Oh, How ignorant I’ve been…

The older I got, the more I seemed to neglect and avoid the typical Anime styled Japanese video games and media. Regardless of how good the they were said to be, if the artwork was mainly based around a Manga and Anime theme I would tend to completely disregard it. I can’t really put my finger on what it was I didn’t like and growing up I loved Pokemon and Dragonball. I played nothing but Nintendo and loved countless Japanese Video Games. Maybe it was the big doe eyed characters, crazy hairstyles, drawing style, goofy mannerisms or the cutesy expressions that put me off or maybe it was an age thing? Whatever it may have been, It just didn’t jive well with me at all.

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Typical Japanese art style that is featured across Anime, Manga and Video Games

The ‘User Interface’ design of most old Japanese games are something that I just couldn’t abide by either, the UI just wasn’t as appealing as most western games, although they do hold up well or in fact suffice most western games in user experience. Personally, I feel you can usually tell where most games originated from due to their UI.

Eastern and Western style games differ greatly in this area and most still do to this day. It didn’t help much that I actually went on to become a UI design so maybe the gripe stemmed from wanting to always improve the cosmetics of the interface.

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An example of eastern User Interface design.

Now don’t get me wrong – I love LOVE Japan. It’s my favourite country. The rich history it holds, the culture, language, food, traditions, values etc. All amazing. I’m even planning a trip to tour the place come 2016 if everything goes accordingly. The one thing I just couldn’t get away with was Animie, Manga and that traditional video game art style from games such as Persona, Valkyria Chronicles, Dragon Quest and many more.

But, until I sat down and thought about it, I never realised how much of a fan of Japanese video games I actually am. Going way back to the ripe, young, age of 4. Super Mario on the SNES was the first game I ever played. This was a series that stuck with me for the rest of my life. I was brought up on Nintendo; Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Mario Kart, Star Fox, Street Fighter and loads more. Each one sharing a common trait – They were all created in Japan. At that age you don’t care much for who made the game or where they originate. The game itself is what draws you in – the colours, graphics, game play, music etc.

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The Playstation 1 came at the perfect time and appealed to a more mature audience. Although the transition from Nintendo was made, I was still a huge fan of both companies.

Growing up my transition from Nintendo to PlayStation came about when the PS1 first launched, along with getting my hands on the new console I also picked up titles such as SoulBlade, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil and Gran Turismo along the way. Again usually oblivious to where these games and their creators came from. As I got older and started to appreciate games as more of an art form, rather than just a form of entertainment, I took an even bigger step away from these Manga styled games.

Stupidly, I continued to judge books by their cover or in this case, video games by their art style. I’d turn away from story, characters, gameplay, everything, and all because of this unique and distinctive art style. It wasn’t until I realised how many Video games I played that were created in Japan that I decided to re-consider my actions.

I’m a huge fan of the Metal Gear Solid series, with Hideo Kojima becoming my all time favourite Video Games Designer. I love Street Fighter, Tekken, Pokemon, Animal Crossing, Final Fantasy etc I was brought up on Nintendo and PlayStation and have continued to buy products, both hardware and software, from both companies. This led me to thinking, surely if I love all of these games that were created in Japan, there’s got to be something there, something behind the art style that was putting me off? So many people can’t be wrong, can they?

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Metal Gear Solid 1 was an unforgettable experience and a game that introduced me to my favourite series of all time.

So I decided to look towards my Vita as a starting point – I’d heard so much about Persona 4, a game that was highly influenced by the traditional Japanese Manga style. I also knew about its rising popularity with the Japanese audience, it’s something I’d wanted to like for a while but couldn’t seem to ever get past the art style.

Anyway, I threw caution to the wind and picked it up.. I think it’s safe to say I did not regret my choice. As soon as I started it up I already found myself sucked in to the story, the characters, the gameplay, the voice acting – I began to love absolutely everything about the game. The weirdest thing was, I appreciated the art style the most. Did I miraculously change overnight? Have I lived in denial all this time? Persona 4 quickly became one of my favourite games and I can’t wait for the fifth instalment to be rereleased.

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Persona 4 Golden; A game I avoided for so long, after finally giving it a shot, I couldn’t believe just what I’d been missing. Definitely a must for any PS Vita owner.

This then brought me to thinking, if I like Persona then why not give other games with this style ago. I picked up Ni No Kuni and was absolutely astonished at how good it was. It also had one of the best UI and UX I’ve ever experienced within a video game. The Art Style was beautiful and the animations were flawless. From this I began to dig a little deeper, stumbling across the name ‘Studio Ghibli’. Loving the art style of Ni No Kuni, I decided to give them a shot.

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Ni No Kuni; A beautiful art style that will definitely appeal to JRPG fans. Shares similarities to Pokemon and The Legend of Zelda.

I recognised the name of one of the films straight away, which is one I’d watched as a small child and loved – ‘My Neighbour Totoro. Not knowing the studio behind it at the time, but now becoming intrigued to find out more about them, I looked into other films they’d created. An extensive back catalogue of deep, rich and meaningful stories with jaw dropping animation lay await and I instantly fell in love with the work of Hayao Miyazaki.

