Sunday, December 11, 2022

Retroid Pocket 3 Review

I'll be blunt here. The Retroid Pocket 3 is a device that made my dreams come true. It's something I never expected to own, nor was it something I really had that high of hopes for. It's a device I stumbled across randomly online, and only originally wanted it for streaming games. However, what I got instead was a device I didn't know I needed in my life, and one that completely shocked me with it's wide range of features and power! I didn't plan on reviewing this thing, but after spending a month with it -- I feel like I have to! It's been quite some time since I've gotten that feeling out of a game or something I bought, so here I am now to share it with the world! 

So, instead of taking up any more time -- let's just jump right in. What exactly IS the Retroid Pocket 3 (as well as the 3 +), and why might it be the device for you?

The Hardware:

The RP3 (and it's upgraded 3 + Model) is a handheld retro gaming console. These things have been quite popular in recent years, and even more attention has been brought to them lately thanks to the release of devices like the Steam Deck. These devices range from "high end" devices that cost a pretty penny, to lower end cheaper devices that mainly run older games. The RP3 however, falls nicely in the middle, but also allows for a lot more depending on your setup. It's a device that is not only cheaper, but packs a lot more power than what you'd expect.

Completely on the hardware side -- the device has a 4.7" touch screen, and features all of your standard buttons (modeled after what you would find on the Nintendo Switch). L1, L2, R1, R2, A, B, X, Y, Start, Select, volume buttons, power button, a device home screen button, and of course the two analog sticks and the D-Pad. It also features L3 and R3 buttons by clicking in said D-Pad, and thanks to the touch screen you also have extra options for buttons/settings. It basically covers all controller needs, with the exception of having pressure sensitive buttons or triggers. (Again, very similar to the Nintendo Switch.)

While the device does come in different models (as well as it's + version), functionally they are all mostly the same. The 3 come with either 2 GB or 3 GB of RAM (depending on what you want to pay for) with 32 GB internal storage, while the 3 + comes with 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of internal storage. The 3 + also has a slightly stronger chip set, so it can handle slightly more demanding games. (For example, it can run more PS2 and GCN games at reasonable settings compared to the 3). 

As for the software, both devices run on Android 11, and as such they are limited to what Android can or cannot do. This however, means the devices are actually capable of a LOT to say the least.

When it comes to the build quality in general -- the device is very, VERY, nice. It fits perfectly in both larger and smaller sized hands, the buttons and their placements are spot on, and the 750x1334 @ 60fps touch screen makes everything on the screen pop. The only real down side is the fact that the start and select buttons are located on the top of the handheld just to the side of the R1 and 2 buttons, but it honestly didn't take long to adjust to this. They aren't far out of reach, and you can comfortably slide your finger over to reach them. The speakers themselves are also located on the bottom back side of the console, so the sound quality isn't as nice as on a device with front facing speakers. That doesn't mean it sounds bad or anything, but for the best audio headphones are recommended. (Although in my case, the sound usually bounces off my hands and back towards me anyway -- but that's just how I hold the device and with my size of hands).

Minus these few issues, the RP3's hardware is spot on, and has the power to run nearly every game console up until the PS2 and GameCube without issues. Which is what leads me to what this thing can actually be used for...

Game Streaming:

The initial main reason I bought the device was for its streaming capability. As someone who enjoys using handhelds, this is a feature I've been making use of off and on for roughly 9 years now. I would stream many of my PS4 games right to my Vita, and one of my main uses for my iPad was to use my PS4 controller to play both PC and PS4 games. Of course the Vita's remote play option wasn't the greatest, as it would often lag and drop frames (not to mention the poor wifi on the older device), and using an iPad to play games wasn't that convenient. (Sitting the device on your lap as you pull out a controller to play isn't exactly what you'd call handheld gaming). Still, these were the options available to me at the time, and it's what I made due with. However, with the release of the PS5, this no longer became possible with the Vita, which in return made visual novels and text heavy games more of a chore for me to play. That's the main reason I originally looked into the Retroid, and I'm happy to report that it blew my expectations out of the water.

The Retroid (and Android in general) has many streaming apps that it can access. For those with a gaming PC, you can use apps such as Steam Link or Moonlight to access your entire PC, and play every game on said PC. As long as you have a decent internet connection, there's basically no limits to what can be played. For those with a PS4 or PS5, a 3rd party PS Play app can be downloaded as well, and once again, all of these games can be played without issue. At the time of me writing this, there is not currently a PlayStation Premium app so you cannot use PlayStation's actual cloud gaming service without a physical PS4 or 5; however Microsoft's streaming service does work. Even without owning an Xbox One or Series, as long as you pay for the service you can stream all of it's games directly to the Retroid. Again this opens up many possibilities for what can be played, but it all depends on what you currently own or are willing to subscribe to. 

As for the streaming itself, I personally have had no issues with my connection on any of these platforms. Even high speed games like the newly released Sonic Frontiers running on a PS5 had no lag when playing on the Retroid. I personally expected some drops, but the most I've noticed is some graphical artifacts upon first starting the stream before the connection stabilized. But again, results will differ between person to person based on internet speed and services being used.

Android Games:

Before getting into the meat of things -- I feel it is worth mentioning this. The RP3 is in fact an Android device, and as such has access to the Play Store and other Android games/apps. While some apps may need older versions to download (as RP3 is on Android 11), the vast majority of games and apps will work on the device. Now you might be thinking "why would I play these games on anything other than my phone?" But the answer to that is simple. It depends on the game, and because of the controller. There's no denying that physical buttons will always be better than touch controls, and as such many mobile games are improved by having just that -- physical buttons. Shooters are Call of Duty Mobile can be played as a console experience, and today's popular games like Genshin Impact benefit from it as well. Of course not everyone will be interested in this aspect of the Retroid, but it's nice to keep in mind your options when playing on one of these devices.

Retro Gaming:

Upon starting up the RP3, you have the option to install their software, and have quick access to some of the more popular gaming apps for Android. These apps are typically the more well known emulation softwares, that are not included on the RP3, but are recommended to install. Once you do this, where you take the device from there is your call. It is encouraged that all games added to the Retroid are legally obtained copies of games you own, with your own console BIOs to run them. I cannot/will not provide a guide to how to obtain your console BIOs, nor will I guide you on how to extract your games into digital form. That being said... I will tell you what can/cannot be done with this console, and how well it works.

Again, looking at the base RP3, the console can basically handle everything up until the 6th generation of consoles. While the Dream Cast seems to be the exception, Game Cube and PlayStation 2 are a mixed bag of what will or will not work. The RP3 + handles these games much better, but in general they are still not 100% supported. (Although using PC streaming newer consoles can be played.) That being said, consoles you can look forward to the Retroid supporting on device are as follows: Nintendo Entertainment System, Super NES, N64, Game Boy, GBC, GBA, DS, Sega Master System, Genesis, Saturn, Dream Cast, Game Gear, PlayStation, Playstation Portable, the Neo Geo line, arcade, and many, MANY, more. Basically anything released between Generation 1-5 can be played. Of course not everything will always work 100% of the time, and there may be some work around in special cases, but if there is a will there is usually a way. Thanks to the touch screen even the DS can be played, so it's not like you are limited by too many hardware specific features.

That being said, it really is a case by case basis on what will/will not work to the fullest. The handful of more demanding PSP games will cause frame drops on the RP3, but the RP3 + should not have any of these issues. On the other hand, games that required special hardware to play (say, Seaman on the Dream Cast with the microphone) aren't going to simply just work on the device. As the RP3 does not have a microphone of it's own, not only would you need to buy a USB-C or bluetooth mic, but you'd also have to configure settings to get them to work for games as well. So again, games like this will not run perfectly on the device, but it's not like it is completely impossible to get running. But again, these are special cases, and not something you'll typically come across.

When it comes to features when playing such games, these too depend on what apps are being used to run them. One of my personal favorite uses for the console is as a replacement PSP as my original died many years ago. While I rebought many of my games digitally for the Vita, not all of them made it over to PSN, nor did the Vita itself even run the games at full resolution. The RP3 on the other hand, can run the very same games at triple the resolution without issue, and has access to features like save states to make save "snap shots" outside of normal saving. (A feature even official emulations have used in recent years, like on the Switch Online service or SNES Classic.) To top it off, it was a simple copy and paste to import all my game data and saves into the Retroid's PSP folder. Of course I had my PSP saves backed up years ago using Sony's old MediaGo, but for the Vita all it took was the Content Manager and a quick PSP save upload to my PC. In a matter of minutes, I was continuing where I left off on Vita, with the same save files I've had for years. Of course it works in reverse as well, as all you would have to do is recopy your save file back to the Vita (or PSP) to continue your save on the original device. Of course not all consoles/systems would work this seamlessly, but even other console games can be played with similar features. That being increased resolution, save states, and even access to Action Replay/Gameshark codes where supported.

