End-of-year review/awards, 2014 edition!

To the untrained eye it probably looks like I’ve done nothing but play REmake this past year, but I’ve actually gone through all sorts of formats and genres! 

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OK, and an awful lot of Biohazard. I can’t really deny that one, can I? No? No.

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But seriously, it’s been a very interesting year for me: I’ve dated hot part-time lion men (Beast Master & Prince – Vita), experienced the wonder that is Burns Byford (Hard Edge – Playstation),  marvelled at the technical witchcraft of Parasite Eve 2’s player-controlled scrolling FMV background (a feat that they sadly didn’t repeat at any other point in the game) and made myself utterly and permanently terrified of school lavatories thanks to the deceptively tame-looking Corpse Party.

This was also the year that not only did darling doujin shmup Crimzon Clover see a worldwide release on Steam (in its upgraded arcade form, no less!), but so did the equally impressive and yet totally different Astebreed too. You pretty much can’t move on Steam these days without bumping into a great doujin title and thanks to (Japanese) PSN I literally don’t have enough room on my Vita memory card for all the incredible Playstation games on offer – some of which, like LSD, would be ludicrously expensive to buy a physical copy of (a quick eBay search shows the cheapest to be about £200/$300 USD). Slightly further afield the ever-lovely Project EGG’s commitment to bringing gamers the finest retro Japanese computer games has meant I’ve been able to pick up everything from Star Trader to Xak to Solid Lancer with no fuss and minimal damage to my Paypal account (about £3 each). Yes, there have been issues with digital services – DDoS attacks seem to be the cool thing for antagonistic nerds to do these days, excitedly turning on a new console only to see it update everything for the first hour or so is really boring, and Nintendo continues to have such strange and draconian digital policies that they’d be called archaic if anyone else had ever actually been stupid/paranoid enough to use them, but overall digital’s done more good than harm.

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Of course I’ve had a lot of fun playing/replaying old games over the past twelve months but modern games have probably given me more pleasant surprises this year: both Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris and Diablo III have been good co-op fun, PT scared the living hell out of me even when I knew what was supposed to happen, Destiny was good fun (up until the “Light” grinding, anyway) – all in all I’d be much worse off without modern games. I’m still not as up to date as I want to be (Sen no Kiseki really needs buying at some point) but I think this year’s been a good reminder that I was perhaps teetering a little too close to being a “All new stuff sucks!” nerd before now.

However I’m still furious at HtoL#NiQ for squandering such a wonderful setting on such an awful game – it’d be the disappointment of the year if only…well, you’ll see when you hit the “awards” part of this post.

Not all the surprises were from the new side of things – to be honest I started playing Resident Evil: Outbreak just for completion’s sake; there was no way the offline bit of an ex-online group-based survival horror title was going to be any good, was there? Actually, it was. Outbreak proves why it’s good to sometimes dive in to games that I don’t think I’ll like, or why I’ll have another go at games I didn’t enjoy first time around – because being wrong is awesome. While by no means perfect, both Outbreak titles are incredibly deep games that reward skilled, thoughtful play and repeated runs. On the atmosphere side of things they also manage to be an excellent example of the “We’re all screwed and everything’s gone up the Swanee” that everyone currently thinks The Walking Dead did first while at the same time being a Resident Evil lore-hound’s delight. When I finished Outbreak File#2 I wasn’t just impressed, I was upset that there weren’t any more to play!

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So what about next year? In the main I want to continue in broadly the same direction I have this year, but I’ve also written out a wish list of gaming challenges  to try and finally finish a few games that I keep starting but never quite get through (Vagrant Story’s a good example of that) as well as a few things I’d like to do because I can be a terribly cocky show off at times (my 1CC Alien Soldier challenge is a good example of that). I might do them all or I might only do a few, but it’ll be fun to try them out either way.

Last but not least -

Kimimi’s 2014 Gaming Awards of Award-y-ness:

Favourite retro RPG: I almost gave this one to PC-98 RPG Elmknight for being so technically impressive as well as a shockingly fair old RPG, but it just doesn’t feel right giving it to anything other than Falcom’s action RPG Zwei!!. Experimental, drop-dead gorgeous, and a pleasure right up to the very end.

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Favourite retro not-RPG: I’ve cruelly banned myself from giving this to a Biohazard title, so I’ll instead award this…umm, award to Densha de GO! 2 on the Neo Geo Pocket Colour instead. I never thought a pared-down handheld port of an arcade train sim could be as enjoyable as this is.

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Favourite modern game: It’s got to be Astebreed – exhilarating, accessible, and arcade-y. That’s proper arcade-y, which means it’s a shmup that’s flashy as well as fun from your very first go, rather than the sort of thing that only appeals to the type of gamer that Googles perfect chain videos.

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Disappointment of the year: The Evil Within. I’ve played games that are far worse than this in 2014, but this is the only one where I feel it really could have been something spectacular with a few different design choices.

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Guilty pleasure: Wasting an awful lot of time playing Final Fantasy XIV, dressing up my Phantasy Star Online 2 character, and grinding in Dragon Quest X. So basically, playing MMOs. No doubt these will all be 2015’s guilty pleasures too.

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Overall game of the year: What title left an indelible mark on my gaming consciousness in 2014? What title was the one above all others I was most grateful to have experienced? How much longer can I string out this poor attempt at tension-building?

