Tag Archives: playstation 2

FGC #274 Arcana Heart

SKULLS?Gaming has grown up over the years, and the generational shift seems… oddly precise.

First we have the Atari (and whatever qualified as a videogame before that), which is the vaguely remembered toddler years. You’ve got a bunch of games that are kind of feeling out what can be done, and a lot more games that just have no idea what to do. For every Mario Bros. you’ve got about a dozen more like M*A*S*H . And, even more than that, you’ve got a million games that are “just exactly the same as that other game, but with a new set six pixels”. There are one or two luminaries in the Atari library, but, by and large, they’re all interchangeable, and only revered for being there right from the beginning.

Now the Nintendo is where we get into gaming’s real “childhood”. There is exploration here, but, by and large, this is where gaming learned to walk, and then ran with it. Super Mario Bros. led to a million imitators, but, looking at the game coupled with thirty years of gaming experience, you can see how even something today like Breath of the Wild or Overwatch can partially trace back to the adorable plumber. Much of what we consider “gaming” truly began here, and it’s as much about the gameplay as it is the franchises. However, speaking of those franchises, practically everything from this era is fairly… kiddy. Thanks to Nintendo’s iron grip and general fear of jocks, all of those classic games are cartoony, and contain about as much adult content (whether that be violence, sex, or even religion) as your average episode of Dora the Explorer. But that’s fine! This is gaming’s childhood, and it was meant for children, so it all worked out. Bubble Bobble Madcap Violence Edition would just have to wait for a few years.

Dang skullsThe 16-bit years are so tween they practically hurt to look at. Mega Man has gone from chubby blue bot to hardcore, shiny “Reploid” (“It’s like a regular robot but… you wouldn’t understand, mom.”) who worries about death and war and stuff. Link watches his uncle die (he got better), and Castlevania eventually released a game that featured blood dripping from every available hole. Mortal Kombat and Sonic the Hedgehog defined this era of gaming, as it was all about attitude and violence and…. not much else. The 16-bit era was an attempt at gaming being more “its own thing” and “edgy”, but almost all of it amounted to exactly nothing. Mortal Kombat was violent for the sake of being violent, it didn’t have anything relevant to say on the subject of ghost skeletons being decapitated by ice ninja. It was just like a tween adopting their older sibling’s clothing and claiming to be “with it”. … Do kids still say “with it”? Uh, did they ever?

The Playstation One era is clearly gaming puberty. And, let’s be clear here, it’s not the fun kind of puberty that appears in 80’s movies wherein some hapless nerd trips into the girls’ locker room and participates in his first sexual harassment; no, I’m talking about the real kind of puberty, where suddenly you’re interested in the opposite (or same, it’s tough all around) sex, and last week you were totally okay with playing with Transformers, and now the most important thing in your life is that there is a pool party at the end of the week, and OH GOD IT’S GOING TO BE HORRIBLE. This would be about when gaming as a whole decided that everything that came before was crap (and far too 2-D), and everything had to be reinvented for a new, much more mature audience that is totally into skateboards. Like the 16-bit era, this was yet another example of “maturity = Lara Croft has boobies”, but it was still a gigantic change in the gaming landscape. Contra couldn’t just be a fun game about aliens anymore, now there had to be hardcore plots and 3-D glasses and… ugh. At the time, it seemed like the be all, end all of everything, but, in retrospect, it was just more gaming growing pains. Sorry, Adventure Island you’re too immature for us now.

They're so fun!Following this line of thinking, you might surmise that I would identify the Playstation 2 era as the next logical step, the “adult phase” of gaming. And that’s… kind of true. But I wouldn’t say gaming matured until basically the Playstation 3 era, when we got two important things. One, gaming got comfortable again with revisiting “childish” franchises, likely thanks to the joy of downloadable titles, so we could benefit from “arcade experiences” and other games that only last an afternoon (as opposed to a 40 hour “experience”). And, two, we got the Vita, which is all panties, all the time. And, now that the Vita is dying, it looks like we’ll be getting that same (fan) service on the Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch. So, hooray, horny games for everybody!

