Monday, April 22, 2024

First game completed using my Retroid Pocket 4 Pro!

About two years ago I did a review of the Retroid Pocket 3/3+, and still to this day I love that device! I originally bought it so I could stream my PS5 and PC on the go, but I found SOOO many other uses for it along the way. Basically backed up most of my game library to the thing for safe keeping, and so I could continue playing the games I loved. It also doubled as my PSP replacement, as my old PSP's battery is now completely shot, and has some other issues -- so the Retroid ended up being perfect for me. Well about a month ago I went ahead and replaced my Retroid Pocket 3 with a newer 4 Pro (which I guess I should really review some time?) and that opened me up to a whole new world. A world of running PS2 games!

While I had previously backed up my PS2 games to PC (something that's very easy to do, but no I won't go into how to do it), the first thing I did with my Retroid was transfer all of my Tales of games to the device. I LOVE the Tales series, and thanks to fans, games like Tales of Legendia now have undub patches that restore the voice acting in the second half of the game, and patches to Abyss that restore the original opening theme! It's pretty great, and for sure how these games were meant to be played. However, one thing I didn't expect to be able to do is apply an English Patch to the untranslated Tales of Destiny DC. And well, let's just say this game is amazing! I was instantly hooked from the moment I pressed start and saw that intro.

It's really a shame that it never got released outside of Japan. It's a 2D remake of the second entry in the Tales series, but it's battle system and gameplay mechanics feel completely fresh and provide a different experience from the original ToD on PS1. Considering it released after Tales of the Abyss, it's really no surprise that it's so refined, but man... Namco didn't give the west enough credit with this one. 

Anyway, I could go on and on about this game (and I plan to soon), so I'll stop myself right there. It's the first game I've played using my new RP4P, and I feel like it's going to be something I'll always remember about this device. It allowed me to play this gem that was never released outside of Japan, and I can't wait to use it to revisit the rest of the series as well.

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Returning to MegaMan Legends 12 Years Later feels like I Never Left Kattelox

There's no hiding the fact that MegaMan is one of my all time favorite series. I've been playing these games since I was roughly four years old, and a lot of things happened to me in my life thanks to this series! It's kinda crazy to think about how I wouldn't even be who I am today if it weren't for MegaMan. So needless to say, these are games I constantly return to, and I've beaten (most of) them more times than I can count. And MegaMan Legends is no exception! Although my history with it is a bit more complicated...

The first time I heard of Legends was on a TV commercial where it basically hyped up the fact that the series had finally entered the world of 3D. Of course that got me excited, and I couldn’t wait to be able to play it for myself! I didn’t expect that to be anytime soon though (considering I was a kid), but I knew one day I’d eventually get my hands on a copy. Surprisingly it happened sooner than I though, but I had a few problems I had to overcome…

We managed to find the game up for rental at our local movie place, but the store only allowed rental for three days (including the day you got it and dropped it off). So I only had  some of Friday to play it, whatever time on Saturday I was home, and it then had to go back on Sunday. It wasn’t a lot of time to try to beat it (although it can be beaten in two hours easily), and my second major issue prevented me from doing so. I didn’t have a memory card! My progress wasn’t saved, and if I died I had to restart the entire thing. And believe me, I died a lot!

The controllers were so hard for me. Following in Resident Evil’s footsteps; the game features tank controls where you had to use L/R to then, and pressing left and right made you side step.  This was so hard for kid me to get used to. Second of all, I hadn’t really played games with RPG mechanics before, so upgrading my weapons and what not was beyond my understanding of what I needed to do to win. So the first boss fights destroyed me, and I didn’t make it very far. Eventually I had to return the game, and the next handful of times I rented it, things weren’t any better. I failed time and time again, and assumed I would never beat it. Heck I still remember sitting there in the barber shop reading the manual as I got myself excited to give the game another to! But when I got home I just died over and over again. Oh fun times.

It wasn’t until a few years later that things changed for me. I decided to rent MegaMan 64 from the same place, and when I started it up I was completely surprised! It was MegaMan Legends! Except the controls were different! Pushing left made you turn left, and Z and R were used for side stepping! It made things so much easier for me! Of course this control option was in the PS1 original as well, but little me didn’t figure this out. Anyway, the save file 64 came with had already 100%ed the game, but I didn’t care. It let me see the final boss right from the get go (it's where the save file started at), and it then let me go explore all the areas of the game I myself was never able to make it to! I used this chance (again, only had it for three days) to learn as much about the game as possible, and just enjoy exploring the world. Better controls, finally the ability to save, it was all just perfect! Sure the 64 version does have some draw backs as well, but back then, it wasn't a big deal at all. Eventually I had to return the game though, and that was actually the last time I rented it.

I didn't see Legends again for quite some time after that. This is when I got more into other MegaMan games, so Legends really was the least on my mind. Heck I even passed up a copy of Tron Bonne (which is insanely rare) because I was more interested in MegaMan X4 (which I also ended up not getting at the time). So I kinda drifted away from the Legends side of things, and didn't get back into it until one random day we were at Toys R Us.

We went to Toys R Us just to look around -- not expecting to get anything, but surprisingly Legends was on sale in the old PS1 game bin and my mom agreed to buy it for me! Not sure why she agreed (maybe because it was so cheap), but I still remember how excited I was to finally own it! Heck all I could think about on our way home (and as we stopped to eat) was playing the game again. At this point I had a memory card, so for the first time I was going to be able to go through the game myself. I believe I was around 12 years old then.

Playing through Legends from start to finish was amazing. Sure, I knew quite a bit about this world now, but there were still a lot of surprises along the way. I didn't know about the later boss fights, nor did I fully know the layout of the ruins, so it still felt like playing a new game to me. The side quests were something new to me also, so I remember going to my grandpa's house to check out to see what I was missing out on! Man, those were some fun times... Except for that one weekend when I simply wanted to look up something that would take five minutes, and my grandpa instead had plans for us to go with him to Lowe's. It was an hour and a half drive to the store, we spent a few hours there, he took us to some other stores along the way, and then we had the hour and a half drive back. My five minute visit to use his PC turned into a 12 hour ordeal, and I didn't get to play much Legends that day... Oh well, it's still a good memory.

By the time I beat Legends, I wasn't ready to say goodbye to it. Instead I started new game after new game on hard mode! I eventually memorized every step along the way. I no longer needed a memory card, as I could simply start it up and finish it in an hour or two (with cutscene skipping). This is how I unlocked easy mode with the Max Buster upgrade part, and how I had my dad play through the game as well! Looking back, it's the only game he's actually beaten on his own (outside of multiplayer games with me).

As the years went on, my love for the game didn't die. I kept going back to it off and on, and would even play it more than Legends 2 (which was a PAIN to find a copy of). Eventually I'd move onto other games, but Legends would always be special to me. The last time I actually played it was when I bought the Rockman DASH 1+2 collection for the PSP. It didn't matter I didn't know Japanese -- I had completely memorized these games! I personally really loved seeing the differences between the English and Japanese release, and the wide screen mode was a nice touch as well. Hearing MegaMan be called Rock also made a lot more sense with the story, and I still question why they didn't keep this for the translation. Anyway, I loved this version (even with the weird controls due to no L2/R2), and it's the final version I kept coming back to. Then the whole Devroom thing happened with Legends 3, and it kinda killed my interest in continue replaying when there was no longer hope for a sequel.

That brings us to today! It's been all this time later, and I decided to jump back into the series with my wife. She has watched me go through the Battle Network games, and with Legends being so short, I figured I'd be perfect to quickly run through... And guess what? It's like I never left!

Although I don't have it 100% memorized anymore (in the past you could've told me step by step directions of where you turned/what doors you opened/etc and off of memory I could tell you exactly where you were, AND the name of the item found in the hole in the wall), but I for sure remember most of it. It took me roughly 5 hours to get through the game without skipping cutscenes and doing all of the side quests -- which really wasn't too bad! I made a few dumb mistakes along the way, and kicked the can one too many times to cross over into Dark MegaMan territory, but it all worked out in the end. It really is such a unique and fun little adventure game, and I still hope that someday it will return. Even if it's just as a collection -- I'd be sure to buy that day one.

