Saturday, September 22, 2012

[Concert Review] Scale the Summit @ Greene Street

    To start things off, Friday was quite fast paced for me. One of my buddies is a huge fan of progressive metal. He’s sortof gotten me into that genre, and so when I heard that Scale the Summit was playing in Greensboro and that he was gonna go, I decided to say “eh, what the heck, I’ll go”. I bought a ticket in advance and failed to look at my work schedule.
    Because I go to NC State for my schooling, which is in Raleigh, I had an hour and a half drive to get to Greensboro. That’s a cakewalk for me. However work had me scheduled until 5:30, so I had a problem on my hands. I begged and pleaded to get off early, and the most I could get was 15 minutes. So I booked it out of there, stopped by my room and brought out all my stuff that I was bringing home for the weekend, and pretty much floored it down towards Greensboro.

Flooring it means you still can't engage the flux capacitor in this thing
    Anyways, one wrong turn and a stop by home later (I wasn’t about to leave the truck in a parking garage with an $800 laptop, a 360, and a game that I was borrowing), I finally made it to Greene Street Club at 8:00, an hour after doors opened. And thus begins the actual review.

    I actually came in right as these guys were finishing. As a result, I can’t really give a truthful opinion on them. However, because my friend thought they were good, I’ll assume they killed it and give them a 10/10.

I’ll also link to their facebook page because I’m a nice guy:

Again I’m really sorry I missed you guys, please forgive me.

Lower Cases and Capitals
     Must. Resist. Urge. To. Alternate. Caps. And. Lowercase. These guys were the first ones I got to hear, and overall I liked them. I could see why they were playing at this concert, as their sound definitely fit into the sub-sub-genre that houses Scale the Summit. They had two songs that were notable for me. Their first song started off very atmospheric and built into the rest of the song well; however, the rest felt like it was good, but a bit “generic” at times I guess. The other song worth noting was the last one. For no apparent reason, it just stood out to me as amazing. One of the things I liked about this band was that although they used a lot of effects, they used them to complement their playing ability rather than hide a lack thereof.

You know what I mean.
    I will say there were moments where they played something and it didn’t sound quite right to me. I don’t know if it was just the way the sound setup was, if it was a progressive thing that I can’t really pick up on (I’m more of a sludge/stoner metal kind of guy), or if it really wasn’t right, but it makes me want to listen to their album and find out. I’ll be sure to pick it up.
    So, what’s the verdict? I’d give them a 7/10. They were good, but sometimes they seemed a bit “generic” (if that’s even possible in progressive metal) in the sense that it didn’t really feel like they were bringing anything particularly new to the table most of the time. It definitely sounded good.

Facebook page:

    So I had no clue who these guys were other than the fact that their bassist was Dan Briggs from Between the Buried and Me. So at first I was thinking it was going to be something similar to BtBaM, which is why I was particularly skeptical when I saw a Saxophone on stage. I was wrong. Once I saw the pedal board that the mic was connected to, I knew shit had gotten real.

Sexy sax man approves

    Their gig was unfortunately riddled with some mic troubles for Walter Fancourt on the sax. He wasn’t able to touch or move it without a terrible noise piercing through everybody’s eardrums. Aside from that, they had me by the first song. I particularly liked how groove oriented they were. Their drums (played by Matt Lynch) were very interesting as well. The most notable song for me was the third one they played, which started with a pretty sick Arabian part by Dan. Eventually it got to an amazing heavy part that I am very surprised didn’t lead to moshing. A little bit further in that song, there was also a rhythmic sax part that had me drooling. However, there were moments that I wasn’t quite sure if the saxophone was just being very technical and fast, or if he was just mashing buttons all over the place. I’d have to listen to an album to really get a good idea.
    Their positioning on stage was unique. The drummer was where drummers always are, towards the back and facing forward to the crowd. However the sax player and bassist were facing each other from opposite sides of the stage, rather than facing the crowd. I’ll admit though, that it made for a unique stage presence. It almost looked like they were “battling” each other.
    I’ll give them a 9/10. These guys are proof that there is a strong tie between jazz and metal that nobody wants to admit. However they weren’t perfect, for reasons that I can’t really figure out.