Now, to be clear, I don’t think underage anime tiddy games are adult. Far from it, in fact, and I’ve got a Wankery Week to prove it. However, I am downright proud of the fact that, after decades of acting like “sexy” is an accident that dribbles into otherwise wholesome games, the gaming industry is finally acknowledging that, for whatever reason, there are people that want to play videogames that are vaguely pornographic. We’re still not completely “there” (I could write an entire article about the sexual politics of Persona 5), but, in the same way that the XXX section of your local video store (no longer actually a thing) is separate from the “real” movies, we’ve got some actual XXX (more like XX) videogames, and no one is confusing them for E3’s game of the year.

It… wasn’t always that way.

FIGHT!Today’s game is Arcana Heart, a 2-D fighting game for the Playstation 2. Arcana Heart is a… passable fighting game. There isn’t anything too exciting going on here, just about what you’d expect from a 2-D fighter. The most interesting trait of this series is, basically, swappable special moves (which is unusual in a sprite-based fighter lacking any and all Mokujins), but it’s otherwise pretty forgettable. It’s not a bad game, mind you, simply one that doesn’t warrant much of a reason to exist. What separates this fighting game from every other Street Fighter 2 wannabe that came down the pike? Well, simple answer, it’s the women. Or “girls” might be more appropriate noun here.

Much like a certain other franchise, each of the characters in Arcana Heart seems to be tailor made to suit some manner of fetish. There’s the peppy school girl, the sad school girl, the “younger” character that is always in a child’s swimsuit (but is mentally mature, so it’s okay), the robot maid, shrine priestess, Rei Ayanami, furry, the “American” vampire, and, my personal (least) favorite, the unwilling participant that is dragged along by a decidedly male-identifying (and phallic) object. It’s a rape analogy! Hooray! Also, puke! In short, the “all female cast” of this game isn’t there to pass the Bechdel test, it’s there to titillate a male audience that is going to buy this game hoping to see some upskirt shots. Unfortunately for them, it’s going to be a long wait.

Arcana Heart is rated T for Teen, and even though the writing of its story mode relies heavily on all the tropes you’d expect to see in your average harem anime, there is no actual visual titillation to be found here. Now, I’m not the type to ask that every game out there include the exact right number of exposed panties, but, fun fact, in a game that seems built to deliver the fan service, a complete lack of it seems almost… insulting? This isn’t even “softcore”, the visuals for this game are completely chaste. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen more erotic imagery in Wii Sports (my Mii has some amazing legs).

Really bitesBut this is basically where we were in the Playstation 2 era. We could have something like God of War that just incidentally included an off-screen sex scene, or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas which dummied out a sex minigame at the last moment, but if a game was about sex/fanservice/a thirsty audience trying to get off, then it had to be cleaned up to the point of irrelevance. It was if you had to clear some kind of artificial “maturity bar” to include anything sexual in your game. Soulcalibur has tear-away clothing and a create-a-character mode that allows for all underwear fighters, all the time? Well, that’s just for the sake of the in-depth story of swords and souls, and I guess the tiniest bit of T&A snuck in as an afterthought. There can’t be games for perverts! That would mean gaming is for perverts!

I’m glad we got over it.

But, in retrospect, I suppose this does paint the Playstation 2 and its Arcana Heart-alike releases as the… awkward young adult phase. Yes, sex is okay, everybody does it, blah blah blah, but… can we not ever address it? I… don’t really want to make eye contact with the idea that people do want to see half-naked people… even though we’ve got half-naked people running around everywhere. Look, uh… yeah, I look at a Playboy once in a while, but I only read it for the articles. I’m not really… doing… that thing… Hey, lay off, man.