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Thursday, March 28, 2024

MegaMan X6 & My 11th Birthday

MegaMan fans talking about their favorite entries in the series, there is one game that pretty much NEVER makes the list. MegaMan X6 is the black sheep of the X series, and (along with X7) is typically said to be a game you should avoid. It was created behind Inafune's back when X5 was meant to be the original end, parts of the game was rushed, the level design is filled with brutally cheap death traps, the English translation has awkward grammar errors, and it's just generally considered to not be a good game. But for me, I have a different story to share when I think of X6. One that I never tell people, and is a little bit horrifying. Let's just say, this is the one time my life actually flashed before my eyes -- something I didn't even know was actually a real. Heck as I'm typing this it's getting hard to breath, but I'll push through it! This is my story.

When I was turning 11 years old, there was only one thing I wanted for my birthday. MegaMan X6. I remember talking to my friends at school about X5, when my friend Keith mentioned that X6 had actually came out! I somehow had no idea this was a thing, but when he told me how it continued the story of X5, and that X now had Zero's sword (something that gets passed to him at the end of X5), I knew I had to play it. I loved X5, and I couldn't wait to play more continuing from where it left off! So I told my parents about it, and began my long wait for the day I could finally play it for myself. I still remember the day we found it at Toys R Us for sale, so it's not like I didn't know I was going to get it, it's just that my birthday wasn't until Summer... So the wait was annoying. But eventually the day came, and I was beyond excited!

I still remember walking up early in the morning, and my mom giving me the game early. I ripped open the package, ran back to my room, and popped the disc into my PS1 that was in the corner of my room. Man, that opening stage is still burned into my memory as if it were yesterday! Seeing X in his Falcon armor, being at the crash site of the space colony, having the Z-Saber, it was all just so amazing to me! The Japanese opening threw me off, sure, but I ended up loving that opening, and found myself enjoying what little time I had to play the game. My mom actually let me take my PS1 to my grandma's house though, so I'd be able to play it some more (sooner) after my party.

That year we had a swim party, and a lot of my friends and family members were there. It was a little cloudy outside, but being June it was still warm enough. I honestly can't remember everything we did that day, but I do remember there being a lot of water guns, us playing volleyball in the pool, and just having a fun time! I showed X6 off to my cousin for a little bit at one point, but that whole day was spent outside -- until something secretly happened to me.

I still don't know what actually happened, or why... It's kinda a blank to me, and thinking about it makes my eyes start to water... All I really remember is being underwater, sucking in... a lot... and not being able to get back up because of the rafts above me... With people on them? It's funny -- I remember thinking about a lot of different things in that moment. I was only 11, but there was so much to think back on... It felt like I was under there for hours, but what brought me back was hearing my cousin say something about moving. Next thing I know I was at the side of the pool spitting up water and pulling myself out. I think I went and threw up in the grass behind the fence, but everything going forward was a blur to me. I didn't let anyone know what happened, and I refused to get back into the pool after. I got dressed, and was "rude" sitting inside during my own party. X6 is actually what helped calm me down, but the effects of the whole thing have never gone away.

I love swimming, and still go swimming in my grandma's pool. It's one of my favorite things to do in the summer, and that hasn't changed since that day nearly 22 years ago. Being grabbed or dunked underwater on the other hand? No... I have a really hard time letting people touch me in the water. I've gotten better about it, but a part of me still has that fight or flight response and I can't really control it. When I think back to that day, I always try to remember X6 and not what happened, but both events will always be a part of me -- the good and the bad. 

As for X6, I did end up liking the game despite it's flaws. I enjoyed the armor sets, the story, characters like Dynamo, and in general just had fun with it. Sure there are parts I agree aren't that great, but it's still a game I do like to return to. Heck, there's a reason I'm at the top of the leader boards for Legacy Collection 2's Platinum Trophy -- I'm one of the few people who actually like the games in it enough to get the platinum! It's for sure a game that deserves criticism, but that doesn't change the fact that I like it, nor does it change the fact that it's special to me and something that helped me get past almost drowning. It means a lot to me actually, so I don't think I can ever get myself to jump on the hate train. Thank you MegaMan X6, thank you for helping me get through that day.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name - Review

The Like a Dragon series has been going for quite some time now. Originally releasing back in 2005 as “Yakuza” in the West, the series was eventually rebranded “Like a Dragon” in the US to align with its original Japanese name. While this might cause confusion for some, long time fans know exactly what this is, and what to expect from it. Which is the thing — Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man who Erased His Name is going to be familiar territory for long time fans, and honestly something new fans might want to stay away from… Or at least, I recommend new fans stay away from it!

The thing is, Gaiden is basically part 7.5 in this long running series. LAD is basically a full on TV crime drama in video game form, with every game being a single “season.” The series current beginning is “Yakuza 0” which introduces us to our original main character Kiryu in the 80s, Yakuza Kiwami is a remake of the original and takes place in 2005, with each game following taking place around the year it released. Each of these stories mark major turning points in Kiryu’s life, and skipping a single one will leave you with plenty of questions about who this character is, and who these people are in his life. For example, Kiwami 2 sees Kiryu returning to the life of the yakuza after attempting to live a quiet life with his step daughter, Yakuza 3 sees him opening up an orphanage, and Yakuza 5 has his life get completely turned upside down for the sake of his family. Now Yakuza 6? That’s an emotional ride on its own. It’s appropriately titled “The Song of Life.” 

Yakuza 7 (dubbed Like a Dragon: Yakuza in the US — making it the first to change back to the Japanese title) sees a shift in the story and introduces us to the new lead Ichiban Kasuga. While 7 is a direct sequel to 6, it also follows a new story with a new cast of characters, with events that change the series as a whole. Judgment released before 7, and story wise takes place after 6, but also followed its own story set within this world. In Judgment’s case, it focuses on the Yagami Detective Agency as Yagami himself and his partner Kaito get pulled into a series of strange murders. While the story doesn’t have a direct impact on the main series, it introduces new characters into the franchise, and expands the world in general — with it’s sequel Lost Judgment being a follow up to 7. There’s also two side games that released on the PSP with yet another main character, but these games aren’t as connected at this point in time.

So to sum it up… Gaiden is the next in line after nearly everything that came before it. Timeline wise it takes place before and during 7, and because of that it spoils the dramatic conclusion of Yakuza 6, and a good chunk of 7 as well. It’s a game meant to be played ONLY after you’ve played everything that came before, and it’s even recommended to play Judgment to get the full experience as well (as characters from it do appear). That being said, if you are reading this review and you have not finished 6 or 7, I strongly recommend you skip the story section of this review, and focus on the gameplay. The gameplay is very similar to what came before, and chances are if this interests you at all — then you’ll want to check out the earlier games. Especially Kiwami 2, Yakuza 6, Judgment, and Lost Judgment as they all use the newer game engine. (But of course 0 through 5 are similar as well, just with some differences.)

Anyway, with all of that being said… Let’s get on with the review. Again, you’ve been warned concerning the story.

The Man who Erased His Name, and His Story:

The story of Gaiden picks up a few years after the ending of Yakuza 6, and sees our long time hero return in a new phase of his life. After discovering the “Secret of Onomichi” during the events of 6, Kiryu is marked for death and is nearly killed in the process. Instead of succumbing to his injuries, he manages to pull through once again (guy’s had a rough life), but this time things turn out a bit different. While sitting in his hospital room Kiryu is approached by the new leader of the Daidoji faction, the group who tried to have him killed for uncovering their secret, and is offered a new deal. Kiryu agrees, but makes a demand of his own — he wants the group to erase him. He wants the world to believe that he is dead. His way to escape from the yakuza life, and finally allow his family to live in peace… And so “Joryu” is born.

