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PixlTalk Episode 52: Bravely Agito Heroes Versus 358/2 Days Plus Alpha

The Tri-Force crew takes a journey to the land of the rising sun!

Konichiwa, beyotches! It's time for another edition of PixlTalk, Tri-Force style! It's all about Japan this week, as your intrepid trio takes a look at the Japanese industry and talk about how concerned we are about the future of gaming over there. Your cup will runneth over with podcasty goodness as we argue about the merits of Mario for the hardcore gamer, discuss the sexuality of Bayonetta, casual racism in Resident Evil 5 (among other games), and mention some of our favorite Japanese games from this generation. We talk in some detail about Metal Gear Solid 4, Vanquish, Demon's Souls, and then Patrick makes sweet, sweet love to The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. So sit back, pour some sake, and listen to a podcast so meaty you'll need to hold it with both hands.

Featured Music:

Hironobu Kageyama- Ken's Theme

Helena Noguerra-Fly Me to the Moon

Tomohiro Harada-Bee Jam Blues

Koji Kondo-Ballad of the Goddess

Ritsuki Nakano-Suteki da ne

Naofumi Hataya and Tomoko Sasaki-We Are Burning Rangers



Angelo Grant Staff Writer

02/03/2012 at 10:29 AM

Only part way through the podcast, but one observation.  Someone stated they wanted a midevil Zelda with darker overtones.

Um... Dark Souls?  It's Japanese to boot!

Nick DiMola Director

02/03/2012 at 10:47 AM

I agree, there are plenty of games that have taken a riff off of the Zelda formula to do something darker. Plus no one mentioned Twilight Princess, which is a significantly darker tale of the Zelda universe. Much more so than Ocarina, Wind Waker, or Skyward Sword.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

02/03/2012 at 11:59 AM

There's also Majora's Mask.  That was pretty dark.  Don't forget Darksiders too, and I haven't played it, but didn't Zelda actually die in Spirit Tracks?  I'm not sure if that game is actually 'dark' though.

Nintendo also does this weird thing where they put this shiny, kid friendly paint on anything they consider to be too dark.  If I recall correctly, the original release of Ocarina of Time actually had Gannondorf bleed when you fought him, but the big N changed that with later releases.  Pickmen is actually rather dark when you think about it, but they really went through a lot to make sure the whole death thing was really glossed over and bloodless.  

Rob Ottone Staff Alumnus

02/03/2012 at 01:36 PM

Missing the point, gents. I want a Zelda game with the typically classic Nintendo-y mechanics set in a dark universe. Dark by no means in the sense I mention it related to visuals or story. It's tone. As "dark" as previous Zelda games may or may not have been, the tone was never quite there. I don't want to play Darksiders or Demon's Souls to get a "dark" Zelda experience.

That was my point. 

Rob Ottone Staff Alumnus

02/03/2012 at 01:37 PM

You can have a fabulously lush and colorful game permeated by an impossibly dark tone. It's been done before. Nintendo could easily pull it off.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

02/03/2012 at 01:55 PM

So you want Nintendo to make games for adults.

Yeah... I don't think that's gonna happen... sorry.

Rob Ottone Staff Alumnus

02/03/2012 at 01:56 PM

Hence my entire argument on the 'cast. 

Nick DiMola Director

02/03/2012 at 02:42 PM

Seems fundamentally at odds with Nintendo's entire mantra. I feel the comparison of Nintendo to Pixar was apt. If they were to approach any of these big franchises with a darker tone, it just wouldn't be them anymore.

Not sure what that has to do, fundamentally, with the issues in Japanese games and their appeal to western audiences. These games sell gangbusters despite not taking on a dark tone. Clearly Nintendo is doing it right. They sell games with universal appeal that garner huge sales.

Those not doing it right are the ones half in and half out. Nintendo may catch a lot of "internet crap" over their style of game design, but people still buy these games, so I don't think the crap talk counts for much. The ones really in danger are the ones that are catching crap and not garnering sales.

