Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Science Adventure Visual Novel "Chaos;Child" Is Out a Week Early

The Science Adventure series is one that has been slowly gaining popularity here in the West. Although the original Chaos;Head anime might not have captured people's attention (it's not even a faithful adaptation of the game), the release of Steins;Gate was a different story. The anime became a hit among viewers, the series quickly gained the rep of being one of the best sci-fi time traveling stories out there, and a few years later the visual novel was released here as well. Considering the niche market Steins;Gate was aimed at, it was actually quite impressive just how popular it became over seas -- and thankfully it didn't stop there.

Last year saw the release of Steins;Gate 0, the sequel, and now another year later we have the official English release of Chaos;Child. Although the game was set to release next week, PSN has actually released it a week early! While the game does feature a new cast of characters, the story itself is set roughly five years after the events of Steins;Gate, and is connected to the Science Adventure storyline as a whole. Rather than time travel, this entry in the series focuses on a series of strange murders, and people with the ability to change the world around them with their own delusions (a main plot point from the original Chaos;Head).

Although Chaos;Child is a part of a long running series, it is also very much a story of it's own, and can be enjoyed by both fans and newcomers alike. The game is now on both PS4 and Vita. Just keep in mind it is a visual novel, with tons of reading.
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Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Worst Case of Microtransactions - Tales of Pirates

Microtransactions. It's a term that has been coming up a lot lately, and most games today seem to use them. Mobile games ask you to buy gems/stones/crystals so you can use them and hopefully summon your favorite character to use, big name games like Overwatch use them for random draw loot boxes, and some games even flat out let you buy the things you want (or need). It's a system that has had a very mixed reception, and in some cases it is used better than in others. While one game may use microtransactions to fund new content and keep servers running, another may be using it simply as a way to milk the players for more money. Really it's pretty easy to see why some people may not like this, but at the same time it is sometimes needed.

However, today I'd like to share with you all a story of one of the WORST uses I've ever come across. A game that went completely overboard with it's real cash shop, and made it so only the richest of players could continue. A game that would milk you dry, and then take it ALL away from you. This is a tale, of pirates.

Tales of Pirates

Tales of Pirates was the US release of a game known as "Pirate Kings Online." It was a 3D MMORPG mostly played by pointing and clicking with the mouse, with special attacks set to hot keys on the keyboard. The game itself had players creating an anime styled character, choosing a starting island, and then tasked them with taking on the main story quest and side quests to become stronger. This however, was really how far the story went. While it did have a plot to follow, it was very basic, with the main gameplay being focused on exploring the islands, and eventually the sea. The game was clearly inspired by One Piece (it even had costumes ripped directly from the series), and everyone playing it seemed to only care about getting stronger. Of course with a shockingly tactical PvP and DOTA (this was before League of Legends and other MOBAs) style mode, it was no wonder power was the main focus for many, sadly this also meant that players would go to great lengths to achieve it.

It didn't take long for the game's story quest and side quests to become out dated, and leveling soon evolved into a limited, few hour long, weekend only quest. With this quest you could get 1% exp per part, but even that became a very long and drawn out process that could take hundreds of hours (which the quest was only open for a limited time) to reach higher levels, so even this became out dated pretty fast. This was when leveling evolved into farming the same enemies for hours on end during the week, and also when becoming stronger by other means became required.

You see, whoever was able to kill an enemy would get the experience for it. This is common in MMOs, and it was no different here; however, when everyone is racing to be the first to kill the newly spawned enemy, then you have a problem. These enemies only spawned every few minutes, and if you didn't kill it before all the others, then you were out of luck. No EXP for you. To make matters worse, players who had become strong enough could one hit kill whatever spawned in front of them, meaning the stronger players would always level faster. So if you wanted to keep up, you had to become stronger yourself.

Enter the cash shop.

To survive in Tales of Pirates, you had to use the cash shop. Even if you didn't personally use real money to buy items, you had to farm for in game cash and find someone willing to trade the cash shop items you needed. Sometimes it could take weeks to get enough money to buy a $5 cash shop item, but it was worth it if you didn't want to spend the real money yourself. But why exactly did you need to do this? Well, there were many reasons.

Pets -

ToP featured a pet system in the form of fairies. These creatures sat in your inventory and actually acted like a piece of equipment. To get them though, you first had to buy a good pet using real cash, and then you also had to buy the food and level up fruits to increase their stats. Then you would have to wait hours in game for your pet to use up it's energy and gain experience, so that you could feed it stat boosting items or teach it skills. The prices on the pet, food, stat items, and skill books all depended on how good they were, with the higher priced items giving you more bang for your buck, and you would have to buy a lot of them. This got quite expensive, with a fully leveled pet possibly costing hundreds of dollars, and you had to continue paying for food if you wanted to keep using your pet. With them losing 1 energy per minute of use, feeding them became an hourly thing.

Pets were not optional in ToP either. Considering the player character received all stats and skills a pet had learned, it would give them a clear power advantage. One skill even allowed the swordsman class of the game to stay 100% invisible at all times -- a skill key to winning in the arena. Along with the stat increases, there was a clear difference between a character with and a character without a pet, and there was no way around it... Unless you happened to find a maxed out pet laying on the ground for some reason (which I shockingly did)!

The Gear -

While the cash shop allowed you to buy costume items to fuse your equipment into (which also made them stronger), it also sold actual in game equipment. This is where things got really expensive. Although you could buy costumes from players in game for pretty "cheap" prices (maybe a week or so of farming), the actual equipment was a different story. A single piece of a level 55 set could be found in game for 20,000,000 + in gold (possibly half a year of farming), these set pieces were also sold in the online shop. There they would often go for $100 or so and became a main way for players to obtain them. Of course prices only went up from there (max level in game was in the 100s), with the gear being nearly impossible to find by normally playing. But even this, was not enough.

Gems -

Gear on it's own was useless. You had to buy costume pieces for it, buy the materials required to fuse gear into a costume, and then start working on the upgrades. The game used a gem system to bring each piece of gear up to +15, and the gems actually worth using were in the cash shop, and quite expensive... And you had to fuse them...

A gem worked like this:
Level 1 gem + level 1 refining gem = a level 1 gem fused into your gear. To go past level 1 though you had to fuse two of the same gems together, and stack it on top of the gem already fused into the equipment. Meaning your gear had to have a level 1 gem to be upgraded to level 2, and a level 2 to be upgraded to level 3. This went up to level 9 with one gem, with a second type of gem being used for level 10-15. But how this works is where the money really added up.

Level 1 gem + level 1 gem = level 2 gem.
Level 1 refining gem + level 1 refining gem = level 2 refining gem

Fuse this into the equipment and you now have it upgraded to +2. Now time for level 3.

level 1 + level 1 = 2
level 1 + level 1 = 2
level 2 + level 2 = 3

Repeat for the refining gem level 3.

Fuse this into the level 2 equipment, and it is now 3. Let's go for 4!

level 1 + level 1 = 2
level 1 + level 1 = 2
level 1 + level 1 = 2
level 1 + level 1 = 2
level 2 + level 2 = 3
level 2 + level 2 = 3
level 3 + level 3 = 4

Do the same for the refining gem.

Keep in mind that you have to BUY these gems with real cash, and you have no choice but to work your way up. Each time the amount of gems you have to buy doubles. 2 gems for level 1, 4 for level 2, 8 for level 3, 16 a level 4, 32 for a level 5, 64 for a level 6, 128 for a level 7, 256 for a level 8, and finally 512 for a level 9. That's a grand total of 1,020 gems bought with real cash! (Plus another 252 for the second gem you'd need to reach +15)

Sadly, this isn't the end of it. You need to do this for FIVE pieces of equipment (four depending on your class). That's a total of 6,360 gems for a fully decked out character. To make matters even worse? When you fuse a gem there is a high chance it'll FAIL. Yes, all your hard work can blow up in your face, and hundreds of dollars can be gone in an instant. Sure you can pay more to increase your chance of a fusion working, but again... Real cash is required.

