Backlog: Back to the Land of the Rising Sun

おかえり The picture above is the sun setting near Tokyo as I flew back to Japan a week and a half ago. Tyler and I both went back to the States for our winter vacations, and with a return from the holidays comes a return back to the day-to-day grind. Nick and Aaron are back on the grind, too, so for right now our Backlogs are as much "what are we looking forward to" as they are "what we're playing right now."

While the sunset picture is a nice excuse to show off my iPhone photo skills, it's just as much representative of this week's Backlog, too. Nick and Aaron are looking forward to a pair of Japanese games, Tyler is enjoying one of Japan's quirkier pieces of software from recent times, and Doug is enjoying Japan's strong fighting spirit in an entirely different manner. Could 2013 be a year where Japanese games muscle back into the mainstream? That's a possibility, too.

Now onto the Backlogging! -- Doug Bonham

Someday we’ll all look back on standard definition games and laugh. And then we’ll cringe

Nick

I haven’t been playing many games lately. Other than the occasional brief interlude with Persona 4 Golden, Far Cry 3 or FTL: Faster Than Light, I’ve been pretty much game-free.

It’s weird, right? I mean, I’m still spending a lot of my free time working on this game-oriented blog you’re reading right now, so I’m totally due for some serious soul-searching in the form of some good old-fashioned media consumption.

In just a few short hours, I’ll be embracing my introverted side with that special sort of reclusiveness that only a three-day weekend can provide. I’ve got a whole mess o’ games to dig into over the next few days, and I figured it’d be worth mentioning a few of them since they’re all pretty new to me:

The Last Story is, among other things, probably the first thing a thesaurus would pull up for “final fantasy.” It’s no coincidence, considering that the figurehead of the series, Hironobu Sakaguchi, teamed up with Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu to put this game together. I haven’t fired it up yet but it seems like it aspires to be a return to the Japanese RPG’s roots. I’m cool with that.

Rhythm Heaven Fever is an insane collection of rhythm-based minigames for the Wii, except it’s really fun and the game I just described probably sounds horribad.

And then there’s Virtue’s Last Reward. Ever since I finished writing my honorable mentions list a couple weeks ago I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what sort of mind-bending narrative this strange, esoteric game might contain. Now that I’ve finally got some free time, I think I’m ready to spend some quality time running through the latest version of the Nonary Game.

Aaron captured these wuxia heroes thanks to bad programming

Aaron

My affair with Sleeping Dogs continues. Honestly, I don’t have much else to write about the game. It’s not blowing me away, but it’s a solid action title. The far-east setting is at least moderately refreshing.

I did encounter one hilarious glitch this week that caused Wei and civilians in a small radius to float slowly upwards in a manner reminiscent of the classic Superman scene between Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder. Motorcycles and tiny asian compacts were not immune to the sudden gravity change, either. I took 40-some screenshots and certainly intend to post them soon.

Looking forward, I’m very excited for Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch to release Tuesday. I wasn’t exposed to Studio Ghibli’s work until I saw Princess Mononoke in high school. After that, however, I more or less ignored (or, more truthfully, never became exposed to) the famous studio’s other works. Late in college I rediscovered Miyazaki and, as a result, Ghibli. Recent trailers make Ni No Kuni look gorgeous, and the early reviews are overly positive. Considering my Pokemon obsession, the comparisons between the games are most welcome.

I can’t say I’ve been excited about a Japanese role-playing game in many years. And that’s a total bummer, isn’t it?

But this year seems promising for the genre. After Ni No Kuni, my sights are set on Fire Emblem: Awakening. Being my first experience with the series, I have high expectations considering the supposed pedigree and years of accrued acclaim. I’ll find out on February 4th.

Tyler's finally got the Vita's one true killer app: Wake-up Club

Tyler

This week was a busy one without much time for games. I did, however, manage to squeak in a few hours here and there.

I finished XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The final mission was tense and met my expectations for the challenge that game presents, but even for how little I was invested in the narrative of XCOM I found the ending rather disappointing. I don't think stories are Firaxis' strong suit. The developer would be better off expanding the depth of XCOM similiar to their other engrossing franchise, Civilization. With some more possible variation in win conditions, I could see myself putting an unhealthy number of hours into a game like XCOM. Unfortunately there is no 'one more turn...' function; once the campaign is completed, it is finished. I may revisit XCOM on a higher difficult eventually but for now it's lost my attention.

