Thursday, March 15, 2012

GameFAN #7

GameFAN issue 7, Mk2, is out. In fact it’s been out for a while. It also features a review, by me, of Xenoblade Chronicles. Read on for the gossip.

Issue 7 represents another gradual shift for the magazine, which still seems to be finding its foothold. Its release is also sporadic enough that it feels more like a quarterly periodical than a monthly magazine – though I’m told it will become more regular.

What I’m pleased to see hasn’t changed, is that GameFAN still continues to represent the otherwise under-represented. Look at that cover (there’s also a related interview inside). How many other magazines featured Rayman Origins on the front? GamesTM over the months has descended into covers featuring generic computer renders of whatever property is paying the most advertising that month. I don’t receive EGM anymore, but their covers were never great. Retro Gamer is about the only other magazine where I can say it looks beautiful to see it on a shelf or my coffeetable.

To emphasise this love of the underdog, inside there’s a feature on seemingly abandoned character properties, with a look at what it would take to bring them back. Who doesn’t want to see a return of Earthworm Jim or Psychonauts?

There’s also 6 loving pages dedicated to indie PC shmup Jamestown, with developer interview. This is always good stuff, since the creative minds behind great games deserve to be showcased.

Then there’s my review of Xenoblade Chronicles. I gave it 9.5 and first wrote it when the PAL release came out – since handing it in there was the announcement of a US release. So perfectly timed you could say. Having had some months to reflect on my score, I can safely say I still agree with my sentiments.

Apart from an awkward gear-equipping UI, it is as close to JRPG perfection as I’ve seen in the last few years. It’s just regrettable it’s on hardware which limits its audience.

Speaking of great JRPGs they also have a look at the Level-5 Visions Event, showcasing the work of developers Level-5, including Ni No Kuni. It’s a beautifully designed feature, written by Destructoid associate editor Jonathan Holmes. While the rest of the world deplorably claims the Japanese games industry, and the JRPG, are dead, leafing through this issue of GameFAN you’d think otherwise. In a way the coverage here reinforces something long thought: it’s not that Japan isn’t producing great games anymore, it’s that the western press has its fingers in its ears while screaming “LA-LA-LA-LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

There’s other great Japanese games mentioned, like Sonic Generations, an in-depth feature on the history of Disgaea, alongside a review of Disgaea 4, Zelda Skyward Sword, Guardian Heroes HD Remix, and Solatorobo. Well, I don’t actually like Solatorobo (in fact I hate it), but that still doesn’t change the fact that no matter how you cut it – the coverage here shows it’s a great time to be playing Japanese games. The fact they placed a French developed game on the cover (Rayman), proves that the different sides of the industry can in fact co-exist peacefully. I dunno, maybe the rest of the Western press has been playing too many army games, hence the growing mental view of Us-Versus-Them when it comes to Japan. A little bit sad, I think. To me Japan’s downfall – to a certain degree – appears to be the imaginings of the West; an apparition born out of misguided Schadenfreude and championed by weekend-warriors still high from killing militants in the latest Call of Warfare: My Patriotic Duty 5.

Seriously, if I compile a year-by-year list of good games from Japan, and limit it exclusively to those released in the west, they are still producing more incredible games than I have enough time to even playthrough. I don’t know where the misgivings come from, and I don’t actually know what the naysayers are expecting.

Here’s a look at that Rayman coverage, including interview with Michel Ancel

Other coverage includes a review of the stunning looking Bastion, plus a profile of 25 Years of Zelda. There’s no mention of the awesome CDi Zelda titles I love so much, but hey, no one is perfect.

There’s also an excellent double spread on GBA games – which is handy. I love visual info-dumps like this, it allows you to sit back and comb through each little box, taking your time to appreciate how voluminous the system’s library is. In additiont there’s a look at Silhouette Mirage, Wonder Dog, Skeleton Crew and Pilotwings (SNES) in the retro section. Plus a look at various comics and anime which would appeal to the readership.

I’m glad GameFAN is still being produced, because it presents the world of videogames as I remember it, and how I would like to see it continue. It portrays the medium like it was before the fun and passion died in other places. Which begs the question: is the shift we’ve seen in the world of games actual reality, or simply a frame of mind put forth by critics?


  1. Isn't the page layout a bit... too busy? It's good to be visual and all, but that's just overcrowded, a page layout like that seen on EDGE's quite more pleasing to the eye and can be just as visual if a bit more ordered and streamlined.

    Besides that, keep up the good work! Love the coverage on Jamestown and the GBA spread.

  2. Someone should take a copy of this magazine and slap that douche behind Fez with it.

  3. Oh man, don't even get me started on that guy. Apart from what basically boiled down to racism, he was extremely disrespectful to his English speaking fans after winning the IGF grand prize, which he entered for a second despite winning something last time, and for a game which still hasn't materialised. There are so many layers of wrong with Fez it is unreal. It represents a smorgasbord of so much that is wrong with videogames and the dark underbelly of the indie scene.

    Were I more motivated I'd write a lengthy article examining and stating how the JPN industry this generation is doing just fine - at least creatively speaking. My shelf of PS3 games alone proves this point. I doubt I could do it without ranting though. And I'd want to get some kind of interview material, which is always hard regarding Japan.

  4. I just wish back issues of this mag weren't so expensive. Trying to complete my collection is impossible, what with lots of ebay going for $100+ for 12 issues when I only need 2 or 3 from the whole lot.

  5. @Sketcz: Planning something along those lines very soon, for fear of not sounding pretentious(or biased).

  6. Jonathan Holmes covering Level-5 Vision? Was he even there on site to report on it?

  7. "I doubt I could do it without ranting though."

    never once stopped you before...?