So, to put it simply... Even if gems were sold at 1 for a $1 (they weren't, they were more expensive, but sometimes sold in small packs), you'd have to pay around $6,000-$7,000 to even stand a chance against the rest of the players. And people did this. Yes, that's right, there were characters in this game worth more than you could ever imagine.

The Day It Was All Taken Away

With the game falling out of date compared to the private servers that were opening up (which were free and ran by fans), the company behind ToP (IGG) had the bright idea to release a "sequel." This sequel was actually the exact same game, but with some balance changes and new end game content -- which wasn't much. Rather than releasing this as an update though, they decided to make it a stand alone game. All character data from the previous version was deleted, and there was not a refund to those who had fully upgraded characters. Instead, they simply asked that they'd do it again.

Since that day ToP has shut down, but IGG continues to release games. Some still have cash shops that can get pretty bad, but nothing seemingly on this level. Considering the game had less content than even the free trial of Final Fantasy XIV, it's actually pretty amazing to see what people were willing to spend on it. Of course it can still be played on private servers, but honestly the game is out dated. For those who loved it back in the day it could be a nice trip down memory lane, but the rest of the world doesn't have a reason to check it out. Unless you want to see the horror of it's micro transactions without paying a dime.
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Saturday, September 9, 2017

Monster Hunter Stories - The Pokemon of Monster Hunter?

Last Friday the long awaited (at least for some) 3DS game Monster Hunter Stories finally released in the west. While over the past few years Capcom's series has finally started to gain popularity here, Stories is quite a bit different from what most will expect. So before you jump on the "MONSTER HUNTER!!!" band wagon, let's take a moment to explain what it is you'll be getting into this time.

As most may know, the Monster Hunter series is a deep boss fighting game that has been known for its challenging gameplay that can be played solo, or with friends. It's very popular in Japan (being one of the main reasons the PSP sold so much over there), many "clones" have been created to try to replicate the series' success, and with games like Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate and Generations, some of that popularity has caught on here as well. It's a series that really tests your skills, and has you fighting for survival as you take on these massive beasts and hopefully gain the loot drops you need to craft the next set of armor or weapons. Some might find the gameplay to be repetitive at first, but there's something that's just flat out satisfying about completing a hunt and getting your reward. However, this is NOT what Monster Hunter Stories is. At least, not in the same way.

Rather than being a boss fighting hunting game, Stories takes the Monster Hunter world and turns it into a cute anime styled cell shaded "Pokemon" inspired turn based JRPG. Say that five times fast. Instead of going on hunts, fighting monsters with an action based combat system, and coming back with your loot to craft new items, armor, and weapons -- this time around you are stealing and hatching monster eggs to build a party of monsters to fight for you. The world is completely open, there are dungeons and monster dens to explore, and stealing monster eggs is your main way to build your party. Monsters appear on field just as they do in the main games, but touching them will bring you into a battle system with a rock paper scissors style attack set up. With this battle system you'll still have to watch for monster tells to figure out what their next attack will be (just as in the main games), but rather than physically dodging and what not, you will instead pick between power attacks, speed attacks, or technical attacks. To put it simply, Power > Technical > Speed > Power. Using a Speed attack on an enemy using a Power attack will give you the advantage, and doing so will eventually build up your special attack bar to unleash crazy combos and what not with your friend monsters. It's a different type of system, but it does keep the monster hunter style in a way. (Not to mention all the familiar attacks and animations you'll see.)

Outside of battle you'll still be gathering items, fishing (although fishing has been made to act like a gathering point, rather than actually fishing), catching bugs, mining, and doing all those other fun things hunters have become used to. Although, rather than worrying about item storage, everything is just kept on you at all times, and you never have to worry about pick axes or bug nets breaking -- you are free to gather as much as possible, with the only down side being gathering points only lasting for one use per screen load. Then, as expected, you can take said materials to craft new items, or you can go back to the town to get new equipment and to upgrade existing ones. The only real change here is that armor sets now act as full sets, rather than each piece, and the upgrade system is the same one found in Generations (where you spend material worth points rather than using specific material to upgrade whatever it is you are upgrading). Considering your hunter will also battle along side monsters on field, getting new equipment is important, and will give you a reason to focus on your character and not just the monsters themselves.

Although Monster Hunter Stories isn't a standard MH game, it is still a game set in the Monster Hunter world. The animations, the sound effects, the gathering, the music, the sleeping in your bed to save the game, the crafting, and all those other iconic features you've become used to are still here, but seen in a new light. Even though the game does use a more standard RPG set up where the story tells you where to go, the quest board is still there for side quests as well, so even that hasn't fully been changed. Overall it's a game that makes it feel like you're really living in this world, but at the same time is a lot more relaxing compared to the strict main games. It's a game perfect to fans and newcomers alike, and one that is also packed full of content. If you play this game, you will be in for the long hull.
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Sunday, September 3, 2017

What is it? - The Legend of Heroes "Trails" Series

If you're a PlayStation fan or PC gamer, then I'm sure you've heard of the "Trails" series by now. Lately it's been gaining a lot of popularity in the west (at least for a niche title) with the constant releases and ports coming out, but I'm sure a lot of out you are asking one question... "What the heck is Trails?" So today I decided I'm going to try and answer that for you! Of course many of you already do know what it is, but hopefully you'll be able to learn a thing or two if you haven't actually played it for yourself. It's a pretty unique series, and one I'm sure many of you out there would enjoy if you give it a chance. With that being said, I'll be keeping spoilers out of this post, with only the basics being covered. No plot twists will be discussed, nor will the changes in the state of the world come up. While there will be some things I cannot avoid (as some parts of the series take place later), none of these will be major, nor will they ruin the experience for the players (hopefully you). So, let's do this!

Background of The Legend of Heroes:

Now let me be the first to say that I'm not expert on the ENTIRE Legend of Heroes series. Most of the games have never even made it outside of Japan, and to top it off this whole thing started MANY years ago (in the early 1980s to be exact). Even so, the history of this series is pretty straight forward, but a bit confusing.

Originally, "Dragon Slayer" was an RPG series that did things a bit differently than the others. Rather than using the classic turn based systems, it was an action RPG that used a battle system similar to that of The Legend of Zelda. The game was revolutionary for it's time, and as many popular games, it spawned a sequel -- "Dragon Slayer II: Xanadu." Needless to say, the Dragon Slayer series continued to be a hit from this point on, with Xanadu spawning a series of it's own (Tokyo Xanadu is actually releasing in the west pretty soon), and the main series eventually reaching it's sixth mainline entry. This was "Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes."

Like with Xanadu before it, The Legend of Heroes also became popular enough to spawn it's own series, but even that wasn't as straight forward. Like the Dragon Slayer series it was a part of, The Legend of Heroes began breaking it's own games up into series. With 1-5 being their own games with their own numbers (although 3-5 were a part of the same trilogy), when 6 came along things changed. This game was the first entry in what became known as "The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky," and it was only one of three games to make up the entirety of "The Legend of Heroes 6." Sky First Chapter, Sky Second Chapter, Sky the 3rd all became the 6th entry, with the 7th and 8th entries also following a similar pattern -- and all being a part of what we now know as "Trails."

Confused yet? Well let's put this simply. Dragon Slayer 6 = Start of Legend of Heroes, and Legend of Heroes 6 = start of Trails. We good now? Good! Let's move on then.

The Unique Series and Trails in the Sky:

Unlike Dragon Slayer, the Trails series is a classic styled turn based RPG. Enemies appear on the map, you run into enemies, and battles begin in a semi open area. Rather than being your typical turn based RPG, battles in Sky are more similar to what you would expect from a grid based tactical RPG. You have your map, your characters will be placed at one end of it, and the enemies they are fighting will typically be at the other. During your turn you are free to move your characters anywhere within their "walking range," or you can attack enemies that are within your attack range (which is also your walking range). While some attacks will only hit a single target, other moves are AoE and will hit all areas that are highlighted as you select your target. Some of these attacks are "Craft" skills that are special attacks each character can use, but there are "magical" arts to use as well. These magic skills can be learned by any party member and are great for hitting enemey weaknesses, but they take multiple turns to charge and use. To learn and use these skills characters must equip orbs to their characters, which may not only enable them the use of skills, but also increase their stats as well. With this orb system in place, you can also freely remove and equip other orbs to change out your magical skills on the fly.

