Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Review

danganronpa_logo_white

Hello! Sarah here. Roy’s still living it up in Tokyo while I’m saddled with holding down the fort at our home base in New England. Between starting a new job, wrestling our two cats, digging my car out of the snow multiple times, and attempting to keep sane during the winter months of 2014…let’s just say he better be bringing me back some awesome souvenirs. In the meantime, he passed along a review copy of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc since I had told him I was looking for a new game to play. And he was too busy to review it since he was, y’know, mingling with dog statues and eating enough ramen to fill a bath tub.

Knowing nothing about DR:THH except that it was a Vita (!!) game, I dove right in. What greeted me was a Battle Royale-esque character-driven story combined with stylish visuals and ridiculous action sequences. I was hooked.

2013-11-04-144600

The premise of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc revolves around a group of elite students that are accepted into Hope Academy, a school with such high standards that incoming classes are gossiped about on Internet message boards. Each character has some unique ability (baseball, gambling, swimming, programming etc) save the protagonist who only describes himself as average yet incredibly lucky to have been accepted. The new group of 15 students find themselves knocked out and woken up by a psychotic bear called Monokuma, who informs them that they are to live the rest of their lives in the school, unless they can graduate.

2013-11-04-153704

How to graduate? Ya gotta kill someone and get away with it.

This sets the course for the game in which classmates are murdered, friends double cross each other, and nobody seems to be who they are at first glance.

Game Play

For the most part, the game features visual novel style story progression. While trying to unravel the mysteries of the school, you can choose which classmates to spend your free time with and get closer to. Giving them a present that suits their character will give you extra skills that can be equipped during debates at the class trial. Presents can be bought at the school store using coins found by exploring rooms (similar to hint coins in the Layton series) or earned after a successful class trial.

nbd just scrollin' through my inventory

nbd just scrollin’ through my inventory

Because Monokuma is a bloodthirsty little bear, he will occasionally show up to ramp up the stakes and provide incentives for students to off one another. This adds depth to the story as characters start to wonder what will drive someone to murder. It’s quickly established that you shouldn’t apply your own set of moral codes to anyone else, as something seemingly benign to you might just drive someone else over the edge.

After an “incident” occurs, time is spent searching for clues, which are logged as “truth bullets” meant to be used in class trials. Once enough time lapses and clues are gathered a trial begins, where a nonstop debate occurs between characters. You have to use a truth bullet to smash apart contradictions or weak statements made by characters, indicated by yellow text.

2013-10-18-145920

Judging by the tie, I’d guess this guy is a Redditor

This system gains further complexity as you progress: multiple bullets can be loaded, not all yellow text will be contradictions, and you can actually use yellow text to create new one-use bullets. Random “white noise” also obscures character’s statements to add to the intensity.

A pitfall of this set up is that it can be frustrating to figure out what combination of bullets and weak statements will allow you to progress. If you can’t figure it out during one round of debates then you will keep starting over with the time still running (did I mention you’re timed during all of this?). In some cases you will need to use a statement made at the end of a round of debates in order to break a statement made by a character at the beginning. This is as confusing as it sounds, and at certain points I found myself ignoring the statements entirely and just randomly trying out different combinations.

Once the trial comes to a head and the suspect is singled out, you have to cinch your case by putting together a comic book of events by filling in some missing panels. This is also timed, but feels like a nice break from the intensity of lobbing bullets of truth at sentences that fly around the screen.

2013-10-18-153015

You will also occasionally have to dismantle an especially disgruntled character’s statements through a rhythm game, either during the trial or after the comic book puzzle game. There’s also a hangman-style mini game where you have to target letters in order to spell out a key clue.

Overall the complexity of the trials compensate for the otherwise straightforward nature of the story, and rewards you for being attentive to small details (in other words, this is not a game for those who skim over dialog and flavor text).

Visuals

Danganronpa carries an impressive range of styles, which include 2D, pixel art, 3D, and paper craft style animated cut scenes, which are especially trippy. The variation in visuals feels stylish and keeps the story feeling fresh and unpredictable. Maps and menus are clean and easy to navigate, and feels on par with Persona 4‘s interface.

2013-10-18-153642

The art direction lends itself well to the creepy atmosphere of the game and can switch from cute to terrifying in an instant, matching the chaotic vibes of the story.

