2137: Nintendoes


I’ve been playing almost exclusively Nintendo games for the past week or two. This wasn’t entirely deliberate, but it’s just sort of happened. And it’s allowing me to rediscover my appreciation of what Nintendo does well.

Nintendo, more than pretty much any other company out there, puts out games that feel satisfyingly complete. They don’t come out of the door half-baked, lacking in content or riddled with bugs; they’re ready to play, bursting with things to do and full of enjoyment waiting to be discovered. And this is how they’ve always been, even since the days of the NES.

The other thing I rather like about Nintendo is that their work has a very distinctive “voice”. This is partly the job of the localisation teams who work on the various properties, but the overall “tone” of most Nintendo works is so very consistent — and has been for many years — that I find it difficult to believe that this is purely a regional thing. Rather, I feel that Nintendo almost certainly makes very careful decisions about how it’s going to localise things and make them accessible and tonally appropriate in territories around the world. This even goes as far as making the British/European English and American English versions of games different to quite a considerable degree in some cases, which always feels like a pleasantly “personal” touch.

Now, Nintendo have attracted the ire of a number of people over the last few years thanks to what these folks see as unnecessarily “butchered” translations of games such as Fire Emblem Awakening and Xenoblade Chronicles X. And, for sure, some notable changes have been made from the original scripts — and, in a number of cases, content has been edited or even cut to be in keeping with the perceived values of a particular territory. Memorable examples in recent memory include the shot of Tharja’s panties-clad bum in Fire Emblem Awakening (which featured a curtain being pulled across it in the English version, inadvertently making it look more lewd by hiding her panties altogether) and the inexplicable removal of the breast size slider from Xenoblade Chronicles X‘s character creation tool.

These sorts of edits are nothing new, however. The Legend of Zelda series, for example, has a somewhat different tone in Japan to in the West, particularly in installments such as A Link to the Past on Super NES. In the Japanese original A Link to the Past, for example, the story touched on religious themes, with one of the main villains being a priest. In the English versions, however, religious references were removed, and the “priest” became a “wizard”.

Why does Nintendo do this? For an attempt at inclusivity, I guess; the company has a carefully curated “family-friendly” image to uphold, after all, and “family-friendly” means different things in different territories. From its localisation decisions, we can interpret that Nintendo believes here in the West that “family-friendly” means something that the whole family can sit down and enjoy together without any material provoking arguments or awkwardness between one another. We’ve seen on all too many occasions that discussions and material relating to both religion and sexuality are very much capable of inducing arguments and awkwardness, so out the window they go. It’s kind of a shame for those who prefer their translations to be more literal and true to the original Japanese texts, but it is, after all, what Nintendo has always done — and, I have to admit, that warm, friendly tone most of their localisations tend to have is rather comforting, and quite unlike anything from other localised Japanese works.

This is even apparent in games such as New Style Boutique 2 and Animal Crossing, where there was unlikely to be any real “offensive” content in the first place; both have been localised in such a way as to be as inclusive and welcoming as possible to a broad audience; they’re games that invite you in to enjoy the experience rather than insist you must be this skilled to ride, or whatever. And that’s rather nice, really. Not something that every game needs, of course — some games are all the better for their laser-sharp focus on a very specific, niche-interest audience — but, to be honest, I find it hard to get too riled up about censorship talk when it comes to Nintendo games, simply because I’ve grown up with that warm, friendly, familiar tone of their localisations, and it would feel kind of strange for that to change now.

Anyway. I’m enjoying my Nintendo period right now: currently playing Zelda 3, Hyrule Warriors and New Style Boutique 2. All are very different games from one another. All are simply marvellous. All are proof that Nintendo doesn’t give a shit what its competitors are doing, because they’re quite happy doing their own thing, even if it ends up causing their sales figures to look dismal in comparison to those of Sony and Microsoft.

I hope this Nintendo never goes away. They’re an important part of gaming, and it would be sad to see them go the way of Sega, becoming just another third-party publisher.

2136: Dark World


I am having a rough time, I don’t mind admitting. I was pretty open and honest about one of the things that was bothering me a few days ago, but it’s just one of several things that have been mounting up and causing me a not-inconsiderable degree of grief and stress just recently.

I would like it all to stop, please.