To put all of this simply... The Retroid strives to be a single handheld device that can store and play all of your favorite retro games you've collected over the years, and it succeeds at doing so. No worrying about your save batteries dying and needing replaced, or disc rot, or having your old hardware breaking down on you. It's all in digital format, and it works. For those who want to be extra safe, the Retroid can be synced up to cloud storage services as well, so you can keep a backup of all your data outside of the device if you really feel the need to. Or, you could simply keep it all on an SD card, and transfer said SD card from Retroid to Retroid if you ever buy a new model/have to replace the device in the future. It's convenient, and a way to preserve your aging collection all in one place.

The Good and the Bad:

There's not a whole lot more I can say about the RP3, but to sum up it's good points... It's a solid handheld with a full controller and touch screen support, and can not only stream PlayStation, Xbox, and PC games, but also play games from generations 1-5 all on it's own hardware. It does everything it set out to do, and excels at it all, all for a much lower price than most competitors. It has its start and select buttons placed in a funny location and back facing speakers, but these are minor issues overall. The device checks pretty much every box for features a gamer could ask for, but those who buy the console do need to be informed on what it can or cannot do. Again, features like streaming games would require extra hardware or streaming services (like Xbox's Game Pass) or a gaming PC that can handle said games you want to play, but for pretty much everything else -- it can be played and ran on device as is. There are some exceptions for games that required special hardware (like microphones, light guns, etc), but these games are very few and far between. 

The biggest draw back for some will be the fact that it is not a 100% simple setup process. While turning on the device will install the basics and direct you to where you need to go, there is no step by step guide on how to actually get things done. For example to actually load games into the device that are not mobile games, you will need to create the ROM file structure folders. This might sound hard, but the reality of it is -- all you do is click a button in the settings and select Create Folder Structure. It's not hard to do, but the Retroid itself does not guide you to do such things. Thankfully there are plenty of resources online, but you do not have to follow guides unless you really get stuck on how to get things working. Still, those who are not familiar with PCs might find some things challenging, but overall it isn't bad at all. Without following a guide, and without having much experience with Android, I was able to get everything going as I needed it within 10-15 minutes. My one issue was me not realizing there was a "save settings" button at one point, and that mistake was completely on me.

Once the setup is taken care of however, it is completely smooth sailing from there. As long as you can stay within the hardware limits, or own other devices to bypass those limits, you can do pretty much anything you want with this device. It's made to be tailored to suit your own needs, and how you use it will be completely up to you. That's the magic of this device.

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Thursday, October 27, 2022

Ben's Beginnings - First Zelda Game

You know, Fall has always been one of my favorite seasons. Despite being born a few days from the first day of Summer, and despite loving Summer vacation from school -- it honestly isn't my favorite of the four. Sure, you can swim and do other things outside in the Summer (and I also don't mind the heat), but there's something special about Fall I just can't fully put into words. I guess I have a lot of fond memories from the Fall months, and there's always the changing of the leaves to look forward to. Oh, and you can't forget about Thanksgiving or Black Friday! And of course there's Halloween before it all. Really, there's just a lot about Fall that I love, and thinking back on it all just gives me that "warm fuzzy" feeling inside. As cheesy as that sounds. 

Now I know, this blog isn't about Fall, but I felt like I needed to at least say this... Because, you see... Like every other season out there, there are specific games and game series that remind me of fall as well. They are games that take me back to the first time I played them, and are games I enjoy playing every Fall season when I get the chance. One such series is none other than Zelda. It's not just because of the game's settings, but rather, the points in my life where I actually played each title. Strangely, most of the games were something I was given or bought in the Fall, and before I knew it, it became somewhat of a tradition for me. And it all started back when I received my first Zelda game: Ocarina of Time Master Quest.

When I first got OoT (which is what I'll be calling it from here on out), I really didn't know much about Zelda. I had played the demo in Walmart and hit the chickens to see what would happen (we all know what happened), but that was really my extent of Zelda knowledge. I never planned on ever playing these games, and I never thought they were something my parents would get me... And I was right! It wasn't my parents who got it for me -- it was actually my cousin. 

At the time I had no idea what was going on in the world of gaming. I had the new Game Cube, and I knew there would be more games I wanted for it, but that was really it. I didn't get on the internet much back then (the world was a different place), and as a 12 year old there was really only so much I had access to. I'd go to when I was at my grandpa's house, and that as really about it. Even then, I had no idea what this new Zelda Wind Waker game was, and once again I had no interest. I was all about Mario, Kirby, Megaman, and Sonic back then. But then, that one random day everything changed.

Coming back from vacation, we stopped by my aunt's house out of state, and spent a couple hours there just seeing that side of the family. I didn't think anything of it, but when my cousin (who was 8 years older than me) got home, he was surprised to see us. "Hey I got something for you!" I remember him yelling, as he turned around and went back outside to go to his car. He came back with a GCN game, and handed it over to me. It was Zelda OoT Master Quest. Apparently WW had came out months ago, and any left over copies of it's preorder bonus (Master Quest) was up for grabs, so he picked up one for me as he was working at Target at the time. Again, I had no idea what Zelda was really, and I didn't know what to expect. All I knew was the main character was named Link (thanks Smash Bros 64), and I remembered the chicken thing... But I was excited never the less! So for the entire drive home (which was a little over an hour) I just sat there imagining what the game would be like as I read the manual.

I was pretty blown away by the game honestly. I had never really played an adventure style game like that before, but I also found myself really struggling to get through it. Playing the Master Quest version was my first mistake, and my second was naming my character QAASFQWERAF or something. I didn't feel like typing my name in, so I just hit random letters -- only to find Link being called that in game as well! So, I restarted and gave him the proper name of "Linke." Um... Yeah... Moving on...

Exploring the town, finding the sword and shield, and making it all to the first dungeon are memories I'll never forget. I felt like I was accomplishing something with every step I took, and I couldn't wait to get outside the forest and explore the giant world that awaited me. Of course, this was the first time OoT freaked me out as well, as skeletons broke out of the ground, and the gate to Castle Town was lifted right before my eyes. I should've realized right then and there that it was only going to get worse for me, but I didn't. Instead I faced my fears, pushed forward, and assumed nothing would bother me in it again.

Thankfully I had at least one friend at school who had played the normal OoT, so he helped me out in some ways, but in other ways -- I was completely lost. I didn't understand the basics of the game, and that's a big problem when the altered puzzles rely on your past knowledge of the original version! I had a hard enough time figuring out I had to light a stick on fire, but here my friend was telling me where I needed to go, and nothing he told me worked. My biggest hang up was in the second dungeon, where I kept failing at bringing bombs into one of the rooms to blow up the crates. I KNEW the key to opening the next door was within that box, but how the heck was I supposed to get a bomb to it!? I spent countless hours trying, and all I accomplished was blowing myself up.Yeah... I didn't realize you could just roll into boxes to break them, until I did it by mistake in town, and one blew up before me... I'll never forget that day either, or me waking up early on a Saturday morning to finally finish off the dungeon.

Moving on from there -- the third dungeon actually didn't cause me too many issues. I remember I sat there and played it as my grandma watched me (parents had gone out or something for the day), and I remember her making comments about how stupid it was the fish girl wouldn't do anything for herself. (Really, I think that's the only time my grandma has ever watched me play a game -- minus the VR stuff I would go on to show her years later.) I remember being annoyed as well, but overall I was just excited to finally be reaching my goal of making it to Adult Link's time. 

I shut the game off. Not even kidding. After a couple of months of working on making it that far -- I chickened out. Link stepped out of the Temple of Time and into the streets, and I completely freaked out at the sight of the redeads.. Eventually I did come back to the game of course, but it took me some time to get up the courage. I remember I basically closed my eyes, and just ran for my life to get out of town, and then told myself I would never go back in there. (Obviously... That didn't work.) 

