Chris’ Guide to San Diego Comic-Con Part 3: Panels and General Tips

SDCC boasts some of the most impressive programmings of any convention out there. Chances are most pop culture icons or stars have been guests or have been featured on panels at some point.

Panels at SDCC are incredible, yes, but they do require a bit of effort to guarantee you actually get into them.

One panel room in particular that carries infamy within its syllables is Hall H. Hall H is the largest panel room in the convention hall and also accommodates the biggest panels the convention has to offer. Game of Thrones, Avengers, and The Walking Dead are just some of the franchises you will see in that room.

Full disclosure: I have no experience getting into Hall H. The reason for this is because Hall H demands time that I am not willing to give waiting in line. The Unofficial Blog has great resources on Hall H. Check out their guide in order to navigate one of the biggest lines at the convention.

There are a few things we need to understand before going through how to give yourself the best chance of getting into the panel room.

Panel Sitting

SDCC does not vacate panel rooms. Attendees may sit in a panel room for as long as they like during the day with a few exceptions. This leads to a strategy known as “panel sitting” where people will purposely get into a panel room early and “sit” through a panel in order to be in prime position for the panel they are actually in there to see.

Room Sizes

Not all rooms are created equal. Some such as the aforementioned Hall H and Ballroom 20 are several times larger than regular panel rooms.

Click here for the Unofficial Blog’s fantastic map of the panel rooms.

As some panel rooms can seat more people than others, we can use this as a tool to gauge how early we should try to get into the panel room. Larger rooms give us more leeway while smaller rooms can be a bit tougher.

What Panels are on the Room’s schedule?

Sometimes we have to anticipate how much a room will clear or fill based on what programming is scheduled. For example, if something like a Harry Potter fan panel is scheduled in the middle of the day, attendees may panel sit early in order to attend. As such, we might anticipate a large number of people vacating the room as the Harry Potter panel ends.

We can’t always make accurate predictions this way, but it can help us make better use of our time.

So how early do I have to line up?

If I absolutely cannot miss a panel, I probably scope out the line for the room up to 3 hours beforehand and get into like 2-2.5 hours before the panel is scheduled to begin. Remember that panels typically are 1 hour long, so the room will empty and fill in 1-hour increments, if at all. Variables such as what panels are in the room before and after my panel as well as the panel room’s size factors into this as well. I have definitely made it into panels I had no business making it into based off of the time I arrived in line, but sometimes luck the biggest factor in making it in.

Ballroom 20

While I have no experience with Hall H, I have been to my fair share of Ballroom 20 panels. Ballroom 20 is a bit of a special case. While it can seat legions of fans, it is also home to the second most popular programming behind Hall H. Arrow, The Flash, and other CW shows are almost always held in this room, and this is definitely a popular spot for panel sitting. Ballroom 20 also has a line that can extend to outside the convention center. For updates on this line, it may help to follow Ballroom 20 Line on Twitter.

Essentially, in order to figure out how to best use my time and guarantee I get to see a panel I’m excited for, I look at the programming schedule to anticipate how many people will panel sit or clear a room, identify the size of the room and plan accordingly.

One huge thing to not overlook is that sometimes panels may be followed by signings from the panelists. This isn’t always the case, but I’ve seen this trend for many years. Sometimes in order to give yourself the best chance for the signing afterward, you have to forgo the panel altogether. Scheduling can overlap in ways that make you set priorities for different things at Comic-Con.