Story

The story is engaging. I found myself really trying to pay attention to every little thing, because even though some clues are obvious, the more subtle ones will still be mentioned in trials, which encourages the player to pay attention. The character dialog and interactions feel believable and are well localized and translated, which is important when every sentence counts.

Danganronpa‘s themes range from comedic to thought-provoking, and despite the numerous characters, it isn’t difficult to keep track of who’s who because of their unique personalities and interactions.

Conclusion

I recommend this game for people who enjoy dark humor, murder mysteries, and are a fan of use-yer-noggin’ puzzles. It’s great for people who like to take their time with games and really explore all aspects of a title (and this game rewards you for doing so). I wouldn’t recommend it for those who like to blaze through games – not that Danganronpa would let you, anyway.

danganronpa

What I’ve Been Playing: Part 2 — Bravely Default

Bravely Default! This is an annoying fairy thing...

In my last post I wrote about my experiences in the zombie-filled social experiment that is DayZ.  For part two in this series, I’m going to talk all about Bravely Default!  This is especially timely if you happen to live in America, where the game was just released.  So if you’re on the fence when it comes to giving Square Enix money after recent crimes against humanity, read on.

Bravely Default is a solid game in two areas.  First is gameplay.  At its core the game is a massive nod in the direction of pre PSX era Final Fantasies — mainly Final Fantasy 5.  This means it’s all about jobs.  Your characters assume a job (White Mage, Black Mage, and Monk are some early jobs), hop into battle, and earn EXP to level up and JP to unlock skills unique to their current job.  With a certain level of mastery, you can combine jobs creating effective hybrids.  For instance, my Ringabel is a Thief who steals like a mo-fo, but he also has access to Time Magery. He can speed up allies, or slow down enemies before they can even act.  I never tire of coming up with new combinations and trying them out in battle.

A full party of Black Mages

But Bravely Default builds on this tried and true system by introducing the Brave/Default system.  The Brave side of the coin lets you act multiple times on a character’s turn at the expense of not being able to act next turn (or a number of turns equal to how many extra actions you take).  Likewise, Defaulting means choosing to not act, allowing you to bank actions for later.

I found that when faced with a number of enemies, Braving well into the red allowed my Ringabel to rob everyone blind, my mages to hit elemental weaknesses, and my melee units to finish off any survivors.  Effective Braving could end battles quickly, often without ever even being touched by an enemy.  Miscalculating, and leaving any surviving enemies after exhausting by actions meant taking a few turns of uninterrupted punishment.  This is the tradeoff, and where strategy comes into play.

Brave-ing reduces actions on your next turn

The second area where Bravely Default shines is the game’s appearance.  Backgrounds are lush with a fantasy, handpainted vibe about them.  Each of the game’s 4 characters have unique outfits for every job that are both cute and stylish (but free of excess zippers and belts).  Weapons have unique appearances, which is always a plus for me.  Even the menu is easy to navigate and clean.  All in all Bravely Default is a pleasant sensory experience.  Hell, even the 3D isn’t bad.

Now for the complaints *cracks knuckles*.  The game doesn’t go out of its way to avoid classic JRPG tropes — you’ve got your character who lost their memories, the destroyed hometown, and enough mysterious and magical pendants/artifacts to choke a donkey.  Most dialog is not engaging, and most events predictable.  The two main characters (Tiz and Agnes) especially suffer from a lack of, well… character.  Tiz is your safe hero, with a sense of right and wrong, a dash of bravery and not much else.  Agnes is the selfless devotee of the crystals who doesn’t want anyone anyone to suffer as a result of her journey.  The only times I perked up to listen was when Ringabel talked about his deep love for women or when Edea got mad.  Luckily these two things happen quite regularly.  Dungeon design is uninspired with few twists and turns and only the occasional unlockable shortcut or hidden chest.

all hail the king

Let’s get positive after all that complaining.  I like world maps, and Bravely Default has a great one.  It’s big and there are different terrain like mountains, snow and islands — it’s just plain fun to explore.  Early on in the game I found an island far to the north where I did battle with some high level enemies who quickly wiped out my party.  I dig this kind of thing in games: a difficulty wall that says “fuck you, you shoudn’t go here yet.”  I dig them because I like to say “fuck you, it’s my hot body I’ll do what I want.” And so I figured out how to beat those enemies by increasing my team’s speed across the board and Braving to the max.  These kinds of rewards for exploring speckled throughout the world breath life into what is otherwise just a means of getting from point A to B.

