game feels a bit repetitive, though. The fights in the game all use an active-time battle system. This is pretty much just a glorified version of a turn-based battle system, where each characters takes turns to attack their enemies. Although the animation moves very quickly, some of the attacks can take forever to complete.

The ending is also a bit of a letdown, because the game doesn’t use voice samples. The final cutscene looks more like a bunch of really cheap, computer-generated marionettes caught in some meteor explosion. It still doesn’t make very much sense at all. I just wanted to see what happened to the characters, because I was more interested in the romance between Cloud and his childhood girlfriend, Tifa.

Although this game isn’t quite as cutting edge as it was when it first came out, Final Fantasy 7 is still an amazing experience. The entire adventure is an artistic masterpiece that added more depth to the role-playing genre than anyone could possibly imagine. Everything just looked larger than life back when Final Fantasy 7 first came out. To this day, I still wish for a game that could take me through the grungy city of Midgar. That city is still full of unforgettable memories.


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Battlefield 3 Tunes: A Retrospective

Donya Fortress in Battlefield 3

When I first published the Bitmob article about my Battlefield 3 music playlists, I didn’t expect that the official Battlefield 3 Facebook page would share it.

I was shocked. I’d had my stories published before, but I never expected that a game company’s marketers would ever share my music with everyone. I was incredibly glad that other gamers and fans really appreciated my taste in music.

I kept making new playlists, because I really loved how my rock music added edginess to an intense multiplayer game. However, I stopped compiling them in 2013. By that point, I gradually lost interest in the game.

The publishers of Battlefield 3, Electronic Arts (EA), soon started promoting Battlefield 4. This seemed far too sudden. I’d only played Battlefield 3 for about a year or so. I couldn’t understand why they needed to push out a new Battlefield game. All the graphical enhancements looked great, but it was too technically demanding for my computer. It required a lot of the latest graphics hardware, just to run properly.

However, I completely lost interest when EA showed off gameplay trailers for Battlefield 4. The first gameplay trailer used a song called “Total Eclipse of the Heart” from Bonnie Tyler. It sounded awful. I just couldn’t understand why the game was using such an over-dramatic 80s song.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the silly song repeated itself during one of the car chases. And this part of the game was supposedly set in Azerbaijan. For whatever reason, a car radio in Azerbaijan was playing a Bonnie Tyler song. I guess foreign people can’t get enough of Bonnie Tyler.

It sounded strange and absolutely out of place. At that point, I just stopped caring about Battlefield 4 altogether. Honestly, I just thought to myself that they could have tried using the tunes that I had in my own playlists. I somehow knew that this new release would turn out as a disaster.

I still love Battlefield 3. I just wish that the developers would try to listen to what their fans are demanding.


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28 vicious songs to blast while playing Battlefield 3

battlefield3-1

(Originally posted on Bitmob and VentureBeat)

A nagging problem kept bothering me while playing Battlefield 3. It had nothing to do with the server speed or my overheating Xbox 360.

I just couldn’t think of a great rock-music playlist to listen to during my sessions.

I really wanted to capture that ruthless environment of Battlefield 3 in a playlist. The game has an edgy visual atmosphere that always crawls under my skin whenever I boot it up. The colors are dark and rusty. Every ricocheted gunshot causes some sort of explosion.

I thought that 2000s post-punk would work pretty well. That decade, however, also coincided with the happy-indie-rock movement. I certainly couldn’t play Modest Mouse’s “Float On” while mowing down hordes of soldiers.

Then I came up with the sound. I had to add in my favorite Generation X music from my childhood.

I really didn’t want to include these bands. Many of the singers ended up becoming rotten corporate jerks who are more interested in hoarding money. The songs fit perfectly, though. The Smashing Pumpkins’ music has a nasty, cool attitude that really meshed well with the dirty competition in Battlefield 3.

Although some of the band’s music is touching, the loud anthems really bring the game’s visceral edginess to life. “The Everlasting Gaze” is an especially fitting song. In the chorus, Pumpkins lead singer Billy Corgan keeps whining, “You know I’m not dead.” Corgan’s message really pumps me up for battle, probably because I always have to respawn after my soldier dies. In this game, I have no choice but to kill more people.

