<![CDATA[A-to-J Connections - Gaming]]>Mon, 18 Sep 2017 19:38:15 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Nintendo Direct: September 13]]>Thu, 14 Sep 2017 04:18:15 GMThttp://a-to-jconnections.com/gaming/nintendo-direct-september-13
Today was a busy day for Nintendo fans. While we didn’t get any real big surprises from today’s Nintendo Direct, we were certainly met with many headlines to excite both 3DS and Switch owners. Let’s take a quick look at some of my favorite highlights.
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I'm totally digging the Necrozma/Lunala fusion.
They spent the first half talking about 3DS stuff. Things kicked off with some information on the new Pokémon Ultra Moon and Ultra Sun games. Necrozma, who was vastly underplayed in the main games, will be explored more along with 2 new forms that seem to be fusions with Lunala and Solgaleo. They also mentioned that if the game is purchased before January 10, then you’ll be able to get Dusk form Lycanroc in the game. We can expect other new areas and features in the games, I’m sure. Added to that, we were told people who purchase Pokémon Gold or Silver will receive Celebi. Pokémon Ultra Moon and Ultra Sun are releasing November 17, while Gold and Silver release on the eShop September 22.
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Will it only be minigames though?!
Interestingly, a new Mario Party game was announced. They didn’t clarify too much, but it looked like this one would simply be a collection of minigames called Mario Party: The Top 100. It’s a collection of ‘the best’ minigames from throughout the series’ console history. There were many game announcements, but those were the two that seemed most interesting to me. They also announced a new orange and white 2DS XL that’ll be releasing October 6.
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An underappreciated game that deserves more content.
Next up was all the Switch stuff. Snipperclips, which I figured would be a one-off, is actually getting added content in the form of Snipperclips Plus. Owners of the original game can purchase the additional content as DLC, or people can purchase the entire experience in one go. This one is releasing November 10.
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We're going back to Hell on a Nintendo console for the first time since the N64!
In a surprise announcement, Bethesda will be releasing not only DOOM, but Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus on Nintendo Switch. This was the most exciting news to me, and I did not expect to be getting either on the Switch. No news as to what might be added or removed or how the games will run, but it’s certainly a promising tell on the kind of trust developers have with the Switch compared to other recent Nintendo consoles. Doom is slated for this holiday and Wolfenstein was simply listed as ‘2018’.
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It's so pretty!
We finally got a little more information on Project Octopath Traveler, which is looking pretty nice. Made by the Bravely Default developers, it looks to be evolving the concept they started with in Final Fantasy: The Four Heroes of Light into a whole new experience. For those curious, a demo is up on the eShop right now. Project Octopath Traveler is slated for a vague 2018 date.

This is only a small sample of what was presented during the Nintendo Direct. I’ll list as much of what they announced in bullet points below, or if you’d like to just watch the Direct I’ll have it linked as well. The future looks bright for Nintendo fans!

3DS

- Pokémon Ultra Moon and Ultra Sun: NOV 17
- Pokémon Gold and Silver: SEP 22
- Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions (Goomba and Koopa amiibo will release at this time too): OCT 6
- Kirby Battle Royale: JAN 19
- Yo-Kai Watch 2: Psychic Specters: SEP 29
- Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’’ Conspiracy: OCT 6
- Minecraft (Only on New 3DS): OUT NOW ON eShop
- Mario Party: The Top 100: NOV 10
- Metroid: Samus Returns: SEP 15
- The Alliance Alive: EARLY 2018
- Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology: EARLY 2018
- Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux: EARLY 2018
- Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney: NOV
- Fire Emblem Warriors (Only on New 3DS): OCT 20

SWITCH

- Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (Special Edition and Themed Pro Controller as well): DEC 1
- Splatoon 2 Updates: STARTS SEP 15
- Fire Emblem Warriors (Special Edition and amiibo as well): OCT 20
- Snipperclips Plus: Cut it out, together!: NOV 10
- Morphies Law: WINTER
- Rocket League: HOLIDAY
- Arena of Valor: (Beta, free) WINTER
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: NOV 17
- DOOM: Holiday
- Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus: 2018
- Arcade Archives: Mario Bros.: SEP 27
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild amiibo: NOV 10
- NBA 2K18: SEP 15
- WWE 2K18: ‘SOON’
- FIFA 18: SEP 29
- Pokken Tournament DX: SEP 22
- Project Octopath Traveler: 2018
- ARMS New Fighter, Stage and Update: OUT NOW
- Dragon Quest Builders: SPRING 2018
- Kirby Star Allies: SPRING 2018
- Lost Sphear: JAN 23
- Sonic Forces: NOV 7
- Resident Evil Revelations 1 & 2: NOV 28
- LA Noire: NOV 14
- Super Mario Odyssey (Hardware bundle with red Joy-Con and carrying case as well): OCT 27

I hope you’re as excited as me!

