Tuesday, July 22, 2014

[Opinion] The Problem With Video Game Reviews

I normally don't read reviews nor write reviews on video games. I'll play the game, like or dislike it, and move on. As a gamer, I know it's an odd thing to do. I should be singing praises on how Chrono Trigger is one on the best JRPGs ever made, or how much of an atrocity 2013's Tomb Raider was because of its “rape scene” and how it depicts Lara Croft as a weak little girl.

But see, here's the thing. I'm not a video game journalist with a degree in journalism. So there's really no creditability on what I say, right? And just because I think the majority of Kotaku is run by bat shit crazy click-baiting bloggers that think they're creditable journalists, that makes me a horrible person and I should stop playing video games?

There are too many reviews in the media in which the reviewer expresses a lot of bias, whether if it's because of the console the game is on, the series the game is from, or the company/studio that's making the game. It's not a good indicator whether or not someone should play a game because not only people's tastes are different, but also bias is usually seen as the reviewer being very closed minded and that they only like one particular thing. It can also been seen as the reviewer feeling that their opinion is the only one that matters and everyone else's opinion is wrong.

There are also many reviews on games that have a lot of acclaim – or “hype”– to them that end up being click-bait rather then actual constructive reviews. And even those reviews tend to go on a tangent, rather then breaking down the issues and addressing them directly.

Now, I say click-bait because those types of reviews are usually done as a bandwagon tactic: “Hey, these people seem to really hate The Last of Us, so I'm going to hate it, too!” In most cases, these reviewers haven't played the game nor have seen/read any of the “behind the scenes” interviews. As a result, they end up not understanding what the developers were striving for while the game was in production. They just want the attention and view numbers. Their reviews usually end up as either reiterations of what a reviewer says, or they read or watch videos about the game and go on from there.

On the flip side, click-bait articles are also used to over-hype an otherwise bad game, with the backing of advertisers plastering their ads all over the website and/or a bribe from the game company to the reviewer and/or review site so the game has a perfect high score. (IGN was known for this for quite some time, namely for Mass Effect 3, to my understanding.)

Then there's the hypocrite reviewer that will shut down the game for being terrible at first, but then turn around and say that it's a great game because they want to be part of the hype, and vise versa. You either like the game or you don't. It doesn't go both ways. Sure, you can like a game despite its flaws, but don't go around and say you hate it because everybody else does.

Remember when I mentioned creditable journalists with a degree in journalism? This can be a slippery slope, because they also fall into having bias or not having basic knowledge in video games. I've also seen too many reviews in magazines and newspapers of a journalist reviewing a game that's outside of the genre of games they usually play. It's common sense not to have a reviewer that only plays FPS games like Halo and Call of Duty review a sports game like the next NFL game from 2K Sports, but it's usually not the case.

But despite all that I've said here, not all reviewers and review sites are as bad as this. There are people and places that actually do great reviews without the bias and fanboyism, without monetary bribes from game companies and ad revenue, and without the hype and anti-hype. All you need to do is just go out and look beyond what's out there. Not all reviewers and review sites are created equal, because they cater to different tastes. Some sites review all genres of games, while the other might only cover niche games. Find the reviewer and review site that's right for you. And if it turns out that it's not working out for you, just back away. There's a fine line between constructive and destructive criticism. Don't be that guy that disrupts everyone's enjoyment by making empty complaints for the sake of complaining in the comments.

But in all honesty, the best reviewer is always going to be yourself. Only you know what you like and don't life, not what the reviewer or review site says. And the best way to know about a game is doing research on it. “What's the game's storyline and characters?”, “What genre does it fall under?”, “What are the game mechanics like?”, the list goes on. And if you're still not sure whether or not you'll like the game, rent it. Borrow a friend's copy. Or if said friend only has the digital copy or the game or neither of those options are available to you, ask them if you can play the game at their house. Or heck, see if the game has a demo available for you to try out. By actually playing the game itself is how you're going to know whether or not if it's for you.

Or you can always by a used copy at GameStop, play it and return it within seven days if you don't like it.

I was joking on that last sentiment.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Thoughts & Review: Berserk - The Golden Age Arc I & II: The Egg of the King & The Battle For Doldrey

I attended the Berserk Double Feature Event at New People in San Francisco last night with a friend of mine. Being able to see the first two movies on the big screen was quite a treat.

I already saw the first movie, The Egg of the King, on Blu-ray when it first came out, so being able to see The Battle For Doldrey for the first time -- and on the big screen -- months before its DVD/BD release* was quite exciting. You won't be able to fully enjoy the scope of the battlefield until you see it in a theater equipped with surround sound.

