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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Friday, April 23, 2021

Ben's Gaming Memories - The Sims

When I was a kid, going to visit my cousins was always a fun time. They lived in a fancy subdivision close to St. Louis (which was out of state for me), and they seemed to always have the coolest games and toys. Their house was where I first played Super Mario World on the SNES, it's where I first played Mario 64 and was blown away by the 3D graphics, and because they lived near a major city, they had access to places like Block Buster and the largest malls around! (And now both are dead!) Usually when we visited them we would spend the night, so it always felt like a mini vacation to me. I had a lot of fun there, and I always looked forward to the next time we could go back.

Of course I could go on and on about all the things we would do as a family, but as a gaming blog I guess I should keep that to a minimal. The thing is, despite having a lot of gaming firsts at their house, one of the things that always stood out to me the most at their house was their PC. You see, growing up I didn't have one. My grandpa eventually bought one, but I wasn't really allowed to use it until I was older. Instead the only time I really got to touch one was at their house, and even then I was limited on what I could do. I mean I was just a kid, and unlike kids of today, kids back then didn't really mess with computers. We were lucky to play Jump Start 1st Grade in school, yet alone really sit down and use one. And because my parents didn't know much about them, nor did we really have the extra money for such a thing, me getting one of my own was out of the question. Heck, only reason I did get one years later was because my aunt's (different aunt) company was getting rid of a junk one! But anyway (getting back on topic here), the point is I was never really around computers, so seeing one at my cousin's house was huge. What was even bigger for me though was the fact I got to play a new game called "The Sims."

 

At this point I shouldn't really have to explain what The Sims is, but to be brief... The Sims is a simulation game where you play with life. You create a family, build a house, take care of your Sim's basic needs (they have to eat, use the toilet, shower, etc), and ultimately lead them to successful lives. OR you can make their life a nightmare, and watch how fast you can set them on fire in a house that "magically" had it's doors removed. (Not sorry.) Basically though, the game was like a doll house that you had complete control over, and it let you live out any fantasy you could think of. To me that was amazing, and I couldn't get enough of playing it.

Each time I went to their house, I would ask to play the Sims, and then spend time playing it with my cousins. We'd make different houses, create different Sims, and just have fun messing around with them. Although I didn't own it myself, it eventually became a game we would talk about quite often, and they'd always tell me the moment a new expansion came out for it! I still remember the day I got signed out early from school because they came down for a visit, and we ended up talking about The Sims for hours. They were all excited about the new expansion that added in pets, and I just remember wishing I could go back to their house to play it. Funny enough, I never did. This was the last time we really talked about the original Sims game, but it wasn't the last time I'd play it.

About two years later (now finally having a PC of my own), my cousins bought me The Sims Deluxe edition for Christmas, and for the first time in my life I got to play the game as much as I wanted to. It was an exciting day for me, and one I'll never forget. I stayed up late all night playing it, and would go on to continue playing it for years to come. I loved it, but it was really just the start.

The Sims 2 was a game that was out of my reach once again. My PC couldn't handle it, and around this time we stopped seeing my cousins as much. I did go to my neighbor's house to play Sims Busting Out on his PS2 from time to time, but it wasn't the same. Eventually I did buy Sims 2 for the Nintendo DS, but even that was nothing like the actual Sims 2. It was a fun game, don't get me wrong, but it was more of a story based spin off than an actual Sims release. It wasn't until my aunt went through her divorce, and my cousins moved in with my Grandma that I finally got to play the real Sims 2, but that wasn't really a good time. They were going through obvious hardships, and as a young teen I didn't really know how to handle that. I just assumed everything would be okay in the end, but I didn't know how or when. During all of this is when I started spending time with all of them again, and it's what eventually lead my cousin Andrea to buy The Sims 2 (for both of us to play.) It was weird having them around all the time though, and ultimately we didn't spend a whole lot of time playing the Sims. Sure, once in awhile I'd go over to play it, but that's really about it. It wasn't really until they moved back out of state that I gave the game more of a chance, and that was only because I was starting college.

I used to always say I wanted to buy a laptop, and then fill it with The Sims. A good laptop that could run all of the expansions, and be able to take the game with me anywhere. I never expected that to happen, but when I started school that dream became a reality. Apparently Sims 3 was already out at the time, but I had no idea, and went with what I knew -- The Sims 2. I finally had a job of my own so I could afford it, and I made sure to buy as many of the expansions as possible. I didn't get all of them (at least not until they were given away for free many years later), but I bought enough to keep me busy both at home and at school. (Of course I had to buy the college expansion, because it was one I could relate to!) It was a lot of fun, and it eventually became a game I would play with my neighbor as well. Sadly the laptop I had was too weak to upgrade to Sims 3, but it was fine. I was happy with what I had, and there was plenty left for me to buy expansion wise. But in the end, it only lasted me for a couple of years. Eventually my laptop died, along with my desktop, and I was forced to upgrade.