Arcana Heart is a time capsule of gaming’s awkward early adulthood generation.

FGC #274 Arcana Heart

  • System: Playstation 2 and arcade. Though not any arcades in family-friendly communities (like, ya know, America).
  • Number of players: Two anime girls enter, only one leaves. Until the next round.
  • OuchFavorite Character: Kira Daidohji, the previously mentioned “mature but obviously still like twelve” character wins almost in spite of herself. Her whole deal is that she controls this sentient blob of water, so naturally that means she has to be wearing a swimsuit at all times, which… really, guys? But! This means she fights with that previously mentioned blob morphing into all kinds of giant limbs and shapes, and she basically becomes MvC’s Juggernaut. And I’m always down for that.
  • Did you know? This game comes compliments of Arc System Works, the folks behind the likes of Guilty Gear and Blazblue. That usually means you’ll get an interesting fighting game… but this time… not so much.
  • Would I play again: Even if I wanted to play this wannabe anime tiddy game again, there’s now a sequel available, and we all know that fighting games only get better with improvements. Might have to see if that game upgraded the… graphics… with the console generation…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man X3 for the Super Nintendo! Alright! Let’s forget about random anime girls and move on to random robot targets! Please look forward to it!

Boo!
Are puppets a fetish?

FGC #271 Shinobi (PS2)

Here comes a special ninjaSet foot into my home, and you will realize that I really like putting things on a shelf. The videogames are a given (hi, have you read this blog?), and, of course, that also means a pile of assorted videogame paraphernalia like controllers, Random ROBs, and the ever-expanding amiibo collection (please, Nintendo, please stop). Then we get into the action figures representing various videogame and comic book characters (and at least one Beartato pillow). And, should you escape my basement of ultra-nerdy items, I’ve even got “figures” upstairs that are more mundane and widely accepted. Did you see that bird my grandfather carved? That qualifies as art, right? Yay! Normal people stuff! Oh, uh… that painting over there? That’s…. that’s the Mana Tree… do I need to explain that?

In what passes for interior decorating, I’ve tried to segregate these collections to different rooms. One such segment is my library, which, in addition to the myriad of books that I claim I’m going to read one day, I swear, houses what I consider to be the more “childish” collections. Naturally, this means that I’ve got a room where all the Transformers hang out. And, given I’ve been afflicted with nerdiness roughly since my birth, this means there are Transformers that are fresh acquisitions (like the BIGGEST TRANSFORMER EVER recent release of Fort Max) side by side with Transformers that I first played with when I was but a wee Goggle Bob. Grimlock smash puny contemporary design sense. And, when I look at a toy turned objet d’art that has been following me around for thirty years, I can’t help but think that I used to actually play with that hunk of plastic, likely transforming it from beast to machine and back again over and over for hours; however, now, here it sits, randomly perched on a shelf in front of The Tyranny of Dead Ideas (there’s probably some synergy going on there). Maybe I’ve watched Toy Story far too many times, but I almost feel bad for this emotionless object and how I’ve now forsaken it for “playing” with nearly anything else in the universe. Optimus Prime is untouched on a shelf, never to roll out again.

And then I look back at that room full of videogames, and somehow feel even worse.

OwieIt’s completely random (thanks ROB!) but maybe this is the ideal follow-up to the navel gazing nonsense of Kickle Cubicle. Today’s game is Shinobi, a Playstation 2 release hailing from the bygone age of 2002. Fifteen years? Yeah, that sounds about right. Shinobi was released during a time that many people identified gaming as “too easy”. Whether it was because the Playstation (1) made gaming cool and fresh and fly for a whole new generation of cool kids, or if technology had advanced to the point where such things were possible, one way or another, games had gotten easier in pretty much every conceivable way in the decade or so since the NES. No more did you have to write down finicky passwords to continue your quest, now there were plentiful memory cards. No more did games seem completely insurmountable thanks to one random puzzle, now there was a wealth of knowledge on the internet. And no more did you have to worry about some 2-D platformer that reveled in killing your digital avatar repeatedly, no, the age of 3-D came with life bars and quick respawns (… probably just because it would be a pain to reload a “giant” world after every death), and everything seemed much easier as a result. Prince of Persia on the Apple 2 seemed insoluble, Prince of Persia on the Playstation 2 was going to take a week, the end.