While working for the Daidoji group, Joryu takes on jobs and missions at their request. He’s kept under a tight leash, and must never contact his friends or family, but he’s allowed to complete missions as he sees fit as long as he doesn’t break the rules. As, let’s just say, betraying the group is the last thing you would want to do. Unfortunately, Joryu finds himself in a tough situation, and has no choice but to do whatever he can to avoid breaking his promise concerning his identity.

After a guard duty job goes wrong, Joryu gets recognized as Kiryu, and it’s up to him to find the people who know and put an end to them; however, things don’t go as planned and instead Kiryu’s handler gets kidnapped in the process. Now with no choice but to safe his watchman, Joryu sets out for his old stomping ground of Sotenbori to track down the Omi Alliance members who captured his colleague, and to ensure his identity isn’t blown. Needless to say, this isn’t going to be as easy as it might sound.

Although Gaiden does have it’s own story to tell, it’s events are still tied with Like a Dragon: Yakuza (Yakuza 7). This means the game itself expects you to know and understand what is happening in the world during this point in time, and the game makes it clear where this story is going to end. Slide shows are used to quickly recap some of the events from 7, but most of Ichiban’s story is left out of Gaiden. So without playing 7, it’s impossible to fully understand the overall plot of the game outside of Joryu’s current ordeal. Plus Gaiden also ruins one of the greatest scenes from 7, so again it’s strongly recommended to play 7 before this either way. Even so, the stand alone plot in Gaiden is nice, and is for sure well worth it. It’s more than just a prequel to 7, it’s the start of the Joryu chapter of Kiryu’s life.

The Gameplay and Agent Style:

Like previous entries in the series (minus 7), Gaiden is an action adventure game with RPG elements. During gameplay, Joryu explores the city of Sotenbori, where buildings containing shops and side activities line the streets, and enemies roam waiting to challenge Joryu to a fight. Obviously shops allow you to buy a wide verity of equipment as well as health items and food, while the other locations you can enter typically provide you with entirely different games to play. Restaurants can also be used to buy food to quickly heal yourself when Joryu is low on energy, and smoking stations can be used to recharge his special “heat” bar that allows him to pull off strong special attacks.

As for combat itself, the fighting is completely in real time, with Joryu being able to block, dodge, and counter enemy attacks. Combat is made up of using a mixture of normal attacks, heavy attacks, and grabs/throws, but special moves also play a role in taking out enemies faster. These moves are pulled off by having your heat bar charged, and meeting certain conditions while in battle. For example, picking up a traffic cone will allow you to bash an enemy over the head, while grabbing enemies will let you pull off a verity of attacks based on where Joryu is standing/what is around him at the time. Of course you can also pick up objects around you to use them as weapons without special attacks, but all items have a set durability and will break with use. Extreme Heat mode also returns in this game, which allows Joryu to use his heat bar to buff himself for a limited time, and pull off even stronger attacks. While in this state special heat action attacks can also be used, but it’s main use does come from its added power and new finishing attacks. Of course, while all of this is returning from previous games in the series, Gaiden does have new tricks up it’s sleeves.


Previously Yakuza 0, Kiwami, Judgment, and Lost Judgment all featured the ability to change between multiple attack styles. Gaiden uses this system as well; however, this time around Joryu has a new style at his disposal — the “Agent Style.” This style is a fast moving, quick hitting offshoot of Joryu’s usual attacks, but with a completely new twist. Joryu has access to agent gadgets.

While Joryu usually fights with his fists, his new gadgets allow him to turn the tide of battle in all new ways. The first of which is a wire that allows Joryu to grab enemies, swing them across the arena, and pull them towards him to pull off some juggling combos, but it can also be used to pull items and weapons to him in a pinch. His new explosive cigarette lets him throw bombs and set traps for enemies, and drones can be called in to swarm enemies or even help protect Joryu when he needs to quickly defend himself or counter attacks. The last gadget is a pair of jet shoes that allows Joryu to fly across the battle arena, and even escape from battles if needed. Combine together, these gadgets can help you destroy your enemies in all new ways, and pull off crazy new combos. There’s also a new gadget version of the counter mechanic where you can dodge an enemy’s power hit and pull off a special, so Gaiden provides quite a few new systems to play around with while in combat.

Although fighting battles in Gaiden does gain you money and items, the experience system has been taken out in favor of a new upgrade system. Like in Yakuza 0 you do need money to buy upgrades, but you also need the required points from the Akame Network.

The Akame Network:

Akame is a character you'll meet early on in the story. She is a type of "fixer" in the area, who helps people out with odd jobs, and takes care of the homeless whenever possible. Joryu joins up with her and gains access to her "Akame Network" which lists jobs that can be taken to earn extra cash and network points. It also gives you a heads up on what "issues" are occurring in the city, which then appear as "!" icons on your map. These mini events are typically either civilians asking for help in a fight, people asking you to find their lost items, and sometimes it's even requests to take pictures of something specific for them. There's dozens of these "mini quests" throughout the city, and they are a great way to earn some extra points fast; however, it's the jobs that offer the true experience here.

Accepting jobs from the Akame network unlocks side stories like past entries in the series had. This time around most of the side stories revolve around the series' history as a whole, with some of them providing a bit more closure on Kiryu's journey so far. We have quite a few familiar faces appearing as well, so once again even this part of the game offers a lot of fan service that would go over new player's heads. These side stories offer a wide verity of scenarios, so it never feels like you're doing the same thing twice. That is, with the exception of the gang related side stories, which simply put mini bosses for you to fight throughout the city. Other than that, you never know what to expect out of these extra stories, and, due to their nature in general, they are all well worth doing. This is a shorter game compared to the numbered entries in the series, so the side stories really help add to the playtime and flesh some things out.

Once you have enough Akame points, you can then spend them on unlocking new skills and abilities for Joryu, but you do need the required cash to buy them as well. Of course this isn't as big of a problem as it might seem, as the Akame network is also tied to the next major feature added to the game, which is a major money maker, and is required for story progression.

The Castle:

The Castle is a place where everyone's dreams come true. Or rather, it's where people can break the law, and basically do whatever they want. This area has a casino, a hostess club, a shop to buy clothing for Joryu, and it also contains the battle arena. Here is where you'll get to fight your way through different battles to not only gain money, but also rank yourself up and gain access to more areas of The Castle. At first it seems like your typical battle arena like past games have had, but this time around it's actually a bit more. You see, not only do you get to fight one on one battles, but you also get to take part in group matches as well... And those group matches means you're going to have to recruit new fighters to your team.

With the team matches, Gaiden asks that you not only go out and recruit new members to your team, but also familiar faces as well. There's dozens of characters to recruit in the game, and not only can they be put on your team to clear the team battles, but they can be played as as well! While there is DLC to recruit and play as series veterans such as Majima, Saijima, and Daigo, other returning characters are met and recruited in the game itself. Along with the newcomers, each character has their own unique fighting move set and special abilities to use in the arena, and using them over and over again will level them up and make them stronger. There's also facilities you can use within The Castle to help give them boosts/train them faster, as well as ways to increase your friendship level by hanging out with them. It's not too crazy deep or anything, but with all the characters to recruit and train, and all of the matches you can fight — its' easy to sink countless hours into this mode alone. Especially if you're someone who just enjoys fighting as their favorite characters.

Joryu himself does not level up in the arena (as it uses his normal in game progression to determine his strength), but you can buy different outfits and customize how he looks when he's both in and outside of the battle arena. It's kinda like a return to the old costume system in Yakuza, but with more freedom to change the colors of things, add accessories, etc. It's not too in depth, but it's a nice little extra that lets you put your own personal touch on the character.

As mentioned before, The Castle is tied to the story also, so it's not something that can be fully skipped. While it is an extra game mode, some rankings are required to be reached to progress the game. Thankfully it takes little effort to do so however, so anyone not a fan of arena modes doesn't have to worry about grinding out something they don't enjoy just to progress. (But it's for sure worth doing, and a lot of fun!)

