Sometimes, a personality associated with a famous game is so visible and so spoken-about that we ascribe all elements of a game’s creation to them, rather than recognizing the true team efforts that many of these titles are. Such is the case with the original Resident Evil/Biohazard – you’ll often hear Shinji Mikami given full credit for the title, when in truth, Biohazard wouldn’t have taken the industry by storm if it wasn’t for the entire team who made it a revolutionary horror experience. Kenichi Iwao is one such individual: his scenario and storywriting for Biohazard set the stage for two decades of sequels, offshoots, and lore to follow. It’s not his only claim to fame in the business, either: Iwao has worked on many beloved titles like Demon’s Crest, Einhander, and Parasite Eve II. He also carefully created the sprawling worlds and stories of the Final Fantasy XI and XIV MMOs. It’s an honor to have to opportunity to interview one of these great unsung heroes of the game industry.
We had a unique opportunity to sit down with Iwao and discuss his lengthy career in the video game industry, and he surprised us with some of his answers to our questions. What do Steve Jackson and MSX games have to do with Biohazard? Read on to find out!
Special thanks to Alex Aniel of Brave Wave Music for assisting with this interview.
Ah, yes, it’s that time again – 2015 has shuffled off into the history books, and the majority of 2016 lies untold before us! Which means it’s also time for a now-annual Gaming.moe tradition – the Gaming.moe Waifu Awards.
In case you’re wondering – no, we’re not awarding awards to our favorite game waifus, because I’d have the same winner every year. It’s a name we adopted in the general spirit of the site for non-traditional year-end awards. Rather than doing typical categories like “Best Graphics,” “Best Fighting Game,” and the ever-argued-over GOTY, we give awards based on weird, arbitrary categories based on noteworthy happenings of the previous year. (You might want to check last year’s awards to get a better idea, as I explain the concept a little more in-depth there.)
2015 was a very good year for gaming as a whole. We got lots of fantastic new releases, juicy industry drama, and promising new projects. Of course, not all noteworthy happenings were the stuff of major hashtags and gaming news site headlines. Let’s celebrate the best (and worst) Waifus of 2015! Continue reading →
I visited Japan for the first time in a while over the holidays, spending my new year with a posse of fellow nerds celebrating in the most irredeemably dorky way possible: Comiket and arcade-hopping. (And a few game bars, too, for good measure – A Button is a lot smaller than I thought it would be!) While some Tokyo arcades like Mikado and HEY have already developed a strong reputation among retro-obsessed fans from abroad, I’d like to showcase a smaller, cozier, but similarly cool retro game space called the Natsuge Museum.
The name “Natsuge Museum” is derived from a combination of the words “natsukashii” (nostalgic), “Game,” and “Museum.” It’s located a short walk away from Akihabara station, though it’s in the opposite direction of Chuo-dori where HEY and most of the major stores are located. It’s a bit easy to miss: it’s not on any major roads, and its signage is limited to a few posters and banners hanging around the vicinity. It’s a fair bit smaller than those arcades, as well, being a single-floor establishment with as many machines as possible crammed into the space while still allowing you to move – just like the good ol’ game centers of old! This place is here to make you feel like you’ve warped back to the 80s, or perhaps the early 90s, when little arcades like these dotted the landscape, offering fun, strange, and challenging titles for everyone who was willing to waltz in and plunk a couple hundred yen into the machines.
You ever find that there’s a piece of music that comes out of nowhere and is just perfect for your mood at the time? Sometimes it’s something new you’ve never heard before, but for me, it’s usually a song I haven’t heard in a while that crops up again somewhere. I hear it again and then BAM! It’s in my head, it’s in my music player, and it’s playing nonstop, because it echoes my emotional state so utterly perfectly.
As I write this, I’m a little over a week away from visiting Japan. It’s been a while, but I’m super excited to go back to Comiket and see a bunch of old friends (and, of course, get some great material for this very site!). I’m looking forward to it with a feeling of adventure, but also some nervousness: Have things changed significantly since the last time I was there? Is my spoken Japanese still up to snuff? Will all my meetings go as planned? Am I going to get bodied at the FV2 player meetup?
I was pondering this over the weekend, after getting home from an event out in Oakland. I was watching my pal Tie Tuesday stream 12 hours of Super Mario Galaxy 2 (he does 12-hour streams monthly) and was immediately struck with that feeling of this is that song when the theme for Starship Mario came up.
The more I think about it, the more I feel that this is probably my favorite piece of Nintendo music ever – yes, even moreso than songs from the F-Zero games, which I love to death. I was very disappointed that it wasn’t in Smash 4, with the Mario Galaxy stage and all. It’s just such a wonderful song, evoking a feeling of being in a pleasant, comfortable space, but facing forward into a (quite literal, in this case) universe of adventure and discovery waiting just beyond. No matter where your travels take you, there’s always the special place you call home waiting for your return. It’s so pleasant and uplifting that I simply can’t tire of it, and it’s so utterly perfect as I’m sitting here packing my bags and making all my preparations.
