Batman: Arkham Asylum


baa-misc01I spent a lot of time writing out this long-winded diatribe about how overrated Batman: Arkham Asylum is and that if you take Batman out of it all you’d have left is a generic action game.  After some thought I’ve come to the conclusion that the game is actually good and my cynicism was getting the best of me.  The story is fun and I love the animated series voice work.  I dislike the Gears of Arkham graphics and character models but I love the actual art work and characters.  I was really torn.  So, I chewed up and spit out my original hate-filled draft and have swallowed my pride to write a much more positive and respectful review of Batman: Arkham Asylum.  I guess it’s a good game.

The pacing is bang on, the RPG Lite elements of building a better Batman are rewarding…all built around a sublime combat system that blurs the line between action game and brawler.

What really sticks out to me about Asylum’s combat is the visual flair and sound mechanical execution.  If you’re anything like me (rigidly formulaic) Arkham Asylum offers you the opportunity to approach every group of thugs the same way.  Jump into the fray, wait for guys to smack you and conveniently counter with slick button presses until they’re all knocked out.  Simple, effective and maybe a bit soulless.  For me, that was nirvana.  The idea that I could almost rhythmically respond to assailants to create this almost dance-like visual presentation of a bunch of guys getting beat up by a superhero is something that appealed to me. Not every game needs to be Tactics Ogre. I don’t mean to call Batman: Arkham Asylum an easy game, per se, but there’s a fluidity to the combat that makes it feel user-friendly.  I believe that its structural simplicity encourages people to try and master it.

100% Legitimate Design.

100% Legitimate Design.

Which I never did and have no interest in.  And that’s fine I think.  Who cares if you want to master it, complete all additional modes and get high scores and be amazing?  The complexity and difficulty is there if you want it, but easy to avoid if you don’t.  The cliche phrase would be ‘easy to learn, hard to master’, right?  Perfect example.  Just because I wasn’t really ever concerned with heading into all the additional battle and stealth arenas to obtain completion  percentages doesn’t mean those modes aren’t worthwhile. They just require a little more effort than ‘press Y to counter’ and as soon as I couldn’t float through a challenge within five tries I put it down. Luckily for me, eschewing additional modes hardly trimmed any fat from the meaty experience that is Arkham Asylum.

Sadly, many write-ups presented the idea that this game was “atmospheric”. The specific time frame in video game history that saw Asylum released made it easy for reviewers to frequently cite this description. With other experiences like BioShock around, we were force-fed the idea that video games were in the midst of some sort of ambient renaissance, suddenly presenting alternate worlds that immersed us just SO FUCKING HARD that we forgot we were ever sitting on our couches staring at a television.  Most of my vitriol about Asylum was born from this short-term memory loss approach that the community took.  Games have given us splendid worlds to explore for decades now.  Asylum is not the first.  And it’s hardly the most atmospheric.  What the fuck does atmospheric even mean?  It was cop-out buzz language that made the average fan think they were wading into ‘games-as-art’ territory, another cringe worthy piece of English that instantly became overused and therefore meaningless.

I battled my own hatred for Arkham’s reviews so desperately that the clear virtues of the game were lost to me…for a long time.  Now, though, I can describe in my own words what I feel the weird atmospheric comments were referring to.  Arkham Asylum’s world is well conceived.  It flows, makes sense and is fun to explore.  There are lots of nooks and crannies, lots of secrets to find and puzzles to solve.  The island is well-populated with interesting set pieces that fit together nicely and the simple but effective ‘unlock new gadget -> unlock new area’ works well and is logically implemented.  Finally, the cute easter eggs sprinkled around complete the setting, making it incredibly recognizable as a Batman experience.  When I think atmosphere…Silent Hill comes to mind, or Demon’s Souls.  Not Batman: Arkham Asylum.

No, I don't recall saying anything about the male body types.

No, I don’t recall saying anything about the male body types.

Out of respect for myself I should point out that I was legitimately disappointed in a couple aspects of the game. The boss fights are dismal, repetitive, lack creativity.  Oh! Another hulked up Bane’oid? Cool. In a related complaint, there’s little variety in the in-game character renders too…does every single NPC in Arkham need to be a beefed of Gears of War superbro?  Some police officers out there (and even Commissioners!) are, like, regular sized dudes.  I get that it’s a video game, I really do.  But you’re reaching by talking about atmosphere and immersion if literally every single male body is the same, even in a video game.  Obviously there aren’t enough heroes or villains, either.  But I’ll let that one go considering this was the first good Batman game in forever and I’m sure it was a bit of a leap for Rocksteady to go from literally nothing to a triple AAA developer working on one of the biggest licenses in the world.

