Saturday, July 31, 2010

Dragon Quest Connect and Play Event

I went down into the city to the Gamestop store hosting the Connect and Play event. It turned out pretty good. I feared it would just be me and the Dragon Quest representative, but there where several fans who showed up - both men and women - to connect and collect maps. My system connected with over 13 people, and I got some good maps. We had a few miscommunications, where I thought I had missed out on this one guy's rare Metal Slime map. Turns out his name was spelled differently than it was pronounced, so I already had his map without knowing. Everyone got a free poster and stickers - and the people who got there the earliest received a Dragon Quest T-Shirt as well. (I wasn't one of those people) It was very odd, walking into a whole group of people who where like-wise all staring down at their Nintendo DS screens. But we did talk a little, especially over the perceived frustration when I thought my system wasn't connecting. It wasn't a huge social thing - but it was cool to see that there are other gamers who like-wise enjoy Dragon Quest. Oh - and I got many comments for having an original Nintendo DS. One guy stopped, turned to me, and remarked "I haven't seen one of those in a LONG time". Hee, I just never felt the need to upgrade.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

DCU Online Trailer

DC put out a 6-minute extravaganza of a trailer for their upcoming DCU Online MMORPG. You spend half the video wondering what the heck is going on, as you're seeing radically different versions of our favorite heroes. It all culminates with Lex Luthor finally killing Superman. BUT - Brainiac decided to take advantage and takes over the planet. So Lex time travels to the present, to warn the Justice League of the impending apocalypse. (It seems a tad familiar to the recent Justice League Crisis of Two Earths, where a similarly alternate-Lex Luthor comes to warn the JLA of danger)

I'm still not a fan of MMORPGs - and not even the pure awesomeness of this video, and the possibilities of this video game, are going to change that. There's also the question of weather this awesome video really reflects what's actually going to be in the game. Anyway - here's the video. At the very least it's an extremely entertaining 6 minutes.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Dragon Quest IX Tag Mode

I've been playing a lot of Dragon Quest 9 lately. This type of game simply eats away at your time, but it's so much fun you give it more anyway.


I wish I could make use of the "Tag Mode" Dragon Quest 9 offers. It's a thing where your copy of Dragon Quest can continually scan the area, and connect to other people who are doing the same, and information is automatically swapped, and you can get new dungeons downloaded for you to explore. This feature is a lot more useful in Japan, with a denser population; plus it's easier because everyone loves Dragon Quest over there. (It's a passion in that country) Here in the states, you'd have to set up plans, or something or another, to be able to connect with other DQ gamers.


I tried it out, on my way to an appointment in the city. It didn't connect with anything, though I really didn't think it would to begin with. I just had to try.


UPDATE: Good news. It seems certain Gamestop stores are going to have a free Map giveaway on July 31st. Make sure to call your local gamestop to make sure they are doing it or not. Here's where I found the announcement: Dragon Quest Connect and Play

Update to the Update: I went down into the city to the Gamestop store hosting the Connect and Play event. It turned out pretty good. I feared it would just be me and the Dragon Quest representative, but there where several fans who showed up - both men and women - to connect and collect maps. My system connected with over 13 people, and I got some good maps. We had a few miscommunications, where I thought I had missed out on this one guy's rare Metal Slime map. Turns out his name was spelled differently than it was pronounced, so I already had his map without knowing. Everyone got a free poster and stickers - and the people who got there the earliest received a Dragon Quest T-Shirt as well. (I wasn't one of those people) It was very odd, walking into a whole group of people who where like-wise all staring down at their Nintendo DS screens. But we did talk a little, especially over the perceived frustration when I thought my system wasn't connecting. It wasn't a huge social thing - but it was cool to see that there are other gamers who like-wise enjoy Dragon Quest. Oh - and I got many comments for having an original Nintendo DS. One guy stopped, turned to me, and remarked "I haven't seen one of those in a LONG time". Hee, I just never felt the need to upgrade.

Yet Another Update: Guess what? There is another Dragon Quest Tag Mode event coming up this weekend. It's at Best Buy - on Saturday August 7th. You can find out more about it here: Best Buy Dragon Quest Connect and Play.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dragon Quest IX Review

Dragon Quest IX has finally arrived here in the US. I have been looking forward to this game for a long time. Did it fulfill my expectations? That's a definite yes! All of the great Dragon Quest gameplay is back, and better than ever. The game slowly opens the world up to you, at a gentle pace - as you begin to start an adventure. The game really gets going once you go into the big city, where you can recruit 3 other members to your party. The customization is very nice - and gets deeper with all of the armor and clothing choices. This becomes very fun, as you can make very stylish looking heroes - or very funny looking comrades. You are limited to what clothing you can buy, and you are somewhat encouraged to equip the best armor, regardless of appearance. You have to balance fashion sense with effectiveness - which does have the benefit of forcing you to try new outfits you might otherwise not want to use.

So far in my time with the game I've made a party with a Priest, Mage, and Martial Artist. Each class of character has their own unique abilities and talents, along with a variety of weapon types to choose from. (I especially like the fan, for the Martial Artist) Your main character is a Minstrel, which is a jack of all trades. Later on in the game you are given the opportunity to change your class.

The game's story is very nice and easy to get into. You're basically playing the role of an angel - but an angel who is quickly forced to the ground on earth having lost your wings and halo. Something disastrous happened to your home in the sky. So the over all goal of the game is to find out what happened - and eventually save the world. Don't worry - saving the world is quite a ways off yet. This game promises at least 40 hours of gameplay, not even including all of the many side quests.

The biggest downside to the game is the multiplayer feature. This might be a cool thing for players in Japan, where everyone seemingly loves Dragon Quest - but over here in America it's a different story. You are able to connect with up to four other players via local wifi - and also has a "tag mode" which allows you're system to silently communicate with other Dragon Quest games in the area, and collect maps. Again - it's all very nice, but not as useful where I'm living. Even the local wireless proves useless for me, as I don't have any friends who play Dragon Quest as well, let alone want to come over to my place and play together. What would have been a big improvement for the American version is the ability to do all of this through wifi, and not just through local connections. They you could connect with all the Dragon Quest fans you could want. Still - this is a small gripe - as I never intended to buy this game for the multiplayer. You're able to play the game perfectly fine alone - and in fact, the pace of the game almost encourages it. It is a bit slower paced of the game for a group of friends to engage in. Again, DQ just isn't going to beat out something like Halo here in America for group gameplay.

I've only begun my game, and there's so much more in store. I'd highly recommend anybody to try this game. It can appeal to all sorts of people - and easily accessible.

Gametrailers put out a translated version of a round table discussion between Nintendo President Iwata with creators Yuji Horii and Ryutaro Ichimura. Here are links to all the parts of the discussion


Here's a review of the game from gametrailers.com

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Great Wonder Woman Comics of the Last Decade



Wonder Woman has notoriously been ones of comic's most difficult characters to write. There's the difficult balancing act of portraying Wonder Woman's famous feminist values, but without having her come off as annoying. You have to balance her super human strength and warrior upbringing, while also trying to keep her femininity and humanity. Then you have to also contend with what Wonder Woman's place is in the world. Is she a Super Hero? Humanitarian? Diplomat? Warrior? Unlike Batman and Superman, Wonder Woman does not have reliable back-drops, like the Batcave, or the Daily Planet News Room. She also doesn't come with many side-kicks, most of them having been weeded out of her history, like Etta Candy and Steve Trevor. So where does that leave her? Add the temptation to rely on sex appeal, and it's no wonder DC Comics have been struggling for years to make good Wonder Woman stories.

There have been some great Wonder Woman tales, not the least of which was the George Perez reboot that helped return Diana to her more mythological roots.

After that, though, there are quite a few low points in Wonder Woman's modern history. I think she was working at a fast food restaurant at one point.


Around 2000 things began to change. Artist Adam Hughes began doing covers for Wonder Woman issues, bringing a great level of realism and detail to Wonder Woman; each cover was fit to hang on the wall as a poster. I believe Adam Hughes interpretation of Wonder Woman is probably one of the most critical factors in elevating her in comic fans minds.


Yet the story inside the issues have to be equally as good. Phil Jimenez was the writer who delivered on that. Not only did his art and story telling help elevate Wonder Woman's world into a more complex and detailed landscape, but he pushed her forward with more challenges - like taking on Darksied again, loosing her royalty and her mother, and leading the Amazons to fight in the Imperex War. It also helped that Jimenez's detailed art was very much similar to that of George Perez. Under his writing Wonder Woman became a stellar book.

When Jimenez left Wonder Woman, Walt Simonson took over the title for a 6 issue fill in. Simonson is famous for dealing with mythological Super Heroes, having had a legendary run on Marvel's Thor. The story he did was very good, but he also managed to catch a few headlines - as Wonder Woman cut her hair shorter. It didn't last, but it's humorous to think that such an obscure event in the story actually garnered real media attention.


The next writer to tackle Wonder Woman was Greg Rucka. He first proved he could write Wonder Woman well with the graphic novel "The Hiketeia". It put WW and Batman at odds over the fate of a young woman. Batman wanted her captured, because she was a criminal - but Wonder Woman was placed in a situation where she has to protect this girl and keep Batman away. It was a stellar story, emblazoned in fan's minds - which is why Greg Rucka's tenure on the book was so anticipated. And Greg Rucka did not disappoint - though he took a noticeably different take on Wonder Woman than many might have been expecting. The beginning of his run focused a lot around the Therysciran embassy, and the more political world that surrounded Wonder Woman. Diana wrote a book, explaining her ideals and thoughts - which became a lightning rod of controversy. An especially horrible woman, Veronica Cale, launched a smear campaign against Wonder Woman. Cale was very much in the vein of Lex Luthor, but it fit the type of story Rucka was telling. Underneath everyone's noses, Wonder Woman suddenly became the West Wing of the DCU.


Rucka's run branched out eventually, with Wonder Woman facing off against the Gorgon. She was even blinded by this monster before she was able to cut off it's head. She was blind for quite awhile afterwords.



The most striking moment of Rucka's run was, during the tie-ins to the Infinite Crisis mini-series event, Superman's mind was taken control by Maxwell Lord - who had Superman go on a

rampage, with Wonder Woman on the receiving end. The battle was simply brutal, but Diana eventually stopped Superman. Capturing Maxwell Lord, she put him in her lasso of Truth, asking how she could stop him from controlling Superman. He told her the truth: kill me. And so she did. She snapped his neck, shocking Superman and the entire world. Wonder Woman made no apologizes, stating that she was a warrior, and that sometimes warriors are forced to kill. She even points to her earlier defeat of the Gorgon, who appeared as a monster, but was just as sentient as any human - and no one had any problem when she decapitated the Gorgon.

Rucka's run continues on with Wonder Woman, wishing to prove herself innocent, submitting herself to the court in the Huage. It doesn't last, though, as the events of the Infinite Crisis are closing in - with Themyscira being destroyed by Maxwell Lord's left over army of OMACs.


Infinite Crisis proved the turning point for Wonder Woman as a character, as her strident stance as a warrior was called into question by a long lost character, the pre-crisis Wonder Woman (the original 1940s version, if you will). She questioned when the last time Diana was human; her humanity was something Wonder Woman had slowly been loosing for years, as she had long been embracing the warrior side of her aspect.


After the Infinite Crisis Wonder Woman reinvented herself, returning with something she hadn't been using in comics for a long, long time: a secret identity. As Diana Prince, Wonder Woman became an agent of the D.M.A., the Department of Metahuman Affairs. Partnered with super spy Nemesis - this new direction for Wonder Woman took her back to her roots, with a situation similar to her being with Steve Trevor of years past. Allan Heinberg and Terry Dodson relaunched the title as a new #1. While I think it was the right direction - especially in humanizing Wonder Woman - the run wasn't very successful. There where some less than stellar decisions in WW's wider world - as her mother, Queen Hippolyta, seemingly came back to life, and the entirety of Paradise Island was cast off, supposedly placed in human form. I wasn't actually reading the book during this time, so I can only tell you the cliff-notes version.


When Wonder Woman was seemingly sinking back into mediocrity, comic's real life wonder woman Gail Simone came to the rescue and took over the title. Many people praised that a woman was finally writing for the book - and Gail Simone did not disappoint during her run. I never actually read her issues, but from all I've heard it was a stellar run, and I'm sorry I missed it.


After Gail Simone regretfully left the title, a new writer was needed. The book went back to it's original numbering with issue #600 - which was a fantastic issue. New writer J. Michael Straczynski has come in with a bold new reinvention of Wonder Woman. She's been given a new costume, designed by Jim Lee. Not merely a stylistic choice, the plot of JMS's story is going to revolve around the suddenly altered world of Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman's history has seemingly been washed away - and Paradise Island is no more. I was all ready to ignore this run, as I thought it was simply going to be JMS' take on Wonder Woman. Not so - this is a complete reinvention of the character - and JMS and DC aren't being half-hearted about it. The classic costume is gone, Themyscira is gone - Wonder Woman is totally different. This kind of drastic re-imagining might sound like a bad idea, but from the indications of this prelude, this looks like a bold new epic, one I intent to read. The art of Don Kramer is stunning, and the 'crashing down to Earth'-styte of the story seems new and fresh.


So, all in all it's been a pretty good decade for Wonder Woman. I hope the latest run proves successful, especially since DC is spear-heading an initiative to bring Wonder Woman to the silver screen.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Are Japanese Video Games Dead?

Keiji Inafune, the artist and creator of Mega Man, recently voiced his concerns that the Japanese Video Games would disappear, in favor of the more dominant western developed games.

I too have been concerned that Japanese video games have been getting less attention, like Dragon Quest 9, which didn't seem to get much press coverage on G4 or at E3 this year. Still, I have to disagree on the idea that the Japanese Video game is going to disappear.

After the fall of Atari and other similar gaming consoles, the video game market was all but dead in America. It was the release of the NES that brought video games back - and the Japanese Video game, translated and shipped over to America, accounted for the majority of video games we all played. American companies certainly began popping up and making their own games again - but for all intense and purposes the Japanese-Originated video game reigned in the market place.

Fast forward to 2010 and Video Games have become a more lucrative market that even movies - with American video game developers having not only caught up with Japan, but having surpassed them.

But, as far as I see it - the video game field between East vs West has only been balanced, with both sides having the same skill and imagination to create great video games.

Also, while favorites of mine like Dragon Quest might not be getting the coverage it deserves - that doesn't mean Japanese video games have been ignored. Metal Gear Solid has been one of the most celebrated video game franchises of this last decade. Square-Enix has likewise gotten tremendous fame for the Final Fantasy series - with an army of Final Fantasy-Wannbe games flowing in it's wake.

Inafune points to Capcom as being one of the bigger Japanese developers that have not given up hope - and we certainly have not been ignoring them. Marvel vs Capcom 3 has been highly anticipated, with the likes of Resident Evil, Rising Dead, Lost Planet, Okami, Street Fighter, and Mega Man which are still enjoyed and snatched up by fans with every release. Even one of the most mind bending Japanese video games, Tatsunoko vs Capcom, released and was a hit, despite many people's expectations. Most people didn't even know who the Tatsunoko characters where - but enjoyed it, despite that, because it was simply a good game.

And, beyond Capcom, I recall a certain Japanese Game company all but stealing E3 this year: Nintendo. All the quintessential gaming franchises from Nintendo are all from Japan - even Mario, the Italian Plumber.

I think the biggest challenge the Japanese video game market faces is having to try and appeal more to a world wide audience. The over dependance on Anime-Style characters, and formulaic Japanese RPGs, could perhaps be holding some games back in gaining more global acceptance. Shooters, also, are not as popular in Japan as they are in the west. But, on the reverse side, I'd hate to see the Japanese gaming market change to our tastes - as it's their innovation and style that hooked us, all those many years ago, on the NES. You just can't find more original games than those coming out from Japan.