Sakurai not aiming for complete balance in new Smash Bros.

Smash Bros creator Masahiro Sakurai is slugging through twelve-hour shifts and taking up residence within walking distance from Super Smash Bros. 4’s development studio. He’s playing four-player matches on his lunch and inputting damage rates and hit boxes all by his lonesome. If the latest Smash installment disappoints, it won’t be for lack of effort on its creator’s part.

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Sakurai is personally ensuring that all these hits, slashes, and headbutts register.

Polygon covered Sakurai’s most recent interview with Famitsu, in which Sakurai described everything from his daily schedule to the finer points of tweaking character motions. It’s a great read if you have time; if you don’t, consider this one nugget that stuck out:

[…] we have to work to keep things dynamic and not over-fine-tune the balance. If we aim for complete fairness, there won’t be any personality to it.

It’s an interesting take, as fighting game fans everywhere often lust over the idea of a perfectly balanced game. Back in Melee’s glory years, my friends and I itched for a Smash Bros. game where smack-dummies like Bowser could hang with Fox, Marth, and Sheik. Now it seems that not only is perfect balance unattainable, but the series creator himself wants nothing to do with it.

And you know what? I’m a-okay with it.

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How’s another five years of ass-kickings sound, Bowser?

Isn’t the whole point of fighting games to weed through the roster and find the three or four characters you’re most comfortable with? If those particular character happen to be technically better than others, so be it.

Now, Smash Bros. complicates the situation with dozens of gaming icons. And when you have icons, you have fans who get riled when their favorite character(s) end up on the low-tier. But there’s a huge difference between an unbalanced game and a broken one.

Final Fantasy spinoff Bravely Default scores US release date

If you’re craving an RPG that looks like Final Fantasy IX and plays like Final Fantasy V, then grab your 2014 calendar and circle February 7th. Bravely Default, a spiritual sequel to 2010’s Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, seeks to revive the days of crystal hunting and turn-based battling on the 3DS.

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Save up enough Brave Points and you can spray enemies with arrows.

Though I tend to be skeptical about gorgeous Square Enix games these days, Bravely Default won a lot of critical praise at the time of its Japanese release last year. The game’s battle system echoes that of classic RPGs: attack, magic, and building characters through a job system. However, it’s 2013–we need a twist, don’t we? Well, pay attention: Every action consumes a certain amount of “Brave Points,” which can be hoarded for the sake of combo barrages. How you manage your consumption of Brave Points determines the flow and success of battles, and you can even get excessive and final your point tally in the negatives. Check the second-half of the video below for some battle footage:

Bravely Default erupted over Japan’s sales charts last year, selling 140,000 copies in its first week. Our Asian friends are getting an updated version of the game on December 5th, which offers some gameplay tweaks and a significant cut-down on game length (a dip from fifty to thirty hours). In true class-RPG tradition, us English-speaking folk will receive this “easier” edition when the game hits the West in December (Europe/Australia) and February (US).

Marth returns to Smash Bros., stirs speculation on other potential Fire Emblem reps

Those of us who’ve built our Smash philosophy around speed and swords can breath a sigh of relief: Marth is back in all his blue-haired, head-banded glory. And judging from the early screenshots, so are his Dolphin Slash (Up + B), Shield Breaker (B), and Counter (Down + B) abilities. It remains to be seen if his Forward-Smash will remain the dominant move it once was, but I can’t imagine it any other way (then again, Sheik fought like a flu sufferer in Brawl, so I won’t get cocky).

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Nothing shakes up an intense match like Down + B.

The news comes following fan speculation about Fire Emblem: Awakening’s protagonist Chrom as a potential replacement for Marth. With that out of the way, the question now shifts toward Ike: is he safe? Will Ike remain the “power guy” among Fire Emblem reps?

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Though Chrom (right) is a swordsman by default, Nintendo would be foolish to ignore his game’s Class Change system.

To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if Marth, Ike, and Chrom all make it in. That makes for a forest of blue hair, but it’s not unreasonable to include a speedy swordsman, a powerhouse, and perhaps a variety-type character in Chrom. What do I mean by “variety-type”? Well, Fire Emblem: Awakening allows for each character to undergo numerous class changes. If we’re lucky, Chrom could serve as the Zelda/Sheik of the Wii U age.

