Monday, December 22, 2014

Lucina is the Greatest Nintendo Princess Ever

Recently, I did a guest post about why Gen 3 is my favorite generation of Pokémon for my cousin's blog, TheEmolgaEditorial. In return, he wrote a blog for me about why Lucina from Fire Emblem: Awakening is such a great character. I hope you guys enjoy his blog; he's a fantastic writer, and if you enjoyed this post, you should go check out his other stuff here.

If you're new to the Fire Emblem franchise (or perhaps never heard of it before Smash Bros), you probably were baffled when it was announced earlier in the year that Lucina, a major character in the newest installment to the series, Fire Emblem: Awakening, would be joining the chaos of the Nintendo battle royal on the 3DS and Wii U. Her overall reception by the community was reletively cold, and she hasn't been openly embraced as anything short of an outcast character to regulars. I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise that most players do not see her as much more than a clone of Marth and a cash in on a relative title Nintendo made. I've heard people say Lucina was too confusing of a character to understand and that she wasn't really appealing because of this. That view is rather ironic because all of the confusion around her complexity really make her one of the greatest crafted characters, if not the greatest, in gaming.

This article is filled with Fire Emblem: Awakening spoilers. If you haven't played this game yet, go do it right now. Don't let me ruin the amazement. You won't regret it.

One of the things that has to be stated early is that the extensive detail put into the characters in Awakening leaves a rather open forum for impressions to be made as every play through of the game will leave you with differently developed characters and people whom they value more than others. To decide on one tale would be missing the point of the game. What one may experience from the body of work might differ from another. The best way to describe it would be excitingly artistic in design.
When you play every time, however, there will be one character who remains relatively the same. Lucina is so complex that her actual description in game defines her as enigmatic. To bring the full strength of her to light, it has to be seen in order of how it is experienced for the character. The very experiences she has in the game's story makes the other fighters in Smash pale in comparison.

There is no hiding it; Lucina has been through a hellish life full of disaster, despair, and crushing odds. Long before her birth, her aunt and queen of the land she is raised, Emmeryn, was tragically assassinated. This resulted in creating the first domino to fall, birthing her into a world of war and eventual doom. Her parents are murdered and she is thrown into leading a crumbling humanity to defense from the horrors of Grima, a huge dragon of crippling strengths. The hand dealt is devastating to the young woman, and every moment she fights with the deaths of her family and people on her shoulders. The biggest shock of it all is this all happens to Lucina before the events of Fire Emblem: Awakening (or technically after. Or during?).
The player isn't really introduced to Lucina in a traditional matter. Lissa, another one of her aunts, is about to be killed by a monster as woods are light aflame. In an epic fashion, a figure emerges and rescues her, claiming the name “Marth” (rather hilarious seeing as everyone calls her that in Smash anyways). For the first two acts of the game, Lucina isn't even known as Lucina. She's a tortured future teller who distances herself from everyone else and painfully wishes to spend time with her parents she loves dearly and lost awfully with the most convincing maturity. She even duels with her father at one point, which when you take a moment at the end of the journey, you realize just how daunting that must have been on her.
Truth be told, everything that needs to be said with Lucina's character can be best described in the most emotional and powerful moments of the game. Accidentally slipping out the word “Father” while talking to Chrom, Lucina leads the king back in private to confess who she actually is. It is revealed that to increase morale of her people in the ruined future, she donned the identity of Marth and fought desperately. Attempting to open up to her father, she says she is his daughter, but it initially is fruitless as he denies it all. As he realizes she has the same indistinguishable brand on her eye, every bit of weight on her shoulders is released. It's so powerful you have to see it yourself:

When Lucina wins a match in Smash, one of the things she proclaims is “Father...I won.” in a heartbreaking fashion. All she wants in life is to fight in her family name and represent the love she was brought up with to the fullest ability. Her self-doubt is subtle, but the name she fights with before hints at her yearning to be strong enough to fight. A blurb from her talk with Chrom in this scene hits home incredibly hard (almost as hard as that cutscene did):

I prayed to the Hero-King for a small part of the strength he used to save the world. But I need this subterfuge no longer. I choose to fight as Lucina now. The name that reminds me of the strength in the man and woman who chose it.”

You just don't see character speech like that in most video games, especially not from Nintendo. If you choose the Avatar (AKA Robin) as her mother, Lucina tasks herself with the burden of ending her mother's life to save Chrom and the world as the Avatar turns on him and brings the end of the world in her future. It might be a pre-determined outcome, but the emotion is still high and the reactions by Lucina are gripping.

