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!

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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.

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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):

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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.

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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.

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

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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.
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Dude smoking in front of box, circa 2013.

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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…
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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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).

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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…
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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.

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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.
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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.
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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!

Did I Mention I’m in Japan… Again?

Jeez, it’s been a while — too long in fact. A ton has been going on and I’m going to attempt to tackle it all right here in one massive post.

First thing’s first: yup, I’m back in Japan.  The picture above is of a derelict building very close to the share house where I’m staying in Shibuya.  I’m nearly surrounded by Love Hotels which are easily recognized by a “Stay” option (about 3 hours instead of a full night).  I’ve seen my fair share of couples, laughing and staggering through the streets near my place — it’s always good for a laugh.  I can only imagine what the value is of the property where this building sits (or more accurately: leans)…

If you’ve got good eyes, you may have noticed that this haikyo actually has a tenant!  Yup, a lazy orange cat:

orenji I snapped this pic right as he decided to scratch the heck out of his neck.

But enough about cats. That’s not why I’m here (or so I claim…)

Why I’m in Japan

It all started with some innocent vacation plans which blossomed into something a bit different.  I’ve been in talks with the gang at 8-4 for a few years now — always been a fan of their localizations and passion for the industry.  When we met up at this year’s E3, they told me if a project ever came down the line that fit my skills, we might be able to work together.  Wouldn’t you know it: a project materialized!  And so my vacation has become equal parts cavorting around Tokyo and freelancing.  I’m loving every minute of it.  As far as the project itself: I’m sworn to secrecy.

Podcasts!

Ah, yes.  So I was in the middle of two amazing gaming podcasts: My Fair Hunter and Asobee: Dark Souls.  I had every intention of having an episode for each show announcing a hiatus, as Sarah is still in the States.  My sincere apologies to any of you wondering what’s been going on, but coordinating this trip required my full attention and it all happened rather quickly.  As it stands, these podcasts are not defunct, but there is no firm date when they’ll start back up.

Other Podcasts!

That being said, Sarah and I recently appeared on Chic-Pixel Plus talking about our various projects we’ve been tackling together over the last few years.

Give it a listen for some insight into how we get shit done.  You’ll also learn a thing or two about our views on Monster Hunter, Vocaloid, and what we’ve been into for anime.

I also made an appearance on the most recent episode of 8-4 Play.  I talk a bit about how Sarah and I took turns clearing Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD ReMIX as I prepared for my exodus.  We had hoped to make a podcast out of it (because we don’t have enough of those as it is), but the game ended up becoming a much needed stress reliever for us both.  Sarah took the helm when it came to Gummy Shipping (thank God), and together we went through the game, having the credits roll the day before I left.

Being on the 8-4 podcast was something else — they’re a much more professional operation than I’m used to.

Pictures!

What’s that?  You’re getting sick of my yammering and want to see some more photos?  So impatient…

Fine, let’s do this.

IMG_2789Taken from my seat in Washington DC waiting to depart for Tokyo.  It was snowing pretty heavily!

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Wouldn’t you know it: it snowed so much that our plane needed to be de-iced.  This dude sprayed the whole plane down with some steaming orange liquid which I hope was beet juice.

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One night I went out for drinks with John and Mark of 8-4 fame at Hatos Bar in Nakameguro.  This demanding poster was on the wall in the bathroom, so I snapped a pic. Is that weird?  Anyway, I learned it’s proof of backing a successfully funded Kickstarter.IMG_2811

A park near the 8-4 towers has this sign in which a pigeon is refusing food.  I’ve never met a pigeon that does this. ramen!My ramen obsession is well documented.  Here’s one more for the books.
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Another cat. How many of these did I take?IMG_2816

Some cute graffiti near the office.hachikoThe famous Hachiko statue is also right near where I’m living.  If you don’t know the story about this faithful Akita, give it a read.
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A bento I ate the other day.  The veggies in it were out of this world.IMG_2821

You again!  This cat has been greeting me some mornings with this gruff expression.

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I took a trip to Akihabara today.  Look at those trees!

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Some goods celebrating the Persona 3 movie.
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…and a Persona 3 Colab Cafe.  Gonna have to eat here soon.

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Last cat picture; I swear.  For whatever reason a mommy cat and her kittens were sitting (or intentionally placed) on this map.  They attracted quite an audience!

Well, that should more or less bring you up to speed on what’s going on with the blog and my recent exploits.  Expect a higher frequency of posting from me, with a lot more from my travels in Japan.

Friday Link Roundup 11/9-11/15

feature-friday Every Friday I make a post containing links to interesting articles I have found throughout the week. If you already follow me on Twitter, then you will have probably seen most of the following links. Don’t forget to like the Kotowari Facebook page as well. Enjoy! feature-look

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Someone with too much money and time shot a .50 caliber rifle at a PS4. When will the ravages of this console war be enough for you people!

Long live the king.

A new PV for the live action version of Kiki’s Delivery Service.

Dark Souls 2 Network Test 4 Impressions

Last Saturday I stayed up until 5 AM taking part in the 4th Dark Souls 2 network test.  I recorded most of the gameplay and made a short highlight video which you can check out above.

So what’s changed?  Well, the biggest update I noticed concerns the humanity system.

In the original Dark Souls, one could clear the entirety of the game without ever reviving from a hollow.  This would prevent the player from summoning allies and being invaded — but it was possible.

Dark Souls 2 gives much more concrete incentive to revive: each time your character falls as a hollow, their maximum HP drops.  Reviving with a Human Effigy (the new consumable form of Humanity) is the only way to restore your maximum health.  What a great blend of the Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls systems!

Weapon performance seemed more realistic as well.

I stumbled across a Zweihander early on in my Network Test.  If you’ve never seen this weapon, it’s a sword that hits like a truck that is about the same size.  In swinging my Zweihander around, I quickly became aware of a bad habit I’ve developed: I take a step back before committing to a swing.  In Dark Souls this was my means of altering my distance from enemies at the last second.

In Dark Souls 2, instead of taking a slight backstep, my habit caused my character to turn around and swing in the opposite direction of my enemy!  This left my squishy posterior completely defenseless.  But it makes sense, I suppose.  With a weapon so large and heavy, it would require a solid footing to swing with any real force.  Either that or it’s a bug…  Overall it seemed like heavier weapons were harder to control while quicker weapons were easier to deflect, which makes sense.

Enemies were quite varied.

Early Dark Souls 2 info promised enemies with improved AI who could identify openings in the player’s defenses and strike accordingly.  Enemies did seem to do more damage and take more hits to go down, though I didn’t see much evidence of improved AI.  (Again, this isn’t the retail version of the game so I’m still optimistic)  What I did notice was a broad assortment of enemies, including speedy rogues who attack in groups, dual sickle wielding giants, and red phantoms equipped with different weaponry.  This had me frequently adjusting my strategies and gave me a lot to learn as a new tester.


The Dark Souls 2 Network Test left me not only exhausted, but wanting to see and experience more.  It’s too early to say if the game will leave the same impact on me as its predecessor, but given the few tweaks I’ve seen, I can say I’m hopeful Dark Souls 2 will be one of the last greats of this generation.