So, most of my gaming time these past few months has been playing Street Fighter. I like fighting games, but I’ve never been any good at them. Street Fighter is pretty much the crème de la crème, so what better one to try and actually make an effort to become not terrible at. It’s a slow process, but I’m at a point where I’m winning games somewhat regularly against similarly skilled opponents, and I’m no longer a total newb at the games.

So, I decided to make a video of me playing it. In fact, I hope to make this a regular series of videos, with one every week or so. As I’ve mentioned before, I used to make crappy Call of Duty videos back in the day, but stopped mostly because of a combination of lack of motivation and my terrible upload speed. The latter hasn’t really changed, but I’m at a point where I sort of want to try and make somewhat regular content again.

The Salt Sessions is going to mostly be me playing ranked games on SF4, while making an attempt to articulate what I’m doing and why as I’m playing. This first episode, the pilot if you will, was mostly a spur of the moment thing I made at 3am after a few beers. It’s been a while since I’ve done any video making, so this served mostly as a test for my recording setup: I have a decent microphone, but it isn’t particularly well suited to recording while I’m in the middle of playing a fighting game.

So join me over at JeoDotMe on YouTube, a channel I made specifically to tie into this blog. I’ve mulled the idea of doing video accompaniments to previous blog posts before, but obviously never went through. Now that I want to try and make more video content on the reg, perhaps I might do that. In any case, it’s likely that you’ll see more than just fighting games on this channel in the future. In the meantime, I will (hopefully) have a new episode of Salt Sessions every weekend(ish).

What’s up folks, it’s that time of the year again. The time where everybody indulges in a vast bout of navel-gazing over the past year of video games. Last year, I presented to you the games I thought were totally alright that year, so naturally it’s time to do that again. Like last year, these are in absolutely no particular order and need only have been released in 2013 (and played and enjoyed by me) to be listed here.

BioShock Infinite

Might as well get some of the big hitters out of the way first. Crazy to think that it was all the back in March that Irrational’s most recent masterpiece hit the shelves. While a lot of people, for a multitude of reasons haven’t been particularly kind to the game in hindsight, I maintain the same opinion of Infinite that I held when I first played it: A greatly atmospheric, well-paced game, with combat that was as fun as ever (albeit, a little streamlined), with among the best characterisation I’ve seen in a video game. A worthy successor to ’07’s BioShock, I just prey we don’t have to wait as long for the next major offering from Ken Levine and company.

Diablo III (Console Version)

I’ll admit, this one is a little bit of a cop-out, since Diablo III originally came to us on PC back in 2012. But the shiny new console versions only released a couple of months ago, back in September, and a 2013 release is the only qualification a game needs to be here, dammit! The consolised version of the premier clicking-stuff-until-it-dies simulator actually surprised me by how well it played. Having direct control of your character on an analogue stick is fantastic, and even aiming the more precise spells the game offers you works pretty well with a loose lock-on type system. Add on to that a revamped loot system that made it so you got better gear, more tailored to your character, more often, made the sections of the game that would otherwise be a bit of a grind a lot more compelling to play. The moment I managed to find 3 seperate legendary items within 30 seconds of one another will stick with me for a while.

Persona 4 Arena

We got it here in Europe in May, so that’s all the excuse I need to put it here! A fighting game I picked up mostly because the original Persona 4 sits among my favourite games ever, so the opportunity to enjoy some new content in that world with those characters was absolutely something I couldn’t pass up. It just happened that because of that love of the source material, P4A ended up being the first fighter I ever made any real attempt to not play by simply mashing buttons. I’ve sinced moved on to Street Fighter 4, but I like to think it was Persona 4 Arena that sparked my now greater interest in fighting games as a whole.

Fire Emblem: Awakening

So, I’ve never really been into strategy RPGs. Back in the day, I played (and fucking loved) Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, but that game didn’t spur me on to try others in the genre, and I’d certainly never played a Fire Emblem game before. But something about FE:A’s blend of somewhat loose, but still deep and rewarding gameplay and good storytelling intrigued me. And while I’ll admit it’s a game I need to get back to at some point (I never said I had to have completed the games featured here!), I’ve played enough of it to know that yes, I would like some more, please.

