Friday, September 7, 2012

Top Ten Final Fantasy Soundtracks

Time to continue the celebration of 25 years of Final Fantasy. You read my opinion on the Best of Final Fantasy Music (best dungeon themes, battle themes, boss themes, character themes, world map themes, airship themes, etc.) and my thoughts on Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. Now, it's time to read my opinion on what I consider to be the most magnificent Final Fantasy soundtracks of the series's 25 year history. From mainline games to spinoffs, this list has the best covered with selected tracks for you to sample and enjoy. So sit back, relax, and get ready to feel waves of unbridled nostalgia.

10) Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers (Wii)


We start off with one of the more recent additions to the Final Fantasy universe, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers for the Nintendo Wii. This game actually replaced Final Fantasy X in the eleventh hour on this list. I await your letters, but hopefully after hearing the samples provided you'll see why I went this direction. Using a wide range of musical styles, the soundtrack is quite compelling, sometimes soothing, sometimes energizing, and always fun to listen to. There's the opening track in Kuule Taa Unelmain, Ephemeron, also performed by Donna Burke, then you have Selkie Guild, a refreshing song to stroll around the countryside in Lett Highlands, a theme used for battle, something out of The Dukes of Hazzard in Catch and Throw, the particularly moving Althea's Waltz, and the beach-bumming fun of Girls, We Have to Win. The soundtrack is a veritable smorgasbord of musical genres, fitting for number ten on this list.

9) Final Fantasy XIII (PS3, 360)


The final game may be severely disappointing but the soundtrack is far from that verdict. It is remarkable. Composed by Masashi Hamauzu, Final Fantasy XIII's soundtrack is a cornucopia of sensational songs. There's one of the best traditional battle themes in the franchise's illustrious history in Blinded By Light, a brilliant boss theme in Saber's Edge, my favorite Chocobo theme of all in Pulse de Chocobo, nice area themes like The Sunleth Waterscape, gentle character themes like Serah's and Lightning's. Whatever kind of mood you are in there is certainly a track from Final Fantasy XIII that will fit it.

8) Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (DS)


Composed primarily by Hitoshi Sakimoto, Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift is a playful yet at the same time serious soundtrack for the Nintendo DS tactical RPG game. It features themes from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance as well as some from Final Fantasy XII. At one point the music is touching as can be, while others  get you invigorated and ready for battle, Final Fantasy Tactics A2's music is lovely. Tracks like Green Wind, Crossing Over the Hill (aka Ozmone Plains in Final Fantasy XII), Gathering Allies, Summer Vacation, and more all add up to a particularly enjoyed Final Fantasy soundtrack of mine.

7) Final Fantasy VIII (PS1)


Considered by a good portion of Final Fantasy fans as a black sheep installment of the franchise, Final Fantasy VIII contains a substantial amount of incredible music within its four disc set. Right away from the opening you know that you're in for an impactful ride with Liberi Fatali. The boss battle theme Force Your Way, normal battle theme Don't Be Afraid, and final boss theme The Extreme certainly paint a powerful picture as well. Don't forget The Landing either. Then there's a touching track like Love Grows and the spirited Waltz for the Moon for the romance between Squall and Rinoa. Final Fantasy VIII may not be universally liked, but it certainly delivers when it comes to wonderful music. But who would doubt that when Nobuo Uematsu is at the helm?

6) Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles (GCN)


Composed almost solely by Kumi Tanikoa, the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles soundtrack is one that invokes memories of Renaissance and medieval times with its interesting choice of musical instruments like the recorder. It is a perfect fit for the rustic world the game presents players. From songs that deliver a rich sense of ambiance and wonder like Into the Gloomy Darkness to songs that portray a vibrant rural community like A Gentle Wind Blows, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles has such an under-appreciated soundtrack. It truly is magnificent and unlike many soundtracks in the series. Other terrific tracks include: Magi is Everything, Daemon's Court, Amidatti, And Eleonor Too, and When the Northern Sky is Clear.

5) Final Fantasy IV (SNES)



Before it was well known as Final Fantasy IV in the West, it was known as Final Fantasy II. The game was the first Final Fantasy to be created in 16-bits, and it was made all the better for it, from graphics to our focus, sound. Nobuo Uematsu once again showed why he is one of the best when it comes to composing for video games with tracks like the Main Theme of Final Fantasy IV, Battle 1, a bombastic boss theme in Battle 2, one of the great dungeon themes of all time in Into the Darkness, Mt. Ordeals, the moving Troian Beauty, and how could anyone forget Battle with the Four Fiends? Those tracks just scratch the surface of the impressive amount of unforgettable themes heard within the reaches of Baron, Damcyan, and Troia.

4) Final Fantasy VII (PS1)


The first Final Fantasy game to leave a Nintendo system, but more importantly, enter 3D, Final Fantasy VII sports a marvelous memorable soundtrack. The new direction the series took, casting aside medieval themes and technology of yore, going with a futuristic approach, allowed for new musical styles and sounds. It features one of the most cherished final boss themes in RPG history, One-Winged Angel, possesses touching character songs like Aerith's Theme, the Opening ~ Bombing Mission theme that puts the player right into the action, more ethereal tunes like J-E-N-O-V-A, one of the great RPG airship themes, borrowing Final Fantasy VII's Main Theme, in Highwind Takes to the Skies, and even a marching tune thrown in for good measure in Rufus' Welcoming Ceremony. I don't have the same kind of nostalgia for Final Fantasy VII as most people, but I still find the soundtrack to be incredibly good.