If we want to look at a great example, take Shadows of the Damned. The game sold like crap. Why? I thought it was fantastic - one of my favorite titles in 2011 - but it seemingly didn't connect with western audiences. It has dark overtones, but it's completely over the top. I think that clear disconnect from reality is where western audiences are lost. If you contrast this to a game like Skyrim, while it features magic and dragons, it all fits neatly into historical lore. Most western games, while somewhat fantastical in design, are typically rooted firmly in reality. That departure, I think, is what's most offputting to western audiences with Japanese games.

Story always takes a backseat too, which I think is a huge problem as well. Sometimes Japanese games nail it, but I'd say more often than not, they take that for granted. This is totally fine with me, but I love Japanese games and typically have a hard time connecting with the more story-based and darkly toned western games.

I think Japan and America are just very different places culturally and now that western games are becoming more prolific, it's becoming easier and easier for Americans to pass on Japanese games. I'm cool with Japan doing what they're doing and I can do without much change. If anything the only thing that needs some love is the JRPG. They need to start shaking that genre up because it's been the same fundamental experience for many years at this point. Final Fantasy XIII did some amazing stuff for combat and I'm hoping XIII-2 really meshes the combat with the open world gameplay we expect, setting the mold for future experiences.

Rob Ottone Staff Alumnus

02/03/2012 at 02:52 PM

And yet we hear that Nintendo is "in trouble", which is what was part of the discussion was about. I, personally, don't care what Nintendo does. They don't interest me, personally, and until they do, I'm done with 'em, but at the same time, Japanese gaming can't be mentioned without mentioning Nintendo. The podcast was about Japanese gaming as a whole, not just waht's wrong with it. They do plenty right, obviously, a new Mario game or Zelda game drops and everyone pees themselves and buys it. That's great, nothing but love for franchises that still dominate.

Everyone is taking the "darker" tone thing out of proportion here. It's one example for ONE game. And it's only ONE person's (my) opinion. I don't care if people agree, I don't care if you argue, but understand, I'm not looking to see Mario engage in a seriously-toned or "dark" FPS or see Zelda and Link engaged in brutality at a Dragon Age level. I just want to see the Zelda franchise, specifically, go to a darker place.

Thus endeth my participation in this free-for-all madness, lol.

Nick DiMola Director

02/03/2012 at 03:03 PM

Nintendo's issues are for a whole different set of reasons, not related to game performance, but their near dropping of Wii support, a botched 3DS launch, and the weak dollar to yen conversion. That's neither here nor there - their games are still highly rated and that's really the focus of the discussion - the games.

In any event, only a small portion of my response discussed the dark tone stuff. Like I said, I was trying to get at the root of the issue, which I'm not sure you guys ever arrived at. Seemed like there were a smattering of ideas, but no final conclusion on what the disconnect was. There's clearly one there and even in a two hour podcast, it's hard to cover the absolute enormous breadth of the situation. I just wanted to pinpoint one of my personal observations.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

02/04/2012 at 09:58 PM

It's true that Nintendo doesn't have to do anything to their core series, as there's plenty of gamers who enjoy playing the same game every time. I'm the same way with the Street Fighter and Mega Man series. But as I say time and time again, gamers fear change, while I crave it. There are things that can be done to these franchises that would make them new and fresh and still sell millions of copies, and I think the first thing you do is mix up the teams. Those guys that made Super Mario Galaxy are pretty much amazing, so why not let them try their hands at a Zelda game? Or something new? Nintendo created so many amazing franchises in the 80s and 90s and I know they can still do that, but why bother when people are happy with a new Mario Kart every few years?

Nick DiMola Director

02/04/2012 at 10:56 PM

I think Nintendo really gets a bum rap on the new IP thing too. They actually make tons of new series and franchises, most of them just aren't as high profile so they're largely overlooked. Here's a quick list I put together of some of the more recent stuff off the top of my head - Starfy, Elite Beat Agents/Ouendan, Golden Sun, Hotel Dusk, Another Code, Rhythm Heaven, Battalion Wars, Endless Ocean, Excitebots, Sin & Punishment, Xenoblade Chronicles, Pandora's Tower, Art Style, Fluidity, Maboshi, Bonsai Barber, Steel Diver, Pushmo, Sakura Samurai, Dillon's Rolling Western, Line Attack Heroes, Snowpack Park, Eco Shooter, Magnetica, Polarium, Chibi Robo, Custom Robo, Kururin, ThruSpace.

