Saimoe 2013 has made it through the preliminaries and now all the remaining cute anime girls have been placed in brackets against each other. The bloodshed begins August 23rd, but this may actually be the most fun day of the tournament, where everyone still remains pristine and 'in contention' at the very beginning of the start line. Here you can review all the saimoe girls who managed to qualify for the title race, and who they would have to beat in order to move on in the tournament, a truly daunting task.
Group B1 in particular is ridiculous. Ayase, Madoka, Homura and Nanoha all on one side of the group, forced to fight each other in the first/second round? Or how about group F2? Tsukasa, Misaka, Nagi and Nodoka all on one side of one group? By round two multiple aces who reached 2nd place in previous entire tournaments will be eliminated.
Luckily, this time around Saimoe 2013 is a double elimination tournament. Even if you lose, if you beat the other losers in the loser's bracket you can climb back into the tourney proper, and survive a little longer. This should even out the randomness of the draw.
The other fun part of Saimoe is comparing the number of qualifiers from each series, rather than looking at individuals. You can tell if a series is popular or not by the number of girls that made it to Saimoe from their franchise. Obviously Love Live, Yuru Yuri, Madoka Magica and Saki are doing well for themselves. But also Little Busters, Sword Art Online, Haganai, Hayate, Ro-Kyu-Bu, Vividred Operation, Precure, Oreimo, Girls und Panzer, Railgun, Idolmaster, Hidamari Sketch, Chuunibiyou, and Minami-ke qualified a large contingent of their available characters.
In other news, Sword Art Online is having a 'recap special' at the end of the year, with 'some new footage.' Given that the series has been out now for some time, a recap special doesn't make much sense. In that case, its only purpose would be to build hype for the 'new footage' part. What could the new footage be? Why, of course, a teaser trailer for season 2! It will probably have clips of Sinon's face, which would be enough to send electricity through the whole crowd and a roar to spread across the audience. Now I can't wait for New Year's Eve. I think the time has finally come for the producers to meet the wishes of their fans. Four months from now, at least.
Tales of Xillia has been a fun and engrossing game. However, it's nothing compared to Tales of Graces F. The battle system is worse, the characters are less endearing, and the plot is less interesting. That just goes to show what a high bar Tales of Graces set, compared to Final Fantasy 13 or 13-2, Xillia is far better in every way. Xillia does have better graphics than Graces, so it at least has that much going for it. I'd say Tales of Xillia is a must-play game and a great addition to the franchise, and I can't wait for the sequel that comes out next year. There's more Tales games coming down the pipeline, much like Final Fantasy has, so these two standout RPG franchises will continue their march of destiny in competition with each other for the foreseeable future. I just wish there were some way to play the PS3 version of Tales of Vesperia, which is vastly larger and better than the Xbox version, with English subtitles. It's currently a Japan-only game, but it should be as good as Graces and Xillia. To miss the game entirely is a tragedy beyond belief.
Older Tales games that appeared on handheld devices or PS1 or the like aren't that big a deal. You can assume they were small, stunted games with not enough graphics, memory, or anything to make a serious quality game. What would Tales be without voice acting in its skits, for instance? That's the most fun part, and it eats up huge amounts of hard drive space. Tales of Hearts R might be nice, since the Vita is a powerful machine, but really the only important Tales game America needs now is PS3 Vesperia. Maybe if Xillia sales are high they'll reconsider importing the game to the USA? One can only hope.
Meanwhile, World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria will soon be receiving its climactic, final patch, 5.4, where the world unites against the evil overlord of Orgrimmar Garrosh Hellscream. To be frank, Mists of Pandaria is WoW's worst expansion yet. This isn't just my impression, but also the general consensus of subscribers, who have shrunk to record lows over the course of this expansion. I like the region, the Oriental theme, the monk class and the Pandaran race. What I dislike is the plot and the endless time-sink quests. Fighting the enemies on Pandaria seems like a waste of time -- you're always thinking to yourself, who cares? In Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, you were defeating main characters in the lore, Illidan and Arthus, who had been with us since the beginning of the series. These expansions were instant classics, continuing the story from where Warcraft III left off. They had very tight storylines where you always felt what the quests you were doing while leveling had direct relevance to the end game raids once you were finished leveling. Cataclysm also had good things about it, the remake of the original zones from 1-60 to be more exciting and interactive for characters with fewer abilities and means of transportation was a godsend. Filling in all the holes that were in the original game, zones like Hyjal that people always wanted to enter but couldn't, also had a very satisfying feeling of completion. Now the whole map was available to the player and you could fly around the old world for the first time on a flying mount. It was a liberating feeling of having finally explored the whole world.