At the end of it all I must say, Arkham Asylum is a really great game.  It effortlessly combines fun combat and an interesting world to move The Dark Knight himself seamlessly into the video game space.  History has shown this to be no easy task, and kudos must be officially presented.  Rocksteady even took a risk or two with the narrative, putting old Brucey in some interesting Scarecrow related content that was pretty unexpected at the time.  My only regret is that I wasn’t able to fully enjoy my first impressions as much as I could’ve if I wasn’t such a cynical asshole.

baa-promo1Click here to see where Batman: Arkham Asylum ranked in my Master List!
Why it placed there!

What the plan actually is


I’m a guy who plays video games, likes them and sometimes I think I have something insightful to say after I’m done.  I mostly started this site to reflect on my gaming experiences but to also use those reflections to compile a ranked listing of every game I own (or have beaten) because reasons.  It’s fun.  I’m learning a lot from it.  For instance, this process has helped me solidify that Vagrant Story is my favorite game ever, and the best game ever. The act of breaking down my opinion in words really validated a strong feeling that I already had, but maybe couldn’t explain or even argue until after I did this.

I also found out that I think Resident Evil 4 is a better game than Radiata Stories, for example.  I guess I knew this long before I started a damn blog, but for my own weird reasons it does something for me to have a permanent listing of my own opinions.  As the list grew things shuffled around in interesting ways, to me.  It’s organic, sometimes anything can happen.  I don’t necessarily appoint a game “To The Top Five!” before I write a review. I frequently surprise myself with placements, and the surprises seem to always happen after I finish my write-up, when it really hits home just how much I like or dislike a game.

Anyway this is all incredibly selfish. I do it for me.  I don’t consider myself a good writer…I think some of my opinions and humor are childish and unfunny.  I’m frequently embarrassed about some of the shit I’ve put in here.  I don’t aspire to be a games journalist, have a ‘respected’ opinion or be a reliable ‘source’.  Games are my hobby and writing stuff about them is rewarding, that’s it.

The main chunks of content on the site are the game reviews themselves and the master list where every game is ranked in relation to every other game.  Simple enough I think. Oh and I like video game art a lot.  You’ll find a lot of art here.

Remembering Lord Rasler


Playing Xenoblade, while incredible, has had the added effect of reminding me a lot of Final Fantasy XII.  This is no bad thing.  I have already reviewed the game on this blog but as with many of my creative endeavors I find that over time I want to add or revise things I once considered ‘complete’.

In regards to FFXII, I may have written a bit more about Lord Rasler Heios Nabradia.  He, for lack of a better description, was the character that never was.  His duties included marrying our main character and dying…all within the span of the opening cutscene.  What I find extremely interesting about him (besides from how ridiculously BAD ASS he looks) is just how damn important he is to the story.

How the hell is this character, who is in so little of this game, as memorable or effective as he is?

Well I’ve come up with a couple reasons that I think are pretty important to discuss that should also help further support why I think this game is incredible.

|Setting a tone|
I don’t know if I can name a game that sets its tone better than Final Fantasy XII.  The god damn OPENING CUTSCENE depicts an assumed main character easily struck down in battle.  Just before, we saw this same guy marrying our main character.  The intro ends with the Empire’s airships advancing over a bloody battlefield where crows are picking away at dead bodies.

I won’t bother to equate Rasler’s death to something like Aerith’s but having this event take place at the beginning of our tale serves to set pieces in motion in a very interesting way.  It’s the backdrop for our story, and having something this dramatic depicted before we actually take control changes the atmosphere of the entire experience.  Here I’m introduced to a gallant and handsome knight who’s taking freedom upon his back, riding out to meet his would be conquerors.  Instead of returning home to present his bride with victory, Lord Rasler is struck down in the chaos by what appears to be a random enemy and the battle is lost.