Are you listening, Nintendo? A swordsman, mage, and archer all-in-one. Let’s do this.

Phoenix Wright forces fans to go digital, raises objections.

Though I snag a physical copy whenever I can, the list of positives is ever-growing when it comes to digital game sales. In addition to a) preserving classic games, b) making rare games obtainable, and c) directing consumers’ money to the right places (the game companies), digital sales eliminate a tired excuse used by hesitant publishers: “All that packaging costs us money.”

Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies hit American 3DSes last week without ever hitting US shores, and I’m okay with it. If I have to sacrifice a little white box and instruction booklet to play the newest entry in the Phoenix Wright series, then let’s sacrifice. Seriously, start a fire, get your animal skulls out, and rip my heart out Indiana Jones-style for all I care. I just want to play the damn game.

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Are you man enough to support digital-only game sales?

What has blown me away since the announcement of Dual Destines’ digital release has been the negative fan feedback. Whether you’re browsing a GameFAQs message board or checking a YouTube comment section under the game’s trailer, you’re bound to come across folks saying they won’t touch the game because they can’t physically touch it.

Here’s a thought: Instead of worrying about the touchy, feely, tangible, dust-collecting aspects of hard copies, be grateful you can experience the game in its fully-localized glory. It’s your call: digital-only Phoenix Wright for $29.99 or a slew of Japanese language and culture classes.

And, oh by the way, if you ever want to see Phoenix Wright games hit store shelves again, boycotting the newest game in the series won’t bolster the cause.

Too little, too late? New Zelda to make legitimate use of 3D in the wake of the 2DS era

Just when you thought I’d get through a full week without Zelda speculation, this comes to my attention. According to Gamespot, Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma stated last week that A Link Between Worlds will incorporate 3D effects that impact gameplay. My guess is that 3D visuals will help distinguish height differences that may appear unclear in 2D. Height played a role in the E3 Trailer, with Link launching skyward to reach upper floors of a dungeon. How else the 3D benefits puzzle-solvers is anyone’s guess for now.

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That red smiley-face in the bottom corner is actually a launching pad. It’s likely that 3D effects were implemented to make vertical-jumps more discernible.

The other half to this story is the fact that the unveiling of the 2DS shook up Aonuma’s plans. Though he didn’t unload specific details, he did claim to make changes so ALBW could fully function at as 2D-only experience: “We found out about the 2DS during development, not before, and we also made changes so that we were sure that you could still play and solve the puzzles only with 2D.”

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 The paths that cave-drawing Link can take may be easier to distinguish in 3D.

This all echoes back to my earlier thoughts on the 2DS and what it means for the future of 3D gaming (if there is a future). Though gamers and journalists alike have labeled the 3DS’s namesake effects as “gimmicky” and “unnecessary,” Aonuma was clearly trying to prove otherwise with this latest Zelda installment. Then the 2DS arrived at the most awkward of times. In one corner we have Nintendo’s golden franchise ushering in some potentially innovative 3D effects, while in the opposite corner stands a brand new system model that may as well carry the casket for the original 3DS.

Your winner? Flat-screen gaming. For now. But don’t be surprised if some of Aonuma’s ideas leak into future games.

Playthrough Update: Radiant Historia (DS)

If Radiant Historia were a chick, she’d be the type who ditches the make-up, keeps her conversation smooth, and ends the evening like a lit quarter-stick in the sack. Well, on some nights at least. I’m closing in on the 20-hour mark in Radiant Historia, and my outlook on the game is simple: Cliched storyline, forgettable characters, nifty battle system, brilliant plot concept.

The plot concept is well-executed and largely original. You play as a mercenary named Stocke who jumps between two separate storylines in order to create the true history. For instance, when Stocke runs into an impasse in Storyline A, he can shift to Storyline B in order to learn a new technique or salvage an item that was destroyed or lost in A. From there, he can either return to A with the necessary skill/knowledge/item or continue through B until he hits another wall.

The main quests involves plenty of storyline-hopping, and some crafty sidequests flesh out the concept even more. For example, in one mission I had to grab a widow’s medicine in the present and go back in time to deliver it to her ailing husband. Simple, yet empowering and philosophical

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Though fresh and enjoyable, Radiant Historia’s battles don’t throw enough complications your way.