As battles progress the order of turns is displayed on the side of the screen, and you're able to use this turn order for your advantage. Sometimes specific turns will receive special bonuses in the battle (such as that unit being healed on that turn), so by killing an enemy and taking their turn you can recieve the bonuses instead. Systems like these make the battle system more tactical based, and the cap on EXP gain keeps your characters from being too strong or too weak for that moment in the story. Thankfully if the game does get too hard, there is an option to retry battles and weaken enemies as well, so it's impossible to get stuck unless you refuse the extra help.

While the basic gameplay and battle system can be a lot of fun, it's really not the main focus of the Trails series, nor is it what makes the game special. Instead that honor goes to the story, and the insane amount of love and detail put into crafting this world.

Trails in the Sky tells the story of a young girl named Estelle as she and her childhood friend Joshua set out to follow in her dad's footsteps to become a "Bracer." Joshua was found by her dad at a young age and was brought up along side Estelle almost as a brother, but his past is something that remains a mystery to her. Agreeing to wait until he is ready to tell her about it, Estelle accepts Joshua for who he is, and the two slowly become closer over time. When the two decide to join the Bracers guild (a group dedicated to helping those in need by taking on different types of jobs), they are forced out into the world to see it for their own eyes. Of course what starts out as a simple trip around the country to each guild branch soon turns into a grand adventure that will change their lives forever.

While the story of Trails in the Sky may seem simple, it's one that is highly developed and evolves into something much more. The game starts in Estelle's small home town, and almost instantly it's clear just how much work went into this game. Rather than having generic NPC characters walking around, each towns person is a character of their very own, and each one of them has a story to tell. Talking to them multiple times will show you multiple lines of dialogue, and after every single event in the game this dialogue changes. These characters will go about their daily life, they will face their own issues, and as you continue to talk to them you'll get to see it all unfold. The game does a very good job of making these characters seem like living breathing humans, and over time you'll eventually start to realize just how deep the overall plot has become.

Although Estelle's journey starts as a simple one, the world itself is complex and filled with history. Past wars and relationships with other nations play a big role in the overall story, and each town Estelle visits has it's own story to tell as well. Add in the fact that each town introduces dozens of new characters to the mix (some of which who will travel the world with you as well), and you have a single complex story with multiple layers to uncover. Estelle, Joshua, and the other characters who join them along the way are also a lot more complex than at first glance. The name "The Legend of Heroes" really is a fitting one, as these characters start as almost nothing. Estelle herself is just a simple country girl who is unaware of the world, and often makes stupid mistakes along the way. She's still a kid, and can act very immature. She's not someone you would call a hero, and it's hard to believe she could ever be a part of a serious group like the Bracers. However, as the game goes on that slowly starts to change, and we physically get to see how the events of the world shapes Estelle into the person she is by the end -- the game is rich with character development, and of course that extends to the side characters as well.

The biggest thing many need to understand about the series is the fact that it is a heavily story based game. With a script that is multiple novels long, it's a game that will have you spend a lot of time reading, and it's story can be a bit slow. It isn't something you jump into and race to the end of, but rather a game you turn on to enter a new world to take your time and enjoy. A lot of the fun comes from discovering what this world has to offer, and the pay off in the end is well worth the wait. The thing is though, even this is only a small chunk of the story.

Trails in the Sky "FC" is nothing more than a small, short (50-70+ hour) intro to the story. It brings in the characters, teaches you about the country they live in, and slowly starts to show the events happening behind the scenes. Yes it's a lot of content to go through, but it's still only a prologue to the series, and only an "intro" to the Sky story. In fact the game ends in a major cliffhanger, and fans in the West had to wait MANY years to see what came next. Or in other words, they had to wait for the main game.

Sky SC picks up at the ending of FC and continues Estelle's journey. This game is much longer than the original, with much more content and all of the same features found in the first. Every character continues to be their own person with their own stories (a feature that never goes away), the character development continues to be strong, and the main plot finally takes center stage. Once again with multiple novels worth of dialogue, Sky SC continues to greatly expand the world, and it's the game that really sets the stage for the future of the series.

Finishing the Sky story arc, a third bridge title was also released. This one features a new lead character, but it does feature the party members from the past as well, and it's the game that puts a "close" to many of the hundreds of stories from the previous two games. The real goal in this game is to crossover to the new story arcs from the new "series," and continue the overall story as a whole. This is where Ao/Zero and the Cold Steel series come into play.

Trails of Cold Steel and Zero/Ao:

Sadly the follow up to Sky was never released in the US, but it and Cold Steel take place at the same time roughly a year after the events of Sky. While Zero and Ao take place in the citystate called "Crossbell," Cold Steel goes north to the Erebonian Empire -- the country Estelle's country of Liberl was once at war with. While throughout the Sky series this country was mostly seen as an enemy, Cold Steel is the first time we actually get to see behind their walls and learn the truth about the country. Here status as a noble or commoner is of great importance, and things quickly begin heating up because of this. Mix in the fact that both the Empire and their rival country the "Republic" want to take control of Crossbell (which is also fighting for it's own independence), and it's easy to see that things aren't going well for Erebonia. This is where the two series both begin.

While Zero and Ao tell the story of a police force within Crossbell during this political struggle, Cold Steel follows the story of a young man named Rean as he enters a military academy in Erebonia. With both games happening at the same time, together they make up the complete story of events that will eventually lead to Cold Steel 2 and 3. Sadly here in the west we can only fully see one side of the story, but maybe one day that'll change.

In Cold Steel players take control of Rean as he lives through his academy life, but things end up being a bit different for him. Shortly after entering the academy, Rean is quickly put into a new special class called "Class VII," and is tasked with going on "field studies" each month. These field studies have him and his classmates shipping off to lands unknown (er, local towns and cities) to meet with different people, and help the towns out with their problems -- all while learning as much as they can as well.

While Cold Steel still has the same NPC system as Sky, things are a bit more personal here. During your time at the academy, you get to follow the stories of all of the students. While your class members have special cutscenes all of their own, the other characters have unique side quests and sub stories to complete, and they all also continue the tradition of having unique dialogue and events after every in game story scene. As you talk to them and get to know them a bio will be filled out within your notes section, and you'll even eventually get to meet their other friends and families as you travel. As you return to the academy each month in game, you'll spend a lot more time with these characters, and by the end they'll feel like friends.

Just like Sky FC, Cold Steel 1 is simply an intro game. It focuses on a young class of soldiers, and shows their story as they slowly grow and develop. It's a story of "peaceful" school life back when everything is right with the world, before things finally take a turn for the worse. Once again it's packed full of world development and background, but even with around 100 hours of story content it is still just a "small" intro. Cold Steel 2 is where the main game within this series opens up, and the world itself is more open as well. Of course, explaining why would be a spoiler...

And It Doesn't End There:

The series itself still doesn't end with Cold Steel 2, in fact Cold Steel 3is already well on it's way, and it's very likely that this will not be the end. Eventually the series may reach the point where everything from the past comes together in one big final "show down," but for now the series continues to live on. Don't let this put you off from getting into it though, instead think of it as a reason to continue to invest your time. This is a massive story in one of the most developed RPG game worlds out there, and it's future is something for both fans and newcomers alike to look forward to. It's simply a great fun RPG series, that everyone who likes JRPGs should really look into... And hopefully one of those "everyones" will be you, if it already isn't.
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Monday, August 14, 2017

First Gunpla - High Grade Exia

The Gundam series has always been something special to me. I still remember the days of middle school when I would run home to catch Gundam 08th MS Team on Toonami, and later on G Gundam. As someone who loved robots ever since childhood, Gundam was I guess what you could call my dream series. It's what replaced Power Rangers for me when I got older, and it's something I continued to go back to as the years went on. So why is it that I never got into gunpla? Honestly, I don't know? Maybe I was scared of messing them up? Well whatever the reason was, it no longer matters as last weekend I finally built my first gunpla.