The person I care most about in the world is suffering with pain that won’t go away and that no-one seems to know how to fix. It’s at a point where it’s impacting both of our lives fairly significantly, but I don’t know what to do about it. Well, I sort of do: there isn’t really anything I can do about it myself, save for hanging in there and offering support when and how I can. I don’t resent having to do that, of course, but it is exhausting.

Alongside that, I find myself worrying about doing the right thing with regard to working. I’m enjoying my current seasonal temp position in retail, but at the back of my mind is always the knowledge that I’m underpaid, overworked and overqualified; a little voice in the back of my mind reminding me that I am 34 years old and should probably have done something a little more with my life by now.

The thing is, I’ve tried doing more with my life. I’ve tried being a teacher, and failed. I’ve tried having a “normal” office job, and failed. I’ve tried being a games journalist, and failed. In each and every instance, I’ve been pushed out by some combination of me being unable to stand up to people being assholes, my own declining mental health, my own lack of self-confidence and, on several occasions, events that were completely beyond my control.

It really, really blows to feel like you’ve wasted so many years of your life, and that you’re stuck on the “bottom rung” of the career ladder. It makes me feel guilty for enjoying the work I’m doing, because I “should” be doing more. But the thing is, I don’t really feel like I want to be doing more, nor do I feel like I’m entirely capable of doing more. My experiences since leaving university have proven to be such repeated and violent blows to my own sense of belief in my own abilities that I just want to be able to get on with things and let progress happen naturally if it’s warranted.

I really don’t know what to do any more. I guess I just have to ride this particular mental storm out, just as I’ve ridden out all the previous ones I’ve suffered over the years. This one feels like quite a bad one, but I can’t give up; I mustn’t give up. Giving up will simply make everything worse.

Forgive the self-pity, but as you can probably tell, I’m not in a great place right now. You will, dear reader, hopefully understand if I am somewhat out of sorts and in need of venting a bit of steam over the next few days, weeks, months…

2135: Zelda 3: Still Great


I remember playing Zelda 3, or The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, to give it its full title, for the first time. It was an eye-opening experience; prior to this, most of the games I’d played on computer and console had been fairly straightforward arcade-style affairs — you put them in, you hit Start, you start playing from the beginning, you get as far as you can get before hitting a Game Over screen, you try again.

A Link to the Past was different, though. Having never owned my own NES, the series was new to me, and so I didn’t know that it had been providing this sort of ongoing, lengthy grand adventure for quite some time prior to its Super NES incarnation. But I was immediately enraptured with it; here was a game that provided me with a convincing open world to explore, some challenging dungeons to defeat, a convincing sense of getting stronger and more powerful as the game progressed, and an enjoyable, if somewhat simple, story to follow.

I played A Link to the Past through numerous times, so much did I enjoy it. It got to the stage where I could run through the game pretty much on autopilot, though I must confess I never quite reached total completionist status with it; I enjoyed the experience of progressing through the game and beating it rather than doing things like hunting down the myriad Pieces of Heart scattered around the game’s two worlds.

My love for Zelda waned a little over the years. I recall being a little underwhelmed with Ocarina of Time when I first played it, though I can partly attribute this to the fact that I had been playing Final Fantasy VII around a similar time and, to my inexperienced, rather shallow eyes, they simply didn’t compare to one another. I enjoyed Ocarina of Time enough to finish it, mind, but I didn’t love it in quite the same way I loved A Link to the Past. I did, however, love Majora’s Mask in the same way I loved A Link to the Past, but that’s probably a story for another day.

Anyway, to the point: after finally finishing (the first quest of) the original Legend of Zelda the other day, I felt like continuing my journeys through Hyrule, so I skipped Zelda II, not quite feeling up to its punishing ways at present, and went straight to A Link to the Past. (For the Zelda-illiterate: most of the Zelda games tell their own, self-contained stories that feature characters with the same names and same appearances as those in other games, but who are actually different people from different times. This means that skipping a game in the series doesn’t mean you’ll skip important plot, though if you care to research it there is a complicated, convoluted chronology of how it all fits together.)

I was immediately reminded how much I love this game, even so many years after I last played it. It has an extremely strong opening — one of the reasons it made me sit up and take notice the first time I played it — and some highly memorable music. It’s also a massive, massive improvement mechanically on the original Legend of Zelda, which it most closely resembles; Zelda II went off and did a bunch of weird things with RPG mechanics and platforming, but A Link to the Past was a return to the original formula, but better.