The next step was Anime. This was a whole new scene I barely knew anything about. I wasn’t a fan of Manga styled video games, never mind the Anime that ran alongside it. I didn’t have a clue where to start, but ‘Attack on Titan’ and ‘Sword Art Online’ were ones that seemed quite prominent when I searched – Wow, was I in for a shock. I took the art style with a pinch of salt and within a few episodes of each I’d already become hooked and ravelled up in the story.

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Attack on Titan; Such a gripping story which has left me hooked and wanting more.

It made me realise that all this time I was turning away from amazing experiences all because I was judging books by their cover. Not only did I realise a valuable life lesson, but also I’ve opened up to all kinds of Japanese style video games, Manga and Anime.

For those of you have gotten through this post, first of all thank you and secondly, I’d greatly appreciate it if those who have a lot more knowledge than I do, based within the different mediums I’ve listed, to recommend as many Japanese video games, anime and Manga that I shouldn’t miss, new or old. And remember; don’t judge a book by its cover. You won’t know what’s inside, until you look.

/ CR

Kept you waiting, Huh?

Metal Gear Solid. It’s a game that resonates with many people across the world, me being one of them. Just hearing the name puts a smile on my face. Whether it be fans young or old, those that are new to the series, or die-hard followers that have played Metal Gear since ‘87.

Whichever you may be it’s hard to disagree that Metal Gear Solid is on of the best video game series’ ever made. Although, at times, the story can bewilder even the most seasoned players, it’s one of the best I’ve ever experienced.

It all started in the late 90’s. I remember I’d buy PlayStation magazines religiously with what little pocket-money I was given. To get a demo as a gift with the magazine was a huge deal back then – as this was the only way you were able to try out new games early, without having to rent them. It seems crazy these days, due to how accessible content for new games is now.

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Just a few of the games pictured above from throughout the series.

I remember popping the demo into the PlayStation and selecting a game labelled Metal Gear Solid. The first thing that hit me was the cut scenes, then the voice acting, characters, sound, graphics – it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I was used to the likes of ‘Crash Bandicoot’ and ‘Spyro the Dragon’, although these were great games, it was a huge step up for what a video game was to me.

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One of the opening scene from Metal Gear Solid 1.

The game felt like a film, at the time I remember thinking the graphics were the best thing since sliced bread! I remember playing the demo over and over, creating my own stories in my head before finishing it by entering the elevator, which is where the demo ended. It was very short, but it really did get its hooks into me.

I think one of the reasons I was so drawn to the game was due to the homage it pays to the James Bond series. I’d stay up late on weekends with my Dad when I was younger and we’d sit and watch 007 films late into the night. It’s something that stuck with me all throughout my life.

Kojima has been quoted as saying the Bond films were a big influence of his when working on the series “The 007 series is what influenced me the most regarding the birth of MGS. The nucleus of the idea of MGS – a secret mission on which hangs the fate of the world, spy-versus-spy, and espionage action – is all there in 007. Were it not for 007 films, modern action films would not be as they are. And without 007, there would have been no MGS.”

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An unlockable suit within MGS, The Tuxedo. Paying homage to the influence 007 had on the series.

My Brother and I would stay at my Grandmothers most Saturdays due to our parents having to work. One cool thing about my Nan was the fact she loved playing video games. It was one of those weird things you never expected, but she’d have all the latest games, ages before I did, and I’d find myself borrowing them from her when I could.

A few months had passed since the weeks spent playing the MGS demo over and over, I was only around nine or ten at the time, so unbeknown to me the game was already out and to my surprise my Nan had actually bought the game a few days before I was due to stay. I couldn’t believe I’d finally see what was beyond those elevator doors, I was so excited!

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The opening level of MGS will be an unforgettable one for me (probably due to the amount of times I replayed the demo)

The game was just extraordinary. I’d spend full Saturday afternoons, each week, playing the game non stop every time I stayed over, eagerly awaiting to go back each week and continue from where I left off. After a few weeks my Nan just decided to give me the game, as she knew how much It meant to me at the time. Thinking back now, I don’t even think she got a chance to play it.

One thing that totally blew me away was when I first faced Psycho Mantis. To be nine years old and have a boss within a game read your memory card and tell me what games I’d been playing – the game was on another level for me. Experiencing that as a kid for the first time was just mind-blowing, I was unable to comprehend what was happening but thought it was phenomenal.

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Psycho Mantis; one of the best video game bosses ever. Was able to read your memory card to see what you had been playing. The only way to defeat him was to swap your controller into port 2. 

After battling with mantis many times, each attempt at trying to take him down coming to an abrupt halt, I was so confused as to how to defeat him. Realising that swapping the controller from port one to port two, in order to stop him from reading your moves, was fascinating to me – you can imagine the sheer sense of shock when it actually worked.