Grand Theft Auto V

I think at this point it would be impossible for a Grand Theft Auto game to release and not be featured in some sort of end-of-year best of. Every major title in the series since 2001’s GTA3 has been fantastic and Rockstar’s latest offering certainly doesn’t buck that trend. The decision to include three seperate protagonists that can be switched between (almost) at will was nothing short of genius. The grey and serious tone that defined GTA4 was toned down significantly (though not to levels of the PS2 games’ silliness) with the result being I almost couldn’t put the game down until I reached its conclusion. Shame the online component turned out to be a bit shit.

Tomb Raider

I was never a fan of Tomb Raider. Gunning down a t-rex with pistols akimbo and locking your butler in the freezer was cool, sure, but the games were mostly awkward platforming, with awkward combat and a bunch of awkward puzzles, and a main character who had less depth than a couple of watermelons glued to a broomstick. So when Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics decided to reboot the franchise and make a game that didn’t control like arse and had a sympathetic and (mostly) believable character, I was down like a clown. Sure, the roughly 5 minute transition from unarmed, badly wounded, innocent young woman to shooting a bunch of dudes in their faces can be a little hard to swallow, the result is a cinematic experience that rivals Uncharted, with a larger world that is actually enjoyable to explore. Not sure how Lara’s boobs manage to stay so perfectly in place with just a tanktop throughout all the beatings the game just loves to give her though.

Broken Sword 5: The Serpents Curse (Episode 1)

Although the final part isn’t out until early next year, The Serpents Curse, the latest, kickstarted entry into one of my most beloved series is a return to the more classic point-and-click style of the first two games, rather than the 3D ones that put a bit of a stain on the franchise. While it ends just as the story really starts to get going, everything up to that is filled with the funny, well written (and acted) dialogue that made me so fond of the original games. With a perhaps over-reliance of returning characters that don’t hit home as well as they should due to different voice actors, George and Nico are, however as great as they’ve ever been. Just a shame it won’t be till 2014 until we see how the plot is really going to shape up.

The Last of Us

I struggle to think of any game that was so anticipated before release, and then actually lived up to all the hype, but if there’s any developer that can do that, it’s Naughty Dog. 2013 was a fucking great year for video game storytelling, and Joel and Ellie’s story is up there with the best of them. Great plot, great pacing, great cast of characters, one of the most memorable openings to a game I can think of and a satisfying ending. As well as that, the gameplay wasn’t just another Uncharted, but a more methodical game that required you to slow down and plan ahead. Even the multiplayer was really fun. Hell, the only gripe I really had with the game was that the achievements sucked.

BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien

Challenging, yet completely rewarding gameplay, great music, and a fantastically goofy sense of style. Not bad for £12.

Pokémon X/Y

There’s something that always gets me giddy at the thought of a new generation of Pokémon games, yet I always play less and less of them as they go on. Not because they’re getting worse, but because I have less time to play single games, and more money to buy other games. Spending a couple hundred hours filling up my pokédex in Silver was feasible, because I was just a kid, with a lot more free time, but no dosh to buy all those other rad games I wanted. X and Y had me particularly excited, because it’s the first set of mainline Pokémon games to be released on new hardware in what seems like forever. It was only 2007 that Diamond and Pearl released, but it still feels like they dwelled too long on the same hardware. Just something about having two seperate generations of Pokémon on the same system didn’t sit well with me. You could argue that Gold and Silver were still Gameboy games, but c’mon: Those games were designed for the Gameboy Color. X and Y to me feels like the first major step up in quality in a long, long time, especially so since these are the first ones to transition to full 3D, as opposed to using character sprites. Almost everything about it just feels super well made. The new region is awesome to explore for the first time, the new Pokémon are well designed for the most part, and the soundtrack contains some of the best pieces in the entire series, in my opinion. And there’s also a bunch of changes to the battle system that should affect the metagame in interesting ways, you know, if you’re into that. They added a new pokémon type! They haven’t done that in over a decade!

Honourable Mention: Persona 4 Golden

Because we didn’t get it here until February lol. Some day, I will spend a few thousand words here gushing about that game like I did Final Fantasy X.

So there you have it: the 10 games from this year that I deem to be totally okay. I’ll be honest, I struggled towards the end there. Not because there weren’t that many good games that came out this year, but simply because I just didn’t play a lot of them. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and Gone Home are the two that stick out most in my mind, and I didn’t play enough of Papers, Please to formulate much of an opinion on it. I always have a huge backlog of games, and this certainly wasn’t the year where I made strides to try and improve that. Maybe next year? Probably not.