3) Final Fantasy IX (PS1)


My favorite of the mainline Final Fantasy soundtracks on the PlayStation 1, Final Fantasy IX invokes memories of old school games in the franchise, and it has the music to back that stance up. Cid's Theme gives a marvelous march that plays in Lindblum's castle. Then we get medieval with Freija's Theme which is played in The Gizamulke's Grotto dungeon. I'd be amiss if I didn't mention the intense boss theme, Kuja's Theme, The Airship, Hildagaldy, The Dark Messenger, and Beyond the Door. I list Final Fantasy IX's soundtrack so high because of the sheer amount of quality tracks that permeate throughout the soundtrack set's multiple discs. It's the type of soundtrack that I can enjoy as someone who is a casual Final Fantasy player but can admire thrilling music.

2) Final Fantasy Tactics (PS1)


One of the most stirring soundtracks I have ever had the pleasure of listening is made even more spectacular by hearing the music played throughout the duration of the game. Yes, this is the fabulous Final Fantasy Tactics soundtrack from the best Final Fantasy spinoff in existence. The duo of Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata combined their compositional mastery and crafted one hell of a score for the game. Tense battle situations get even more unsettling as themes like Antipyretic, Trisection, Battle on the Bridge, Apoplexy, and Decisive Battle. But don't think that it's all struggle and intensity with the music. No, there's plenty of heart-tugging themes such as Ovelia's Theme (one of my favorite tracks of the game), Overlia's Worries, and Chapel, as well as jaunty themes like Pub and Tutorial to behold.

1) Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


And here we have it, the best of the best in Final Fantasy soundtracks. Coming from one of my favorite entries in the series, Final Fantasy VI possesses the greatest bevy of terrific tunes, memorable melodies, and powerful tracks. We have Terra, the world map theme of the World of Balance, the chaotic boss battle theme of The Decisive Battle, the truly haunting sounds of The Phantom Forest, the homely sounds of Kids Run Through the City Corner, the massively moving Aria De Mezzo Carattere, the riotous The Fierce Battle, and the airship theme of the World of Ruin, Searching for Friends. Then you have what I consider to be the best final boss battle theme in video game history, Dancing Mad. The many layers the song contains and how it segues into each movement makes for a wonderful theme. What all of these musical songs and elements make together is one of most celebrated, enduring, and impactful video game soundtracks of all time. It is just one of the reasons why Final Fantasy VI is so cherished by both fans of the franchise and simply those who adore superb RPGs.

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The Final Fantasy series comprises a large amount of my love for video game music. It is what got me interested in composition, and made me enjoy listening to other genres of music that I might not have otherwise tried. It's the fantastic minds of the composers behind the franchise's games that have in part made Final Fantasy such a cherished brand.

As with most of my lists, I'm sure you won't agree with my order. Perhaps you won't even agree with my omissions of Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XII. That's just fine as well. If those are some of your favorites, what are your most liked tracks from those games, then?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

August 2012 NPD Results

For those of you that are unaware, the NPD Results are a monthly look at what games sold the best during the past month. This is basically the only real news I do on SuperPhillip Central aside from new screenshots and trailers that tickle my fancy. The way I see it is that you can go to thousands of other sites for news. You can't go to thousands of other sites for my opinion pieces. That's sort of how smaller sites get attention, so I laugh when someone suggests that I should be ashamed that all I do are opinion pieces. That's the main way I get an audience. Regardless, here are the results of August 2012:


The best-selling individual SKU for August was New Super Mario Bros. 2. Well deserved - you can read my review to see why. Darksiders II, however, in all combined SKUs received the most sales with around 250,000 units sold across three platforms. I'm happy to see Kingdom Hearts 3D on there, but it seems apparent that the abundance of spinoffs without a true Kingdom Hearts III across multiple platforms did the series little good.

It's painfully obvious that the generation has dragged on far too long. You don't even need to be a quack of an analyst to guess that. I don't know if the Wii U will inject some much needed enthusiasm into the industry. It seems gamers, publishers and developers, and the gaming press have already done their best to write the system off. We'll see if they get it wrong again like they did with the original Wii.

Nonetheless, do you know what generally pisses me off with a lot of gamers I see on message boards? When they celebrate a good game or platform not selling well. How is that funny or awesome at all? I saw it with people regarding the 3DS XL and Sleeping Dogs, and I just thought the same thing that I think to myself on a now-daily basis, "A lot of gamers are *insert colorful language here*." True story.

The 50 Best Nintendo DS Games - Part Four

Once again we arrive at a Thursday night. That obviously means that it is time to list off ten more of the most fantastic Nintendo DS retail games the system has ever known. This list describes the best and the brightest of the library. Perhaps some of my picks will attract you to tracking down a game or two yourself that you never would have tried out. Regardless, remember that the games on this list must have launched in North America to be included. With that out of the way, let's get to the next ten titles!