With each game release I personally thought the series got better and better. MGS 2: Sons of Liberty brought better graphics, bigger cinematics, improved game play and so much more story detail into the mix. Although taking control of Raiden for the first time was a little disappointing at first. Solid Snake had become such an iconic character for me that I didn’t really want to take the reigns of anyone else. But still, I loved the game non the less and spent countless hours playing it.

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The power of the Playstation 2 brought MGS 2 to a whole new level.

Now I know a lot of people prefer Solid Snake to other protagonists in the series, but when Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater came along, I instantly took a shine to Naked Snake, who was later to become Big Boss. I just loved his story, there was a lot of controversy on the fact you could use different camo’s and would have to eat wild jungle creatures to sustain your health.

It offered that higher sense of realism and made the jungle a more dangerous place to be caught up in. I remember the first time one of my ration packs was eaten by the wildlife. The sheer detail that was put into the game left me staggered.

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‘Big Boss’ is more than likely my favourite protagonist ever.

Hopefully everyone reading this has played the game, if not I suggest you do before you read on due to spoilers that I want to touch upon. Seeing characters and starting to piece the story together a little more with the likes of Ocelot (who you meet for the first time in MGS 1) was great, fan theories became a big thing for me, constantly trying to work out the elongated story and fill in the gaps that were yet to be discovered.

The boss battles in this game featured some of my favourite characters from the series – going up against the Cobra Unit. I remember facing aged, old, Sniper ‘The End’ for the first time. I’d been playing non-stop before we were about to leave for a family holiday, getting as much play time in as possible, knowing I’d not be able to play for a few weeks.

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The End; One member of the Cobra Unit in MGS 3.

When starting up the game after returning home, I was notified that I no longer needed to face off against ‘The End’ as he’d died of old age from waiting to fight me. The scene gave me an injection of nostalgia and instantly took me back to my childhood and the battle between Solid Snake and ‘Mantis. I loved how the game could just do that, breaking the cliche of boring, old, boss fights, giving them a unique spin and once again surprising me.

But the best boss fight I’ve ever played has to be the final one in the game, where you come toe to toe with ‘The Boss’. The whole game builds up to that point, it’s something you feel reluctant to do after building a relationship with this character throughout the game. But everything about the battle is amazing, the speech before the start, the scene, setting, combat it’s just astonishing. It’s what made MGS 3 one of my favourite games of all time.

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The Boss; One of the most entertaining and memorable boss fights I’ve ever faced.

With the release of MGS 4 getting closer I played through all the other MGS games, mostly on PSP, as well as the spin-off titles such as Metal Gear Acid – which was actually my first PSP launch game. Between Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots was when I really appreciated Hideo Kojima as a games designer.

I hadn’t really taken any notice as to who designed the games previously, but now video games had become more of an art form to me as opposed to just something you’d do in your spare time. I studied video games history as a module in university and have wrote many papers and essays in relation to the work of Kojima and the effect he’s had on the games industry.

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Old Snake shown above, as well as the over shoulder camera featured in MGS 4.

Guns of the Patriots brought so much to the table, and once again MGS had taken a giant step forward, seeing the series evolve first hand from the days of Shadow Moses, into a game like MGS 4 – it was crazy! OctoCamo was an amazing addition, being able to cover any surface area for a brief amount of time and miraculously see your camo change before your eyes was brilliant.

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The OctoCamo, used in MGS 4, being put into good use.

Along with the new streamlined view and over-the-shoulder camera for aiming, as opposed to the overhead third person camera and now dated controls of previous instalments, the game was technically flawless. For anyone who’d played the earlier games, especially MGS 1, were in for a real treat. The game made reference to it a lot, tying up loose ends with memorable characters, using a familiar set of boss fights that referred back to the original bosses of MGS1 and even allowing players to venture back to Shadow Moses!

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Going back to Shadow Moses was a trip down memory lane for those who’d played Metal Gear Solid 1.

I could go on and on about the Metal Gear franchise – covering the story, my time with the series, characters, boss fights, game play etc. There’s just so much to cover, which is why it’s such a beloved series of mine and always will be. This week was a big week for Metal Gear Solid fans, with a number of announcements cropping up over the past seven days. We finally have a fixed released date, for whats said to be the last Metal Gear Solid game worked on by Kojima – Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

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Venom Snake (Big Boss) & Quiet; featured in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

Thankfully the game will release on this date, worldwide. We also saw a very special collectors edition, featuring a half scale replica of Venom Snake’s bionic arm, which is featured in The Phantom Pain. It’s safe to say I pre-ordered the minute I had a chance. Watching trailers, seeing new screen shots, reading news and generally hearing Kojima speak about it brings all the nostalgia, excitement and memories flooding back to me.

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The collectors edition featuring a half scale replica of Snakes Bionic arm. 

There’s no doubt this will once again be an amazing game to hopefully round off one of the best video game series’ there’s ever been. For those new to the series I advise to at least play a few of the games before picking up MGS V. Snake Eater is a great place to start and there are many videos and forums that will give you a heads up on previous events related to the story. But Metal Gear Solid is a series that should not be missed and if you love video games then I strongly advise you to jump in if you haven’t already.

/ CR