From then on I continued to get freaked out by the temples... The well... Those THINGS... Like Likes... The hands... And just pretty much everything. OoT became my after school nightmare, yet I continued to force myself through it day after day. I didn't realize it at the time, but it had slowly become one of my new favorite series, and I couldn't wait to see what happened next. Heck, by the time Christmas came around, I was playing Christmas songs on the Ocarina! Eventually I did have to take a break from the game however; as Christmas eve had turned my mom against the game. Or rather, my uncle did.

The whole "Zelda is demonic" thing got brought up for who knows what reason, and she basically didn't want me to play it anymore. "What is wrong with this game!?" She asked me, and of course I didn't have an answer for that. I don't know what my uncle told her, but it was enough to get her to turn on it. Thankfully my dad (who is the much more religious one in our family in general) wasn't bothered by it, and over the years he would continue to buy me Zelda stuff as gifts. My mom always had it in her head that I "hated Zelda," and would always ask him things like "why would you buy him that?" But, my dad knew I was a fan of the series, and my love for it didn't die with OoT. Sadly I missed out on Twilight Princess at release, but I would eventually go back and play it once I had a job of my own. Games like Majora's Mask were ones I was able to play thanks to other friends and family members, and my dad himself bought me Phantom Hourglass for Christmas one year. Heck, even when I was on my Zelda "break" I didn't really even stop then. Thanks to my copy of Animal Crossing and the Action Replay that unlocked NES games, I was able to just use it to play Zelda 1. I never stopped loving the series, but I also can't say I'm a fan of all the games either. OoT will always be special to me, but it's honestly not even my favorite anymore. Rather than replaying the game, I typically prefer to just reread the manga (something I still recommend most fans read if they haven't). 

But anyway, my road with Zelda started in such a weird unexpected way, and I'll always be grateful that my cousin got me into it. Funny enough, last year he came to my house for a visit, and brought with him his two sons. They completely freaked when they saw my Zelda collectibles, and went on and on about how much they loved the games themselves. My cousin had no idea what they were talking about and seemed annoyed by the whole thing (as they bug him about Zelda non stop at home), so of course I had to rub it in that he was the reason I was into the series as well. Strange how things work out that way sometimes.

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Friday, July 29, 2022

Resident Evil 3 (Remake) - Review


Resident Evil 3 is a unique game in the series. After the success of Resident Evil 2, it was only natural that Capcom would want to release a follow up. However, things weren’t going to be quite that simple. The PlayStation was nearing the end of it’s life cycle, and there were other games being planned as well. Resident Evil Code Veronica was one such game that would be releasing on the SEGA Dream Cast (and later the upcoming PlayStation 2), but they still wanted one last send off for the original PlayStation. This game is what would ultimately be named “Resident Evil 3,” and it’s a game that would put pressure on it’s development team, and be rushed to it’s completion. With their tight timeframe in mind, RE3 would ultimately be shaped into something unique, and would eventually become known as the “black sheep” of the series. Rather than being a pure horror survival like RE1, 2, and the upcoming CV, 3 would take a much more action approach, and would tell a story set directly before the events of it’s predecessor. By doing so the team would be able to reuse assets, and entire areas, from RE2, and finish the project just in time. Of course, this is all only a small part of the story. The true history of Resident Evil 3 is quite a bit more complex, but that’s not why we are here today...

Jump ahead roughly 20 years, and the Resident Evil 3 “REmake” is finally here. It’s a game that was in development along side REmake 2, and is a title that fans have been asking for ever since 2’s success last year. As expected, the game does in fact reimagine the original Resident Evil 3, but the real question is... What does this exactly mean? What is the Resident Evil 3 remake, and is it a worthy follow up to Resident Evil 2? Well, I know the game has already been out for awhile now, but I figure it’s never too late to answer that question. This is my review of Resident Evil 3 REmake.

The Story of Raccoon City:

RE3 is both a prequel and a sequel to Resident Evil 2, and, as it’s a follow up to RE2’s remake, it’s actually a continuation to that game. What do I mean by that? Well to put it simply, RE2’s remake did alter the original story slightly, and add some things that were not covered in RE2’s original plot. RE3 continues this trend, and actually builds off of what RE2’s remake established, rather than simply reinventing the classic 3. Think of it as a “new canon” to the original games, that will basically replace them. Don’t go into this game thinking it’s story will be the same as you remember, and don’t assume that it will reference events from the original Resident Evil 2. This story fully expects that you have already gone through 2’s remake, and are familiar with the changes made. That being said, it’s actually not required. Especially considering most of 3 is a prequel to 2, and that it follows Jill and Carlos, and not Leon and Claire. That being said, the basic story is mostly unchanged. 

Resident Evil 3 picks up not too long after the original Resident Evil. The special police force STARS has uncovered the dark secrets of the Umbrella corporation, and have come face to face with the bio weapons they have created. After “stopping” the STARS team captain Albert Wesker, who was involved with Umbrella and their bio weapons, the remaining members are now left to try to cope with the horrors they endured. Initially they think that their nightmare is finally over, but it doesn’t take long for Jill to realize the truth of the matter. This is only just the beginning.

The game begins with Jill being attacked by a giant zombie like monster named Nemesis. This thing as seemingly been sent out by Umbrella to destroy the remaining STARS members, and Jill quickly finds herself fighting for her life. She manages to escape the creature and leave it behind in her apartments, but she soon realizes that this monster is actually the least of her worries. The T-Virus she encountered in Resident Evil 1 has now been released into the city, and the zombie apocalypse is awaiting her. Monsters roam the streets, innocent people are dying and joining their numbers, and now she must do whatever it takes to make it out of the city alive. Even if that means teaming up with Umbrella themselves.

Return to Horror (Action) Survival:

Although Resident Evil 3 seems to be similar to previous “classic” Resident Evil games, it’s actually a lot more action oriented.

The basic gameplay has you, the player, taking control of Jill, and exploring the world in order to find a way to survive. You initially start out with basically no supplies or resources, but by searching every nook and cranny you can find different materials required to make it through this ordeal. Ammo is pretty limited, but by finding items like gun powder you can craft more to give yourself an edge in a fight. On top of this you’re also armed with a knife to use, and thankfully, unlike in RE2’s remake, it’s the one thing that will never break on you. It’s a general defense weapon that can be used to kill weakened zombies, and is your last resort if you run out of ammo. To go along with the knife, Jill can also dodge enemy attacks by using a side step, and doing so with the right timing will cause time to actually slow down. This can be used to get off some easy headshots, if you have a gun, or simply get as much distance between you and the enemy as possible. And sometimes, that’s the best option. 

(Especially if you're going up against one of these!)

Like in past games, RE3 is broken up into different areas, and each area has a different objective you must accomplish if you want to move on. Sometimes this will be something simple like “find all of the keys,” but to find each key you may have to solve a different puzzle. And to make things even more complicated, sometimes you can’t even access the areas required unless you have already found other usable tools. Basically the game forces you to play through each section in a specific order, yet it also rewards you for going out of your way to explore “extra” areas. This includes areas you have no business being in, but may already have prior knowledge of thanks to RE2. Often these areas will provide you with tools or upgrades that’ll make your life easier, but are not actually needed to progress through the story. Due to the game’s linear nature however, it is possible to completely skip these areas, and miss out on some great rewards if you’re not careful. Once you progress into the next main area of the game, you cannot go back — which can cause problems.

Despite having a larger focus on combat, RE3 does still rely on resource management. It is completely possible to run out of supplies, and basically make it so it will be nearly impossible to continue on. Boss fights will almost always have enough supplies laying around the room for you to use, but if you end end up with no health items and no ammo in a room full of zombies, then you just might not make it out. Of course it’s actually pretty hard to get yourself into this type of situation — assuming you didn’t just use every health item the moment you found it, and then wrote your name on the wall with bullets. (Which is something you can do, since bullet holes will actually remain... Just like in Resident Evil 2.) That being said, the same can’t really be said for every difficulty mode in RE3, as there are other ways you can actually play it. That’s where the true game lies.