Mists of Pandaria, however, really has no connection to the rest of Warcraft. You go to a continent that had never even been mentioned existing before, where you solve the problems of the locals, who have no relation to you. There was no reference in any previous game to this region and no characters who we knew from the past of any import. It felt almost like filler in Bleach or Naruto. Why are we here, fighting these yaungols? Who knows, who cares? A much better fit to the series would have been an expansion about Sargeras, or the Emerald Dream. Choosing to make up a whole new enemy and region from scratch, that no previous game even mentioned, made the whole experience feel artificial and phony.
There were also problems in gameplay. Getting your experience up a mere 5 levels felt like a Sisyphean task for a player with many alts, which at this point in the game (expansion 4) everyone can be expected to have. The game should have been balanced around the idea that everyone wants to level not just one character, but many characters to 90. Because they balanced it around playing just one character at all times, it became far too arduous for people with alts to play. The amount of daily quests one had to do to get the sufficient reputation to buy the good gear in the game was insane. You would have to play for hours per day per character just to keep up with the reputation requirements. This is impossible if you have any alts, which, again, most people in the game have. Nor is the game very fun when you have the worst gear in the world compared to every other player, because you 'raise your reputations and level at your own pace.' If you don't keep up with everyone else, on your main and all your alts, you can't join into a party with them without being insulted or kicked from the group for holding them back. Whether it's a scenario, a dungeon, or a raid, no one wants a poorly geared character in the group. So first Blizzard makes it an enormous time-sink to get decent endgame gear, which basically forbids alts from playing, and then if you try to play your alt without good gear you find you aren't allowed to do anything because everything is group content and you can't find a group.
To make matters worse, the dungeons in Mists of Pandaria were extremely technical and finicky. Most of the battle was knowing when to jump, where to move, to run in circles continuously to avoid beams, to click levers and jump on barrels when they appeared -- absolutely none of it had to do with your class or your talents or your spells that you had spent years developing. Suddenly, none of that mattered, your character didn't matter, your class didn't matter, the only thing that mattered is if you could jump correctly like a stupid Mario platformer game. This sucks all the fun out of an RPG game, which is all about designing your character and choosing a play-style for yourself out of the spells and abilities you have that best fits you. I get that they were trying to provide novel experiences in their fourth expansion, which is hard to do, but you never create more content by eliminating the main game and forcing people to play unrelated mini-games instead. That just narrows the content down to the mini-game, a much worse experience than the original. If I wanted to be playing the mini-game, that's what game I'd be playing in the first place. I'm playing WoW because I want to play WoW, the main game, with all the spells and abilities I'm used to.
5.4 is correcting some of these issues, by eliminating daily quest requirements and providing more solo content that can quickly get people in epic gear that is respectable for dungeon play. But the real issues won't be solved until we reach the next expansion. In the next expansion, I'd like to see a plot that revolves around Sargeras or the Emerald Dream. I'll be extremely disappointed if they avoid these issues any longer, as there's seriously no other plot line of importance left to cover but these. With 5.4 out of the way and Mists of Pandaria done, I'd like to see Blizzard quickly announce where the game is going next, which would reassure us that they're finally getting serious about the plot again. I also hope they eliminate all the finicky gameplay elements and return to their core concept of people using a few powerful spells and cooldowns deftly when the time is right through careful resource management. It's been nearly a year since Mists of Pandaria came out, but it's felt like eons. The sooner we get out of this expansion the better.