The implication of this event is that the player really understands the seriousness of the world, or the reality of it.  Few other games would take this step to engross the audience.  The expectation and understanding from this point on is that no one is safe.  Young and strong heroes with everything at stake do not necessarily guarantee victory in this particular universe.

|His relationship with Ashe|
Ashe could be called the main character of Final Fantasy XII.  Her motivations and personal plot are as closely related to the main narrative as anyone, and her love for Lord Rasler is an integral part of it.  He was her husband and true love, but also heir to the neighboring state of Nabradia.  Their coupling was, in addition to it’s sincerity, a political union providing a unified front geographically centered between two aggressive nations.

After Rasler’s death Ashe not only continues to legitimately mourn him but goes as far as to wear her wedding ring up until and throughout the game itself.  The ring is of major importance to her, but from a storytelling standpoint it’s critical.  In the one scene depicting Ashe reminiscing about her lost love to Balthier she clutches her wedding ring thoughtfully.  This subtle moment relays a feeling that Ashe just can’t really let it all go, that her stake in the struggle is much more personal and perhaps vengeful.  Without a scene like this and an actual face to her passion you could easily accept that Ashe rebelled for simpler reasons: freedom, justice and the like.  Instead the more powerful and overriding emotion is love and the pain of losing Him.  Balthier seizes this moment brilliantly and demands that he be allowed to carry the ring, this thing that’s much heavier than its actual weight.  In realizing its importance to her and promising to return it when all is said and done he’s doing his best to guarantee that they all succeed…knowing her connection to the physical item (and by association her memory of Lord Rasler) will push her even harder to persevere.  This is incredible storytelling, yet some reviewers had the audacity to declare that Final Fantasy XII was somehow lacking in character development.

I suppose the worst of it is that I just really fucking wanted Rasler to be a playable character.  Instead, his existence is dangled in front of my face like an unobtainable carrot.  There’s even a message in that, I believe.  In allowing us to only witness a snippet of this young man’s heroics we are put in a position to appreciate the characters we do have.  If Yasumi Matsuno is willing to kill off the coolest looking character before the damn game even starts then I know I’m in for way more than the standard RPG fare.  And I do believe the rest of the game followed suit.  So here’s a salute to Lord Rasler Heios Nabradia, arguably the most meaningful ‘character that never was’ death in the history of video games.

List Reflection: Batman: Arkham Asylum Edition


So, Asylum placed at #11.  I’m just not ready to say it’s better than Mass Effect and let it hang out in the top ten.  That said, I’m feeling like there was a delta between ten and eleven…Dynasty Warriors is now at #12…but I can see tons of games going above it. Batman fits nicely in there, not as a threat to the top games but as a middle tier experience.  Also, I’ve got twenty games in my list!  Whoa.

Next Review: Crimson Shroud

(XENOGEARS)Tough one.  My placement of Xenogears at #3 reshapes the top five a little bit.  It’s kind of telling, I suppose, that the Two and Three spots are going to games with a lot of developer crossover…in particular the composer Yasunori Mitsuda.  Sometimes I even think of Chrono Cross as a refined Xenogears type of game.  A ‘what if’.  Chrono Cross suffered from no budget or time constraints, no creative shackles…things that some people think destroyed Xenogears.

For the people who feel the same as me, though, Xenogears is a work of art.  As beautiful (if unfinished) as the painting of Sophia herself.  There is a sadness in me when I reflect on Xenogears and not because of these constraints or lost potential, but because the game itself has an almost sorrowful undertone to it.  The ‘happy’ ending does little to lighten the overall mood of a game with themes as dark as Xenogears’.  Lost love, envy.  Death, torture and murder.  Corruption in the government and in the people.  War.

All said and done, Xenogears is amazing and deserves a high place on my list as well as a spot in video game immortality.

I’ve said things like this before that seem to end up changing but I’m fairly certain that the top three might be locked in.  Maybe even the top five.

Now Playing: Resident Evil 2
Just Finished: Mass Effect 3, Resident Evil
Next Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum



Xenogears came to me unexpectedly when my gaming experiences weren’t nearly as robust as they needed to be.  RPGs were still a relatively new thing to me at the time and I was only just starting to understand what they were all about.  Looking back on it now, Xenogears is probably the last thing that I ever should’ve considered playing.  I seek out this type of alternative experience now but back then I was just looking for the closest thing to what I already knew, Final Fantasy.  What a blessing in disguise.