And everything really is better. Instead of having to wander around aimlessly, hoping you’ll find the right order to challenge the dungeons, you’ll be nudged in the right direction by the game, though you’ll never be completely railroaded, and you are free to go off and explore any time you want. There’s also a much stronger sense of the overall map being a coherent world; Hyrule may be relatively small, apparently consisting of only a single village and a castle that is bigger than the whole village, but there are plenty of interesting things going on and memorable characters to stumble across.

And, somewhat surprisingly for a Nintendo game if you’re used to Mario and its ilk, A Link to the Past is pretty dark and bleak in places. The strong opening I mentioned before sees Link acquiring his first sword and shield by stumbling across his dying uncle, who had left the house in Link’s stead earlier in the night in an attempt to save him from the trouble that becoming the Hero of Hyrule would be. Later, there are other equally subtle, sad scenes, such as the spirit of the young flute-playing boy in a clearing, whom you later discover close to death in the Dark World, a realm that deforms body and spirit, so you grant his dying wish before he gives up on life entirely and turns into a tree.

In many ways, it’s kind of stunning to think that the same creative mind behind Super Mario Bros. also came out with Zelda, something that, while still ultimately pretty family-friendly, is a quantum shift away from Nintendo’s mascot in terms of tone. I’ve spent a good few years feeling like I wasn’t a particular fan of Zelda, since I felt as if none of them quite captured my attention in the same way as more conventional role-playing games, which had, of course, subsequently turned out to be a favourite genre. After enjoying the first and third Zelda games so much so far, though — not to mention Hyrule Warriors — I feel like it’s probably time to educate myself on the series as a whole, so I’m going to try and work my way through them one by one. Who knows — I may even make it through Zelda II one of these days, though not today…

2134: Hyrule Warriors is My New Favourite Musou


I’d been meaning to check out Wii U title Hyrule Warriors for some time, and my recent Zelda bingeing seemed to be an ideal time to do it. I primarily picked the game up as something to play as a co-op game with a local friend, but I’ve found myself playing through a number of missions this evening and having a great deal of fun.

I’ve always enjoyed the Musou games since Dynasty Warriors 2 on PlayStation 2. Their hack-and-slash nature appeals to the brawler fan in me, but they’ve always had a surprising amount of depth to them — not necessarily in the combat itself, but in choosing the right characters for the job, keeping an eye on the overall battle situation, and responding appropriately to what is happening.

For the unfamiliar, the Musou series covers the various Warriors games, including the Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors and Warriors Orochi series. Hyrule Warriors was an interesting break from the norm for developers Omega Force in that rather than being loosely (very loosely, in some cases) based on established historical fiction such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms, it’s based on an established other property — in this case, the Legend of Zelda series.

It isn’t the first time Omega Force has tackled a licensed Musou game; there are Warriors games based on the popular anime and manga One Piece, Fist of the North Star and Gundam, among others. But Hyrule Warriors is arguably one of the more “accessible” properties that the team has chosen to adapt into the Musou style, since Zelda is one of Nintendo’s properties with near-universal appeal, and much more ripe for adaptation than, say, Mario.

Hyrule Warriors, like its stablemates, casts you in the role of one of several different playable characters and tasks you with turning the tide of a large-scale battle on a sprawling map. Your character is just one part of your “side’s” overall efforts, but you’re considerably more powerful than the rather dim footsoldiers that litter the battlefield, usually standing around looking perplexed. You’re not alone, though; in two-player mode, a second player takes on the role of one of the other present allied generals to support you, and even in single-player you’ll find yourself fighting alongside other characters: they’ll come to your aid, but you’ll be expected to do the same in return.

In what I’ve played of Hyrule Warriors so far, there seems to be quite a bit more variety than, say, the Dynasty Warriors series, thanks in part to the setting being considerably more fantastic than ancient China. But it’s not just about the monstrous enemies and magic flying around — it’s also about varied objective during battle. It’s pretty rare, even in the early stages of the game, to be confronted with a battle that simply involves cutting a path to the enemy boss; instead, you’ll find yourself supporting your troops in various areas, capturing strongholds to gain a foothold and advance into enemy territory, dealing with counterattacks from enemies and, in true Zelda style, occasionally accidentally clipping a chicken one too many times with your sword and inviting the wrath of its myriad friends, who will come and peck you to death in pretty short order.