Prepare yourselves, because my game of 2014 is…

Gun Survivor 3: Dino Crisis

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Not even joking. Capcom’s stupid, stupid, dinosaurs-in-hyperspace game left me with a huge smile on my face like nothing else this year – and that smile was still there when I went through it the second time. It’ll be there on the third too, no doubt. So, for simply being absolutely bonkers and a hell of a lot of fun while it’s at it, Gun Survivor 3 is my game of the year.

A shameless love letter to Zwei!!

Before we start there’s something very important about Falcom’s old (2001) action RPG that we need to get cleared up – those damned exclamation marks in the title. The game really is called “Zwei!!” and not “Zwei”, or something more exotic like “Two” (or even “Two!!”); I don’t know why they felt the need for enforced additional punctuation because the game’s exciting enough already, but I digress.

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I’m pretty sure I first played Zwei!! when it landed on the PSP in 2008 and… I didn’t think much of it. It’s a bit weird, mechanically speaking, what with XP only coming from the food you eat and the relatively freeform nature of the adventure tending to leave you to your own devices, and I couldn’t get into it. This of course didn’t stop me buying the PC original at some point afterwards and now, however many years since I first placed it on my bookcase and let it taunt me with it’s un-played-ness, I finally picked the game up and got it installed.

I’ll finish this before the end of the year!” I publicly declared on Twitter, crippled with fear over this potentially enormous commitment almost immediately after hitting the tweet button. But I really did want to get through the game, so I dug out the guidebook I inexplicably own and dived in.

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Truth be told it still feels a bit odd even though I’ve since finished the game; almost like they wanted to make a roguelike but didn’t quite have the guts to really follow it through - inventory management never ceases to be anything less than a complete pain in the arse too - but with a bit of help and focus from the guidebook I was able to get the hang of things and play the game like the action-RPG-shooter it sort of is.

The basic flow of the game works like this – pick a dungeon around your current level, battle your way through, collect the plot-crucial item at the end, repeat until end. This is of course a gross simplification of the real thing, and players do in fact have to contend with elemental weaknesses, bosses, and all sort of switches, traps and timers throughout the game, but it’s essentially how things go.

But I don’t really want to talk to much about the mechanics (good or bad), what I really want to do is implore you to play Zwei!! for yourself. Y’see, if there’s one thing I feel modern games of all stripes miss in their desperate rush to be “mature”, whether that be through violence, sex, or (heaven forfend!) genuinely mature in the truest sense of the word, it’s that sense of breathless adventure that comes from taking control of some plucky young kids sent off  to do something brave and save the whole world while they’re at it. It sounds childish, and that’s probably because it is, but the cast are adorable, the tale is suitably epic, and the villains all get their comeuppance in the end. Zwei!! is in many ways a great children’s story, and I mean that in the most positive and complimentary way possible.

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Zwei!! is also achingly beautiful, as should be obvious from the screenshots I’ve been plastering all over this page (and Twitter). It’s not a particularly long adventure - my final save was around the 14-15 hour mark - but even so the game never once failed to impress with its detailed locations and vibrant use of colour. In truth all this graphical muscle is really only for show as there’s no actual difference between playing through a dungeon set in a forest or one set over an active volcano, but I honestly never cared. As an older gamer that would like to pretend she has good taste I’m supposed to tell you that graphics don’t matter because “real” gamers only play these things out of an appreciation for their delicately-balanced mechanics or deep plots that probably involve politics and/or someone trying to overthrow an evil religious force, but part of the joy of progressing through Zwei!! is simply seeing what beautiful sights the artists created for the next area.

Overall Zwei!! is an incredibly beautiful and relatively straightforward Falcom RPG with an import-friendly (if a bit fiddly) icon-based menu system, available on PC, PS2 and PSP – three of the most accessible gaming formats of all time – and yet it feels like nobody’s really done much flag-waving on the game’s behalf. So this is me, Zwei!! flag gently wafting in the breeze while I look all heroic on a grassy hill. If you like RPGs, you should play this game.

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New blog post double attack special! Gu Jian Qi Tan 2!

This little linking post is really nothing more than a thinly-veiled excuse to ram more screenshots from the beautiful-but-bloated Chinese RPG Gu Jian Qi Tan 2 down everyone’s throats, but in the interest of some vague sense of integrity I’ll try to write a bit more than this rambling opening sentence about the game.

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You might remember my old review-ish-thing I wrote about the game a while back, and reading through it again I’m happy to say that I still agree with everything I wrote there – the game is a great RPG and it was worth waiting for, but at the same time it could have really done with an editor slicing through the Xenosaga-length cutscene dialogue and they really should have spent less time worrying about sunlight breaking out from behind towering ancient monuments and more about whether anyone not from the future would be able to run the game well. You can make a legitimate argument either way in favour of Gu Jian Qi Tan 2 vs. Xian Jian Qi Xian Zhuan 5 (and its prequel, Xian Jian Qi Xia Zhuan 5 Qian Zhuan – which I still need to write about), but if there’s one area where Xian Jian 5 definitely beats Gu Jian 2 it’s in its ability to balance creative splendour with across-the-board technical performance.

But that’s enough from me for now; enjoy the screenshots below, follow this link for photos and information on the fabulous deluxe edition of the game – click! …and jab this one for photos of the special Gu Jian 2 controller – click!

Oh, and expect a quick post about the Gu Jian 2 soundtrack in the near future too (promise!)!

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