- Teepu



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<![CDATA[Dream Daddy Review]]>Sat, 09 Sep 2017 00:01:13 GMThttp://a-to-jconnections.com/gaming/dream-daddy-review
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The charming dads of "Dream Daddy"
Visual novels or games that feature detailed stories accompanied by sprites and music have been a staple in Japan since the early 1990s. Ren’ai games or “dating sims” that revolve around branching story paths where you romance characters go back just as far. It has taken a long time for the genre to gain mainstream attention overseas but Western indie developers have been utilizing this wonderful storytelling medium with increasing visibility and Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator is one of the most unique, charming examples in recent memory.
In Dream Daddy you play as a widower (who you name and create with a highly diverse “dadsona” character creator) that has recently moved to a new neighborhood with your teenage daughter, Amanda. Your character is a little nervous about socializing but your studly neighbors are friendly -- youth pastor Joseph welcomes you by bringing over a plate of cookies and an amusingly awkward exchange occurs when you both make social faux pax and he leaves, immediately knocks on the door again so that the two of you can re-introduce one another. This sets the tone for the very organic, realistic interactions a lot of the characters have. 
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Dad jokes abound
After that you have the option of going to different places and meeting some of the other dads. Jolly barbeque-loving Brian is at the dog park with his daughter Daisy and corgi Maxwell. After you accidentally gets hit with Brian’s frisbee and meet Maxwell (there is an amusing conversation option for the dog), you strike up a conversation with Brian about your daughters and get to experience the first of several hilarious mini-games revolving around trying to one-up each other with your daughters’ accomplishments.
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The Pokemon mini-game with Brian was definitely my favorite
Throughout the rest of your first two days you also meet the cool but adorably awkward music lover-cum-coffee shop proprietor Mat (whose menu revolves around music references; you and Amanda get to help him choose a music-related name for his new banana bread -- Right Said Banana Bread, Banana Bread Kennedys, or Grateful Banana Bread), “bad dad” Robert (who is drinking whiskey at the bar watching “the game” and with whom you can have a one night stand with), erudite, classy high school teacher Hugo, and the goth Victorian fashionista Damien (who you run into at Hot Topic/Spencer’s hybrid “Dead, Goth, and Beyond”).

From here on out you have the option of pursuing and/or befriending the carious dads in different situations. You learn more about them and their families at a neighborhood barbeque at Joseph’s house and can strike up conversations and eventually go on dates after connecting on “DadBook.”
I don’t want to go into too much detail about the various plots and backstories but I was very pleased with Dream Daddy. There’s a lot of heart and as well as some intrigue, drama, hilarious in-universe running gags (several of the characters are invested in reality TV series “Long Haul Ice Road Paranormal Ghost Truckers”) and touching family situations -- struggling to deal with rebellious kids acting out, trying to meet your increasingly independent daughter halfway, strained marriages, and coping with loss.

I had low expectations when it was initially announced, as I assumed it was going to be a joke. Although I quickly became intrigued as lead developers Vernon Shaw (of Game Grumps fame) and Leighton Grey released more information, it vastly exceeded my expectations in terms of the writing, characterization, and diversity.

It’s not without its flaws, as I did run into some minor bugs where the choice I selected had the opposite outcome and the story progressed. The mini-games aren’t always especially fun (some of the controls are iffy) but I definitely feel I got my $14.99 worth. I’ve seen some people object to the voice acting being very minimal vocalizations rather than fully voiced narration butI think it’s unreasonable to expect full voice acting for a game with such a low price tag -- there’s simply too much dialogue.

If you’ve never played a dating sim or visual novel, don’t let the medium scare you and don’t assume it’s going to be boring -- Dream Daddy is a fun, self-aware, and sweet story-telling experience with interesting gameplay elements. Give it a try.

-Laura Platypus

Dream Daddy is available on Steam for $14.99.
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<![CDATA[GameStop Expo 2017 Gallery]]>Fri, 01 Sep 2017 02:01:28 GMThttp://a-to-jconnections.com/gaming/gamestop-expo-2017-gallery
The GameStop Expo was held for a single day in Las Vegas this year, a chance for people to congregate, play new and upcoming games, and buy some things. It wasn't particularly huge, but offered a variety of games across multiple genres and platforms, with little wait time to play them. I got to try all sorts of games, and enjoyed most of them.
Here's a small gallery from the event, including a video of gameplay from the (personally) highly anticipated Monster Hunter World and shots of my great Ikea anime eye shirt, and catch our True 4K podcast on 9/7/2017 for more of my thoughts about the games I played!
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<![CDATA[The Blue Blur at His Best: Sonic Mania Review]]>Thu, 31 Aug 2017 01:24:35 GMThttp://a-to-jconnections.com/gaming/the-blue-blur-at-his-best-sonic-mania-review
Players: 1-2
Platforms: PC (via Steam), Microsoft Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Sony PlayStation 4


While I’ve enjoyed most of the Sonic games I’ve played, there’s no denying that the quality of the franchise has mostly been questionable at best since the Sega Genesis days. It seems like Sega finally realized this, and decided to put the development of their most recent 2D title in the hands of devs who are fans more than traditional Sonic devs. This was probably the single best decision they’ve made in quite a long time.