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks


The final of the two mainline Zelda games to reach the Nintendo DS, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks brought with it the same novel touch control gameplay of Phantom Hourglass with less of the headaches. No longer did players have to traverse an overly familiar Temple of the Ocean King after each dungeon, getting deeper and deeper inside each visit. Instead, players visited a tower after each dungeon, with no need to revisit past areas inside. The sea that players explored in Phantom Hourglass was replaced by a more modern means of transportation, a train. One of my favorite parts of Spirit Tracks was the new role Princess Zelda adapted to, a helper role. No longer was she captured by Ganon, sealed up - no, she could possess Phantoms to help Link solve puzzles. The relationship between the two characters was really genuine, natural, and felt fresh, something great for the series. If you have an open mind to different control schemes (i.e. you aren't an annoying type of gamer who is stuck in his or her comfort zone, won't try anything new, etc.), then The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is a spirited pick.

The Legendary Starfy


After years of games being exclusive to Japan, Nintendo's Starfy character finally swam across the Pacific and into the West with The Legendary Starfy. It is actually the fifth game in the series, but the first for the West. Regardless, the game reminds people a lot of Kirby in its level design, ease of difficulty, and aesthetics. This DS release had 2D sprites and foreground objects while the backgrounds were full 3D renders. It was an interesting and diversified art style, for sure. Starfy could access one of many costumes to turn into a ghost, a seal, a dragon, and even a chicken. Yes, a chicken. How cool is that?! Another cool feature of the game was the ability to play cooperatively with a friend between two DS systems and only one copy of the game between each. Usually players needed two copies of the game for such a mode. Nonetheless, co-op could only be performed during certain areas and boss battles, and not the full game. I really hope that the rest of the Starfy series somehow makes its way to the West. I wish upon a star for such a miracle.

DK: Jungle Climber


One of the more overlooked and under-appreciated Game Boy Advance titles was DK: King of Swing. It didn't possess the same 3D rendering art style of the Donkey Kong Country series, replacing it with a more Saturday morning cartoon feel. In DK: Jungle Climber, the star of the show is, of course, Donkey Kong, but rather than going it alone like in King of Swing, he is partnered up with Diddy Kong. Just like King of Swing, DK: Jungle Climber has you holding down L and R to lea into the air, and cycling between the shoulder button to grab onto pegs, which make up the majority of levels. You're essentially using the L button to clinch the character's left hand, and the R button to clinch the character's right. Grabbing onto one peg at once allows DK or Diddy to spin, allowing them to move through each level. The game is a very atypical platformer, but it contains all of the features of the popular Donkey Kong Country series, such as bananas, bonus areas, bosses, Kremlings, and more. The game is constantly throwing new surprises into the gameplay. For instance, one level has DK being mirrored on the top and bottom screen. The player must watch both screens and navigate both Kongs through the area without hitting an object on either screen, or else the section must be redone. It's these clever ideas and gameplay elements that make for an exciting and challenging game.

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin


Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin was a series of firsts for the franchise. If I recall correctly, it was the first Castlevania with some form of cooperative multiplayer component, and it was the first handheld Castlevania with English voice work. Portrait of Ruin consists of a setup similar to Dawn of Sorrow's Julius Mode. Players switch between two heroes on their quest to vanquish the vampire king once more. Many puzzles require changing between the two to solve them. The "portrait" in Portrait of Ruin refers to the paintings that both heroes can leap into a la Super Mario 64 to enter new worlds outside of the confines of Dracula's castle - regardless of how expansive it very well is. Like every other Metroid-style Castlevania title, Portrait of Ruin has players earning new abilities to reach previously inaccessible areas. There's a bevy of bonus modes such as Sisters Mode, Richter Mode, Old Axe Armor Mode, and a Boss Rush to relive all of the intense encounters of the game. Despite all of these features and quirks, Portrait of Ruin is probably my least favorite of the Castlevania trilogy on the Nintendo DS. It's still a sensationally worthwhile game to pick up, so don't get me wrong in the slightest.

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies


The first mainline Dragon Quest to arrive on a Nintendo platform in over a decade, and the first mainline Dragon Quest to launch on a handheld, Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies did a lot to evolve the franchise from its old school roots. For example, it brought with it the elimination of random encounters, a nuisance that was a terrific example of archaic game design in classic RPGs. It also brought forth local multiplayer and even some online functionality. A vast shift in philosophy regarding playable characters was also a part of the package with Dragon Quest IX. Players did not get issued a standard hero with no ability to customize his appearance. Instead, players could map out their hero's gender, race, hair style, and all the way down to their eye shape. But don't think that the ninth installment of this epic role-playing series changed for the worst or was indecipherable from the rest of the series. No, turn-based battles were still present and an important part of the game. In fact, Dragon Quest IX was noticeably more challenging than past Dragon Quest games, too, despite being on a Nintendo system. Generally developers get the idea that Nintendo owners want dumb downed experiences. Thankfully, Level-5 did not go this route, and they created a brilliant RPG for it, with tons (and I do mean tons) of quest to partake in. Dragon Quest IX was one meaty experience worthy of any RPG fan's time.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars


Many people were disappointed with how Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars wasn't in line with typical GTA games (i.e. fully 3D). The game was an overhead viewpoint with a camera that could be revolved around 360 degrees. However, to those who actually played the game, they found a delightful, coarse in content, and full of thrills GTA experience on the Nintendo DS. And finally no longer did I have to run out of a warning zone to lower my police notoriety; I could demolish as many police cars as possible instead. The more my wanted level was, the more cop cars I needed to destroy. No doubt at all that fans of current day GTA have no desire to return to the top-down perspective that Chinatown Wars holds onto. This old school approach to the design not only affected sales of the Nintendo DS version, but it hurt sales when the PSP port was released, too. It is a shame because Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is one of the DS's most expansive, ambitious, and wonderful games (from a Western third-party no less) on the Nintendo DS.

Meteos


What do you get when you partner up the man behind Rez and Lumines, and the creator of Kirby and Super Smash Bros.? Why, you get Meteos, a daring puzzler for the Nintendo DS that arrived within the system's first year on the market. Generally a player will be fixated on the bottom screen where blocks tumble from the top screen to the player's viewpoint and form stacks of blocks. Sounds similar to many puzzle games like Tetris and Lumines, right? Well, the trick here is that the player is able to cycle blocks up and down in the stack with the desire to line up a minimum of three blocks in a row, vertically or horizontally. Once this feat has been achieved, the matching blocks will launch like a rocket and propel themselves into space (in battle mode, they will appear on the player's opponent's side). There are even more ways to manage to ignite even more blocks to create one large propulsion of blocks to clear most of the player's screen. The goal is to send as many blocks as possible into orbit. One of the only downsides to Meteos is that simple scribbling could make the game easier for players without much skill. The sequel to the game, Meteos: Disney Magic, would make efforts to eliminate such tactics. Nonetheless, the original game is still what I perceive to be the definitive version of Meteos.

Metroid Prime Hunters


If you recall back when the Nintendo DS first launched way back in 2004, it came with a rough demo of Metroid Prime Hunters called First Hunt. The full game would be released one-and-a-half years later by NST, a team within Nintendo. Metroid Prime Hunters was quite unlike any other Metroid before it. Its focus was not only just on the single-player experience, but it possessed a fully functionality and extensive multiplayer component. The campaign wasn't that revolutionary. Find keys, battle bosses, escape before the area explodes, rinse and repeat. It could be viewed as repetitive, really. But where the game truly shines is with its multiplayer. Taking 20 or so locales from the story mode, adding a host of weapons, and the bounty hunters shown in the game, and turning Metroid into a frag-fest made for an interesting and entertaining dynamic. Some might complain that the series was shoehorned into a genre that it doesn't fit, but many Nintendo fanatics proclaim that Metroid could be Nintendo's Halo. Regardless of whether or not this is an insane thing to say (well, a lot of Nintendo fanatics come off as insane and scare me deeply anyway), Metroid Prime Hunters and its innovative control scheme made for nights of intense fragging between friends and total strangers, online and off.

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon


A remake of the very first Fire Emblem game (not that many Westerners played the original), Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon was the first Nintendo DS entry for the series, as the developers wanted to show off the system's touch screen and online capabilities. The latter made for the first Fire Emblem game with online functionality, allowing two players to hop online and battle it out. Shadow Dragon was comprised of twenty-five individual chapters of war and destruction. There are six difficulties to choose from, so everyone from beginners to Fire Emblem veterans could jump in and enjoy the game. Battles are turn-based tactical affairs where over twenty specialized units are available for combat. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is yet another capable entry in the well regarded franchise, and it helps illustrate just how far the series has come. From its earliest days on the Famicom to its latest and one of the most popular installments yet in Fire Emblem: Awakening, the fire burns bright for Nintendo's tactical franchise.

Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift


The final game of Part Four of tonight's article is another kind of tactical RPG, but this time it comes from the universe of Final Fantasy Tactics and the world of Ivalice. It is Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift. Many changes took place between this Nintendo DS installment and the Game Boy Advance's Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. For one, there are over 300 unique missions in the game. Some are story-related while others net the player's party with unique rewards. This means that if players want to see everything FFT A2 has to offer, they will have to devote a serious amount of hours to do so. Some enemies have gotten especially large and now take up more than one square on a battlefield. The amount of jobs and abilities has been expanded as well, allowing party members to equip weapons and armor pertaining to their jobs. Through gaining Ability Points, or AP, new abilities are learned. Like Tactics Advance before it, Grimoire of the Rift makes for a whimsical journey, a completely stark contrast to the war-torn version of Ivalice of the original Final Fantasy Tactics. What wraps up this fun-filled tactical RPG is the charming presentation, from the bright and detailed visuals (backgrounds, sprites, special effects, etc.) to the marvelous music. Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift is quite the capable game for fans of the series and games where you need to plan your actions out thoroughly to enjoy.