This wasn’t enough for me, though. I wanted another band in my playlist with a heavy electric-guitar sound. 311 also fits the mood. The band’s dissonant guitar strums have a rugged growl that fills the entire war zone with noise.

Group member S.A. Martinez’s raps especially emphasize the intensity of BF3’s wastelands. In the song “Galaxy,” his loud rhymes burst out of the speakers with catchy profanity. I’m still not exactly sure what he means when he says, “We’ve got the m*****f****** kids, now let’s freak this s**t.” He does talk about taking over the Pentagon, however. That sounds almost as crazy as everything else that happens in Battlefield’s campaign mode.

I had quite a lot of great material to play around with, so I decided to split my songs into two playlists. I call them Vicious War Tunes volumes one and two. Each list contains quite a few other musicians like Harvey Danger and Beck. I even had room to squeeze in The Pillows, a garage rock band from Japan.

You could try these playlists during your own Battlefield or Call of Duty sessions. Maybe the music will bring all the pain of your preferred war title to life. At the very least, it will make people want to freak s*** up during a heated battle.

Vicious War Tunes (Volume One)

1. Smashing Pumpkins — Cherub Rock
2. Harvey Danger — Flagpole Sitta
3. Smashing Pumpkins — Bullet with Butterfly WIngs
4. Beastie Boys — So What’cha Want
5. 311 — Galaxy
6. The Cranberries — Zombie
7. Kasabian — Club Foot
8. Kaiser Chiefs — I Predict a Riot
9. Bloc Party — Banquet
10. Beck — Novacane
11. Nirvana — Territorial Pissings
12. Smashing Pumpkins — The Everlasting Gaze
13. The Pillows — Last Dinosaur
14. The Flaming Lips — Do You Realize?
15. Smashing Pumpkins — The End is the Beginning is the End

Vicious War Tunes (Volume Two)

1. 311 — Creatures (for a While)
2. Nirvana — In Bloom
3. Beastie Boys — No Sleep ‘Till Brooklyn
4. Smashing Pumpkins — Zero
5. Harvey Danger — Wooly Muffler
6. Smashing Pumpkins — Disarm
7. 311 — The Continuous Life
8. Titus Andronicus — A More Perfect Union
9. Titus Andronicus — Titus Andronicus Forever
10. Radiohead — Climbing Up the Walls
11. Joy Division — Transmission
12. 311 — Borders
13. Oasis — Falling Down


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Video Game Playlists: A Retrospective

Working dudeAs I wrote in a previous post, I haven’t kept up with this blog as often as I would have liked. My schedule is much busier than it was years ago. I’ve been working on a variety of projects. I program the website for my church. I now write for a magazine in my neighborhood. I’m taking classes on computer information systems.

I hardly have time to play big-budget games these days. I mostly play portable games, because I don’t have enough time to sit in front of a TV to play. So I really haven’t caught up with as many games these days.

So instead of playing video games, I just compile together my own video game playlists.

Elder Scrolls 4 troll photo

MUSIC PLAYLIST? TROLL NO UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU SAID…

Let me explain. I’m not talking about a whole list of games that I have to play. I’m talking about music that I listen to while I’m playing video games. I started doing this one or two years ago, because many of my Xbox games don’t have good music. Believe me, I’ve tried all sorts of games, from Battlefield 3 to Assassin’s Creed 2. The music for these games is okay, at best. However, the current soundtracks just doesn’t thrill me in the same way as the video game soundtracks in the 90s and the early 2000s.

I’m sure that the new game developers intended to focus on the new systems’ graphical capabilities. Unfortunately, the developers are spending less time on the more entertaining parts of a game. I still don’t understand why the shooter genre can’t come up with some actual good music, like that awesome opening tune in Doom.

Thankfully, the Xbox 360 lets people play their own music playlist to replace the soundtrack of the game. While the game is paused, players can press the Xbox button on the controller and choose their own custom playlists from the music menu. This is my favorite feature of the Xbox 360, because it lets me choose good music to replace any boring soundtracks in a video game. The 360 system even lets me rip other music CDs for music to listen to.