Truthfully, I never would’ve found it at all if it wasn’t for big Mike on the bus home from eighth grade.  One day he started poppin’ off about some crazy RPG he just had finished called “Zenno-gears”.  Other than the name and a stubborn proclamation that Zennogears was easily the Best RPG Ever Made he wasn’t providing a lot of meaty details.  Intrigued upon his attempt to lend me the game I optimistically obliged…which ended up as maybe the best decision ever.

I was immediately struck by the cool box.

Remember the old days of “Non Final Fantasy Squaresoft RPGs Made By Non Final Fantasy Designers That Don’t Get Hardly Enough Credit”?  They used to be pretty damn good.  Vagrant Story, Chrono Cross…things of that nature.  While you could always depend on Final Fantasy to provide a solid experience, these other games were less chained to convention.  Back then some serious designers took part in what could be described as obscure projects that were really anything but.  When you’re SquareSoft, though,  and you’ve already got your breadwinner it isn’t necessary to market anything else you’re doing.  We still get awkward off brand Square Enix RPGs (Drakengard, Nier) but they aren’t quite what they used to be during those Golden Years.

Xenogears was a product of this PS1 role playing renaissance.  Released in 1998 and riding the heels of the enormously successful Final Fantasy VII, Tetsuya Takahashi’s religiously saturated RPG was not exactly center stage in the popular sphere.  People found it, of course, like my friend on the bus did.  But I wouldn’t say that it was even near the forefront of an already massive catalog of PlayStation RPGs.  The last thing I want to do when I talk about this game is stubbornly proclaim that Xenogears should’ve been a huge hit, or even that a few more people had played it.  The game is just genuinely not made for the general gaming public.  Time to sound like an elitist asshole!  A lot of people don’t have the capacity to appreciate Xenogears.  Yeah, I don’t go there often but there’s no better way to phrase it.

Takahashi and crew were not making a Final Fantasy.  This simple fact allowed these developers to bend the boundaries of convention a bit.  It provided them an arena to express their creativity more freely, and it shows.  The battle system was innovative and complex.  The story was brutally mature in concept, not only in its imagery but in its references and emotional themes as well.  Both the music and art were beyond brilliant and the character sprites rendered over the fully 3d world were beautiful.  You know, there was a lot going on in this obscure RPG from 1998 that I would have loved to see again at some point but non of it really seemed to stick with anyone other than its fans.

|Xenogears’ Battle System|
I can honestly say that Xenogears’ battle system has remained pretty damn unique.  Nothing before it and certainly nothing that followed seemed to even acknowledge that someone had created a turn-based system in an RPG that was actually fun.  Not only were you expected to understand classic RPG mechanics to succeed but you had to wrap your brain around a borderline Street Fighter-esque button combo input.  God forbid one of those wacky JRPGs incorporate some sort of interaction for once.  While the standbys of ‘Magic’ (Arcane or Ether) and ‘Defend’ were ever present the ‘Attack’ option was where the real innovation came through.

The sprite animations are also really fluid and well done.

In essence Xenogears presented a system that recognized a series of button presses as combos that would eventually lead your character to perform a finishing move.  X, Square and Triangle were all assigned basic (but different) attacks that when pressed in certain orders would allow you to perform a special deathblow attack.  While, for example, seven triangles in a row wouldn’t perform a combo you’d still hit the enemy seven times.  Fun, but I always thought the real beauty of the system was actually learning the deathblows.

If you happened to perform a triangle, triangle, X enough times (provided that’s a recognized combo) your character learned that combination and from that point on performs a specific deathblow every time you enter it.  Once a deathblow for a combination is learned you can use it endlessly or move onto spamming the next unlearned combination.  What ends up happening is that you spend most of your random battles trying to learn new deathblows while using the ones you already have on bosses and/or tough fights.  This system performs miracles in terms of making the grind less boring and creating a level of immersion that is damn near impossible with most other RPGs.  It was completely unprecedented for a player to feel like they had that much control over their party member actions or development, even if it was just a fancy elaboration on a simple theme.

|The Story|
Perhaps right now you feel that what I just tried (in vain) to explain is a little complex.  It is…and I’ve found it extremely demoralizing trying to puzzle out even the simplest pieces of this madness for mass consumption.  To my sorrow I should also do my best to explain Xenogears’ STORY in a WAY THAT MAKES SENSE, maybe to a reader who HAS NEVER HEARD OF OR PLAYED THIS GAME.  Luckily, if you break down all of the complicated twists and turns you’ll find that behind all of the perceived insanity is a simple tale of love, or rather, lost love.  It’s a tragic narrative that boils down to a single moment when two men reacted differently to losing the same woman.

