Over the last couple of weeks (months, you might say) there are a lot of things happening in the gaming ecosystem. Nintendo recently released Wii U, Sony will announce the next PlayStation, and Microsoft will follow suit with the next Xbox soon enough. As a gamer, there’s only one thing in my mind: console wars is about to start again.
Couple of years ago, those three major players in the gaming industry, Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, released their then-latest generation consoles, Wii, PlayStation 3, and Xbox, respectively, and the console wars began. Fast forward to now, the same thing could be said again. And although there are some changes in their overall ecosystem, I personally feel that they’re actually messing around with us. Nintendo released Wii U with a very crippled online account capabilities, Sony and Microsoft, at the moment of this writing, are rumored to release consoles that tied the game into the consoles themselves, meaning no used games. That’s not to mention region locking that I believe will be included for your convenience at no cost.
The issue, however, is much more deeper than simply releasing consoles with these kinds of dumb moves. I’m not here to defend them, I still think what they have done (or will do) is extremely stupid, to say the least, however, I am trying to understand the reason why instead of going into nerd rage:
With Nintendo, they released a console with a locked account, meaning your account cannot be transferred to another Wii U in case your console stuff up and you have to buy another or replace it (technically, you can, however it’s a pain in the ass and not working as you would expect).
I believe this is implemented because simply, Nintendo wasn’t (and still not) in the front of online capabilities. They needed a system where people cannot simply login to another Wii U and redownload all titles they have, and then logout. Certainly not a well-thought solution, but it works for them and the publishers.
With the rumor on the next PlayStation Orbis and Xbox Durango, they supposedly will be released with more online sharing capabilities and games locked to their first consoles (they even had a patent for it), not to mention an always-on internet connection (they said for sharing, but piracy and control are more like it). Locking games to the first console they’re played means that you no longer have the ability to resell your games, nor you can simply borrow or lend one to one of your friends or family.
I believe this is implemented because of middleman distributors such as GameStop or EBGames actually sell pre-owned games (and consoles), which I loathe simply because the money will not go towards the publisher of the game, but to their very own pockets. Console game locking is indeed a dick move (GameStop is also against it because of gamers, but we know better), but hey, it works for them and the publishers as well.
The reason I despise their attempt (despite owning a Wii U myself) is that, like what my lecturer once said, it only addresses the symptoms, not the underlying issue on gaming as a whole. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft have been working (and I suspect they will always do) with publishers to create games that are less and less about the gamers, and more and more about the publishers (and their money), and I think it’ll get worse year by year. The real issue is not gamers sharing or reselling games, that’s simply a consequence of the actual problem itself: pricing, availability, and replayability.
The price of games are too damn high
Let’s take on the first issue: pricing. Nowadays, new console games usually range from somewhere between $40 for the usual ones and up to more than $100 for the so-called limited or enthusiast editions. Of course over the years the price for said games will go down, but new games will always linger at that price, and that doesn’t include “Australian tax” that somehow makes a $40 game into a $70 game.
Granted, $40 is not that much. It’s roughly 4 to 5 times eating out (at least in Melbourne), and in developed countries, most people will have income far beyond that amount. However when you take into account the quality of the game itself, it becomes stupid. Don’t get me wrong, I do not mind paying for a good quality game, however they are very hard to come by these days. And paid reviews on most game sites do not help at all.
Then you realise that you can buy the so-called limited collector’s edition for $100+, where in fact these so-called collector’s edition is actually the same game, but with steroids such as giving you early access to super weapons and whatnot, basically throwing off the balance of the game. And then there’s the so-called DLC, monthly subscriptions on PSN and Xbox, and suddenly your actual cost of actually playing a game shoots up to $150+.
And that’s only for a single gamer playing a single game, not mentioning the quality of the game or replayability values. How do gamers recoup with these? One of the solutions are to resell the game they no longer play, be it for in-store credit, or via eBay. The other solution is to buy used games at a much cheaper price than a new one. Or simply borrow from one of your friend.
