Yakuza: Heaps of cools stuff in a small area

This blog post is inspired by the great video that Jim Sterling did recently titled Yakuza’s Open World is the Biggest and Bestest. I felt myself nodding to everything he said so I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on the Yakuza series

The PlayStation 4-only Yakuza series’ Kamurocho district – loosely based on the city of Tokyo’s red-light district  Shinjuku  – might be small in size but it’s so densely packed with content that it puts to shame some of video games’ big, open world adventures.

I was first introduced to the action adventure  Yakuza series with Yakuza 2 on the PlayStation 2 and I was instantly captured by the craziness of the game world and the rich, deep narrative centred around main character, rising Yakuza (japanese gangster)  Kazuma Kiryu.

I love the Yakuza series’ open-world exploration mixed with almost over-the-top combat – Kiryu can switch between four fighting styles – but I think for me much of the charm comes from the Japanese audio with english subtitles and sheer craziness. Kiryu is voiced by Japanese actor Takada Kuroda (the original Yakuza had an english voice over actor but I can imagine the game would lose some of its charm) and the voice acting is just full of passion and really adds to the atmosphere.

Years passed and Yakuza fell to the wayside. I played games (a lot of games)  but  in the back of my mind, Yakuza was always there, waiting for me to come back. Last year, I decided it was time to get back into Yakuza and bought Yakuza Kiwami, and on booting it up, I instantly felt like I was home in a gaming world that I was familiar with. A few weeks ago, I bought Yakuza Zero, which takes the story back to the 1980s when Kiryu was a young, up-and-coming Yakuza.

Yakuza’s Kamurocho might be tiny compared to GTA’s Liberty City or Assassin’s Creed’s Egypt, but there’s so much content packed in that small collection of streets that I’m not sure I can go back to an open-world game that takes ages to traverse and has side quests that are just there to extend the lifespan of the game. I’ve visited Japan and visited the famed Akihibara district and Yakuza’s Japan felt familiar and warming, with  locations that seemed like they belonged in the world:  karaoke clubs, bars, noodle joints, convenience stores – and even a Sega arcade.

Yakuza’s side quests also feel as if they belong in the narrative, often quirky, light-hearted diversions from the main story. As he explores Kamurocho, Kiryu might have to pretend he’s a movie producer helping out two film crew workers who have found themselves in a spot of trouble, take a famous fighter around a few restaurants to show him a good time, or chase a variety of hooligans who stole a recently released video game from a small boy.

Even the people Kiryu interacts with have names that will bring a smile to your face: Man with Big Head,  Mr Shakedown (a giant of a man who fights Kiryu then steals his money), Bearded Homeless Man, (wait for it) Hatted Homeless Man and Mystery Man. You save your game at phone boxes, too, you can buy noodles from convenience stores, you can sing karaoke, you can race slot cars. The amount of stuff to do in a tiny world map is incredible. Just incredible.

I’m making my way through Yakuza 0 in anticipation for Yakuza 6, which was released in Japan in December, but is only coming to Western audiences next month. I’ll be trying my darndest to get it completed before I tackle the latest adventure of Kiryu.

Tragically, the Yakuza series hasn’t captured the attention of Western games like I think it should have. I think it’s probably been overlooked by a lot of Western gamers and that’s a shame. It’s a series that has a strong narrative with a likeable main character but not one that has been promoted heavily in our part of the world.

Have you got any games that you just adore but aren’t as popular as you think they should be?

 

 

Age of Empires The Definitive Edition: Blast from the past

As far as real-time strategy games go, I spent countless hours playing the original Age of Empires when it came out God knows how many years ago (Mr Google tells me it was 20 years ago!). It was one of the first RTS games I played when I first got a PC, along with Westwood’s Red Alert.

Fast forward to 2018, and Microsoft Studios have released an Age of Empires for a new age of gamer (or those older gamers who hark back to their youth) but is it the Definitive Edition? I’m not so sure: Sure, it captures the magic of the original game but it doesn’t do anything revolutionary to the genre.

For those that aren’t familiar with Age of Empires, players start the game with a civilisation and have to grow it, researching new things and conquering other civilisations as you move through the ages. As with most RTS games of this ilk, there’s a lot of micro-management: Making sure you have enough resources to build new structures, enough food to feed the troops and enough soldiers and weapons to defend your clan from invading factions.

Campaigns in Definitive Edition include Egyptian, Roman, Japanese and Babylonian factions but fundamentally, they’re all the same basic idea with the same end goal: Grow your civilisation.