So first of all, what IS a gunpla? If you've ever built one yourself, played the Gundam Breaker games, or watched Gundam Build Fighters, then you already know, but for everyone else... Well to put it simply, it's a Gundam Model Kit -- although it isn't quite as simple as that. Although they are all models, there's many different types of model kits, and each one requires more or less work based on the model's quality. My first gunpla was a "High Grade" which is a pretty detailed model, with a good amount of parts to work with, but it's far from the crazier higher grades you can buy. It's only a 1/144th scale, so it's nice and small, but they also sell the 1/100th scale Master Grade kits, as well as 1/60th Perfect Grade kits. While these two types are much larger with a LOT more detail (including an inner frame which must be built), they also sell Real Grade kits which are 1/144th scale with similar detail to the Master Grades (with the inner frame as well). Confused yet? Well it's really not as bad as it sounds. Basically you can either buy a small model with pretty good detail, a small model with crazy high detail, or larger models with crazy high details that could possibly take weeks to months to build. It's that simple!

Anyway the first gunpla I decided to go with was none other than the High Grade Exia from Gundam 00. With 00 being one of my favorite Gundam series, the Exia was a no brainer for me. Although I wanted to start with the Real Grade 00 Raiser, I figured it would be best to start off easy to get some practice. And this was the result:

(A closer look at panel lines)
For my very first build I didn't really do anything too fancy. Experts go all out with these things by adding battle damage and what not (as well as creating custom paint color schemes), but since I'm a beginner I went with a basic build with panel lining. Overall I'm pretty happy with how it turned out, but I will admit I did make a handful of mistakes along the way. Some of the plastic nubs from cutting it out of the runner aren't as clean as they could've been, and I did put a mark in one specific part, which hopefully isn't that noticeable. (Is it?)
(Another panel line vs no panel line)

(No panel line vs panel line)

(Build before panel lines)

So, for those of you wondering about it... How do you buy one of these, and what do you need to know to get started? Well the first answer is quite simple, and one of the reasons I'm even posting this here. Believe it or not, but Gunpla can now be bought at none other than GameStop! Yes, that's right. Power to the Gunpla! (Or something...) Of course Amazon has a much wider selection (and cheaper options, with Exia being around $13.00 only), but it's really up to you where you go. As for what you need to get started? Well, that's a little more complicated.

At the VERY LEAST you'll want to get yourself a pair of "Nippers." These little cutters let you cut the pieces of the plastic gunpla out of the runner, and then go back in for some extra trimming. (DO NOT CUT CLOSE TO THE PIECE STARTING OUT! CUT THE NUBS OUT OF THE RUNNER, AND THEN TRIM!) On top of that you'll also most likely want a hobby knife to cut even closer/shave off any extra plastic you couldn't get with your nippers, and even possibly use it to peal up stickers and apply them on the model. They can also be used to pry pieces apart if needed, but you'll want to be careful not to break something.


On top of the nippers and hobby knife, Amazon also sells Gundam Markers that allow you to apply detailing if you wish. I personally only bought the basic black and gray set for panel lining, but other colors are sold as well. Originally I didn't like the idea of going in with markers, but it's actually a LOT easier than it sounds.

The Gundam Markers are actually oil based (and dry out very quickly, so make sure you keep the cap on), and they clean off by either using a cotton swab, a white eraser, or your finger. To do panel lining it's just a simple matter of quickly smearing the marker on the indents of the model, maybe smearing it a bit with your cotton swab, and then just wiping it off with your thumb. The marker will be pushed into/stay in the cracks, and the rest will come off like it was never there. It's very easy to do, but again it's really up to you if you want to do this step. (I've found you can also cut the cotton swab's stick at an angle with the nippers to create a tooth pick to dig into the cracks if you'd like to scrape the marker out of them as well).

Other than these few things, that's really all you need to get started. Again the markers are optional (or you can even use paint if you wish), but you do need something to cut the parts out to build it. The plastic itself is snap together, so you don't need to worry about that. Of course there's a lot more you can do with these models if you have the skills or want to try something new, but as a beginner myself I can't really give you any advice there (sorry).

Well hopefully some of you guys found this all to be interesting, and maybe it got some of you to even go out and try this for yourself! It really is a lot of fun (assuming you like to build things), and I'd easily recommend it to all Gundam fans (or to those who like to build things in general).

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

.hack//GU Last Recode - What you need to know

With the announcement of .hack//GU Last Recode, I'm sure a lot of you may be wondering what this series is (unless you are a fan of course). Considering Last Recode is a collection of all three GU games, along with a brand new "4th volume" to finish out the story, it's not that surprising that many new players would become interested in it. This is the perfect chance for those who missed it during the PS2 days to jump into the series, and the enhancements made to the game (along with the new volume) is even more of an incentive. So, I figured today I'd take the time to go back to the .hack series, and let you guys know (nearly) everything you'd need to know before jumping in. Although Last Recode is in fact a collection, it is actually only a small part of a much larger series -- one I've mentioned before at NGR, but let's put that aside and start new.

Anyway, .hack//GU is the second series of games released in the .hack universe. In this world people are drawn to the popular MMORPG called "The World," and the many mysteries surrounding it. Although most players of The World simply see it as a game and pass off the strangeness as just rumors, the main characters themselves find themselves wrapped up in these mysteries and see the truth for themselves. Thus the real story begins.

The original .hack series was told across multiple forms of media, and focused on multiple characters. The Novel AI buster focused on a system admin who deleted rogue AI (AI that strangely developed their own personalities), the anime .hack//SIGN introduced us to the strange "Tsukasa" as he finds himself unable to log out from The World, and the original game series focused on Kite as he investigated why his friend Orca fell into a coma. These stories are each a small piece to a much larger overall mystery that's at the center of The World, but I'm going to avoid spoiling it. The reason? Because the original .hack storyline will actually be included in .hack//GU Last Recode.

.hack//End of The World is a special movie that was originally released with GU Vol 1, and will be included in Last Recode. This special completely retells the story of the original .hack games, while also explaining other key events that happened "off screen." It explains the history of The World, it goes into Kite's struggle, and it even tells of the events leading up to the start of "The World R2" and the entire GU series. For the most part this special includes everything you need to know to jump into GU, but even then some details will be lost.

Although GU is a brand new story of it's own, many characters from the past do find their way into the new story. One large focus of the .hack series is actually on the players of The World, and how they change over time -- this can especially be seen in GU where many years has passed since the original series. For example. the main character of GU, Haseo, was once a troll player killer seen in .hack//SIGN; however, the events of SIGN greatly changed who he is today, and he returns to The World without the memories of who he once was. Other characters from the original .hack series also undergo major changes, but even without knowing their pasts it's easy to understand the struggles and hardships they have faced.

The only thing not included in Last Recode is the anime series "Roots." This series is the start of the GU storyline and shows Haseo as he logs in for the first time, and it also shows the events that lead up to him becoming known as "The Terror of Death." The events shown in this anime is a major driving force for Haseo to continue playing The World R2, and without seeing it for yourself the start of GU can be quite confusing. While it is possible to get by without it, as the basics of what happens is explained in game, it's recommended that everyone tries to give it a watch before starting the game. Sadly Roots is a bit slow on it's story telling, but the pay off is well worth it.

While there are other stories within the .hack universe, and I personally recommend checking them ALL out, they aren't needed to understand or enjoy GU. Again GU is very much it's own story, but knowing as much as possible about the past will help. The .hack universe is a very developed one, and GU is only a small part of a much larger picture. It's a great place to start game wise, but there's still quite a bit you can go through before then.
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Monday, July 17, 2017

Arc System Works Announces "BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle"

A day late on this one, but oh well! A few years ago it was mentioned that Arc System Works would one day like to create some sort of crossover game with BlazBlue using a tag team system. Originally the idea was pitched as being possibly BlazBlue x Guilty Gear, but after nothing was really said about it. Really this sort of thing isn't uncommon, developers pitch ideas all the time, so not many gave it another thought. Until yesterday that is.

