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Goodbye, Gran Pulse: Final Fantasy XIII Parting Thoughts


I’m not sure how Square Enix did it, but somehow the storied Japanese developer managed to spend five years developing Final Fantasy XIII and still leave it unfinished. The game contains gorgeous environments, state-of-the-art CG animation and a deep battle system, but what struck me during my 46-hour play-through was how hollow the experience felt. It’s clear that FFXIII enjoyed the same lavish production values as its predecessors, but the world building and characters were short changed.

This was apparent from the very first chapter. After a stirring assault along the Cocoon highway, we are introduced to some of the thinnest characters I’ve seen in a modern RPG. Sazh just wants to get his son back,* Hope wants to avenge his mother, Lightning and Snow want to help Serah and Vanille just wants to annoy the hell out of me. I kept hoping for more character development, but most of the cast remained paper-thin. Only Vanille (yeah…) and Fang ever received some kind of pathos.


Episode 139: SHOOOT HER!

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Hold onto your butts! These Mayed men are buried in a pile of games, with little hope of escape. They toss around a bloody controller in BIT.TRIP RUNNER, root and toot in Red Dead Redemption and confront the darkness in Alan Wake. Kaz also uses his godly powers to move dumpsters in Skate 3, resident “Fun Hater” Justin goes on a big game hunt in Gran Pulse and Nick wonders why Vaseline sponsored Metal Slug XX.

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The Magic Word

Episode 136: Battle of the Bald Stars

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Hope you’re ready for a fight, because the Pack has Ultra Combos coming out of the wazoo! This week, the guys take on all world warriors in Super Street Fighter IV, a worthwhile expansion even if it didn’t need to be pressed to a disc. How much would you pay for a greasy tussle? Kaz shares fond Halo memories in preparation for the Reach Beta, Justin reflects on Mighty Flip Champs and Tony also becomes a Patchwork Hero. Plus, the road to Gran Pulse, a pedometer on the loose, Bungievision and Breaking Bad “bald asses.”

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International Sensation GOO PUNCH!

An Open Letter to Japanese Video Game Developers (and Their Critics)


Dear All,

It’s no secret that Japan no longer dominates the video game market, but according to luminaries like Hideo Kojima and Keiji Inafune, the Japanese development community is mostly oblivious of Western tastes and doomed to fail in its current state. Most of the critics mean well, but they paint  a picture of a sinking ship, with only a handful smart enough to get on the last few lifeboats. It’s a grim outlook for a nation that I typically associate with optimistic ragtag groups saving the world and colorful curiosities that emphasize harmony over violence. But is the situation really that dire? It’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves on The Rumble Pack for a couple weeks after GDC 2012, and I think we’ve realized that maybe it isn’t a problem that needs fixing. Maybe we’re looking at the new status quo.

Inafune has it all wrong.

Last year, you would be forgiven for forgetting some of the modest industry successes in the midst of blockbusters like Modern Warfare 3 and Skyrim. Though the payoff can be huge, development costs and advertising budgets for these games are staggering, to the point where many talented individuals are leaving the “AAA” world for indie pet projects and iOS tidbits. But there is some territory in between, and the folks at Atlus and From Software seem to appreciate that. With Catherine and Dark Souls, respectively, they took two seemingly niche concepts and turned them into hits. Neither game is compromising; Catherine is a bizarre psycho-sexual thriller puzzle game, while Dark Souls has made its fortunes by making players cry in frustration. And yet somehow, with reasonable expectations and budgets, these developers were able to find Western audiences.

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