Difficulty and Ranking:

A huge part of classic Resident Evil actually comes from mastering the games. These games can be pretty short (you’re looking at about 8 hours from a normal play through), but they are set up in a way that you can continue to replay them while improving your own skills. Memorizing the map is key with speed runs, and eventually you’ll start to learn exactly what resources you’ll need, and which ones can be ignored to save time. Enemies and bosses have their own weaknesses, and as long as you know what you’re doing, you can actually take them down much quicker than you did the first time you fought them. This is where the real fun of Resident Evil 3 comes from, as you constantly try to improve your score. But it doesn’t stop there. As mentioned before, RE3 has multiple difficulty modes, and each one provides you with a different challenge.

While RE3 sports some generic “harder” modes like you see in most games, there’s actually a bit more to it than you would expect. The “normal” hard modes do everything you might expect. They make resources a lot harder to come by, enemies are faster, more aggressive, do more damage, and are harder to kill, and there are some other alterations thrown into the mix. It’s basically still the same RE3 that you’d see in it’s normal mode, but just harder. It’s the “Inferno” mode that makes all the difference.

By the time you reach Inferno mode, you would’ve already had to memorize the game perfectly. You’ve gone through it at least a couple of times, and have beaten the original “hardest” mode. Basically by this point you’re a “master” of RE3, who knows every item location, the enemy placement, and the best way to deal with every single situation... Then Inferno comes along and flips everything upside down.

Rather than being a simple “harder” mode, Inferno changes nearly everything. Item placement is different, enemies are different, bosses are much harder, and there are other new “surprises” hidden for you throughout the game. It is essentially a completely new game, that uses the original game’s story and maps as a base. It’s the ultimate challenge for RE3 fans, and forces them to relearn the game while also dealing with the greatly increased difficulty. It’s pretty much everything a classic RE fan could ask for, and greatly extends the length of the relatively “short” original playthrough. But the down side is, you do have to go through the original story before you can reach that point. But that’s okay though. Since RE3 does not feature a playthrough “A” and “B” as Resident Evil 2 did, this acts as a sort of replacement. It just takes a little bit more work to get to it.

The Changes from the Original:

The biggest thing that a lot of people might want to know about RE3, is how it is different from the original. Well there are a few things that stand out in this area. First of all, the game is more cinematic, with quite a few new cutscenes, as well as recreations of classic RE3 moments. Not everything is here though, and some things happen in real time or are just small references to the source material instead. This doesn’t really take anything away from the game, but some fans may be disappointed by this. The other major change comes from the removal of some areas like the Clock Tower. The Raccoon City Police Department has been reworked in this version of the game, and is used as a way to set the stages for Resident Evil 2’s remake instead. So the scenes that play out here directly reflect some of the more “memorable” parts of the station from RE2, and are basically limited to one side of the building. This means many areas cannot be accessed, and that means even the Clock Tower was removed. Of course that’s not to say that the remake is shorter, as many of the removed areas were replaced by new sections entirely. That might not make every old fan happy, but overall it’s not that big of a change. 

Besides the changes to the areas, some story moments have been altered as well, with some things being expanded on. One plot point from RE2’s remake even resurfaces, with Jill witnessing something that will only make sense to those who played 2’s remake (as it was not in the original 2 or original 3). The game is also completely linear, and removes the choices that were present in the original RE3. In other words, scenes will always play out in the same way, and you have no control over the outcome of the events. This “story choice” system is something that many fans from RE3 loved, and may be disappointed to see it has been removed. Other than this, areas have also been redesigned, and the action and gameplay itself has of course been greatly improved. This is a fully 3D game after all, and a big step up from what we had in the past. But, again, this may not be what everyone wanted. This is more than just a “remake,” as it’s a full reimagining.

The Good and the Bad:

The Resident Evil 3 remake is an outstanding game, but it’s also not a game for everyone. First of all, the game looks amazing, and it plays great as well. The smooth “modern” controls are a huge step up from the tank controls seen back in the day, and the action aspect of the gameplay has even improved greatly because of it. The game is simply fun to play from start to finish, and I often found myself just admiring the detail put into this recreated world. Assuming you like the classic RE style gameplay, there’s really nothing to complain about here. The game’s issues actually come from fan expectations, and the game possibly not being what you were hoping for.

Nemesis is a big part of RE3 (heck, his name was in the sub title), and many people expected that he would work similar to “Mr. X” from Resident Evil 2. In that game Mr. X would chase you through the police station, and make your life a lot harder. Nemesis is an “upgraded” Mr. X who can grab you with tentacles, and even use weapons! In theory he should be a much larger threat, and in return make RE3 a lot harder; however, that is not the case. Instead of constantly being there chasing you, Nemesis is more of a “boss” fight, with his encounters being completely scripted. There are only a few key moments where he’ll actually chase you, and during these moments you can actually use him to get resources. He’s not the big bad scary “constant” threat that many were expecting, and the “chase” scenes only last up until he becomes a real boss. Many, myself included, will see this as a good thing, but just as many others will also be let down by this fact. It really depends how much you enjoyed Mr. X in 2, and if you were hoping for an upgraded version of that gameplay mechanic. If you despised Mr. X however, then you’ll be happy with the change in 3 for sure. 

Other draw backs to RE3’s remake, is the fact that extra modes like mercenaries were removed. Sure, it does come with an extra multiplayer only game on disc, but this is not a review of that. That is basically a game of it’s own, that is included in the RE3 package. It’s also nothing like mercenaries, and that may be a let down for many. Of course mercs not being included doesn’t actually impact the enjoyment of RE3’s main game, but it definitely will be a point taken away for long time fans of the mode. But honestly, these are the only real “gripes” one might have with the game. Well, these and the fact that some areas were changed and removed. But again, this is a reimagining of Resident Evil 3, and not a 1:1 remake. As long as you are aware of this, it shouldn’t be a problem.

Overall, RE3 is still a fun game. It’s a little on the short side, but the inclusion of Inferno mode helps make up for that. It’s a game built for replaying anyway, and, even then, the first playthrough will still take some time to get through. Again, the play time will roughly be around 8 hours, with some playthroughs taking longer depending on what you all do. Some safe combinations can be tricky to figure out (unless you brute force them), so going back for those can eat up quite a bit of time as well. While the game may not seem like as “complete” of a package as Resident Evil 2 was, there’s still plenty here for you to do. It’s a game you can spend countless hours replaying to improve your score, and if you rather not, then your first time through will still provide you with non stop fun. It’s well worth checking out.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Ben’s Gaming Memories - Star Ocean First Departure

Star Ocean. It’s a series that has gained quite a following over the years, but it’s also one that has been under the radar for quite some time. Many people were unfortunately introduced to the series due to SO5 coming out on the PS4, but others were lucky enough to jump in during the earlier entries. Now, I know I’ve brought this up in past on the blog, but with the upcoming release of Star Ocean 6 — I figured now would be a perfect time to jump back into the series, and to reflect on exactly what it means to me. Instead of grouping everything into one post (as I have in the past) however; this time I only want to focus on my entry point in the series, and why I continue to love it still to this day. I know I’m just repeating myself, but Star Ocean really is a series that deserves more time in the spotlight, and it’s a shame that it ended up in its current state. Of course, there’s a reason for this, but that’s a story for another time. For now, these are my memories of my time with Star Ocean: First Departure!

Looking back, my history with Star Ocean and how I was lead to it is actually pretty strange. As I've mentioned many, MANY, times in the past -- this blog is sorta a spin off from my past online projects. One of the largest communities and websites I created (with the help of my friends of course) was Megaman Cyber Net. It was a fan site dedicated to Megaman Battle Network, and was mainly an RPG forum. Although at the time we had around a few thousand members in the community, there were a handful that stood out and were eventually even promoted to administrators and moderators to help run the community. One of these administrators was a user by the name of Fayt (if you're reading this -- hi Fayt!)

I didn't know it at the time, but Fayt's name came from Star Ocean 3, and he even used a picture of Fayt as his avatar. Now I know he mentioned which game it was from multiple times, but stupid me kept getting it confused for Phantasy Star Online for some reason. I guess I just never expected to do much with the series, and always assumed it was something I would never play or care about. To me, Fayt was the name of an online friend of mine, and that's as far as it went. Except, my next "fan" project unexpectedly lead me towards Star Ocean as well.

Again, it's not something I really talk about on this blog, but I used to be into fan game creation as well. Some of the readers of this blog are actually a part of my largest (and technically still on going) project, but it really is mostly just running for those who grew up playing it. (2006-2022 is a long time.) Anyway... resources from this project included sprite sheets from the Japanese exclusive SNES game Star Ocean, and I actually had no idea at the time! I was given the sheets to work with, and I didn't realize what they were. They were great for getting something started, but ultimately all of them were removed/replaced from the project in favor of the standard RPG Maker tilesheets. But even so, it wasn't until I actually looked into Star Ocean that I realized what they were.