Scale the Summit
    I don’t really have much to review here, but I will say that they were as awesome as I expected and that everyone that likes this very technical stuff (or at least doesn’t mind it) should go to a Scale the Summit concert at some point. I’m not even going to leave a rating.
    One thing that was particularly cool was that they had Walter come up and play a song with them, and there were some moments in there that were fucking amazing. They also played an encore and had the most awesome “Big Rock Ending” I’ve ever heard. I had to buy a shirt.


Overall it was a great concert and well worth the $15 it eventually cost me to get in.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Why Being In A Band Is Hard (From Someone Who's Done It)

Oh look, another overly-ambitious kid sporting a few guitar licks and some lyrics sprawled on a napkin. He can't sing for shit, but he can play the intro to Iron Man! All he needs is some kind of amp and a distortion pedal (all cranked to eleven of course...) and he's ready to hit the stage and record albums and make some money.

Are we rich yet?
Well, except it doesn't work that way. I should know; I was one of those kids.

I see it all the time in my local music shop... the kid who thinks he can play guitar but really he might as well be bashing the fucking thing with a hammer. And of course he's got the BIGGEST Marshall amp the store has cranked all the way up so everybody can appreciate what a thousand dying cats sound like. I see it every time I'm there, and it's always the same thing. The perpetrators often buy the guitars they wail on, and that's the last time you see them.

I once offered a kid there if he wanted to learn how to play some Metallica, because he kept playing what sounded like the intro to Master of Puppets, but I could have mistaken it for punching the guitar repeatedly. All I know is, it hurt my ears so bad that I was almost ready to start talking in sign language and making appointments to get a Cochlear implant installed in my brain.

I'm not claiming to be a master guitarist or anything, but there should be a fucking rule to all these music shops: if you can't play, you can't play.

But it's easy to pick up something as magical as a guitar and suddenly start asking random people to make music with you, even when you haven't the slightest idea how to play. The ambition that comes from learning the first progression of a favorite song is pretty empowering. I know the feeling pretty well. The first riff I ever learned was Metallica's "Seek and Destroy", and after that, I was already picturing myself on top of the world.

Something like this.
Eventually, I learned some more songs from Metallica, and it was shortly after I found out my cousin had started playing drums, and wanted to start a band. I was all in. This is how I learned everything about it. It isn't easy by any means, but it shouldn't discourage anyone who really has a will to pursue a career in this mumbo jumbo. I only come here to speak about what exactly is hard about being a prominent role in a band.

When we started our band, me and my cousin Nate had no prior experience. Sure we listened to a lot of the same music, but we never hung out and listened to it. He was into Pantera, more groove-themed heavy metal bands, Killswitch Engage, among others. He was mainly hard rock, rap, and metal. I grew up on so many genres thanks to my brother, and it's a wonderful thing.

A lot of people think that when you start a band, you need to have one sound, one universal influence. What they don't understand is that having appreciation or, hell, even liking other genres can vastly improve how fast you learn music and how far you can stretch your creativity. Trust me, when you've written fifteen or so songs and you start to get writer's block, you will start thinking of other approaches.

Recently, my cousin suggested we did a rap/rock type of song, and you know what? It was a fucking fantastic idea. You can only write so much about anger and pain before it becomes monotonous. I was seriously thinking of quitting because I couldn't write a decent riff and lyrics for months. Nate would suggest something, and it wouldn't have the same impact on me. I didn't like the rhythm of it, or it was too simple, or it didn't sound like I was knocking over the Great Wall of China with one kick. It wasn't epic. Nate would just shrug, and forget it, although I knew he wasn't happy. It's at that point you get desperate and start suggesting to cover songs.

We are now a Ludacris cover band. Grab your gold chains biotch.

We started as a four piece band, and eventually dwindled down to just us two. It takes commitment on a serious level to become even an ounce successful. That doesn't mean just getting together on Fridays to record a song in three hours time, and mix it in less than that. It's not that simple. Recording is a hefty process, and requires a lot of patience and trial and error. Also, knowledge, something I severely lacked when I was asked if I could record "the band".

It literally went like this: We would travel about 15 miles out to Nate's house, hauling my amp, my guitar, and my laptop in my car. Rain or shine, or snow... whatever. We would go in a vacant room, where the drum set was, and I would turn the laptop on and get my DAW setup to record him. No drum mics, no triggers, nothing. Just me holding my laptop up in front of the set. I would hit record and give him the thumbs up to go, and he would start playing the drums to what would become a song. No metronomes, no sound checks, just record and hope he kept time and didn't mess up. It was a mess. Cymbals were so loud, that it cut out every other part on his set. There was no bass drum.... it simply didn't exist through this guerrilla style of recording. The reverb from the room made it sound muddy, and even worse, poor quality from the laptop mic. Combine this with the fact that I had no idea how to clean up sound, or limit decibels or anything, and you have what literally sounds like shit.