And Shinobi wanted to answer that with a modern, 3-D action game that was also rock hard and throbbing with death. And it succeeded! Hooray!

I can't beat him nowThere are sections of Shinobi that are permanently etched into my brain. An image of tearing across a cityscape while slicing malevolent souls is right at the front my lobes. Defeating one of the later bosses in one go and not having to bang my head against that particular wall again is a cherished memory. And the final boss… I’m moderately sure that’s the longest I’ve ever spent on one individual videogame battle in my life. I was determined to beat this game, and beat it I did… it just took, I believe, two days’ worth of memorization and practice. End of the day, I could say I beat Shinobi, the hardest game of its console generation until the next really hard ninja game came out. Such a glowing accomplishment.

And then I put Shinobi on a shelf, never to play it again. Why? Because I didn’t want to ruin it.

Shinobi was a hard game. Shinobi was known as a hard game. I don’t think there was a single review of Shinobi that didn’t note its high difficulty level. And I beat it. I defeated that game that everyone said was hard. I didn’t A-rank it or replay hard mode, but I beat it. There are people who didn’t beat Shinobi, and I am better than them. And, were I to play Shinobi again, I would likely find my skills had atrophied, and now I’m no better than the scrubs. Dammit! I was an elite ninja warrior! I can’t throw that away! How about I just play another game, and not ever replay Shinobi again? That way, with Shinobi up there on that shelf, I’ll always have the memory of being good at Shinobi, and never suffering a crushing defeat to some errant tank.

And at this point I would like to note that this thinking is A. completely what I believe, and B. bonkers.

Ew!Videogames are meant to be played. Books are meant to be read. DVDs are meant to be watched. They’re not meant to sit on a shelf for the rest of eternity, aesthetics be damned. I like putting things on a shelf, but, dammit, I need someone or some “challenge” to prod me out of, “yes, that was a good memory, I’ll never play you again” thinking. ROB does the job for me, but I encourage everyone reading this to take those cherished memories off the shelf, get ‘em going, and start some new memories with your old friends. Entertainment is meant to entertain, not sit in an attic.

And regarding Shinobi? I replayed it for this article. I sucked at it. I think I got my poor ninja stuck in a helicopter rotor. There was a lot of cleanup. But you know what? I enjoyed it. And, more importantly, the videogame police didn’t knock down my door and steal my Shinobi Completion Diploma. I currently suck at Shinobi, and that’s okay. I had fun, and that’s more enjoyable than looking at an unplayed game on a shelf.

FGC #271 Shinobi (PS2)

  • System: Playstation 2! The Xbox will have to get its own super-hard ninja game.
  • Number of players: There is only one Shinobi. Something to do with a limited number of soul-sucking swords.
  • Favorite Boss: Sometimes, late at night when I’m trying to sleep, I’ll close my eyes and see that final boss. I will then not sleep for upwards of a week. Videogame PTSD is a thing, right?
  • Too hot for ninjaOther Shinobi Memories: I want to say this was one of the first PS2 games I owned that contained a memory card holder. As a result, I think Shinobi saw more “use” for its case than its actual game.
  • Any connection to old Shinobi games? Well, this ninja likes watching entire cities burn about as much as the last guy, so that’s some kind of continuity.
  • The story continues: The sequel to Shinobi is Nightshade, which features very similar gameplay and a lady ninja. Unfortunately, the whole “Shinobi 2” thing kind of got buried somewhere along the way, so most people don’t even know a sequel to Shinobi exists.
  • Did you know? Voice acting in the PS2 era was amazing.
  • Would I play again? Okay, truth be told, this is a PS2 action game, and a lot of modern conveniences we take for granted (like a goddamned map for starters) aren’t here. Also, the camera seems to have the damnedest time staying centered on an enemy. But, all that aside, I feel like I now have to replay this one, as, ya know, whole shelf thing. So… probably yes?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Nintendo Land for the WiiU! … Huh, I swear ROB is getting nostalgic about the most recently retired Nintendo hardware, and we’re seeing more WiiU games on the block. Or it’s complete random chance. Whatever. Please look forward to it!