While the graphics and audio are crisper than the original (the game really does look great, boasting  4K visuals and much improved audio), sadly, some of the game’s wonky AI path finding has managed to sneak into the new game: I lost count how many times a villager just stood around waiting for the next command rather than continue the task he had been allocated until I asked him to stop.

One thing that might hamper the game is that it’s only available for Windows 10 on Microsoft’s store (so no Steam), something that might limit its market.

Age of Empires Definitive Edition will appeal to gamers who want to re-play the original on modern hardware but for RTS fans wanting something to really get their teeth into, they might need to look elsewhere.

Huawi Mediapad T3 10 tablet: The perfect bedside companion

I’m a creature of habit when it comes to bed time, these days.

While my wife reads a book on her iPad for a while, I tend to open up the laptop, load up Netflix or Neon and watch an episode of my current TV show – or start watching a movie – until I inevitably fall asleep, waking a few minutes later, startled, the laptop still resting on my lap.

The Huawei Mediapad T3 meant I could still maintain my bedtime routine but it was much more pleasant and comfortable compared to a hefty laptop..

With a 9.6-inch IPS display (a resolution of 1080p x 800), the T3 feels comfortable in your hands but at its price – $499 – it’s a mid-priced tablet so it’s not competing against Apple’s top-end iPads.

Running Android 7.0  (Nougat) wrapped in Huawei’s EMUI 5.1 operating system, the tablet’s display might not look as sharp as Apple’s top-end iPads (and it doesn’t as it does appear noticeably dimmer compared to a full HD panel) but it’s perfect for consuming media, be that browsing the web or watching movies or your favourite streaming service.

Designwise, thanks to the one-piece anodised aluminum body, the T3 looks smart, and won’t look out-of-place on the bedside cabinet or kitchen bench top,  but a kick-stand at the back  would have been nice when you wanted to prop the device on a table or bedside cabinet to watch Netflix or a movie. The battery had really good life but on the other toss of the coin, the tablet look a while to charge: It seemed much slower to charge than previous tablets that I’ve used.

Huawei’s Mediapad T3 10 tablet is a funny beast: It’s not a top-end device but it’s not a low-end one, either. It’s middle of the road which will be perfect if you want a good tablet for a good price.

Thanks to Huawei for loaning me the Mediapad T3 for review

Bayonetta 2: A frantic, over-the-top hack ‘n slash – and I love it

It’s games like Bayonetta 2, now making an appearance on the Nintendo Switch, that make the Switch my go-to gaming platform right now.

Bayonetta 2 (like the original Bayonetta) is a fast-paced, frantic and over-the-top hack-n-slash (with some truly OTT finishing moves) and, importantly, it’s bloody fun.Gun-toting, magic-wielding, witch-tastic fun fighting against angry, giant angels (that explode majestically into bright read clouds when defeated).

It’s hard to believe that the series, from the mind of Japanese developer Hideki Kamiya   is almost 10 years old but, you know what?  It feels so right on the Nintendo Switch, both in portable and docked mode.I captured a lot of footage using the capture feature on the Switch, which lets you share it on social media, but, sadly, you can’t share it via any other medium (at least, no way I know of). That’s a shame as I’d like to show you just how great this game is.

Bayonetta has already appeared on a Nintendo console before, the Wii, but it didn’t sell well. It deserves to do well on the Switch as the combat is just so fluid, the game world so crazy and the lead character so charismatic that it just needs to do well on the Switch. Sure, I tend to button mash at times and don’t really get to grips with all the combos like I should, but, man, it’s just so much fun.And so over-the-top. And so frantic. And so chaotic. And I love it. A lot.

I don’t really have much else to say about Bayonetta 2 on the Switch, to be honest. I also downloaded the original Bayonetta but, to be honest, I’m having too much fun with Bayonetta 2 to really want to re-visit the original again.Maybe when I’m finished with Bayonetta 2. Maybe.

A big thanks to Nintendo Australia for providing me with a download code for Bayonetta/Bayonetta 2.

 

Astroneer: The game in Alpha that just gets better & better

I haven’t backed many games through things like Kickstarter. Maybe four or five in total.

I backed Tim Schaefer’s Broken Age, which in hindsight I wished I hadn’t as it took far too long to arrive and then I didn’t actually end up playing it (I think it took so long to get finished that I just  gave up on it completely.