The game also makes use of its Zelda roots well by adding a number of mechanics based on the iconic Zelda inventory items. As you progress through the game’s “Legend” mode, you’ll acquire various items that can be used in battle, ranging from bombs (blow stuff up, reveal secrets) to a bow and arrow (shoot things) and a boomerang (cut down things that a sword just won’t chop). Fulfilling various secret requirements in battle will also reward you with heart containers and pieces of heart to extend your characters’ life bars, and Ocarina of Time’s Gold Skulltulas make an appearance, too, spawning on the battlefield when you fulfil a specific condition and then requiring you to track them down by searching a marked area of the map and listening carefully for their telltale scraping sounds.

I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the game so far; I’ve only played Legend Mode as of now, but there are a variety of other ways to play, with one of the most interesting sounding being Adventure Mode, which tasks you with exploring a grid-based map based on the original NES Legend of Zelda game and fighting various battles in order to take control of it piece by piece. I don’t yet know how well this is executed, but I’m looking forward to trying it out. Even if it turns out to be bobbins, though, just the battles in Legend Mode have proven to be more than worthwhile and enjoyable so far — and it looks very much as if the game has continued to develop and expand long after launch, if the multiple pages of patch notes that appeared the first time I booted the game up are anything to go by!

I’m looking forward to trying it out co-op later this week, all being well, but in the meantime I can already confidently say that it’s one of the best Musou games I’ve played to date, and anyone who enjoys a good bit of hack and slash should most definitely check it out, Zelda fan or no.

2133: Fashionista


I remember a while back hearing a lot of people being surprisingly enthusiastic about a Nintendo-published handheld game called Style Savvy, but I never really got around to looking into it. Recently, however, I downloaded the demo of the somewhat cumbersomely named Nintendo Presents New Style Boutique 2: Fashion Forward — the European name of the third Style Savvy (or, in Japanese, Girls Mode) game — and have found myself surprisingly involved with it.

For the unfamiliar, New Style Boutique 2 (as I shall refer to it hereafter) is a game in which you play a young woman on holiday in a hip, fashion-conscious town. Through a series of somewhat improbable circumstances that only happen in slice-of-life video games, you find yourself assisting a local clothes shop, hairdresser and beautician with the requests of the town’s apparently exclusively female population. In doing so, you earn money for the shop and yourself, and can subsequently afford to do yourself up better as well as your customers.

This is as far as the demo goes, but the full game has a story to follow as well as a number of different “professions” to explore, including modelling, fashion design and even interior design. Just the demo is an enjoyable enough experience, though, since it’s essentially a game in which the whole point is to piss around with the character creator in order to create various different looks, and subsequently be rewarded for it.

The exact way in which you go about creating these looks differs slightly depending on which aspect of the character’s appearance you are working on at the time. If you’re putting together an outfit, they’ll give you some vague guidelines — “I want a girly outfit, and I have about £700 to spend” — and you can put together an outfit according to those specifications, either through browsing manually or making use of the helpful search function. If you’re designing a hairstyle, meanwhile, you’re given the opportunity to ask the customer a variety of questions before beginning the styling process, which will give you a checklist of things to include in their haircut. Finally, designing makeup requires you to look at a photograph and attempt to recreate it as closely as possible, perhaps with the assistance of a memo scrawled on the back of the photograph giving you some suggestions of which colours to use in which areas.

What’s nice about the game is that unlike many “business” simulations that attempt to capture the feeling of, say, running a shop or office, New Style Boutique 2 has plenty of personality. Its characters all have names and profiles, and they all display their personalities through dialogue — though there is a bit of stock dialogue for things like them accepting outfits and suchlike. They also have distinctive, unique appearances, and it’s undeniably satisfying to see a character wandering around wearing an outfit you put together for them.

I don’t know how much the other elements of the full game add to the experience as a whole, but based on the demo, I’m actually surprisingly interested in playing it, and I understand now why so many people have had positive things to say about the Style Savvy series as a whole since it first appeared.

2132: Calling


How do you find your “calling”? In other words, how do you figure out what it is you’re “supposed” to be doing; the thing you’re good at?

I’m still not convinced I’ve figured it out myself, but I’ve been pondering it somewhat recently.

At one point, I thought teaching might be my calling, but the reality of the situation set in quite soon after I started my training; in retrospect, I’m pleased with myself that I managed to survive as long as I did, but annoyed that I wasted several years of my life and possibly left myself with some irreparable mental scars in the process.