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Uh oh...trouble is brewing!
From the moment you boot up the game for the first time, you know it’s going to be something special. The entire game sticks with its 16-bit aesthetic, and even includes a beautifully animated intro movie harkening back to the one in Sonic CD. I want to make a very important point about myself before I dive into this: I’m usually turned off by games that focus too much on being retro or try too hard to be nostalgic. Following that thought, the mantra of Sonic Mania is definitely the word ‘balance’. The entire game revolves around balancing old and new, and things blend together quite beautifully as a result. The game has a very clear 16-bit Genesis look, but you’ll notice that the sprites aren’t exactly the same as the older counterparts from that era. Everything was carefully drawn to meld that modern Sonic look while still retaining the very distinct classic look. The newly drawn sprites for the characters also help to allow for some more in-depth animations. All that care results in an extremely smooth experience. The animations have more variety than the classic games, the level scrolling runs really well at 60fps and the enemies are animated clearly so that the player can always tell what to expect. Interestingly, you can choose to apply a CRT filter to the visuals if you want it to look like the old games. It’s an interesting feature, though I never used it because I felt like it diminished the beautiful work put into the art in the game. Yet everything still very much looks like the classic games. It’s absolutely phenomenal that they managed to create such a beautiful blend as they did, without sacrificing on the quality of the experience in relation to the modern era.
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Everything is so bouncy in Chemical Plant Zone!
This doesn’t just apply to the visuals though. Sonic Mania takes place shortly after Sonic & Knuckles, and shares a similar opening sequence to Sonic 3. With Sonic and company flying over the sea in the Tornado, they run into trouble and end up on land. They find none other than Robotnik brewing trouble with some kind of Chaos Emerald. Next thing they know they’ve been sucked through some kind of dimensional (or time?) rift and end up in classic Green Hill Zone. As you run through the level, the nostalgia will hit you hard and fast. It’s remixed just enough to incorporate the pacing and style of the new game while making sure veteran players feel at home. The blast to the ears of all the classic sound effects and the beautifully remixed music nearly made me weep tears of complete and utter joy. I got to the first boss, and felt a slight familiarity, but soon found out that things weren’t exactly the same. Next thing I know I’m propelled into the next Act, which draws inspiration from the classic Green Hill Zone and reforms it into something completely new. Every Zone that’s pulled from one of the first 5 Sonic games (Sonic 1-3, Sonic CD and Sonic & Knuckles) follows this flow: familiar remix to a slight surprise in boss battle to a clever progression into something new involving the same themes of the original zone. My favorite example is from Chemical Plant Zone. The first Act is essentially the same as the original in Sonic 2. The second Act takes the idea of a chemical plant and the objects, enemies and obstacles presented in the original game and evolves it into something new. Instead of dealing with underwater navigation, you discover this chemical gel which allows you to bounce really high, and is the theme for how Act 2 plays out. To make things even more exciting, each stage is meticulously designed so that each character can progress naturally. Sonic runs fast, Tails flies and Knuckles can glide and scale walls. Each stage has multiple paths to cater to each character when appropriate. In the rare case that a level can’t be tailored without changing too much, the character gets his own unique level to play. It’s this very careful thought that’s put into each evolution from classic to new that makes the game feel so delightful.
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One of the many creative boss battles in the game.
All of this love and care carries over into the entirely new levels as well, such as Mirage Saloon Zone. It draws inspiration from various scrapped stages in older Sonic games, and revolves around an Old West theme. Rather than having a classic casino or carnival stage as is habit in the Sonic series, Sonic Mania presents it in an Old West casino/saloon setting, which is both classic and refreshing at the same time. On top of all this, the game throws various gimmicks at you in each stage or boss, to assure that you never feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over again. A particular favorite of mine was a Robotnik fight that was just a Mean Bean Machine battle (an old Sonic themed puzzle game).

In addition to the rest of the throwbacks, a couple of old special stages make a return. The one you’ll see the most, which is accessed via the checkpoint poles when you have at least 26 rings, is exactly the same as the ones in Sonic 3 (& Knuckles). You have a pseudo-3D area where there are spheres you have to run around and collect. Collecting just the border spheres in groups will turn the group into coins, and collecting all the coins will get you a gold medal rather than just a silver medal for completing the stage. These medals unlock secrets that you can use such as Debug Mode or changing Sonic’s special ability. Quick diversion, I absolutely love the new ability called the Drop Dash. It helps the player keep momentum but holding down and pressing jump when in the air, immediately dashing when you hit the floor. The only downside to the unlockable abilities is that none of these are usable in a saved game. You can only apply them in a no-save run. This means you’d have to restart from the beginning when you exit the game. It seems like a bit of a waste, since some of these features are fun to use, and not everybody is going to want to play the entire game in a single sitting. This is especially relevant since this is one of the longer 2D Sonic games to come out (12 zones, 24 levels, each with its own unique boss).