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And just like that we have but one more part to The 50 Best Nintendo DS Games to travel through. Forty games have already been listed and adequately detailed. There's only ten more to go. Will your favorites be mentioned? If you somehow missed a previous part of the list of fifty, check out the various parts here:

The 50 Best Nintendo DS Games - Part One
The 50 Best Nintendo DS Games - Part Two
The 50 Best Nintendo DS Games - Part Three

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Swapnote (3DS) Review

The first review of September takes us outside of the typical game review and into an application review. Today's subject is the almost-year-old Swapnote, a messaging application for the Nintendo 3DS. Should you take this and pass it on?

Stop 'n' Swap


One of the more prevalent complaints regarding the Nintendo 3DS was that there was no way to message people on your friends list. Nintendo took that criticism to heart, but rather than doing things the traditional way and just making a unified messaging system, they made Swapnote, a free application where users can draw and send notes. However, this app has quite a few limitations to it. Do these limitations make for a poorly implemented service, or do they not matter in the long run? This review delves into the current state of the software as of September 2012.

Beginning users of Swapnote are greeted with a Mii character named Nikki who goes over how the application works, the basics of the software: how to write a note and send it off via local StreetPass or online through SpotPass. Users do not have the full set of options given to them automatically at the start of their experience with Swapnote. Instead, as notes are written, Nikki divulges new options for user such as the ability to add photos to a note, the ability to change stationery (what the note's background looks like), and the ability to add a five second or less sound byte to a note.

Yes. Yes, you should.
These three options are not automatically unlocked as soon as Nikki reveals them. No, users have to spend Play Coins, accumulated through walking with their 3DS turned on, to purchase these options. For instance, there is an abundance of new stationery available to be bought, but each one costs five Play Coins. These aren't just still backgrounds either. Some have fireworks blasting off set against a Japanese night sky, some have a musical staff with notes dancing around, and some have raindrops pelting the stationery for a very calming effect. Special stationery that are oftentimes based on first or third-party games can also be unlocked through simply receiving a note with the stationery as the background. These can be collected from Nintendo themselves or through friends. Current special stationery include a cool 8-bit The Legend of Zelda stationery, a New Super Mario Bros. 2 stationery where gold coins fall like rain, and Japan-only Monster Hunter stationery.

One of the special stationery available.
Writing a note is relatively simple. You have four pages to get your message across (people who reply to you only have one page to work with and no ability to add a background to their note back to you). As stated, a given message can have any stationery added as the background (but only one stationery per note, just like only one sound recording or photo per note, too). Hopefully a user has good handwriting as there is no text input option such as a virtual keyboard. Certain parts of one's writing can be displayed in Pop Out 3D with a press of the up direction on the d-pad. This is perfect for adding some extra depth to a message. Once the note is ready to be sent out, users can choose to deliver it through SpotPass or StreetPass. Users can send their note to all friends on their friends list or pick and choose which friends get the message. Send it off, and wait for a reply.

Unfortunately, any opportunity to think that Swapnote is a smart way to set up games between friends online is floundered because of the limitation of needing to open the application to view a message (exiting you out of your game in the process), no way to see when a friend has replied back to your note, and most importantly of all, it's not integrated at all into your friends list. What we have here is a severely impractical application for setting up games. Great for drawing, fooling around, and sending out non-urgent messages, but awful for planning when to play a game with a buddy.

Additionally, one of the alluded to aforementioned limitations consists of not being able to reply to responses of a note you send out. Think of notes as topics on a message board. Wouldn't it suck that if you wanted to reply to someone who posted in your topic, you had to start a brand-new topic just to answer them? That is exactly what happens with Swapnote, only instead of topics we're talking about notes. If you wish to continue the conversation, you must start a new note entirely and send it out. Why I can't just hold a discussion within the boundaries of one note "thread" is mind-boggling.

Add a photo to liven your note up.
The interface of Swapnote is okay-ish. Your line of notes both sent and received are displayed along a wave pattern. You cycle through your list of notes with a slider. However, another issue I have with the application is that deleting notes is a pain in the butt. There is no capability for mass deletion, making for some needlessly arduous work. Meanwhile, the music that accompanies your note-creating escapades is cheery enough without being grating.

Essentially, a lot of people were asking for a simple text-based messaging system that would be implemented into their 3DS and their friend list for easy access. Always one to try to innovate when there is no reason to, Nintendo opted to be original and create Swapnote. The problems, as mentioned, include that there is no implementation between the application and the 3DS, the inability to reply back to responses to your notes, and other little irritations that make for a fun but incredibly flawed application. I still use Swapnote to this day, and it's a nice diversion to share ramblings with, but overall there is a great amount of room for improvement. Those of you who don't care for diversions that don't solve one of the 3DS system's main online problems should avoid Swapnote.

[SuperPhillip Says: 7.0]

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Top Ten New Sony IPs from the Past Decade

While many publishers rest on their laurels or play it safe with their preexisting properties, Sony should get a ton of credit for not showing much fear in creating a constant stream of new franchises. It's unbelievable that they're so gung ho about them especially while the world is in its current economic situation and how much of a gamble fresh franchises really are. Whether it's God of War, Ratchet & Clank, or LittleBigPlanet, Sony's internal studios have crafted some of the finest new IPs of the last decade. This list is what I perceive to be Sony's ten best new series from the year 2002 to now. I don't expect you to agree with the order, but these ten franchises showcase Sony's greatest ideas of the past decade. Let's get to the top ten.