As for future content, I have a fairly big idea swirling about in my head, and should it come to fruition, you’ll likely find it over at GAEMZnet. If that does happen, that site will be reborn with a name that isn’t GAEMZnet because that name is totally dumb and I hate it now. This content idea will likely require the co-operation of a few mates and by putting it here in writing, maybe I can inspire some motivation into a few of them, since I’m not sure I could do it alone. So watch this space. Or that space. Whatever. VAGUE ALLUSIONS TO FUTURE CONTENT THAT PROBABLY WON’T HAPPEN YEAH.

So, I’ve been playing Final Fantasy XIII lately. I got the game at launch, played to about 20 hours in, encountered a fight I couldn’t win within two attempts, stop playing, then just never got back to it. Fast forward three years, and I have completely forgotten pretty much everything about the game: the characters, the story, and how the battle system even works.

So I started again, from the beginning. And it made me want to watch Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children again. There’s a joke in there about FFXIII’s story-to-gameplay ratio, but I’m not going to make it.

Just so we’re clear, for the most part in this post I’m going to be talking about Advent Children Complete, the director’s cut of the movie that was released on Blu-Ray in 2009, not the original release from 2005. It boasts about 30 minutes of brand new footage over the original, as well about 1,000 edited scenes overall, apparently. It’s definitely the version of the movie to watch, as the new content helps to flesh out some of the issues with the somewhat hard-to-follow plot, which was a sticking-point for many people.

There is one problem with the new content though: it’s almost too good. I’m not talking about the deep and nuanced intricacies of the plot they show, or the fantastically crafted, well-rounded characters. I mean the actual fidelity of the CG. It looks great. The new scenes are all super-sharp and amazing to watch. Unfortunately, it’s a fairly stark contrast to some of the material from the original cut of the movie. Now, don’t get me wrong, that CG was nothing short of genuinely amazing back in 2005, and it still holds up really well, but it just looks… grimy compared to the newly rendered scenes. There are a lot of moments in the movie where it’ll transition from sharp, great looking visuals, to something that is clearly just upscaled SD. Considering the entire movie is like, 75% fight-scenes, you don’t really notice it too much amidst all the fast-moving badassery that’s going on for the majority of the film, but it’s something that is disappointingly noticeable during the slower-paced, more character driven moments. It’s a bummer.

Being a CG movie, even the original DVD release would have almost certainly have been originally rendered at resolutions possibly well exceeding 1080p, so quite why Square decided for its “complete” HD version of the film to include scenes upscaled from DVD resolutions is beyond me. It makes no sense. Unless Square are complete idiots (which, let’s be fair, isn’t completely out of the question), they would almost certainly have high-resolution versions of the original scenes sitting on workstations and hard-drives somewhere.

But enough about that, let’s talk about the film itself. Advent Children is duuumb. It is a dumb movie. But it’s dumb in a way that I can usually get behind. It’s two hours of gooey fanservice. It’s 10% characters talking about often the hard-to-follow, sometimes inconsequential plot stuff, and 99% characters you know and love doing wicked-awesome shit. I mean seriously, the animators themselves acknowledged that the rule of cool was the only rule they followed when making the fight scenes.

Angst Inc. CEO, Cloud Strife

Angst Inc. CEO, Cloud Strife

The film takes place two years after the end of Final Fantasy VII, and although there is a small sort-of-recap at the start of the film, you’re generally not going to have a fucking clue what is going on or who anybody is if you haven’t played through the original game before. Thankfully, one of the special features on the DVD and Blu-Ray is just that: a full recap of the events of the game. Having not watched it though, I can’t attest to it’s usefulness. Myself being a huge fan of the 1997 PlayStation classic though, that was never an issue for me going in.

So anyway, two years after FFVII. Humanity is trying to get it’s shit back together after Sephiroth almost destroyed the planet by summoning a giant meteor at the end of the original game. The primary setting is a town built on the edge of the now completely ruined Midgar, appropriately named, “Edge”. Cloud, who now operates a delivery service with Tifa (as well as holding majority shares in Angst Incorporated) is spending his days being alone and not really talking to anyone and riding around on his sweet motorcycle.