Nintendo has a way of crafting very appealing characters in their games to deliver the worlds. For example, the appeal of playing as Link in the Zelda franchise is that he is a silent protagonist and it is easiest used as a surrogate for the player to place themselves in the world of Hyrule. It's a safe way to ensure the player enjoys the narrative. In complete contrast, Fire Emblem: Awakening gambles high with doing fully realized characters and minute details. It isn't better projected than with the “Warrior From a Doomed Future” (I'd go as far as calling her the Princess From a Doomed Future).

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Alpha Sapphire is the most epic Pokémon game I've ever played

Well, the time has finally come. We finally got the remakes we were wishing for in the form of Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. But, do they do their job as being faithful remakes with enough new content to justify their existence? Of course, beware of spoilers if you haven't finished the game yet!

Remakes often seem to include a lot of fan service, and boy, that still holds true in the case of Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. It seems as if Game Freak knew how badly fans of the original Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald games wanted to revisit Hoenn in glorious 3D—so they added a lot of little nods to the original games that older fans of the series will recognize. For starters, the opening of the game is almost an exact replica of the opening of the original R/S/E games with the camera focusing on water droplets falling into a small pond with Latias or Latios (depending on your version) appearing to fly towards a mountain in the distance. You'll then see Brendan (the male character of the series, it's never May for some reason) ride his bike to chase after Latios or Latias, and thus begins your adventure into Omega Ruby or Alpha Sapphire. I happened to purchase Alpha Sapphire because I played Sapphire back when I was a kid. Also, in my humble opinion, I think that Sapphire is the better version of the two because I think the focus on water makes more sense with how much water is present in Hoenn.

Ah, just like old times...

The game starts out with you being in a moving van like last time, playing what seems to be either Sapphire or Ruby, which is a really nice touch!

Alpha Sapphire starts out just like any other Pokémon game. You are either or boy or a girl starting out on their Pokémon journey for the fist time. In the case of Alpha Sapphire, however, your family just moved to Hoenn from the Johto region so your father could become the Petalburg Gym's new leader. Your "rival" is Professor Birch's kid (either Brendan or May), and the two of you set out on your Pokémon journey together, but not before you save Professor Birch from a ravenous Poochyena and receive your starter Pokémon.
Professor Birch is pretty irresponsible for a Pokémon Professor....

From there, you continue on with your journey to become the Champion of Hoenn by collecting all eight gym badges, as per usual for every Pokémon game. But, at the same time, a criminal organization named Team Aqua is planning to expand the sea by awakening the ancient and power legendary Pokémon Kyogre. Except this time there's a twist. In Alpha Sapphire, Kyogre can take advantage of Primal Reversion which allows Kyogre to return to its Primal form, granting it more power. When it completes Primal Reversion, it gains access to the ability Primordial Sea, which renders Fire type moves useless, as well as all other effects of the weather. Also, can we talk about Kyogre and Groudon's theme song really quick? It's amazing. It has snippets of the original theme from Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald in it which was really endearing to hear again.

Fear the power of Primal Kyogre!
The enemy teams got a major visual overhaul in these remakes and I must say, they look even cooler than before, if that was even possible.

These guys look cooler than ever

When the enemy teams aren't trying to destroy it, Hoenn looks gorgeous with its new 3DS graphical overhaul. The development team stayed really true to the colors present in the original games, so it still somehow looks like the same region, except with greater detail. You'll often see Pokémon hanging out in their natural habitats. It's really common to se Beautifly floating in the wind, Wingull chilling out on the beach, and Relicanth swimming in the depths. A new feature was added to Alpha Sapphire that helps you interact with these Pokémon called the DexNav. It allows you find better Pokémon the more you encounter them. You'll often see little bits of the Pokémon sticking up out of the tall grass such as Pikachu's tail or Ralts' head.

You then can sneak up on the Pokémon and fight them. I think the DexNav is so neat because it adds another dimension to catching Pokémon. The DexNav keeps track to how many Pokémon you've caught on a route, and how much more you have left to go. The more you encounter a Pokémon, the more likely you are to find one with certain egg moves, natures, and stats, making this feature really useful to breeders like me. I found this new mechanic to be super addicting and rewarding. The DexNav makes it easy to chain for shiny Pokémon as well, considering that it makes it possible to encounter the same Pokémon over and over again. Plus it's really neat that Game Freak made the DexNav screen match whatever route you're on with how it looked in the original Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald games; it's a really nice touch.

