The Continuing Saga of Soul Calibur

A new chapter in the tale of souls and swords begins in Soul Calibur V.

The next game in the popular fighting game saga will see the return of many beloved characters such as Voldo, Cervantes and Ivy.

At the same time, it also will mean the departure of several of the series’ most beloved characters. Namely, Xianghua, Taki, Sophitia, Cassandra, Setsuka, Amy, Talim and Zasalamel.

Saddening as it may be to see these characters go, new fighters have risen up to replace them, most notably Ezio Auditore da Firenze who starred in Assassin’s Creed II and its two sequels.

Among other newcomers are the mysterious warrior known as Z.W.E.I.  and his companion, the fortuneteller Viola. Z.W.E.I. uses a arming sword in combat and can summon a wolf-like being to aid him in battle. Viola uses an armored claw in addition to an floating orb that serves as her primary weapon.

Newcomers Patroklos Alexander and Pyrrha Alexandra are the focus of the game’s story-line as they are Sophitia’s two children. They take her place as well as that of her sister Cassandra on the new roster. Patroklos is a driven and righteous young man who seeks to become the next wielder of Soul Calibur.

At the same time, his sister is being carefully groomed by Tira, Soul Edge’s servant, to be its next host. All the while the stage is set for another epic confrontation between Soul Calibur and Soul Edge and warriors gather from all the corners of the world to claim and or destroy them.

Story aside, I must say that as long as the new fighters are interesting and add unique character to the game then I don’t mind the departure of some characters.

Along with new fighters there are of course new mechanics that have been worked into Soul Calibur V. The most significant of which is the addition of a special gauge called the Critical Gauge. The Critical Gauge fills when making and blocking attacks and is used to power the other mechanics that have been added to the game: Critical Edge, Brave Edge and Guard Impacts.

Guard Impacts used to be executable whenever the player wanted, provided the proper button input was made. Now, Guard Impacts require a small portion of your Critical Gauge and must be employed carefully. Critical Edge and Brave Edges are special attacks that require a full gauge to use and can be anything from a flashy attack to a special grab that deals considerable damage if it lands.

Just Guard is a new way to execute a Guard-Impact-like maneuver and break an opponent’s combo. It involves blocking an opponents attack just as the attack is made.  With the attack negated, you can strike back immediately and without risk to punish your opponent.

Finally, the new Quick Step feature has been added to help compensate for the now limited use of Guard Impact. It is a simple, fast sidestep technique that allows you to dodge an opponent’s vertical strikes and counterattack.

I am really looking forward to trying out Soul Calibur V and seeing how the new mechanics fit in. I especially am excited about the massively expanded Character Creation mode.

What do you think of the new changes? Do you hate them? Or do you think they make the game better?

Feel free to sound off in the comments below!

P.S. Don’t forget to mention your favorite fighter! (Mine is Ivy)

Digging Deep into Minecraft

I finally got around to playing Minecraft and getting a first hand taste of what has so captivated the hearts of many gamers for the past year.

Minecraft is a construction sand-box game that drops you into a vast, cubist world to build, create or destroy as you see fit. At night, monsters crawl out from their hiding places and will hunt you down on sight.

Players can choose from two main game modes: Survival and Creative. Survival drops the player into a fresh new world to explore and the player must work to survive, mining and crafting materials as well as building themselves a suitable shelter for when night falls. They will have to eat regularly to keep up their strength and will have to beware of monsters, as dying will rob them of any inventory on their person and dump them back where they first spawned.

Creative mode starts the same way, but gives the player access to an infinite amount of every kind of material. In addition, the player will be made invincible and will not have to worry about maintaining their Health and Hunger levels as they do in Survival.

Where this game truly shines is in the multi-player experience where you can play with friends via online servers. Together you can tackle the challenges of survival mode or create various architectural marvels. From scale models of the starship Enterprise to an entire recreation of Middle-Earth, if you can think it, you can build it.

There are also community of modders that create fun add-ons to the game, adding things like alchemical crafting tools and new enemy types. Youtubers like the Yogscast and CaptainSparkles cover all sorts of things Minecraft-related as well, so be sure to give their channels a look if you are interested in Minecraft!

The Zelda Symphony is Coming to Phoenix

Just recently, tickets have come on sale for the Legend of Zelda symphony that will be touring the United States over the course of this year in order to continue the celebration of 25th Anniversary of the Legend of Zelda.

Dubbed The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, the symphony will be coming here to Phoenix for two days to play at the Orpheum Theatre on April 20-21.

I could not be more excited at this announcement. To hear the music in-game is one thing. Hearing the music cascade forth from a live symphony should be marvelous.