When I got my new desktop, I decided to go with something a bit more powerful. I was tired of not being able to play games, and I wanted something that would last me. So stupid me bought a slim HP PC with integrated graphics, and a weak CPU. Yep... Back then I had no idea about computers, and I just assumed something newer would work for anything. Technically it was fine for the games I wanted to play at the time, but obviously it didn't get me very far. That being said, The Sims 3 was one of the first games I went out to buy for it, and thankfully it was strong enough to run it.

With The Sims 3 once again I found myself spending a lot of time playing it. Not too long before I got my new PC, I had gone out and bought it for the Xbox 360 instead, but (like with The Sims 2) this wasn't really the full experience. The game had to be toned down for consoles (no open world map), and playing on console just wasn't that easy. Once I got the PC version however, all of my time was sunk into that. I put a lot of time and effort into each house I made, and using the new community features I spent quite a lot of time updating friends, and sharing creations with them. It was a lot of fun, and so much better than the 360 release. At the time I assumed this would be the version of The Sims that would last me for years to come, but soon I found out just how wrong I was. 

Around 2013 my PC was really showing it's age. It was having issues running things, and I started to realize just how "bad" of a PC it really was. It turns out that model was prone to overheating issues when playing games (explained the jet engine sound even when idling), and I eventually got too paranoid to keep playing games on it. I heard about The Sims 4 coming out, but figured I wouldn't play it until I got a new PC, and by then I honestly didn't care anymore. I was kinda Simsed out, and was more focused on console gaming once again. (Not to mention the fact that I had finished college, and was now moving onto a full time job, so I had less free time.) Eventually that PC did fully break down though (thanks Windows 10 update), and once again I found myself updating to a new PC -- this time a custom built gaming rig.

While my main reasons for wanting a gaming PC were mostly for games like Final Fantasy XIV, I'd be lying if I said The Sims 4 wasn't one of my first purchases. At the time it was on a summer sale in a bundle, so I pulled the trigger and bought it. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed at first. Gone was the open world, gone was the more advanced house building tools, gone was the custom clothing and furniture patterns, and gone was the old social feed. It felt like a huge down grade in many ways, and I just didn't give it much of a chance. Later on at Christmas I would spend most of the day playing it with my cousin, and that's how I eventually realized how much the gameplay had improved, but that didn't fully change how I felt about the game. It wasn't until a few expansions (and updates) later that I felt the game really came into it's own, and even then I still didn't like the removal of the open world map. It switched back to the style of 1 and 2, and for me that was hard to go back to. But go back to it I did.

Last month (March of 2021) I had to have my wisdom teeth removed. It's something I've been dealing with since around the time I started this blog, and now finally it was time to get them removed. I was pretty nervous, and the risks involved with the surgery didn't help things. A few days prior I had downloaded The Sims 4 on my PlayStation 5 just for the heck of it, and the night before the surgery me and my girlfriend Allison decided to give it a shot. She isn't big on video games (she's watched me play through a few), but The Sims is a game from her childhood as well. She had similar fond memories as I did from playing it with her cousins and other family members, so we decided to give it a shot. Rather than just using it to mess around with our Sim's lives however, we started it up and played it the legit way -- something I have never really done.

(I got a little help from the library)

Playing The Sims 4, without cheating, is a very different experience. There is so much going on in the game that you just don't realize, and there's a lot you have to manage. Obviously you need to meet your Sim's needs, but you also need to keep the house up and running. You need to make money to upgrade your appliances, you need to clean the house, repair things that are broken, take care of laundry, feed your pets, make sure your kids don't completely destroy the house that you are trying to clean and repair, get your Sims to work on time, get the kids to school on time, deal with the people who come visit you, take part in the holidays and events that happen throughout the year (all while completing the event goals), plan outfits for different seasons, make sure your Sims don't freeze to death of burn to death, put out fires, work actual jobs if you have the Get to Work expansion (I do), and, and, and... It's just never ending! Just when you think you have things figured out, a curve ball gets thrown at you (congrats it's twins!), and now you're rethinking everything you thought you had figured out. It's crazy just how much like life The Sims has become, and how many features have actually been added in.

You now have social networking, video gaming skills, you can enter tournaments, go snow boarding in the mountains, uncover the mystery in StrangerVille (not going to lie, that was kinda horrifying), open your own business and run it (recreated my family's bakery), become a dancer, become a singer, become a comedian, and so on. Each chat/action category also has so many different choices now, you never really know what your Sims are going to do. While the game is a down grade in some areas from The Sims 3 still, it really makes up for it in all the new additions to the core gameplay. Heck, right before I downloaded the game to my PS5, a new free update came out that added bunk beds! The game is still getting new content all the time, and constantly improving itself. What was once a meh replacement for the amazing The Sims 3, is now a game I don't want to see come to an end any time soon. After only a month of playing, we have already received the platinum trophy, yet we have only scratched the surface of everything that is actually in the game. It's just that big, and each day we find something new. Eventually I plan to buy the rest of the expansion packs as well, but that'll be something I'll slowly work towards in the future.