I've made a bit more progress in Far Cry 3's campaign as well. Until now, the majority of time I've spent playing it I've been crafting and hunting. I've accrued so much in the way of supplies that current missions are rather trivial. Perhaps the difficulty will eventually catch up with me. The world of Far Cry, much like its predecessors, remains far more engaging for me than the missions and story crafted within it.

Finally, the Vita's killer-app has arrived: the strangely compelling Wake-up Club. You set an alarm as you normally would but the free app turns your morning ritual into a competition. You are competing with others waking up at the same time to see who can wake up the fastest. So far I'm miserable at it; this time of year, waking up before sunrise is quite the chore for me. It's a creative app, nothing that couldn't be done on another device, but fun to toy with on a Vita.

I also visited Sony's PlayStation Mobile store for the first time. Assuming you're part of the 99.9% of the population who are unaware, Sony has made Android tablets, and some of them even have PlayStation branding. The PSM store has a selection of games that will be new yet seem familiar to anyone with a smartphone. They are cheap, simple, and mostly touchscreen oriented. No major PlayStation features are used to my understanding, no trophies at least. Luckily, I suppose, the PSM games are also available on Vita or I would never have given them a second look. Currently SCEA is running a six-week promotion offering a free game a week, so I intend to give them at least a fair shake. This week's freebie is Samurai Beatdown, a rhythm-based endless runner. I'm not aware of how much it usually costs; it's a pleasant distraction, but don't mistake this for anything more than what you'd find on other Android game storefronts.

Hopefully I can catch up on some game time this upcoming weekend. Although I'm not sure if I'll play more Far Cry 3, start Dark Souls or Sleeping Dogs, or perhaps revisit the Sly Cooper games in HD before the upcoming cross-buy sequel is released for PS3 and Vita in a couple weeks. DmC was also recently released and is getting some positive buzz. I liked what I played of the demo, and Ninja Theory games have excellent production values making it a game I'd like to investigate further.

RAAAINMAAAKEEERR!!

Doug

Life’s been hectic the last two weeks. I left the U.S. last Monday, arrived back home in Japan late Tuesday night, had a couple days of work and then promptly went on a road trip to go skiing with friends. Plenty of fun, yes, but not much time for real, proper, all-day-long gaming.

All I’ve been able to do as of late is killing-time gaming -- fitting it in around work, meals, and other commitments. Usually, that means sports games; right now, though, it means sports entertainment games. Yep, my somewhat-shameful love of pro wrestling continues in the form of WWE 12. While it’s hardly an earth-shattering work of art of a videogame, it’s fun to play, and has an enormous suite of create-a options. When the game’s servers work (which is sadly a big "if"), there’s a plethora of created wrestlers, rings, logos, moves, and plenty of other sweaty-man-grappling content. Sifting for the good stuff can take some time, but it’s fun. Everything from classic wrestlers, current stars, and various non-grappling characters are available.

Since I’ve been keeping an eye on wrestling for the last couple years, this also scratches my itch. Pro tip: While the WWE ranges from okay-to-maddening, if you're in the U.S. go find some Chikara or PWG highlights on YouTube. Or, if you're more adventurous, check out New Japan Pro Wrestling. It’s pretty amazing, and NJPW’s top three wrestlers (Okada, Nakamura, and Tanahashi) might be three of the best in the world at the moment. Enjoy an awesome match right here.

It’s incredibly juvenile, but the game’s Universe mode is the kind of sandbox I enjoy the most. It’s the videogame equivalent of getting all your action figures out and pitting them against one another -- the game manages simple storylines, rivalries, and creating matches, or you can step in at any time and edit things manually. Yes, it’s playing with digital dolls, but half the fun is seeing what stupid things happen when you get thrown into “TONIGHT’S REMARKABLE MATCH.” It’s like when your G.I. Joes and Ninja Turtles would fight when you were a kid, and somehow one of your sister’s Ken dolls wound up diving from the bed to the floor and winning. I wish WWE 12 handled some things better -- and apparently its successor, WWE 13, addresses a few of those issues -- but since I’ve found a downloadable created Okada, it’s time to knock out some digital action figures with the Rainmaker and strike the pose.