Ugh
This is going to take forever…

FGC #242 DJ Hero

Rock out!I’m racist against DJs.

Like most racists, I don’t mean every DJ out there, or even a number of people that could be called DJs. Some of my best friends are DJs! The first “adult” that I thought was a cool person (and not just another authority figure) was a DJ (he had a jukebox in his house!), but he was a radio DJ, a very distinct subset of DJ. And, of course, I bear no ill-will toward people that merely “DJ” their own “playlists”, as that is an action as natural as meticulously alphabetizing all of your videogames. Most people are DJs, and that’s okay. And, heck, back in my high school/college days, even I, Goggle Bob, was a DJ, albeit, again, a “radio DJ” and not some other malevolent type. I could spin all the hits with the best of ‘em, and I knew I was doing something right, because every popular kid in the school thought I was playing the worst music available. You’ll listen to this entire Ben Folds Five album and you’ll like it, you damn audience!

No, what I’m talking about is a very specific form of DJ. I’m talking about the performing DJ.

Again, like many racists, I claim I have a reason for this unbridled loathing. See, I have been a musical performer since… yeesh… does kid’s choir count? I’m not really “in the scene” now, but I am kind of an attention hog, so I’ve always found the stage to be inviting. So whether it be singing, trumpeting, or tickling the ivories, I’m big into performing in a musical way. I’m sure we have a picture of me being hardcore somewhere around here… Ah, here we go…

ROCK OUT

See! Totally rocking! Or… something! Look, I might not be that great at not stoppin’ the rockin’, but I’m pretty sure I was involved in a band that may have won an award from MTV2 at some point, so let’s claim that actually means something. But it’s not about the trophies, money, or the fans; it’s about the music, man. That’s what’s really important! Going out there with your original music that you’ve practiced long and hard, and seeing the smiles on the faces of the twelve people that happened to show up at this podunk bar on a Friday night instead of having a real life with friends and people that actually care about them. Wait, may have gotten a little sidetracked there. Again, to be clear, it’s about the music.

DJs? Modern, performing DJs? They just hit the F key and call it a day.

How I despise them.

I’m racist, so I’m going to draw the stereotype. First of all, it’s always a dude. I’m sure there are women DJs out there, but, like dwarves and drummers, I’ve never seen one. Second, they have a tendency toward trench coats and unkempt, dark hair. That’s my style! I saw it first! Goggles? Goggles!?! Mine, loser! But once you get past their disheveled appearance, then you get into the real reason I abhor them so, so much. The DJ’s instrument is a laptop. His music is other people’s music. His “skill” is measured by how effectively he can smack that F key to set off an air horn to the beat. Cross fade is considered more valuable than breathing. The beat is all. The beat is one. And if those Guitar Center speakers aren’t pumping out the bass, then get off the stage.

And audiences love it. Stupid, tasteless people love a good DJ. And I disdain them all the more. Wake up, sheeple!

DJ Hero at least makes being a DJ appear to be hard. Right off the bat, we’ve got this monstrosity:

ROB is not a DJ

The appeal of the Guitar Hero controller was that, hollow piece of plastic or not, it looked like a damn musical instrument (specifically, a guitar or something). Rock Band Drums didn’t exactly bring the bass, but they still appeared to be the typical “drum set of the future” that Casio has been peddling since the 80’s. And the Rock Band Keyboard is pretty much just a truncated keyboard, and any pianist would tell you mo’ keys equal mo’ problems, so hooray for lil’ keyboards.

