The Backlog: The Return of The Doug edition

All things must end eventually, but the saga continues. Doug just touched down in Portland after a whirlwind tour of Asia over the last month. Aaron, on the other hand, broke down and purchased a new Xbox to replace his very dead one. And I've finally decided to pull the plug on a game I'd been looking forward to for years -- a game that left me frustrated, confused, and bored out of my mind.

These are bittersweet times for the Silicon Sasquatch crew. Now hit that jump link so I can get back to weeping into my beer while I continue this Gilmore Girls marathon. It's all I have left.

Doug:

After nearly a month in Asia — split mostly between Tokyo, Japan and China, with a brief stop in Seoul, South Korea — I've seen quite a bit. I've been to the Great Wall, the Meiji Shrine, one of the tallest buildings in China, and the DMZ...and along the way, yes, there's been some video gaming involved.

What's been easiest and best to play throughout the month has honestly been Plants vs. Zombies on the iPhone. Why? Well, when you're stuck on a bus or airplane, and need something that can be played for five minutes or for well over an hour, accept no substitutes. I wasn't the only person on my grad school trip playing it, too; one of my friends picked up the game on my recommendation and loved it, and surprisingly one of the girls from China was playing it too! Imagine my surprise when she busted that out on the airplane once.

I'm collecting ideas for a longer article on the subject, but yes, there are video games in Asia and, especially in Japan, the influence of games is fairly widespread. And, of course, there's plenty of nerdy stuff around every corner. Without going too in-depth, a quick anecdote about that: I went into a bookstore near my hotel last night because one of my friends requested I pick up some women's fashion magazines for her. Expecting something like Barnes and Noble, imagine my surprise when I saw they had games...and then imagine my absolute shock when I realized they had a lot of used video games, too. I spent almost an hour browsing through used games and letting my jaw just drop.

If I had more space in my bag, I'd be bringing home a used Super Famicom and a Chrono Trigger cartridge...for roughly $30. Instead, I settled for a used copy of Shenmue on Dreamcast for 500 yen (~$5).

Aaron:

Now that I finally have an Xbox 360 again, I put in some more quality time with Final Fantasy XIII. It's much, much better than it deserves to be.

There are haters, just as there are lovers, of the game, but for my own tastes this particular fantasy has been an absolute joy from disc one. The pacing certainly suffered at the start, but now that I'm over 20 hours into the entirety of the experience I can't exactly give a crap that the beginning was slow. Much more interesting things have happened in the game as far as the plot lines and character development are concerned, and they are among the primary reasons why the game is worth a purchase (the combat and graphics being the other points of interest).

Now sure, western-developed RPGs generally don't adhere to the old school traditions like a Final Fantasy title will, but that doesn't make those non-Japanese titles superior -- not at all. If I prefer Mass Effect 2 it's because that particular game has a depth, story and mythology that exists among other entries in the franchise (and no, I'm not just glossing over the inclusion of summons, Cids, chocobos and moogles in other Final Fantasy titles); it's honestly sometimes hard to care about number eight, 13 or 789 in a series when the plots are entirely separate from one another.

Nick's long and tireless campaign to champion the merits of the Just Cause games, specifically the recently released numero dos, has finally encouraged me -- with a little help from the exquisite downloadable demo on Xbox Live -- to see the genius of Avalanche Studios and fork over funds in the name of bad ass destruction. And, as a small aside, I have to say the draw distance technology used in Just Cause 2 is mind-blowing. Really. In fact it's a tertiary reason for buying the game.

Doesn't anyone else miss the days when they bought a game simply because its graphics and technology offered something previously unseen? Sure, games today advance in their fidelity and artistry each and every Tuesday retail release date, but I'm hardly taken aback by the same old tricks with the Unreal Engine anymore. However, Just Cause 2 looks, like, super good. And that's special.

Wow. I purchased two Square-Enix games in the same month. I feel like it's 2000 all over again.

Nick:

Like Aaron said, it's starting to feel an awful lot like the Summer of Adventure all over again. I'm counting down the days with bated breath until my copy of Just Cause 2 arrives in the mail. But compared to a year that saw classics like Vagrant Story, Legend of Mana and Chrono Cross, I just can't fathom how a game as frustrating as Final Fantasy XIII could be released a full decade after some of Square's greatest hits.

I've heard unanimous praise for the game once you arrive at around the 25-hour mark. Excuse me if I'm a little jaded, but why would I want to trudge through 25 hours of half-baked melodramatic clichés punctuated with a combat system that's permanently running on training wheels? I don't like to leave a Final Fantasy game unfinished, but that seems to be the norm for me lately. Final Fantasy XII was a stunning production in terms of broad design, its combat system and the high quality of its writing -- something that Final Fantasy XIII stumbles over pitifully. Unfortunately, Final Fantasy XII was a victim of its own ambition, and once I'd hit the 60-hour mark without arriving anywhere near the game's conclusion, I folded and set it aside.

The difference is that, with Final Fantasy XIII, I've only made it about twelve hours into the game and I'm ready to throw in the towel. You win, Square Enix. You've finally made a Final Fantasy game that just isn't fun.