The Games Within The Game:

Outside of The Castle, Gaiden is packed full of side activities. These side games aren't just some little one off mini games however, as they are fully developed games on their own. Heck, some of them ARE full on games, that could have their own reviews written just for them! But to save time, I'll just go into some of what you can expect. 

Club SEGA -

Club SEGA returns, and once again it has a verity of different FULL arcade games to be played. The games included this time around are as follows: Virtua Fighter 2.1, Fighting Vipers 2, Sonic the Fighters, Motor Raid, and Sega Racing Classic 2. All games are in their original arcade state, with an option to play them multiplayer on Gaiden's main menu.

Besides these games, Club SEGA also has the UFO Catcher game to be played, where you can win and collect little plush toys (some of which are SEGA game references).

SEGA Master System -

While Club SEGA is open from the get go, there's a key part in the story that gives Joryu access to a SEGA Master System. This game console isn't just for show however, as you can actually play full Master System games on it! These games will be found hidden throughout the world, with the list of games available being as follows: Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Alien Syndrome, Enduro Racer, Fantasy Zone, Fantasy Zone II, Flicky, Galaxy Force, Global Defense, Maze Hunter 3D, Penguin Land, Quartet, and Secret Command.

Again these games are in their original form, and are in fact FULL games (not demos). 

Billiards -

Returning from past games, Billiards is once again a way you can spend your time while playing Gaiden. This realistically created pool table lets you play a verity of game modes, as well as play a trick shot challenge mode. You have multiple camera modes you can select from while playing (one of which being a top down view similar to the days of Yahoo Pool), and you can control exactly where you hit the ball to control your shot/to put spin on it. It's actually a pretty in depth mode, and the game is filled with NPCs for you to challenge as well.

Darts -

Along with Billiards, Darts is also an option. Again we have multiple game modes to be played, and different NPCs that can be challenged to a match. While it isn't as in depth as Billiards, it's still a fun distraction.

Golf -

Golf in Gaiden is actually a driving range, and not a full golf course. Even so, it's a fun mode which offers different challenges of it's own. Gameplay wise, it's very similar to other golf video games on the market, complete with using different clubs and controlling your strength to land the perfect shot. It hasn't changed much since games like Kiwami 2, but there's nothing wrong with that.

Karaoke -

A staple for the series, Karaoke returns! This music game allows you to select from a handful of songs (with both Japanese and English versions), where you must then hit the correct button to the beat of the song. It's an addicting little game mode, with some unexpected laughs as well!

Pocket Circuit -

Yet another staple and fan favorite, Pocket Circuit is back once again. In this mode you build mini cars to race in a Pocket Circuit, and do your best to beat your opponents. The trick here is that every car is made up of different parts that will change it's stats, and every single track will require something different out of you. Building a fast car will cause you to fly off the track if it can't handle turns or overshoots a jump, but using a slow car for a track built for speed will cause you to be in last. On the other hand, some races are more about endurance, so having a longer lasting battery is what you'll need to win! It's actually a pretty complex mode, with a lot of custom options, and a wide verity of things you need to consider to win. You can also give your car a boost during the race, but knowing when or not to use this is key as well. Overall this is yet another mini game a lot of time can be spent on, with plenty of content even after you obtain the trophy for unlocking Master Class.

Poker & Table Top Games -

Like a Dragon Gaiden also contains quite a few card and table top games to play. Of course Poker and Black Jack are here, with different levels of play, and we also have Japanese games such as: Shogi, Oichu-Kabu, Koi-Koi, and Mahjong. Shogi is very similar to chess, with different pieces that have different types of movements, while the others are basically card games. Thankfully the game will explain to you how to play them, so you won't be fully lost, but don't expect to master these games right off the bat if you're unfamiliar with them.

Cabaret Club -

Honestly the weakest part of Gaiden... Cabaret Clubs return once again, but instead of being a full on fun management simulation game... We get live action girls awkwardly trying to act like "you" are visiting their club. It's... Something... To say the least. You basically pick which girl you want to interact with, she'll ask you a question, you respond to the question, and then watch the prerecorded response based on whatever you said. You can pick which drink you would like to buy the girls also, and depending on what you choose, they might end up liking you more. Same goes with the questions  — it's all about picking the right answer when you're given the option. Each girl kinda tells you more about their life as you go through this process, but the whole thing is just very strange and shallow. Finishing a girl's "story" will reward you with a weird ending video, but it's really not worth getting max friendship three times just to unlock these scenes. (Although it is an achievement within the game, so it is worth "something.") Really the entire mode is meant to be a joke, but it's a shame we lost our simulation game in favor of this.

Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth Demo -

The final "additional" content in Gaiden is access to the Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth Demo (LAD 8). This is unlocked after finishing the main story in Gaiden, and gives players a small taste of what the next mainline entry in the game is going to be like. Along with that comes additional Karaoke songs to sing, and access to the starting stages of the new mini games developed for that game. It also contains a glimpse into the new story, and allows for some exploration around the new city. (And yes, enemies to fight, and a new combat system to try out.) Of course this is a demo for another game, so while it's nice early access to those who bought the game before 8 released, it's not something that players will be returning to if they own the real thing. Even so, it's still technically one of Gaiden's extras.

With all of that said, Gaiden offers a wide verity of activities outside of it's main game, and many of them can honestly add dozens (if not hundreds) of additional hours onto the game. Especially if you sit there and actually beat every single Master System game, or beat every challenge the other games have to offer. The Akame Network will reward you with points for completing different goals, so your efforts will be rewarded.

A Must Play for Fans:

Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name might have one of the longest names in the series, but it's actually the shortest of them all. It's a side game (Gaiden means "side story") meant to fill in the gap between Yakuza 6 and the 7th main entry, and also serve as an intro for Infinite Wealth (8). That being said, it's a game that everyone who's a fan of the series should play, and it's a game that won't disappoint.

As expected, Gaiden is everything that makes a Yakuza game a Yakuza game (Like a Dragon). It's a crime drama filled with twists and turns, it has fun fast paced action combat, it's loaded up with side stories and side activities to take part in, and it brings us back to a familiar city. While the main story itself is only 8-10 hours long, the side stories are actually worth doing and easily bump the game up to the 20-40 hour range — depending on everything you actually do. It's sort and sweat, and never overstays it's welcome. It's fun from start to finish, and it's just really nice to see this chapter of Joryu's life come to an end. The ending scene alone is one of the most emotional I've personally seen in a game, but without the context of it, it will fall flat for new fans. And that's really the only down side to this game.

Like I've said many times in this review, Gaiden is not a starting point for anyone interested in this series. If this game sounds like something you would enjoy, and you've never played any entries in the series — then you can basically apply this review to nearly any of the others (except 7 and 8 which are turn based). Most of them are action, they all have side games and mini games to play, they all have a huge list of side stories to go through, and honestly, they all have a lot more content than Gaiden could ever offer. While this might sound like a bad thing for Gaiden — it's actually not. Again, Gaiden was released to lead into the next major entry in the series, and is just a small taste of what is to come. It's meant to be short, while also having enough content to keep players engaged. It's not 100 + hours like you might spend on other games in the series, but it didn't need to be. Gaiden doesn't lose focus and try to be something it isn't, and it's honestly one of the things that makes it great. So again, for anyone who has never played an entry in this series, you're best picking another game as your start. Yakuza 0 will begin the story, while Kiwami 2 is the earliest entry point that plays like Gaiden. On the flip side Judgment is also it's own story, so even that can serve as a gateway into this world.

Of course, Gaiden isn't perfect.

On the flip side, the game is more of the "same," but with new combat systems, mini games, story, etc, to let it stand out from the others. Even so, you'll be doing mostly the same things you had to go through in previous entries, and that might be a bad thing to some. Those experiencing burnout from the series won't magically feel different about Gaiden. Yes it's a shorter game, but at the very least it's going to be roughly another 8 hours of what you've come to expect. Gaiden doesn't reinvent the series like 7 and 8, so that's something everyone should be aware of. Other than that, the Cabaret Club is a let down, and there are less heat actions to pull off while in combat. While all the standard ones are here, many of the more flashy ones have been removed sadly. It's something we've come to expect since Yakuza 6's new engine, but it would've been nice if they brought back some of the attacks we've been missing since 5. It's not a deal breaker by any means, it's just one area where they could've improved but didn't. 