I'm sure there are ways they can shake up some of the mainstays, but I don't think I'd want that for most of them. Many of the Mario spin-offs could definitely use some fresh talent, but the mainline games of the major franchises are all so great, I can't imagine someone else taking the helm for any reason when they could be working on something they've already proven they can do well. I'd rather see Nintendo divert some of their major talents towards creating a high profile game that people are excited about. So many of the franchises Nintendo creates go to waste, it would be great to see some of them resurrected by talented teams. 

Julian Titus Senior Editor

02/04/2012 at 11:05 PM

But most of those aren't Nintendo franchises. I'm not saying that there aren't great games on the Nintendo platforms, but when I try and think of new IPs from the big N, I'm stumped. I end up back at Pikmin, because I feel that Nintendogs and Brain Age are more along the lines of interactive toys than real games. Pikmin was fantastic and original. I'd love to see more games like that. I'd also love to see the Nintendo studios explore the digital space more. It could be a great testing ground for new ideas.

Man, Elite Beat Agents was fantastic. I keep meaning to import Ouendan because I know it's totally different.

Nick DiMola Director

02/04/2012 at 11:10 PM

Actually, all of those are Nintendo franchises. Not all of them were developed in house, but Nintendo owns every single one of those IPs. They can contract the same companies to develop them again or not, but one way or another, they own them. Much like Eternal Darkness, which Nintendo also fails to do anything with all of these years later...

That's my whole point though - people have no awareness that Nintendo has ownership of this stuff. They don't promote the games, they don't try to develop the franchises, and they continue to only let the original teams who made them work on them. There's some amazing stuff in there that just goes to waste. I didn't even get into all of the other weird Japanese stuff they produce that never has come here. No no no Puzzle Chai-rian was one of the best GBA games, but you'll never see anything that weird come here - there's no audience.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

02/04/2012 at 11:30 PM

I didn't know that, but I think my point remains. Nintendo didn't create these franchises, and like you said, they did little to promote them. The Eternal Darkness example is a great one. Nintendo could do something with that IP, but I don't think anyone would ever say that it's a Nintendo IP, even if they hold the rights to it. But even if we want to say that these are indeed Nintendo made franchises, what I want to see is stuff made by the in-house teams. Or hell, even Tose, as they're responsible for some of the best Nintendo stuff.

And I think I'd even be happy if they would trot out some of their lesser franchises once in awhile. I loved the new Punch Out!!, and I'd be all over another Wario Ware. It's been years since DIY, and even longer since the last "real" entry in that series.

Jon Lewis Staff Writer

02/03/2012 at 01:57 PM

Great cast so far guys, but i gotta make a small point here; as far as racism in RE5, i really dont think its as bad as people say. As a "black" person, i played through RE5 multiple times and didnt think much of it. I never saw it as a personal offence, its simply just location. I wouldnt not buy RE5 just because it seems rasist, but idk, thats just my 2 cents

Joaquim Mira Media Manager

02/03/2012 at 02:07 PM

You know how the internetz is. It loves the drama.

Rob Ottone Staff Alumnus

02/03/2012 at 02:13 PM

Totally valid. I have a few friends who were super-offended by it. Guys who never read anything about it leading up to it, they just knew it as another RE title. Everything has two sides, so I'm actually glad to hear you weren't offended by it. I, personally, don't get offended when I watch The Jersey Shore or The Sopranos (I'm Italian), but I understand why people who do get offended do. "Do do", lol

Joaquim Mira Media Manager

02/03/2012 at 02:24 PM

As a human I'm offended by The Jersey Shore.