The publisher has not made this game available in your country
And we come across the second issue: availability, and the consequence of it, region locking. I believe most of us gamers can relate to this one. Region locking was cool in 2000, was not cool in 2006, and is very stupid in 2013. Seriously, with the world literally all connected through the internet, you still expect us to believe that we’re unable to play a US game simply because we live in UK?
Availability has always been the issue for gaming industry as a whole. There are an awful lot of incredible games released in Japan (Final Fantasy Type-0, Bravely Default, Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney, Tales of Vesperia PS3, Super Robot Wars, the newest Suikoden side-series, and the list goes on) but never, or will never set foot in the western world, simply because some publishers think that they won’t be profitable. Even big publishers (who definitely have some money to spare) like Square Enix chickened out.
Some gamers do import games from Japan. But if region locking will be enforced to the console itself, like what Wii or 3DS did, then I reckon we will probably have a set of consoles from Japan, one for US, and one for Europe. Or we simply won’t buy the console at all.
On a side note, kudos to XSEED that vows to bring lesser known titles and hidden gems from Japan to US (and hopefully Europe market as well).
Estimated time to finish this game: 10 hours
There is a reason why people are quite
hostile vocal about used games: replayability. If a game has been played and finished, there are no more reason to go back to play the game except for nostalgia. This is why games nowadays have a huge freaking list of in-game collectibles to collect, or a thousand sidequests. I’m not complaining against multiple sidequests, but again, once you are done, 100% done with everything, you don’t have any reason to play the game again. And of course you won’t replay the game from the start simply to do it all over again.
Hence over the last 2 or 3 years, publishers have been adding more and more content to provide a replayability value for their gamers, to entice their gamers to play the game again (and providing more money to them, I guess). Sadly though, they are now realising that this strategy works really well that most of the games nowadays can be finished in under 40 hours of play.
One of the best games of my times, Suikoden 2, took roughly 60 hours to finish the game. There were no post-game content, there were no DLC, graphics were okay, and it’s not a perfect game (bugs and typos). And yet, I found myself replaying that game for 3 or 4 times, and people ARE still searching for it. There are also games such as sports or dance games that doesn’t have any story in it (or even silly story), but has a lot of replayability value without having to have additional content.
You see publishers, you either make a game so good it’s worth replaying for, make a game that focuses on replayability, both of which will benefit you in the long run in terms of marketing, or you can create a so-so games with a lot of useless DLC, and milk the series as much as you can, which will rake you money but smear your name (looking at you Ubisoft and Square Enix).
DLC: A double-edged solution
After all that rant, what is the solution then? Well, one of the solution is right in front of their face, to be completely honest. Downloadable content. As much as I don’t like DLC, I realise that it is actually one of the ways to solve this console-region-game-locking-thing problem.
DLC, when done right will actually made the whole gaming industry better. For starters, the actual pricing of the game can be toned down if the DLC development is actually included during the development of the game itself. DLC is downloadable, making it available will be simpler compared to organising the entire supply chain. And of course DLC will add replayability value.
The issue with the current state of DLC is that, publishers are using it as a way to milk the customer out of their money. DLCs are being made at the intention for limiting the actual game content, and forcing the gamers to spend more money to unlock contents. And don’t get me started on on-disc DLC. Many game publishers are missing out the benefits (not profits, mind you) of having DLC as a way to communicate and provide better experience for their gamers. There are of course DLCs that have been done right (GTA IV comes to mind), but it’s quite rare.
Or they could simply come back to making great games.
Hey there! As usual, it’s been a long time (half a year, actually) since my last post. Over these six months I have been up to various things, moving workplaces, setting up a new blog, getting married, moving in together, settling in, as well as the usual playing games. In this post, I would like to give a review on the newly released game Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 for Nintendo DS.
I apologise for the delay on updating the review. This review is now finished.