Overall I'm really enjoying my time with The Sims 4, and I hope it becomes a game both me and Allison can continue to return to for years to come. The Sims has always been special to me, and now I'm not alone.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2021

PlayStation 5 - Review

 

The PlayStation 5. You know? It's a really weird feeling saying that. As someone who grew up playing PlayStation, it's always strange to me when a new console in the PS family comes out. It's like each release marks a different stage in my life, and looking back at each generation is like looking back at those memories as well. I remember getting a PS1 for Christmas one year, and spending the next few years playing games like Rugrats -- and I also remember the Christmas I destroyed it PlayStation by spilling hot chocolate on it. I'd eventually replace the original PS1 with the "PlayStation One" that next Christmas, but it would only get used once in awhile because later I would replace it with a PlayStation 2 Slim when I graduated from 8th grade. That console was something I would continue to return to throughout the years (I still play it to this day), but it really was what marked my high school years. The PSP was my gift when I turned 16, the PlayStation 3 was something I would buy and play through college, and the Vita was what I got for my 21st birthday. Then finally you have the PlayStation 4, which is something I bought once I started working my first real full time job. Each console was something special that marked different stages of my life, and even now it still doesn't feel like so much time has passed. I still consider the PS3 to be new, but now it's two generations ago. It's just... Strange. 

So now here we are, and once again the PlayStation 5 is marking a new stage in my life. A lot has happened over the last year, which is mainly why I've slowed down posting here on NGR, but I'm back today to hopefully make up some for what I've missed. As one of the lucky ones to actually find a PlayStation 5 (that's a story for another day), I wanted to take some time to let you guys know exactly how it is. It's something I've owned for a few months now, so I figured now would be the best time to actually give my opinion and let you guys know what it is exactly. Sure, it's the next generation (we know this), but how is this new generation really? And just how much worth it is a PS5? Does it deserve all of the hype behind it, and pain and suffering of obtaining one? Or are you better off waiting for it? With this review I'm going to tell my complete honest opinion, and cover as much as I can about the console, so hopefully those questions will be answered for you. Obviously I am a "PlayStation fanboy," but I promise, I'm not going to let that get in the way of this review. So, with that being said... Let's get started. Once again.

PlayStation 4:

The first major thing to know about a PS5 is the fact that it is also actually a PlayStation 4. Yes, basically every single game from the PS4 has been carried over, and can be played just as always. Games with PlayStation 4 Pro upgrades will run in "PS4 Pro" mode when playing on a PS5, but some other games have additional upgrades for the PS5 as well. Just what are these upgrades? Well it's basically improvements to framerate, and the graphics. Some games will run in 4K, make use of HDR, and run at 60 FPS (rather than the typical 30 that the Pro would run at when playing 4K content), but for the most part PS4 games will be exactly the same as they were. The vast majority of games out there will not be updated for the PS5, but many of the major titles have been updated for the new hardware. Other than some graphical and framerate updates, some games do load faster when running on the PS5's solid state drive, but only a handful will really see a boost from this. Most of the others will either have the same load times as before, or see a slight improvement. In short, this too isn't that big of an upgrade from the current PS4 hardware.

As for how the PlayStation 4 side of things works, it's actually pretty simple. Existing PS4 owners can hook up their PS4 and do a direct data transfer from their PS4 to their PS5 to carry over their content, or they can use the cloud to redownload their saves. For those who used external hard drives on their PS4, all they have to do is unplug the external from the PS4, and then plug it into the PS5. The PS5 will not reformat the drive (thankfully), and all games and saved content on the drive can be instantly accessed and played on the PS5 as well. Some games might have new PS5 updates, but other than that everything is ready to go. The PS5 will also automatically set the external HDD as the default install location for new PS4 games, so you don't have to worry about having PS4 games take up the limited space on the PS5's internal SSD. Of course you can also transfer games between the external HDD and the internal SSD if you wish, but that's up to the person, and if they would like to see a boost in the game's loading speed. (Assuming you're playing a game where it can benefit from it.)

Once your PS4 games are on the PS5, everything from there on is exactly the same as on the PS4. There's really no difference, other than the console's UI (which also isn't quite that different). To make it even better, if you wish, you can use your original PS4 controller to play these games. You don't have to give up what you're used to, just because the hardware itself has changed. The transition from PS4 to PS5 is an easy one, and that's exactly how it should be. No complaints there.

The UI:

As mentioned above, the UI of the PS5 is different from the PS4; however, it's also not really all that different. This time around Sony went for a mix between the PS3 and PSP's XMB, and the PS4's UI, and the result was something that's easy to navigate and makes sense. Games and media are broken up into different tabs at the top of the screen, and your game and movie content fall into tiles that line up from left to right just like before. Going to a game will allow you to drop down into a game detail page, and here you can access different things like DLC, trophy information, etc. To make things even better, trophy progress and in game progress is now tracked as well, and you can easily tell how close you are to finishing something. Some games also provide tips and hints on how to do something, and you can also compare your progress to your friends. It's all in an easy to access location, and takes very little playing around to figure out. This information can also be viewed in game by pressing the PlayStation button, but that's really only one use of said button.