My guitar was recorded through a jack adapter into my mic input on the laptop. I ran my distortion pedal through it. It was loud and dirty, and horrible quality. I would mute my guitar on the DAW, and play to the drum beat hoping latency didn't make me play out of time. It was horrible, but it was something. Having recorded a song was exciting, and it turns out further down the road it would get much easier.

That's the thing about knowledge. After doing this setup for months, I finally sat my ass down and researched on the internet about the basics of recording heavy metal music. I learned so much shit from it, and have since developed a routine to recording and mixing. Yes, I mix and record our songs. Every single one of them. It's astounding to listen to songs we recorded almost three years ago and compare them to recently recorded ones. The quality improves almost two-fold. We learned to set up a routine of recording; what effects to enable, where to have the instruments to have the flattest sound and no natural reverb, how to crossfade takes and not bury everything in reverb...

Also, better equipment, and that meant better quality. I still don't have drum mics, but I do have mics and stands to put on certain parts of Nate's set, so it can all be separately monitored and maintained.

A lot of it also depends on who's in the band. We are a two piece band, which means we take on more than one role. I play guitar, sing vocals on some songs, write the lyrics and compositions and mix and handle recording. Nate plays the drums, often writes the lyrics and compositions as well, and sings on some songs. It's very hard to do all of this stuff and sound good. Do I think we sound good now? Not really. There's a lot of room for improvement. I've been told I can sing, but that's a mixed opinion. Same thing for Nate. I think we both sound like old women who binge on coffee and cigarettes all day. Our instruments could be tuned better, and one day I'll learn how to use a compressor, but regardless I am proud of all our songs, and I even like some of the vocals. Especially when I try something new and it sounds good to my ears. It's even better when Nate digs it too.

After, when it's time to play a gig, even if it's in someone's back yard, it becomes a whole other deal. Location matters if you plan to play in clubs and little underground joints. That's how you get fans. Facebook and Myspace can only do so much. Also, you have to have stage presence. You have to play tight. You need to have a good singer. If you don't have one, someone needs to learn how to sing and play at the same time. I recently had to do this, and it's not a walk in the park. I'm one of those people who can't pat their head and rub their stomach at the same time. Imagine me trying to play fast heavy metal and sing at the same time.

That's when I realized that performing live would be impossible without actual members. And no one wants to be in a band that consists of two people writing everything.

Here's a funny story. We once auditioned a kid named Ricky who lived in Carthage, a city about 50 or so miles away from us. He claimed to be the best singer ever. We hung out with him and he seemed cool, loved to party, and really took nothing too seriously. Well, when it came time to test him on his singing, and we got all "serious mode" on his ass, he freaked the fuck out and blamed the lyrics as to why he couldn't sing. So this asshole drove an hour out of his way to come party and not sing. He laughed at everything we had, so much in fact that Nate almost addressed this with a swift fist to the face. Ricky ended up leaving and we never heard from him again. He actually paid us in Applebee's gift cards so that Nate wouldn't beat him up.

This has become common. We had a guitarist named John who shot my skills down, and absolutely would not learn my riffs. We had agreed that he would learn the rhythm parts, and I would play lead. Every practice we had, which was precious by the way, he would show up and start playing various Metallica songs. When it came time to play our original songs, he would smirk and stop playing. He just didn't want to learn my riffs.

Fuck you and your riffs.
It boiled to a point where he wanted to change the band name, and make us play his songs. He didn't want to merge songs and keep some, no..... he wanted to get rid of all of our shit and make US learn everything he had written. I hated his lyrics. They were simple, black and white. His riffs were too complicated for the lyrics to fit in. He wanted to play every solo. I wasn't even allowed to contribute to his songs without an argument starting. He thought he was a hot shit guitarist who wanted the warm spotlight on him at all times, except you have to take out "guitarist" and all you had left was hot shit in a warm light. To be fair, his stuff wasn't bad, but in more professional terms (and less hostile) it was two styles coming together that really didn't fit. That's important.