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The special stage from Sonic 3 makes a return.
The other special stage is the UFO chase from Sonic CD. It has a similar perspective to the previous special stage, but instead you collect spheres which speed you up so that you can catch up to a UFO that’s carrying a Chaos Emerald. These stages are well-hidden, so getting to them is half the fun (I only managed to find 4 on my first natural play through). I really liked that there were two different types of special stages in the game, but was a little disappointed that none of them were new. They have slightly changed or new layouts, but the mechanics are exactly the same. With how hard the devs worked to mix in old and new, I was expecting to get one brand new stage type and one classic. Still, it’s a minor complaint in an otherwise near-perfect experience.

Aside from the Mania Mode (the game mode I’ve spent the entire time talking about thus far), there’s also a Time Attack mode for you to test your skills in, as well as a VS mode. The VS mode plays exactly like the classic games. Both players select their character, you select from one of 12 levels inspired by levels in the main game, and then you race to see who can finish first. There are items you can collect that can either help you or hinder the enemy, and this mode can only be played via split-screen. It isn’t a particularly compelling game mode, but is certainly a fun diversion on occasion. On a similar note, if you choose to have a partner in Mania Mode then a 2nd player can jump in and control the partner, making the entire adventure co-op friendly. The screen only follows player 1, so it’s difficult to control player 2 (as has always been the case in the franchise), but it’s a nice feature nonetheless.

The game is identical across the systems. There is slight slowdown in the special stages on occasion on the Switch version (it’s almost negligible), but the Switch version offers the ability to play the game on the go, which is very complimentary to the pacing of the game. Personally, I played the entire game on the Switch, and it felt like the best choice I could have made.

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Even the fully animated intro scene is made with love and care.
Sonic Mania is an amazing love letter to fans of the franchise. Since the entire game is polished to the standards of a modern game, it’s even great for people new to the franchise who are looking for a wonderful platforming experience. That’s the joy of Sonic Mania. It doesn’t matter who you are, you’ll find something to enjoy in this game if you’re into platforming. I can’t recommend it enough. Enough talk though, it’s time for me to jump back in and work on getting all the gold medals!

- Teepu


Graphics: PERFECT
Sound: PERFECT
Gameplay: AMAZING
Value: PERFECT

OVERALL: PERFECT


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<![CDATA[Retro Review: Final Fantasy XIII]]>Tue, 29 Aug 2017 17:21:24 GMThttp://a-to-jconnections.com/gaming/retro-review-final-fantasy-xiii
Player(s): 1
Platforms: PC (via Steam), Xbox 360, PlayStation 3


Final Fantasy XIII, while receiving critical praise, ended up getting very polarized ratings from fans of the franchise. The more open nature of Final Fantasy XI and XII made some dislike the more linear style of FFXIII. Read on to figure out what my thoughts are, and why.

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Lightning and Sazh mean business!
There is one thing you will notice from the moment you start up FFXIII: it’s absolutely beautiful. Even now, a gaming generation later, I found the game to be one of the most gorgeous experiences I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying. This isn’t just high polygon count either. In fact, taking a closer look, you might notice where they took some shortcuts to make everything run smoother. The thing that makes the game so gorgeous is clever lighting, clever use of particle effects and an absolutely stunning artistic direction. All the creatures, characters and environments have so much love put into them that they end up being exceptional. I especially loved the very fun takes on so many classic monsters and summons.

It’s too bad the music in the game couldn’t be as stunning as the graphics. Besides a couple of really well-composed tracks, the music is too subtle and oftentimes extremely forgettable. The voice acting for the main characters is mostly decent. Not great, but not mediocre either. It’s somewhere in between. The rest of the voice acting in the game is mediocre at worst, which overall is pretty solid considering how terrible voice dubs in Japanese games tend to be. Aurally speaking, the experience isn’t something to write home about, but at least it isn’t horrible. One thing I really did appreciate was the lip sync. I might have been going crazy, but it looked to me like all the lip movements were re-done to match with the English voices, which really helps to create a more immersive experience. It may seem like a minor thing, but it was something I appreciated deeply.

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It wouldn't be Final Fantasy without some kind of Behemoth.
Being an ambitious project and the start of this brand new mythos that Square Enix wanted to launch meant that there was a lot of world building that needed to be done. This reflects in the very linear first 15 hours or so of the game. You spend most of the time going from point A to point B, advancing the story and battling monsters along the way. A lot of character development and world building is done, in a very effective way, since everything is in a controlled environment. Throughout the game, you’ll experience flashback sequences that will give some background as to each party member’s motive, and their relation to each other. People looking for a little more freedom of exploration will be disappointed in that.