It turns out that BlazBlue will be getting a crossover game, and it WILL be a game with a tag system. Dubbed: "BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle" (BBCTB -- apparently keeping with the "BlazBlue C." naming system for it's sub title), this new game is a crossover fighter that no one ever expected. Yes, it's BlazBlue, but what is the other game (in reality games) featured in this? None other than Arc System Works' very own Persona 4 Arena (the fighting spin off sequel to Persona 4/4 Golden and Persona 3), as well as a series they helped bring from the arcades to consoles -- UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late (or more specifically, the new "[st]" version).

From what we've seen so far, all three series will use the characters and their sprites ripped directly from their source game (which does create a bit of a clash with UNDER NIGHT and BlazBlue), but there will be new characters and content as well. More specifically, the fourth series this title is crossing over with -- "RWBY." Now that's a shock.

For anyone who doesn't know, RWBY is an online animated web series by Rooster Teeth that was created by the amazing animator Monty Oum. Sadly Monty can no longer be with us, but thankfully his memory and his dream will live on. RWBY has continued to gain popularity over the years (even getting it's own video game), and now Ruby herself has joined the fight along side the likes of Ragna, Yu, and Hyde.

Of course not much else is known about this game at the moment, but you can check out the first trailer below!
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Sunday, July 2, 2017

10 Games With Stories That Continue Outside Of The Game

And we're back! We have a lot of catching up to do, but I wanted to start off with something different -- a top 10 list. Now this list was originally published a few days ago on GameFAQs, but it was written with NGR in mind as well. So without further adieu, here we go! (And yes, this is a bit of a continuation of the Halo article from awhile ago.)

10 Games With Stories That Continue Outside Of The Game 

In today's world video games have evolved far past what they originally were. Back in early days you would be given some basic "plot" or understanding of the game, and then away you would go blasting or platforming your way through them without a care in the world. It didn't really matter what you were doing or why you were doing it, it was just something you were playing to have fun! However, as time went on things did start to change.

With the ever growing RPG market, and with games like Metal Gear entering the market, the way people saw and played games began to change. Sure, you still continued to have your "for fun games," and it was completely possible to play many of these new "story driven" games without caring about the plot, but the fact that games were starting to have more of a developed story was something that could not go completely unnoticed. Before we knew it the stories in games became deeper and deeper, and gamers were flocking to them to experience it for themselves.

Of course not everyone agrees with or likes these types of games, but that's not what today's list is about. Instead I'm going to be taking a look at 10 games that take this whole story thing a step further. These are games that either cannot be understood, or are continued outside of their original "game form." Games that fans may THINK they know the story of, but in reality they are missing large chunks, or possibly don't know the real story at all. With that being said, there were some rules I set for myself when writing this, that I'd like to quickly explain before anyone moves on with the list.

First of all, these following games were either originally created as games, or they became mainly a game series. In other words, series like Metro, or The Witcher will not be included on this list as their games are adaptations. Now sure, the Witcher games do continue where the novels left off, but it doesn't change the fact that it is still mainly a novel series with a game continuation (the reverse of this list). As for the second rule, I didn't want to include any games on this list that I personally did not have a great deal of experience with. As such, I left out series such as Splinter Cell, Gears of War, Star Craft, as well as Assassin's Creed. While I have played the games, I didn't want to do the series a disservice by trying to explain their expanded stories without fully experiencing them myself. So, if you're a fan, I'm sorry but they won't be included on this list... As such this list is my own personal opinion, so feel free to take everything I have listed with a grain of salt.

So, with all of that being said (assuming you read it), let's get on with the games!

10: Overwatch (PC)

Now this list isn't really in any order, but I figured I'd start with what I'd consider the "current" (it's June in 2017) smallest game -- Overwatch. Now Overwatch is mainly a player vs player online hero shooter arena game where team work is key, but that doesn't mean it is without a story. While the main game itself only has small touches of events that had happened in it's world, the actual story is almost completely told outside of the game in other forms of media. When the game was first being released, and even after it's release, Blizzard released multiple character videos online for fans to watch, and many of these videos provided an inside look at the game's world and characters. We got to see their personalities for the first time, and we were able to start to piece together what exactly is happening within this game's world. While it really wasn't too much to go on, it was more than enough for a game of this nature, and fans loved it. Of course, things didn't stop there.

To this day, Overwatch's story continues to grow in multiple ways. We still get videos from time to time, but Blizzard also releases comics and even short stories to help expand the game's lore. Characters also tend to be announced in some story related way before they make their way into the actual game, and at times fans will even be involved in these stories (such as the whole hacking thing that lasted for quite a long time). Blizzard has stated that they plan on continuing this trend, and because of that the sky is the limits. How will this story grow next? Will we get full novels? Full comics? Full movies? Who knows! All we can say for sure is that it'll continue to expand as long as it remains popular.

9: Final Fantasy XV (PS4)

Final Fantasy XV... Now this is a game that has caused a lot of mixed reactions, and the story itself is a large part of that. The thing is, in it's current state a lot seems to be missing from this world. Yes there's a "complete" story, but there are also many unanswered questions, and a lot that wasn't even shown in game -- and that's why it is on this list. Putting aside the massive lore book that was released in Japan, the story of Final Fantasy XV actually doesn't even begin in game, but instead in a free anime series that was released online on sites such as YouTube. Although, to call it the beginning isn't quite right...

While in most Final Fantasy games we get to see the story from start to finish in game (putting aside Final Fantasy XIII which actually starts in the novella, and finishes in a novel taking place after Lightning Returns' ending), FFXV didn't do that. Instead it used both the anime series and a full movie to tell it's beginning, and a lot of it's background. While the anime begins during the game, the episodes are mostly made up of flash backs to the main character's childhood. We get to see how Noctis meets each of his friends (again, something normally shown in game), and we get to learn just who they are before the game starts. Then, when the game actually does start, a second story is happening in the background that truly begins the game's events -- this is what the movie shows.

While the movie technically takes place at the same time as the first few hours of the game, it is still the beginning of the story, and key to understanding what is happening in the world. It follows Luna's story within the city when the empire attacks, and it also shows the fall of the king. The problem is, these events are only really mentioned in the actual game, so without seeing the movie it is easy to become confused... Although the same can be said for the other way around as well, as some of the things that happen in the movie don't seem to be reflected in game. Even so, it's an important part of the story, and together with the anime it actually makes up a large chunk of Final Fantasy XV. (Much larger than most would imagine.)

8: Tales of Vesperia (X360)

Another small game on this list, but it's an interesting one (and a fan favorite for series fans).

In today's world the Tales of series is once again taking off. After the release of Tales of Vesperia on the Xbox 360 many feared the west would never see a Tales of game again, but that all changed when Tales of Graces f finally made it's way here. Even so, the series has always been quite large in Japan, and it isn't too uncommon for these games to have spin off games for their characters (or even anime adaptations). However, in Tales of Vesperia's case things were a bit different. Rather than getting a retelling anime like Tales of the Abyss, Namco decided to expand it's story in a few ways instead. Sadly these expansions weren't as large as other games on this list, but considering the game itself can easily last 80 or so hours for one playthrough, it's understandable.

After Tales of Vesperia originally released on the Xbox 360, a PlayStation 3 version went into the works as well. This version included an expanded story, as well as new main characters, and improved the game in many other ways; however, this extended story wasn't only seen in game. "Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike" was a full anime movie that went back and showed us the early days of Yuri trying to become a knight. This movie not only introduced new characters that would be seen in the PS3 version of the game, but it also filled in other blanks and answered questions that were left out of the game itself. Finally fans got to see exactly what lead Yuri down the path he walks in the game, and it gave fans a different look on the world they already knew and loved. Although this movie wasn't needed as much as other entries on this list, it was still something nice for the fans, and it didn't actually stop there.

On top of the movie, Tales of Vesperia has also received multiple novels and manga to help flesh out the world. Both Judith and Raven received their own mini novel series, and a story focusing on Yuri's childhood was released as well. Just like with the movie these aren't really required to understand the game, but again, it's great for fans.

7: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (PS4)

Deus Ex, the popular PC RPG series that made it's return with Human Revolution, and finally continued in a mainline game with Mankind Divided. Deus Ex has had a bit of a rocky release history, with old fans loving the original but not liking the later releases, and with new fans liking the newer releases but being put off by the older game's "dated" mechanics. Even so, the series has done pretty well over the years, but with the release of Mankind Divided mankind really was divided. The thing about this game is that it doesn't really feel "complete." It starts off strangely, and it's ending doesn't feel like an ending. Well, what if I said that's because it's a part of the Deus Ex Universe project and it really is only just a small part in the story?