So, how did I actually get into Star Ocean? Well... Out of boredom honestly.

I still remember that day. It's been roughly 13-14 years now, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting at my computer desk looking up possible games I could play, when I came across a list of games that was never released in the US. Star Ocean was one of the games that not only was never released outside of Japan officially, but had actually received an English fan translation. Me being me, and wanting to check out something "not many people had gotten to play before," I decided to give it a shot. 

Well, the game hooked me -- I can say that much. I was impressed by the story, graphics, and sound clips (for it's age), but because I was so interested in it I started looking more into the series as a whole. This is when I realized my mistake, and found out that the game had actually JUST released in English on the PSP not too long ago. Once I found this out I stopped playing the game and -- actually just stopped playing the game.

Back then I didn't have a lot of spare cash to throw around, so $30 was HUGE to me. I still wasn't fully sold on actually playing through the series (despite my initial impressions), but it was something I was keeping in the back of my mind. Looking back now, I honestly don't remember how long I waited, but I don't think it was as long as it seemed. Star Ocean First Departure (the remake of SO1) was released in October of 2008, and by March of 2009 I had the game in hand. I ran out to Walmart, walked right up to the PSP section, and walked away with my brand new RPG. The first "standard" JRPG I had ever bought. (Up until then I had really only played Pokemon, and had just recently started up .hack.)

I was excited, to say the least. I actually started the game up in the car, and played it on the car ride home (I wasn't driving obviously). It was pretty crazy to see how the game was remade from the ground up, yet still recognizable for those who played the original. The battle system had been changed to an action based one, which actually carried over from Star Ocean 2, a world map had been added for outside town areas, and towns/dungeons had been replaced with prerendered backgrounds. Overall it made the game look a lot nicer (especially on the smaller PSP screen), with crisp 2D sprites and detailed backgrounds. The addition of full voice acting was also great, and I loved seeing the anime opening every time I started up the game. I knew from the get go I was in for a grand adventure -- I just didn't know what was going to happen next for me in real life.

Near the end of March, a major event occurred and my local grade school was completely destroyed! Yep, no more school. Since the grade school was located in my town, and associated with my high school, school was canceled for a few weeks following. This meant that I had nothing to do except play Star Ocean! On one hand, it was a tragedy, but considering no one got hurt... It really didn't have much of an impact on me. For me it was more of a "yay! I get out of school!" kinda thing -- but for the community it was millions of dollars down the drain. (The school was new...) But anyway, because I had so much free time, Star Ocean really did become my life. I spent the next weeks playing only Star Ocean, and convincing friends of mine to give it a chance as well. This lead to a lot of discussions, especially due to the nature of the game -- something that helps Star Ocean continue to stand out today.

While most JRPGs have you play from start to finish on a set path, SO takes a different approach and actually asks you to make decisions yourself. Now, I know what you're thinking: "don't most games let you do that?" And I would say you're right, but this is actually a different case. The choices in SO not only impact what characters will join you in your party, but it'll also effect the direction the story will take as it leads up to it's conclusion. In SO you can't actually recruit every character into your party, and often recruiting specific ones will change the recruitment conditions for others -- or even possibly lock them out from you ever meeting them completely. It's a game that asks you the question of "do you really want to help this person or bring them along?" and it actually wants you to consider it before you just dive in. Sometimes saying no might be the better option for you. Of course there's no way you'd know this on your first playthrough, but follow up playthroughs will allow you to make better decisions. Even this is only a small part of the game however; and only one of the many reasons I found myself being completely invested into it.

Being a portable game, SO simply became the perfect game for me -- or rather, a dream game of sorts? I started taking it with me wherever I went. I found myself playing it every time I had some down time. And of course it was a must have when going on any type of car trip. Heck, I even brought it with me to my senior class trip out of state! There's a school video of each group's hotel room, and I'm the one sitting there on the bed playing Star Ocean. I can't stress anymore just how much I actually liked this game. With the game's unique "Private Action" events between characters, it gave me reasons to replay it over and over again with different party members (which in return unlocked different Private Action events and conversations between them), and the massive skill and ability system kept me coming back for more just to customize my characters. Sadly the game does have a point of no return (which caused me to miss out on quite a bit the first time through), but that only further pushed me to start new playthroughs. Ultimately, not only did Star Ocean First Departure become one of my favorite JRPGs of all time -- it also became one of my favorite games. Back then I didn't have a lot of RPGs to compare it to, but even after all these years my feelings on the game haven't really changed.

With the release of the new PlayStation Plus service, I have once again returned to SO First Departure "R." This version released a few years ago on PS4, but with Cloud Streaming technology now built into Plus Premium, it means I can now access the game from any PC. Including at work! Spending my breaks at work playing SO has not only proved to myself how much I still love this game, but it's also bringing back all the nostalgia of playing it for the first time. The enhanced artwork makes the game still look as crisp as it did back on the PSP all those years ago, and the updated controls for a PS4 controller is a VERY nice touch. Despite putting hundreds of hours into the game in the past, it almost feels as if I'm playing it once again for the first time, and that's something I honestly didn't expect. Back when I first played it I was a high school student with only a handful of games to play, so it was easy for Star Ocean to become my number one game. Now days I'm a 31 year old, who has hundreds of games in his backlog, and not anywhere near enough time to play through them all. The fact that such an old game is continuing to pull me away from everything else, is pretty amazing to me. So again, it just proves to me how much I really do love this one. (And the series as a whole.)

Unfortunately, Star Ocean has a bit of a bad rep now days, but I'm still hopeful that this can change. Star Ocean 1 is still a solid game, and easily accessible now days -- so I strongly recommend everyone who's a fan of classic JRPGs to check it out. Sadly 2's PS4 port hasn't left Japan, but Star Ocean 3 and 4 can be played on modern consoles! Of course 3 is the first one to really cause a stir within the fan base due to it's change in battle systems (and it's story), but there are those who also consider it to be one of the PS2's greatest RPGs as well. So even then, it's still worth giving a chance if you're even just a little bit interested in it. (Not to mention the game is packed FULL of content, with multiple difficulty modes, battle trophies to collect, and a crap load of end game content after the main story is over.) SO4, again, has caused splits in it's fan base and is generally considered both an upgrade and downgrade to SO3 in different areas, but I honestly loved this one as well. It's not perfect, and has some annoyances to overcome, but it was still an epic adventure that was especially great for someone like me who loved SO1 so much. SO5 however; this is where the series has fully gained it's bad rep. I know at the start of this post I said I'd save the story for another day (a SO5 memory post perhaps?), but the basics come down to it being developed within a year reusing as many old assets as possible. The game released with only a handful of areas to explore, and the main character was a carbon copy of Fayt from Star Ocean 3. Not that I'm complaining, but many others weren't happy about this... But whatever, Fayt's playstyle was great. Still, this was the "final nail in the coffin" for most fans, and the hope of getting a Star Ocean 6 died with it. It didn't help that the really fun 3D mobile game also got shut down so early... Still salty about that one.

Anyway, despite the recent track record, Star Ocean 6 is now on it's way, and it's finally a chance for the series to redeem itself. Prereleased information has shown that it will be more similar to Star Ocean 1 and 2 (which is a good thing), but at this time it's still too early to tell. Even so, I'm excited for it, and can't wait to continue on with the series!

I don't know if this article will help convince anyone to give the games a shot, but I still wanted to share my experience with you all. But hopefully you too will set out into the great Star Ocean for your next adventure!

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Friday, April 29, 2022

Yakuza 0 - Review


The Yakuza series has had a pretty interesting history. Original released as "Ryu ga Gotoku" (meaning "Like a Dragon") in Japan, the first game quickly became known as a classic, and it set the stages for what would eventually become one of SEGA's most popular series. Needless to say, Yakuza 2 wasn't too far behind, Yakuza 3 brought the series to the brand new PlayStation 3, Yakuza 4 continued bringing improvements to the series, and then Yakuza 5 was released as the original "climax" of the series. However, none of these games are what I will be reviewing today. Instead, I am going to be taking a look at the "6th" entry (technically 7th if you count the zombie spin off, and 8th if you count the ancient Japan spin off) in the series -- Yakuza 0. The game where the story truly begins.

