Goodbye Nintendo Power

The news earlier this week that Nintendo Power would cease publication hit me pretty hard. For many gamers who grew up in the days of the NES and the SNES, Nintendo Power holds a special place in their hearts. While it was blatant Nintendo propaganda and the strategies found within were frequently not ideal, the amount of love lavished on the games found inside was made the magazine eminently enjoyable. NP made each and every game seem like a classic. Yes, it existed to sell more games, but in those pre-internet days information was not that easy to come by. The loss of Nintendo Power feels like a big step away from gaming as I grew up with.

I wasn’t always subscribed to NP. I was for about two years around 89-91. I bought the magazine occasionally for the next decade before resubscribing a little before publishing switched over to Future. The magazines fortunes mostly followed its namesakes. In the 8 and 16-bit days Nintendo Power was amazing. There was always tons of excitement and plenty of games to cover. In the N64 and Gamecube days the excitement didn’t flag, though there was a lot less to be excited for. It sometimes made the magazine a depressing read. When it switched over to Future, it immediately got better. I’m not trying to bad mouth it from just before, but Nintendo Power over the last 5 years has been the best video game magazine on the shelf. I am disappointed that I let my subscription lapse in the last year. I have saved most of the issues I ever received and have spent plenty of time over the last week looking over them. It is truly sad to see it go.

In many ways Nintendo Power helped shape my gaming tastes, even when I wasn’t able to find or play the games it covered. I had no idea what an RPG was before I read the NP that covered Final Fantasy II. I didn’t play that game, at least not for more than an hour, until it was ported to the GBA but still I know that game front to back just from pouring over Nintendo Power. It made the game seem like such an amazing adventure that I had to play, but I was never able to find it. Then there was River City Ransom. Another game that just captured my imagination but this time I was able track it down. For once, at least, a game was everything Nintendo Power promised it would be. It was the usual beat-em-up with some RPG mechanics. Seeing those two games helped me realize just how many different kinds of games were out there, and seeing all the maps and screenshots in NP helped me visualize exactly how those games worked.

The loss of Nintendo Power is kind of forcing me to realize just how far from the mainstream I’ve become when it comes to gaming. I don’t think my tastes have really changed, but gaming has. I still like the same kinds of games I always have, but they are apparently not popular anymore. In the last year or so I’ve got so many new games that cater almost perfectly to me, games like Xenoblade, the Last Story, Solatorobo and Rayman Origins, but still this seems like an aberration rather than a trend. Most of the games I’ve really enjoyed have not enjoyed much in the way of sales success. The few interesting games that Japan is able to produce often have a hard time making it to America. I’m never going to be a fan of shooters and I’m never going to want more than one sports game for any system. It’s not that I think they aren’t good games, they just aren’t games that interest me. I’m not saying I am going to quit playing video games, but things like the shuttering of Nintendo Power show me that the current gaming industry doesn’t support the kind of things I like. Still, I have nearly 25 years of great gaming memories to look over and there are still plenty of great games I haven’t played.

First Impressions of Xenoblade Chronicles

Xenoblade, to my knowledge, is the first game to actually follow up on  Final Fantasy XII’s attempts to breath life into the stagnating RPG genre. It may be too little, too late but nevertheless Xenoblade makes an admirable attempt at moving forward.  I am not necessarily referring to the traits from MMOs that both games adopted, though I think the streamlined battle system is used to great effect; I am talking about a shift in focus from the story to the gameplay.  Not by just adding increasing opaque and complex systems, but changing the way the games are actually played. This is not just what I think, this sentiment is echoed by Xenoblade’s director in an Nintendo Power interview.  The story is the usual anime-inspired pap, but the entirety of the gameplay pushes the genre somewhat closer to its western brethren while not losing any of its eastern charm.

Even if it were a by the numbers, vanilla exercise, Xenoblade Chronicles would be somewhat remarkable.  Sprawling JRPG epics are not so common as they once were.  In the previous two console generations big games like this abounded, but like Bison they are now quite rare. The craving for an epic made it hard to accept the hubbub around Xenoblade’s disappearing reappearing release date.  Was the actually good enough to warrant such attention?  For once, the answer is yes.  Most games get that great reverse sour grapes reputation, that the game we didn’t get was actually really great, but only a few times has this been true.  It was true of Final Fantasy V and of Mother 3.  Fortunately it was also true of Xenoblade Chronicles.

I haven’t actually played it enough to make any lasting judgments.  The first twenty hours are fantastic.  The story isn’t great, but it is more than tolerable.  I’m still not sure how some of the more complex battle mechanics will work, but so far battles are engaging.  Where the game shines, though, is in the scope.  I have played games like Skyrim or Fallout 3, but I still say that Xenoblade has the most impressive landscapes I’ve encountered in a video game.  They are not quite as expansive, though they are far from small, but they a significantly more interesting.  Xenoblade is a serious attempt to create a world, and it succeeds in spades.  The first three open areas: around Colony 9, the Guar Plains and the Satorl Marsh, are all interesting, well populated landscapes.  The grassy hills and cliffs of the plain, occasionally beset by torrential downpours and the moody, foggy marsh are especially entrancing.  I was impressed by the big, empty Sandsea in FFXII years ago, but that has nothing on this.  Even if all other part of the game fall apart before the end, just exploring the world makes Xenoblade worth the price of admission.  Fortunately, so far the rest is pretty good too.