Stormblood: The MMO as Musical Theatre

“Video games aren’t movies.” That’s a line of criticism that those who prioritise mechanics over narrative like to level at cutscene-heavy games, particularly those by creators such as Hideo Kojima and David Cage.

And while it’s true that making effective use of games as a form of interactive media tends to emphasise actual interaction over passively watching cutscenes, one can hardly deny the spectacle offered by strongly movie-inspired titles, and the flexibility that entirely computer-generated scenes and characters can provide creators.

Which makes it all the more unusual that so many games focus on movies as their primary inspiration rather than other forms of media. Sure, some role-playing games might be rather operatic in tone, visual novels are effectively “Books Plus” and rhythm games provide a new way of experiencing pieces of music, but video games have never embraced the idea, of, say, musical theatre.

Or so you thought…

This article is also a video! Hit the jump to watch it, or catch it on YouTube.

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Puzzler Essentials: Hell Girls

We’re enjoying a bit of a puzzle game renaissance at the moment.

While we’re not quite at the same level as we were in the 8-, 16- and 32-bit eras, where puzzle games would happily share retail shelf space with 100+ hour RPG epics (Puyo Puyo Tetris aside), we are at least starting to see more and more puzzle games that aren’t free-to-play mobile titles primarily designed to repeatedly part you from your cash rather than providing a well-balanced, fun experience.

One interesting game that may well have passed you by owing to its low price and seemingly low production values is Hell Girls from Taiwanese circle SakuraGame. And you should most definitely give it a look!

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Shmup Essentials: Steel Dragon EX

The shoot ’em up genre is one in which it is quite difficult to innovate.

This has, of course, led to a number of games over the years that can quite reasonably called knock-offs of other, popular titles that became well-established, though that doesn’t mean that said knock-offs aren’t interesting in their own right.

One such example of this being the case is Warashi’s Shienryu, a game which unashamedly draws great inspiration from the legendary Raiden series, and which was originally released for arcade, Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation. It was subsequently bundled in with an all-new sequel, Shienryu Explosion, as part of D3 Publisher’s Simple Series for PlayStation 2, and this is the version we’re concerned with today.

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PS2 Essentials: Bust-a-Bloc

In many cases the games that are part of D3 Publisher’s sprawling budget-price Simple Series are enjoyably experimental, while in others they simply represent traditional gaming genres brought up to date with modern (for the time) visuals and sound.

Bust-a-Bloc, or The Block Kuzushi Hyper as it was known in Japan, occupies a space somewhere between these two approaches: it’s an adaptation of one of the oldest types of game around, but it adds some interesting and experimental twists on the formula to make it surprisingly distinct from its peers in an incredibly crowded genre.

As you can probably determine from its title, Bust-a-Bloc is a Breakout-type game in which you hit a ball with a paddle in order to destroy blocks — indeed, this genre of game is simply known as “block kuzushi” (block destruction) in Japan, so the title is another example of the Simple Series’ charmingly literal title scheme — but it’s the game’s few additions to the formula that make it noteworthy, and well worth spending some time with.

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Stormblood: It’s a Great MMO, Too

We’ve already discussed how, despite its massively multiplayer online nature, Final Fantasy XIV as a whole is very much an authentic Final Fantasy experience in its own right. But is the opposite true?

If you’ve read the headline you’ll already know that yes, of course it is. But one of the most interesting things about the game as a whole as it has developed from its disastrous 1.0 incarnation through A Realm Reborn and Heavensward into Stormblood is how well it has managed to balance these two seemingly disparate aspects: the strong narrative of the Final Fantasy series, and the sheer amount of things to do and quality of life features that a hardcore MMO player expects from a game like this.

Today we’re going to examine that latter aspect in detail.

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PS2 Essentials: Kuri Kuri Mix

Have you heard the tale of FromSoftware, dear reader? Legend has it that long ago, in the dim and distant past, these renowned scribes were more than just “the people who made Souls games”.

Joking aside, the company’s past output is quite a bit more diverse than you might expect if you only became aware of it in the last couple of console generations. In particular, the first two PlayStation eras represented FromSoftware at its most experimental, with its games running the gamut from Souls’ spiritual predecessor King’s Field to mech sim series Armored Core.

Perhaps the most surprising of FromSoftware’s games from this era, though, given their present reputation for “dark and moody”, is a rather peculiar PlayStation 2 game released in Japan and Europe as Kuri Kuri Mix, and The Adventures of Cookie and Cream in the States.

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Stormblood: Yes, It’s a Great Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy XIV and its long-running spiritual predecessor Final Fantasy XI are in an interesting and slightly awkward position.

They’re numbered mainline installments of the long-running Final Fantasy series, which, in theory, should attract series veterans, but they’re also massively multiplayer online role-playing games. The latter is a genre typically (and not necessarily correctly or fairly) associated with being time-consuming, challenging and dependent on playing alongside other people — and thus not especially attractive to those who prefer to play games solo, concentrate on story or take things at their own pace.

What we’re going to talk about today is how Final Fantasy XIV is as much a good Final Fantasy as it is a good MMO — and why you shouldn’t sleep on it if you’re a Final Fantasy fan who doesn’t typically go in for online games.

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Oh, Japan!