General SDCC Tips

  • Follow the Unofficial Blog, Hall H Line, and Ballroom 20 Line accounts on Twitter. The information they tweet out and retweet from other attendees with eyes in all different places at the convention is invaluable. Your Twitter timeline will instantly become an information feed telling you when lines are condensing, how long a or short a line currently is, or other useful information.
  • Identify potential conflicts in your schedule and have backup plans. Sometimes we miss out on a morning wristband or exclusive. Rather than be disappointed, you can head to plan B immediately to resume enjoying the con.
  • Ask, ask, ask. If you are even remotely unsure about exactly how to get an exclusive or autograph, politely ask the booth. Sometimes you may have to ask multiple people at the booth to get a more accurate answer.
  • Line caps can be really hard to get around, sometimes you have to prioritize lines for merchandise in the mornings or politely ask when the best time to come back is. You may receive a blanket “come back in 30 mins” answer, but it pays to ask.
  • Hotel shuttles can be a bit slow. Don’t rely on shuttles to get to the convention center in time for something crucial like a panel or the morning lineups. Uber rides are your best bet.
  • Convention food is expensive, there are a ton of great alternatives mere blocks from the front of the convention center.
  • You are at one of the toughest conventions to get a badge for and are immensely lucky to even be attending. Don’t let any missed panels, autographs or other things ruin your experience. There’s always something new to explore or learn. Go to the game room to learn how to play something new, check the book pavilion and speak with authors, or check out the offsite locations.
  • The lines are long and arduous, make sure you have some snacks and water to sustain yourself. The wait will be worth it.

If you’ve made it this far, I can’t thank you enough for reading. I hope that this helps you in some way to get the most out of your convention. I typically write about gaming related topics here, and you can check out hands-on coverage and reviews that I’ve written in the past if you’d like. I’ll be back with my impressions from the show floor of Nintendo, Capcom and Square Enix if they have any demos available.

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Chris’ Guide to San Diego Comic-Con Part 2: Lining Up, Exhibit Hall, Getting Autographs & Exclusives

If SDCC is infamous for anything, it’s for its awe-inspiring lines that local news stations love to show off each morning of the show. Each person who lines up early is there to either make it into a panel, to rush onto the Exhibit Hall or just to take it all in for the first time.

This part of the guide is going to explain how to navigate the immense yet crowded Exhibit Hall and maximize your chances to get the autograph or exclusive you’re dying to get. I’ll go over when to line up, how the lines work, how a booth may structure their autograph policies, and the many pitfalls to avoid whilst making your attempt.

Before I go over these, Parks and Cons produce an excellent video every year about changes to the Exhibit Hall and what to expect from the bigger booths. They also give general advice for both newbies and veterans alike. I would recommend you watch their latest video embedded below.

Some exclusives such as Funko, Hasbro, UCC as well as certain signings are only available through the official SDCC exclusives portal. These are lottery-based exclusives that take place in the exclusives portal on your Member ID login page. Here, you submit interest and SDCC will randomly select people to participate. This year, SDCC alotted “credits” for each day you had a badge for. These credits were essentially digital lottery tickets that you could use for the exclusives you were most interested in. The portal closed at 12pm on July 9th and winners were notified a few days later. There’s not much to say here other than there is not enough information in order to know how to maximize your chances with your credits. Even if we know there are around 130,000 eligible people to participate, not everyone has to and not everyone is going to be after the same exclusives as you are. It’s all the luck of the draw on these.

When should I line up?

This is a difficult question as the answer depends on what exactly your goals are. Before I delve into my recommended line-up times, we need to keep a couple of things in mind. First, there are tens of thousands of people attending this show. That means that simply because there is such a high density of people, lines will be huge for even the most niche things. Even if you perceive a certain panel or exclusive as “unpopular” or “easy to get,” there will still be hundreds of people with the same idea. As such, it’s always safest to be there earlier as opposed to later.

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Early morning “Everything else” line

The second thing to keep in mind is that the lines are long. You could be waiting for hours on end depending on what you want to do. Maybe that seems obvious, but you have to really deem something worth this amount of time that you’re inevitably going to invest. You also have to mentally prepare yourself for failure. Even if you line up as early as humanly possible, things happen and you don’t always succeed.

When you arrive at the convention center, there are two lines. One line is for literally everything that is not Hall H. And the other line is for Hall H, which is the largest panel room in the building. This is typically reserved for panels like Game of Thrones and Marvel’s Avengers.

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When the time is right, the staff will wake up the lines and prepare everyone to condense.