Then it gets complicated…Krelian and Lacan begin to weave a history for Fei and company when they react to the tragic sacrifice Sophia makes in order to save many lives during a war, including Lacan’s.  His bitterness towards himself for being too weak save her (or himself) drove him nearly mad and he adopted the persona of Grahf, the Seeker of Power.  He then sought to destroy God himself and the two entities involved in the conflict that took his true love’s life.  Fei’s encounters with Grahf slowly unfurl the twisted tale of that singular tragic event while simultaneously revealing pieces of Fei’s past in the process.  How these two characters relate in the end is absurd, intense and beautiful.

As interesting and deep a character as I’ve ever seen.

Krelian on the other hand, a dear friend of Sophia, took the loss differently.  Devastated by her sacrifice, Krelian declared that were there truly a God watching over them Sophia would never have been put in a position to sacrifice herself.  That someone as kind and good as her would be protected.  From that moment on Krelian set out to fill the vacancy in heaven he knew existed, to create God with his own hands.  Sadly, ‘creating God’ required vile acts that split Krelian’s soul asunder.  What remains of this extremely complex character by the climax of our story is difficult to describe.

On top of that there are wonderful character elaborations here that most game creators don’t even have the capacity or nuance to understand.  For instance, Lacan was a painter whose feelings grew for Sophia while he worked on her portrait.  As time went on and the painting neared completion he slowed down fearing the day he would complete it, that sad day he would no longer be able to spend hours examining her beauty and relaying it to canvas.  He ends up not actually finishing because the war comes and steals her away…an even worse fate.

This is about as simple as it gets with Xenogears, because almost everything else is layered upon that concept…that relationship between these characters.  I’ve found that my interpretation of the story is at its most powerful when I begin to relate every event to that core idea.  Yeah there’s crazy shit about religion, lost civilizations, giant robots, Id (most ridiculous and amazing character storyline ever), reincarnation even…but the entire game is anchored by the tragedy of Sophia’s sacrifice and the destruction it wrought on two important characters.  And it is powerful.  When you can finally get to a place with Xenogears where you understand all of the moving parts the depth of the themes really start to shine brilliantly.  In fact, it’s only through two complete playthroughs and a shit ton of reading Perfect Works translations that I can even give a base account of what the hell is even going on.

Xenogears’ story requires an investment and dedication.  Things are not explained to you in any sort of digestible manner, you’re expected to put the time in.  Were the personal rewards not as robust as they are for doing so it wouldn’t be worth the trouble.  But it is.  Never have I encountered in any medium a saga so affecting, so worth it.  As devoted as I am to my Shepard and the reaper invasion or as nostalgic as I am about the Final Fantasy series, none of them carry nearly as much weight or hit me as hard as Xenogears does.  It’s both emotionally and physically devastating to play the whole way through but in the end you feel as though you’ve done more than just played a simple video game.  This is also the reason I find myself slow to recommend Xenogears to any but the most sincere and understanding people.

And the people that do find the courage to commit to this game?  They discover a story filled with maturity that could really only resonate with an adult, a person who has actually experienced shit in their life.  I think Xenogears is the only video game I have ever seen that actually depicts the serious love interests laying in a bed naked having just slept together (and not in that very BioWare overt fan service way).  Or that an extremely manipulative relationship between two other characters would take them to the same place with a much different tone.  Silly, that a game with a love story might actually relay that intensely personal ‘thing’ that every single human being on the face of the earth can identify with: physical attraction, sexual intimacy and taking a relationship to the next level.  I would call it ballsy in any other game but these sequences fit the tone perfectly, implemented in a way not to shock the player (but it is kind of shocking anyway), but to make the characters and situation seem all the more realistic or identifiable.