10) Killzone


Killzone debuted on the PlayStation 2 in 2004.  The series mostly consists of first-person shooters, but one third-person shooter in the PSP iteration, Killzone: Liberation, occurred. Guerrilla Games is currently in the midst of development for the franchise's Vita offering, Killzone: Mercenary. Killzone takes players in the middle of a war between the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance (or ISA) and the Helghast army. Sony originally marketed Killzone as "a Halo killer." This didn't work out as planned with the first game of the series looking poorly graphically and possessing a bevy of troublesome glitches. Then the sequel on the PS3 got infamous notoriety for having a showing at an E3 press conference with what would later be revealed to be target renders and not actual gameplay, though Sony shamelessly argued against that on a consistent basis. Regardless, the game was a dramatic improvement over its predecessor, and it remains my favorite of the four current releases in the series.

9) LocoRoco


Representing my favorite genre, the platformer, in a different light, LocoRoco jumped onto the worldwide scene and PSP device in 2006. The series comes from the mind of Tsutomu Kouno, a developer who was involved with Ico. In the game, players don't move the main character, a LocoRoco blob, in a traditional sense (except for jumping). Instead, players are actually tilting the environment in which the character rests, similar to say, Super Monkey Ball, but in a 2D setting. This is performed by utilizing the PSP's two shoulder buttons. Through gathering berries hidden around the game's plentiful amount of levels, the LocoRoco can grow in size. With a face button, the amalgamation of LocoRoco can be split up into tinier forms to fit through small spaces. The goal of the game is to complete levels in a fast and efficient manner while avoiding perils like spikes, pits, and the sinister Moja group of enemies. What results is a platformer unlike anything you've ever experienced. It's colorful, it's clever, it's charming, and it's a series that, like Killzone, has seen four installments currently on the market.

8) Resistance


The other first-person shooter franchise on this list comes from the minds of Insomniac Games. For the PlayStation 3 launch they had a game concerning an alternate history where an alien race known as the Chimera have started an assault on the planet, Resistance: Fall of Man, which earned high praise. As one of the remaining human survivors left, you join the resistance against the Chimeran forces as the ensuing fight grows fiercer and bleaker by the hour. I enjoyed the Resistance franchise more than Killzone, and I'll explain why real quick. I enjoyed the lore behind the game and narrative, level design, multiplayer, local cooperative abilities, and particularly the weaponry more than Guerrilla Games' efforts. The weaponry, in general, harks back to Insomniac's Ratchet & Clank franchise in creativity, a franchise that we'll be discussing later on down the road on this very list. There was a perfect mix of realistic firepower and off-the-wall futuristic weaponry that was never before seen in a first-person shooter before. Like Killzone, Resistance also had a portable offering that was a third-person shooter, Resistance: Retribution. The series is currently on hiatus, but I would love to see the minds behind Spyro the Dragon and Ratchet the Lombax try their hand again at crafting another stellar shooter and addition to this sci-fi franchise.

7) inFamous


Sucker Punch had a reputation on the PlayStation 2 for creating the Sly Cooper platformer series of games. They took their know-how of making such games and implemented it into inFamous, an open world action-adventure platformer series spanning three games, one of which being non-canonical. Players assume the role of Cole MacGrath, a young man with gifted electrical superpowers, which he can choose to use for the benefit or detriment to mankind. Through completing different missions in different ways, Cole can earn Karma to have his abilities and appearance change. inFamous is quite unlike most open world games as Cole does not enter vehicles to get around Empire City and then in the second game, New Marais. Instead, he can scale buildings, grind across electrical lines, and even use his powers of electricity to slowly hover in the air. These games generally demand to be played through twice just to see both good and evil endings. They're also fun enough to warrant such a demand. While inFamous as a franchise is really fun, it doesn't hold a spark next to Sucker Punch's first series...

6) Sly Cooper


What a perfect segue! Here is Sucker Punch's first creation, the Sly Cooper series. As stated, this series built the main elements for their inFamous franchise. The game has players platforming as one of the members of Sly Cooper's gang. There's Sly Cooper himself, Bentley, a turtle who is not only a master of gadgets but is the brains behind most of the heists, and Murray, the muscle of the group. Sly's gameplay has him making his way through levels. His focus is on stealth rather than pure brawn, for alerting guards and alarms is generally a recipe for failure. Sly is not proud, he doesn't mind attacking foes from behind to defeat them. There are plenty of places Sly can use for stealth and to platform on, which are shown clearly by having an azure glow. Such places include ledges that Sly can sidestep upon, pipes to scale, tight ropes to balance on, and pointy spots that can be perched on. Each game is built on a series of heists that Sly and the gang plan out. They are divided between numerous missions involving platforming challenges or mini-games. I prefer the first Sly Cooper game to the rest because the rest relied on an open world setting for the missions instead of the original game which used a typical hub connecting each level. Regardless, the fun of seeing the fruits of Sly and the gang's labors go off without a hitch and with a successful heist makes for a platforming series that is remarkable. I eagerly await Thieves in Time, despite it not being done by Sucker Punch themselves.