Meanwhile, there’s a strange sickness going around, dubbed “Geostigma”. It manifests as a strange, black, rash-like appearance somewhere on the body. It’s depicted as being occasionally pretty painful and kills you by… making you… sort of, melt? I dunno. That part’s never really explained. Eventually it’s revealed that OH NO, Cloud has the stigma as well! And he doesn’t consider himself fit to help anyone else, let alone himself, which is why he spends the first half of the movie living out his days in angst-town. It should be noted that Cloud was never that angsty to begin with in the original game, and for as little as he was, he pretty much got over it by the end. So why is he so angsty now? Because the fandom had overblown that characteristic so much, that the designers felt people wouldn’t recognise him any other way.

I’m fucking serious.

Nope. Don't remind me of anyone. Not at all.

Nope. Don’t remind me of anyone. Not at all.

Meanwhile, there are a group of three men with silver hair running around generally causing mischief for Cloud and what remains of Shinra and the Turks. Two of those three silver-haired men are also pretty-boys, and the three of them are going around looking for their “Mother”. Gee, does that remind you of anyone? Hmm, I wonder if Sephiroth is gonna show up at some poiOH WAIT he totally does because he’s depicted on the fucking cover of both the original DVD and the Complete Blu-Ray release.

So anyway, a bunch of plot happens, and Kadaj (the leader of the silver-haired dudes) finally gets what he’s been searching for the entire movie. He then transforms into Sephiroth, a new version of One-Winged Angel starts playing the background, Sephiroth soliloquises for a bit, then he and Cloud proceed to have a big fight scene which consists of Sephiroth taunting Cloud a lot and Cloud using his badass sword-that’s made-up-of-a-bunch-of-other-swords to cut through entire skyscrapers. Rule of cool, so you know, petty things like the laws of gravity and physical momentum don’t apply here. The fight-scene culminates with Sephiroth impaling Cloud on his huge, 12-foot long katana, then repeatedly stabbing him in the air, like fifty times, in a scene not present in the original film. That original cut of the movie was almost completely bloodless, but Cloud is a fucking bloody mess at the end of the fight in this version.

But Cloud eventually defeats Sephiroth, because that’s how these stories work, right? Sephiroth disappears, Kadaj returns to the livestream, then the other two silver-haired dudes show up and Cloud is almost killed in a massive explosion, but managed to survive because of the POWER OF FRIENDSHIP. Or something.

Anyway, Cloud sold all his shares in Angst Incorporated and all the kids with Geostigma get cured in a weird baptism scene. Roll credits.

Now, among anime fans, there’s a sub-group of people who prefer to watch their stuff with the original Japanese VO. Almost to the point of utter elitism. I always thought of that as the dumbest shit ever (the elitism, not the watching in Japanese part), but having watched Advent Children’s English dub quite a few times now, I can almost see why people could get like that. Almost. Let’s just say that Advent Children’s English dub is… well, a little hokey in spots.

Now, I believe I’ve said somewhere before, either here or on Twitter, that I’m not much of an anime fan, so I can’t say this definitively, but the bad English dub in this, as well as presumably other anime seems to be (to me, anyway) due to the static nature of the medium. With anime, movies, etc, when dubbing into other languages, you’re pretty limited by the movements of the characters’ mouths. So not only does the localised dialogue have to be written in such a way to accommodate this, it then has to be read in a way that accommodates it, which is where all the dialogue with flat reads and weird cadences seems to stem from. When localising a video game, you can just edit the movement of the characters’ mouths to match the new dialogue. Better yet, if it’s a 2D game, you theoretically don’t have that problem at all.

Of course, you could just ignore that and record dialogue regardless, but for Advent Children’s English dub, Square seem to have opted to try and get the voices matching the mouths as closely as possible, which results in some just really, really terrible reads on some of those lines. I’d almost want to watch the film with it’s original Japanese VO, not because I think it’s necessarily better, but because it means simply not having to listen to some of the cringe-worthy stuff that comes out of the characters’ mouths in the English version.

Part of me wants to hate Advent Children. The story is kinda bad, the characters aren’t really fleshed out too well (and in some cases flanderised to the point where they’re completely one-dimensional), and the second half of the movie is one big fight-scene. But then there’s the other part of me, the part that looks at Final Fantasy VII with rose-tinted glasses that have six-inch thick lenses. The part of me that of me that was only 15 when this movie originally came out, a movie I had excitedly followed the development for from pretty much the moment it was announced.

There are parts of the film that are bad. There are parts that are downright terrible. But then there are parts that super dumb, but in a way I almost can’t help but like. It’s no Final Fantasy VII, but then again, nothing else is.