Bravely Default combines the fun of customizing your characters via the Final Fantasy job system with modernizations that save time and encourage strategy.  The game is beautiful, and the world map is top notch.  All this was more than enough to drag me through boring dungeons and yawn-inducing dialog.  Throw in some frequent Ringabel innuendo and you’ve got yourself a modern JRPG for the ages.

What I’ve Been Playing: Part 1 — DayZ

DayZ-logo

Geez, it’s been a while, eh?  I will admit my time hasn’t been… properly managed lately.  I blame it on work that I find pretty darn fulfilling, as well as spending most of my free time playing a bunch of games — more than normal in fact.  Why not talk about them as part of a series of posts (if I make it a series I am more likely to actually finish lulz).  Anyway, first up is my latest and deepest obsession:

DayZ

About a year ago someone told me about a shitty PC game named Arma that was very shitty.  It was almost funny how shitty Arma was.  Almost.  But some enterprising soul took it upon himself to mod the hell out of that pile of shit, creating a surprisingly decent and realistic zombie game.  You had to drink water, eat food, and everything including food and weapons were about as rare as you’d expect in an actual zom-pocalypse.  I gotta be honest, I wanted to play it. IN MY BONES.  But being a Mac owner — and lazy at that — I never pursued it.

Wouldn’t you know it, a standalone version of that mod (DayZ) appeared right around when I found myself sitting on a mountain of free time.  I bootcamped my Mac, downloaded Steam, and bought DayZ Standalone.

When I first started I died a lot.  I starved to death in the middle of nowhere, bled out from zombie bites, and was shot by other players (that last one especially happened quite often).  And so in this absolute vacuum of anything that might be called success, I wanted to learn to make it in this world.  With enough effort any game can be understood, after all.  And I have an affinity for the games that have a lot to teach the player.

map

 

The massive map in which DayZ takes place.

Each death became a learning experience:

“Well, I may have died after my long trip to Elektro, but now I know where I can find a well — that will help next time.”

“Ah ha!  Snipers prowl the shore looking for easy kills — best to stay close to the tree line.”

“Hmm most zombie encounters end with me bleeding like a stuck pig unless I have (at the very least) an Axe to defend myself.”

“What?! I can open canned food with an otherwise useless screwdriver?!”

In addition to this general knowledge I’ve also developed an awareness of places on the map where well-equipped players mercilessly defend, or new players rush to in the hopes of finding anything worthwhile.

I spent over an hour learning about the game’s food/drink/blood/health system.  Give this video a watch and pretend for a moment it has nothing to do with video games — it’s just someone telling you why you should eat food (start at about 3:05):

Most frighteningly perhaps, I think DayZ has given me an idea of what kind of people a post apocalyptic event would create.  In fact, it’s quite likely that I will never see a better example of such in my life.  People will kill you out of fear.  People will kill you for self-preservation.  People will kill you just because they can.  In the worst cases, they will humiliate you first.

I’ve heard stories of gangs of bandits holding players at gunpoint, handcuffing them, and force-feeding them poisonous foodstuffs.  Yeah, you can do all of that.

Me?  Well, I have gotten pretty good at sneaking — that’s how I get by.

There is no real gauge for success in DayZ other than how long you live; who is to say that the kind player who lives for 20 hours is playing better than the twisted psychopath who kills him/her after 60?  I am not wise enough to tackle this question, but I still enjoy being a part of the social experiment that is DayZ.

wildwildwest

All that being said, the game is far from polished. FAR.

  • Zombies will phase through walls and bite me while I’m stuck in the animation of drinking a soda.
  • Logging out in the wrong area has gotten me totally stuck in a mountain/staircase/room from which there is no exit, forcing me to starve to death.
  • Some buildings spawn absolutely no items, meaning players are conditioned to avoid them.
  • A lot of players “server hop”, meaning they change servers to repeatedly farm for items from locations that spawn the best gear.
  • Absolutely nothing is explained.  You pretty much have to drag items onto other items to see what can interact with what.  This isn’t a huge issue (I rather enjoy learning in this way)… But I know some people are extremely opposed to this kind of game design.

All of these issues will supposedly be corrected in time… But…

OK.  Confession time: I want the game to be cleaned up, but… my secret concern is that DayZ will be made easier and/or introduce morality.