Still, the really strong story more than makes up for that. You start off the game playing as Lightning, a person who is trying to rescue her sister who has turned to crystal due to her being forced to serve the ‘gods’ of the world. At first it’ll seem a bit complicated and overwhelming, something you aren’t alone in. This is one of the main reasons why the game spends so much time establishing the setting. Each of the 6 main characters starts off as a problem child in some way, and slowly develops into a likeable and heroic person by the end. This is multiplied by the fact that each character has some kind of huge inner demon he/she needs to overcome. That sense of success by the end, when each person has overcome that demon and become a better person for it, is what makes the story in this game one of the best in the franchise for me. I hated most of the characters at the beginning, but ended up appreciating each one of them by the end. The background story, while nothing unique, is interesting enough to help move everything along, but when it really boils down to it the main characters are what really make the story so magnificent. Each party member has a deep and compelling story that is unraveled over the course of the adventure.

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So many ice crystals. I wonder what that could mean...
Once you get past about the first 15 hours, you’re presented with a far more open-ended game. You’re given a huge environment to explore, with a ton of side quests and lots of fun challenges to overcome. Most of this revolves around hunting certain monsters, similar to what was in Final Fantasy XII. The variety comes in the way you need to get to some of the monsters and some of the interesting gimmicks to the fights. Even with casual exploration, I ended up spending almost 15 hours in this section of the game before finally beating it. So don’t fret, there is plenty of exploration and freedom, it merely doesn’t come until about halfway through the game. Interestingly, you could rush through the story at that point and finish in a few hours, so from a story perspective it’s near the end. I refer to it as the halfway point though, because of the amount of time I spent from that point on. These areas are lush though, with a bunch of interesting lore and lots of combat opportunities. FFXIII is so dense with story that there is an encyclopedia you can view with information on various aspects of the universe, with entries unlocking as you progress. The core of the story, which revolves around the main characters, doesn’t require consumption of any of this extra info. It merely serves as a good way to expand on elements that aren’t integral to the party’s journey.

The combat is another polarizing point among franchise fans. FFXI was an MMO and played as such. FFXII felt like a conversion of the MMO-style combat from FFXI, optimized better for a single-player adventure. FFXIII, on the other hand, goes back to its roots, properly bringing back the ATB (Active Time Battle) system. This is a combination of real-time and turn-based combat. The combat at the core is turn based, where you choose attacks and take turns hitting each other based on turn priority. The only thing is that the game doesn’t wait for you to take your turn. Instead, a gauge fills up over time, enabling you to do attacks based on how full the gauge is. While you don’t see the enemy’s gauge, they also have one, which allows them to continuously hit you if you take too long to decide on your move. The combat becomes fast-paced and frenetic as a result, which is not the case for a standard turn-based system.

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One of the flashback sequences meant to give context.
In order to make sure the player has proper control over combat, considering the fast paced nature of the new ATB, the Paradigm system is introduced. Instead of controlling all characters, you control the person who is first in your party. Your party members use abilities and spells automatically according to the roles you assign them and what they have unlocked, while the lead character gives you full freedom of control. There’s a lot of room for strategy, allowing for some fun party combos. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that the system is somewhat broken. Once you figure out how to abuse the Paradigm system, the game ends up becoming an absolute cinch. Until then, the game ends up being a really tough challenge. There isn’t really anything in-between. It’s a really cool system that feels like the best and most natural evolution of the old ATB system, but unfortunately isn’t balanced very well and ends up being pointless once you figure out how to use it best. There are still some interesting fights you’ll encounter as you progress that will require some creativity, but most of the battles can be solved using the same Paradigm combos, and will start to feel like a chore as a result. I’ve noticed that some people had some trouble grasping how the system works, something I never had an issue with. My only recommendation is that you pay attention to the tutorials, which give you all the information you need.

As characters level up, you can choose to progress their stats and abilities within each class individually, tailoring them for the role you want. Each party member has something they specialize in, but you can increase stats as you see fit based on the Crystarium choices you make. Think of something similar to the Sphere Grid from FFX.

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All sorts of summons from the franchise make an appearance in some form.
There’s no denying that Final Fantasy XIII has its share of flaws. A linear first half of the game can get boring for some players. A combat system that offers no middle ground of difficulty can be frustrating to those who aren’t able to wrap their mind around the system. External world building being handled through codex that are read rather than witnessed through gameplay can make some players feel unsatisfied if they aren’t willing to read. The fantastic characters, gorgeous game and large amount of side content makes this game at least worth a try if you’re looking for a fun JRPG to play. I had a blast spending around 70 hours with the game, shooting for the platinum trophy, and didn’t regret one minute of it.