So, basically, it all boils down to this:

- You need to develop a sound. Don't stick to one genre of music. It will limit you.
- You need to have people who have the same drive and creativity as you.
- You need to learn more than one trade, especially if you want to record music.
- Trust your gut and your band mates.
- Do some damn research punk!

Seriously. I don't claim to have the best music ever, or the best band or whatever... but I do think we are very good, and I'm willing to prove it to you.

Check out my band, Hostility Rising and listen to our songs and leave feedback!

Monday, September 10, 2012

5 Reasons I Still Play "Old" Games, or Why I Can't Get This Right

I can remember countless times where one of my friends, or my brother, or somebody would ask me whilst playing a game, "Hey, you know the new one is out right? Why are you still playing this?" Some of them would chime in that the graphics are way better, like it's all that matters. I used to play my PS1 games, instead of playing 360 with my brother, who always played Call of Duty: World At War when it came out, and claimed it to be the best game ever made.

If I want to blast Nazis away, I'll stick to Medal of Honor...
I've compiled a list here of why I still play my old games, even today. I still have my ancient PS1 hooked up, and you'll have to pry it from my cold dead fingers!

5. Nostalgia trip - I once watched my mom spend almost 5 dollars on a Pac-Man machine at a hotel we stayed at on a vacation. She saw it in the hall, and it was like watching a child. "Oh I love Pac-Man! Do I have a dollar on me?" she remarked, her eyes wide open with excitement. She proceeded to spend 5 bucks playing Pac-Man, until she had had enough. I now know this feeling she had.

Going through my 360 games the other day, I just could not muster up enough motivation to play any of the 25+ games I have. It's fucking sad really. I just kept going back and forth through my collection. "No, I don't want to play this, or this, or this..."

Goddamn it! Where's all the SNES games???!!
And that's exactly what happened! I wanted to play SNES, like it just came out or something. While I don't have a SNES, I do have emulators, and here's where my nostalgia trip comes in. I'm playing Super Metroid, or Axelay, or some other awesome game that isn't on the 360, and I'm playing it on my LAPTOP, but still it feels like it did when I was little, sitting, staring up at the television. For example, I played Smash TV the other day on SNES, and it made me remember when I had brought my SNES to my grandmothers house, so that when I had to go visit, me and my cousins could play SNES instead. Suddenly I remembered stupid things that shouldn't even be possible, like that where my grandparents' HDTV is now, their old wood stove used to be, and that the room we played SNES in, was actually my uncle Jeremy's room before he moved out.

Just remembering something like that, leads me to other memories from the same time period. Despite being poor growing up, my childhood was filled with moments where I was so engrossed in games, and playing with other people in the same room, NOT ON A FUCKING HEADSET.

You would be SO dead if you were here bitch!

4. Because the graphics are just as good - Yes, you read that right. I'm willing to compare Super Metroid to your stupid Crysis game. Why?

Because to me, Super Metroid encompasses everything that is perfect, in every aspect. Sure Crysis looks realistic and all that, but that's the thing, it's not. To me, it takes more dedication and talent to animate a sprite by hand AND make it look as good as Samus does, especially in this game. Every animation she has is fluid and really makes you appreciate that someone DID all that. I can't believe that in this day and age with computers and 3D modeling being as advanced as they are, that we get shit like this still. That's from Mass Effect, a multi-million dollar selling franchise, while Super Metroid barely broke a million copies sold. As an avid game designer in my day, I know how it feels to make a sprite look interesting, and then draw every individual frame to make it walk. It isn't an easy task.

Also, Super Metroid just oozes atmosphere, and I haven't really gotten that from any game from this era, except for Ninja Gaiden II. Maybe I just love pixels, I don't know. Or, maybe it's because I'm sick of seeing the same damn thing in every fucking game.

Gold Platinum Extended Deluxe Edition: With free online pass!
I'm especially fond of indie games because, it's a lot of small studios and sometimes even a single person creating amazing games. I'm super excited for Retro City Rampage because it looks fun as hell, and is developed by a single person.

And guess what the best fucking part is? It's apparently going to boast over 50+ missions, 25+ weapons, 40+ vehicles, and it's FUCKING 2D. It also costs $15 dollars. Screw your generic games.