Though tweaking fate is a blast, the battle system as tapered off since my initial play sessions. On my honeymoon night with the game, I fell hard for the grid-based battle field, as well as the ability to knock enemies around to kill multiple birds with one sword. Unfortunately, the game throws minimal battle complications at you down the stretch. One character, Aht, has the ability to plant mine-like magic spells on empty grid spaces; once the mine is set, you can whack enemies toward it for serious damage. It makes Aht’s character unique, but she’s the only intriguing new ally from a battle perspective. As for enemies, they’ve learned to zap various grid squares as strength and defense pads. If they’re standing on a strength square with they attack, that’s double damage against you, son. And if you hit an enemy while he’s camped on a defense square, your attack comes out Nerfed.

The story and characters are cliched yet likable for the most part. The world is at war, there’s an evil queen, her step-daughter is recruiting rebels, Stocke has to pick a side… You get the picture. What saves the story is the timeline-jumping concept, but at it’s core, the tale is nothing ground-breaking… yet. I have a feeling that once (if?) the storylines intertwine, something mind-bombing will happen.

Now, to be fair, the concept doesn’t always serve the story well. It actually diminishes some of the emotional impact. For instance, when characters die, there is no mourning, just time-traveling to tweak the events for a less lethal outcome.

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Raynie has the best personality of Stocke’s bunch. Unfortunately, she takes a backseat to a prim princess in the story.

As for the characters themselves, it’s a vivid, balanced cast. Stocke is rather stoical on his own, but his chipper companions beat spurts of personality out of him. His rival-friend Rosch, a burly army commander, serves as a compelling foil, especially when he and Stocke debate their roles as soldiers and where their loyalties must lie. My antenna tends to go up when those two enter verbal conflicts together. Just wish I could say the same for any other cast member, particularly the vague, clandestine villains.

At the moment Radiant Historia has the feel of a 7/10 or 8/10 game. At heart it’s an average RPG, but the concept and battle system tick things up a notch. The game feels like it’s beginning to open up in terms of side quests and story complications, so I’m holding out hope that it finishes the way it started.

PS4 launch titles misfiring till 2014

The theme for next-gen news over the past few days has been “next-year.” On Tuesday Ubisoft announced that their stealth-action game Watch Dogs wouldn’t reach gamers till Spring 2014–a huge letdown considering it was among the most hyped PS4 launch titles. Today, the PS4-exclusive racer Driveclub saw its own release pushed back to February.

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Amazon and GameStop had to provide alternatives for those who pre-ordered the PS4 Watch Dogs bundle.

For most, the loss of Watch Dogs is the tragic news, but the biggest losers are the PS4 and Xbox One. Let’s be honest: system launch days have been embarrassing in recent years. Aside from Halo back in 2001, can you name any other launch game that set the world afire? Zelda: Twilight Princess was technically a Gamecube title, so don’t get cute, Wii fans. That leaves you with Perfect Dark Zero for 360, Resistance for PS3, and all of last year’s ports for Wii U. If you want to go portable, take your pick from 3DS’s opening day hodgepodge or Uncharted: Golden Abyss on Vita. Have a favorite yet? Yeah, me neither.

Launch day has become misfire day ever since the glory years when you could pick up Super Mario World or Super Mario 64 on day one. The problem–at least in my view–is that focus has shifted from software to hardware. Gone are the days when you bought a Nintendo system to play the new Mario. Instead, consumers and media members can’t stop talking about PS4 and XBONE–the systems themselves. E3 2013 generated more headlines about used-game policies and online capabilities than anything else. Whether gamers were defending or urinating on Microsoft, their opinions targeted XBONE, not its games. To be fair, homogenized 3rd-party lineups have diminished exclusive software as a selling point, but still–why don’t we care about the games anymore?

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N64 released with only two games, but no one cared since Super Mario 64 was one of them.

No one could blame Sony and Microsoft for releasing their next-gen consoles right before the holidays, but their launch lineups are a bit undignified. I suppose if you crave Killzone or Battlefield, there’s a case for purchasing a PS4, but with all the hot PS3 and 360 titles on the way, waiting is the wise man’s move. That is, if you’re wise enough to value software over hardware.