Other than these minor gripes, Gaiden is pretty much everything you could want. It's fun, the story was easy to follow while also maintaining the series traditional plot twists, and it does a really good job setting up the future of the series. It's a game all fans should play — you won't be disappointed. And as for the newcomers? Do yourself a favor and jump into this series. It's well worth it.

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Monday, January 22, 2024

Finally gave Chrono Trigger a Chance

Last year I finally sat down and did something I’ve put off since I was a teenager. I beat Chrono Trigger! Now as a kid I had no idea what CT was, so I missed out on its release. I didn’t play RPGs back then anyway, and it’s not something I would’ve ever asked for anyway. Kid me was all about Mario and MegaMan on the SNES, with games like Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger being completely foreign concepts to me. Heck, I didn’t even realize Pokemon Red was one of these “RPG” things! So yeah, not something I would’ve played; however, when I was a teenager things changed.

Getting a PS2 was my gateway into RPGs, with Kingdom Hearts being my introduction to Final Fantasy. Of course I figured I wouldn’t be able to play the FF series (at the time), but my friend Keith helped me change that! He’s the one who let me barrow Kingdom Hearts 1, and he lead me to try out Final Fantasy IV and VI. But to go along with these games, he also introduced me to Chrono Trigger. I’m pretty sure I was 14 at the time, and with my limited RPG experience, I had no idea what I was doing. My friend said it was such a great game, but it didn’t really give me a reason to play it…

So I didn’t…

I remember I got to the point where I met Frog, and then quit shortly after! Not that the game was bad or anything, but I had no motivation at the time to keep going. Other friends kept telling me how good it was, but all I could think was “I want to play the game with Cloud” or “how am I going to get the money for Kingdom Hearts 2?” It just wasn’t my priority to beat Chrono Trigger. And then the years went by!

Jump ahead, and college me really got into JRPGs. I went through nearly every major release, as well as many (MANY) lesser known titles. I even bought Chrono Cross to play on my Vita, but again I dropped it because I got stuck and felt like I was missing out by not playing Trigger. So it got shelved, and time once again marched on. Until 2023!

Finally sitting down to play Chrono Trigger was a weird experience. I remembered the intro from when I was a teen, but I also remembered why I stopped playing. Today I still have the same issue from back then — there’s so many games I could be playing, and CT didn’t seem to offer me what I’m looking for from a JRPG… But that’s weird to say! This is considered one of the greatest games of all time, and should be EVERYTHING I want from one! So I did something I didn’t do way back when. I kept going.

Overall, I completely get why the game is considered one of the greatest! In 2023 it might not be as impressive as it was back in the day, but it’s clearly the beginning point of a lot of systems we’ve gotten used to today. It’s insane the amount of things the game tried to do, while also keeping a core focus. The cast of characters is simple and not that “deep” overall, but each character has their own side story that helps flesh out both the character and the world itself. The main story is a time traveling adventure with multiple versions of the world map, and sometimes this time traveling is actually used to change the story in your favor! Overall the world actually isn’t that big (only a handful of areas), but it’s these different versions of the world that help it feel larger overall. Then there’s the fact that the final boss can be fought at any time, with different endings based on when you fight it. It’s the first time a game like this ever tried something along these lines, and overall it does it pretty well!

Again, CT isn’t too ambitious, and it never feels overwhelming with what it does. It’s roughly 20 hours to do everything (minus all the endings), so it never overstays its welcome. There’s also so many side stories, that are full on stories, so the game rewards you for exploring and finding new things to see. It’s one of the thing that makes the game charming, and I did really enjoy going through each one. As a kid I’m sure I would’ve spent countless hours searching all the timelines, but as an adult I used a quest checklist to make sure I didn’t miss a thing! Some of them had unique gameplay or puzzles to go along with them, so each one was a surprise to play through. Again, I enjoyed each one! 

My favorite part of the game though has to be its battle system. Enemies are on screen and walking close to them triggers the battle. I’ve always preferred this system over random encounters, so seeing CT kick it off was a nice surprise! Attacks and skills can combo together to create unique special moves, with different characters offering different ways to combo! Gives you a reason to constantly mix up your party, and keeps the gameplay from getting stale. Sometimes attacks will also trigger extra environmental damage, such as being knocked into a wall by a heavy hitting blow. Again, something you didn’t see in JRPGs at the time! Helped make the game even more unique, and added to my enjoyment of the battle system.

Overall, I did really enjoy my time with CT, but I feel as if I should’ve played it when I was younger. It was a short unique time traveling adventure, but it’s still not fully what I look for in a JRPG now days. I’m the type of person who loves thousands of lines of dialogue, talking to every NPC in town over and over again, and watching cutscene after cutscene. Yeah I enjoy tactical gameplay, dungeon crawling, and just RPG gameplay in general… But that’s just a part of the experience for me! There’s so many games out there now days that have "everything" I want, that it's hard to for me to spend my time on Chrono Trigger instead. Trails in the Sky made the Trails series one of my all time favorites. Tales is one of my all time favorite action RPG series now, and I really enjoy the tactical gameplay of the SMT series. Then you have the life sim aspect of Persona 3-5 -- which not only has a high focus on story, but dungeon crawling and gameplay. These are games I love and keep playing over and over again! But all of these games came long after Chrono Trigger, and it’s clear how influential the game was for said future titles. So it really isn’t fair for me to judge it for what it doesn’t do, especially when it did so much, and did it all right!

So my feelings for Chrono Trigger are not easy to explain at all. 

Am I happy that I finally finished it? Yes. Did I enjoy my time with it? Considering I spent every lunch break for a month playing it… Heck yeah! Do I wish I spent that time playing something else? I honestly don’t know. I feel like with other games I would’ve taken a break or got burned out playing every single day (especially considering it took up my whole lunch break). While I love sinking 80 hours into a world, sometimes it does start to drag when you find it taking up ALL of your free time. With CT on the other hand, I didn’t get bored and I kept coming back day after day! My lunch breaks didn't feel wasted, and a few nights I found myself staying up until 3AM just to push through a section. So yes, while it isn’t my favorite JRPG, I liked every second of it. It was missing a lot of things I enjoy out of JRPGs, but I really liked what the game did have! And I feel like that’s the reason why this game is so loved. Is it perfect? No. Was it unique for it's time? Absolutely! Did it give players a reason to explore and uncover it's secrets? Yep, and it was rewarding to do so. It's a short game, but nothing overstays it's welcome because of that. (And of course the constantly changing gameplay helps as well.)  I just wish I would’ve been able to experience it back when it first released, or if I would’ve actually played it back when I was 14. While I'm able to see the game for what it is today, and see how much it influenced the world of JRPGs moving forward... I feel like it would've had a bigger impact on me if I hadn't played hundreds of JRPGs at this point. But that's my fault, and not the game's.

Anyway, Chrono Trigger was a nice month long adventure for me, and I don’t regret a thing. It’s not the only classic JRPG I’ve missed out on though — so this is just the start of my long road ahead. One that I’m looking forward to!

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Thursday, January 18, 2024

How I joined the Rockband Family

With the announcement of Rockband 4's DLC support ending in favor of Fortnite Festival, I'm feeling pretty nostalgic of my time spent with the series. Rockband is easily one of my favorite games of all time, and I'm currently sitting here with mixed emotions over the whole thing... But that's besides the point! Today I wanted to share my story of how I was introduced into the series, and I'd also love to hear from you guys as well! This series is truly special, and I feel like many out there will have just as good (heck, most likely better) stories about it like me! So anyway, with that being said... Here's my story:

My journey with Rockband actually began way back in the mid 2000s with none other than Guitar Hero 2. This was the first time I had heard of the company Harmonix, and first time I had even heard of Guitar Hero! Obviously it was the second entry, but it was my friend Keith who even brought it to my attention. He got the game for Christmas, and I remember him inviting me over to play it. I was honestly pretty bad at it at the time, and could hardly even play easy mode, but I did think the game was pretty fun. I felt like he was the only person who knew it existed, but before long I realized just how wrong I was! Moving forward, GH2 was up for demo at every major store around me, and kids even began bringing it into school! It was something we'd play on free days, but again, I was really bad at it. Eventually GH3 would come out and the crazy continued on, and it wasn't long before EVERYONE in school was talking about it.