The fact is, Mankind Divided isn't the direct sequel to Human Revolution as there is a pretty large gap between the two games -- a gap that was filled by the novels, comics, and technically even the mobile game that came before it. While the novel "Icarus Effect" told the story behind the scenes of Human Revolution, Black Light takes a more direct approach and picks up the moment Human Revolution ended. This story follows Jensen as he returns home to Detroit after the original game's ending, and shows us exactly how he got involved with the events center stage in Mankind Divided. This isn't a simple background story though, as the events of this book are in fact KEY to understanding what is happening in Mankind Divided, with even the opening act of the game being a direct ending to a story arc from the novel.

Now sure, you can play Mankind Divided without reading the novels and comics, but you can expect the opening of the game to feel like the half way point -- considering it technically is.

6: Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4)

I really, REALLY, didn't want to include a second Final Fantasy game on this list, but this is one that's hard to overlook. With so many fans considering this to be their favorite game in the series, it's no wonder that Square wanted to keep the ball rolling by expanding it as much as possible... After the release of the successful original game, Final Fantasy VII actually continued on. While most Final Fantasy games remained as single games, there was no stopping Square when it came to VII (and there still isn't).

Taking place after the events of VII, "Advent Children" was a full CGI movie that finally showed fans what happened next. It showed our heroes living their life after the events of the game's ending, and it also introduced us to a new threat that was sweeping the planet. There's really not much else to say about this one other than it being a sequel to the game, but it was something Square would revisit years down the road.

Besides the movie, multiple anime OVAs were released for VII as well. One such story showed the events that lead up to the start of the game (as well as flash backs to a key moment shown in the game as well), while the other helped fill in gaps that lead up to the start of Advent Children. To further add to this, multiple novels for FFVII were released as well, including a "retelling" of the story from the character Aerith's point of view, and they too became key to fully understanding the events of the game as well as the movie. Of course you didn't actually have to watch or read any of this, but the expansion of the game's story still didn't stop there.

On top of all of the novels, OVAs, and the movie, multiple side games were released. One was a third person shooter that continued past Advent Children (while showing flashbacks from a key character's point of view), another was an action RPG following Zack's story leading up to the events of FFVII (although it skips over the moment shown in the earlier OVA), and the final being a mobile RPG titled "Before Crisis" taking place around the same time. These three games greatly expanded the overall story once again, and before long it lead to Square revising Advent Children.

Advent Children Complete was exactly what it's name suggested. It was a "complete" edition of the movie that added tons of new content, and filled in plot holes the original story had. It also took the changes made by the previously released side games, and included those story elements to make things more... Well... "Complete." Although it was still the exact same movie story wise, the new content really did make the whole thing a lot better, and helped tie up lose ends. Of course, things still didn't end there.

Currently the latest part of Final Fantasy VII has been left off in a cliffhanger, and the Final Fantasy VII Remaster project has basically overtaken any hope we had at seeing what comes next. Although, a lot of people may consider that a good thing.

5: Fate/Stay Night (Nasuverse)

Now, this is one I was debating adding or not. This is a "series" that's not so easily explained, but I figured I'd try to do my best without turning this into a massive 10 page paper.

The Fate/Stay Night series is one that has been popular in Japan for quite some time, and it is now slowly picking up in the west with games like Fate/Extra, Extella, Melty Blood, and Grand Order seeing western releases. The thing is though, this Visual Novel is much more than just a game series, and in reality it's not even the first game within this "series," nor did it even start as such. In fact the "Nasuverse" (as fans call it) all began many years ago as a series of stories called "The Garden of Sinners." This series of stories would serve as the foundation for Kinoko Nasu's later works, and it is also the story that introduced us to the dimension hopping Aozaki sisters that appear throughout many of the titles (including Tsukihime, Melty Blood, Fate/Extra, and so on).

As for Fate itself, it too is not fully told within it's original visual novels. Putting the connection to the Garden of Sinner novels aside (which have also been turned into multiple movies rather than an anime due to their graphic and explicit nature), it too has multiple stories that were created as other forms of media. Fate/Zero is one such series of novels that was written by Gen Urobuchi (the writer behind anime series such as Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and Psycho-Pass), and tells the background events that lead up to the start of Stay Night. With it's popularity in Japan, it too eventually was adapted into an anime series, and was brought over to the west. There is also Fate/Apocrypha (which is currently being adapted into an anime) as well.

In short, the entire Nasuverse is massive, and it spans more than just multiple games and series. It's taken it's form in a wide verity of media, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Which is a good thing for fans!

4: Drakengard & NieR (Series)

Like the Nasuverse, the world Yoko Taro has created for his games is massive, and not something that can be easily explained. So, once again I'll only cover the basics.
With the release of Nier Automata, the series has really gained quite a reputation for itself. Although the series has always had it's core fanbase, now that group has greatly expanded and many people are now in the dark. What some many think is just a game that's a sequel to a game, is really a small part in a greatly expanded on series that could take a very long time to get caught up on. So, here's the quick run down.

Drakengard is the original series, and it's where the game's timeline splits. While the game's main endings lead nowhere, the final "joke" ending is what lead into the original Nier and it's "new world." Along with all of this though, the original Drakengard series is FILLED with multiple manga and novels that take place in different universes and timelines that are all key to understanding the overall plot. This story grew even larger with the release of Drakengard 3 (the game released after Nier and before Automata), and became even more complex. With even more endings of it's own that go nowhere, the version of Drakengard 3 that actually leads into 1 was told in a novel and not in game, and short stories for each character was released to expand on who and what everyone was. On top of all of that, Drakgenard 2 takes place within it's own universe loosely based off of ending A in Drakengard 1, and it too has it's own story related content shown outside of the game. But this is only scratching the surface.

With Nier (which, again, has ties to Drakengard's world) that story greatly expanded yet again. This world has it's own history that is key to understanding the games, and it too was told outside of the two games. Many stories have been written for Nier, and without reading each and every one you are missing a large chunk of what is really going on in this story. It gets even worse when you realize the version of Nier that leads into Automata was never released outside of Japan (again, this is 2017 as I'm writing this, so who knows), and the stories themselves mostly use the Japanese exclusive version (Replicant) as a base. But even so, just playing the original Nier (any version) and Automata isn't enough to get the full story, and those who do so will never know what is actually happening.

3: BlazBlue

BlazBlue is a fighting game series that was sort of seen as a "reboot" of Guilty Gear at the time. Arc System Works decided to start a new series rather than continuing with their existing one, and this was the result. Originally being a simple arcade fighter that eventually came to home consoles with an included visual novel style story mode, it was a lesser known game that only had a core fanbase. Then, it exploded.

While the series isn't as big as other fighters out there, there's no denying that BlazBlue is popular, or that the series has become something much larger than many of us would've dreamed. While each game includes a pretty large scale visual novel story (which can be often very complex), these stories are actually only a small part of what makes BlazBlue BlazBlue. In fact, even the visual novel series "XBlaze" is only a small part of it, as a lot of the game's story is actually told across multiple manga and novel series.

Although BlazBlue does follow it's main plot and gives some inside looks to events that happened in the past (example, BlazBlue: Chronophantasma contains a part of the "Phase 0" novel's story), the games are still made in a way that just about expects you to know the full story -- especially the later games. Novels like the Phase Shift series (and Phase 0) are key to understanding the events that lead up to the start of the first BlazBlue game, and then you have series such as Bloodedge Experience that focus on characters like Naoto who seemingly just "appear" in Central Fiction. Without knowing about these characters before hand, their stories will not make sense, and the events referenced throughout the game will be lost to the player. The Remix Heart manga series (yes, two of them) is another example of BlazBlue's expanded story, and it's sure to cause some confusion for those who have never read or at least heard of it. This is something that is sure to only get "worse" for fans who don't fully follow the series (or cannot follow the series) as this universe will most likely continue on for years to come -- even if BBCF is the "ending" to the current arc.