There’s a bit of that distinct Nintendo flavor to it, as well, in how the song evolves as the game progresses – a common motif in the Mario series. The link above contains all of the versions of this song, starting with the woodwind/flute version that plays at the very beginning of the game when the Starship Mario is just starting its voyage. As you get further in and you add a few more features to your ship, the song changes up a bit, retaining the same melody but adding drums and changing the key instruments to strings and brass instruments. The final step of the song, coming in during the endgame, goes in even more heavily with the bass and drums, making for a heroic-sounding anthem and reflecting all the progress you and Mario have made on your journey. It’s so, so good!
The Mario Galaxy series has no shortage of excellent music , but this stands out to me as the best of the best. I’ve had it playing regularly all week, and I’ll probably continue at least until I board my plane to Haneda. It’s a wonderful feeling. Maybe I can pass it on to you through this. If not, well, I tried at least!
One of the most awkward feelings in the world is seeing everyone around you get excited for something and not being able to partake in said excitement. I get that feeling every time a Level-5 game is announced for localization (or, really, just announced in general). Folks on the professional and consumer side of things seem to get super hype for anything Akihiro Hino’s team from Fukuoka cooks up, while I find myself kind of sitting on the sidelines trying hard not to rain on anyone’s parade. Because frankly, I really don’t like Level-5.
“But Heidi!” you say, completely hypothetically, “What’s not to like about Level-5? They’re one of the few Japanese developers investing in big, beautiful games that have global appeal! They’re proof that Japanese game development can still be on par with Western AAA offerings! Isn’t that a good thing?”
That wouldn’t be an incorrect statement, either. Level-5 is very much like a Western AAA developer – they make games that are graphically sumptuous, filled with charm, and are appealing to global audiences. And that, I feel, is their major problem.
In retrospect, my attempt to do a SaGa theme month for November was… well, not a bad idea, really, but terribly misguided. Here I was, thinking I’d be able to blow through Romancing SaGa 1, 3, and the heavily SaGa-inspired Legend of Legacy all in the course of a month. Not only did that not happen, but I learned a very hard lesson: SaGa games beyond the initial batch of localized Final Fantasy Legend titles require an intense persistence and dedication on the part of the player. The only way these games reward you is if you’re willing to put a hefty amount of time and effort into learning their weird quirks.
Not only that, but you have to be prepared to mess up. Like, a lot.
So in the time I’d hoped to have completed three games, I wound up kind-of-completing… one. Sort of. Actually, I didn’t finish Romancing SaGa at all. Instead, I got to a point where I realized “Holy crap, going into this totally blind was a real bad idea and I’m gonna start over now that I’ve learned what it is I should actually be doing.”
Yep, you heard me. I’m going to toss all my Romancing SaGa progress out the window and restart again at some point down the line. I’m thinking in… March or so? So consider this Part One of a continuing RS1 travelogue, with a continuation down the line once I’ve played through a few other SaGa titles and had some time to read over guides more thoroughly.1
So, the question is: What went wrong this time through, and what did I learn from it?
So it’s come to this: I’m writing about Undertale, as is seemingly required of any games journalist worth their salt at the moment. Not that I mind at all – Undertale was genuinely one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had all year, and a game worth analyzing with a critical lens on numerous levels. (I’m only sad that my pile of paid reviews prevented me from getting to it sooner than I actually did, because I could only go into it about 85% fresh rather than 100% fresh.)
I’ve played and finished Undertale on the Neutral and Pacifist endings1. I’ve come to realize that it’s nearly impossible to really talk about Undertale without massive spoilers for the experience, because Undertale is considerably more dense than its short playtime (5-7 hours for each ending in my case) might make it seem. Everything feels deliberately designed to build the game’s world without any dull padding or superfluous filler, which is why the whole thing just feels so darn good – but also why even talking in more than the vaguest terms about the game can detract from the experience. So lemme just go ahead and put this here:
There have already been a bazillion posts written along the lines of “Undertale made me feels so hard that it took me on a feels trip to the Feeld of Dreams where Officer Fielmann arrested me for feelsing myself in public etc,” so I’m opting for something a bit different in this article. It’s clear Undertale takes a lot of influences from other games – the Mother/Earthbound series in particular – but there are a lot of interesting parallels and influences from other titles that don’t seem to have been picked up on as much. I’m going to point a few of these out – and say why I feel the comparison is valid, in some cases.
In the interests of keeping this from getting much too long, I’ve decided to forgo game overs from survival horror games. Bloody, horrifying deaths come with the territory in those games, so it’s not particularly interesting to investigate them, in my opinion.1 In a way, it’s a more shocking if the creepy and/or shaming elements come completely out of left field than it is if you’ve dealt with the threat of evisceration for your entire playtime.