5) Shadow of the Colossus


Before Team Ico made projects in development hell, they actually made games like the superb Ico and this title of tremendous influence, Shadow of the Colossus (both of which are available in one single HD collection on the PlayStation 3). What do you really call the game, though? It has no towns or NPCs to speak of, and the only enemies the player are battling are the titular colossi. It becomes more of a puzzle than anything else. Figuring out how to reach each of the sixteen colossi, and then trying to think up a way to find and exploit their weakness(es) makes for an intriguing game. The world that Wander, the main character, explores is a sprawling series of environments ripe for traversal. Speaking of which, the music is also a notable part of the rich ambiance of the game, featuring work by Ko Otani. You might recognize some of his work from anime series like Gundam Wing and Outlaw Star, to name a couple. Regardless, the sensational symphonic orchestral soundtrack sweeps in and preys upon your emotions, much like the game it accompanies. What all these elements add up to make is one unforgettable PlayStation 2 classic, and a real reason why fans are so understanding in allowing The Last Guardian to be in development for so, so long.

4) Uncharted


Another stellar series from the fine folks at Naughty Dog, Uncharted is essentially a modern day interactive Indiana Jones with more wisecracks from the main character in Nathan Drake. The franchise consists of two main elements: third-person shooting and platforming, with some puzzles thrown in along the way to keep players' minds sharp. The fun in the series is seeing and hearing just Drake will manage to survive yet another improbable situation while giving direct commentary on just how absurd his situation is. The character comes off as very human, despite the very much superhuman things he does and endurance he has. Though the game pits players through mostly linear paths to slay enemies, traverse environments, and participate in set piece after glorious set piece, Uncharted as a series may come across as by-the-numbers, but it's one that makes for some solid entertainment. The multiplayer adds to the experience, giving players an enjoyable ride, much like the excellent single-player campaigns each of the four entries contain. If you're looking for the closest thing to summer blockbuster movie entertainment (whether you think that games should try to emulate as close to Hollywood as possible or not), then Uncharted is the series for you.

3) God of War 


The main character may be incredibly unlikable (in fact, a jerk in desperate need of anger management), but even with this caveat, the God of War series is especially well liked almost universally by the gaming community. Now, you can complain about there being six titles for the series in less than six years, but when they are mostly of high quality, does it really matter? The series revolves around Kratos as he hacks and slashes his way through armies of mythological creatures and gods. The game has players venturing through various locales such as The Temple of Pandora and Hades as they defeat bosses and other enemies, solve puzzles, and find treasure. There is no backtracking in these games for the most part, and camera control is minimal. The worry-free camera utilized in these games are completely fully functional and work well. The fighting focuses heavily on combo-based combat mostly using Kratos's blades attached by chains to his arms to strike foes and unleash unholy hell. Between the ingenious level design, smart puzzles, intense confrontations between lowly baddies and bosses alike, presentation, dramatic story, and visuals make for a franchise that is indeed as mythical as the God of War himself.

2) Ratchet & Clank


I'm going to admit something that longtime readers of SPC are already well versed in - I am a huge fan of platformers. (You don't even need to be well versed as I said as much in the LocoRoco part of this list.) That said, there is only one platforming series that has rivaled Ratchet & Clank for me in the past ten years, and that is the legendary and magical Mario franchise (which I would place higher than Ratchet thanks to Super Mario Galaxy and New Super Mario Bros. Wii alone). Regardless, this franchise which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year introduced so many novel ideas to the formula. The original Ratchet & Clank distanced itself from the common collect-a-thon mindset of typical 3D platformers through advancing the story upon various different planets, acquiring new, exotic weapons and gadgetry. The second game, Going Commando, introduced an RPG-like leveling up systems for weaponry that as the player uses them more, they grow in power. Up Your Arsenal added online play for intense multiplayer matches. Deadlocked was a drastic departure, giving players a gladiator-like experience, and the Future trilogy put Ratchet and Clank in gorgeous, jaw-dropping HD. While All 4 One was decidedly disappointing, the recently released Ratchet & Clank Collection allows the original three Ratchet games to be played with trophy support in full high-definition. A wonderful way to play this wonderful series, for sure. Now newcomers to the series can see why Ratchet & Clank is so well regarded by not only me, but a legion of fans.

1) LittleBigPlanet


The ability to create levels is nothing new, and online creator communities have been popular on the PC for years, but it was rare seeing such a brilliant display of creator tools that were as simple to use and fun to use than with LittleBigPlanet. The ease of sharing created levels and objects made for a compelling community full of creative and charming ideas. Players begin their journey through the land of yarn, cloth, and other household objects and make their own Sackboy (or to be politically correct, Sackgirl), and use a preexisting amount of clothing, accessories, and facial and body options to make their own unique creation. Through collecting hidden and out-of-the-way Prize Bubbles in the game's already manufactured levels (also a great way to learn how to make your own lovely levels, aside from the Stephen Fry-voiced tutorials), players unlocked new costume parts and level features in the form of materials and objects to play around with. Even if you lack the sheer ability to create anything that resembles something capable, you can play around with the tools given to you, and play the ideas of other LittleBigPlanet owners. I highly anticipate the PlayStation Vita version, a game that would make me purchase the portable if I had the money, and if the Wii U weren't coming. LittleBigPlanet isn't just one of Sony's most marvelous new IPs of the last decade, it's simply one of the best new IPs in ages.