Like before, the PS button can be used to return you to either the home page of your PS5, or you can use it to bring up a quick list of actions. Here you can access trophies, see your friends, read notifications, or even access an app switcher that lets you quickly load up your recently used apps. It's a nice touch that helps you navigate the console faster, but it's something I personally rarely use (mainly due to not being used to having it). Music can also be accessed from this menu (and yes, Spotify still works), and you can quickly put your console into sleep mode here as well. It's basically the same menu that many became used to using on the PS4, but a lot more streamlined and a lot slicker looking.

As for the media tab, here is where you can access all of your streaming services, and other TV content. Videos can actually be loaded while a game is running, so you don't have to close out of your games if you want to take a break to watch Netflix or something. It's nothing too major, but it's nice knowing that you don't have to reboot your game once you decide to go back to it -- with some exceptions. (Sadly games that require internet will disconnect you the moment you back out, and even games like Call of Duty will kick you back to the main menu. A minor complaint, but it's understandable.)

On top of all of this, the PlayStation Store has also been integrated with the UI as well, which means we no longer have to load up an app or, what was technically, a website to access it. This means the store is much faster than before, and it's a bit easier to actually find your content now. Previous versions of the PlayStation store weren't the greatest, and this is definitely a step in the right direction... At least for the console store... The desktop site? Yeah, not so much.

Next Generation Gaming:

The main reason to get a PlayStation 5 is none other than the games. I mean, what's a console good for if you don't have games to play on it, right? That being said, the big draw (as it is with every generation) is the power of the console itself, and the fact that it can do things previous generations couldn't. This time the increase in power allows the PS5 to output to 8K, play 4K games, run some games at 60 +  FPS, and make use of advanced features like ray tracing and higher quality 3D audio. We all know this, and it's what Sony themselves have beat into our heads since before the console was even fully announced. The thing is, just how much of this is really true, and how much of it will really be used? That's what everyone wanting a PS5 needs to understand. Just because this console is powerful, and can do such things, it doesn't mean we can do all of this at once. These higher end features are demanding on the hardware, and there are still limitations because of this.

The best way to think of a PS5 is to compare it to a higher end PC. PC gamers already understand changing settings, and optimizing games to fit their build, but console only gamers have never really dealt with this. That all changes with the PS5 however, as it's going to be up to the game developers, and the players to decide what they want out of each game when they play it.

Sadly the bottom line here is the fact that you CANNOT have it all. You cannot have 4K, 60 FPS (or 120 FPS), and ray tracing all at the same time -- especially on more graphically demanding games with high resolution textures, and a large amount of objects loaded on screen at once. It's just not possible with this hardware. Because of this most games have options you can toggle on or off, and others have default settings you can pick from. Usually your choices are between a "quality mode" and a "performance mode," but other times there are inbetween options and sliders as well. This allows you to choose if you would rather have a nice looking game (ray tracing, 4K, etc), or if you would rather have a higher framerate and more fluid gameplay. It's really up to the player to choose their preference, but usually they can't have it both ways. It does depend on the game itself, and how demanding it is, but in general this is how every PS5 game will be going forward.

But, what does this all mean? What is 4K? What is ray tracing? Why should you care? And does it make that big of a difference? Well...

4K is a resolution size, and, needless to say, you'll need at least a 4K TV to make use of it. To put it simply, TVs are made up of a bunch of dots that change color to display an image, and 4K has 4 times as many dots as older 1080P HD TVs. This means your image quality is much more detailed than before, with the PS5 actually making use of this higher resolution. Now not every PS5 game actually runs in full 4K, but they do run at a resolution that is higher than 1080p, and they are noticeably better. (But again, this is a hardware limitation, and depends on the game.) To go along with 4K, you also have HDR (high dynamic range) which basically allows the screen to display much more realistic lighting and color differences when displaying both dark and light areas. This is something that's been around for awhile now (even the original PS4 could display HDR content), but again it's something you would need a newer TV to make use of. The bottom line is, it makes lighting look really nice, and allows games to look a lot more realistic.

The other major feature of the PS5 is it's ray tracing. Ray tracing is, to put simply, realistically simulated light. Basically light beams bounce off of something, and that allows you to see it. Those same light beams bounce off of a reflective surface, and now you can see the same image being reflected off of it. It's something we should all understand in real life, and now it's something that games can do now as well. In the past reflections were usually faked in or ignored completely, and light sources were simulated to make lighting look as realistic as possible. Now we can just flat out have light beams act like real light beams, and the results are reflections, and real world quality lighting. It's actually a huge step up, and this alone can make games look a LOT better when used properly. It is a very demanding feature however, and something many players may turn off in favor of performance.

On top of the graphical enhancements, the PS5 is a much stronger console in other ways as well. The CPU has received a major upgrade as well, and that means the console can process a lot more as well. So, just like before, this generation you can expect another upgrade to in game physics, improvements to AI, and in general less limitations in games. Of course we are way too early into this generation to see this be put into use, but it's there. These are the real improvements that will carry over across every game, despite your graphical settings, and the main reason to look to the future. But again, it's going to take awhile before we actually get there. At the time of this review, PS5 games are basically just PS4 games. They have graphical and performance updates, but it's really no different from playing the same games on a PC. Is that a bad thing? No, the games are still a lot of fun. Does that mean the PS5 is something you NEED to have right away to keep up? Also no, unless the game you want happens to be PS5 exclusive. All it really means is that the PS5 is just starting it's life, so we won't see what it can really do for quite some time, and that's perfectly okay. As long as the games are fun, that's all that really matters. And if they can be played elsewhere before you get a PS5, then that's perfectly fine as well.