There are also a few more obscure samples I want to include, but I lack the capability to capture them myself at the moment, and all the pre-existing images and footage of them online are woefully sub-par in quality. There’s a good chance this feature will be revised in the future to include these once I’m able to adequately showcase them, so keep your eyes on the Gaming.moe Twitter for updates.
Without further ado, it’s time to venture into a world of shame and failure!
Well, that and a lot of the survival horror game over footage available online come from accounts that seem really creepily obsessed with collecting death clips of female game characters. Nope nope nope ↩
It’s been argued that one of the most interesting things about games is that they allow the person engaging them to feel guilt and responsibility for their actions, something that can’t be done in more passive forms of media. Designers have actually been utilizing this since the early days of the medium as a way to belittle players’ lack of skill (and, hopefully, inspire them to invest more time/money to get better): think of how Missile Command used “THE END” when you lost all cities instead of “GAME OVER.” Guess what, jerk, your failure with the trackball just doomed humanity! Even a small change like that left a big impact on player psyches, and the medium has since evolved, finding plenty of new and exciting ways to make you feel really bad about what you do in games.
But for whatever reason, I’ve always been fascinated by the game over guilt trip. While most games just come to a screeching halt once the lives and health have run dry, others really go the extra mile to make you feel awful about your failure. I’ve spent a great deal of time over the years looking into these , and over the course of my research, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two types of disturbing game overs:
A. Things are exceptionally grim, and only the power of a continue can stave off this impending doom! You will continue, right? You don’t want this horrible thing to happen, right?
B. YOU DONE FUCKED UP BUDDY, NOW DEAL WITH IT
Both of these are fascinating in their own way, but as a fan of old arcade games, A is particularly interesting. Arcade games are about spending money for play time, and the end goal for the operator is to maximize profits, so keeping play time down (so other folks can spend money for a turn on the machine) is an ideal. Continues might seem opposed to this concept, but they actually play right into it: You’d get more time-for-money-spent value if you started the game over than you would if you credit-fed, as difficulty tends to scale higher the further you get and credits usually last for shorter and shorter stretches of time. It’s why the one-credit clear is such a mark of pride among the biggest arcade: you’ve basically given “the man” trying to squeeze you for money the middle finger with your mad arcade game skillz.
So, in the interests of getting players to continue more, the devs began to put in continue screens that insinuate that a terrible fate awaits if you don’t put that next quarter/yencoin in. Some, like Blue’s Journey/Raguy by ADK, make a heartfelt emotional plea (and then call you names).
Others, meanwhile, place your character – or their loved ones – in more immediate danger. Won’t you spare a quarter to save our heroes from their doom?
Well, so far my most anticipated Vita releases for 2015 have (mostly) been serious disappointments.1 First there was Persona 4 Dancing All Night and its numerous issues, and now we have Corpse Party: Blood Drive, a follow-up to the superb (and very under-the-radar) PSP horror title Corpse Party. Unfortunately, Corpse Party: Blood Drive is most certainly not superb. Quite far from it, actually.
Let’s look back at the original game for a moment. Corpse Party was a horror-themed adventure game that began life as an RPG Maker project on the Japanese PC-98 computer, and eventually wound up on the PSP after numerous remakes and revisions. It’s the story of a group of students (and a teacher) who wind up trapped in the abandoned, cursed Heavenly Host Elementary after performing what they think is a harmless friendship ritual, but is actually a rite to enter an evil alternate dimension. Heavenly Host is a long-abandoned school that was the site of numerous horrific happenings, filled with numerous tortured souls who want nothing but to inflict their pain and suffering on others in the most agonizing ways possible. Its roots as an RPG Maker game were obvious in the visuals, which consisted of 2D sprite graphics and top-down environments, as well as its simple interactions, which made it more of a 2D horror adventure game than a “survival horror” experience.
Corpse Party was unusual in many ways, but it worked wonderfully as a horror game: the sprite visuals were incredibly unsettling once the awfulness of Heavenly Host began to set in, the sound design and voice acting was nothing short of amazing (listening to characters’ death throes is nothing short of terrifying), and the technical/engine limitations meant that most of the game’s scariest scenes were told through only text and sound – making them even more effective than if they were purely visual. (You can only see so much hyper-detailed viscera before it loses its impact, but detailed descriptions and sounds of pain and suffering can be absolutely brutal.) The characters were engaging, and they interacted quite well with each other, revealing lots of weird and unique little personality quirks (some far more disturbing than others).
That’s a brief summary. If you want a more detailed review of the original Corpse Party, I shall point you in the direction of friend-of-the-site Gaming Hell!
Anyhow, despite being a PSP exclusive, the game seemed to do well for publisher XSEED – in fact, we wound up getting a collection of side stories (and a brief prologue to Blood Drive) in the 2012 release of Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, which took the game even further into adventure game/visual novel territory. Some folks found it disappointing, but I enjoyed seeing more about the characters and setting of the game as revealed through its various vignettes.
So how does Corpse Party: Blood Drive manage to screw up such a good thing? Oh boy, where to begin…