Kotaku

The Real Reason Aeris's Death Made You CryLet me paint you a picture.



You're Cloud, standing in the middle of an ancient city, surrounded by crystals and conch shells and crystallized conch shells. Your hair is irresponsibly spiky. Before you kneels Aeris, that flower girl you're sorta kinda crushing on. Her eyes are closed. She's praying.



Whoosh. Down comes that douchebag Sephiroth, his giant sword pointed directly at Aeris's back and— oh. Oh god. She's dead.



The camera slows down. You watch her body crumple as she falls to the ground. Only thing you can hear is a thumping heartbeat. You're paralyzed. She's not really dead, is she? She can't be. You want to cry. Not yet.



A white orb falls from her body and starts soaring up, then arcing down. Camera follows. The orb falls toward one of the nearby pedestals. Slowly. Gently hits the ground with a clink.



And then. Then. Aeris's Theme starts to play.



Break out the tissues. It's bawling time.



While Final Fantasy VII's infamous plot twist is packed with terrifyingly powerful emotions, the crowning moment of Aeris's death is not the second she's unceremoniously stabbed in the heart. That's just setup. The true wallop, the true catharsis comes when her song starts to play, when your ears register what's going on. The slow, soft piano melody that serves as both her introduction and her epitaph. That's the moment when her demise feels real.



You didn't cry when Sephiroth stabbed Aeris. You cried when you heard that song.

Go ahead and watch for yourself. Director Yoshinori Kitase took an economical approach to crafting this wonderful, harrowing scene. There are no shots wasted. You have just enough time to stare at your screen in utter shock before the music starts up. Watch the way the camera closes in tightly on Aeris's utter disbelief, on Sephiroth's smug satisfaction. Listen to how the white materia clinks, slightly out of sync with the music's rhythm, creating an uncomfortable dissonance that sticks with you for the next few hours, and weeks, and months, and years to come.



You didn't cry when Sephiroth stabbed Aeris. You cried when you heard that song.



Final Fantasy VII isn't alone here. When we think about our favorite Japanese role-playing games, we think first and foremost about their musical scores. And even the genre's harshest critics can't deny that the music in JRPGs tends to be nothing short of phenomenal. From the wacky beats of Persona to the grand, oceanic themes in Chrono Cross; from the haunting melodies of Legend of Mana to the triumphant victory themes that can make you feel like you just won the Super Bowl, JRPG music knows how to burrow into your earholes and never come out.



It's sometimes hard to tell whether a song has emotional weight on its own or because it is attached to powerful moments in a game. Take Xenogears's "Faraway Promise," for example. If you've played the game and experienced its stunning story, this song will evoke memories of transcendent love and eternal sorrow. If you haven't, well... it's just another cool song.







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But here's the catch-22: would Xenogears's story be nearly as powerful or memorable without tracks like that? If not for Yasunori Mitsuda's beautiful melodies, would you still care about Fei and Elly's struggles? Would you still get as pumped to fight unrelenting battles? Would you even bother playing the game?



When I think about my favorite JRPG moments, my mind immediately jumps to their sounds. The slow walk down the staircase of Daryl's Tomb in Final Fantasy VI, punctuated by a slow rendition of wandering gambler Setzer's airship theme. The melancholy piano transitioning to a drum beat and then sudden silence when a certain character dies in Suikoden II. Beginning your adventure in Final Fantasy IV.



More than any other genre, JRPGs live and die by their soundtracks. Their powerful moments are made even more powerful by the sweeping, haunting, lovely melodies attached. Grand adventures rendered even grander. Frantic battles feel more urgent, more dangerous.



So maybe the most important part of a JRPG isn't its story, or its combat system, or its graphical engine. Maybe the most important part of a JRPG is its soundtrack. After all, that's the part that makes you cry.



This Week in JRPG News



What To Play This Weekend


Lunar: Eternal Blue Complete, a PlayStation game that mastered the art of awesome soundtracks. Comes complete with charming dialogue, an adorable story, and one hell of a sidekick-slash-flying cat thing.