I don’t want that.  I want guns, ammo and can openers to be rare to the point that each one is cause for celebration.  I want seeing another player to be a rare and startling occurrence.  I don’t want the twisted bastard who would force me to drink bleach to be punished, just as I don’t want the player who would give me a can of beans and stack of bandages to be rewarded in any way other than social karma.  For the game to be fun, I need the full spectrum of good and evil, and I think this is something that is naturally created in an environment that provides pure freedom.  In other words: wild wild west, ya’ll.

So yeah — I can’t lie: DayZ is a broken game where glitches will kill you in unfair ways.  But it’s also a massive, untamed world where survival means learning: learning how to make use of the items found throughout the world and learning places to avoid because bad folks hang out there. And dying?  Starting over with nothing?  Well, it happens, and it never feels good… But it makes surviving feel that much better.

2014: Year of the Horse and Dai-kichi

That’s right: it’s 2014. Year of the horse.  In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Isabelle explained to me that the horse is a hard-working and under-appreciated beast.  I think she’s right, so my New Year’s resolution is to be nicer to horses.

I spent the final moments of 2013 at a house party with some co-workers and new faces, switching off between drinking shochu and Japanese beer.  More on the festivities in a bit.

If you don’t follow me on Twitter, you missed some great photos of Japanese television, which reaches a crescendo of absurdity right around this time of year: 1,2,3,4,5,6.  Before you go declaring that Japanese TV is all absurdity for no good reason, that’s just not the case.  These scenes of physical torment and humiliation were all powerful attempts to make certain television personalities laugh.  If they did laugh, they were beaten with sticks.  I guess that doesn’t really present a much better argument for the absurdity, huh…  Oh well, it was funny.

I also managed to hop onto Animal Crossing: New Leaf with Sarah (some 6,000+ miles away) for the end of the year countdown:

How cool is that?  Games bringing people together and such.  Brings a tear to this old man’s eye.

Alright, I’ve assaulted you with words long enough, let’s make with the photos!

IMG_2923

Christmas in Japan means Christmas cake, or at least cake eaten on Christmas day.  This particular cake had a pleasant variety of textures and the flavor lingered somewhere between sweet and bitter.  Since Christmas isn’t a holiday over here, I worked (hence enjoying Christmas cake at my desk).  If you use your Where’s Waldo skills, you may even catch a glimpse of the 8-4 new year’s card, an important tradition in Japan.

IMG_2931

After work, I continued to do as the Romans do by grabbing some KFC.  There was a long line if you were one of the suckers who didn’t reserve your chicken well in advance (like this sucker right here):

IMG_2925

Natch, the Colonel was dressed to impress.IMG_2971

I guess it’s time to show some Curry.  Here is some soup curry from a place not far from where I am staying.

IMG_2932

Here is some curry from Pakumori Curry, which I’m told was once a fairly famous curry establishment.  The rice is covered with spiced ground beef, and the veggies were perfectly cooked.

IMG_2936

Shortly after Xmas, the 8-4 crew helped coordinate an event at www showing off how the Unity engine can be used for more than making runners/castle defense games for you to play while pooping.  It turns out some DJs use the engine to generate visualizations that correspond with their music.  How pleasantly artsy!  Yours truly helped set up for the event, which required no small amount of heavy lifting.

Side note: the billboard off to the right is advertising a documentary called Cutie and the Boxer, which is on Netflix now!  Give it a watch.
IMG_2937

This was the sub-stage, which was eventually fitted with a screen where about 4-5 different DJs showed their stuff.

IMG_2939

All of these metal bits needed to be brought from a truck outside of www, down about 5 lights of stairs, where they were assembled by a crew until 7 or 8 AM.  I was there until about 4, and I thought I was gonna collapse!IMG_2950

Here is the construction of the main stage in progress.  I tried to take a few videos of the end result, but only this one was successfully uploaded to Vine.  Basically there was a huge, cross-shaped screen surrounded by two other equally enormous screens.  Each structure was composed of a bunch of smaller LCD screens, which also needed to be carefully carried down FIVE FLIGHTS OF STAIRS.  DID I MENTION THE FIVE FLIGHTS OF STAIRS?IMG_2955

A bunch of past patrons had written all over the walls in the sub-stage, because nothing says punk rock like “Oh, good thing I have this sharpie in my pocket”.IMG_2957

I noticed Sophia Coppola had signed the wall as well, and even made a little The Virgin Suicide cross down at the bottom.  OMG do they sell a shirt of this at Urban Outfitters????