At another point, I thought games journalism might be my calling, but going by the state of the modern games press and its contemptuous attitude towards both its audience and the things it covers, it’s pretty apparent that I’m not particularly welcome in that field, despite it being one of my biggest ambitions when I was a bit younger.

Most recently, I’ve been working retail for the second time in my life, and I’ve been surprised how much I’ve been enjoying it. This week we’ve been setting up a brand new store, and I’m absolutely exhausted as a result of the long hours everyone on the team has been working, but it’s extremely satisfying. And when I was in the existing store serving customers, it’s been extremely satisfying to help people out, advise them or simply hand them a hotly anticipated product ready for them to go home and enjoy.

I shouldn’t be that surprised, of course; the last time I worked retail, I enjoyed it a lot, too, though I attributed this to the corporate culture of the company I was working for at the time. My positive feelings towards said company — or, rather, the management team of the store I worked at — dissipated after both a colleague and I were treated rather badly, but I still look back on the majority of my time at that store with fondness.

The fact that I’m enjoying it just as much in a company with a somewhat more laid-back attitude — for the most part, anyway — suggests that it might be the work itself that I’m finding fulfilling. And indeed there are plenty of individual elements that I find oddly satisfying: things as simple as sorting out shelves and alphabetising discs, or as complex as talking an inexperienced customer through the various product lines available. It all adds up to something that I rather enjoy on the whole, with the only really sucky part of the whole thing being that retail, on average, wherever you go, tends to pay pretty poorly, creating a business sector where many employees are overworked, underpaid and underappreciated.

Still, at this stage, having suffered through a number of jobs that clearly weren’t right for me, I’m more than willing to suck up a considerable cut in my overall pay in exchange for something that I seem to enjoy and be reasonably good at. Long may these feelings continue.

2131: It Builds Character


[For some reason this failed to publish when I wrote it yesterday. Apologies.]

“Tell us about a favorite character from film, theater, or literature, with whom you’d like to have a heart-to-heart. What would you talk about?”

From the Daily Post writing prompt, It Builds Character.

There are any number of interesting characters from a variety of media I’d like to do this with, so in order to prevent analysis paralysis I’ll simply go with the character that popped into my head immediately when I saw this prompt: Milla Maxwell from Tales of Xillia.

Milla was a big part of why I enjoyed Tales of Xillia and its sequel so much. She was a well-defined, very distinctive character, both visually and in terms of her personality — and even so far as her slightly lisping English voice acting went — who has stuck with me long after I was done with those games.

Milla, for those unfamiliar with Xillia is… well, to be honest, it’s a long and complicated tale that is explained over the course of two games, but suffice it to say that she’s not quite “normal” in that she’s lived in isolation from human society for a very long time and has mysterious, quasi-magical powers thanks to her ability to commune with the Great Spirits.

All this stuff isn’t why I’d want to hang out with Milla, though. I’d want to hang out with her simply because she’s cool, and smart, and funny — but endearingly naive about lots of things. Her isolation from human society leads her to ask interesting but not always entirely socially acceptable questions, and her curiosity about the world is infectious. She knows how to get things done when the occasion demands it, but she also knows that it is important to enjoy yourself and indulge your body and mind’s demands when you’re aware of them.

Mostly, she just seems like a nice person, and someone I’d enjoy spending time with. There’s not a single point in either of the Xillia games where Milla has a mean word to say about anyone — the cast as a whole is pretty closely-knit and pleasant, but Milla stands out even among them — and even when confronting her enemies, she’s keen to understand them and why they are the way they are.

What would we talk about, though? Well, Milla’s naivete means that we’d almost certainly have a lot to talk about, particularly if I were to introduce her to things with which she wasn’t overly familiar. Perhaps I’d play some music for her, and attempt to explain the emotional power that sound has over us. Perhaps I’d show her some video games — I could show her her own game, that’d raise an interesting conversation, I’m sure — or sit her down and attempt to engage her interest with a board game. All of these activities would doubtless prompt the question “why?”, and one of the nice things about Milla is that when she asks this, she’s not being facetious, sullen or passive-aggressive about not wanting to do something; she genuinely wants to know and understand why people choose to partake in particular activities. And I think helping her with those big questions would make for some absolutely fascinating conversations.

So, Milla Maxwell, if you ever feel like stopping by, well, I’m pretty sure I can keep you occupied, entertained and intrigued for quite some time, and that’s not something I can say with confidence to many people!