Your Questions Answered


Every week, I post several reader questions about JRPGs. Want to see your question featured in an edition of Random Encounters? Send it to me: jason@kotaku.com



Reader Alec writes:




I love your columns and i can't wait to read your weekly ruminations on JRPGs over at Kotaku now. One topic i hope you get to cover is the evolution of the series Final Fantasy from VI - XIII-2. I grew up on the prime days of Final Fantasy. 6 - 10 were released in my days of middle school through high school. I Loved the turn-based format, the engrossing stories, and the limitless potential of the games. The culmination of the battle system coming together in FFX remains one of my favorite battle systems of all time and the rapid change in the series following X is understandable but i'm still holding out hope for a return to the turn-based combat found in earlier Square releases. XIII's frenetic pace and paradigm system is fun and challenging but after testing the waters of the MMORPG world and settling on the linear direction and fast paced action RPG system in XIII i'm worried we'll never see a return to the classics.




You know, while I don't think very much of Final Fantasy XIII, I do have a lot of respect for Square Enix's willingness to embrace innovation. Every Final Fantasy has brought a host of new mechanics to the table, from IV's real-time turn-based hybrid ATB system to XIII's class shifting chaos.



And we have no idea what Final Fantasy XV will be like. We know nothing about its world, its characters, its setting, its battle system, its summons, its dungeons, or its themes. All we know is that it will have a guy named Cid and maybe some chocobos or cactaur. That's kind of awesome.



So to address your concerns: No, I don't think Final Fantasy will ever return to its "classic form," and I think that's okay. As much as I loved those SNES and PlayStation 1 offerings, I think it's great to see one major video game series that isn't afraid to pursue innovation, even when it doesn't really work.



And if I want a classic RPG, I'll play Dragon Quest.



In contrast, reader David writes:




How's this for a topic: Alternative JRPGs. Any recommendations for a JRPG fan who's tired of the same tired old format of JRPGs that he once loved to death?




My recommendation is The World Ends With You, one of the most unique RPGs I've ever played. How about you guys? What unique JRPGs would you recommend?



Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG. It runs every Friday at 3pm ET.


Kotaku

Here’s How Sega Thought They Could Sell You A Crappy Kinect Game Demographic projections. Drip-feed PR. Invoking the name of popular, established games to create interest in new ones. It's the cold calculus of marketing, also known as everything you hate about modern day video games. Want to know how it works? Here's a leaked marketing plan from Sega that lays bare the marketing strategy for a recent, terrible release.



Here’s How Sega Thought They Could Sell You A Crappy Kinect Game Last year when I was still freelancing, I took a demo for Rise of Nightmares and hated nearly every minute of it. I hated how glitchy the experience was, how slow the progression moved and how my arms ached for nothing at the end of it all. I wondered how Sega thought they were ever going to get people to write about or buy this colossal waste of time. The document at this link appears to be an internal Sega marketing run-down of how and when the House of Sonic planned to squirt out information about



Interesting things to note include the hoped-for first-party support from Microsoft—which never seemed to materialize in any great form—and the Reasons to Believe section, filled with thoughts about why Rise of Nightmares might be a success.



The game flopped, of course. No amount of leveraging is going to make a horrible game look good.



Rise of Nightmares proposition document [via Twitter]


Kotaku

Zynga Posts $85 Million LossLove-to-hate-em social game developer Zynga has posted a loss of $85.4 million during the period of January-March 2012.



Recent months have proven to be a rough patch for the company, with strife breaking out after their acquisition of Draw Something developer OMGPOP and insiders, including the company's founder, looking to unload their stock.



Zynga spent the quarter moving slowly away from Facebook and focusing on mobile games like Words With Friends and Drop 7, as well as acquiring OMGPOP and releasing their own social network.



Will this plan help the company turn profitable again?



[Insert joke about telling X number of friends to help the company turn profitable again.]



Zynga hit with $85 Million Loss [Edge]


Kotaku

Listen to Ken Levine and Amy Hennig Dish About What it Takes To Get a Game Made Game design, particularly for big-budget, blockbuster console titles, is an incredibly tricky and intricate process. In the most recent episode of the Irrational Interviews series, the creative directors of two renowned franchises compare notes on how they work, what creative design really means, and how the games ever get out of the door.