But seriously, I wonder if this trip was part of what inspired Lost in Translation?  When I pointed this out to a Japanese co-worker, he said that most people in Japan aren’t too keen on the way the film depicts Japanese people, and I would have to agree.
IMG_2958

Dude smoking in front of box, circa 2013.

IMG_2968

The day after the event itself, all of those heavy bits of metal and expensive screens needed to be brought back up those FIVE FLIGHTS OF STAIRS and put back in that truck.  I was so tired towards the end that the truck driver started to help, grabbing my payload from me halfway up the last leg.  I have no memory of my body being as sore when I woke up the following day.

Part of my recuperation process included getting a dish from Tinun recommended to me by 8-4′s own Mark MacDonald.  What you’re looking at there is some stir-fried, minced chicken along with veggies and classic Thai spices.  All that goodness was served with a half-fried egg on top of rice.  It was AMAZING.  Unlike a lot of Japanese food, this dish is actually, genuinely spicy.  I’m totes afraid that staying here too long will destroy my tolerance for heat in food…
IMG_2969

Once New Year’s begins looming over Japan, most folks head home to be with their families, so cities empty out.  Mark went back to Amurica (presumably to buy guns and fire them into the air) and let me crash at his place.  It was a much needed break from the chaos that is my share house.  I found my fave brand of chips at the local 7-11 and enjoyed them with a beer.  I also marathon-ed The Last of Us, seeing it right to the (somewhat unusual) end.  I def want to talk about this game soon, since it has been appearing on multiple GOTY lists.

IMG_2972

Walking to Mark’s place brought me through one of the pleasantly tranquil campuses of Tokyo University.  Japan’s pretty cool when it comes to trees.  They like old trees here.  Low-hanging branches aren’t severed simply because some idiot might climb them, fall, and sue the pants off the property owner.  No, tree are mostly left to do their own thing, and seeing old trees in their untouched form is something else.

IMG_2973

Turns out Persona 4′s Konishi Liquor is a short train ride away from me.  I’ll have to go and pay my respects to Konishi Saki-san next chance I get… (SPOILER ALERT: SHE DIES).

IMG_3009

Here are a fews pics from New Year’s not taken in Animal Crossing.  After it’s officially the new year, it’s customary to make your first visit to a shrine.  This practice is called hatsumode.  Those who stuck around/stayed awake after it struck midnight walked to Yutenji temple.  These are the only pics I have from this trip…  As I mentioned, I was drinking.  And it was cold.  So… these pics suck.

I  grabbed a fortune, and wouldn’t you know it: I got the best possible luck.

IMG_3004

This can only mean that 2014 will rock for yours truly.  No but for real, I hope it’s the truth.  It’s always nice to lean on superstitious stuff like this.  At the end of the day, luck is equal parts dumb and hard-earned.  In 2014 I will continue to earn my luck while appreciating any dumb luck that comes my way.  Oh, and horses.  I will appreciate horses more.  (Thanks, Isabelle)

Japan 2013 & End of the Year Post

It’s been a little over two weeks since I arrived in Japan and things are going well.  I’ve been eating lots of awesome food and gradually expanding my travels as I become more familiar with the unfamiliar.

I’ve been told to amp up the number of photos in these posts, so I’m just gonna put my best foot forward and start there.  If you’re at all interested in my thoughts regarding video games in 2013, please stick around for when the words start accumulating once again.

Let’s just go ahead and get the ramen out of the way, because we all know it’s coming:

IMG_2842

First up is the best ramen I’ve had since I got here.  It’s tonkotsu from Ichiran, which is a somewhat major chain but decent nonetheless.  The whole process of ordering is highly mechanical, and ends with you in an individual booth having already payed.  Once your steaming bowl of pork fat is done, it’s placed discreetly under an opening in the booth for you to get your grub on.  If you’ve ever seen a prison movie where someone was sent to solitary confinement (every prison movie ever) and a tray of different colored pastes was pushed through a slot, it’s very similar to that but much more polite.  Anyway, so far this is the only place I’ve gone back to a second time which is saying something.