The Two Consoles:

Another thing people need to know before getting a PlayStation 5, is the fact that there are currently two models. One model has a disc drive, while the other doesn't. So, what does this mean? Exactly as it sounds. The physical edition PS5 allows you to play physical discs, which include audio CDs, DVDs, Blurays, PS4 Blurays, and of course new PS5 Bluray games. The digital edition on the other hand, cannot. This version of the PS5 is focused only on digital downloads, and that it is. It's aimed at people who would rather save $100 off the price of the PS5, and for those who would rather only download their games. This is the only difference between the two. (And yes, the physical PS5 has access to all the digital content as well.)

The Accessories and Controller:

Another big feature of the PS5 is the new controller, and other accessories you can get with your PS5.

 


The DualSense -

The new controller made for the PS5 is the first generation of their new "DualSense" line. Replacing the DualShock, the DualSense is of similar build to the DS4, but with some new features added in as well. It's a little bit of a larger controller, that's more form fitting to your hands, and it has all of the buttons that one might expect. You have your four face buttons, a D-Pad, a left and right analog stick, a start button, and returning "Share" and "PlayStation" buttons. The touch pad from the PS5 DualShock has been brought back as well, and the front of the controller features lights and a speaker that some games can make use of. This time around however, the controller also contains a built in microphone, and the triggers have been replaced with new adaptive triggers that can tighten or loosen based on what you're doing. For example, in shooting games you can feel the resistance of the triggers for different types of guns, while other games can use it in their own creative ways. Mixed in with the new haptic feedback, the controller can now help you "feel" the game you are playing, and can actually help you respond in ways you never could before. Of course this is something you need to experience for yourself to really explain it, but if you've ever used a newer smart phone, then you might already be used to it.

Pulse 3D -

The Pulse 3D Wireless Headset is the first headset to be made with the PS5's new "Tempest" sound in mind. What does that mean though? Basically just that it's an official PlayStation headset. That's all there really is to it. Tempest is Sony's new higher quality 3D audio, which is actually REALLY nice sounding, but you don't need the Pulse 3D headset to enjoy it. Basically any headset will give you the same results, but the higher the quality the better. As for the Pulse 3D itself... It's pretty nice! It's wireless, and because of that you can connect it to other devices as well. The only down side is that it's not blutooth, so you need to use the wireless dongle, but it's not a big deal. You also have the option to wire it using a standard headphone jack, if your device doesn't have a USB slot. As for controls, you can use the buttons to increase/decrease the audio, you can mute the microphone (yes, it has a built in mic), and you can use the rocker to toggle between how loud in game audio, and voice chat audio is as well. Overall it's a nice headset, and a perfect accessory for the PS5... Assuming you don't already have a better headset.

Media Remote -

The PlayStation family has always doubled as both a game console, and a media center. The PS1 could play music CDs, the PS2 introduced us to the world of DVDs, the PSP was meant to be both a Walk Man and a portable gaming console, the PS3 stepped it up with Blu-ray and online services, the Vita expanded on what the PSP did before it, and the PS4 expanded on what the PS3 had in place. Needless to say, the PS5 has done the exact same thing, and to go with it is none other than a media remote. Of course the media remote isn’t needed to use the console, but it does allow you to quickly access services like Netflix and Disney +, and is a lot more convenient than using the standard controller. It has a button to turn your TV on and off, and you can control the volume as well. While not a key feature for the console, it’s still a nice one, and a worth wild accessory if you plan to use your PS5 as something more than a game console.

The Camera -

Like the PS2, PS3, PS4, and Vita, the PS5 has a camera as well. This camera has HD video, and can be used in multiple ways. However, it really depends on the developer, and on Sony themselves if they want to make full use of this accessory. For example, in the past games like LittleBigPlanet could use it to take pictures to insert into your levels, and when a game allows streaming to services like Twitch, you could use the camera to show your face as well. This is all still possible with the PS5 camera still, but currently it’s main use is for tracking PlayStation VR, and verifying your identity to log into your PS5. It’s not much, but it’s something. And on the plus side, you can use your original PS4 camera as well. You just have to verify you owned one, and then have Sony send you a free adapter. Pretty easy to do.

PlayStation VR -

An accessory that has carried over from last generation. The PlayStation VR still works with the PS5, and can be used to play VR games. At the time of this review a new model for the PSVR has not been announced, and as such the experience is very much the same as it was on the PS4. While games will run in their “PS4 Pro” enhanced modes, there are really no other enhancements to speak of at the moment. The PSVR itself has a lower resolution than most other VR headsets on the market now days, and the PlayStation Move controllers are extremely outdated technology from the PS3 days. While it does all still work, it really can’t compete with the rest of the VR market in it’s current form. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that (as there are MANY great PSVR games), but that doesn’t mean you should go out and buy a PS5 just for VR either... At least not at this time. On the plus side, a new model will most likely replace the existing PSVR, but until then fans will be stuck with the same headset and limitations that they are already used to. (But considering the PS5 is a much stronger console, you can expect these limitations to be lifted, and for more PC quality VR experiences to be on their way.)