It's the little details that have the biggest impact!
Another feature that is new to the remakes is soaring. After beating Wattson, the player joins Steven Stone to save Latias from Team Aqua. You fly on Latios to Southern Island and save her from the team's evil clutches. After laying down some serious smack on Team Aqua, Latias joins your party and Steven gives you the Mega Bracelet. After saving the world from Kyogre's wrath, you gain the ability to soar on the back of Mega Latias.

There's nothing quite like dominating the sky on a Pokémon that looks like a jet plane

The feature pretty much renders the HM Fly useless. It's pretty exhilarating to soar around Hoenn and be able to land wherever you want, and the music that plays is pretty fantastic as well.  After Steven gives you the Eon Flute, you can summon Latias even if she's not in your party, so this feature is super useful and super fun. Soaring also gives you the ability to visit Mirage Spots. Legendary Pokémon appear in these Mirage Spots randomly, so it gives you the chance to catch them if you missed them in previous games, or if you're just trying to complete the Pokédex, so be sure to buy lots of Pokéballs!

I've come to the conclusion that Lord of the Rings references in Pokémon are the best

Many features returned from the original games as well. Contests have made a comeback, except this time they are called "Contest Spectaculars" and are more awesome than ever. The theme that played in the contest halls sounds like it belongs in a club (in a good way) and your character can now dress up for contests. After winning your first contest, you receive a Cosplay Pikachu which can wear different outfits depending on what contest moves it knows. One thing about the contests that disappoints me is that your Pokémon doesn't receive a ribbon for each contest it wins. Instead, it gets a ribbon when it wins the Master rank contest. Also, you can participate in every rank of contest at any Contest Hall which I think takes the adventure out of doing each rank of contest. I suppose this was done to eliminate backtracking, but I think it takes some of the fun out of winning each rank. That being said, contests are still fun nonetheless and can be surprisingly challenging!

Ever wanted to put Pikachu in a dress? Well, now you can!

Can't put Brendan in a dress though. Also, where is May's nose?

Another returning feature are the Secret Bases. Like contests, they have been revamped for the remakes. You can receive the secret bases of people you have streetpassed or you can scan QR codes to receive the Secret Bases of anyone you wish. You can turn your Secret Bases into your own personal gym, and you can recruit other players to be a member of your "Secret Team" which you get to name. They will stay in your base and fight challengers that come along. You can go out and scour the lands to find other players' bases in order to collect flags from them to earn more decorations for your base. There are many unique decorations to deck out your base with, and many different locations to choose from when deciding where you want to put your Secret Base. For now, mine is on Route 119 under the bridge by the waterfall. Secret Bases were one of my favorite features from the original games, so I'm glad they've made a triumphant return in the remakes.

So, once you've beaten all eight gyms and defeated the Elite Four, you'll gain access to the post game event known as the Delta Episode. In the Delta Episode, a 6-mile-wide meteor is barreling towards Hoenn and for some reason, it's up to a preteen to save the world, except a mysterious figure known as Zinnia keeps getting in your way. She's been stealing everyone's keystones in order to summon the great savior of Hoenn, Rayquaza. Rather than follow the scientists of Hoenn's plans to send the meteor into a black hole and warp it somewhere else, she will ask Rayquaza to save Hoenn just like it had done in the past. She argues that they could possibly be destroying another world by sending the meteor somewhere else, suggesting that the game takes place in a separate universe than the original games due to the events that took place in Kalos with AZ and the ultimate weapon (or so people speculate). Zinnia manages to successfully summon Rayquaza, and discovers that it won't mega evolve even though she stole a lot of key stones in order to harness its power. The meteorite that you stole back from Team Aqua earlier in the game begins to glow in your bag, and Rayquaza then ingests it and gains the power to Mega Evolve. Rayquaza then chooses you to capture it, and then Zinnia teaches it a  move only it can learn: Dragon Ascent. You then climb onto Rayquaza's back and head into space to destroy the meteor. Upon doing so, a strange being emerges from the rubble of the destroyed meteor and you enter into what I think is the hardest part of the game.