(On another note, Guilty Gear is the same way to an extent, but I settled on BlazBlue for this entry... Sorry GG fans!)

2: .hack//

With the announcement of the new .hack//GU collection, I'm sure many people will be asking "what's .hack!?" Well, hopefully this answers your question.
.hack is a very unique video game project. Starting in the early 2000s, the game series was conceived as a completely new project unlike anything before it. While the game itself would be a game about a MMORPG, the way this story would be told wasn't going to be limited to JUST the game (as in, both the game versions and the MMORPG the game is about). Instead .hack was to be an extremely large project that would span many different forms of media, and it would tell a long interconnected story. Rather than just focusing on the MMORPG "The World," it put a large focus on the game's players and the way they would change over time. The entire story actually begins with a novel called AI Buster, which would then lead into an anime titled "SIGN" (although SIGN actually released before AI Buster), and that would finally lead into the first set of four .hack games. Other novels such as AI Buster 2 and Another Birth would also be released, and even manga series such as Legend of the Twilight would soon come out. All of these stories provided insight on what was happening both in game and in the real world, and would become key to unraveling the mystery plaguing this world. But of course it didn't stop there.

With the original .hack projects ending, a second series for Project GU would begin as well. Taking place years after the original set of games, novels, manga, anime, etc, the GU world allowed us to see just how everything changed since the original events, as well as experience a completely new story. Once again .hack would see a wide verity of anime, manga, novels, and even movies to go along with it's new series of three games (which will be included in the new collection), and it was used to pave the way to yet another future. A future that is yet to fully be seen.

While the PSP game .hack//LINK was released, as well as a few more manga and anime series (and a full CGI movie), this is currently where .hack ends. Needless to say if the GU rerelease does well it wouldn't be too shocking to see it continue in the same way that it always has, but for the time being this is currently the end. Even so that doesn't change the fact that .hack is a series where most of it's story is actually seen outside of the games, and if you don't follow it fully you won't fully understand what is going on.

1: Halo

Now here's the big one. List wasn't in any real order, but I wanted to do this last... So, what would you say if I told you that many Halo fans have no idea what Halo's story even is? Or if I told you that even you non fans who may HATE Halo might actually like it's story? That sounds crazy right? But it's actually true. Sure, this doesn't apply to those of you who are full on fans who follow everything about the game (or used to follow), but those who simply play the games and take it for what it is will never actually know the game's story.

The thing about Halo is, it's seriously a novel series with a few games in it. While the games have you run around as "super soldier Master Chief" shooting everything in your way, the reality of the story isn't something that glamours. Instead it's a story of a young boy named John, who was kidnapped as a child, had his body replaced with a clone that would die young (to trick his parents), and was forced into the Spartan-II project with many other children around his age. Halo is a story of his struggles as he deals with the extremely harsh experiments done to his body, the extreme tests him and his friends are put through, and the feeling of loss as he's forced to see people he loves get taken from him time and time again. It's a story of the rise of the Spartan-IIs, and the eventual first contact with aliens. All of that is only a small part of the Halo story however, as this is a series rich with lore, with many stories to tell. A lot happens all within the first novel alone, and that story is continued further into the second novel -- this second novel being the retelling of Halo 1, or rather, the FULL story of Halo 1.

While the first Halo game only showed the basics of the story, the second novel shows everything. It follows the point of view of multiple characters, and it fully explains what happens to important characters such as Captain Keyes and the rest of the crew from the original novel. This novel continues to do so from start to finish, up until the moment Halo 1's ending plays, and fans were left wondering what was next for our hero. That is when the confusion set in for many.

Halo 2 begins with characters who should be dead returning alive, and we see the Chief heading back to Earth as the aliens attack. Many players just accepted things as is, but the reality of it all is that there is a massive skip between Halo 1 and 2 that was only told in the third novel. This novel is once again key to understanding the events of Halo 2, and answers any questions you most likely had about the game or it's story. It's such a large part of the original Halo trilogy's storyline that skipping it may be even worse than skipping an entire game. And it doesn't stop there.

Although Halo is a game series, as I said before, it is technically a novel series more than it is a video game. At the time of me writing this there are around 20 full novels that cover nearly every inch of this world, with more to come. While the story of the other Halo games were never told in novel form, they are only a small part of the story. This is a series it is completely possible to be a fan of without ever even touching a Halo game in your life. Although the first few novels do follow the story of Master Chief, the other novels soon break off and begin telling of events happening elsewhere. We learn about the Spartan-IIIs, we follow Johnson's story, and we even get to dive into the distant past of the universe. It's a huge science fiction story that not only Halo fans but sci-fi fans should really look into, and it is only going to get bigger as time goes on.

(And if that wasn't enough, there are also comics, movies, and an upcoming TV show as well.)
Although it is pretty rare to see a video game continue on into other forms of media, the ones that do tend to be pretty enjoyable. They are typically either well told stories that are worth seeing through to the end, or nice fan service for those who simply can't get enough of their favorite games. Now sure, maybe not everyone will like the way a story goes after the initial game's release (Final Fantasy VII can be pretty controversial among it's fans), but you never know if you'll like it unless you try it out. Of course this sort of thing is also a lot more common in Japan so not everyone can experience it (which is why the above list is made mostly out of Japanese games), but there are quite a few western series that do it as well -- with Halo easily being the biggest.

With that being said, if you're a fan of any of the above series and have never checked out it's expanded history, then why not change that? There's a lot out there for you to see and read, and it might just give you the answer to those questions that have always bothered you.

So, what about you? What are your favorite games with an expanded story or history?
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Thursday, June 8, 2017

E3 2017 Schedule

It's that time of year again, time for E3! This year things are being changed up a bit, so I figured I'd go ahead and post a full schedule before it's too late -- as it's actually starting in two days. These times will be listed in order, and under PT to make things easier for everyone (especially those who may actually get to go to E3).

EA - June 10th 12PM PT

Microsoft - June 11th 2PM PT

Bethesda - June 11th 9PM PT

Devolver Digital - June 11th 10PM PT

PC Show - June 12th 10AM PT

Ubisoft - June 12th 1PM PT

Sony - June 12th 6PM PT

Nintendo - June 13th 9AM PT

As you can see, rather than having most shows on Monday, this time around we are starting on Saturday, with the Microsoft show and PC shows being flipped from what we typically expect. Like always we here at NGR will be sharing news updates, trailers, and our thoughts on the announcements.
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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The True Story of Halo

When someone mentions the video game Halo, what do you think of? Green super soldier running around shooting aliens? An amazing first person shooter? A game that's over hyped and not that good? What about Bungie, do you think about them and all they've done? Well whatever comes to your mind, the fact is Halo is a widely popular series that has been very love or hate among gamers. Some like it, others don't -- simple as that. But whatever your feelings are on the series at the moment, I ask that you put it all aside because today I'm going to tell a lot of you that Halo isn't what you thought it was -- or rather, it's story isn't. This may sound strange to you at first, but a lot of Halo fans out there today don't even know the story! And I'm not just talking about those who only play it for multiplayer, but those who have completed the game's campaign as well. Now of course that statement doesn't apply to everyone, and there will be many of you that already know what I'm about to say -- but feel free to keep on reading anyway!

(Also, spoiler warning)

If you ask someone what's the story of Halo, what do you think they'll tell you? For those who have actually played the game, I'm sure it goes a little something like this: Halo is a game about the Spartan Master Chief who is attacked in space, and crash lands on a strange object that looks like a Halo. With his AI Cortana, Master Chief explores Halo, fights against the aliens, discovers the truth of Halo, and escapes after destroying it. It's a pretty basic story, and people accept it for what it is... Except, that's not actually the story. In fact, it's only a small part! The real story of Halo begins with The Fall of Reach, and is what one could call a tragedy. Rather than being your standard space marine war story, Halo is actually a story of a group of children kidnapped from their homes, and forced to become the new "Spartans." It's a story of their struggles, and the eventual outbreak of war. It's a story never told in game, and it all begins with a novel.