The Good and the Bad:

I will just come out and say it. Overall the PlayStation 5 lives up to it’s expectations so far. It’s a pretty big step up from what the PS4 offered before it, but it’s also not really anything many PC gamers have already become used to. For console only gamers, this will be quite an upgrade, and also quite a bit of an adjustment. For PC gamers? They are going to feel right at home with the PS5 from the get go. The console is strong, but thanks to 4K, HDR, ray tracing, and higher frame rates, now we have to deal with game graphic settings, and other features that were never an option on consoles. Players will be forced to choose between graphics and performance, and sometimes that’ll take some playing around to find the right balance. Again, this isn’t a big deal for PC gamers, but console gamers will have to get used to this, and will need to understand the hardware’s limitations. You can’t have everything, and that’s just a fact. This might be disappointing to some, but that’s the reality of this next generation. The line between PC and consoles are becoming blurred, and honestly that’s a good thing.

Putting aside the console’s limitations... The games are fun, the hardware is pretty impressive, it’s affordable, the new OS is great, and the fact that it’s a PlayStation 4 as well is a MAJOR plus. If you’re a PlayStation fan, or someone looking to get into console gaming, then there’s really no reason to not get the PS5. Of course that doesn’t mean the console is perfect, but what is? Sadly at launch there have been some issues that needed worked out (and some that still need to be addressed), but that’s to be expected. Sure, everyone would love to see the PS5 launch perfectly without issues, but realistically there’s always going to be something that was overlooked, or missed during development. With consoles becoming much more advanced than what they used to be, it’s pretty much unavoidable. That being said, so far the PS5 has had issues with downloading some games and updates (Devil May Cry 5 DLC in my case), there have been reports of the rest mode crashing the system, and even reports of game updates stopping the console from turning on. These issues are unfortunate, but thankfully they aren’t wide spread problems, nor are they issues that can’t be fixed in future updates.

So, would I recommend the PS5? For sure. Would I recommend it as soon as possible? Honestly, that’s up to you. At the time of this review (2/16/2021) there’s not a lot of exclusives to make it worth owning, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be coming out in the future. The handful of PS4 games that have received PS5 updates are nice as well, but ultimately they are still the same games. I’m not someone who can tell you if these upgrades are actually worth it or not, but I can tell you that I have personally really enjoyed them. They aren’t system sellers, but it’s something I love to see, and are games I’ve spent more time playing because of the enhancements. And although not all PS4 games receive this treatment, it’s still fine. The PS5 is a great PS4, and I still enjoy playing PS4 games on it. Considering we'll be seeing new PS4 games for quite some time, I plan on using it as a PS4 for years to come.

Anyway... the answer is yes. I would recommend getting one. However, just know the console isn't perfect, and it honestly depends on what you're looking for. For me? I'm more than happy with my purchase. No regrets!

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Monday, July 6, 2020

Anime Monday - Zoids: New Century Zero

So it’s been two weeks since I made my last blog post. Things have been pretty hectic at both home and work, and it’s been kinda hard for me to keep up with things. A lot of gaming related news has come out over these two weeks, and, while I do want to get around to talking about them at some point, it’s just a bit too much for me to cover at the moment. Putting that aside though, I didn’t want to fully go back on what I promised to do with this blog, so once again here we are with another Anime Monday! This week I’m going to be talking about an anime that is pretty special to me, and one I’m sure many others grew up watching as well. It’s Zoids: New Century Zero.



How I Discovered Zoids:

Like many other kids in the early 2000s, Toonami was my go to after school programming block. It’s where I got to watch great series like Dragon Ball Z everyday, it’s how I got into Gundam, and it’s really the main reason I even like anime to this day. Back then I didn’t really understand what anime was though, but I could tell that it was something special. It wasn’t like all the other “cartoons” I watched where everything was episodic. Instead these were shows with actual development, with each new episode progressing the story towards a definitive ending. They were complete, and each episode was a small part of a much grander journey. Even shows that didn’t have endings/would continue on in the future, still had major story arcs that had conclusions. Each part of Dragon Ball Z for example was it’s own epic adventure, and I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. So it’s really no wonder that I, and many others, tuned in to Toonami each and every day. And that’s exactly how I discovered Zoids.

I still remember the first time I saw Zoids: New Century Zero. It was the episode where they went up against “Harry Champ, a man destined to be king.” Honestly my first impressions of the series was “look at this Power Rangers rip off with their wannabe White Ranger Tiger Zord,” but for some reason it still interested me. I mean I thought the same thing about Gundam as well and ended up loving it, so why not give Zoids a chance as well? So I did. And yeah, I am so glad I did.