Of course, I never expected to own it myself. It was expensive, and I was pretty lacking on musical knowledge at the time. So it just didn't seem worth it to me to own it at the time... But I still really liked playing it. I still remember when my cousin got GH3 for his 360 on Christmas Eve and we spent the night playing it! It was a lot of fun! I remember my uncle had some issues with the songs for whatever reason, but who cares -- everyone else really enjoyed it. That next school semester was filled with kids talking about the game, and it was great being able to be a part of those discussions! But then something happened... Something "new" began making it's rounds.

When I first heard about Rockband, I'll admit that I thought it was a knock off. I didn't realize it was Harmonix, so I just thought someone was trying to cash in on GH's success! But then I had friends talking about it, and how it offered a full band experience, so eventually I became interested in it as well. I started playing it at a friend's house, and before I knew it, it had replaced GH at our school! We even had it at post prom! Of course I was still bad at it, but I found myself enjoying it even more than GH. This is when I knew I had to have it... Someday.

While I missed out on owning RB1 and 2, The Beatles Rockband was the perfect entry point for me! Me and another cousin of mine ran across it's demo at our local Best Buy, and I remember we spent something like an hour playing it. I was in college at this point, but I knew it would be a perfect Christmas gift if my parents were willing to buy it for me. So I asked them, and to my surprise they bought it! My dad also grabbed me the Country Track Pack, and that Christmas me and my parents spent most of the day just going through both the Beatles songs, as well as the country songs. I pushed myself to get better as I played, so I quickly found myself working my way up to hard mode that day, while my parents were content with sticking to easy. By the time New Years came around, I had also bought Lego Rockband as well (it had some great songs!), and me and my entire family who came to stay with us for the night spent all night playing it! It was amazing, and easily one of my favorite memories period!

Eventually I would get RB1, however the disc was busted, and RB3. Meanwhile my cousins had a copy of RB2, but I just bought DLC songs from it I liked. I was obsessed with the series up until the day my Xbox 360 broke, and I thought I would retire from it for good. But then in 2014 I got an Xbox One (already had a PS4), and by 2015 I was returning to RB4 -- which was once again a Christmas gift from my parents!

That Christmas Eve we spent all night playing the game together, just like we had many many years before. Again it's such a great memory, and it's something we would keep coming back to do together as a family as the years went on! Sadly I wasn't able to bring all of my songs forward (poor college kid me didn't buy the Lego RB export), but we still had plenty to play. I continued buying DLC songs pretty much every month, and before I knew it years went by and I had a massive library of songs to enjoy! It's something I was hoping to last forever.

Still to this day, RB is something I continue to come back to. Again, it's one of my all time favorite games, and I don't plan on stopping anytime soon. The end of DLC is sad news, but it's not like I own anywhere near every song. In fact my current wish list has well over 100 titles that I'd like to buy at some point! So the game has plenty let to offer me, but at the same time it's sad to see the end of an era. While Fortnite Festival is Rockband in all but name (and the characters), it's sad to see the RB brand fade away. It's been a fun ride though, and I do look forward to seeing what's to come. Who knows? Maybe that Rockband 5 will happen someday?

Well anyway that's my story of how I got into RB. What about you guys?

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Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Happy New Year! 2024!

I know, I know. I’m very late with this! The last few weeks have been crazy busy, and I just haven’t really gotten the chance to make this post. Heck, this last year in general has been pretty busy. A lot happened throughout 2023, and looking back now it’s crazy to think that all of that happened within a single year. It was my first full year being married and living in my new house, we had family friends also get married this year, and we got to spend quite a bit of time swimming and just enjoying our new life. However, unfortunately, not everything was great either… I spent a good chunk of the year in pain with kidney stones (fun…), I lost my last remaining uncle, we received some bad news from other family members, and my grandma went blind as well… So not all of 2023 was great, but personally I’d rather focus on the good rather than the bad.

With all that being said — it’s not like I abandoned gaming. In fact, this year is the first one in a long time where I was able to get back into the swing of things! Final Fantasy XVI released last year, I finally went through some classics I’ve put off like Chrono Trigger, and me and my wife finally finished going through the rest of the Yakuza series! Of course there was a lot more on top of these games, but this post would go on forever if I were to cover everything… So I’ll just cut this short here.

With 2024 I’m making it my New Year’s resolution to finally get back to the games I’ve been missing out on, and beat my records from last year. Here we are on the 16th and I’ve already managed to platinum three PlayStation games, so I’m already well on my way to completing that resolution. However, I’d like to do a bit more than just play the games. I want to stop neglecting this blog, and get things back to how they used to be. Yeah, I doubt I can write something every day, but I’d like to get more review out, and just talk more about the games I’m playing. I’m not going to force myself to get things done, or force myself to finish a game just to review it, but I’d like to share more of my experiences with the world once again! So to kick things off with this new year, I’d like to start with a review of a game I just recently 100% completed… But that’s a post for another day.

Anyway I just wanted to give a quick update, and wish you guys all a happy new year! I hope you look forward to what’s to come. Who knows? Maybe we’ll even do some blog revamps this year. There’s quite a bit I’d like to change and fix up, but we’ll see where it goes. 

Thanks for reading! See you next time! 

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Friday, October 13, 2023

How I was introduced to Assassin's Creed

When Assassin's Creed first came out, I didn't have an Xbox 360 or PS3. I saw the commercials for it at Walmart, and I'd see it on the shelf from time to time, but I never thought I'd actually play the series. It was on consoles I didn't own, and it honestly didn't look like something I would enjoy. Back then I was kinda picky on what I would or wouldn't play, and I really didn't branch out much because of that. Heck, I was also in high school, so I didn't really have too many choices anyway. I didn't have a part time job yet, and my parents controlled what I could actually get. So AC was simply just not in the cards for me... But of course, that all eventually changed.

After I turned 17, I started my first job and began saving up for an Xbox 360. The main reason I wanted it was actually Sonic 06 (yes, laugh at me), but once I actually bought the console I decided to make the most out of it. I began buying games I wouldn't normally even look twice at, and surprisingly many of them became all time favorites of mine! I'll admit that AC still wasn't on my radar at that time, but the next year was pretty great overall. Soon I would go on to graduate from high school and start college, but that didn't slow me down when it came to gaming. If anything, it actually gave me more time to do just that! So once again I went out looking for new games, but nothing was really catching my eye. But then "it" happened...

We had a bad storm one Friday night, so I remember I went to bed early before the work the next day, and just kinda slept through it all. I didn't think about turning things off, but when I got a call from my mom the next day I was shocked to hear that my PC would no longer turn on... I was pretty upset to say the least... So being left with no choice (that PC was basically my life as I needed it for everything, especially with school), my parents helped me pack it up, and we took it to Best Buy (which was well over an hour away).

I was prepared to have to buy a new PC or something. Didn't know how we'd do it (I didn't have that kind of money, and my parents couldn't really afford to either), but we were going to have to do something. THANKFULLY Best Buy found that the PC itself was fine, and just the power supply unit was fired. They then sold us a new one, and told us it would take about half an hour to put it in. So in the mean time, I went "window shopping," and that's when I saw it. Assassin's Creed on sale for $20!

I really knew nothing about the game besides what I remembered seeing years ago, but looking at the back of the box convinced me it was worth giving it a shot. Considering I didn't have to buy a whole new PC, and did have enough money leftover after the new PSU, I went ahead and bought it. That was basically 14 years ago to this day. I didn't know about AC2 coming out (although there was a spot on the shelf advertising it), but when I got home and started up AC1 for the first time -- I was hooked instantly. The massive cities, the climbing, the combat, the leap of faith, etc, it was all just amazing to me! Sure, it got repetitive at times, but I played the heck out of that game daily up until the release of AC2 (which I of course had to buy).