IMG_2914

Next up is some miso veggie tanmen from Kourakuen.  Tanmen is like ramen but packed with veggies making it a marginally more healthy option, or so I tell myself.  I got a set which included gyoza and a rice bowl.  It was a ton of food, but quite affordable.  I imagine I will be going back here on days when I don’t want to spend much.

IMG_2837

This little guy?  Well, a friend of mine asked for a random image from Japan and this is what I went with.  I think I did alright?IMG_2847

For my first weekend I decided to go to Yoyogi Koen and get some fresh air.  It’s one of the few places in Tokyo where you can hug a tree or put your feet in the grass.  Well, you can definitely hug a tree, but the grass is kind of thin from sheer foot traffic.  It almost looks like Yoyogi Koen has male pattern baldness.  I went there Sunday night and managed to capture a video of the infamous Rockabilly dancers.  As I was making my way around the park, I found this sign explaining how to identify the different acorns you can find.  The sun was starting to set, so my apologies if the picture is dark.
IMG_2851

I’m borrowing a Japanese 3DS, so I decided to take advantage of our time together by nabbing Bravely Default: For the Sequel.  I’m really enjoying the game’s old-school JRPG feel: kings, potions, crystals — all that jazz.  Plus the game looks amazing.IMG_2859

The end of the year in Japan means people start to unwind in very ritualistic ways.  Case in point: bonenkai, or company gatherings with the aim of getting so drunk that you forget the woes of the past year.  I was invited to one held each year between some industry dudes living in Japan, and it was held at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse — a restaurant that ironically also exists in my hometown (but I could never afford to go to).

IMG_2863

Here’s some steak porn for those of you into that kinda thing.  The lighting wasn’t great, but if you’ve seen one steak, you’ve probably seen ‘em all.IMG_2869

After eating a rich, expensive steak, it was nijikai time!  A nijikai is the party after the party, in which some people head home but the most enthusiastic partiers keep on keepin’ on by heading to a second place for more drinks.  We went to a fancy beer place with tons of stuff on tap.  The girl in green was an expert at her craft…
IMG_2872

In the bathroom there was a map of where several Japanese craft beers are made in the country.  Yea, so there are some interesting things in Japanese bathrooms…

Some cool graffiti, no further comment required.

IMG_2887

A yakitori place that looks it’s seen the rise and fall of great civilizations.  I love buildings like this…IMG_2889

That’s a lot of rubber duckies.  I don’t quite remember where I took this, but I think it was probably either a club or a love hotel.
IMG_2896

Acid Panda Cafe, best name ever since 2005.IMG_2904

A good friend from college who lives in Japan took me out for some Korean food in Shin-Okubo, well known for being a hot spot for Korean culture (mostly idols with pretty hair, both male and female).  I don’t know enough about Korean food to tell you what this was called, but it was all delicious.IMG_2905

Some grilled, marinated pork with pumpkin slices.IMG_2907

Some kimchi bibim guksu – I actually remembered what this one was called!  The noodles are incredibly chewy making them a bit of a challenge to eat, but the spices made it all worth it.IMG_2908

My friend and I walked from Shin-Okubo to Shinjuku, where we passed Ramen Jiro!  Read more about this mecca for ramen fans in a previous post.
IMG_2909

The melding of different cuisines in Japan always entertains me.  Here you can get Carbonara Udon, Meat Sauce Udon, and Neapolitan Udon.  They love their Italian food here.  And Udon, obvs.IMG_2910I ignore most gachapon, but this one caught my eye: it’s classical kaiju meets… well, cats. Kinda kicking myself for not buying one of these.

Thus ends the portion of this post dedicated to life in Japan.  Now.  Now we talk games.

I feel like now might be a good time for me to talk about the games of 2013 that left an impression on me.  There won’t be any top-ten list if that’s what you’re look for, but I will include an hour count, which seems relevant.