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I assume many of you will disagree with the order of these Sony IPs of the past ten years, but I hope you will agree that these are the best of the best. What PlayStation franchises are your favorite?

Monday, September 3, 2012

SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs - Final Fantasy Works Overtime Edition

Today is Labor Day, and many Americans are off school and/or work this Monday. However, there is no rest for the weary regarding SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs. No, instead they are working just as hard as ever. This edition of the VGMs is particularly special because it is an all Final Fantasy music edition. Final Fantasy possesses a huge portion of my favorite themes in video game history. If you are interested in more FF music after this installment, check out my article on the best in Final Fantasy music here. Let's dive in, shall we?

v186. Final Fantasy XI (Multi) - Final Fantasy XI Opening Theme


Final Fantasy XI is one of the few mainline Final Fantasy games that the SuperPhillip household does not own outright. I'm sure the MMORPG is fun, but it is a genre that just does nothing for any one here. This opening theme for Final Fantasy XI starts out with the familiar prelude theme before transitioning into something totally different, punctuated by brass and woodwinds, a part of the tune that gets one primed for an adventure. We also get to hear the deep voices of choir chime in right here, and the choir all culminates with this. It's a terrific opening theme for Final Fantasy XI, for sure.

v187. Final Fantasy IV (SNES) - Into the Darkness


A perfect theme for exploring the unknown, a place filled to the brim with unsettling ambiance and monsters to boot. But for Cecil Harvey and our heroes, nothing is too fraught with danger for them to turn around and hightail it out of there. There's a corrupt kingdom after all, and a villain clad in darkness to pursue. Into the Darkness was listed on my Best of Final Fantasy Music feature as runner-up in the Best Dungeon Theme category. Listen to track and you will understand why.

v188. Final Fantasy VIII (PS1) - Waltz for the Moon


Played during the famous ballroom dance scene between Squall and Rinoa at Balamb Garden, Final Fantasy VIII's Waltz for the Moon is the type of song that you can bounce around the room to. Its main melody is Love Grows, the theme of Squall and Rinoa's future romance. Final Fantasy VIII is considered the black sheep of the trio of mainline FF titles on the original PlayStation. I happened to greatly enjoy it. When I wasn't saving the world, I was wasting time with Triple Triad.

v189. Final Fantasy V (SNES) - Lenna's Theme (Dear Friends Version)


This track from Final Fantasy V is atypical of the others on today's edition. It comes from an arranged album, unlike the rest. It's Lenna's Theme from Final Fantasy V Dear Friends. A somber, melancholy theme that tugs at the heartstrings is what impact this tune gives to me. I love the flute and how it drives the melody of this piece. Final Fantasy V skipped the West until its inclusion in the original PlayStation's Final Fantasy Anthology. FFV was notable because of its job system, something that would influence future Final Fantasy games.

v190. Final Fantasy X (PS2) - Battle


A peppy uptempo battle theme for Final Fantasy X, this song plays throughout the normal enemy encounters in the game. The situation gets incredibly energized when this part plays. I personally never saw the love for Final Fantasy X. I enjoyed the game's color, but the random battles in a 3D space, the annoying cast, and a wide assortment of nitpicks ruined my opinion of the game. That said, the music is as always great from Nobuo Uematsu.

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That concludes our brief look at some of the music from Final Fantasy. It will no doubt not be our last as the series has some of the best music in gaming. We only have two weeks to go before we hit the 200th VGM. Then, after that, I have something special planned for a month to two months worth of VGM editions. Look forward to that surprise in the coming future. Until then, enjoy your Monday, everybody, and check out my VGM database.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Review Round-Up - August 2012

Mario and Luigi are golden this month.
August came through quickly like a fast-moving summer storm. What it left in its wake were five reviews for the month. We started out subtly with a guest review of Mario VS. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem, which earned a 7.5 from my older brother. We then reviewed one of the worst games ever featured on SuperPhillip Central, Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir, when got decimated by a 2.5. The trio of 3DS reviews continued with Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (8.75), and then ended with August's Game of the Month, New Super Mario Bros. 2 (9.0). Finally, we learned nostalgia is indeed a many splendor thing with Super Mario Sunshine (7.0). Five reviews including a triple does of Mario for the end of summer doldrums. Not bad!

All scores are out of 10.
5 = Average
* = Guest Review
 

Mario VS. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem (DS) - 7.5*
Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir (3DS) - 2.5
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (3DS) - 8.75
New Super Mario Bros. 2 (3DS) - 9.0
Super Mario Sunshine (GCN) - 7.0

An 8.75 score... what dreams are made of.

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