I still remember playing it that Halloween also, and my mom's friend bringing her kids over. They got all excited and rushed into my room because they saw "VIDEO GAMES" and wanted to watch. Well, behind that Xbox 360 menu screen was AC paused with me stabbing a guy in the neck, so that wasn't easy to show them... Ended up just existing the game and losing progress, but it was worth it...

But anyway, what I thought was going to be a horrible day of losing my PC turned into the day I got introduced to one of my all time favorite series. So in a way, I'm thankful for that storm!

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Monday, October 9, 2023

The Game that Gave me Literal Nightmares

When it comes to horror games, there's not a lot that scares me. I refused to play them when I was a teenager (because horror movies scared me), but by the time I got into college I decided it was finally time to try them out. While I had played some games with "scary" parts in the past (I'm looking at you Half Life 2), Resident Evil was the first true horror series I jumped into -- and I actually put a lot of research in before I pulled the trigger! I spent countless hours reading wiki pages online, and eventually I decided that the story and gameplay sounded interesting enough to give it a shot! Managed to get a great deal on Resident Evil 0, REmake, and 4 on Amazon, and downloaded RE2 to my PSP. Of course I started with RE2 since I had it instantly (Amazon took 5+ days to ship back then), and I quickly fell in love with the game and series as a whole.

Moving on from RE, I would play many other horror games over the years. I'd return to Half Life, play Dino Crisis, Parasite Eve, Bioshock, Alan Wake, Dead Space, Left 4 Dead, Amnesia, Until Dawn, Alien Isolation, The Evil Within, some Silent Hill, etc. Basically a wide verity of "actual" horror games, horror "themed" games, and games that simply had their scary moments, but are not really horror games. Sure, I had a heck of a lot of fun with them, but none of them actually scared me! At least outside of a few jump scares from time to time. But that's not a bad thing at all -- I didn't jump into these games to actually be scared! I wanted fun games, and that's all that mattered to me. And then something changed... Resident Evil 7 came out.

The thing is -- I don't find RE7 to be scary on it's own. Yes it has some jump scares, and yes there's some disturbing content... But none of that bothered me! It's not much different from what we had before, except now the entire game was locked in first person. So it honestly wasn't that bad! Or rather, it wouldn't have been that bad if it weren't for the fact I played it in VR.

PlayStation VR changed everything for me. It let me experience games in a way I never imagined, and each game I played constantly left me wanting more. Years later VR is what helped me get through lock down in 2020, but even before then I began integrating VR every way I could! Watching 3D videos, watching TV shows on Hulu, etc. I loved, and still love, VR, but I never realized what this would mean for horror. Or rather, what horror in VR would do to me.

When I first jumped into RE7 VR, it was the demo. I didn't play it a lot because it did  creep me out, but I had fun showing it to friends and family. When I got the full game however, I told myself that I'd only play it in VR and get the full experience. Well, I did, and I paid for it! You see, in VR you are actually "there." This isn't on the other side of a screen. You're not sitting on your couch as you look across the room through a window to another world -- instead what you see with your eyes IS that other world. It's not much different than looking around the room you're sitting in now as you read this post. The world is fake obviously, but when you move your head, you're moving your head within this other world. When you turn around, you've physically turned around in the game as well. What your eyes see, and what your brain believes to be true, does become true to you, and it's such a weird experience. Throw that into a horror setting, and it's something completely different.

In VR horror games, you go from being someone playing a game or watching a story unfold, to someone who must "become" the main character of a horror story. There's no "playing it safe." You HAVE to make those dumb decisions often seen in horror movies. You HAVE to go into that dark creepy basement, and you have to confront your fears if you ever want to finish the game. There's no finding a safe place to hide until someone saves you -- you have no choice but to move forward. And during this adventure, you'll notice more than you've ever even realized when simply playing a game on a TV. For example, walking through the house in RE7, you see the maggots crawling along, you notice every fallen or broken joist, you see the trash laying around, and even notice the specks of dust falling before your eyes. Things you don't realize when you're simply watching, but becomes painfully obvious when it's "you" in that character's shoes. Your brain screams at you that you're in danger, and often you find your body reacting before you can even think a situation through! One scene has you crashing a car into a fallen beam to take down the boss, but as the beam comes straight at your head, chances are you'll physically duck down or dodge it before you're hit! Of course you never feel the pain, but your natural instinct to survive kicks in none the less. Again, it's such a crazy feeling, and the effects of this can be felt afterwords. It's a game, yes, but try convincing your brain of this fact.

After getting through RE7 in VR, my nightmare didn't end. In fact, it followed me into my dreams. The layout of that house, the bugs, the dripping water... That "dinner table." Since I had "been there," my brain could recreate it all in perfect detail. It developed dreams that brought me back to that world as if it was something I had truly gone through in my life! The memories of this game crossed the line of fiction, and entered what my sleeping self considered reality, and it took a LONG time before I was able to reverse this. I had countless nightmares about that house, and still to this day "Go Tell Aunt Rhody"triggers something inside me. It's like a repressed memory trying to crawl it's way back, but I know it wasn't real. Never has a game done something like this to me, and I'm honestly not sure if it ever will again. 

Since finishing RE7 and having the nightmares, I've played other VR horror games. Did they scare me? Yes. But did I have lasting effects from them? Shockingly no! I might've had a dream or two about Half Life Alyx, but nothing to the extent of RE7. Maybe it's because RE was my first VR experience, or maybe playing so much VR after has caused me to become desensitized to the whole thing. Either way, RE7 is an experience I'll never be able to forget... And that's one reason I still love it to this day. Does that make me sound crazy?

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Monday, July 24, 2023

Memories of Armored Core

After such a long (LONG) wait, Armored Core 6 is finally almost here, and I couldn't be happier. You see, Armored Core is a special series to me, but it's also one I haven't always been able to keep up with. I'm someone who kinda falls into a weird place with it, because although I love it and am a "long time fan," it's not a series I've been able to fully experience. Even so, what I have been there for will always be special to me, and I guess it's that nostalgia that really drives my excitement when it comes to this release. Now, in the past I slightly touched on my experience with the series, but today is a new day, and I feel like now is the perfect time to expand upon my story. 

Growing up, I was a HUGE fan of both robots and mechs. Power Rangers was my go to, and of course I had nearly all of the toys (thanks Uncle Mark)! I didn't really know what "mecha" was per say, but I loved pretty much anything that was robot related, and the more robots there were, the better. 

Jumping ahead to middle school, Toonami was a part of my new daily routine, and shows like Zoids and Gundam 08th MS Team were my go to after noon shows. Stupid middle school me still thought that Zoids was a knock off of Power Rangers, but I still liked it! I guess it was Gundam that made me realize there was more out there though, so I began watching it as well. They quickly became two of my favorite shows, and it made me wish that they would make video games about them also. (Yeah, that happened, but I had no idea it did...) Anyway -- I guess it's these two series that truly pushed me to become a mecha fan, but I had no idea how to continue from there. And then that's when my friend Ian started telling me about Armored Core.

Back then I was more of a Nintendo kid. Sure, I had a PlayStation 1, but even then I only played a few games on it. I was mainly into games like Mario, MegaMan, Kirby, etc, and I rarely branched out and tried something new. Only exceptions were when my uncle or cousins would get a new game or rent something, and I'd check it out, but most of the time it wasn't something that appealed to me. That being said, when Ian started talking about his PS2 games, they just flat out sounded amazing to me.