Instead of having an enhanced third version like they always had, Game Freak (that is, the developer of Pokémon games) decided to go for a sequel this time with Pokémon Black 2 and White 2, and try to incorporate the enhancements found in the so-called third versions in the sequel. This is an interesting take on a matured and already established franchise, and not to mention that it is a bit risky.
Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 takes place approximately 2 (two) years after the events of the original Pokémon Black and White. Within this 2 years gap, a lot has changed in the Unova region, allowing more Pokémon from other regions (in case you forgot: Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, Sinnoh) to exist alongside the native Pokémon of the Unova region. As a result from this change, the Unova regional Pokédex is updated with up to 300 Pokémon data. In my opinion, it would be interesting to see the effect of this migration on the Unova region Pokémon ecosystem (since they were closed off from other regions in the first games), however I have yet to see anything except from a comment from Bianca regarding the addition of Pokémon.
One of the nice feature of the game, story-wise is the ability to perform memory link to the original games. Depending on your progress in the original games, you will get flashbacks regarding the events in Pokémon Black and White from different perspective. However, if you do not play the original games, Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 did a good job of filling the details in on what happened two years before the story.
Instead of having the antagonists say upfront what they wanted to do, like in the original games, the new Team Plasma now operates in secrecy, at least for the most part. Team Plasma itself is now separated into two factions, one who supported N and trying to atone for their crimes, and the other is the one who still carrying their plans to try to take over the world. There are probably few events where they clashed, but it is good and adds depth to the story. Finally a Pokémon game with some substance to the story.
However, there are also some bad points and shortfalls on the story when I finally finished the main campaign. Without giving too much detail (in respect of being spoiler-free), there are certain points in the game that you feel that the story could have been better, and suddenly it just doesn’t make sense at all, or very shallow. It’s quite annoying to see these story points (although only few of them) that could have been a good climax, but then it’s not actually a climax.
Because of the actually-could-have-been-better approach that the game has actually taken, I’d give it a 7 out of 10. Don’t get me wrong, the story itself is pretty good in the first couple of hours playing the game, but the further you get into the game, that’s when the story fell short.
Aside from the change in the number of Pokémon available (and the version exclusives, of course), the game also brings new protagonists, as well new rivals. The new protagonists are not as silent as the first games’ protagonists (at the very least, they don’t look that silent and serious), and the new rival is a great addition, because finally you get a rival that helps you to become a better Pokémon trainer by actually supporting you instead of mocking you in a I-know-what-I’m-doing-and-you-don’t and I’m-so-much-better-than-you type of personality. I can’t comment on the antagonists part as I have yet to see them. The game also starts at a different city from the first games, allowing a change in the storyline, as well as introducing new cities, characters, landscape and the opportunity to explore!
The other change is that the game now starts in an entirely different city compared to the original games. This allows a separate, yet interconnected story with the original games, as well as new gyms instead of repurposing the old one with newer newer (like Juan taking Wallace’s gym). The existence of gyms other than the original 8 in a region has existed long in the anime, but it has only been confirmed, as far as I know, with this entry. Some of the cities accessible again in the games received an upgrade to show the progress that had been made during the two-year gap, although the “more natural” theme of White 2 and “more technological” theme of Black 2 can be seen, such as in Route 4.
Not much has changed in terms of the game mechanic, it is still the same-old Pokémon game mechanics, bringing the improvements from the original Black and White versions, while adding a couple of new features. One of the new features are the PokéStar Studios, an alternative to Musicals (which I don’t quite enjoy), in which you can play as an actor for the silver screen. You can go with either your own Pokémon, or a rented one. Using a rented one will automatically pairs you with the most suitable Pokémon, along with the most suitable moveset. Each movies has their own good, bad, and strange endings, depending on what lines and moves that you use, or whether you follow the script or not. The script itself gets trickier over time, since it’ll only give vague hints (such as “Swap items with your enemy”) later in the movie series. Of course, there will be fans rooting for you (and giving you items!).