Nick DiMola Director

02/03/2012 at 02:45 PM

This comment = win.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

02/03/2012 at 02:29 PM

Actually Rob, both shows you mentioned do offend me, but that might be because people have actually used them to rip on me.  That might be the case here as well.  The context of someones life really defines what offends them more than anything.

Rob Ottone Staff Alumnus

02/03/2012 at 02:34 PM

For sure, for sure. I never said the contrary.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

02/03/2012 at 10:04 PM

I think that's actually the thing here.  Remember that ad run for the PSP that had a black woman beating up a white one, then another one with the reverse?  There was an uproar over that.  In japan, they don't have the racial context to even make that offensive to them.  It's only offensive in places where stuff like that happened as a hate crime, or with a history of racial slavery like what we have here.

I think it's the same thing with RE 5.  In japan, they probably never even gave it a second thought that it was some white dude mowing down black guys, but over here that takes on a whole new meaning.  I think they are starting to understand that now.  Look at how they treated Sazh.  In Japan, he was handled as very over the top, comic character that would have been very offensive here.  There's no doubt if that material was directly and literally translated, the script would be considered racist here in the US, but when they localized the game, they put effort into making his caracter something that wouldn't be loaded with prejudice in our cultural context.  Not every developer understands this yet, but I think they will get there eventually.

Jon Lewis Staff Writer

02/03/2012 at 11:32 PM

I just think some people are too sensitive. Rasism is definitely a sensitive topic, especially to "black" americans cuz im not gonna lie, sometimes we (not me, but speaking generally) find reasons to turn things into something that seems racist. In this case i feel like its a similar case, but as i said before, I enjoyed RE5 just as much as anyone else. Guess it depends on perspective.

Patrick Kijek Contributing Writer

02/04/2012 at 04:13 PM

I, also, am offended by Jersey Shore!

Julian Titus Senior Editor

02/04/2012 at 10:02 PM

JD, Capcom pulled things back after the initial controversy, but that first trailer was pretty awful. And I didn't mean to hold RE 5 up as the poster child for Japanese race issues; it's just the easy one to bring up. Like I said in the show, anytime Japanese devs put a character into the mix that's not white or Japanese it's always the worst possible stereotype they can come up with. That applies to homosexual characters too, which always end up being the most over-the-top caricatures you can think of.

It's cool that you can see stuff like that and not get offended. It takes a lot to offend me, but when I see characters or situations like that in Japanese games I'm always thinking "wow, really?"

Jon Lewis Staff Writer

02/05/2012 at 12:44 AM

Haha, i know exactly what you mean. When they stereotype, they exaggerate it to the max. I dont exactly remember the first trailer (besides the fact that it looked a lot scarier than the final product) but perhaps it was easy to see the offense in it. 

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

02/06/2012 at 12:36 PM

I'm probably the minority, but I found it interesting that I had a radically different top 3 current gen Japanese games than you guys did:

1: Tales of Vesperia

2: Dark Souls

3: Etrian Odyssey 3

Julian Titus Senior Editor

02/06/2012 at 01:37 PM

Solid choices, all. I feel bad that I haven't played many of the JRPGs this gen, and the ones I have played I didn't care for. Lost Odyssey and Last Remnant were two of the games I traded in, and I haven't played a Tales game since PSX. Dark Souls is in my backlog, though.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

02/06/2012 at 02:35 PM

Well, take my choices with a grain of salt then.  Even though it didn't make the list, I loved the hell out of Lost Odyssey.  Last Remnant looked interesting, but everybody I talked to told me it's pretty much unplayable on the 360.

My introduction to the Tales franchise was through De Jap's fantastic translation  of the original Tales of Phantasia. The only way to do that is by patching a rom and playing in an emulator, but at the time, the franchise was completely unavailable in the US, so that's my justification. It amazes me what they were able to pull off on the SNES hardware in that game.  Fantastic graphics, action combat in a JRPG, and a sountrack that actually had vocals.  I was really shocked.  And while his translation is... liberal at best, it's still the most entertaining take on the game that I've seen.

