Let’s Try — Paper Mario: Sticker Star — Overview, Level 1-1, Level 2-5 w/English & Arabic Commentary!

Final Fantasy VIII meets Baten Kaitos meets PC Adventure Game. Need I say more? Here’s a tour of Paper Mario: Sticker Star’s gameplay and part of a walkthrough for level 2-5 by yours truly. Note that this series will continue depending on interest, but don’t expect a full-on let’s play as RPGs tend to make very long videos which may be boring to some viewers. As always, give us feedback. So far, 4 videos have been uploaded. 2 in Arabic and 2 in English.

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Kid Icarus: Uprising Review

As posted in ProjectCOE.com.

A lot can change in 25 years. Kid Icarus is back and better than ever! I would say something cheesy like, ”throw everything you know and love about the franchise out the window because this reboot is a different beast,” but that doesn’t accurately describe the situation. By playing Kid Icarus Uprising, throw away everything you know about the two classic entries, but hold onto everything you love about their history. That sounds like a better tagline. It’ll make sense as you read on.

Parent Talk: The ever-ambiguous E10+ ESRB rating has been bestowed upon Kid Icarus: Uprising for Fantasy Violence, Comic Mischief, and Mild Suggestive Themes. As with most games that are E10+, it’s actually a relatively harmless experience for children of all ages despite the ESRB’s pointless labeling. As I will elaborate on later, the plot, characters and setting are heavily inspired by Greek mythology yet play out like a Saturday morning cartoon, i.e. lighthearted humor and action which never takes itself seriously. Some jokes may fly over the kids’ heads (and hence immediately picked up by teens or adults) but they’re contained within the caliber of the intended audience. These adult-oriented pop-culture jabs are not uncommon or harmful as most animated movies and shows have adhered to this practice in order to go beyond the targeted demographic…even My Little Pony recently pulled its adult strings with much success. In terms of gameplay, Kid Icarus also manages to grab the attention of casual and seasoned veterans alike by applying a difficulty scale (from 0 to 10) to each of its levels. Narrowing it down to 0 is perfect for young children who just want to have fun. A scale of 5 or more is basically the backyard of hardcore gamers.

Review Basis: completed all 25 chapters and dabbled with both online modes. According to the in-game stats, I played a total of 26 times, 51 hours total game time, 28 hours and 26 minutes devoted to campaign play time and 1 hour and 28 minutes for online multiplayer. I’ve also been turned into an eggplant 21 times. But hey, as long as I got a total of 472 weapons and 489986 hearts, it’s all good.

Plays Like: hoo-boy, bear with me as I take a deep breath. Put shoot ’em ups, action, and RPG in a blender and you’ve got Kid Icarus Uprising in a nutshell. Allow me to paint a better picture for you. It’s half Sin & Punishment and half God of War, with simplified, touch-screen oriented Smash Brothers-like controls. The RPG elements apply to game’s equip-able spoils and deep weapon fusion system, which is extremely similar to and just as addicting as Vagrant Story’s own weapon crafting. I must’ve spent around 20 hours of my game time experimenting with fusing weapons, no lie. Note that gameplay elements of the classic Kid Icarus entries only serve as reference points to this revival. Simply put, Uprising plays nothing like its 2D predecessors nor it is a traditional 3D update of NES gameplay.

Looks Like: a CGI version of Hercules, Disney’s own hand-drawn, animated take on Greek mythology. It fully utilizes the power of the handheld as the quality and variety of locales and enemies are staggering. It’s one of those ’throw in everything including the kitchen sink’ types of games. Even though the backdrop is Greek Mythology, don’t be surprised to witness sci-fi influences from time to time.

Tells a Story Like: Tiny Toon Adventures or Animaniacs. The strong voice cast’s back-and-forth bantering is full of wittiness, self-referential humor, pop culture jabs, cheesy one-liners, jokes that break the forth wall, and adult-oriented humor that has gotten past the censors for being too subtle. Every time I compare Kid Icarus to Disney’s Hercules, the former comes on top because it handles the humor elegantly and tells a better story. While it’s not taken seriously most of the time, the latter half of the campaign contains some grim moments and interesting twists to the battle between the underworld army and the heavens. When it’s all said and done, Uprising is without a doubt Nintendo of America’s best localization work ever and it proves that they can easily assemble a team of experienced voice actors to strengthen their games’ production values. Ali Hillis, who voices Lady Palutena here, is also responsible for Lightning’s pipes in Final Fantasy XIII. If that’s not good enough to impress you, I don’t know what is. I now fully trust NOA with a fully-voiced Zelda game should it ever happen. Who would’ve thought that a 3DS handheld game based on a forgotten IP would be their true leap into the next generation? Furthermore, unlike animated movies, TV shows, and some games, Kid Icarus is unique since most of its exposition isn’t told through cut-scenes. Instead, it’s fed to you in chunks during gameplay, which is a plus as your session won’t be interrupted by long-winded dialogue. Imagine Star Fox’s own exposition multiplied by a hundred–that’s Kid Icarus for you. Cut-scenes are mostly reserved for Boss Battle encounters, but there’s one unique chapter during the climax which surprised the heck out of me as it truly represents the superb blend between story and gameplay.

Sounds Like: a symphony orchestra movement with some light jazz, flamenco, and rock thrown into the mix. As evident by the star-studded soundtrack of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Mr. Sakurai has a lot of ties in the videogame music industry, so he pulled some strings for his latest project and assembled the best of the best under one roof: Motoi Sakuraba (Star Ocean, Valkyrie Profile), Yuzo Kushiro (ActRaiser), Noriyuki Iwadre (Lunar, Radiata Stories), Yasuroni Mitsuda (Chrono Series, Xenogears), and Masafumi Takada (No More Heroes). Their styles compliment each other well when utilizing the underlying symphonic theme of the soundtrack. Leitmotif is heavily used here too…fans will love it when they hear parts of the classic NES tracks enveloped within the orchestra, which has a lot of live instrument usages intertwined with high quality sampled sounds. I have personally fallen in love with the flamenco-style acoustic guitar music of Dark Pit and Dog’s Themes, composed by none other than Sakuraba himself. Rest assured though, you’ll find a lot to love in Uprising’s music, arguably one of the best-produced soundtracks coming out of Nintendo recently. I’m happy to put it in the same pedestal with Skyward Sword, Mario Galaxies 1 & 2, and F-Zero GX.

Best Thing About It: lots of gameplay and high replay-ability, never feeling repetitive in the process. The latter half of the campaign’s chapters last from 20 to 30 minutes, so that alone will keep you busy for awhile. While each of Uprising’s chapters are divided into Air Battles (shoot ’em up), Land Battles (3D Action), and unique Boss Battles, gameplay never feels stale as each chapter manages to implement unique mechanics. Whether you’re given certain vehicles to use, multiple branching paths to discover, encountering bosses in the middle of the stage — gameplay doesn’t adhere to a simple cycle because the narrative plays a major role in dictating your progress. In addition, the difficulty meter is a long-overdue feature which should be utilized in more games. Instead of the archaic and simplified ’Easy, Medium, Hard’ choice in the beginning of your campaign, each chapter starts you off with a scale from 0 to 9, from easy to hard, going by decimal fractions (i.e. 3.2, 3.3, etc). The higher you go, the more of your currency (hearts) you’ll bet, and completing a chapter on set difficulty will net a higher heart return. Losing will halve your obtained hearts and drop you down by 1 scale so you can complete the chapter in an easier fashion. Higher difficulty numbers will also open up branching paths and increase your chance to obtain better weapons. This feature alone is the sole reason why I kept replaying older chapters multiple times. I like how the game feels different in higher difficulties. It’s not just the AI patterns which are heightened. The new enemy placements and types, new attacks, increased damage input and output — it always feels refreshing jumping up a point or two in older chapters. Air Battles turn into bullet hell if you dare to go above 7. On top of all this chunky gameplay, you’re given three 12 X 10 grids worth of achievements to unlock — that’s 360 squares in total. It took me 30 hours to finish the game and I only unlocked half of those. How’s that for replay value?

Most Polarizing Feature: the controls. Finally, let’s address the elephant in the room. Uprising’s controls have been bashed to bits since day 1, so conspiracies need to be put to rest. They’re not broken or complex, and they don’t require three hands to work (the stand accessory is not mandatory). They’re uncomfortable to deal with at first and have a very high learning curve as only a few games in the DS family enforce a dual pad/touchscreen setup. Uprising is similar to FPS games on the DS, only you’re put in a behind-the-back TPS backdrop instead. That alone deserves some props as no other action game has used this control scheme before. By default, you move with the circle pad, fire with the L button, and aim with the touch screen. In essence, you’re lifting the 3DS up with your left hand as your right is busy with the touch screen. Two issues arise: a) your left hand or forearm may cramp with extended use, and b) Land Battles are ’slippery’ as both reticle aiming and camera control (by flicking) are assigned to the touch screen. Two problems, one solution: fully customizable controls! Hate the touch screen? You can enable dual analog-like controls by assigning the face buttons for aiming, which are functional but not as tactile as the touch screen. Is cramping an issue? You can enable auto-fire, reassign the fire button down to the control pad, use the stand for maximum comfort, or even use your thumb/index finger instead of the stylus to aim. Don’t like imprecise aiming and camera controls? You can fully customize your reticle speed vertically and horizontally and how far the camera spins when flicking the stylus for Land Battles. The only negatives you’re left with are twofold: some lefties are left with a less precise scheme unless they buy a Circle Pad Pro, and maintaining a functional 3D effect is hard unless you’re using the stand. All in all, the controls aren’t perfect, but once you get past the high learning curve and customize them to your liking, you’ll appreciate their uniqueness. Similar to the Super Smash Bros. series, Kid Icarus is easy to learn but hard to master…so it’s a rewarding process to eliminate your frustrations the more you play.

Least Favorite Feature: Online multiplayer. It reminds me of Kirby Air Ride’s City Trials mode as battles are fun & frantic. But there’s little incentive to keep playing because it doesn’t have a separate progress setup ala Call of Duty. Instead, multiplayer is directly tied to your single-player progress as unlocked weapons and abilities are shared within both modes, and therefore solo veterans will have the upper hand online. What’s even more baffling is that you can’t filter your opponents or balance teams based on weapon power, so you’ll constantly fight against overwhelming odds. Uprising tries to balance it out a bit in team-based play since defeating opponents with higher weapon power serves as a disadvantage, but the odds almost always favor players with the highest weapon power or better abilities. Moreover, there are only two modes and a few stages to pick from, with no way to vote for which stage to play in or customize match logistics such as length, random drops, etc.

The Lowdown: if you’re expecting a faithful 2D to 3D conversion of Kid Icarus that emulates the feel of Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, you’re living an unrealistic dream. Despite being an existing IP in Nintendo’s library, Kid Icarus wasn’t even considered a franchise until Mr. Sakurai made Pit a playable character in Smash Bros. Brawl a few years ago. Two installments 25 years ago doesn’t make a franchise and there’s no playbook on what makes a Kid Icarus entry retain its rightful features like Mario and Zelda. However, despite the radical reboot in gameplay (which is nicely designed and full of replay value by the way), Uprising successfully retains the spirit of the franchise and expands upon it excellently. This is how you make reboots of dormant IPs. From the excellent visual presentation to the hilarious voice cast which smartly weave the foundations of Kid Icarus with original content, Uprising is a technical achievement by Nintendo and Project Sora. It’s a handheld title which veers towards console-like qualities, control issues and simplistic online play notwithstanding.

Average Score Scale: 8 +/- 1 out of 10

Personal Final Score: 9/10 (Inflated)

Reasons: for +1 Inflation: Chunky gameplay and replay-ability. Excellent presentation with great graphics, a symphonic soundtrack, and a strong voice cast with over-the-top humor.

Reasons for -1 Deflation: steep learning curve for controls. Shallow online multiplayer.

Saudi Arabia’s First Girls Gaming Convention Breaks Boundaries!

As posted on ProjectCOE.com

November 24, 2011; the mainstream media caught wind of Saudi Arabia’s first gaming expo which ran in Riyadh for three days. All things considered, TGXPO was a success, yet the media highlighted and ridiculed a setback — it was male-only. That doesn’t sit well with everyone, obviously. Jokes were put forth, but that wasn’t the problem I had with the negative response. After all, nobody can run away from jokes and ‘gamer humor’ in the Internet…gotta have your healthy dose of funny bones. It’s assuming things out no experience which blew things out of proportion. As a Saudi native, this con was supposed to be a positive story since it was the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia. It begged for attention as our country has constantly been ignored when it comes to gaming culture and publishing support. Sadly, the tone of the stories which ran and the constant hate and ridicule from gamers turned a positive message into a negative one. I read all types of comments: from people blaming Islam to assuming that Saudi is a country that discriminates females, the gaming community simply did not understand the big deal about this, nor did they research the true reasons behind the male-only decision. I’ve known them far before TGXPO put an official response in their Facebook page. It was a first of its kind, and taking a rough tumble isn’t uncommon for a fresh experience. While we still do have a cultural problem with male/female segregation as no country is perfect, it’s not impossible to organize inter-gender events and areas…it just takes a bit more work to approve the concept and go through the paperwork with varies parties like the authorities for security, permit approval, etc. Like I said, it’s a mixture of cultural hurdles and actual capabilities that are needed to run said event. Even though gaming is a fast-growing trend in Saudi Arabia, it’s still not seen as a big enough entertainment phenomena by the likes of the people responsible to grant event permits specialized for gaming events. I’ve attended a stand-up comedy show in my hometown of Jeddah which had no problem with both males and females under one roof. TGXPO simply didn’t have the means to do so as organizing and running the event was an experimental process. The majority of gamers in Saudi Arabia are male, so they logically prioritized the event for that demographic. Furthermore, the venue was very small so it couldn’t accommodate females and families…yet due to the success of last year, they promised to get a bigger venue and have special attendance days for females and families alike.

But female gamers aren’t going to wait a full year for TGXPO to get its act together. Instead, they’ve taken initiative and organized Saudi Arabia’s first female-only gaming convention. GCON ran in Riyadh for two days; April 11th and 12th, 2012. I thought Saudi female gamers were too small of a demographic to begin with, so the fact that this con exists and ended successfully proved me wrong. It also proved to the many doubters that women do have a say in Saudi Arabia. The fact of the matter is that there have been many cons and events which involved males, females, and even had them together under one roof…but GCON is a first for Saudi female gamers and it will surely open doors for the next logical step; an event which will have all Saudi gamers under one roof.

From the looks of its website, GCON seems to be a much better-organized event than TGXPO. The attendance on the first day was low considering the demographic, but it spiked up a bit in day 2 and generally everyone was happy about it, according to NG4A’s coverage. They had a lot of sponsors, tournaments, strict schedules, and professional speakers. While they didn’t have any big names like TGXPO’s notable participation of Akira Yamaoka, the schedule in their website looked great as it leaned towards promoting games as art. Notable YouTube videos should be popping up eventually, but as of now it looks like a promising start for female gamers in Saudi Arabia to voice their love for the medium. I can’t wait to see videos of the tournaments, venue, and speakers in the near future. I also can’t wait for these people to bring these cons to my hometown of Jeddah! Why can’t Riyadh share all the fun with us?

Sources: Official GCON Website, N4GA, special thanks to Sara Oulddaddah for highlighting it for me.

Xenoblade Chronicles KiloByte-Sized Review

Xenoblade finally reaches North American shores after about a year-long’s worth of advertising from the likes of Operation Rainfall, a fan group dedicated to seeing a trio of swansong Wii RPGs localized in the west. One down, two to go. After spending 70 hours with the UK release, it’s about time to critique this bad boy. Does it sink or swim? Is it the most important JRPG of this generation? What does it sound like, play like, or look like? What does it taste like? Read on for more details.

Parent Talk: Xenoblade Chronicles is a role-playing game set in a vast fantasy land inhabited by humans, animals, mythical creatures, and robots. As you’ve probably deduced, the Teen rating by the ESRB is mostly due to fantasy violence. In essence, children older than 10 years old may also play it providing that parents do not mind sporadic use of minor curse words (damn), skimpy outfits, and alcohol/tobacco references in dialogue of townsfolk (a.k.a non-playable characters). The vibe Xenoblade aims for is similar to fantasy films like the The Chronicles of Narnia which isn’t afraid to throw in adult-oriented quirks from time to time. Since this is a role-playing game known for longevity and massive replay value, its narrative and gameplay may seem too complex for children under 10 years old. However, nicely implemented tutorials and the low difficulty curve may ease parents into experiencing it with their kids. Trust me; there is something for everyone in Xenoblade Chronicles, and once the whole family starts playing, be prepared to be hauled in for the long run as this isn’t a casual game to turn on half an hour per day.

Review Basis: 70 hours with 1/3 of the main plot left. My play-through has mostly focused on completing missions and side-quests that NPCs ask of me. That’s a lot of content packed in one game, eh?

Plays Like: Final Fantasy XII and the dothack series for the PS2, the White Knight Chronicles series for the PS3. In layman’s terms, it’s an offline RPG trying to be a massively multiplayer online one. Much to my surprise, Xenoblade is a sequel only in name as it plays nothing like its predecessors Xenogears and Xenosaga. Its battle system is action-oriented as it takes the real-time route rather than turn-based. It’s a deep system with a huge emphasis on micromanaging your party and upgrading the right set of skills to earn victory. It’s as overwhelming and fun as Star Ocean, yet not quite up to Disgaea levels of detail and ridiculousness. While each character levels up uniquely, what sets Xenoblade apart from the pack is its innovative use of the Monado, the mystical blade with powers to look into the future and damage mechons (robots), among other uses. Xenoblade smartly integrates canonical plot events into its battle system for strategic use. At first, your blade has the simple power to damage mechon so all you need to do is manage its wielder (Shulk) in your party. However, as you progress through the plot you start gaining unique abilities which will force you to look before leaping into action. The coolest one is premonition; if an enemy is planning a devastating attack which will probably kill your party, a 5 second clip will play out that future event, giving you the choice to prevent/avoid it. It’s a one-of-a-kind use of a time-based mechanic in an RPG that I don’t see often.

Looks Like: someone throwing in the robot designs of the Transformers’ films and Real Steel into the Lord of the Rings’ sets of lush fields, disgusting marshes, towering forests, and dark looming castles. The second half of Xenoblade moves away from that look and adapts futuristic and tribal locales instead. From medieval sturdy armor to the casual fashion of today–characters like to mix and match attire even if it doesn’t fit the time period conveyed. If you’ve watched John Hancock then you’ll know what I mean. All in all, Xenoblade’s world is a strong blend of aesthetics and influences. Nothing looks out of place despite as it blends medieval and technology perfectly, similar to how Lost Odyssey’s attempt a few years ago.

Sounds Like: have you caught on the trend that bands and popular artists sometimes follow; making a multi-disc album with each side adapting a different style/genre of music? Xenoblade’s soundtrack walks that road as well. My closest comparison is the work of The Early November’s “The Mother, the Mechanic, and the Path”, a triple-disc album released in 2006 with various sub-genres of rock enveloping each one. The first disc contains in-your-face rock ‘n roll, the second disc mellows out into acoustic instruments and orchestrated material, and the third disc contains experimental spoken vocals backed by very abstract instruments. Xenoblade follows the first two discs to a T, while branching out into Celtic music in its experimental third act. It even occasionally manages to combine these three styles into single tracks. Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts) takes charge with her signature blend of classical and celtic styles, while a new band of composers collectively called ACE+ get down and dirty with the rockin’ battle themes and chillin’ acoustic arrangements of some of Yoko’s work. At the end of the day, it’s a bulky soundtrack which contains some of my favorite game music of this generation. It channels the spirit of Motoi Sakuraba’s work on Baten Kaitos, another one of Monolith’s niche RPGs.

Best Thing About It: a living, breathing world. Not a lot of JRPGs mesmerize me when it comes to world design. Three gripes tend to stand in the way: 1) the overworld may be too small or tedious, 2) it’s not interactive enough, 3) constant lack of immersion when moving between towns and dungeons. The latter is practically a staple in most RPGs as towns are peaceful places populated by NPCs, weapon shops, and inns; and in contrast dungeons are monster-filled, gloomy areas with hidden treasure chests and boss fights, not to mention the sole purpose of the overworld which is simply connecting between the two. Xenoblade’s greatest triumph is breaking these three cardinal faults and aiming for full immersion in a large playground. The clear lines between towns, overworld and dungeons are constantly challenged and shaded within this JRPG; you can encounter actual people in “dungeon areas”, the overworld itself has a lot of secret mini-dungeons and refugee camps, and cities can be invaded as part of the narrative and subsequently transform into dungeons in an instant. Moreover, Xenoblade’s scope aims for the sky. The developers were so confident in their creation that they included two perks from the get-go: fast-travel to cut down on repetition and time manipulation to fully explore areas as their inhabitants change from dusk till dawn. Being the perfectionist I am, I found myself opting to explore every nook and cranny and talk to every NPC, in turn avoiding fast travel unless neccessary. Yes, you read that right; talking to NPCs matters in Xenoblade as most of them have actual lives, curfews, ambitions and problems. Taking cues from Majora’s Mask, Xenoblade is armed with an affinity chart that tracks important NPCs in each region. The more you talk to, the clearer the relationship between each of them is. For example, conversing with one’s sibling lists him/her as such in the chart, followed by a certain status represented by smiley face expressions. If these siblings are not in good terms, you’ll eventually get a series of side-quests which may grant an opportunity to rekindle their bond. Imagine this example expanding to the whole family, friends, and even acquaintances who may live in different regions/countries…and you’ve got Xenoblade’s chart in a nutshell. Eventually, I got to a point where I cared for the countries I was saving because I knew their citizens inside and out.

Most Polarizing Feature: its graphical presentation. From the open fields and high mountains to the tropical forests and high-tech futuristic castles, Xenoblade’s locales look absolutely stunning even by Wii standards. My friends had to do a double take when they watched me play, assuming that this was a PS3/Xbox 360 title. Upon closer inspection, however, the character models have stiff animation, bad lip-syncing and clipping which may easily categorize the presentation as PS2-like. The development team tried to hide those blemishes with customizable attire and well-directed, excellently-choreographed cut-scenes, but sadly due to the nature of the Wii’s capabilities they couldn’t achieve everything. Compare that to their previous works embodied by Xenosaga and Baten Kaitos which went toe-to-toe with the big dogs of last generation.

Worst Thing About It: the main narrative and cast of characters are serviceable, yet not as memorable as Xenogears and Baten Kaitos. It’s not bad by JRPG standards, but I was more into the NPC’s stories than the main plot. The solid British voice acting attempts to inject emotion and good humor, but I always knew what to expect around the next corner. The ending sequence may contain a surprise or two as usual, but it will never live up to the likes of Monolith’s past works. The introduction and concept are really gripping; the world you traverse is slowly revealed as two bodies of huge robots forever frozen in combat stance, yet unfortunately 2/3rds of the main quest doesn’t take that premise to the next level. Instead, it opts to focus on an orphan boy with a mysterious past who comes across a mystical blade only he can wield for some unknown reason…all of which will eventually be explained via deus ex machina.

The Lowdown: despite its somewhat formulaic plot and band of protagonists, Xenoblade Chronicles single-handedly rekindled my love for JRPGs…which was ironically blown out by the series which got me into the genre in the first place. Forget Final Fantasy XIII. Heck, I’ll even step on more toes and proudly state that this is what Final Fantasy XII should’ve been like. Monolith Soft successfully included the best of MMO elements in an offline RPG, all the while developing a world full of life and a level of immersion which will be remembered for decades to come. That’s what I call keeping the Japanese flavor in check despite heavy westernization. It’s like taking a bite off a classic American cheese burger which is coated with teriyaki sauce and has wasabi instead of mustard. Mmm, that concoction is making me drool. Will somebody make it happen?

Average Review Scores: 8.5 +/- 1 out of 10

Personal Final Score: 9.5/10

+1 Inflation: if you love huge worlds with a lot to do outside the main quest. If interaction and immersion similar to Skyrim are appealing factors.

-1 Deflation: if strong narrative and cast are the most important aspects of your RPG experience. If you can’t play graphically underpowered games with 480p resolution.

GigaByte Gaming Editorial: Questionable Religionophobic Content

As posted in Tumblr.

It’s been one heck of a month in video game news. We had a Tekken veteran who harassed a fellow female fighter player on live ’stream’ TV, and a indie game maker (of Fez) who bluntly stated that Japanese games suck without justification. Tremendous backlash ensued after both developments, as both of these individuals came under heavy fire from the gaming media and site visitors alike. After all, they chose to act without thinking of consequences and the audience involved. Joking is all fine and dandy because humor is what makes the gaming community an awesome place to kick back and hang, but being a hateful jerk is another story. In turn, there have been some extreme opinions of these two individuals, most of which involve criticizing the whole fighting game community for acting hostile towards fellow females, and calling the developer of Fez a racist. Some people even went as far as claiming that all indie developers have a bitter holier-than-thou attitude. Of course, I completely disagree with this extremely warped attitude, but that’s the internet for you. In the end, there are morals that we should’ve learned from these stories by now:

1) It’s unwise to generalize an act of a few individuals to a whole community.

2) There’s a fine line between free speech and plain disrespect. You will always be held responsible for what you say in public, especially when your comments are hateful with no grounds to back them up.

Imagine what kind of trouble I’ve gone through when I simply tried pointing out these two morals for another controversial news piece that was reported during early March. The Binding of Isaac is a videogame which attempts to examine and re-tell the old biblical story, yet not word for word as many fictional elements are added in between the lines, pretending to be facts at times. It was released on Steam last year, yet Nintendo decided not to release it for their 3DS e-Shop due to ’questionable religious content’. It’s unknown whether Nintendo’s referring to a few scenes, the game’s whole premise, or the entire game including gameplay…but it’s apparent that they’ve found enough content to deem the whole package ’questionable’. This bit of news originated from the developer’s twitter, visibly upset by Nintendo’s stance on the matter. Of course, this led to a domino effect in the gaming news media and site visitors as they voiced their opinions on ’censorship’ and how religion should be examined freely even if the media in question conveys the wrong morals and goes out of its way to offend the parties involved.

While actual reports of this story have been reasonably tame and open to some good discussion, some of the comments went out of hand, which is not unusual given the degree of anonymity site visitors have. As I hinted at in the last paragraph, my personal experience with the whole ordeal has been colorful to say the least as I was part of the vocal minority which supported Nintendo’s stance on the matter. After reading one particular editorial, I felt compelled to reply before its author spreads the wrong message to like-minded readers. It was written for GameFront.com by Jim Sterling, a darling of today’s gaming journalism thanks to his witty writings at Destructoid and humorous video series for The Escapist. I don’t know Jim personally so I have nothing against him…he portrays himself as a fun person to converse with in real life and has a unique approach to gaming journalism, hence the large amount of attention he receives. Unfortunately, I think that he made a series of oversights and rushed mistakes in his recent opinion editorial, most of which involved blank statements on Christianity and religion in general, coated with bitterness and mockery. He has been blinded by his beliefs with little to no merit whatsoever, which is not a suitable act for a game-oriented site and editorial. I rationally and respectfully called these errors out and followed up with my own opinions on Nintendo’s stance and the game in question. In turn, I got attacked by other commenters. Some responses against me were just as rational as mine which created some insightful back-and-forth debates, yet most were blank statements which were rather hateful towards religion. The first wave of comments (a total of 71) were deleted on March 6th and GameFront’s official stance is that they were erroneously ’lost’ as the staff were revamping the site’s infrastructure for a new front page. They claimed that they would try to bring them back up soon, yet as of this writing they have been unsuccessful in doing so. Fortunately, I’ve kept detailed records of the old conversation just in case, which I will share with you shortly. You can, however, sample my opinions and other responses if you wish as the current comments reflect everything nicely. I will also reiterate my responses here as it is the main purpose of this editorial.

Let’s talk about Jim’s tone first. To my knowledge, opinion pieces should at least examine the big picture before backing one’s reasoning with subsequent commentary. Additionally, mockery and cursing aren’t exactly ideal methods to get thoughts across in opinion pieces. Since we’re on the net and this is the gaming community, Jim’s piece gets a free pass…but keep in mind that such writings would never be allowed to run in a professional newspaper, magazine or website unless it’s for humorous purposes. I’m not saying that GameFront is an unreliable media site, but frankly it was rather unprofessional of them to run this piece as is for reasons I will elaborate on. Right off the bat, Jim starts with things like, “I’m not a religious person. In fact, all I can do is avoid that kind of thing, which is pretty hard as a British man living in the middle of Mississippi. Perhaps my being in state where half the population wants life to begin at conception and for miscarriages to be treated as potential murders has embittered me towards the Christian set, but I have to say that I am pretty fucking sick of religion being treated with kid gloves”. Soon after, he goes to mock the actual story of Abraham and his son, calling it “fucked up”, not to mention bluntly claiming that The Bible is ”a source of so much confusion, anger, and pain in the world, and everybody has a right to examine why.” So let me get this straight; after he claims that he stays away from religion and is embittered exclusively towards the Christian set based on his own experience in one state in the United States, he confidently feels that he can examine all religions of the world as if he knows every little detail inside and out? No. You’re not fit to make those claims. You may think it’s your right based on free speech, but it’s my right to defend my beliefs especially when it comes to blank and hateful claims. I’m not Christian, mind you, but I believe in this story as much as they do. Questioning religion and its contents is okay and not offensive at all, as long as you do it respectfully. Claiming things about religion is all well and good too as long as you have logical grounds to back them up and prepare yourself to engage in a debate. This brings me back to my first moral; stating your opinion with little to no grounds whatsoever in a hateful manner is wrong. This is what Jim’s editorial has conveyed to me. Again, you have the right to say what you wish. I’m not against free speech at all, but when it’s hateful with no merit, people also have the right to point that out and defend their grounds. Jim didn’t even delve into why The Bible was the source of confusion according to him, nor did he attempt to explain how religion interprets the story of Abraham and his son. Even though he clearly acknowledges the fact that there are other interpretations of this tale, he only conveniently types up his version (with questionable added commentary and attitude I might add)…that’s still just one side of the story which some non-believers claim to be right. There is no right and wrong when it comes to this story and faith in general, but Jim is so passionate about his beliefs he practically preached them in his supposed gaming-focused editorial. It’s good to be passionate and confident about what you believe in, but GameFront is not the right place to preach your religious, agnostic, or atheist beliefs because it’s focused on gaming. But for future discussions pertaining to religion, one should at least try to use less colorful language and make his grounds clear before shooting blanks. After all, this isn’t a simple topic to casually skim along, especially if your beliefs are cluttered and disguised within a gaming editorial. I and other people who believe in faith (Christian and otherwise) should respect the opinions of non-believers and vice versa. We can try to convince one another in debates (providing that it’s the right time and place for such topics), but from a bird’s eye view there’s no right or wrong. If you don’t believe in religion or have faith, fine by me as you’re free to state those beliefs but don’t try to force-feed them as non-negotiable and absolute. Sadly, Jim stepped on that line without even realizing.

In the midst of all the bitterness and blank statements about Christianity and religion in general, the editorial attempts to get across two main points: 1) Nintendo’s stance to refuse The Binding of Isaac for 3DS e-Shop release is wrong, and 2) More video games should reference real-world religions without being afraid to offend the parties in question.

To the latter conclusion I say: absolutely! In fact, a lot of games have already referenced real-world religion in an innovative and respectful manner, including the Zelda series, the Xeno series, the Castlevania series, El Sheddai, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, and many others. It’s excellent stuff when it’s done right. Since religion is an enormous topic, developers should be cautious of tackling its contents in games. Fear shouldn’t be the approach to religion because if you examine all sides in detail and cut no corners, everyone will be happy. The problem lies when a developer decides to take a one-sided and twisted approach to religious material in games, which is certainly the case with The Binding of Isaac. Again, that clear line between free speech and plain disrespect is obvious here, too. Similar to Jim’s interpretation of the biblical tale, the game puts you in the shoes of Isaac running away from his mother, who intends to murder him because God tells her to do so. It uses graphic and violent material to tell its tale, basically emphasizing that God and the son’s mother are murderous villains/antagonists. It has been said that the developers have been raised in a Christian household, and for some inexplicable reason, they’re conveying God and the mother as murderers and implying that The Bible allows parents to kill their children. Reality check; the morals are the total opposite for people who believe in the real story of Abraham and his son. We may never know the ultimate intentions of the developer’s interpretation of this tale, yet it’s safe to conclude that the game’s general moral mirrors the developer’s own beliefs in some ways. In that case, they’re also spreading their version and beliefs to other people who play the game yet don’t know a thing about religion. Even though they’ve been raised in a Christian household, the moral of murder has never been the belief of Christians…so something is amiss with the way they were educated. Other religions which believe in this tale also regard its actual moral as a positive message.

So in essence, although the developers are ”examining” the tale, they’re sending a negative and wrong message about it in the process, portraying people who believe in it as being okay with killing and murdering sons. This is what ticks me off and rightfully so. Again, you can examine anything you want providing that you explain your background and state your merits, but to implement your beliefs onto my own is wrong, which what this game attempts to do. If the developers claimed or tried to hint that this game was made from a non-believers’ point of view via disclaimer or actual plot points, then that would’ve made a world of a difference. It doesn’t do so, however, hence why I’m being vocal about it. People who don’t know any better will play this game and immediately get the negative—and perhaps everlasting—impression that religion sucks, it’s all violent, and people who believe in the real tale have no morals or ethics…which is unfortunate.

Now, onto how believers interpret The Binding of Abraham’s son. It’s never been about murder or sacrifice. It’s the ultimate test of faith. Abraham and his son were special people who attained complete faith in God. So when Abraham received the revelation of binding his son, he never interpreted it as murder or sacrifice. He simply trusted in God’s word and that everything would turn out okay in the end. Divine commands are common themes in most religious stories, this one included. So when Abraham bound his son and he appeared not to resist, the whole act was negated via divine/angelic intervention, hence the ultimate test of faith and the moral of the story; acting upon God’s order without questioning and trusting that it would turn out good in the end. If this story was told in any other way, like Abraham refusing or questioning this act or his son running away, the moral of ultimate faith in God would’ve been lost in the process. Additionally, if the moral of the story has always been murder, then The Bible and other Holy Books which tell it would’ve claimed that it’s okay to murder your son or daughter in the name of God…and that has never been written literally or implied. Thus, if a parent today goes about claiming that he/she killed his/her son just because God said so, I would declare him/her as insane. Everyone should. Believing in Abraham’s story doesn’t interfere with common sense and general ethics unless you’re insane. If you don’t believe in this story, its morals or God, it’s no problem and you have every right to take that stance…but don’t project your interpretation of the tale onto my own and twist it so that I look like an unethical fool. Sadly, this is what Jim’s editorial and this game are doing, whether they meant it or not.

As for Nintendo’s stance on the game, I fully support it. Keep in mind that many people have wrongly thrown in the word ’censorship’ when in fact Nintendo has not taken that stance. It’s been already released in full glory on Steam for a year, so what’s the use of censoring an already-released and established release? All Nintendo did was refuse the game for e-Shop release, not censor it. Nintendo opted to take a neutral stance on the game as releasing it may imply that they’re supporting the content advertised within it, which is wrong for business and from a logical perspective if you read my aforementioned analysis. They chose not to step on the toes of certain groups for all the right reasons. Sensitive issues vary from country to country, from group to group, from religion to religion. I may not understand them, but at least I should respect them until I attempt to comprehend them. For example, Japan continues to frown upon and even censor beheadings, limb severings, and graphic torture in their games. They even cut some scenes from the domestic release of Final Fantasy XII because it had torture. I don’t know why, but I respect it. It’s something relating to their culture, and I may not truly understand it unless I live in Japan for awhile. All this applies to religious content in games including The Binding of Isaac for Steam. Mature developers who know that they’re tackling religious material in a one-sided manner should expect controversy and take it like men, not create further controversy by going to twitter and whining about not getting accepted to e-Shop.

Another point which readers should have in mind is that in today’s world, gaming hasn’t done it all. It hasn’t tackled all sensitive issues. Violence was one sensitive issue in the 80s and early 90s, but broke free as gaming grew bigger. Religion, race, sex, and sexuality haven’t been fully exploited in the gaming medium and rightfully so. Because if a developer has a homophobic character or a homosexual stereotype in a game, they’ll be called out for it because they portrayed the idea incorrectly. What happens when we finally (God forbid) get a game which is offensive to homosexuals, women, or a certain race? Will you scoff it off, yell ’free speech’ and applaud it for having the guts to freely talk about these topics, however offensive it becomes; or claim that the developers have crossed the line? The latter is how most rational people will react. So following that logic, religion is basically in the same realm. How come religion shouldn’t be off-limits while race, sex, and sexuality cannot be examined in contrast? If you actually come close to that line of thought, then you may have some inherent Religionophobic ideas so take a deep breath and re-evaluate yourself.

In conclusion, if want to hate on something, hate on the individuals who represent their groups incorrectly, not the group itself…whether it’s religion, sex, race, or sexuality. We live in a world where people immediately judge a book by its cover, a world where the wrongful acts of a few individuals represent a whole community, sect, or group; a world where the little things you don’t understand can collapse a whole belief system in your eyes…a system which is followed by millions of other people who understand what they believe. Once more, questioning religion to fit your logic is not wrong and is in fact encouraged, yet it needs to be done respectfully. Also, expect certain questions not to have direct answers, such as the infamous, ”why do you believe in God when you can’t see, hear, or communicate with Him?” That’s like inquiring about the meaning of life. What’s the point of faith if you question it?  I can sympathize with the fact that we are all influenced by the environment we’ve been brought up in, so we easily come to conclusions based on what we watch on TV or what our parents, family, and friends think and discuss. These thoughts and opinions may seem right from your point of view, but as soon as you meet up with an outsider or get to travel and live in another country, you start seeing the opposing views, removing those filters off your lens so to speak. Not everybody has this blessed opportunity, but thankfully the internet has made it somewhat easier to learn from and listen to other people’s opinions. What I can’t sympathize with, however, is being hateful with little to no grounds just because you have anonymity. This has always been the internet’s curse, something that no man or woman can change. Reading and replying to Jim’s article, reading rebuttals against me, being initially shocked by the hateful commenters, writing this actual editorial — it’s been quite a learning experience, a personal social experiment in gaming journalism. While I’m thankful for being brought up in an environment that allows me to think before judging, to consider opinions of the other side before forming my full thoughts, I’m still guilty of jumping to conclusions at times. Slowly but surely, through this experiment and hopefully many others, I continue to remove these filters from my eyes. I hope that by sharing my experience here, gamers would join me in this process of clearing blurred visions and breaking down walls. Will the future shine bright for us?

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