Tag Archives: Japan

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Samurai Shodown

Samurai_Shodown_-_1993_-_SNK_Corporation

In lieu of a copy of Street Fighter II or any of the Mortal Kombats, I had other fighting games in my collection to play on my first console, that lovable Super Nintendo currently sitting in my closet, dusty and yellow, but all the way functional, such as Killer Instinct, Shaq Fu, and Samurai Shodown. I probably have a few things to say about that first title and many, many words to write about how I got Shaq Fu–trust me, it’s more interesting than the game itself–but today, it’s all about twelve of the fiercest warriors of the late 18th century engaging in duels to the death as a dark power rises over Japan.

Yup, Samurai Shodown. It originally made its debut on the Neo Geo, but then got ported to a bunch of different consoles, which is how I ended up with a copy of it on the SNES. The SNES version is evidently a bit different than other ports, but I’m only learning this after the fact, years later, as I assumed everything I was seeing then as I jumped and slashed was how it all truly was; for example, the SNES version removed scaling, keeping the character sprites small and constant for an entire fight instead of zooming in and out of the action. Also, similar to Mortal Kombat, there’s no blood on Nintendo’s console when it comes to cutting people up with swords.

Samurai Shodown is known for being either the first or one of the first fighting games to focus on weapon-based combat–I’d later fall hard for this concept with Soul Blade on the PlayStation 1–and having a style based around late 18th century Japanese culture, such as calligraphy and musical instruments. A couple other standout elements from Samurai Shodown are camera zoom effects, randomly-dropped items like food for healing and bombs for damage, destructible environments, and the Rage Meter, which builds up over time upon receiving damage, allowing the fighter to become momentarily more powerful.

Here’s the thing. I haven’t played Samurai Shodown in a good, long while. The SNES cart left my hands probably at that time I gathered a bunch of them together to trade in at Toys “R” Us for some kind of lump discount off the forthcoming PlayStation 1. I do not remember every character and fighting stance and weapon type. That said, there’s Galford, the San Fransisco swordsman I couldn’t get enough of, and here’s why–side puppy. Named Poppy. She’s a beast, literally, and Galford can perform a special move to send her after opponents to maul them like a good puppy doggy. I mostly mained Galford, but I do remember using Hanzo and Jubei a bunch. Everybody else is a blur.

I never got to play any further releases in the Samurai Shodown franchise, nor did I really get into any later SNK fighting games. I think I tried The King of Fighters XIII once and found it bewildering. All in all, I’m a Tekken man, born and bred, as I can’t get enough of throws and countering and cool slow motion replays. It’s what I was raised on, and I’m only mentioning it now so that you’ll be prepared when you see another GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH for the original Tekken. Don’t worry, I still have Tekken 2. I’m not completely without reservations.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

Vanquishing the Order of the Russian Star in Vanquish

vanquish early impressions ps3

Over-the-top style, mediocre plot, and corny dialogue are three ways to describe Vanquish. You could also call it surprisingly fun. Because it truly is both, and just when you can’t stand to swallow another ultra macho catchphrase or Steven Blum grunt-infused one-liner, the game drops you into a frenetic and enemy-filled scenario, the kind where you have to keep moving to survive, and it’s a total blast, especially when you take down the final enemy scrub just as your life bar is depleting, tossing you into slow motion “bullet time” for one last chance at hitting a checkpoint. Those moments feel genuinely exhilarating, as do the rare quiet moments, like riding a monorail and sniping spotlights to avoid being detected, where the goal is to be quiet, a stark contrast to the majority of the game.

I do have some problems with Vanquish, but before I get to those, let’s start with the good. Mainly, the really good. This game is free. Well, at least for me. I was given a year’s worth of PlayStation Plus with the “classic white” bundle, and so I’ve been downloading games like a fiend. Not necessarily playing many of them, mind you, but now they are on my Ps3, ready for whenever I’m ready. And this one went up a week or two ago; despite my claim that I want to only focus on fewer games in hopes of then completing these games, most nights I don’t have the correct amount of time to devote to Ni no Kuni, and reviews for Vanquish prided themselves on that it is a short, but satisfying experience. I can handle short and sweet currently.

Anyways, Vanquish. In it, you play as Sam Gideon, soldier warrior for DARPA. He and a bunch of U.S. marines are out to stop Victor Zaitsev of the Order of the Russian Star. Why? Well, Zaitsev promptly declares war on the United States by capturing Providence, a self-sustaining space station that harnesses solar energy, and turning its solar generators into a giant death ray. Like a true villain, he destroys San Francisco before demanding that the female President of the United States surrenders. And so you team up with Robert Burns, voiced by everyone’s favorite grumbler Blum, to stop the Russian antagonist before more damage can be done.