I obviously haven’t lost faith in Schaefer completely as I’ve also backed Psychonauts 2. Hey, the original game was underrated and bloody good – and I have to admit, progress on number two is looking really good (I hope it isn’t fool me twice, shame on me with this one).

Late last year, I backed mountain biking game Lonely Mountains. I think it appealed to me because a) It has a really appealing low-poly look to it and b) I like mountain biking so it seems like a win-win for me, really.

Last year, I also backed Astroneer, from System Era Software and I have to say I haven’t regretted it for a second. The game is still in its Alpha stage but, man, the team behind it is knocking it out of the park with new features and support.

Long story short: You’re an astronaut on a proceduraly generated planet that must craft and mine to survive. It sounds simple but, actually, it’s quite complex.I guess it’s kind of like Minecraft but in space and with 3D printers that you can print buggies and a backpack that lets you craft dynamite and power generators.

The most recent update – the biggest update yet – has dramatically changed the opening moments : Instead of a simple capsule habitat, you  know have a wonderful, large base. Oh, just watch this video, you’ll see what I mean.

This is one game that I’m glad I dropped the cash on.

Let me know what you think about Astroneer in the comments.

Samsung T5 SSD: Pint size storage

Think about this for a minute: Samsung’s T5 SSD is smaller than my work business card.

At 74mm x 57.3mm x 10.5mm, the T5 can fit in the palm of my hand. It can slip into a jean’s pocket without any problem.

It might be small but this pint-sized aluminum-clad SSD (solid state drive) packs a whallop when it comes to storage space. Available in three flavours – 500Gb, 1Tb and 2Tb – the portable drive is reported to have a transfer speed of up to 540Mb per second (through a USB 3.1 Gen 2 10Gbps connection), which is blazingly fast for a portable drive. The aluminum body means things are kept nice and cool and it’s sturdy, too, claimed to be able to withstand falls from up to 2m.

Look, there’s not much I can really say about an SSD: It’s not as if it’s like a phone and it has multiple applications. The drive does one thing: Let you store stuff and access stuff – and it does it extremely well. I used it to store work content and  a couple of (legally owned movies (John Wick and Star Wars The Force Awakens) that I watched during a two-day work trip, and it does what it says on the box. It’s Windows/Mac/Android compatible, meaning you can use it to transfer content from your Android smartphone to help free up space.

The T5 will set you back close to $400  (I found it ranged from #+$344 to $379 online in NZ), so it is on the pricey side, but the T5 is a great all round portable drive that will take care of all your storage needs for some time to come.

Just make sure you don’t forget where you put it: It might take a while to find it, considering it’s so small.

Monster Hunter World diary Part 1: Where I have no idea what I’m doing

Part 1

While not a complete Monster Hunter newbie (I played a Japanese version on the PSP that I bought in Akihibara in 2008) but I’d be foolish to say that I went into Monster Hunter World having a clue on what I was supposed to be doing. That said, I thought I’d chronicle my adventures in MHW with a diary of sorts that describes how as a newbie I found things. I’ve also included a 15 minute video of me hunting a Kula-Ya-Ku bird. The video also features me climbing vines, opening my map a bit, swinging a giant broadsword, possibly eating some mushrooms and then, true to form, fainting and being carted back to my campsite. OK, here we go …

It’s me with my Palicoe buddy. Isn’t he cute?

I’ve only played about two hours of Monster Hunter World but this place is massive. I stuck with a fairly standard looking character, trying to get him to look a little like me, although I don’t have the rugged stubble on the chin that my hero does. I’ve got a cat companion called a Palicoe. I called him (I’m assuming he’s a he) Drew, after my dog. He’s a good companion so it seemed a good fit.

After completing the opening tutorial-like mission, I got to the hub world, and just like the environments, this place seems to sprawl on for ever and ever, another surprise around every corner. I followed the tutorial so I’ve learned how to (I think) upgrade my weapons and armour by going to the smithy and, importantly, how to fuel up before a big quest by gorging my face with food. I just love going to the canteen, ordering a vegetarian meal (I’m not vegetarian) and being served up a huge platter of cheese, drink and a whole fish! Cooked by Palicoes! This place is crazy.

On my first quest, which was really just exploring the world, I took down some low-level dinosaurs (I can’t even remember what they were) and hit in some undergrowth. I stumbled across some footprints that my scoutflies (is that right?) discovered. Apparently there is a big Jagras in the forest somewhere that I need to take down, if I’m up for it. Well, I decided I was up for it, despite not really knowing how combat works and still struggling with my great sword and its slow swing rate.