Oh holy shit now I'm DEFINITELY buying it!
3. DLC, or lack of it - One of the worst things that happened was when I bought Modern Warfare 3, and discovered that if I didn't pay an extra $50 to have the "Elite" service, that I wouldn't be able to get the new maps once they came out. So, you're telling me, I spent $65 on this game, which looks EXACTLY like it's predecessors, boasts almost no new features, AND requires me to spend an extra $50 just so I can have access to new maps?

GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE. This shit is exactly why I will gladly play any older game. I know plenty of games that boasted more content than MW3, and were released on much older consoles. Also, the DLC system is very flawed in a simple way: it can't be previewed. All those suckers who spent all those points on horse armor in The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion know what I'm talking about.

Whatever happened to beating a game, and unlocking new game modes, and new features? Remember Goldeneye on Nintendo 64? For beating levels in certain time limits on the hardest difficulty, you were rewarded with cheat codes, new characters, and new modes in multiplayer. Donkey Kong 64 was a huge game and even by today's standards, it's a huge game full of things to collect and do. And, everything is ALREADY WITH THE GAME. You don't need to buy additional features that may or may not amount to nothing, such as the horse armor I mentioned earlier. At least in those days, if you took the time to beat a game 100% and were rewarded with something shitty, you didn't have to buy the reward with real cash! You wasted time, and that was about it.

2. They were more original, at least to me - Think about it. How many games did you play back then that actually seemed like somebody put all their effort into making it stand out? You don't see a lot of that now because it almost guarantees financial disaster.

Oh fuck... we need to make another Call of Duty game.
Look at Psychonauts, or Brutal Legend. Both games by Tim Schaffer's Double Fine studio, both considered good games that no one bought. What's sad is Brutal Legend even had Guitar Hero-esque minigames in it, and that still couldn't propel it to the numbers Call of Duty pulled in. Meanwhile, Activision is milking the Guitar Hero franchise, selling millions of each game, even though it's the SAME GAME every time.

Back in the 90s, if a game came off as a knock-off, you knew it first hand, because it didn't have the same quality as the original. That's why you have people who will say they prefer certain shoot em ups, even though there were HUNDREDS of shoot em ups. Same thing with beat em up games, and platformers, and so on. It's mainly because some companies made it better, but also, they had more originality. The Gradius series had it's progressive leveling up system, and even offered players to do it any way they wanted. R-Type let you select which weapon you wanted. Games like Zelda let you do things on the side, like powering up your sword and getting additional items, while still offering a lengthy main quest. Mario games introduced you to new characters and worlds with branching paths.

And even then, the stories were just as epic as they can be today, and they weren't even acted out most of the time. A Link to the Past is all text, no voice actors or super CG cutscenes, and yet it stands out for being one of the best games ever made in the series because of its story and how it plays out. The final showdown with Ganon is one of the best moments in gaming history, and that's coming not only from me, but tons of gamers. That's why I would rather play Kingdom Hearts instead of Kingdom Under Fire, because one merged two seemingly impossible ideas together to form a great game, and the other is just a dungeon crawler clone with generic enemies and worlds.

1. They are still fun - At least I think so anyway. I play through so many SNES, GBA, Arcade, NES and PS1 games that I literally don't dedicate any time to my Xbox 360.

Here's a fun example: I bought 3 months of Xbox Live, and used exactly none of it. I have over 25 games for the damn thing. I have the Kinect, with 3 or 4 games that collect dust. We're talking about a high tech device that's supposed to be leading the industry and it just sits in my living room, staring at nothing, with its dead empty eyes staring at me. I can hear the damn thing in my dreams now, coming to life like some kind of twisted Disney movie character, with its neck all elongated staring down at me shouting, "WHY COREY WHY??!!! WHY WON'T YOU PLAY MY GAMES?!! WHHHHYYYYYYYY!!!!!"

No one ever wants to play with me...
And it's simple. It's boring, and it doesn't work as good as it should. Flame me all you want. Yeah, the Kinect does work, to some degree. But I can only stand maybe two dance games before I just want to sell the fucking thing. Also, I don't have a parking lot for a living room, so the ideal settings for this thing to work as best as it can are impossible. I've even tried the Nyko Zoom thingy, the one that allows normal sized rooms to work, and that still didn't make it work well enough to have fun. It always results in me flailing about like some kind of retarded robot, while my girlfriend watches in awe.