If you do not know where to go, ask a volunteer! They will be happy to help you.

Over the years, my comfort level has been to arrive in line between 3-3:30AM. This is to maximize the chances of being towards the front of the exhibit hall line in order to secure an exclusive or autograph wristband. You absolutely DO NOT have to line up this early. I do, however, suggest being in line before 6AM or so for a couple of reasons. First, the convention center will normally open around that time to let people into the building. The Exhibit Hall does not open until 9:30AM but the building will start conducting operations and will allow people in around 6AM. When this happens, the lines are condensed and everyone begins to move into their desired line (including panel lines).

I’m finally inside! Where do I go?

Once the volunteer and security staff begin moving the line, the second you walk into the building, there is no line. You are free to walk past or speed walk past people if you so desire. Depending on your destination, it can be kind of a haul. Some will go straight to Ballroom 20, the second-largest panel room in the building. Others will go to the western Exhibit Hall line, and others will race to the Sails Pavillion for specific autographs lines or the eastern Exhibit Hall line. It is essential that you check out the Unofficial Blog’s line guide if you aren’t very familiar with all of the different places. If you won something in the exclusives portal, you’ll need to know where to claim it in the morning.

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Hall G on the left part is the western entrance, and the upper right corner is where you come down from the Sails Pavillion.

If you want to get into the Exhibit Hall as fast as possible, you have two choices. When you enter the building you will immediately go up the escalator. Once you are at the top, you walk down the hall to the right. You keep going until you have walked past the Sails Pavillion and the Ballroom 20 line. You wrap around the building until you see the escalator and the people sitting down in front of it. You have now made it to the western Exhibit Hall line. You will go down the escalator and enter the hall through Hall G when the convention opens.

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Near the front of Exhibit Hall Line leading into Hall G.

If you walk into the Sails Pavillion and walk all the way down, you will find chutes of people waiting in line for the Exhibit Hall. You will enter the hall on the top right portion of the map that I have marked.

The main difference between the two lines is mainly where you enter the hall. Choose the line that best positions you to be closest to the booth you want to be at first thing in the morning. If your destination is sort of in the middle such as VIZ Media or Dark Horse, I would recommend lining up in the western line.

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The hallway you walk down to move towards Sails, Ballroom 20, and other panels.

The western line will be let inside more leniently than the Sails Pavillion line. Once the doors open, people ferociously push and shove whilst the front of the line tries to safely make it down an escalator. Once you reach the floor, it’s a free for all of speed-walking or running. Do not run. If you run you run the risk of staff stopping you and kicking you out. While rare, I don’t recommend taking the chance.

People do not always push and shove when the line is let in but last year in 2018 it was especially bad and I literally moved forward through the crowd moving me. Please be aware of this in case you have any sort of mobility issue or are prone to anxiety or panic attacks as this is not a great experience.

If this is the case, you may wonder why people don’t just opt for the Sails Pavillion line instead. The Sails Pavillion line is organized by chutes. This means that once doors open, a volunteer walks the first chute down to the floor, then repeats the process with the rest of the lines. This can mean a slower entry to the Exhibit Hall depending on your place in line, but I would argue it is still faster (and possibly safer) if your destination is on the eastern side of the hall.

Autograph and Exclusives

Now you’ve made it into the hall and you’re rushing to the booth for your autograph ticket or exclusive. What do you need to look out for? How do they distribute them? Are they going to run out?

To figure this out we need to go to the website or Twitter for the company’s booth and read the details. Some companies like Marvel, do an in booth raffle for the day’s signings. Last year, I went to Marvel without knowing about the raffle in the hopes of getting into the signing for the upcoming Spider-Man for PS4 video game. I waiting in line, got to the front, pushed a button and got nothing. Had I perhaps visited Marvel’s website for the booth details or done research on the SDCC Unofficial Blog I probably could have avoided this.