Although Yakuza 0 came out after the rest of the series, it was released as a new beginning. While Yakuza was popular in Japan, it had a rocky start elsewhere in the world. Back when it first came out, times were different, and video games weren't quite as popular as they are today -- especially Japanese story based ones. Yakuza 1 and 2 released with not fully faithful translations, Yakuza 3 was censored and had anything "too Japanese" or "offensive" removed from it, and due to the sales of 4 and the zombie spin off (Dead Souls), Yakuza 5 didn't come out until much later, and didn't even have a physical release in the west. The series just wasn't that popular here. But then SEGA decided to give it another chance with it's "new beginning."

As the name implies, Yakuza 0 is the beginning of the series' timeline, and serves as sort of a "reboot" going forward. It was released on the PlayStation 4 during a time where video games have become much more "mainstream," and when more gamers were willing to give Japanese story based games a chance. Being the first in the timeline, 0 served as a perfect entry point into the series, and is the game that would bring both new and old fans alike, back through the Yakuza franchise. Following it's success, in both Japan and the west, 0 would be used as the basis of Yakuza Kiwami (which was a remake of 1), and Yakuza 6's new engine would be used for the recreation of Yakuza 2. The series new found popularity would eventually lead the way to remasters of Yakuza 3-5 to be released, and multiple new spin offs and side series. It's because of how well these games have done that series like "Judgment" now exist, as well as the re-titled "Yakuza: Like a Dragon" follow up series. (It's called Like a Dragon 7 in Japan, but due to it's major changes, it is seen as more of a new series compared to the original.)

But anyway, that's all besides the point. The bottom line is, this series has exploded in recent years, and a lot of it is due to SEGA going back to 0. Literally. 

Putting that aside though, just what is Yakuza 0, and why is it worth your time? Well, hopefully I can answer that for you today. Let's be frank now -- the game isn't going to be for everyone, but those of you who give it a chance, shouldn't be disappointed.

Welcome to the 1980s, and to the stories of Kiryu and Majima:

The story begins at the end of the 1980s in the fictional (though based on real life) red light district of Kamurocho. Here we see our young main character "Kiryu Kazama" going about his Yakuza duties, and collecting a loan for a loan shark. The man refuses to pay (of course), so Kiryu beats the heck out of him, leaves him conciseness in a random alley, and then takes the money back to his client. Thinking nothing of the job, Kiryu turns down the client's offers to work for him full time, and then goes to meet up with his best friend Nishki instead. The two hit the town for a night out, and introduce the player to the karaoke mini game, and spend the rest of the day drinking in one of their favorite bars. It's just a normal day in the life of a Yakuza... Except, it's not.

It isn't until Kiryu sees the news that he realizes what has happened. The man he beat and left in the back alley has now been found dead, and it becomes painfully obvious that Kiryu has killed him -- a line even Yakuza members never want to cross. Kiryu had a long life ahead of him as a Yakuza, and now everything will be taken from him because of his stupid mistake. Deciding to do what is right, Kiryu goes to turn himself in, and take responsibility for his actions. However, it turns out this murder is far from what it seems.

The man found in the alley was not beaten to death -- he was shot, and Kiryu has been set up to take the fall. After finding this out, Kiryu quits the Yakuza clan he belongs to (the Tojo clan), and sets out to clear his name. He finds himself being abandoned by everyone, with no leads to go off of, but he's determined to do whatever it takes to set things right. This is when a mysterious man with one arm approaches him, and offers him a deal. 

Meanwhile in the city of Osaka, another young Ex-Yakuza member is in the middle of a struggle of his own. Goro Majima is the manager of a club known as the "Grand," and he's become quite famous for it. His club is the best in town, and his "the customer is always right" style of management has become very popular. Rather than dealing with issues with force, he refuses to even take a swing at problem customers, and instead uses his quick wit to deescalate situations. He's a unique individual, and his signature eye patch makes him easily recognizable. However, things aren't quite as they seem.

In reality, Osaka is Majima's prison. After an incident that went down years ago, Majima found himself tortured, without an eye, and being forced into a deal he couldn't refuse. Unable to leave town, he is put in charge of the Grand so that he can make enough money to buy himself back into the Tojo clan. Always under the watch of his clan's patriarch's sworn brother (who works for the rival Omi Alliance), Majima works night after night, as he slowly makes his way towards his dream of returning to the Yakuza; however, it's not quite as simple as it seems. Majima is a good worker, and he's great at bringing in money, so it works to the Omi's advantage to keep him running their club. Rather than letting him buy back his freedom, they continue to throw wrenches into Majima's plan, and do whatever it takes to keep him as their dog. It's unfortunate, but Majima has accepted this, and continues to do as they say. It's a sad life, but it is what it is. But then one day, things changed.

Out of the blue Majima is given a new offer. He is told a story of a horrible man who works as a pimp in town, and is then asked to kill him. If Majima does so, he will be free of debt, and allowed back into the Tojo Clan. However, being someone who never kills, Majima is reluctant to take the job. He only considers it because it means he would be free, and because the man is a complete piece of trash; however, he still isn't happy about it. Even so, against his nature, he begins doing his research on his target, and eventually tracks him down. It's only then, as he stands face to face with the man, that he realizes his mistake... The truth is... Nothing is as it seems.

Moving forward, Yakuza 0 continues to switch back and forth between these two lead characters. Both characters find themselves wrapped up in their own personal mysteries, but also find themselves getting mixed up in events that effect the entire Yakuza series moving forward. As a newcomer, this story helps lay the ground work for what's to come, and for returning fans, it's a story that fills in a lot of gaps, and helps further develop the events that happened in earlier (technically "later") games. However, it can also be a lot to take in at first, and the dual stories can sometimes make it a little confusing for newbies. At least at first.

Yakuza 0 actually has a lot going on with it's story. While it mainly focuses on the two protagonists, it also has a large focus on the world itself. The Tojo Clan is a big part of the story in general, it being the main Yakuza clan of the series, and it's structure and higher ups become very important parts of the story as well. Thankfully the game takes it's time to explain who each person is, and exactly how the clan works (so it's not too confusing), but some references to future events can easily go over new player's heads. For example, Majima's sworn brother (and the event which lead to his arrest) is something that was originally explained in Yakuza 4 and 5. A new player starting with 0 will learn about him right off the bat, and will just accept that Majima cares about him. Returning fans however, they didn't even find out he existed until Yakuza 4, and 0 will show them exactly how his arrest affected Majima. Of course this isn't the only time 0 expands on something we kinda knew about from previous entries in the series, but going into those events would be considered spoilers. In short, it's because of how 0 handles development of previous known background information, that it makes it both a perfect starting place for newcomers, and a must play for long time fans.

The Side Stories:

One staple of the Yakuza series is it's use of side stories and events. While the main plot is typically pretty dramatic (with some humor mixed in from time to time), the side stories are a thing of their own. They don't follow the typical pattern you might expect from these games, and most of the time take the games into a very shocking and weird direction. In Yakuza 0's case, since it takes place in the 80s, the game takes every chance it gets to throw Kiryu and Majima into 80s culture. For example, one early side story you can come across is where you meet the Yakuza version of Michael Jackson -- who then asks you to help him film his new zombie music video. The whole thing is funny and stupid from start to finish, and eventually you can even go dance at a disco with him after you've helped him out. Other stories include things like a group of guys trying to pretend their band is die hard punk, despite the members themselves being the farthest thing from their audience, an old lady who gets a crush on Majima and makes his life a living nightmare, a man who wants to change the world by making portable phones common place (not going to happen), and a lady who works for a particular place that specializes in... Abusing men.... Let's just say she fails at it, and Kiryu has to help her get used to her role... And that's when the poor innocent kid approaches them and asks what is going on. Yeah...