Those old games didn't need some gadgetry to make them work, or make them better. Sure, back in the NES days the console had tons of stupid accessories and toys. The only accessory I recall that was required for a specific game though, a track and field game none the less, was the power pad, and it came with the thing. Other than that, you could use the power pad to play Castlevania for all you wanted.

Fuck yeah I killed Dracula!
But back to what I was originally saying... I can play Splatterhouse on the Turbo Grafx-16 every day. I still make it a goal to play through Super Metroid and Metroid Zero Mission every year. I still do 1 life runs on Gradius III on SNES to see how far I can get. I'll bust out the N64 just to play Star Fox when everyone else is playing 360 in the other room. I JUST DON'T GIVE A FUCK.

Pfft. I've had enough. I'm gonna go play some Streets of Rage.

I apologize for the typos and having a list of 5,4,3,1. :(

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Looking Back: A Kingdom Hearts Tribute

From my posts on here, it should be obviously given that I am not RPG savvy and never really have been. Besides a select few games, I've never really been "into" any RPG game or anything not requiring mashing a button or blasting something in the face violently. I've tried to play through Final Fantasy VII, which gamers cite as one of the best games ever made. While I can see that it has its charm, a memorable cast of characters and locations, I just can't get over the fact that my stats are everything, and that I must plan my next battles knowing what equipment and spells to use, and who to have in my party... It's a mental hangup of mine and thus ruins any chance for me to enjoy these games.

I said there were a few select games that I've played and thoroughly enjoyed, one of them being the Zelda games of course, and Breath of Fire II. You can argue that Zelda isn't a "deep" RPG, but it is none the less. Breath of Fire II wasn't nearly as complicated as playing Final Fantasy. I've played most of the FF games, III on the SNES being the most tolerable because the story is absolutely amazing to me and overall it's much easier to battle without too much strategy. I've also played FF3 on the NES, and almost beat it. That's quite the accomplishment for me, seeing as how it's regarded as one of the hardest FF games ever made.

But I'm not here to talk about that. Sure my hate for RPG games still lives on, but one strikes me particular today as it did when it first came out...

The first game, not the 5 other tie-ins...

Not technically a turn based RPG, but more on the action RPG side, Kingdom Hearts represents a lot of things for me. The biggest one being that Square characters are in the same game as Disney characters. The second is the soundtrack. I can listen to the main menu music forever. It's touching in a tender way. The first time I ever played this, the main menu music instilled in me that something powerful would be gained from playing this game, and for the most part, it's true.

From the menacing Heartless, the game's main enemies, to the epic and often gigantic boss battles, this game gets nearly everything right. You play as Sora, a boy who lives on an island with his friends, Riku and Kairi. Riku is the mentor figure, being Sora's rival. Kairi is the love interest of both, and plays an important role in the paths the two friends choose later on in the game. Anyway, darkness engulfs the happy island, and Sora is surprised with the ability to slay the Heartless creatures with a keyblade, which leads him to ally with Goofy and Donald Duck. Later on in the game, we find out why Sora is able to wield it, and why it has chosen him, which leads to the combat.

Sora, Donald and Goofy fighting Yuffie and Squall in one of the many Olympus Coliseum battles.
The combat is real-time in this game, and you have full movement over Sora as he hacks and slashes away at enemies. My favorite feature of this game is that you do have stats to keep track of, but it's simplified. You have your standard magic: Fire, Ice, Thunder, which can all be upgraded through side quests in Disney worlds like 100 Acre Wood, and finding all 101 dalmations scattered throughout the worlds. You have your defensive magic, Aero, which acts as a shield. You have your healing in the form of potions, hi-potions, elixers and the Cure spell. Then there is the other magics that can be used offensively and to effect events in the game; Gravity and Stop. Stop freezes enemies to allow you to pound them, or later on in the game, to stop the clock in Neverland to save your party members from one hit kills. Gravity lowers platforms and chests, and breaks shields and does damage. It's all simple to use. What bothered me about other RPG games was the variety of attacks. You could take dark damage, light damage, poison damage, have certain illnesses such as paralysis and blindness, and I hated that. You are forced to strategize ways around these, while simultaneously keeping all 4 party members alive, turn by turn, WHILE ALSO finding a way to slay your enemies. And even then, sometimes you need to grind on lower level enemies to level up high enough to combat enemies further along. Combine this with the fact that you need to boast an inventory larger than the game itself to defend against these many attacks, and you have something that I hate. You spend more time in menus than in the actual game, and to me, that isn't fun.