Ken Levine, creative director and writer of Irrational's BioShock and BioShock Infinite discussed the process of games writing and creation with Naughty Dog's Amy Hennig, creative director of the Uncharted series.



The two start with a conversation about what a creative director really is, or actually does for a game. For all the comparisons games continue to draw to cinema, even today, Hennig and Levine are both adamant that the development processes and final products are hugely divergent. Levine explains that the role of a creative director is "not as clear as a film director... our job is still not very well defined."



Hennig agrees, saying that the role is "both sort of wonderful and terrible," and adds that there's a certain kind of nimble quality involved in producing games. "The best games are developed in a very iterative way," she says, comparing the process to the rigid scripting and storyboarding more often found in films. "It's invention, it's experimentation engineering... it's not the way films are made."



While repeating that she hates for the process to sound at all "mystical," because making a game is anything but, Hennig does echo a sentiment often heard from artists in many physical media when she explains, "It's not like you're crafting this thing; it's like you're blindfolded or in a pitch dark room trying to feel out the shape of it and figure out what it is. This story is already a thing, but you're just trying to learn it, and you're trying to discover it."



Levine and Hennig also discuss the phenomenon of gamer entitlement and customer opinions (referencing the current wave of Mass Effect passion amongst fans), and what responsibilities creators do have to both the players and to the product itself.



The whole hour is a great chance to listen to two peers discuss and demystify their work, and hear how the games we play take shape from the inside out.



Irrational Interviews 11: Amy Hennig [Irrational Games, via GameInformer]



(Top photo: Shutterstock)
Kotaku

Listen Up! Ken Levine and Amy Hennig Are Talking Game design, particularly for big-budget, blockbuster console titles, is an incredibly tricky and intricate process. In the most recent episode of the Irrational Interviews series, the creative directors of two renowned franchises compare notes on how they work, what creative design really means, and how the games ever get out of the door.



Ken Levine, creative director and writer of Irrational's BioShock and BioShock Infinite discussed the process of games writing and creation with Naughty Dog's Amy Hennig, creative director of the Uncharted series.



The two start with a conversation about what a creative director really is, or actually does for a game. For all the comparisons games continue to draw to cinema, even today, Hennig and Levine are both adamant that the development processes and final products are hugely divergent. Levine explains that the role of a creative director is "not as clear as a film director... our job is still not very well defined."



Hennig agrees, saying that the role is "both sort of wonderful and terrible," and adds that there's a certain kind of nimble quality involved in producing games. "The best games are developed in a very iterative way," she says, comparing the process to the rigid scripting and storyboarding more often found in films. "It's invention, it's experimentation engineering... it's not the way films are made."



While repeating that she hates for the process to sound at all "mystical," because making a game is anything but, Hennig does echo a sentiment often heard from artists in many physical media when she explains, "It's not like you're crafting this thing; it's like you're blindfolded or in a pitch dark room trying to feel out the shape of it and figure out what it is. This story is already a thing, but you're just trying to learn it, and you're trying to discover it."



Levine and Hennig also discuss the phenomenon of gamer entitlement and customer opinions (referencing the current wave of Mass Effect passion amongst fans), and what responsibilities creators do have to both the players and to the product itself.



The whole hour is a great chance to listen to two peers discuss and demystify their work, and hear how the games we play take shape from the inside out.



Irrational Interviews 11: Amy Hennig [Irrational Games, via GameInformer]



(Top photo: Shutterstock)
Kotaku

The Emotions Free-to-Play Games Prey on to Get Players to Pay"In a freemium game it's not a rational decision to pay; it's an emotional one." Wednesday at the East Coast Games Conference in North Carolina, former BioWare design manager Ethan Levy explained how free-to-play games can harness to emotions of their players in order to profit.