The Fall of Reach:

At the beginning of the novel "Fall of Reach" we learn about the current state of the universe. Humans have left Earth and began colonizing other worlds, and many groups have gone rogue to fight for their own independence in space. To fight back against this a scientist by the name of Catherine Halsey sets out to put her new project in action -- the Spartan II project. The idea behind this project was to basically create a new "300." They would look for young kids who showed promise in their eyes, kidnap them, replace them with clones (that would in return die young at an early age so their parents wouldn't suspect something), and then force them through extreme training to create the best soldiers possible. It was sort of an expansion to a previously failed attempt to create super soldiers, but using kids trained for it rather than adults. One such child was a young boy named John, who had his life changed forever after a chance meeting with Dr. Halsey and Captain Keyes (yes, the very same from Halo 1).

After being taken, John was forced to adapt to his new life. He became good friends with another young boy named Sam, and a girl named Kelly. The three would become like family over the years, and along with the other children they would constantly be forced to fight against the odds. Strict training missions had them look death in the face, and horrible experiments, that were done to enhance their bodies, either left them broken beyond repair, or dead. Those who survived such tasks eventually went on take part in real missions for the military, and those who didn't were either sent away, or died from their injuries. It was a brutal project, and John did whatever he could to ensure as many of his friends survived it. However, he also learned that loss was sometimes necessary. Saying goodbye to his Spartan family never became easier for John, but it's something he would see time and time again when the Covenant entered the picture.

During the war against the rebel forces, things took an unexpected turn. First contact was made with another alien race, and things went bad. The Covenant was a group of alien invaders that seemingly only sought the destruction of humans. Destroying entire worlds wasn't a problem for the Covenant, and humanity didn't stand a chance. That is, until they mobilized the Spartans.

The Spartan IIs were kept a secret from the public, but with the Covenant threat they quickly became known. Equip with a new type of armor that would turn a normal human into mush if they were to put it on (as explained in the novel, even tiny movements were enough to snap normal human bones and kill a person as they reacted to the pain and made other slight movements), the Spartans headed out to fight the alien forces, with John as their Master Chief. The battles that followed would mostly result in human losses, but they never gave up and continued the fight. Eventually a plan was hatched to capture a Covenant ship, and the events that lead to the beginning of Halo began to unfold. Equip with the brand new AI Cortana (whom was created from a scan of Dr. Halsey's mind), John teamed up with Captain Keyes and his crew to go about this mission; however when the Covenant reached Reach (the location of the military's main base -- and the planet the Spartans considered home), things went bad.

Splitting his team between air and ground, John and his fellow Spartans joined the battle to protect their base. While John joins the fight in space, he sends many of his team down to Reach below with his trusted friend Fred in the lead. Although at the time John thought Fred and the others would have the easier job, he soon learned this was not the case. Reach became a total loss (those who have played Halo Reach would know more about this), the fight in space was a failure, and Captain Keyes had no choice but to order a jump to safety -- using coordinates taken from the Covenant earlier. This is where Halo 1 begins.

Although this is the basic story of Fall of Reach, this summary only scratches the surface. The novel itself is actually more about John and his friends as they grow and learn about the universe around them. We see the characters develop over time, we see their struggles, and we get to see all of the events that would eventually lead to other story elements featured later on. The story also introduces us to Dr. Halsey and all of the things she's involved with, and Captain Keyes and his crew. Despite being such important characters to the story, it's possible those who play only the games will not even remember them (or possibly not even know they exist). Of course it doesn't stop here though.

The Flood:

The second novel in the series is the story many will know. The Flood is based off of the story in Halo 1 and picks up the moment Captain Keyes makes the jump and ends up in front of the strange floating object "Halo." Here is where the game also opens, but the novel takes a different path. Rather than following Master Chief 100% of the time, The Flood tells the full story of the events of Halo 1, and actually follows multiple groups of characters. You have the Master Chief story of him and Cortana exploring Halo and fighting the Covenant, you have multiple groups of soldiers (that do eventually meet up), and you even get to see a team of Covenant aliens as they search for the humans and try to prevent them from escaping Halo. This set up allows for the full story to be told, and explains everything that happens in the first game. What was originally a simple escape story that lead to the discovery of the parasite creatures known as the Flood and the destruction of Halo, becomes a fully fleshed out story of mystery as each group fights to survive on the strange object.

Although this is a retelling of the game, with only around 1/3rd of the story being shown in game, this can be an issue later on. The things that Keyes does, as well as the other soldiers on Halo did are once again lost to the player, which can make things very confusing going forward. Sadly Keyes and his team (whom many may become attached to during the first novel) meet a tragic end, but the actions of other characters do make a huge difference in the end, and help lead the story into Halo 2. However the biggest impact on the story happens in the 3rd novel, and it's what will answer so many questions and fix the "plot holes" some fans may have realized. Although, they technically were never plot holes to begin with, but many don't know that.

Third Book:

The third book titled "First Strike" is the real game changer in the Halo story line, or rather, it's the book that makes everything else in the series possible. When fans go into Halo 2, they are greeted with more story than in Halo 1, but that story is also a bit "off." Fans playing the games, once again, just accept it and go with it, but in reality they are missing out on a lot (to say the least). On top of everything that happened in Fall of Reach, and during the events of Halo 1 (and it's book), there is a massive gap between 1 and 2 where a lot of key story events happen. This includes how Master Chief escaped from the space around Halo, the reason Johnson is still alive when he clearly "died" in Halo 1, and it also shows us how characters such as Linda survived the events of Fall of Reach as well... Although, many may not have even known who she was until Halo 5 released... Either way the story is massive, and is the reason Halo 2 even happens.

In First Strike, Master Chief comes across another ship in space. On this ship is Johnson (again, who should be dead), as well as other soon to be fellow teammates. It turns out Johnson suffers from a rare illness caused by exposure to the Covenant's plasma weapons. Normally a soldier would be taken off the field and be locked away for MANY months of treatment, but Johnson refused and continued his fight. Because of this sickness though, the Flood was unable to infect his body as seen in Halo 1, thus leaving him alive. Afterwords he, the Chief, and the others come up with a plan to steal a Covenant ship, and make their way back to Reach. While it may not seem like much at first, this ship was actually commanded by a well known character, and is the reason half of Halo 2 even happens. Who was this commander who abandoned his own ship and charged as a criminal? I'm sure you know. (And if you don't, it's the second main character of Halo 2... The one you spend a lot of time playing as...) Because of this event though, a lot of things were set into motion, and the future of the war was all but decided.

Because John was able to capture the ship and get the commander branded a heretic by the Covenant, he was able to make it back to Reach to help his fellow Spartans, he was able to find Linda frozen in space and get her back to Dr. Halsey for surgery, he was able to help get Fred, Kelly, and other Spartans off of Reach before it was 100% destroyed, and they were even able to discover that the Covenant had found the location of Earth (by mistake at that), and destroy a massive fleet to buy Earth more time to get ready for it. All of this became possibly only because they captured that Covenant ship, and the events of Halo 2 would eventually even lead that commander "heretic" to join John's side as well. All of these events plus more unfold all within this third book, and despite being how important it all is, many fans have no idea this story even exists.

Fourth Book and Beyond:

Halo and it's story doesn't stop there. Although Halo 3 ends the original story arc, there is actually much more to it. There have been many books, side stories, comics, and even movies and anime OVAs released for this series, and all of them add something to the overall plot. One book actually follows Johnson's story back when the war first began, while others tell the stories of the Spartan IIIs and connect even more with games such as Halo Reach. The overall story of Halo is one massive sci-fi adventure, and the games themselves only show a small fraction of it, while leaving a lot out as well. Because of this a lot of people who play the games don't even know the full story of Halo, and there's a chance that they never will. On the flip side, because Halo's story is mostly shown in other media, it's a story non shooter fans can enjoy as well. Really if you're a fan of sci-fi at all, and want a good book series to get into, then Halo really is something you should check out. Although the newer entries in the series since 343 took the games over may be hit or miss for some people, the original series of books are still a great read.

So, again I ask you. What is the story of Halo? Honestly I've only scratched the surface. If you want to see the story, you're going to have to read it yourself!
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