I never expected to get any of them though. This (dot) hack series he kept bringing up? Sounded really cool, but when was I ever going to play that? Armored Core 2 that he kept talking about was the same, but I was still interested in it. He'd tell me how you got to build different AC Units, and how you could customize each one to be unique. He talked about how he created speed builds, ones that focus on missiles, and sometimes he'd sit there and brain storm new plans with me. It's funny how I remember all of this after all these years, but sometimes it seems like it was just yesterday. Heck his speed type he told me was like "using the float shoes on ice in Zelda." I knew exactly what he meant, and how hard that would be to control! But either way, what he told me about AC convinced me to give it a shot whenever I got the chance, but I never expected that day to come. Besides playing it a little bit one of the few times I went to his house -- AC2 was a game that would just be lost to me. That is, until I graduated middle school.

It took a couple of years, but when I finished 8th grade I received enough graduation money to buy a PlayStation 2. I still remember the day my mom drove me to different Walmarts to find the thing, and when we finally did I also grabbed a copy of MegaMan X 8. Of course I was going to start with the games I really wanted/knew I'd love, so the MegaMan games were at the top of the list. However around this very same time is when we discovered a new movie rental place in town, and thanks to that discovery, I got to try out a lot of new and different things. I didn't have money to buy games myself (obviously as I was just going into high school), but for $4, my parents were more than willing to let me rent a game from time to time. You got to keep it for a week, and our shopping trips were every week -- so it worked out nicely! And considering this new place had a huge selection of PS2 games, I couldn't have got the console at a better time.

Of course I started out renting games like Transformers first, but when Armored Core 2 caught my eye sitting on the front shelf, there was no way I could pass it up. Finally after all these years, I could play the game for myself. And it was amazing.

I did suck at the game, I'm not going to lie. The experience of playing the game was great and all, but I just didn't know what I was doing. Sure I played the heck out of it that week, and I did go on to rent it multiple times after, but overall it wasn't a game I was planning on returning to just because it was so hard. If I actually owned the game I'm sure I would've given it more time, but I had other games to rent, and because of that the AC series just sorta faded away from me. At least for a couple of years. Ultimately what changed everything for me was the summer of my junior year when my uncle opened a bakery, and I got my first part time job. That's when I bought my first game console on my own -- the Xbox 360.

The Xbox 360 opened up a whole new world to me. Finally I could play the new popular games like Halo 3, Portal, etc, and I was finally also able to jump into completely new series as well. No longer was I tied down by the Wii and what Nintendo had to offer, and with my own income I was able to actually test out quite a bit more series. Heck, since I jumped in so late, most of the good games were already cheap! It was such a good feeling going into a store, dropping $15-20 on a game I'd never heard of, and then just spend the next week playing it. It was like renting a game, but I never had to return it! I found so many gems this way, and I don't regret a single purchase. But then one day I also discovered that Armored Core 4 was a thing.

I remember looking up info about the game, and reading about it while in computer class at school. That night I then told my dad about it, and gave him the money to pick it up for me if he could find it at the local GameStop. At the time we didn't really have many video game stores around here, with the closest GameStop being an hour away near his work. At first he laughed and thought I meant "Armored Corp" when I wrote it down, but I was like "no it's actually Armored Core." He then took the money, and when he got home from work the next day he had the copy of my new game with him. I was beyond excited!

Even though I had a rough go with AC2, AC4 was a whole other story. Right off the bat I was blown away by the game's realistic graphics. Then I saw the fact that you could legit fly, AND do a high speed build far beyond whatever speeds the PS2 could handle. Afterwords I got pulled into it's mercenary based story, and got to work coming up with mech designs of my own. I wanted to be like my friend Ian, and create a wide verity of ACs to match my every need. This new game provided even more verity to it's customization, and even let you customize decals and colors of each part! By this point I had gotten into multiple mecha series like Code Geass, so of course I started recreating mechs from these shows as well. I basically went all out with the game, and each day I was excited to come home from school to play it. Taking on different missions each day, fighting other ACs in the arena -- it was all of my mecha dreams come true. 

And then I hurt my back in school.

The bad thing is, throwing my back out at age 17, means you're still going to have issues (sometimes worse) when you're 32. Almost half your life later, and things like this will still bother you. On the flip side, I got to stay home from school for a bit! Armored Core 4 is one of the main ways I spent my time being stuck to a chair. I still remember the time I dropped my 360 controller and had to figure out how to get it (that was very painful), but other than that it was a great memory! Having time and an excuse to do nothing but play AC4 was great, and I feel like that's when I really dove into the customization side of things. Eventually my back did get "better," and I went back to school, but I think it was that weekend I actually finished the game's "main" story. And I wanted more.

Surprise! There was more! Armored Core 4A (For Answer) was a follow up to AC4, and was said to improve upon everything in AC4. New story, new missions, new parts to customize your AC with, and just... A bunch of new content in general! Of course I had to have it too, and once again my dad was willing to pick it up for me on his way home. This time it was a full priced release though, unlike my old copy of AC4.

I actually didn't like For Answer as much as 4. Maybe I burned myself out on 4 during the couple of months I had just spent playing it, but I think it was more of the issues I had with it's content. For example, while it did have more to do, and it had some crazy huge boss fights, the story itself didn't grab me quite as much, and the split story paths had some really challenging missions I just couldn't overcome. It didn't help that the game had really long loading screens as well, so it did start to get on my nerves. Eventually I got to a point where I went down the "bad guy's route" and had multiple of the game's enemy bosses attacking me at once -- I never did clear that mission.

After AC4A, I once again took a break from the series. I had other games to play, and my last year of high school kept me busy. A really fun time in my life overall, but none of that is Armored Core related. I actually didn't return to the series until early college when GameStop (which had now opened up closer to me) started selling PS2 games for cheap, and they had a buy 2 get 2 free deal. So of course I grabbed most of the Armored Core 3 series, as well as Resident Evil Code Veronica. 

AC3 was of course a lot different from 4 (and on older hardware), but man it was still fun. It got hard, and I didn't actually finish it (or it's follow ups), but I had a blast playing it. Last Raven was pretty crazy too, but it's difficulty started so high that I for sure never came close to the end. Again I still enjoyed it though, and I couldn't complain considering how cheap I got it. Afterwords I once again took a break from the series, but eventually I did jump back in with Armored Core V.

I really liked ACV. I hate that I missed out on all the online features of it (or mostly missed out), but it was a lot of fun for what it was. Smaller mechs, the ability to jump off of walls, and some really cool mission and level design. It took me roughly a year to actually beat the game as I had a lot going on in my life at the time, but I really REALLY enjoyed it. So much that I bought the follow up VD (Verdict Day) the moment I saw the credits roll. 

Sadly while the game did arrive a few days after placing the order, it came in a completely destroyed box. I guess I should've returned it, but I didn't. Instead I have a copy of VD that's box is pretty much shredded, with plastic pieces falling off non stop if you hold it the wrong way. I have no idea what happened to make it be in this state, but thankfully the disc was ok. And then once again, I would spend the next 2 years playing the game off and on in my free time. Unlike with 4A, I actually liked VD better than V. It was a full on improvement, and this time around I did get to experience some of the online content. Taking missions and doing things co-op to help your faction expand it's reach was such a cool feature, and I really liked the new customization options. Of course it was a lot more of the same, but that wasn't a bad thing. VD did what V did but better, and that's exactly what I hoped to get out of it.

And that's where my AC journey ended. I did go back and play some of the older games, but I've mostly been waiting for another entry. Little did I know that wouldn't be until 2023!

Now it's not like my mecha video game journey ended there. As a huge fan of Gundam, I've played pretty much all of the Gundam and Super Robot War releases. (Including Japanese exclusives.) I also played quite a bit of Daemon x Machina, which was created by the producer of older Armored Core games. It was a decent substitute to AC, but it's also very much a game of it's own. Heck last time I played it though has been a few years, and I remember some "Power Company" scammer just barged on in my house and was scouting the place out. That became a quick "uhhhh can I help you and what are you doing?" Before the guy scrambled out the door. Fun times.

Anyway, while I might not have been with the series the entire time, nor can I say I'm a super fan... I do love Armored Core, and I really can't wait for AC6. I'm looking forward to recapturing my time spent with AC4, and seeing what AC looks like on the next generation.

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