|The Music|
Yasunori Mitsuda is Xenogears’ composer and it is some of the finest work I’ve ever heard.  In fact, I would have a hard time describing Xenogears as ‘realistic’ and ‘identifiable’ were it not for its soundtrack.  If only songs like these were playing somewhere in the distance in our real lives when epic things happened.  Finding anything that compares to this OST is really hard for me, and I’ve tried.  It’s true that I believe Chrono Cross to have the best music in video games and I will stand by that statement, but Xenogears is special.  I’m hesitant to even list it by comparison because it’s difficult for me to qualify just exactly what it does.  There are honest to god moments in my daily life where a song like “The Treasure Which Cannot be Stolen” will play on random and I will stop what I’m doing because I have to concentrate on not shedding tears in front of my computer screen.  There is a beauty in this soundtrack that very few other things in this world have achieved, a very pure and emotional sentiment that makes you feel as though Mitsuda himself was moved during its creation.

The entire score is extremely heavy, or powerful.  It’s a tone that compliments Xenogears perfectly, a game that is itself very serious and thought provoking.  Tracks like “The One who is Torn Apart” (Id’s theme) express something through subtlety that is hard to find anywhere but here, and it’s something I struggle to describe…so I won’t waste my time.

These songs are two examples from a score that honestly doesn’t have a sour track in it.  While you may find the quantity to be somewhat lacking considering the size of the game, each song has an important quality that does nothing but elevate Xenogears every moment a tune can be heard.

I should be honest, this has been my most difficult game review to write on this blog.  Xenogears really means a lot to me, not only for the way it introduced me to the idea of mature themes in an entertainment medium before I had really developed a taste for it, but kinda just for being what it is.  Not even Takahashi’s own works after Xenogears come anywhere near it.  Every time I play the game I learn something new and my adoration grows, the experience and memory becomes more potent.  This, to me, is the definition of a masterpiece.  A vision.  Something that words simply just cannot describe.  Truly one of the best games ever made…Mike was right, even if he couldn’t tell me why.

Reading back over this I’ve found, not surprisingly, that I haven’t written much at all about the game itself.  Usually when I do these things it’s more of a stream of consciousness effort than a structured outline of points.  I knew Xenogears was going to put me in a weird place for that reason.  When I think about the game the things that come to mind aren’t the menus or the pacing…I don’t even really consider the wonky delivery of the narrative.  Playing this game isn’t always fun, it’s just not.  There are obvious imperfections, I’m not trying to hide that.  In fact, many aspects of this game could be called less than average.  The gear battling is not nearly as robust, fun or interesting as the regular.  The second disc is enough to make a gamer who’s used to Final Fantasy polish throw his copy out the window.  All I have to do, though, to remind myself that this game is special is remember how hard I fought back the tears when I heard the music box version of “Small Two of Pieces” play in Citan’s backyard hut near the beginning of the game.

Or think of the phrase Fei’s Kim.

Or ponder the tragedy that is Ramsus.

Or to know that I’ve experienced something not meant to simply sell the most copies or spawn the most sequels.  That I walked down a path that was someone’s vision and not just a yearly corporate creation advertised in GameStop’s window.  Not only is Xenogears one of a kind, it very well could be described as the last of it.

Click here to see where Xenogears placed in my Master List!

The Last Story


I don’t know exactly what to think about Mistwalker’s The Last Story.  Despite having “The Gooch” running the show, they just don’t seem to have made anything, like, super awesome yet.  Blue Dragon was interesting (but not quite interesting enough for me to finish it) and Lost Odyssey, to me, only had flashes of brilliance.  Considering Sakaguchi hasn’t really directed anything since about Final Fantasy V, maybe this can be his return to prominence.  Or not, who knows!

All things considered, I will purchase this game when it releases here and not necessarily because I expect it to even be good.

Other reasons include:
1.  I want to support localization of any and everything.  The more stuff we get here the better, especially RPGs.
2.  My Wii needs some love and Nintendo needs to show the fans that they’re willing to give us what we want.
3.  There’s a soft spot in my heart for old Gooch and Uematsu.  Their works more or less shaped my early gaming years and I’m willing to support/follow them through even mediocre games.

Special mention to that fucking crazy guy that looks like Ganondorf.  I mean…I haven’t been following this game that closely because there seemed to be only a slight chance that it was coming here but now I’m FUCKING JAKKKKKKKKKED.

So yeah, pretty cool shit.  Big ups to Nintendo for at the very least pretending to care about the fans.