An important thing to note about the Berserk series and its story is that the violence and sex contained within its plot are not there for "shock value" or for entertainment sake. The Medieval Era (in particular, The Dark Ages) was one of many brutal periods during human history, and its depiction in Berserk is a reflection of that. It's not politically correct in any stretch of the imagination; it's not meant to be.

Both movies are surprisingly very well paced, focusing only on the key points of the story and character development. This makes the films very easy to digest for new fans of the series and for those who have never heard of it, while it helps longtime fans get back into pace with the story without having to deal with a lot of "plot fluff" (remember the Griffith bathing scene near the beginning of the series?).

The integration of CGI within the initial 2D animation does take some getting used to, but otherwise implemented well. Most of it is done during the battle sequences and more often during the battlefield scenes. There were times that I was so caught up with the action that I barely notice whether or not the scene was done in CG.

Both movies were presented in its English dubbed format, since Neon Alley was the main organizer of the event, along with promoting its streaming service. The English voice cast did a rather good job depicting the characters, in comparison with the Japanese voice cast. For the main characters, Marc Diraison voiced Guts, Kevin T. Collins voiced Griffith and Carolyn Keranen voiced Casca.

Susumu Hirasawa returns with his song, "Aria", as the movies' title track. You may remember him from the song, "~FORCES~", from the Anime. Hirasawa-san composed the soundtracks for both the Berserk Anime and video games. He also composed the soundtrack for Satoshi Kon's Paranoia Agent and Paprika. The music score works well in tandem with the overall atmosphere of the series, from epic orchestrations during the battlefield scenes to its soft moody undertone tracks.

Despite the truncated feel of the movies, Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I & II are enjoyable in their own right, both as a quick and easy introduction to Berserk, and as a classic Anime and Manga series done with a fresh coat of paint for newer generations of fans. The animation is beautifully done and the music score is excellent. The violence and sex scenes might be too much for some fans, but they don't deter from the overall story too much.

I very much enjoyed watching both movies and I can't wait to see The Golden Age Arc III: Decent when its released here in the States!

*Berserk: The Golden Age Arc II - The Battle For Doldrey will be released on DVD and Blu-ray in North America on August 6, 2013.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Cherry Blossom Festival, Delays & Other Things

Hey, everyone.

Have you ever heard of the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival? This cultural event is held every year in April at Japantown (Nihonmachi, 日本町) in the city of San Francisco. The event is celebrated during two back-to-back weekends and has various activities that showcase the community's Japanese cultural heritage.

On the last day of the festival, a Grand Parade is held that feature parade floats, dancers and musicians, taiko (太鼓) drums, people in Anime costumes (cosplay), and groups of men and women carrying the mikoshi (神輿, portable shrines). The parade begins at City Hall on Polk and McAllister, and winds its way along a fifteen block route to Japantown.

This event holds great significance with me, ever since I first began working at the late Mikado store back in 2007. Working at the store during this event gave me a better understanding of Japanese culture and its importance within the community. Ever since then, I have done volunteer work alongside Japan Video & Media as their official photographer of the Anime Costume Competition & Parade. This will be my third year working with them as I will be their official photographer of the Anime Costume Parade and Dream Show this year.

Because of this, my first full-fledged Blog entry will be delayed until next week. I'm juggling between posting my personal experiences being a video game enthusiast in what's still considered a male dominated hobby and my views on the progression of Anime throughout the years. I was also debating doing "reviews" (and I call them reviews very loosely) on said Anime shows/movies and video games. 

Maybe I'm stressing too much over doing meaningful Blog posts.

...so you know what I hate most about bars? When they use dispensed ice slush for their blended iced drinks rather then blending the ingredients together in an actual blender. If I wanted an alcoholic ice slush drink, I'd buy myself a Slurpee and mix some gin in it.

Until next time!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Oh hey, what's this doing here?

After much procrastination, I've finally caved in and started a Blog.

Why, you ask? Well, I used to Blog on LiveJournal (people still use that?) many years ago, but after some personal issues, I dropped it.

I wanted to get back into writing again, at least writing on a semi-regular basis. Also, if I find that I'm talking way too much for Twitter (you can only say so much with 140 characters or less), I can always use this.

So, what kind of Blog entries will you be expecting? Well...
  • I like Japanese Anime. A lot.
  • I also like video games. A lot.
  • I collect figures (a.k.a. "plastic crap").
  • I have a wide musical palette.
  • I rant too much for my own good.
  • I'm also too random for my own good.
As for the "Oh, hey!" expression, it's just a random quirk of mine.

Well, let's see where this Blog takes me.