Some booths will distribute autograph tickets/wristbands first thing in the morning on a first-come, first-served basis. This is the best-case scenario in my experience as it rewards you for getting in line early as you will be more likely to make it there before others. Simply get to the booth, identify their line and a staff member will put a wristband on you when you get to the front. You will be asked to come back at a later time for the signing. Don’t forget to ask if they will provide something to be signed such as a poster or book! You may have to bring something yourself. Make sure to ask any other questions about their autograph policies and BE NICE! Many of these people do not interact with thousands of convention-goers for a living and there is no excuse to be anything but polite to them. As the Parks and Cons Video I linked above says, they are not the gatekeeper to the exclusive or autograph you want. They are simply at work, doing the best that they can. They will be more willing to help you if you are nice.

For exclusives and merchandise, many booths will operate a merchandise line where they sell things on a first-come, first-served basis. They will also cap their lines! If you do not make it in time, you may find the line has closed and you will be asked to come back later. Last year, my goal was to obtain the My Hero Academia exclusives to give to my brother for his graduation. By going to Marvel first and whiffing on an autograph ticket, I missed my chance to get into the VIZ Media line, where I observed their booth being nearly shut down due to overwhelming demand. If a line is capped, there is almost no point in hovering as they will wait for a significant portion of the line to move up before even thinking about letting more people into line.

Of particular importance is to research what time exactly autographs tickets will be distributed. The best-case scenario is when the hall opens at 9:30AM, that way you can get there, get your ticket, and go. If it’s any later, say at 10PM, massive crowds may form as inpatient attendees bombard an unprepared booth.

Some booths will sell through exclusives as people come. Others will only allow a certain allotment of each item to be sold per day so that they won’t sell out before others have a chance to get it. The booth likely will not tell you which they are doing, but it’s important to keep in mind.

Remember that going to something first thing in the morning has an opportunity cost. Going for one exclusive or autograph may mean forsaking another on that particular day. Make sure you do your research and prepare in advance.

When you do get your autograph ticket, ask the booth when you should come back to line up for it. You’re still guaranteed to get the autograph, but you still have to be present at the time they ask of you. Always arrive earlier than the time they tell you to come back.

Some signings require a lottery to take place in the Sails Pavillion at specific times. Typically this happens in the morning before the Exhibit Hall opens. Depending on the policies of the booth, if you fail to draw a winning ticket, you can get back in line. The only catch is that the line is probably several hundred deep by that point. Do not lose your ticket if you win! It is the only thing that will get you entry into the signing.

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Example of a Sails Pavillion autograph ticket. Other companies may use wristbands or less detailed tickets.

 

Potential Pitfalls

One thing to look out for while shopping for exclusives are people with exhibitor badges. Yes, in some cases, people working in other booths will actually go and get into lines before anyone with a regular attendee badge has even entered the hall. When I went to VIZ Media last year on another day, I walked into line and saw two cosplayers who I had not seen in line with me outside. I asked them what time they lined up and they told me they were working at another booth in the Exhibit Hall.

There is almost nothing you can do about this if the booth you are in does not have rules against it. I know that Blizzard has typically badge checked people and has not allowed vendors to be in their line.

Another pitfall to watch out for is openly discussing buying items for other people. If you’re overheard discussing buying for friends, you may be barred from buying altogether. You can still “buy for friends” but just ask for the items in the quantities you need rather than break a booth rule by accident. Some items like those at the Hasbro booth will require an ID check and the booth will mark the back of your badge with a sharpie. This is one way that their “1 per person” policy is enforced.

Some places on the floor are extremely congested! People will rubberneck at booths with live programming and other booths will be densely populated with lines and photo takers. Try to spot the clearest routes to your destination while moving through the hall.

That about covers my tips for navigating the Exhibit Hall and getting your autographs. Remember, you don’t have to be a maniac like me and sit in line for hours on end to get something cool. I’ve just found the most success with the methods I’ve described. It has to be worth it to you, and for me, being able to interact with a creator whose work has impacted me significantly is absolutely worth it. