2012 Year In Review: Games

Long post alert! 🙂

Here I’ll be talking about some of the games I’ve played (or am still playing) in 2012, which ought to be worth your time, provided you have the appropriate system (that, and your world didn’t end on the 21st December).

The choices you see here might be rather atypical of a…well…usual gamer, considering you’ll see plenty of people elsewhere harping about the big names of PCs and Consoles, Journey, Halo and Mass Effect to name a few, while I’m talking about….

Visual Novels

…Which I still consider a genre of games, even if you don’t do any more than read and select choices. Other reviewers might argue otherwise though. Two games this year are worth mentioning.

Katawa Shoujo (PC)

KShoujo

Depending on which side of the fence you sit on, you may or may not like the game. But you can’t deny the amount of effort that went into producing it. A good soundtrack, well-illustrated CG and even animated video to accompany the story – everything you’d expect from a professional release, sans voice-acting (which would be asking for too much). Did I mention that it’s free?

Disability isn’t an easy topic to touch on in any medium, yet the game managed to pull it off without the reader feeling disgusted, so hats off to the crew for the feat. It might not be an easy first visual novel for those new to this genre, but I’d say the effect Katawa Shoujo has on you weans as the number of other great visual novels you’ve played increases.

The game has become an internet meme for a good reason. 🙂

Little Busters! (PC)

LBFull

While the first game hasn’t been as obvious (considering I barely even mentioned it), I’ve been saying quite a fair bit about this one. Special mention goes out to the wonderful translators over at tlwiki, whose team have painstakingly translated the entirety of the original Little Busters! game to English, making it playable for most of the world this year, and have it on their cards to complete the additional stories in Ecstasy/Memorial as well. Bravo!

It’s generally a safe bet to conclude that Visual Arts Key will come up with ways to choke you up with their plots, what with AIR, Kanon and CLANNAD as predecessors, all of which also having been adapted successfully into great anime series.  You’ll be hard-pressed to dislike Little Busters! in this regard, because there’s bound to be someone that’ll move you.

Rhythm Games

When I travel about, I generally want to have something that’s easy to pickup and put down, so a heavy RPG while on the go is ill-advised. You won’t believe how often I’ve gone back to an RPG I stopped briefly and wondered “…now what was I supposed to do again?” In that regard rhythm games fit that criteria nicely, with a single song barely spanning a minute or two. Here’s a few that I’m still playing in 2012.

Jubeat Plus (iOS)

JubeatPlus

Typically found in arcades as Jubeat, with a 4×4 grid of physical buttons in the vein of “whack tap-a-mole” it was ported over to the Japanese iOS platform in 2012. This also means you’ll need a Japanese app store account, but it’s not that difficult to acquire one. 🙂

This rhythm game takes DLC support to a whole other level, with new tracks still being released regularly as in-app purchases (and the app itself being occasionally updated with new features), despite being 2 years old. They have a nice library of songs, from J-pop to anime. While it’s available on both the iPhone and iPad, you’ll definitely want the extra size on the latter, which also gives you a somewhat more authentic “Arcade feel”.

PS. There’s also a US edition to Jubeat plus released, called Jukebeat, which features English tracks instead. There is another Arcade-turned-iOS rhythm game, Reflec Beat, by the same company (Konami) that is equally interesting.

Hatsune Miku: Project Diva/Dreamy Theater 2nd/Extend (PSP/PS3)

Dreamy Theater Extend

This series of games gave me the one reason to still pick up my PSP in 2012. You’d wonder why I don’t mention games like DJ Max, but that’s mainly because I’m terrible at playing songs past a certain speed multiplier (4x), which is necessary for songs with many notes. So I turn to rhythm games where the speed is fixed. I was never really a huge fan of vocaloid, but the catchy music and vibrant videos accompanying the songs made gameplay really satisfying.

The game is also available in high definition as its Dreamy Theater (Extend was released earlier this year) counterpart on the PS3, although it would also require you to have the save data of the PSP version (i.e. an add-on upgrade you buy from the PSN store rather than a standalone game). This is set to change with Project Diva F set to be released next year for the PS3, which is a souped-up standalone of the PSVita game in lower case.

The humble vocaloid software has come very far these couple of years, and redefines the meaning of virtual idols time and again.

If you happen to have a grasp of Japanese:

Unlike rhythm games, which require next to no knowledge of the language, other games are not so kind. Plot-focused stories such as those found in RPGs in particular are hard to navigate and make sense of without understanding the language, but the unfortunate thing is many of these games won’t ever see a localization effort.

Nendoroid Generations (PSP)

A large helping of diabetes in the opening video. Just like the PS2, it appears that even if every other developer out there has given up on the previous-gen systems, new games continue to get released for the platform…in Japanese. XD

Released in February, Nendoroid Generations is, at its core, a fanservice RPG. While that term is now (sadly) associated with characters in various states of undress, here you get a (very) big dose of cute. The narrative is hardly Triple-A material, but you get to see the ladies from Steins;GateHaruhi SuzumiyaNanohaZero no TsukaimaDog Days and Fate/stay night, to name a few, in a game that isn’t a crossover fighter. And I think that’s worth plenty of A’s on its own.

Something more mainstream:

Persona 4 Arena (PS3/XBox 360)

Persona 4 Arena

Again your mileage will differ with this game. The price has become so absurdly cheap that you’d be crazy not to purchase it. Considering most other reviewers have discussed the fighting aspect of the game, I’d go into something quite unlike a fighter – its narrative.

A fighter game with a plot is something you’d never expect to be good. Just look at the more established franchises. But that’s where Persona 4 Arena breaks the mold. As we have come to expect of a game carrying the Persona name, the single player narrative tells a genuinely somber story of Labrys, a humanoid robot who learnt to feel, but was forced to destroy her own sisters for the benefit of her human masters.

The main issue brought up was with the way the story was presented to the player – Gangnam Visual Novel-styled static portraits of characters with lots of text.  This is compounded by the “cliffhanger endings” on the first playthrough, which could be frustrating for some, as the game forces you to finish a few more characters before allowing you to see the “true ending”. The good news is the game does allow you create save points and play from the cliffhanger portion rather than simply from the beginning.

To illustrate: 2 Persona 4 characters (Cliffhanger)> 1 Persona 3 character (Cliffhanger) > Labrys > True endings unlocked

As this is a fighter that ties both the worlds of Persona 3 FES and Persona 4 together, without prior knowledge of either game (or the Persona 4 anime series) you’d be pretty confused when characters reference the plots of either game. But if you did finish both games, you’ll love how the narrative adds to the already gripping stories of the series without coming across as forced.

The ending does allow for the possibility of a future game that will build on its story, so fingers crossed that this really does happen.

Hope 2012 has been a great year of games for you too!

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