The side stories in 0 are never predictable, and often will pull you in a completely different direction than you initially thought going in. Being as 0 is a prequel to later entries, some of these side stories also have to deal with future events as well. For example, at one point a punk kid is walking around pantsing people throughout the town. New players wouldn't realize it at the time, but this kid is actually someone who will go on to become a main character in a later game. It's funny to see him how he is in the 80s (compared to what he will become), and he's not the only character this happens with. Little eastereggs like this are hidden all throughout Yakuza 0's side stories, and it's great for both new and old fans alike. Sure, some of it will go over the new fan's heads at first, but if they keep going with the series, they too will understand exactly what they saw all the way back in the 80s. Plus, the fact that we are now in the 2020s helps as well -- as the game loves to play with just how different the 80s were compared to now. For example, one side story has a kid trying to buy adult magazines from a vending machine in a back alley in the 80s, but later on in the 2000s (Yakuza 1) we get to see the same vending machine being replaced with hentai instead. Then you have all of the "crazy ideas" that are brought up in the 80s long before their time, and then you have our real world present day where these ideas have already become a reality. 

In short, the side stories in Yakuza 0 are well worth the time. You don't want to miss them.

The Gameplay:

I know, I know... Enough with the story, right? What about the gameplay? Well, there's a lot to cover here as well. While the Yakuza series is heavily story based, the actual gameplay is very important as well.

The basics of all Yakuza is the city of Kamurocho itself, and, in 0's case, Osaka as well. Both of these cities are small open world maps, where you can freely walk the streets and engage in multiple activities. Each city has multiple businesses you can go into, and the streets are jammed packed with people who will want to fight you. As Yakuza is a "beat em up" at it's core, you will spend a lot of the time outside of stores getting into these fights.

Fights get triggered when enemy characters spot you, and run up to you. You do have the option to run away before they reach you, but fighting them will reward you with money and items to help you through the game. In 0 money is actually everything, and it's a resource that gets used in multiple ways because of that. Like in most games, money can obviously be used to buy items at stores (such as health items), but in 0 your cash is used to upgrade your characters as well. Both Kiryu and Majima have their own upgrade wheels to go through, and each skill and ability will require a different amount of money to be spent to unlock it. Some of these upgrades are new attacks for their different fighting styles (more on this soon), while others will be passive abilities that will increase stats like your health. The game does do a pretty good job of giving you enough cash so that you never feel under leveled against the enemies you are fighting, but you can always help yourself by fighting more extra battles than what the story requires.

As for the fights themselves, each one is a full on action brawl, where you can use anything around you to help you win. While the characters each have their own unique fighting styles, which can be switched to on the fly, you can also use weapons and other objects laying around the battle field to your advantage. Items like traffic cones become deadly weapons, and even the random bikes parked on the side of the road can be picked up and thrown at people. These are great ways to deal some quick extra damage, and as your heat bar fills up, you can even use them to unleash crazy strong "heat action" attacks. These are situational based special attacks, that are all different based on when, and how you activate them. For example, grabbing an enemy and activating the attack near a wall will typically slam the enemy into said wall, but being closer to a guard rail might cause Kiryu/Majima to slam them off of it instead. Each item/weapon you pick up has their own heat actions as well, and sometimes heat actions can result in a one hit kill if the game allows it. (Example: throwing people off of bridges.) 

When it comes to the fighting styles of the two main characters, each one has three starting ones, followed by a final "ultimate" one. Kiryu's styles rely mostly on his fists, and come in three different forms. The default style is a more balanced series of punches and kicks, while his other two styles either prioritize speed or power. The faster rush style is great for keeping enemies stun locked as you deliver a series of weaker hits, while his power style is all about enduring hits and over powering everyone around him. Of course it's slower, but it's the highest damage dealer, and something that gets used a bit more because of that. 

As for Majima, his styles are a bit more unique. His default focuses more on playing dirty (such as stabbing people in the eyes), and dodging attacks, while his other two are insanely different. Slugger allows him to use his signature bat at all times, and is overall the main fighting style most players will want to stick with. As for his third, it's a lot more unique due to the fact that it's actually break dancing. Here Majima releases a series of kicks, and spins around on the ground as he shows off his flashy moves. This style is allover the place, and makes it so Majima is much harder to hit in general. It's a lot of fun to use, but again, it's not going to be most player's style of choice outside of specific situations.

Although most fights will take place in the streets of the city, the game does have a series of "action" stages as well. These are full "levels" (as one might call them) where you make your way through a series of non stop fights. Each action stage takes place in a unique area that you only visit once, and are filled with health items to pick up, and mini bosses that eventually lead you to one big final stage boss. While there aren't really that many action stage moments in the game, they are each pretty unique, with pretty exciting conclusions overall. These stages also offer unique heat actions to finish enemies off with, so it's worth taking the time to play around with your surroundings.

Outside of fighting, the world of Yakuza was created in a way that it simulates life in Japan. The main way of healing is to eat food, so restaurants and cafes become a must for both characters. Convenient stores and drug stores become your go to for all your healing item, and smaller food item, needs, and there are many other extra items that can be bought as well. While these items, such as clothing, don't always have a use in the main story (except some clothing can be used as armor), they often are used in the game's side stories, and help simulate what you would really come across in a Japanese store. You can even look at the covers of magazines off the magazine rack if you want to, but again this is more for the illusion of living in Japan, rather than being a feature that you need to care about.

Of course, there's more to living in the city than just eating and shopping...

Mini Games and Side Activities:

Yakuza 0 is filled with side activities to partake in. As you walk around the cities, you'll find multiple buildings that feature "just for fun" things to do. For example, Club SEGA has UFO Catchers you can play to win stuffed animals, but all of it's locations are also filled with real SEGA arcade games to play as well. These games include: Outrun, Super Hang-On, Fantasy Zone, and Space Harrier. Of course, these aren't the only games you can play.

Outside of Club SEGA you have places like the bowling alley, bars where you can sing karaoke, places where you can play poker (and other gambling related games), and you can even go to the batting cages. Of course there's also fishing available, and a full on slot-car racing mini game where you get to upgrade your cars and take on other opponents. Each of these games are fully developed, and can easily give players hundreds of hours worth of extra gameplay -- if they choose to partake in them. Even so, such mini games as these are considered "small" compared to the two main side extras in Yakuza 0; the real eastate business, and the cabaret club.

As Kiryu, you get to become a real estate agent, and are put in charge of helping a small agency rise up in the ranks. This mini game focuses on Kiryu going around the city, buying out properties, and having battles with rival agencies. As you progress through this full on side story, other side stories unlock, and you gain more ways to help build your empire. By helping other people (from other side stories) throughout the game, you can eventually hire them to work for you, and assign them different tasks to help manage and protect your business. Once things reach a set point, you can then take on other agencies and battle for control, or you can have your businesses taken away if you're not careful. It's a full on business simulator, and a great way for Kiryu to earn some extra cash.

Majima on the other hand gets put in charge of a cabaret club. Here he can scout/hire girls to work for him, customize their appearance and styles, and open up the club for business. Once the club is open, it is up to the player to assign girls to the customers who come in, and handle whatever situation that may arise. Each girl has their own pros and cons, and customers have their own likes and dislikes. It all comes down to matching the right girl with the right customer, and then how you interact with the customer when a girl calls for your help. These "open nights" are timed, and you get paid based on how well both you and your club preformed by the end. Like with Kiryu, the goal here is to build the club up to be the best in town, and to eventually take down the other clubs as well. It too is a full on business management simulator, and something you can easily invest a lot of time and effort into. It's a great distraction from the rest of the game, but it can also be ignored if you wish.

Overall these are just a handful of the activities Yakuza 0 has to offer, with more becoming unlocked as you progress through the game.

The Good and the Bad:

Yakuza 0 is an outstanding game. There's no denying that. While the Japanese crime drama story might not appeal to everyone -- it's something worth giving a chance. If you're willing to do so, then you'll find a game with a rich story, great character development, multiple mysteries to uncover, fun beat em up style gameplay, and loads of extras and mini games to keep you busy. It's a huge game, with a little bit of everything, that will appeal to a wide verity of people. But that doesn't mean that it is perfect.

The main issue with 0, especially to new fans, is the fact that it has a slow start. As the game has two characters, both are handled in a way where the game acts as if the other does not exist. You will spend hours going through the basics of the game with Kiryu, only to turn around and do the same thing with Majima once the story switches over to him. Granted the two do have different play styles, but it isn't that hard to adjust from one to the next. Both also have a slow start to their own personal stories, and it's not really until the half way mark that the two begin to become a bit more connected. With Kiryu we start with walking around the town and being told where to go, and it takes awhile for it to actually open up for him. Then once it does, we are instantly forced to go to Majima's story where it's the exact same thing.