Up until recently Levy, who delivered the "Game Design is Business Design" talk at the East Coast Games Conference Wednesday, was a design manager at BioWare, a company famous for its dedication to emotional engagement. He's been working in the business for nearly a decade, starting as an intern and tester for Pandemic Studios working on Star Wars: Battlefront. Since then he's been a producer, designer, external consultant and metrics analyst.



No stranger to freemium titles, Levy was the first employee at EA2D (now BioWare San Francisco), where he led development on Dragon Age Journeys, Dragon Age Legends and Dragon Age Legends: Remix 01.



So Ethan knows emotional engagement, and he knows freemium. He also knows how to put the two together to create a recipe for free-to-play success. Let's take a look at the games Ethan discussed during his talks and the emotions they target for big money.



Impatience

Example: War Commander



Kixeye's War Commander, a game that Levy says garners 20 times the four cents daily revenue per user average on Facebook utilizes one of the more common methods free-to-play titles employ to get its players to pay. A strategy game, in War Commander players can only have a finite number of items being built for their army at any given time, and each unit takes time. That is unless you pay to speed up production.



Revenge

Example: Mafia Wars

Zynga's Facebook mobster sensation continues to engross countless players, more popular than even its action-packed sequel.



One of the most lucrative aspects of the game is the Hit List. Here players can place bounties on the heads of their enemies, paying top dollar to those that can take their more powerful rivals down a peg. Levy showed the crowd a screen in which the highest bounty would pay out some 640 million in-game dollars. That's more than a thousand real dollars. Revenge is a powerful motivator, and a passable television series.



Dominance

Example: Bejeweled Blitz

Seeing yourself at the top of your friends leaderboard in PopCap's incredibly addictive 60-second gem matching game is a powerful motivator, driving massive sales of the power-up items necessary to stay in first place.



It bears nothing that the top of Ethan's screenshot leaderboard included BioWare community guy Chris Priestly, along with Duane Webb and David Silverman. Apparently they've had a little down time since Mass Effect 3 shipped.



Jealousy

Example: The Sims Social



Allowing other players to come and visit your little in-game world isn't just a matter of putting the "social" in "social games". When a player visits a friend's home and finds it filled with high-priced virtual furnishings, reaching for the buy button is almost instinctual.



Accomplishment

Example: Pogo.com



Any Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 gamer knows what a powerful force achievements and trophies are. Now imagine a site where players are so rabid to unlock achievements that they'll pay extra for additional sets. They aren't paying for achievements: they are paying for the ability to gain achievements. Can you imagine the uproar if Microsoft tried pulling this sort of thing on the 360?



Exhilaration

Example: Combat Arms



Nexon's free-to-play competitive shooter features a mechanic much like that employed recently in BioWare's Mass Effect 3 multiplayer experience. Players shell out money for Supply Crates, which are effectively booster packs that have a chance — just a chance — of containing a rare powerful item. It's the same rush as opening up a pack of Magic cards and finding that one special rare card.



Levy recalled a talk by Ben Cousins, the current head of NGMOCO Sweden, about something he called Monetization 3.0, in which players pay extra in order to increase their chances of receiving a rare item, a mechanic currently employed in Android card game Rage of Bahamut.



Levy's point is a strong one; playing on emotions is the key to successfully monetizing a freemium title. During his talk I realized that I had paid around $40 on Mass Effect 3 multiplayer boosters, and I could have just contacted BioWare and asked for some credits. I was caught up in the thrill, not thinking with my head.



That's the sort of impulsive, emotional behavior freemium game creators are banking on.



Ethan Levy is a fascinating person possessing keen insight into the game design process, which he regularly shares at his personal website, FamousAspect. You should go there.


Kotaku

Skyrim Patch Files Hint at an Incoming Snow Elf Prince and Crossbows Hints of what's coming next for Skyrim may be buried in the latest patch for Bethesda's hit action/RPG.



In the lore of The Elder Scrolls V, the Snow Elves have been driven underground by the Nords. But the in-game legends about the mystical race make it sound like they're former badasses who've been laid low and are ripe for revenge.