Honestly, translation is the main reason I stayed away from the franchise since that game.  The localizations provided by the actual developers  were all very dry, cheesy, and not fun.  I would much rather they take some liberties with the story in order to make it more appealing. Vesperia nailed it though.  I'd say if you were looking for a good, modern Tales experience, Vesperia is the best one out there right now.

And you know I'll be playing Abyss pretty soon too.

Jon Lewis Staff Writer

02/06/2012 at 03:40 PM

Good list. ToV is definitely on my list as well, probably my number one from the current gen, however what held the game together for me was the combat. In retrospect, the Story was pretty lacking compared to other Tales games, but Vesperia was by far my favorite gameplay wise. As for my top 3 of the current gen...

Tales of Vesperia, Radiant Historia (which kinda counts even tho DS is starting its phase out) and Zelda: Skyward Sword.

This is in no particular order, but Tales is in there because the gameplay pulled me in for near 300 hours and 5 playthroughs. Radiant Historia is perhaps one of the most interesting JRPG's ive ever played. It really great story, soundtrack and twist on gameplay. Skyward Sword proved a great balance of Modern and Old school Zelda qualities, while providing the best use of motion control's yet and one of the best endings in a Zelda game. There are definitely more, like Eternal Sonata, Mario 3D Land, the Capcom Fighting games like SF4 and Marvel but at the moment, those are my favorites.


02/07/2012 at 02:00 PM

Dark Souls! Dark Souls! Khaaaan! But really I want to play Dark Souls badly and give it a chance. I really want Dark Souls and The Witcher 2 for 360 once I get a new one. I'll probably bundle them on Amazon and get them at the same time, and then I will giggle like a little girl once I own them both. I was watching a Let's Play of Dark Souls and I everything I saw made me excited. I did see the player die a lot, but it always made sense and had a pretty logical solution. A boss character was inflicting giant amounts of damage, so the player adapted, kept trying, and eventually killed the boss. One time the player got killed by a booby trap, so he started moving slower and watching more carefully. He started going up stairs or into rooms with his shield up, sword out, balls to the wall, and ready to fight and win or fight and die. It was so much fun to even watch, it hit me in the gut and made my survival instincts and fear kick in and I wasn't even playing.

In one of the past Pixltalk discussion I think Jesse and I were having a discussion about difficulty, AI, level design, and combat. I was saying that I wish games were more dynamic, difficult, and when you go into combat, raise your sword, aim a rifle, or put up your fists, you need to be dead serious about it and be ready for consequences just like it would be in real life. I don't want all games to be like Dark Souls, not at all, because I love my frantic action and regenerating shields in Halo, but I appreciate what Dark Souls is trying as well. It reminds me of Bioshock and the fights I had with Big Daddies.

In Bioshock when I saw a Big Daddy I felt an instinctive urge to slow down, think, crouch like an animal, stalk it and watch its behavior, set up traps for it, etc. When I would get close to the Big Daddy or its Little Sister, the way the Big Daddy moans and suddenly faces you and starts shoving you away just made me go, "Wow! He means business and if I keep bothering them he's going to kill me." So I would hunt the Big Daddy, set traps, make sure I had enough health and ammo, and I knew that once I took a single shot at him the shit was going to hit the fan and I might die, but hopefully I'd win because of all my planning. I love that feeling and I've only ever got that from Bioshock before. A million low-AI fodder enemies put together could never add up to the satisfaction I got from a single encounter with a Big Daddy. Something tells me I might have a similar experience in Dark Souls. I want to respect my enemies and evolve as I play.

In one of the previous Pixltalks we were talking about tutorials and learning styles, and I agreed with Jules that games shouldn't hold our hands as much, and the way a player learns to succeed in more sophisticated games should come more organically through observation, interpretation, and experimentation. Maybe that'll happen Dark Souls, I'm not sure. It worked perfectly for me in Portal 2, so it's a proven formula and I want to explore it more and learn to implement it. Sorry I just realized nothing I said has much Japanese flavor or content to fit the topic. Dark Souls was mentioned towards the end for a few moments and I took that and ran with it lol.

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