- Teepu

NOTE: My experience is based solely on the PS3 version of the game. The 360 and PC versions contain the same content. The PS3 version runs a little better than the 360 version (it’s ever so slight) while the PC version runs at 1080p and 60fps. While the looks might be slightly different, the game is the same, so choose whichever platform you’re most comfortable with.


Graphics: PERFECT
Sound: GOOD
Gameplay: GREAT
Value: AMAZING

OVERALL: GREAT


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<![CDATA[Attention Inklings: Nintendo Switch Bundle Incoming]]>Tue, 29 Aug 2017 03:13:51 GMThttp://a-to-jconnections.com/gaming/attention-inklings-nintendo-switch-bundle-incoming
Inklings who haven’t had a chance to get a hold of Splatoon 2 will have a special offer perfect for them. Walmart will be carrying a special Nintendo Switch bundle come September 8th.
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Everything that's in the bundle, minus standard wires.
Priced at $379.99, the bundle will include the Nintendo Switch console (along with all the normal items it comes packaged with), a digital code for Splatoon 2 and a really fresh squid ready carrying case. To make it extra special, the Joy-Cons will be Neon Green and Neon Pink, the first time we’ll have these colors available in North America. Be sure to keep an eye on the Walmart site to get your hands on it if you haven’t had a chance to pick up a Nintendo Switch yet.
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I'd pick Flight, personally.
In squid related news, the next Splatfest competition in Turf War will give players their team choice based on the super power they like more: flight or invisibility. This competition runs September 1-2, so Splatoon players, get psyched!
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I love the new color theme, and can't wait to get these in my hands.
The Nintendo Switch has an ever growing library, and despite its flaws, is a fun system to have. While my opinion of the system has improved a bit, the gist of the quality is represented in my review of the console, which you can read here. Don’t miss this upcoming opportunity to get it along with one of the best games on the system! Stay fresh!

- Teepu



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<![CDATA[The Nintendo World Championships are Back!]]>Fri, 11 Aug 2017 04:26:03 GMThttp://a-to-jconnections.com/gaming/the-nintendo-world-championships-are-back
After a long wait, Nintendo finally brought back the Nintendo World Championship in 2015. Though we didn’t have luck last year, they decided to bring it back again for this year! In October, at New York, you’ll be able to compete with the best players at modern and classic games both.

Starting August 19, you’ll be able to go to 8 select Best Buy stores around the country to qualify. The qualifiers have very specific criteria though, so pay attention! The competition at the stores will be held using Mario Kart 7 for the Nintendo 3DS. Interestingly, the rules are slightly different depending on the age group. The 12 and younger group will be playing on the ‘Luigi’s Mansion’ track using the Standard Kart and Wheels with the Super Glider. Everyone else will be using the same kart layout, but on the GBA track ‘Bowser Castle 1.’ These will be done via the Time Trial format, with the best time for each age group for each location being the ones who qualify for the World Championship.

If you decide to check out the events, but aren’t interested in competing, they’ll have demos up of the upcoming games Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo Switch) and Metroid: Samus Returns (Nintendo 3DS). On top of that, if you have a My Nintendo account you can check-in to the event for 100 Platinum Points along with a special pin for the first 200 to check-in each day.

While Nintendo hasn’t disclosed what games will be part of the final competition at NY, they did say that it’ll be at the Manhattan Center’s Grand Ballroom on October 7. For full information on all the qualifier dates and locations, be sure to check out the
Official Site.

Whether you compete or not, this is sure to be a really exciting tournament! Don’t miss it!

- Teepu


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<![CDATA[FFXIV Trials of Bahamut Escape Room Event]]>Fri, 04 Aug 2017 01:16:00 GMThttp://a-to-jconnections.com/gaming/ffxiv-trials-of-bahamut-escape-room-event
Escape Rooms have really taken off in the last few years. Several opened up near me in Northern California in 2012 and 2013 -- San Francisco has over half a dozen, Sacramento has three. I confess they did not appeal to me overly much, as they sounded like they would involve a lot of arguing and frustration depending on how competitive you and your friends are, or you, your friends, and the strangers you get paired with.
The addition of themes (Agatha Christie mysteries, pirates, a 1920s speak easy) and franchise elements gave them a more unique appeal -- there have been two special Attack on Titan Escape Rooms as well as a Legend of Zelda Escape Room called Defenders of the Triforce but nothing in my neck of the woods that made me want to spend $30-$160 for 60 minutes of group puzzle-solving.

That is, until Trials of Bahamut, the Final Fantasy XIV-themed Escape Room was announced for San Francisco.

Although I cut my teeth on the Nintendo and Super Nintendo consoles, I had no idea RPGs existed until Final Fantasy VII came out and I’ve spent hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours (and dollars) of my life on the Final Fantasy series’ various incarnations. Although I would have been on board with any generic Final Fantasy content, I have been playing Final Fantasy XIV fairly regularly since its successful relaunch as A Realm Reborn and given the recent release of Final Fantasy XIV’s second expansion, Storm of Blood, using this particular FF as a basis seemed like a solid idea.