I followed the Jagras footprints till I eventually came him and what followed was a three-stage battle, with me mashing wildly at the action buttons on the controller, every now and then accidentally sheathing my sword when I thought I was swinging it. The Jagras puffed his chest out a lot and he reminded me a lizardy bullfrog. After a bit, he ran off, leaving me lying on the ground, having to eat mushrooms and smack flying bugs that replenished my vitality. What is this madness?

I still had to defeat the Jagras and the scoutflies lead me to his cave lair, where I found him sleeping – so I did what any good hunter in my position would likely dowould do: I whacked him in the back, hoping to injure him. It didn’t seem to work. Actually, I just seemed to make things worse. Long story short: After a lengthy battle that included hitting explosive flying things that stunned the Jagras, he was down. I was victorious!

I went back to hub world, fuelled up, upgraded my weapons (I still have no real idea what I’m doing but I’m not sporting a rather fetching outfit with armour fused with Jagras skin), chatted to my handler and was told I had to establish a hew camp deep in the forest. A flying monster picked me and Drew up, dropping us at the forward base camp. My handler tells me I have to establish another camp so off I head.

I stroll past some docile monsters, pick up some berries and other plants, and talk to a fisherman. I also collect some mucus, some dung and examine some piles of bones. I think the fisherman tells me he’s the best fisherman in all the land. Who am I to argue?  There’s a researcher woman standing a little bit further up the track. Doesn’t she know there are monsters roaming? I didn’t see if she had a weapon: I think she had a pen and clipboard, thought.

Suddenly, a Jagra appears so I hide in a bush. It walks past me then suddenly a tyrannasauraus-like monster appears. My handler tells me that I’m not to attack it as it is too strong for me. I don’t argue with her.

I eventually find the field leader who was waiting by some climbable vines that I missed completely. I think I walked past him a couple of times before realising I was supposed to talk to him. We climb up the vines, finding a flat piece of ground that will be suitable for a camp – but there’s a Kulu-Ya-Ku bird there, throwing pottery at us. I have to kill it as the camp won’t be safe if he’s wandering about.

I follow the Kulu-Ya-Ku’s phosphorous footprints, finding some doodles along the way, and eventually find him. I start swinging my giant sword at him. He picks up a bolder in his claws and throws it at me. I whack him with my giant sword, it clangs off his tail. What is is made of? Steel? The Kulu-Ya-Ku runs off but I lose track of him. I look at the map. Oh, he’s miles away. I eat some berries and carry on. Eventually, I find him, swinging my sword at him. He whacks me with his tail.

I hit some flying bug: It explodes, stunning the Kulu-Ya-Ku. I rush in for a charged swing but realise I’m facing the wrong was so watch my on-screen character swing wildly nowhere near the Kulu-Ya-Ku. My health is dropping so use the D-pad to scroll through my inventory. I find some raw meat, picking the button that I think will let me eat it. It doesn’t: The meat drops on the ground. I try again: The meat drops on the ground. The Kulu-Ya-Ku throws another rock at me.

Suddenly, a screen prompt tells me to waggle the left stick back and forth: I’ve been stunned. I frantically try but suddenly, I faint. That’s not very hero like, to be honest.

A cut scene suddnely appears, showing a palicoe tipping me off a cart back at the base camp. I decide I’m done for the day and quit the mission. I’ll try again tomorrow, once I’ve eaten a bit and licked my wounds. I’ll get you funny looking Kulu-Ya-Ku bird. I’ll get you yet.

To be continued …

Shadow of the Colossus review: An emotional rollercoaster

Thanks for PlayStation NZ for the review copy of Shadow of the Colossus. (The game was reviewed on a PS4 Pro, mainly using the performance mode but sometimes I switched to the cinematic mode just to check it out. Please note, the two videos included in this review show how to take down two colossi, so if you don’t want to know, don’t watch them.)

If a game is considered a success because of the emotions it arouses in a player, then, for me, Shadow of the Colossus is one of the best games of all time.

Despite its simple premise of a boy on a horse, traversing a vast, empty wasteland in search of 16 giants that he must kill in order to bring back his dead love, Shadow of the Colossus struck an emotional chord with me, so much so much so that I felt guilty about slaughtering some of the colossi, especially the ones that seemed to be minding their own business.