While KH does have this system, it's nowhere near as glorified as that. You have 4 attributes that are automatically maintained by the game depending on the choices you make at the start: Strength, Defense, HP, and MP. Easy. Sora doesn't have and never will have a 4 digit HP bar. It's as basic as it gets. The most HP I've ever had in this game was around level 70, with about 85 HP. That's basically like having a character in FF7 or something with the same level, but only you have 8500 HP. So it's the same concept, just simplified. Your MP is even more simplified, being between 8-9 bars around level 70, and each spell costing about 1 to 2 MP.

Another cool thing about this game is the abilities. As you level up, your characters learn abilities they can equip that do certain things. You can equip as many as you want, as long as you have Ability Points. Each ability can cost 2 or 3 AP to equip, but they make the combat dynamic in many ways.  For example, early on, Sora has the ability to do a simple 3 hit combo. Afterwards, he eventually learns Combo Plus, and Air Combo Plus, letting him add more hits and letting him take to the air in the form of juggle combos that really punish enemies. Sora also learns defensive moves, like Dodge Roll, which lets him roll out of the way of nasty attacks and magics, and Guard, which allows physical attacks to be deflected and parried. It allows for skill to reside, and thus awards the player with progress only if they master these techniques instead of relying on button mashing. One battle involves almost no physical attacks, instead relying on Guard to reflect projectiles back to cause the damage. There are also shared abilities, such as High Jump, which affects all party characters and cost nothing to equip. Those are main abilities that are required to progress through the game.

Another thing I like is during battles, Donald and Goofy help you not only with physical attacks, but provide healing and MP restoration, which is achieved by equipping potions and other items to them, and also through certain abilities such as MP Gift, which when equipped on either Donald or Goofy or both, they give 3 MP to anyone in the party that needs it. This is awesome to me, because it's automated strategy. I don't have to worry about having to spam magic attacks and using ethers to refill my MP gauge because Donald blasts enemies away with powerful magic, and heals me when I need it, and Goofy assists in my combos, offering potions and ethers should I tell him to. These options are all customizable as well. You can set your party members to do nothing when you're about to die, or tell them to frantically protect you and use items at your leisure. Also, hearing their taunts and battle cries, it makes the fights more intense.

Then there are the worlds, mostly modeled after Disney movies, such as Wonderland from Alice in Wonderland, Halloween Town from the Nightmare Before Christmas, and even Monstro from Pinochio. You'll gain Summons such as Tinkerbell, Bambi, and Dumbo to aid you in battles from finding them in these worlds, and you'll gain party members as well, such as Beast, Tarzan, Peter Pan, and Ariel. They really help out a lot, but can only be used in their corresponding worlds, which really limits their use. Every world has a main boss. These battles all require a bit of strategy, and later on, quick fingers as you'll be constantly figuring out patterns and weaknesses, whether it be physical damage or magical. The bosses are also impressive, and the best parts of the game. From Oogie Boogie, to Ursula, you'll find an abundance of challenging and extremely fun boss battles.

Facing off against Cerberus, one of the larger bosses this game offers.
The game really needs to be played to be appreciated. I consider my childhood to be hit and miss, but gaming has always had a place in it. I think the reason this game resonates so deeply with me is the simple premise: the power of the heart. It's no doubt this game tells a powerful story. It hits home to the child within all of us, but leaves us pondering as adults. I'm sure you might be laughing because I find a game with Disney characters to be engrossing, but it is. The story is absolutely amazing, and is complimented by an epic score and passable voice acting as well. The FMVs are also gorgeous.

I played this game when I was about 14 years old, and I just beat it again yesterday. It's still just as great as before. It captivates me the same way it did when I was younger. Also, it's just good, simple fun. I don't need to waste time grinding in battles or trial and erroring my way through. It's amazing how an idea like this came together this good. The evil Disney characters such as Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, Hades from Hercules, and even Jafar from Aladdin are shown in a much more menacing way. They make you want to pummel them. It's just so damn good. And from Squaresoft none the less. It's high quality gaming at its finest. I honestly can't describe how an RPG has developed into one of my favorite franchises of all time. Cheers to Squaresoft, for crafting a game that I can understand and play, without being too technical, and for telling a truly touching story from start to finish.