Aside from PokéStar, there is also the Pokémon World Tournament, taking place in Driftveil City as a replacement for the Cold Storage. This tournament will feature trainers from all over the world, literally. You can download real-world trainers and teams used in real-world Pokémon tournaments. As of this writing, I believe you can get the winner of 2012 tournaments via Nintendo WFC. You can also battle previous gym leaders from Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, and Sinnoh, on top of Unova’s in the tournament. Be warned though, they are quite tough. This is a really nice addition, and will enable the game to keep the challenge fresh with every downloadable content.
Speaking of battles, there is a new area called Black Tower or Whitetree Hollow (in their respective games), which features a climb-to-the-top similar like Battle Tower, albeit with a slight twist of dungeon maze thrown in it.
Then there is also Join Avenue, in which you can recruit people to open shops. And these shops are quite useful, some featured Pokémon training, such as raising base stats (useful for EV training), or raising a level (I’ve tried to use this to evolve a Pokémon, sadly it didn’t work), other shops provide berries and mulches, or even raise the happiness of a Pokémon. As usual, these kind of shops only works once a day. You can also recruit any nearby players who is currently opening their C-Gear, provided you also open yours.
Black 2 and White 2 also bring a lot of post-game goodies into the mix. There is now a system called Unova Link, in which you can activate “keys” to alter the game experience. The Memory Link mentioned before is part of this Unova Link (and is probably the only one that can be activated before post-game).
There is also what is called as Key Link mode. One of the keys are the “Challenge Mode” key (available in Black 2) and ”Easy Mode” key (available in White 2), which if activated, will alter the trainers in the game to have a higher level, or a lower level Pokémon, respectively (not too sure about the AI, but I’m going to assume that it is also altered slightly). Aside from Key Link, there is also Area Keys, which change Black City to White Forest and vice-versa, Ruins Key which made Regirock, Regice, and Registeel available, as well as 3DS Link to link to Dream Radar. You can transfer these keys to another gaming system, if you so desire (thus enabling White Forest in Black 2, for example).
Also, a welcome but not-so-useful addition is the game’s take on achievements, which is achieved (pun intended) through the medal collection. I personally don’t fancy easy achievements (“Starting a New Adventure”, really?), but I guess with all games basically just incorporating it, I don’t have much choice, do I?
For bringing new features, and making easy of some of the previous features (Black City and White Tree, I’m looking at you), I’d give an 8 out of 10.
GameFreak has done some pretty good job doing the remixes of the battle theme, particularly against gym leaders and Elite Four. One that stuck in my head was Elesa’s theme, Roxie’s band theme, and the new Champion’s theme. They’re cute, while prepping you up to battle them. You can try to YouTube them (apparently there are lots of them over there) and hear them out if you wish. However, just hearing the themes without actually seeing the setting (i.e. the gyms themselves) would just deter the experience, as the songs, I assume, were actually made to complement the gym.
Good job on this one, I’m giving it 8 out of 10.
There is much to be ranted about the graphics on the original games, namely the pixelated look. Sadly, although the Pokémon animation is smoother (due to having more frames), it is still sporting the same pixelated look as the original games. Although I fully understand that this might be partially due to the resolution of the Nintendo DS (or 3DS, for that matter), I believe they can improve on this one.
On the positive side, though, there are moments (Elesa’s gym comes to mind, that gym experience is simply… unique, to say the least) that this game truly try to get your attention by showing good graphics, such as during the opening sequence view from Aspertia City. Can’t really blame them for trying. For this I would give 7 out of 10 (in respect of DS’s pixel and hardware limitation).
Adding all the points up, it’ll be roughly 30 out of 40. In their own Black 2 and White 2 made for arguably the most complete Pokémon game experience that you will ever get in a handheld system. There are shortfalls, namely in graphics and disappointment tied to the storyline, but overall, it is a pretty good game, and good for killing time as well.