I wrote a previous post on the importance of music in games and the Legend of Zelda is one of a few game franchises whose music is revered as much as the gameplay and characters.

The Zelda theme is one of the most iconic pieces of gaming music and is one that is sure to raise the spirits and recall nostalgic memories of rescuing Princess Zelda, battling Ganon’s minions and getting lost in the Water Temple.

However, that is one of many memorable pieces that have been crafted for Zelda. In particular, I feel compelled to highlight several other pieces, such as the theme of Princess Zelda. As the namesake of the series, Princess Zelda plays an important role in nearly every Zelda game to date with a few exceptions (Link’s Awakening and the Oracle of Seasons/Oracle of Ages Game Boy games). As such her theme is one that characterizes her kind and gentle spirit.

Next up is one of my favorites, the music played in the Temple of Time from The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. The notes command a calm and a reverence that befits the temple. A fitting feeling for a place that remains a sanctuary of solemn stillness even in a future ravaged by the evil Ganondorf.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask had its fair share of memorable music and I mentioned one such piece, “The Song of Healing,” in my previous post. However another piece that deserves recognition is Last Day, the music that plays as the monstrous moon reaches the penultimate hours of its crash into Termina.  What makes it so remarkable for me is that Last Day manages to convey a sort of melancholy urgency. Like an eerie call beckoning you to the Clock Tower to face the Skull Kid and stop the disaster or to accept your fate as the moon falls.

One of the final pieces I wanted to mention was from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess called Don’t Want You No More.  A brilliant example of how well Zelda is characterized by its music, it’s a two minute orchestral piece that  paints an auditory picture of what Twilight Princess is. The music guides you on an epic journey into the game’s atmosphere, its story and its world.

Now Nintendo already held a symphony tour last year to celebrate Zelda’s 25th Anniversary, but  it seems the festivities are due to continue with this second symphony. All in all, I’m very glad that Nintendo decided to hold another symphony tour as I missed the last one.

In this video taken at E3 2011, Nintendo gave attendees a taste of The Legend of Zelda condensed into one beautifully orchestrated performance. A preview of what I know will be a fantastic concert:

What do you think? Will you make an effort to attend the symphony as it travels across the U.S.?

Rediscovering The Ocarina of Time

Well, I received a Nintendo 3DS for Christmas and have spent some time rediscovering an old classic: The Legend of Zelda – The Ocarina of Time.

The Ocarina of Time is a well-known title and one that often needs little introduction. It is a game that is widely pontificated as one of the finest ever created due to pitch perfect gameplay, a well-crafted story and excellent (for the time) graphics. Not to to mention the memorable soundtrack. In fact, one of my most favorite aspects to the games was its music. From the lively tune of the Lost Woods to the wild beats of the Gerudo Desert, the soundtrack perfectly sets the mood and gives every area a unique character. The music also plays a pivotal role in the gameplay,  played on the mystical ocarina that is the game’s namesake. Every so often, you have to whip out the ocarina to activate doors or trigger events like raising the water level in a certain dungeon *cough*Water Temple*cough* and you can even warp to certain areas in Hyrule once you learned the appropriate song.

The gameplay is so enjoyable due to the tight control scheme used which features the “L-Targeting” mechanic that was introduced for the first time on its debut on the Nintendo 64. Back then it was known as “Z-Targeting due to it being activated by the Z trigger button the N64 controller. The targeting mechanic makes combat fluid and fast, allowing you to strafe around enemies and switch focus between foes easily. Your items can be equipped to the Y and X buttons on the 3DS with two more slots being moved to the touchscreen. All in all, the controls have migrated rather well to their new positions on the 3DS.

The story is the delicious gooey center to the game that helps draw together the gameplay and music into an unforgettable experience.  The game features the hero Link, who must set out on a journey across Hyrule to stop the evil Ganondorf from obtaining the Triforce and dominating the world. The quest spans the entirety of Hyrule and even across Time itself as you must travel between the present and the future as you become the legendary Hero of Time. Along the way, you’ll meet a colorful cast of characters. From the feisty Princess Ruto of the Zora to the fierce Darunia of the Gorons, every character adds to the masterful portrait that is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. At the center of it all stands Link, our young hero who must use all of his courage and his wits (not to mention clever use of his items) in order to save Hyrule from the grip of evil.

Jumping into PC Gaming

I’m finally able to enter the wonderful world of PC gaming. For the longest time, PC gaming was something I ignored as my laptop was a absolute toaster and was barely able to manage anything more than the Solitare and Minesweeper that came packaged with the computer.