Enthusiast site RipTen brings word of a BethSoft forum user's discovery of files related to the animation of a Snow Elf character and a crossbow weapon:




Animations\DLC01\Chair_SnowElfPrinceDialogueA.HKX

Animations\DLC01\Chair_SnowElfPrinceDialogueB.HKX

Animations\DLC01\Chair_SnowElfPrinceDialogueC.HKX

Animations\DLC01\Chair_SnowElfPrinceDialogueD.HKX

Animations\DLC01\Chair_SnowElfPrinceDialogueE.HKX

Animations\DLC01\Chair_SnowElfPrinceFireBall.HKX

Animations\DLC01\Chair_SnowElfPrinceSitIdle.HKX

Animations\DLC01\SnowElfPrinceAscensionBurning.HKX

crossbow_direction_behavior.hkx

Animations\CrossBow_1stP_Run.hkx

Animations\CrossBow_1stP_Walk.hkx

Animations\CrossBow_Aim.hkx

Animations\CrossBow_Equip.hkx

Animations\CrossBow_IdleDrawn.hkx

Animations\CrossBow_IdleHeld.hkx

Animations\CrossBow_Release.hkx




Bethesda's already on record as saying that DLC for Skyrim will be rolling out in the style of expansion packs and these files certainly make it seem like that plan will be going into effect.



Skyrim DLC Hinted At in Latest Game Files, Includes Snow Elves & Crossbows [RipTen]


Kotaku





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Unlike in-game marriages, real-life marriages can be problematic when video games are involved.



Andrew Allen, a USC film student and a lifelong gamer, acts out these troubles in his latest episode of games versus marriage. Featured is Gears of War, which has undoubtedly ruined many people's social and marriage lives. But Andrew (or, rather, the character he plays) manages to win this round.



Of course if this were me, I'd probably be on the couch with my fictional husband kicking his ass in the game. Or at the very least mocking his attempts. Because video games, that's why.
Kotaku

Word Off Makes Spelling Into A Territorial Death Match

Word Off is, well, a face-off... with words. It's an asynchronous Scrabble-scored Boggle fight, played on a strategy game's grid and covered in a Roy Lichtenstein touch.



Many word games have a sense of gravitas about them, something in their art style that holds up a hand at shoulder height and says, "You Must Be At Least This Serious To Play." Not so much with Word Off. The hexagonal-styled grid, tongue-in-cheek interface, and colorful pop art work hard to make the player feel at ease and ready to kick some vocabulary's ass.



One of the features that took me by surprise in Word Off is the way the letters on the board change after every turn, so long-term strategic thinking is limited. Neither player can work out a detailed list of words in advance, which keeps everyone on level footing. On the other hand, you can find a friend encroaching deeply into your territory and suddenly have nothing better than "AOEEEINR" to work with, when if the letters had just stayed put, you would have had "SEVERED" this turn and totally stayed in the lead. *grumble*







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I found it really enjoyable, but the few drawbacks are worth noting: this really wants to be a tablet game, and you'll be better off going at it over WiFi. On my iPod Touch, the screen seemed crowded with too many details, which greater screen real estate would alleviate. As well, one friend who I was playing against had some trouble getting Word Off to load reliably over mobile networks, even while his other apps were fine.



And finally, Word Off is a free app on both iOS and Android, but ad placement on a tiny screen, and the full-screen interstitial ad videos, are intrusive and irritating. On the other hand, the upgrade to an ad-free version is only $1.99, which is well worth it if you can convince your friends to play too. While it's entertaining with strangers, it's much more fun against people you know.



Word Off [Free, Google Play]



Word Off [Free, iTunes]



Kotaku





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With the first Guild Wars 2 beta weekend kicking off today and the seventh anniversary of the original game in full swing, The Game Station crew attempt to condense the lore of the first into an easy-to-digest one minute video. How'd they do?



There are inconsistencies, at least that's what the folks in the comments on YouTube seem to think. I've played the original, but never really paid much attention to the back story, instead focusing on my pretty, pretty characters.



What the video may lack in accuracy and relevance to Guild Wars 2 it certainly makes up in random Wailmer, so there is that.



Guild Wars Lore in a Minute [YouTube]



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