It's this back and forth that can also be a bit annoying at times, because the story likes to jump just as something major is happening. One character's story will end on a cliff hanger, and you will then be forced to spend a few hours playing as the other where nothing is really happening yet. It makes you want to keep going so you can get back to the other character, but at the same time it can be a little off putting at first. Thankfully it does get better as the game goes on, but it's still a slow start you have to push through at times. The pay off is worth it, but the first time through it can be a little hard to be motivated to continue. (Being someone who has beaten the game more than once, I can safely say that future playthroughs are better, especially when you know when the next exciting part is going to happen.)

Even so, this is just one small draw back to what eventually opens up to be an amazing story. The game is loaded with things to do outside of the story as well, and the side stories are always there to completely throw you off guard. There are some truly amazing moments hidden in this one, and it's well worth the time to walk around and look for them. And of course you have the mini games as well. There's just tons to do, and not enough time in the day to do it all... But that's a good thing. With Yakuza 0 you definitely get your money's worth, and it's a game you can always come back to later on to finish whatever you've missed. It's also a great game to replay after you've experienced the other games in the series, so it just might be something many players will return to down the line.

In the end, Yakuza 0 is a classic that everyone should give a try. It's a story even non gamers will enjoy, and it's a game jammed packed with content to keep you busy. It is a must buy.

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Friday, February 18, 2022

Ben’s Gaming Memories - Zelda: Majora’s Mask

With Majora’s Mask finally coming out on the Switch next week, it has got me thinking about the time I first played the game. There are many reasons I consider it to be one of the greatest Zelda games of all time, but my memories of the game are pretty special to me as well. You see, unlike most people, I didn’t play this game under normal circumstances. In fact, it was more of life or death — and I was one of the lucky ones to not have it so bad. 

The first time I ever saw Majora’s Mask was actually at a Walmart. I didn’t know what Zelda was back then, but the game was on demo for everyone to play. I just remember running and hopping around as a Deku in the sewers, and never really figuring out where to go or what to do. I thought the game looked cool, but the advertisements Walmart would show with the moon creeped me out. I figured it was something I would never own in my life, and basically ignored it after that.

In middle school I finally got to play Ocarina of Time, and became a Zelda fan myself. I still didn’t expect to ever play Majora’s mask, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in it again. My friend didn’t help with my curiosity either. I’d talk about OoT with him, and he in return would talk about both it and Majora. He made it sound great, but I simply had no way to ever go back to it. That is, until one random day in high school.

Back then the Wii was on it’s way, and Twilight Princess was all you ever heard about. I had hopes of getting one for Christmas, but by then my mom was against me playing Zelda. (Blame my uncle.) Basically, even if I got a Wii, Zelda was off the table. It was sad, but nothing I could do about it as a young teen. But then something happened. 

One day my cousin randomly came over with Majora’s Mask for Game Cube. I didn’t get to play it much that day, but shortly after was when the ice storm of my life time would roll in, and I had nothing but time on my hands. Time and a copy of Majora’s Mask.

Now don’t get me wrong, this ice storm was BAD. Most people across the area had lost power, we were frozen in our house, and a lot of people were freezing to death. This wasn’t some simple storm — it was a disaster that impacted a lot of peoples lives. Giant trees were falling over, power poles were snapping and coming down (causing a domino effect down the line), and many trapped in their homes never stepped out again. Elderly were especially at risk, and shelters were set up for those who could make it to them. While at my house we had to avoid the outer walls, and stay towards the back of the house (away from trees and what not), thankfully we ended up being ok. We were one of the few houses to keep power (but no cable or internet or phone), but we were trapped inside for quite some time. So to keep my mind off of things, and with nothing else to do — I turned to Zelda.

I’ll never forget playing this game for the first time. I instantly loved everything about it! The new jumping animations for Link at the start, the transforming into other creatures to use their powers, and the whole time travel thing was just a lot of fun. You only had three days to get things done, but by resetting time you actually had all the time in the world. And the way every single character has their own lives to live out — it was pretty impressive. I just loved it! I became obsessed with seeing everything the game had to offer, and before I knew it the two weeks trapped inside had came to an end. 

It was a strange time in my. I’ve never been in a situation like that since, and a part of me is glad that it happened while I was still a dumb kid who didn’t know any better. Looking back now I realize just how serious things were, but back then I cared more about not having to go to school. But that’s the difference between being a kid and being an adult.

Of course now days I have my own copy of the game, and have continued to buy and play every release that comes out. I eventually bought it on the Wii (yes I got it that year), and got the 3DS version as well. Now here I am, and I can’t wait for the Switch release! Man, such a great game.

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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Revisiting Beyond - An Underrated Game

Many years ago I reviewed the game Beyond. It was the next major release from Quantic Dream, and their second PS3 game. For me this release was a big deal — not just because I was interested in it’s story, but because it was also the first time I got to be a part of it’s “hype train.” You see, when Heaven Rain released on the PS3 before it, I was what you might call an Xbox fanboy. (Well, Xbox and Nintendo fanboy.) I had no interest in going back to Sony at the time, despite loving my PS2 and PSP, and there was nothing coming out in PS3 that really interested me. At least, not that I was aware of. Heavy Rain was one of those games I actually heard about from one of those in store GameStop advertisements, and at the time I just completely ignored it. At least until I started hearing about it online.

The game was huge, and stupid me had no idea why. I started seeing conversations about it non stop, and I kept seeing all of the hype surrounding it. The more I read, the more interested I became, and eventually I realized that it was something I would really love — if I had a way to play it. So, long story short, it became one of the few reasons I actually wanted a PS3, and it was one of the first games I bought for it. After that, I told myself I wouldn’t miss out on what was to come, and that ended up being Beyond.

When Beyond released, I was caught up in the hype of the whole thing — I won’t lie. The game also came out during a hard time in my life, so it became a much needed distraction to keep my mind off of things. While normally I wasn’t the type of person to be into ghosts and spirits, for whatever reason Beyond was still a game that pulled me in. Maybe it’s because it was more focused in living the main character Jodie’s life (and not just a typical horror ghost story), or maybe it was because I loved the mystery of the whole thing. Either way, it was a game that kept me hooked from start to finish, and it was one I continued to come back to.

While Heavy Rain was something I have only played through once (at this time), Beyond was the game that I played over and over again to see what would happen. Originally I was going to get the platinum trophy, but a single ending stopped me from achieving that. Despite my love for the game, playing it from start to finish roughly seven times eventually burned me out. But that’s okay — it was something I needed to do. It was something I really liked and wanted to continue, and playing it non stop finally gave me the closure I wanted when the ending credits rolled the first time. It was a world I didn’t want to leave, and I one I didn’t until I finally tired myself out. It’s rare for a game to make me feel that way, and now here we are all these years later, and I’m right back to it.

Replaying Beyond on the PS4 had brought back so many memories of why I loved the game. Despite knowing the outcome of the story, there’s still some mysteries that I have completely forgotten about. And this time playing through it with my fiancĂ© is yet another way for me to experience it. Although we aren’t playing the coop mode (which I honestly forgot about), it’s still fun to go through the story with another person. This time it’s not just fully my choices, and now it’s fun going through Jodie’s life with another. While I played through parts of Heavy Rain with friends, Beyond was something I played through completely alone. So it’s nice having that no longer be the case. 

Despite all of this though — despite my personal feelings towards the game — it’s actually really underrated.

While Heavy Rain continues to be a game discussed by the gaming community, Beyond is one you rarely hear about. While Detroit also isn’t as popular, it being a PS4 game has helped it to keep it’s steam over the past few years. But even then, you can’t put all of its popularity on being a PS4 game. Considering Detroit, Heavy Rain, and Beyond are sold in bundles together on PS4, and despite Beyond being a free PS+ title, Beyond still remains the lesser known of the titles. 

For whatever reason, Beyond just didn’t make quite the same waves as other QD games. Maybe it’s because it didn’t appeal to as many, or maybe it’s because it wasn’t as open with as many options as Heavy Rain. Or maybe it’s because of the whole “I’d rather buy a movie and not play one” argument. Either way, Beyond just wasn’t as popular, and it really is a shame. 

Now that we are back in the Halloween Season, I see it as the perfect chance to give this game another shot. If you haven’t checked it out before, now is a great time to jump in. Or if you haven’t played it in a long time, why not be like me and give it another replay? It’s a pretty special game, and it’s unique story is worth experiencing more than once. 

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