My husband and I got together with two other Final Fantasy XIV-playing friends and made a reservation for a 9pm game following the hullabaloo of San Francisco Anime & Cosplay Festival, as we assumed the venue would be in the New People building across the street where Real Escape is located.

Trials of Bahamut was not going to be an everyday escape room, however, as we realized we were headed for the historic Regency Center, home of the iconic Regency Ballroom concert venue. I’ve spent a lot of time in and around the 109 year-old temple-like edifice waiting in line to see Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, VAMPS, and several Western artists but I had never been beyond the ballroom and Social Hall SF. Turns out there’s an even more gorgeous ballroom above the concert hall and this was where 25 tables were set up with FF gear and several tables and banners displayed retro SNES-era blue Final Fantasy menus as well as the entrance to a life-size dungeon made of faux brick and lit by blacklight.
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Kind of puts you in the mood for a rendition of Aria di Mezzo Carattere, the opera house sequence from Final Fantasy VI
Each table had a large map, a locked book (a “grimoire”), a small treasure chest, a plush moogle, several puzzle worksheets, and lanyards and cards featuring classic FF Jobs and and FF14 art: paladin, white mage, black mage, bard, ranger, and thief. Technically ranger and bard wouldn’t be in a party member since in FF14 rangers become bards and thieves are just low level ninjas but that’s fan nit-picking.

Each would-be escapee chose a job and received additional cards with printed abilities that helped solve various puzzles. Keeping in theme, the abilities all corresponded to actual abilities and spells throughout the FF series.

Once everyone was seated, a video was projected on a screen that consisted of FF14 footage explaining the backstory, fully voiced and with the original music, as well as a special cutscene using the FF14 assets where the familiar leaders of the various playable “grand companies” or factions implore the player to prevent Bahamut’s rebirth. Mog is introduced as a comedically cowardly but wily sidekick who can assist with your quest, albeit not in combat. Then it was time to stop Bahamut in 60 minutes!

The “escape game” itself wasn’t as simple as “Complete these and you escape/win.” Initially we had to unlock the grimoire, which contained more puzzles but also additional ability cards, giving you the feeling that you had leveled up your job -- satisfying as both a game reward and an RPG fan. Unlocking the book led to unlocking the chest, which contained more ability cards and additional puzzle pieces.
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Each participant gets to play as an iconic Final Fantasy job.
Although many of the puzzles were paper-based brain teasers, which I feared would be either too easy or too obtuse to be fun, many of them involved interacting with props and scenery in the dungeon and talking to costumed “NPCs,” actors in costumes. The generic costuming and the actors’ lack of familiarity with the setting was the low point of the event, especially since Real Escape utilized top-notch cosplaying fans like the team behind Queensguard Cosplay for one of the special Attack on Titan events, but everyone involved was essentially in character and no one gave too much away or seemed unhappy.

My favorite puzzles involved obtaining physical items from the dungeon -- classic items you receive from iconic FF enemies -- which were used in incredibly creative ways to solve puzzles printed on paper. I can’t go into too much detail as we were kindly asked not to spoil anything.

We were one of many groups that lined up to face Bahamut with only a scant few minutes remaining. We almost didn’t make it, as our initial solution to the final puzzle was wrong (again, I can’t give any details but it was pretty appropriate for something based on an MMORPG) but we came back to the dungeon entrance with everything we needed and just barely managed to defeat Bahamut!

Afterwards we were treated to another custom cutscene celebrating our victory and the winning groups were announced. Roughly 65% of the teams managed to triumph over Bahamut, which seems like a reasonable number -- not too hard, not too easy. Following this, the winners who barely succeeded in time were granted the honor of a celebratory photo with a large Bahamut banner and a selection of props.
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Our triumphant raid group got a helping kupo from Mog.
Overall it was an enjoyable experience for both hardcore Final Fantasy fans as well as people who only had a passing familiarity with the series. Real Escape will be showcasing Trial of Bahamut in Phoenix, Houston, Orlando, Chicago, and New York from August through October so if you’re curious about escape games, a Final Fantasy fan, or both, I’d say it’s worth the $35.

​- Laura
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<![CDATA[EVO 2017 Sunday Finals]]>Tue, 25 Jul 2017 01:25:31 GMThttp://a-to-jconnections.com/gaming/evo-2017-sunday-finals
With EVO's Friday and Saturday being mostly lighthearted days of competition and convention-like time with a few finals matches thrown in, Sunday Finals feels like a completely different event. Once again, the Sunday Finals graced the stage of the Mandalay Bay Events Center, with some of the matches being streamed on actual television. The atmosphere was electric, not unlike seeing a more traditional sporting event, and I could not be happier to be there in person.
The MBEC is a huge, daunting arena, capable of holding 12,000+ people. And sure, while the arena wasn't completely full, I'd easily put it at 75% capacity, no small feat considering 1) this is still an eSports tournament and 2) Sunday Finals were a separate ticket on top of the regular EVO pass. 8,000 attendees might not be DOTA2 Worlds numbers, but they're nothing to scoff at, especially with Disney XD televising the Smash 4 Finals, ESPN televising the Street Fighter V finals, and the various Twitch streams around the world. The finals for each game are set up as an almost double-bracketed affair of winners and losers, with the potential of someone coming up through the losers bracket to make it all the way to the grand finals and taking the prize, leading to interesting match ups and amazing fights.
I'll be upfront and honest with you all: I didn't catch near as much of the finals as I would have liked. The Injustice 2 finals started at 8 am, and plans with visiting friends took me away from the entirety of the Smash 4 finals. But you know, I'm okay with that. I got to see most of BlazBlue, a good chunk of Tekken, and the SFV finals, along with the various announcements that took place between games.
Announcements, you say? Sure. EVO's a good time for fighting game companies to make all sorts of announcements to a receptive crowd. One of the biggest announcements is Acr System Works' big old crossover fighting game BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle, combining BlazBlue, Persona 4, Under Night In-Birth, and RWBY. Other announcements were more along the lines of upcoming character DLC for various games, along with a summer beta for Dissidia NT from Square-Enix.
Despite there being 5 games worth of finals throughout the day, the biggest was easily SFV. It had the most entries, the most money on the line, and the most Americans in the Street Fighter finals that we've seen in years. By the time the SFV finalists took stage, the finals had been going on for nearly 12 hours, but people were ready to cheer on their favorite fighters, or just watch the events unfold.
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Tokido, the EVO 2017 SFV grand champion
I won't bore you with a lot of the details about the various finals, but I do highly recommend you catch some of them on YouTube; there's very very good fighting game in there. I will say that I am proud of Punk Da God, representing the USA all the way to the grand finals, at the tender age of 18, and that he did very good. But sometimes youth falters under pressure, and to watch seasoned veteran Tokido finally take a grand finals, coming up from the losers' bracket, was stunning to watch. Plus, hearing the crowd yell "USA, USA" was a wonderfully weird thing to be in the middle of.
-Janette G

Check out the gallery and videos below! (Sorry for the audio quality, I was right up against the speakers)
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<![CDATA[EVO 2017 Days 1 and 2]]>Fri, 21 Jul 2017 16:27:36 GMThttp://a-to-jconnections.com/gaming/evo-2017-days-1-and-2The Evolution Championship Series, or EVO for short, celebrated its 15th year as one of the biggest, hypest fighting game tournaments in the world this year, and I was lucky enough to be able to cover it from pools to finals.
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A shot of pools
The first 2 days of EVO this year were held at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, and to say it was big is kinda an understatement. EVO is great in that anyone willing to pay the attendance fee and the game specific tournament registration fee is welcome to compete. Thus, over 10,000 separate game tourney registrations occurred this year, and even accounting for crossover for some of the games, that's easily over 7,000 people, from more than 45 countries around the world, competing for cash and glory. And you don't have to compete to attend! There's a bit of a con going on as well during the first 2 days! The "convention" side of EVO isn't super big: just a small handful of panels, a few artist alley booths, some sponsors and dealers booths, and various free play setups. However, you won't be wanting for more to do. I managed to keep myself busy watching pools and upper level matches, playing games, watching side tourneys, and just general chitchat with other attendees.
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Various free to play cabinets, courtesy of Red Bull
Most of the first day is dedicated to the entry pools for the main game tourneys, and you could walk around the floor and watch them happen. As the day went on, quarter and semifinals started lining up, being shown on the bigger stages and streamed on Twitch. By Saturday, some of the games with smaller entry pools were already holding finals, and anyone in the room could watch and cheer.
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The Guilty Gear finals on Saturday
Along with the main 9 games, loads of side tournaments were being held on the spot. Bandai Namco held an improptu Dragonball Fighter Z tourney, Square Enix had a Dissidia NT tourney, and AnimEVO had a whole slew of various tourneys ranging from old anime fighting games to Puyo Puyo Tetris. Austin Creed (aka Xavier Woods of WWE's The New Day) even held a Windjammers one late Friday night! There were also game previews from big companies, an indie showcase, and even a few cosplayers here and there.
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WINDJAMMERS
The first two days of EVO are quite the blast. You don't even have to be huge into fighting games to have a good time there. People were super friendly, I saw competitors of all ages playing, and even entire families milling about, enjoying themselves. Everyone I talked to about their time at EVO seemed to have nothing but good things to say. EVO is honestly one of my favorite events to attend. It might not be huge in terms of things to do, but I've had fun every time, and watching competitors be respectful even in crushing defeat is always nice. Plus the idea that an relative unknown kid could take an entire tournament is good.
-Janette G

Check out the gallery and videos below!
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