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate — Playtime: 533:53 (Wii U: 225:31 /3DS: 308:22)

Now that I’ve experienced a Monster Hunter game that can be played both on the go and on my TV, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  There was a ton of content in MH3U, and I savored it for hundreds of hours.  Online play — a massively important feature in any MH — was way more enjoyable than with Sony’s Ad-Hoc Party.  My only complaint is that the addition of a Slime element/status effects created a huge degree of homogeneity in the strategies utilized by players online.  (Looking at you, Kelbi Bow)

Animal Crossing: New Leaf — Playtime: 328:46

Animal Crossing: New Leaf, was, and continues to be my second simulated life.  Aside from being a game with an incredible number of charming details, it also slowly unlocks features, giving patient players a year’s worth of goals.  Nintendo’s surprising decision to utilize a social Image Share feature had me sharing my experiences on Twitter for the world to see.  Hell, going through my screenshots is very much a trip down memory lane.  Likewise, image share functionality allowed me to see other player’s games, and NOT through grainy cellphone pics.  Best of all I played Animal Crossing with a lot of my close friends and made some fucking memories.  My only complaints is that Nintendo doesn’t use Image Share for ALL their 3DS games.

Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness — Playtime: 90sumthin (don’t have my PS3 in Japan)

Like a few others on my list, Disgaea was also refined heavily in 2013.  A number of functions in the game that served merely to pad playtime were done away with, and as a whole everything worth understanding was made easier to understand.  The thrill I get from the risk/reward that comes with the Item Sea/World is something that just never seems to fade…  Not to say that the series’ classic off-beat stories aren’t another huge selling point, though I will admit D2‘s story fell a bit flat.  Read my full review.

Shin Megami Tensei IV — Playtime: 81:05

I was initially bummed that Shin Megami Tensei IV wasn’t for a home console (specifically the PS3), but after playing it I stopped my complaining.  Read my full review for more on how SMT4 modernized a lot, and yet not enough.  Long story short: it was hard going from Nocture to SMT4 – felt like a step down.  Also the characters could have used a bit more development.  Still, SMT4 made demon management a breeze and battles were tough but fun, a challenging balance to achieve.

Dragon’s Crown — Playtime: 80sumthin (don’t have my PS3 in Japan)

Side scrolling beat-em-ups generally don’t keep my attention because it’s rare that a game in the genre makes you feel invested for the long haul.  Dragon’s Crown’s deep character customization had me losing sleep over how to best spec my character.  A healthy level of challenge had me playing with Sarah late into many-a-night which created some of my most memorable gaming moments of the year.  My only complaint is that the loot system was a little wonky, and playing online was nowhere near as straightforward as playing multiplayer locally.

Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan — Playtime: 73:08

No other game in 2013 had me so heavily debating the cause and effect of a single step.  No other game gave me such a sense of pride in the massively efficient party that I put together.  Risk and reward?  You better believe it.  Cute sprites?  Super cute.  A world map WITH an airship?  Hell yeah.  Read more about why I loved Etrian Odyssey IV in my full review.  Got nothing bad to say about it, thought I sure would like to see MORE of those cute sprites.

Black Rock Shooter: The Game — Playtime: 20ish (Don’t remember, too lazy to look)

Sure, my hour count is nothing impressive.  But I feel compelled to include this game because I know it won’t get the attention it deserves.  BRS is a great example of simple gaming mechanics used to create some challenging and refreshingly varied experiences for the player.  Plus, the world of Black Rock Shooter is super stylish, even if the game’s graphics may feel a touch dated.  My only complaint is that this game wasn’t made for the Vita because I may have given it more time, and it probably would have gained more traction.


Looking back at the games I predicted I would buy in 2013, well, I only bought 50% of them.  The only game I feel like I really missed out on was The Last of Us — I was still getting shit done in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate when I actually had a borrowed copy in my possession.  C’est la vie, I’m sure there will be a GOTY edition soon?

Otherwise 2013 was very enjoyable when it comes to games.  There were lots of multiplayer titles that actually resonated with me, which made for some great memories with friends.  I need to be more open-minded to multiplayer games…

I spent a ton of time with my beloved pink 3DS, which was definitely the year’s superstar console.  Sadly, the little guy is slightly scratched (on the outside, not screen) as a result of heavy use (nearly 800 hours!!!!).

2013 also brought some huge ups and downs for yours truly.  I saw some major success with my guides, created some podcasts, and hell… I’m writing this from Japan where I’m making money doing some work that I fucking love.  But whatever success I’ve experienced didn’t come without a fair amount of suffering and strife as well.  There were days that I couldn’t imagine how things could get much worse, but looking at where I am now I don’t regret a damn thing.

I def want to thank all you readers/podcast/Twitter followers for all your continued support.  I look forward to talking games and more with you in 2014!