This was primarily since the graphics card on my laptop was non-existent and the RAM was laughably low for gaming. I really did try though, but Half-Life Episode 2 would freeze when there was too much going on and League of Legends would take forever to load into a match (much to the frustration of my teammates.)

But that’s all in the past now. I recently picked up a Laptop that can run most games at high with little problems. I know that a gaming desktop would be much better, but since I’m a busy college student, the laptop is just so much more convenient. I figure that I can get a desktop later. But I digress, I’m glad that I now have access to the wide array of games that I was otherwise unable to enjoy as there are a number of PC titles that become more fun than their console counterparts. One of the best examples that I can think of is The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which has a number of hilarious and fun mods that can be added.

Some of the other titles that I recently got for PC were Portal 2, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Team Fortress 2.I also downloaded the demo for Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which succeeded in scaring me more than any other game I’ve played so far.

That and I’ve become hopelessly addicted to MOBA games, specifically League of Legends.

I’ll be picking up more PC games over the holidays so I can start doing Let’s Play’s over my Livestream channel, so If anyone has good suggestions feel free to send them my way.

The Future of Portable Gaming

Portable gaming is coming to something of a crossroads. It used to be that one would buy a separate system that would play video games and provide a suitable amount of portable entertainment.  Systems like the Nintendo DS and Sony Playstation Portable were the primary systems of the portable gaming market with various variations and newer editions of each being released as the years went by. However, in recent years the emerging smartphone market as brought with it a stream of app games that have taken the world of portable gaming by storm.

There are a number of other choices for on-the-go entertainment and most people would rather carry around less gadgetry around. That said, I feel there has been a marked decrease in attention directed towards the release of the Nintendo 3DS and the Playstation Vita. Not that people have ignored these portable consoles, but I notice the 3DS has not really caught on like the DS has. This may be due in part to the fact that not everyone can handle the 3D feature turned on. I have several friends who have the 3DS and more often than not I find that they play with feature turned off. The feature requires a precise angle to be viewed properly. Deviate  only at the expense of your eyes. The PS Vita has yet to see release but so far the overall response seems to be somewhat muted. However, I confess I am excited to experience the PS Vita and look forward to its release.

But I digress, the power of the app gaming market is not something to take lightly. There have been a number of app games that have taken the world by storm and have formed their place in the world of portable gaming. Games like Angry Birds are able to provide just the right of amount of amusement and intuitiveness that just about anyone can get into while being small enough to quit and easily resume later.  The App gaming market is certainly more geared toward the casual gamers and the everyman in this respect. Games on the portable consoles were somewhat similar, adventures and amusements that could were designed to provide long-lasting entertainment in bite-sized chunks of game time. However, unlike the app games, portable games often demanded a fair amount of time and thus only hardcore gamers really picked up these titles and played them through.

Now as we head into the future, smartphones are rapidly becoming more advanced and multifaceted in their functions.  One can surf the web, take pictures, make phone calls and more. It seems only natural that their capabilities to play games should evolve and improve as well. To that end, smartphone will be able to compete on some level with portable consoles in the future. Now, without a doubt a dedicated portable console will continue to be the purchase of choice for hardcore gamers. But for the casual gamers, it will certainly give them pause on if they should purchase that particular system. Also it’s not to hard to imagine, given the number of re-releases of classic gaming titles like Final Fantasy as app games  as well the the development of special titles exclusively for the app gaming market (Chaos Rings) that more gaming companies will continue to do so on a larger scale to help gain footholds in this emerging market.

Delving into the Land of Skyrim

I’ve spent a few days now playing Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and roaming the grand landscape of Skyrim. Over the course of those days, I’ve rescued a city from a dragon attack, aided mages in a magical excavation, joined the College of Winterhold, Skyrim’s version of the Mage’s Guild and explored an ancient ruin or too. However, in a game like this it is but a mere glance at the enormous amount of content that the game has to offer. All the same, every accomplishment only fuels my desire to play further and see what else Skyrim has in store as well as allowing me an opportunity to enhance my skills.

I’m so happy to see this game live up to the hype. The Bethesda team has responded to every concern that gamers had with Oblivion and then some. In particular the new leveling system is a great improvement over the last game. Players now have more freedom in developing their skills and the type of character they want to play, due to the way that the improvement of any skill now helps the character increase their level. Not only that, but the system has also been simplified and streamlined. The main attributes have been shrunk down to three: Stamina, Magicka and Health. A few skills have been dropped or modified with some new ones added. In particular, the skills of Acrobatics and Athletics have been eliminated due to their minimal effect on actual gameplay and certain skills such as Mysticism have been melded into previously existing skills to help trim the fat off the leveling system.