  8. @Ubeinn Meh... Most of EDGE's page design is sterile compared to GameFAN. To me the page designs in GameFAN reflects the visual appeal of videogames.

  9. eeeeeeeeehhhh there are a lot of things that are flat out wrong with xenoblade,like the combat system which barely requires any input or tought of the player beyond "get behind the enemy to backstab him" or the plot which borders on parody near the end,or the clusterfuck that's the UI when it comes to managing quest

    and it really bothers me because most people seems to ignore all of this simply because the game features lot of big open spaces,seriously everyone i heard saying good thing about it,always start by talking about the big plain at the start of the game

    it's like we don't want to play JRPG anymore but instead just want a sandbox fantasy game

  10. @Ubeinn
    No, no, noooo! I have a tremendous dislike for the design in EDGE and anything which copies. EDGE is a terrible magazine, pretentious, sterile, devoid of any creativity or enjoyment. it is the absolute anti-thesis to what videogames represent. It's like seeing a magazine dedicated to politics and economics written and designed by pot-smoking hippies and acid-freaks. GameFAN and Retro Gamer share a lot of design ideas - and they are both precisely how I like my magazines to look. As one Anon said: the page designs in GameFAN reflects the visual appeal of videogames.

    @CJ Iwakura
    Interesting. Care to PM me on the forums explaining more? Yesterday I had thought about compiling a list of every good or interesting Japanese developed game from this generation, and in my head I came up with what must have been around 50 titles. The sheer quantity of what's good proves to me that creatively at least, they are still producing more than I have time to play.

    @Xenoblade Anon
    Really? The UI for quests is PERFECT. You can group it based on New Quests where you haven't completed any of the requirements. Current Quests, where you've completed some objectives, or Completed Quests. You can also group them specifically by area! Additionally, once given a quest, all items pertaining to that quest have a little exclamation on them. I can't actually think of a single RPG, Japanese or otherwise, has a more intuitive and helpful UI. At no point was I ever confused about what I needed to do.

    We must have been playing a different game.

    The battle system is something I've always wanted to see in games. There's no need to manage your standard attacks, they're automatic. Which makes sense, since in every other JRPG if I'm not casting some epic spell I'm using a generic attack. The strategy comes from managing your special attack set and your skills (and shared skills), then it's all about having allies which can daze or topple, while you instigate the next attack in a sequence (IE: stun following topple or whatever it is).

    The plot... OK, I'll give you that. The ending explanation did ruin an otherwise excellent set-up. It just about managed to keep it together, just. I actually really liked the philosophical debate over the need for deities and the killing of a deity.

  11. sketcz - mmm maybe i didn't explain myself well,what you say it's true but finding the right NPC can be a pain in the ass,the schedule of that NPC it's on that weird tree scheme which is hard to navigate because the NPC are all over the place,but the info of where to find him is in the quest log which is really unintuitive,why couldn't they lump the info all together?

    even when you get all the info,the cities are often so big,you end up spending more time searching for an NPC than doing other stuff,it's even more nonsensical when you add the fact that minor sidequest complete themselves as soon as you get the required item,but the major one require you to get back to the NPC that gave you the quest in the first place,it's especialy bad in the nopon tree and it's another thing that frustated me a lot

  12. That's actually a valid criticism! Good point. My workaround for that is that quest NPCs show up on the radar with an exclamation mark - so for the Nopon tree I would do several quests, and then I had quite a few done I'd go back, start at the bottom and run all the way to the keep, focusing my eye on the radar for when an exclamation would pop up.

    Of course this isn't a very good solution to something which could have been streamlined better.

  13. While I may disagree with Phil Fish's statement on Japanese games, calling it racism is a little over the top, don't you think? Or have we really lost sight of what _real_ racism looks like?

  14. I liked reading the issue overall. I'd like to headbutt some sense into whoever did the Gameboy Advance top 10 though...were they freebasing? Guardian Heroes Advance? Gunstar Super Heroes? Really?

    As for Phil Fish, who the fuck does he think he is? He hasn't even released a game. Then again, the gaming press like touting and putting assholes on pedestals, I guess because it makes a good story.

  15. Wanted to order it, but shipping was 22$, lol.

  16. @Joestar
    You don't like Gunstar Super Heroes? Really?! It's my top 10 GBA, easily. I've heard it getting negative press from a few places online, but I replayed it in English recently and I love it. It's not the MegaDrive release, but it's still a fine example of Treasure.

    1. Sketcz, when in the hell have I not been at least partially hostile towards something you were involved in? ;).

      Passive-aggressive joking aside I really enjoyed the Xenoblade article, and made me look forward to it even more. As for the GBA article...well, I was angry that Ninja Five-O didn't make the top 10, myself.

      Gunstar Super Heroes was graphics porn on the order of the original, and I'm one of the few people that enjoyed the Thunder Blade segment. I wasn't so much of a fan of the core gameplay though, which felt different than the original. The weapons definitely felt off and it hurt the experience for me. So I guess in retrospect I wouldn't say it's a bad game, but if anything Astro Boy: The Omega Factor kind of spoiled me on it.

      I'm not budging on Guardian Heroes Advance though, which was an abomination. Gameplay issues aside (I hated how you couldn't get anywhere unless you were perfect with counters, which I eventually forced myself to do) I wasn't a fan of how it crapped on the original heroes - it made what Chrono Cross did look downright respectful. The arbitrary differences between the character types was kind of lame too.

      One thing I did enjoy was the feature on Skeleton Krew, which I remember the original Gamefan run doing a feature on. That was a surprisingly fun game.

  17. @Joseph - Dave was the one who insisted both Gunstar and GH make it into the top 10... otherwise, Ninja Five-O would have been there...

    -James B., former Managing Ed., GameFan Magazine