Before I knew it, Zoids had become my new favorite series. I watched it every day after school, and I remember even trying to build “Zoids” out of legos. I didn’t know about the model kits back then, so I made due with what I had, and somehow I completely missed the fact that it had some game releases as well. Of course, I didn’t have the internet back then to look these sorta things up, and the kids I would talk to at school really weren’t much of a help. They watched the show too, but they were in the same boat as me. We only knew what we saw on TV, and just hoped there was more out there... Without ever realizing there was... But that’s besides the point. The bottom line is, I loved the series, and I made sure to never miss an episode... At least, until things changed — but that too is a story for another time.

The Story of Zoids: New Century Zero:

Zoids is an interesting series. It’s a show that’s based on a model kit line, and because of that it’s not actually just one series. There are multiple Zoids shows, and each one is a series all it’s own. New Century Zero is actually the “third” Zoids series, but it was the first one to actually be shown in the US. While the original Zoids, and it’s follow up series, focused on war, New Century Zero takes a competitive approach to the whole thing, and focuses on teams fighting each other instead. It’s this team combat that really had me hooked from the get go, and I quickly found myself rooting for the different characters. But, once again, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The story of New Century Zero is set place in a world that’s unlike our own. In this world giant mechanical beats known as “Zoids” rule, and humans pilot them in (typically) 3v3 battles known as “Zoids Battles.” Each Zoid is typically based on a different animal, and although they are machines, they do have an AI that acts as their brains. In a way, a Zoid is like a living creature, and although humans do pilot them, it’s more of a partnership between the Zoid and the pilot. A Zoid can reject it’s pilot, and refuse to fight in a Zoids Battle if it wishes, and that’s exactly where our story begins.


The Blitz team is a newer team that hopes to become one of the best. They have some skilled pilots under their belt, as well as some nice Zoids, but they just can’t seem to catch a break. Their “lead” Zoid the Liger Zero refuses to let anyone pilot it, and that ultimately leads to a lot of issues. That is until the rookie pilot Bit Cloud enters the picture.

Bit actually has no interest in becoming a Zoids pilot — instead he only cares about Zoids parts, and being able to make money of off them. After causing an accident that broke the Blitz Team’s lead pilot’s arm, Bit find himself being brought in by them to take responsibility for his actions. This is what eventually leads Bit to come face to face with the Liger Zero, and is how they discover that the Liger has actually accepted Bit as a pilot. After a series of events, Bit does eventually get into the pilot seat, and before long he is accepted as a part of the Blitz Team as their new pilot.


After Bit joins the team, each episode of New Century Zero focuses on the struggles the team must overcome if they want to make it to the top. The team has no money, their gear is outdated, and they aren’t as experienced as other teams out there battling. To make things even worse, a shady group called the Back Draft Group is constantly making illegal deals and causing trouble, and it doesn’t take long for the Blitz Team themselves to start running into them. Although each episode is mostly episodic, there’s a natural progression to the show that allows us to see this team continue to improve. It’s not easy for them however, and the show does take quite a few unexpected turns along the way. While many episodes do follow the same formula of new teams and characters being brought in each episode for Bit and his friends to fight, it doesn’t always stick to this setup, and often we get to see the other teams develop over time as well. These characters aren’t just single episode throw away characters, like in many episodic series, but rather new characters that continue to evolve along with the Blitz Team. They too are shooting for the same goal, and they are all just as capable of achieving it. Sure, it’s not as serious of a story as the war torn “Zoids: Chaotic Century,” but that’s perfectly okay. It’s a fun ride form start to finish, and you can’t help but be drawn into it’s world and characters.

Zoids Moving Forward:

When New Century Zero ended it’s run on Toonami, they continued to rerun it a few more times before they finally moved on to the rest of the Zoids series. The first series and it’s sequel was their next go to, which was a completely different experience from what NCZ offered. Again, this was a war torn world, and focused more on Zoids as being “wild animals” mixed with war machines. It was a much darker series in general, and caught many fans off guard when it first came on. Following this series’ success they then moved on to Zoids Fuzors which... Was canceled after basically one episode. After that Zoids pretty much vanished from the US, which is a shame. Zoids Genesis would air in Japan and once again focus more on the war aspect of Zoids, and at the end of the 2010s Zoids would once again return with Zoids Wild. In this series, characters ride on the back of Zoids (rather than piloting them), and it takes a step back towards the lighter side of things. As for Zoids in the US however? It’s remained missing. None of these follow up series ever got released here, and still to this day we’re waiting for them. It’s sad really, but that’s something Zoids fans have come to accept.