There are also great improvements about the variety in the game, from the numerous dungeons and exotic locales to the NPCs themselves which now feature a wider range of voices and even include children. This wider assortment of cast members gives Skyrim depth and realism that pulls you further into the game.

However Skyrim isn’t so much about telling a great story as much as it is about creating your own story of grand adventure. That is what I think has made the Elder Scrolls series such a popular and powerful RPG franchise. The ability to carve your place in a fantasy world that is akin to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series is role-playing fun at its best.

To that end, I plan on spending a good long time exploring Skyrim and familiarizing myself with every nook and cranny of the expansive world that Bethesda has put before us.

Day Three of Devastation 2011

The final round of Devastation 2011 had started and things were starting to heat up with the League of Legends: Dominion Tournament. It was the first Dominion tournament that had ever been conducted and I was interested to see the kind of team composition that the players would use. Since Dominion’s gameplay favored certain types of champions over others, I had a general idea of which champions I was certain would see play and which wouldn’t. Plus, the event was streaming live over TwitchTV being commentated on by members of Team Sp00ky as well as seeing coverage by Beyond Gaming.

Sunday was also the day that a great deal of amazing cosplayers made their appearance in order to compete in the Video Game Character cosplay contest.

Tifa and Cloud are ready for action!

The cosplayers lined up to be judged at the table located off in one of the corners of the event hall, and there was a number of impressive contenders for first place. Take for instance, this costume of Link that came complete with its very own fairy!

HEY! LISTEN! HEY! LISTEN!

There was also someone dressed as Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII, with wonderful detailing on her costume. I just wish she had the awesome sword  to go along with it.

Lightning posing for photos by the cosplay judge's booth.

I have to say that there was an excellent attention to detail in each of these costumes. I only wish that more people had shown up to the cosplay contest that day.

People like this.

Now moving on to the final event of Devastation 2011 was the final rounds of the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament. It was a intense affair with each competitor attempting to fake out their opponent. It was an interesting blend of luck and prediction that I have never seen before in a competition. Event Director Robb Chiarini oversaw the final two contests and took center stage to set the pace for the push-up contest.

50 paces...then turn and fire.

The Push-up Contest was easily the most painful to watch as each contestant’s strength slowly waned as the contest dragged on.

The Challengers are in position and ready to go!

The contest came to an intense showdown between two guys. It seemed like they could keep going for forever, but Robb turned the screws on them by having them both hold the half-way position of the push-up. Eventually there could only be one and thus Devastation 2011 had formally come to a end.

All in all, I had a fantastic time at Devastation 2011 and I look forward to going again next year!

Day Two of Devastation 2011

Round Two of Devastation 2011 brought even more zaniness to the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament as many cosplayers joined the fray for the title of R.P.S. Champion. Out of the matches I saw, the most interesting was Morrigan vs. Ash Ketchum.

Ash used Rock! It wasn't very effective...

Now one of the funniest things about watching these matches was also the penalty that the loser was dealt. The loser had to give the winning player a massage. If I recall correctly, this was a penalty that the audience had decided for this particular match with the consent of the announcer who oversaw the match. So in the end, Ash lost the match and had to offer his skills as a masseuse to the winner.

Ashe used Massage. It's Super Effective!

And of course, who could forget the spectacle that was Tifa Lockhart vs. Poison Ivy? An epic showdown of femme fatales. One that Tifa unfortunately lost.

Poison Ivy enjoying the fruits of her victory.

Aside from the continuing Rock-Paper-Scissors and video game tournaments. I visited with some pretty interesting people who had set up their booths in the northwestern corner of the floor.

The first person I talked to was Ominous Red, a Hip Hop DJ who was showcasing his custom fightsticks. Having recently started his custom fightstick business, Ominous Red had several button layouts along with a myriad of designs to choose from.

A sampling of some of Ominous Red's work

Though there were mainly Tekken and Street Fighter graphics, Ominous Red also will work to try and put whatever kind of graphics you would like to grace your custom fightstick.

More examples of Ominous Red's work

Ominous Red even gave me a peek at some of the concept art that he was planning on putting on a new series of custom fightsticks. Drawn by a friend, they feature Star Wars characters with a Feudal Japanese flavor.

A peek at the cool designs Ominous Red has in store for gamers.

All in all, the designs look pretty cool and I look forward to seeing the designs on a custom fightstick in the near future.