I took no pleasure in hearing their painful moans as I plunged a sword into their skulls, black liquid shooting from the gaping wound (each colossus has one or two glowing marks that must be repeatedly stabbed to kill them).  These massive beasts had done nothing to me but here I was, snuffing out their existence for my own selfish desires. I was feeling guilty about killing virtual giants, most of them shaking the earth as they crashed to the ground, lifeless.

I played the original Shadow of the Colossus on the PlayStation 2 then the remaster on the PlayStation 3 but for some reason, the game didn’t capture me then like it has now. I think I defeated the first two colossi, maybe. It could have had something to do with the less than friendly control scheme, which made for frustrating times and has been remapped here and is a vast improvement (ie it uses the R2 button for grab/hold, which is a much more ideal situation than the original game’s R1). Make no mistake, this is a re-make not a remaster. Be clear on that.

Apart from Wander (our hero), his horse Agro (is this the most wonderfully animated horse in all of video games?) and the colossi, the world is devoid of other life (apart from the odd lizard scurrying about and an eagle that follows Wander): There are no NPCs to converse with, no enemies that jump out from behind a rock to attack you, no traders to upgrade weapons,  and I think the game is all the better for it: It is singularly focused on what you have to do: Kill the colossi and not be distracted by side missions.

I started the game full of vigour and bravado, searching out the lumbering first colossus, and by the mid-point, I was starting to question that perhaps I was the monster, and not the beasts wandering the land. It tugs at your heart-strings and continues plucking as each colossus falls. Most of the colossus aren’t even aggressive towards you.

If you own a PlayStation 4 Pro, you’re in for a treat with Shadow of the Colossus, as the wizards at Bluepoint Games (longtime Sony collaborators) have given you a couple of nice options to play it in: A performance mode, which locks the framerate in at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second or a cinematic mode which pretties the graphics up but locks the frame rate at 30FPS. I played most of my play through using the performance mode: I mean, why wouldn’t you? With a game like this where jumps and perfect timing matters a lot,  a locked 60 frames per second is what you want, and guess what? The frame rate stays at that locked rate. I can’t say I noticed any hiccups or dips while playing. Sure, things look a little nicer in the cinematic mode but I don’t have a 4K TV yet, so I’ll save that mode for when I do have a newer panel.

The soundtrack deserves a mention, too. From the frantic orchestral pieces for each colossi to the quieter moments, the soundtrack is one that I could listen to time and time again. It’s fantastic. The game also has a pretty nifty photo mode, which I used to capture the images that accompany this review. Nice.

Shadow of the Colossus has faults: The camera goes wonky from time to time, obscuring your view of things and trying to climb onto Agro at times can be comical. I was also frustrated by a simple jumping puzzle against the third colossus, Gaius the Knight, for far longer than I should as Wander can’t sprint so I was forever missing the jump, plummeting to the cold water below, forcing me to try again and again and again until I got it.  Wander also can’t swim very well, which means the fight against the colossus that lives in water – Hydrus – extremely frustrating and more difficult than it should have been. I also felt that some colossi weren’t as impressive as others, for example, Gaius’ fight was awesome, Hydrus’ and Phaedra’s not so much.

Ultimately for me, Shadow of the Colossus is a game that evokes emotions –  whether that’s the intention or not by the game’s creators (I’m sure that is the intention) – both over what the player is doing throughout the course of the game and whether it’s all worth it. When a game makes you question what you are doing as a hero, as Shadow of the Colossus does, and makes you think whether you’re doing the right thing, it’s hitting all the right notes. Shadow of the Colossus hits all those notes for me.

 

 

Shadow of the Colossus: The Knight & the next one after that

I’m making my way through Shadow of the Colossus, the PlayStation 4 remake of the 2005 game which originally appeared on the PlayStation 2, but until my review appears, I thought I’d share a video of the game’s third colossi, the Knight, and the game’s fourth colossi, which I can’t remember the name of. Whatever its name is, it took far too long to defeat as I kept falling off (plus it took a long time to get into the right position). Review before the weekend, hopefully.

Enjoy the videos.

Shadow of the Colossus opening cinematics (PlayStation 4 Pro)

Thanks to PlayStation NZ, I’ve got an early review copy of the remake of Team Ico’s classic PlayStation 2 game Shadow of the Colossus, which I’m playing through at the moment (I’ve also played it on PS2 and PS3), so I thought I’d share the opening cinematics of the remake with you.

Captured on a PS4Pro, the game has been remade for Sony’s current generation console thanks to the remaster masters, Bluepoint Games, who have done other PlayStation games in the past. Look out for a review in the next week or so.

Enjoy the video.