Should You Watch It:

So, should you watch New Century Zero or Zoids in general? Well, that really depends on you. Zoids is a unique mecha series with mechs based on animals. Each part of the series is completely unique, and because of that it’s not ensured that you will like every aspect of it. While NCZ is a fun ride with tournament style battles (with some drama mixed in), the style of the other series is a completely different case. So which Zoids you watch really does depend on what you’re looking for, but I can say that it is a series worth looking into. New Century Zero will always be my favorite out of all of them, and it’s something I’ve personally watched from start to finish many times. I watched every rerun on Toonami as it aired, I rewatched it again in high school, and then even after I became an adult, I often found myself going back to it just for fun. It’s a nice series, and I think everyone should give it a shot. So yes, I think it’s worth watching. 
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Monday, June 22, 2020

Anime Monday - Ghost Stories

I’m not going to lie. I sat here for quite awhile trying to figure out how to even start this post. Normally I just randomly choose an anime, I talk about it a little, and then go on with my day. It’s typically pretty straight forward, and I don’t have to put too much thought into what I want to cover. Then sometimes something like today happens... I clicked on my RNG, sorted through the list that was created as I looked for something I have seen, and then my eyes stopped on something unexpected. Ghost Stories. Man, I knew this day would come eventually, but I was never actually prepared for it. I mean, how do I even start with this one? What should I even talk about? Why couldn’t it have just been a normal anime!? Yeah, this is not an easy one to cover, but I hope to do my best... And to do that, I feel like we need to start at the beginning. Back to the stories that would not only take Japan by storm, but also be the reason we have many of our top horror movies today.

The Origin of Ghost Stories:

Originally written by Toru Tsunemitsu, “Ghost Stories” is not actually one series, but a collection of horror novels. Each book is a story of it’s own, and typically deals with supernatural beings that must be stopped. These stories became insanely popular in Japan, and would become the inspiration for many other writers and film makers. The series was huge, to say the least, and it’s because of that popularity an anime series based on it was eventually greenlit. It was only natural that something this well known would eventually come to TV as well, but the result wasn’t what one might expect.


The anime version of Ghost Stories follows the story of a group of kids, as they deal with different strange occurrences around their school and town. Every episode introduces a new threat, the kids investigate, and eventually find a way to stop the ghost and save the day. It’s a very episode format, without any real danger, or even a real reason to watch it. It was a shell of the source material, and it failed to appeal to nearly everyone. It was a kids series that kids didn’t want to watch, and it was too dull for an older audience to really give it a second look.

The English Dub:

After the anime completely bombed in Japan, it was picked up in the west by ADV Films — a company that had brought many other “older” anime series to the West. Unlike with most dubs however, ADV was warned about just how badly Ghost Stories did in Japan, and they were given the go ahead to do “whatever” they wanted with the series (with a few exceptions). As long as ADV didn’t change the way monsters/ghosts were defeated, then they were free to change anything else to make it into a story of their own. So, that’s exactly what they did.

The Ghost Stories dub is an example of both a “perfect” dub and also the “worst” possible dub. A lot of people may not agree with what was done to the series when it was translated, while many people will only watch it because of it’s dub. Why? Because the dub is what one might call an “official” abridged series — without the abridge part.


For anyone who is unfamiliar with an “abridged” series, they are something that became popular online during the early days of websites like YouTube. They are series that take anime, trim down the scenes, and apply a comedy fan dub to what is happening. They are complete parodies of the source material, and aren’t afraid to do whatever they want. They aren’t official projects, and they can get away with saying nearly anything. Ghost Stories is exactly the same thing, but in official form.

The dub of Ghost Stories doesn’t hold anything back. Right off the bat there are major changes to the main characters, and the nonstop craziness begins. The main character’s brother is transformed into a mentally disabled child who has a hard time speaking from time to time, another girl was made into a very strict Christian, while another kid is now Jewish, and another simply says whatever is on his mind whenever he wants. The dub isn’t afraid to take these traits to the extreme, and in the process they try to offend as many people as possible. One character is told to run as if he were being chased by a “big black man,” and the little kid is called the R word pretty often. The Christian girl constantly jumps to the “extreme” with everything, the Jewish kid visits Jewish only adult sites, and so on. You never know what to expect every time someone opens their mouth, and that’s exactly what makes the dub so good (yet also horrible). It’s definitely not for people who get offended easily, but it’s great for anyone who wants a parody.

The only down side is that it is an older series, so some of the jokes may be lost on newer fans — such as the “YOU WANNA BE AN AIR FORCE RANGER” scene, which is a direct reference to a certain popular movie. It doesn’t really stop it form being any less funny if the reference goes over your head, but it is definitely better if you get the joke. All things consider though, it’s actually pretty shocking what they were able to get away with some of the things said, but now days a lot of it most likely wouldn’t fly.

It’s a controversy show, but again, that’s why so many people also love it.

Should You Watch It?

That really depends! Going in you need to understand what it is. It’s a basic boring story about kids fighting ghosts. The series itself really isn’t that special at all, and I really can’t recommend the “original” to anyone. The original sub has actually officially been released, so that’s one option when it comes to watching it, and they did go back and do a “proper” dub as well. Both the sub and dub are the complete original experience, without any of the alterations by ADV... But why would you want that?


If you don’t easily get offended, then I would recommend Ghost Stories ADV dub for sure. While the initial episodes do start out a little rough, the following episodes will have you laughing non stop from start to finish. You really never know what to expect next, and you’ll constantly find yourself just staring at the screen in complete disbelief over what was just said. They don’t hold anything back, and that is why either you'll love it, or hate it.

So to answer the question, "is it worth watching," then you have to really consider what you yourself like. If you have a problem with strong language and offensive material, then stay FAR away from this one. If not, then go check it out. It's a rare anime series that deserves to be watched.
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