While we chatted about fightsticks, conversation turned to our favorite kinds of games, particularly fighting games. Ominous Red confessed that he just recently started paying attention to the storyline behind the action in video games. I eagerly explained that my blog was centered around such topics. I went on to explain that my favorite fighting game: Soul Calibur IV was more exciting when immersed into the epic mythos of “souls and swords” that surrounds the series. My digression went so deep into battle tactics and combos that I inadvertently managed to get Ominous Red excited to play Soul Calibur again.

Ominous Red excited to be at Devastation 2011.

Bidding Ominous Red farewell, I moved along to the nearby booth of digital artist Anabel Martinez. Martinez was an avid Mass Effect fan and was showcasing some of her latest pieces of Commander Shepard and his crew members. Martinez was even sporting a fantastic Tali costume that was crafted with superb attention to detail.

I'm Commander Shepard and this was my favorite costume at the convention.

Most amazing of all to me was the fact that she had managed to fix the helmet in such a way that the mouthpiece lit up when she spoke as it does when Tali speaks in the game.

Finally, I paid a visit to the Aqua Red booth and took a look at their collection of unique graphic t-shirts.

Some of Aqua Red's latest t-shirts. All with rather awesome designs.

Once there, I also talked with Drew and Helsa who informed me that Aqua Red was a relatively new company having only been in business for little more than half a year. Drew showed me the latest shirt that they had made, a shirt covered with white tigers. It was part of a four part series that featured each of the Four Guardians of the Four Compass Points of Chinese mythology. The tiger shirt represented the Guardian of the West and the god of autumn: Byakko, the White Tiger.

The latest T-shirts made by Aqua Red. The White Tiger shirts are in the middle.

However, the Byakko shirts were only the second in the series. Seiryu, the Azure Dragon was the first in the series, with shirts featuring blue dragons in an eye-mesmerizing design. The shirts are also made in limited quantities, so the t-shirts quickly become collectables and hard to find after Aqua Red has sold out of a particular design. So when you check out Aqua Red’s shirts be sure not to wait too long to buy the shirt that catches your fancy.

Apparel bearing Aqua Red's trademark logo, A smiley face with a bandaged eye.

I also got to meet the man behind the incredible artwork on the t-shirts. His name is Myke Bui, and he is the artist that designs the unique designs of Aqua Red.

The man behind the magic: Myke Bui

I must admit, I am a complete sucker for anything tiger-related. They are my favorite animal after all. So I picked up one of their Byakko T-Shirts and left to watch the continuing Soul Calibur IV tournament.

I have to say, watching the matches for most of the fighting games was a wonderfully intense experience. Especially the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 matches. Players would engage in a deadly dance in which the slightest misstep was punished with an insanely long combo that was sure to devastate the opposing player. Speaking of insanely long combos, I had gotten word that Justin Wong, the famed pro gamer was due to make an appearance at Devastation 2011. Perhaps he already had and I had just missed him for the day.

Whatever the case, I was excited to see Justin’s legendary skill in person. Devastation 2011 had only one more day left, but there was still plenty in store. I was looking forward to seeing the final rounds of the many tournaments, not to mention the League of Legends Dominion Tournament, which I believe is the first ever. For me, Sunday could not come fast enough.

Day One of Devastation 2011

Round One of Devastation 2011 kicked off with a bang as the first round of many tournaments began. The more popular titles such as Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Halo: Reach, Mortal Kombat, Heroes of Newerth and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 began the first of many rounds to come while others like Blaz Blue: Continuum  Shift, Tekken 6 and Michael Jackson the Experience only had one round of competition.

Dance party at the entrance!

However of all the tournaments that had multiple rounds there was one in particular that I wanted to see, the Rock-Paper-Scissors Tournament. The other tournaments that I mentioned were ones that required a considerable amount of skill and practice in order to vanquish your opponents and ensure victory. However, Rock-Paper-Scissors is a game of that mixes luck with strategy. There is no real skill requirement other than basic coordination and knowledge of basic strategies. As a result there was quite the crowd that had gathered to compete. Since the Game Zone booth was right by the entrance, I went to talk to Richard first and get a report on how busy things had gotten. Given the booth’s location he could watch the crowds come and go throughout the course of the event. From what he was able to tell me, the event had really gotten busy and they were doing some decent business. It helped that their booth was ideally placed near the entrance providing the perfect spot to attract attendees that were both arriving and leaving the event.

Richard and his co-worker are ready for action!

 

Unfortunately, I missed the earlier part of the event due to class and other engagements. As such, I missed a great deal of the events on Friday, but Saturday would prove to be especially eventful. Don’t worry, I promise to have more on Saturday’s events.

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