That's right! You face off against Deoxys in space! For the first time ever, Game Freak has made an event legendary catchable. For me, catching Deoxys was really challenging. In fact, I knocked it out three or four times before I managed to catch it. But, I really didn't mind because I enjoyed every moment of it. The Delta Episode is probably the most epic thing I've ever witnessed happening in a Pokémon game. Sure, it adds up to about an hour of gameplay, but it's still super exciting. Zinnia is arguably one of the most interesting characters in the Pokémon universe, and I think this whole series of events merits making Brendan and May more epic than Red. I mean, not only did they thwart the plans of Team Aqua and Magma, saving Hoenn in the process, but they go around and save Hoenn again by riding a dragon into space and catching a Pokémon that lives inside the very thing that would bring destruction to a whole region! That's pretty awesome, if you ask me.

Move over Red, we have a couple of badasses on our hands.

I really, really enjoyed Alpha Sapphire. Game Freak stayed really true to the concept of the original games while at the same time making the remakes feel really fresh and new. And the music, oh my gosh the music! The music is incredible, and really highlights the spirit of the games well, both old and new. It really made the game feel epic especially in key fights throughout the game like the ones with Kyogre, Archie, The Elite Four, and Zinnia. That being said, Alpha Sapphire is the most epic Pokémon game I've ever played in terms of story, environment, and characters. There are so many awesome locations in Hoenn such as Meteor Falls, Sootopolis City, and Sea Mauville, to name a few. There is so much to explore and discover in Hoenn, and there's so many different ways to do it. You can ride two different kinds of bikes, soar, dive, and surf. The water routes are some of my favorite places in Hoenn, to be honest. I don't think they're nearly as bad as everyone says they are. In total, I think you could get across them in 15 minutes or less, and not to mention that if you surf on a Sharpedo, you can go even faster. I also encountered far fewer Pokémon along the water routes this time around without even using any Repels.
Overall, Game Freak added a few cool features to Alpha Sapphire that really made the game for me. However, I don't think they added enough new content to really make this remake stand out. When Heart Gold and Soul Silver came out, they were the most advanced Pokémon games to date because they improved on many aspects of Diamond and Pearl, so their remakes were really justified, and stood out beyond their status as remakes. While I think the Hoenn remakes are indeed justified, I just wish Game Freak would have added more new features rather than copy paste some features over from X and Y like the Battle Maison. In the post game area of Alpha Sapphire, the Battle Resort, they tease the possibility of a Battle Frontier, but give us a recycled version of the Battle Maison instead. I wish Game Freak would have spent more time on the game and included the Battle Frontier to begin with. Now I'm left wondering if they'll introduce it as DLC or include it in a later game. They didn't tie up some loose ends regarding some plot elements of the game, so that leads me to believe that they'll introduce an Emerald remake, but that remains to be seen.
Oh Game Freak, you're such a tease
Another thing that kind of disappointed me was the fact that character customization is absent from Hoenn. Although I can understand why they didn't include it in Alpha Sapphire because Brendan and May are established characters, it seems as if character customization should be a standard for the series since it was such a success in X and Y.
Also, this game is really stinking easy. The exp share, as wonderful as it is, makes the game a cakewalk. So much so, that it almost seems broken in my eyes. While this is a mechanic that can be turned off, I think it just makes more sense to use it. I think they should adjust it so your Pokémon gain fewer experience points so that they aren't always so grossly over leveled. Although I must say that the Elite Four in Alpha Sapphire are at least a little more challenging than they were in X and Y, but only slightly. All in all, Alpha Sapphire is a gorgeous game oozing with charm and nostalgia that is a delight for Pokémon fans both young and old. 

And so, allow me to introduce my new rating system. I want to use a grading system, much akin to the one used in high school and college, since I'm more of a letters and words person rather than a numbers person:


Pretty much, "A" ratings are for great games that are pretty close to perfect, but have maybe a few flaws here and there. "B" ratings are for good games that have room for a little improvement. "C" ratings are for games that are just decent with many things that could be improved, and for games that aren't either good or bad. "D" ratings are for games that are passable, or just barely such. And "F" ratings are for awful games, naturally.

So, I would give Pokémon Alpha Sapphire version an A- rating. I loved the visuals, music, story, and gameplay, but it gets a "-" for lacking a few new features. 

Thanks for reading my review of Alpha Sapphire! What did you all think of the remakes?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Check out my guest blog over at The Emolga Editorial!

Hey guys! I recently did a guest post for my cousin's blog about why I like the Gen 3 games so much. So, show him some love and go check out his blog!

Also, be on the lookout for a review of Alpha Sapphire here in a week or so!