And that's coming from a guy who blasts demons all day in Doom.

I realize this post contains almost no humor. Sue me. Have a nice day. :)

Favorite Franchises

Alright, since the other writers are giant slackers, it's time for another post from me, the Glorious ... writer?

Anyways, this is going to be kinda similar to the Final Fantasy retrospective in the fact that I'm going to be doing an almost bullet list of my favorite franchises in gaming.

In no particular order...

Final Fantasy - Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5.  So, that should've been obvious.  I will make a quick addition to the list that I didn't cover.  I am a huge fan of Final Fantasy Tactics.  The Job System in this tactical RPG took what was introduced in Final Fantasy V, and polished it to a very rich character creation system.  Not only do you have to think about what your characters strengths are, but you need to keep their Zodiac sign into consideration.  The damage you deal, and receive is modified by your Zodiac and gender, and the opponent's Zodiac and gender.  Overall, a really good Tactical RPG that can soak up 100+ hours.  My advice: Go for the PSP version.  It fixes the wonky translation from the PS1 version, adds new classes, multiplayer, and even some more secret characters.

Shadowrun - No no no, I'm not talking that Xbox/GFWL FPS from a few years ago, god no.  I'm talking full-blown Tabletop game that got a video game adaptation for the SNES and Genesis.  Shadowrun is a Tabletop RPG that takes place in futuristic Seattle, where corporations run everything.  The world is shattered, the US is divided into sections, and Shadowrunners lurk in the dark.  Technology meshes with the occult to make an enjoyable gaming experience.  Another reason why I bring this up is due to the resurgence of the franchise in the Video Game medium.  Harebrained Schemes is working on a new Shadowrun game for PCs and Tablets.  The game was funded entirely by Kickstarter, and will be a Isometric view Turn-Based Action/Strategy game.  Personally, I'm excited for this game.  It comes with a campaign making tool, and map editor, so you can create your own scenarios to run your friends, or strangers through.

Madden & NHL 201X - I apologize for nothing.

Saints Row - What can I say?  When i need a sandbox style game, this is where I go.  Whether it's Stillwater or Steelport, I always have a blast running around these games.  It's a game that's very aware of what people are going to do in an open city style game, and embraces that behavior.  If you use random Civilians as lawn darts, the game gives you 'Respect" for it.  If you surf on cars, more respect. The story in those games are often overlooked due to the crazy-ass nature of the game, but the writing and the missions are very well done.  For example, in Saints Row 2, you get revenge on a dude by kidnapping his girlfriend, locking her in the trunk of a car, and driving her out to the Arena where her boyfriend is driving his monster trucks over jumps and other vehicles.  You can guess what ends up happening.  It's so memorable to me because of the build up to this point.  Mareo and the Brotherhood slighted your character and the Saints, and tried to kill you.  What happens is an escalating game of one-upsmanship between the two gang leaders, culminating in a fight on a rooftop.

Sonic the Hedgehog - Sonic 2 for life.  Memorable soundtrack, rock solid gameplay and level design.  One of my favorite games.

Alpha Pro- Oh wait, that's just one game... hmmm...

Mario Kart - Honestly, of all the racing games out there, I have more fun with this one than any other series that I've played.  Give me either Super Mario Kart or Mario Kart DS, and I'm happy.

I reserve the right to edit this when I remember more series I've played.  For now, these are some of my favorites ever.

So that ends the brief glimpse into my gam-

Paper Mario - A-HA.  I knew I'd forget one.  I need to replay the N64 and GCN games.  They seem like a spiritual sucessor to the SNES's Super Mario RPG, which is a good thing.  Timed hit combat system, charm, and some pretty funny moments makes this game a must play on those two systems.  You can customize your actions in combat by equipping badges, which is a pretty slick system.  When you level up, you can choose to boost your HP, FP (used for using abilities), or BP (badge points, more BP = More badges you can equip).  In the early-to-mid points of the game, finding the right balance for how you play is tricky, but once you find a system that works, the game feels great.  I highly recommend either of these games to anyone who owns an N64 or Gamecube.  Skip on the Wii version though... that's a platformer, which is probably good in it's own rights, but it's not the RPG in the same vein as the first two.

THERE WE GO.  I'll probably forget more, but this is good enough.  Any questions or suggestions on what I should play, leave a comment.  Or hell, list your favorite series below as well.  Should be fun.