The DJ Hero Turntable, meanwhile, is obviously a turntable, but… what else is going on here? Let’s check the manual…

What am I even looking at?

Crossfade slider? Blanking plate? Euphoria button!? What the hell is even happening?

Okay, okay, let’s not get crazy. I’m sure even the Wiimote looks scary and button-heavy to a time-displaced Neanderthal. The DJ Hero Turntable might not be as inviting as the Guitar Hero Guitar, but how does the game actually play? Is it just more clicky, plastic buttons, or is it actually a fun and innovative experience?

And the answer is, surprisingly, DJ Hero makes being a DJ appear to be actually… natural.

Rock out!DJ Hero is very much a descendant of Guitar Hero, so, yes, it is a bit heavy on the “just press the red button to the beat”. As someone who plays guitar (just not very well), I’ve always seen Guitar Hero as a really weird approximation of actual guitar playing, and I’m guessing DJ Hero is much the same way for record scratching. But the whole experience is much more… active than I ever expected. There is some actual skill involved in crossfading, and tapping along to the beat feels… right when orchestrating these dope mash-ups.

Yes, I suppose that’s the other thing that surprised me: there is some actual craft in the medleys available to play in DJ Hero. Granted, anytime someone invokes Queen, they’ve automatically got my attention, but I was downright surprised how many excellent tunes from yesterday and today (today being ten years ago) blend together perfectly. I was expecting a dubstep, glow stick rave of nonsense, but this… I could actually listen to the DJ Hero soundtrack, and that only enhances my desire to play more. Come to think of it, yes, wow, I could actually play DJ Hero quite a bit and enjoy being a DJ on my couch. By Grandmaster Flash, the disease is inside me!

So it might be responsible for one of the weirder peripherals I own, and it might be another “silly” Guitar Hero-style game, but DJ Hero is actually a worthwhile experience. It’s fun to play, has a lot of good music, and actually makes performance DJing appear viable. It’s a rarity that I find a videogame that turns around my perspective on an entire vocation, so good job, DJ Hero, you’re the hero this racist-against-DJs Goggle Bob needs.

Though I still want my trench coat back.

FGC #242 DJ Hero

  • System: I got mine for the Wii, but Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Playstation 2 versions are available.
  • Es Bueno!Number of players: If you can get two DJ Hero turntables, you can get two DJ Heroes a-scratchin’. Everybody wants to be a DJ Hero!
  • Favorite Track: I can’t explain why I like the Poison/Word Up combo, but I do, and I will broker no debate on it being the best track available.
  • Sinister: The natural “left handed” configuration for this device… doesn’t work out so hot. I am once again being discriminated against.
  • Unlockable: Apparently there are about twelve billion unlockable DJs, outfits, turntables, samples, and skins available. Ah, the heady days before DLC became the norm for every stupid thing that popped into a developer’s head.
  • Did you know? There was apparently some legal trouble with this game, as the publishers of Scratch: The Ultimate DJ claimed Activision stole their bit (and code). The case seems to have tumbled around between “dismissed” and “overturned” a couple of times, and my new DJ skills have severely hampered my already meager attention span, so let’s go ahead and claim that this was the reason we never saw a DJ Hero 2. Either that or the fact that I bought my copy of DJ Hero for five bucks at Big Lots was a factor.
  • Rock out!Would I play again: I’m surprised to be saying this, but, yes, probably. It’ll take a little effort for me to whip out that turntable again, but I did enjoy the experience, and might return to it in the near future. I… would be okay with being a DJ Hero.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon’s Lair for the NES! Ah, yes, the famous animated game that… wait… for the NES? There was an 8-bit version of Dragon’s Lair? That… can’t be good. Please… look forward to it?