When I started making playlists, I figured that I’d just make playlists for whatever mood I was in at the time. I figured that the current-gen games would have enough good music to keep me from using this feature. Unfortunately, the original soundtracks for most of these games are disappointing. For example, Elder Scrolls 4 has some boring flute melody that keeps repeating all the time. There are some slight variations, but for most of the game, I was listening to the same damned thing over and over again.

That’s why I started making my own custom music playlists. I felt bad that I was using music from the Arcade Fire in place of the game’s soundtrack, but I didn’t really have a choice. When I’m sitting down playing a video game, I also need really good music that immerses me in the moment of that game. I could either listen to the original soundtrack loop over and over, or I could listen to music that I actually want to listen to.

I know that this is a long introduction, but I thought everyone else should know how my weird projects came about. In my upcoming posts, I’ll show everyone just what I came up with in the last decade or so.


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Returning with a vengeance

I'm back. And I have a suit.

I’m back. And I have a suit.

It’s been half a year since my last blog entry. Sorry if I haven’t kept up with this recently.

A lot of things have happened in the last few months. For starters, I finally landed a freelance writing job for Mobile Electronics magazine. So far, I’ve mostly worked on research for magazine articles. Each article takes about one- to two-months work, so it keeps me very busy. The magazine also pays me well for all the work I do.

It’s the first really solid gig I’ve had in a long time. For the last few years, I couldn’t find a decent job in journalism. I was honestly thinking of giving up until one of my friends asked me if I could help him with his magazine work. After a few e-mails, I started work for the publication. Now I regularly write about electronics.

I really haven’t kept up with this blog lately. Today is a new beginning, so hopefully I’ll figure out some good video game articles. For all my readers, I hope I can treat you to some intriguing reviews about new games and my new 3DS.


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My Descent into Visual Novels (Part One)

Higurashi visual novel

Most Americans have never heard of visual novels. After all, hardly anyone would have to play a video game just to read pages of text. Except for me.

I’m hooked on this ridiculous game genre, because they have some of the most bizarre worlds I’d ever seen.

My odd obsession began because one of my favorite anime shows, Higurashi, was based on a visual novel. I loved watching the anime, just to see all the cute children turn into deranged killers. I was so fascinated that I decided to learn more about the show on Wikipedia. I discovered that the show was actually based on a visual novel game for the PC.

At the time, Higurashi was only available at anime conventions. I never attended those shows at the time, but I kept watching more episodes. I couldn’t help it. I was addicted to that show. I especially loved watching the happy conclusion in the second season of Higurashi.

Unfortunately, most Americans never saw the second season. The DVD box sets didn’t sell very well in the U.S. The show gained a cult following, though. The manga adaptation of Higurashi became a top seller in North America.

And then the visual novels appeared as an iPad app.

When I first saw Higurashi in the App Store, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. After all, the franchise still wasn’t especially popular. The first chapter was a free download, though. I really didn’t want to play it, because the drawings in the game looked terrible. At best, they looked like children’s drawings, with lots of shading effects.

Higurashi visual novel

I bought into it, though. The game’s atmosphere was horrifying. It included gory sound effects of knives hacking into bodies. The script started off as a silly kid’s adventure, but it grew shocking near the end. Each new episode costs about $8. I ended up buying the next two episodes, because I was a true Higurashi fanboy.

To be honest, the series is not perfect. The second chapter took a little too long to gain momentum. Some parts of the script were just plain childish. I didn’t think the little kids’ jokes about their teacher’s curry obsession were that interesting.

However, the atmosphere of the storyline stuck with me. The sound effects of the wilderness immersed me into the rural countryside of Japan. I felt like I was one of the kids in the game, partying at the summer festival. The horrible murders in the game frightened the living daylights out of me. It was a thrilling game that found strange, unique ways to make me feel like I was a part of everything.

After two episodes, though, I was tired of this story. I guess I didn’t care to participate in every single part of the main character’s life. I had grown too mature to care about the rambunctious adventures of these kids. I also didn’t think that visual novels were interesting enough to draw me into another novel.

Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of my obsession with the bizarre visual novels.

Images taken from various versions of the game