You do this by shooting alien-like robots with guns. You shoot them with guns, I mean. Wait, they also have guns. Sorry, that got confusing. Words, people. Basically, the gameplay involves shooting, taking cover, sliding to new cover, and shooting some more. There’s a healthy range of weaponry at Sam’s disposal, though I’ve stuck mostly with traditional weapons like the assault rifle and anti-armor pistol. Before Bulletstorm came around and had you sliding into enemies, there was Vanquish and its power sliding ability, which allows you to move swiftly across the ground at the cost of shield energy. It’s a really fun and useful mechanic, especially when you can time it perfectly to get behind an enemy and deliver a succinct melee attack to the noggin.

Now for the faults: instant kills and the treatment of Elena Ivanova. Several larger enemies have attacks that will instantly kill Sam in one hit, regardless of how full his shield bar is. This is pretty frustrating, even though these attacks are highly televised via bright beams of light and audio cues. Sometimes you just can’t get out of the way fast enough, and then you’re dead, back at the last checkpoint. As for Ivanova, she’s a wasted opportunity and a fine example of how videogames present women poorly. And this is coming from a game that casts a female POTUS in its future, to all their credit. Basically, any time they cut to Elena, who is Sam’s combat support intelligence, they use camera angles that emphasize only her legs and butt, like so:

elena ivanova sample shot

And that’s ultimately disappointing to see each and every time the narration cuts to her, especially since she’s never doing anything dynamic, just visually conveying data, like incoming enemy ships and doorlock passcodes. To Vanquish, at least so far, she’s nothing more than an up-skirt. I know standing desks are all the rage these days, but you could’ve put her in a chair and behind a desk and have her function all the same. Or even just leave her as a voice in Sam’s head, telling him (and the player) what to do next.

Right now, I’m near the end of Act 3, and I think I saw on the Trophies list that there are five or six acts in total. Halfway through it then. And that’s great. I suspect by the end of Vanquish I will have had my fill of the game’s mechanics, but like I mentioned before, short and sweet is sometimes exactly what one needs. Even if it is short and sweet and overly macho to the point that I can’t help but roll my eyes as I pop out from cover, trigger AR Mode, and clear out a line of enemies in one swift, action hero-like manner. I guess it really is all connected.

World will end in seven days so let’s listen to Atsurou and Yuzu talk about it

So far, after two hours and some change, I’ve listened way more than I’ve played in Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Overclocked. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, as I enjoy talky games and there’s some good writing here and occasionally good voicework, but the first real battle you get to openly involve yourself in is so hideously unbalanced that it nearly ruins everything building up to it. First, some backstory.

Without warning, demons start showing up in and around modern day Tokyo. The three main teenage characters, Atsurou Kihara, Yuzu Tanikawa, and our nameless hero who I dubbed P-San, all come to obtain mysterious Communication Player devices, called COMPs, which also look strikingly similar to Nintendo DS Lites. These little portable bits of wonder allow them to interact with the demons–fighting, contracting, or buying them from an auction–as well as visually see how long people have left to live. This is represented as a number over there heads, indicating their days remaining. Creepy. And a bit like the severely under-appreciated Jackson flick The Frighteners.

Right. So, this trio learns about an incoming demon invasion and the fact that they have zeroes above their heads–which, if you’ve been paying attention, means they are gonna bite it real soon–and…well, they talk a lot. Mull things over. It is a JRPG after all; am I right? The original DS version did not have full voice-acting, but here on the 3DS, it does, and it is used fully. Granted, it does help with immersion, as well as remind me why I can’t stand a lot of anime these days (whiny voices). Peppered around these lengthy cutscenes are a couple of tutorial battles; here, we learn how to move around the grid, battle, earn Mecca (?), and strengthen our teams. All well and good. Easy to understand. Strong pacing.

And then we get to a part where we can “free battle” until our hearts content or continue the story, which results in a main story battle unlike any of the tutorials prior. Here, a solid six or seven monsters swarm our reluctant trio, ganging up on a single character until they are merely folded bits of flesh and fluid on the sidewalk. The minute one character and his or her team falls, the others go quickly after. I’ve popped the FATAL KERNEL ERROR screen twice now. Looks like the free battle option is there for players to grind on until we can at least put up a decent fight.

I guess I’m just confused as to why. Why such a tough battle after so few chances to fight other monsters and enhance our teams? Why so many demons at once? Why the gang up mentality too?

I dunno. Maybe I’m just atrocious at strategy-based RPGs. I never did get to grind my skills early on with revered titles like Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre. Maybe that’s it. Or maybe Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Overclocked is broken, unbalanced, and I’ll never get to know what happens to the world when time runs out.

Color me content with these three new Nintendo DSi XL colors

Man, Japan just has the best Nintendo DS colors. And now they are getting three more: green, blue, and yellow. Try not to compare them to three easy-to-guess Pokemon. But still, the green one, with its black trim, looks fantastic. Alas, I have no reason to need another handheld, and I just picked up a DS Lite for Tara for her graduation. It’s the cobalt blue one, which, honestly, is okay and certainly the best of the bunch, but not the greatest color scheme under the sun. So, uh, yeah. Japan. Hurry on up and ship these across the sea. Maybe by the time they get here, I’ll have a reason to upgrade to a DSi XL. Most likely not, given the behemoth’s size, but stranger things have happened…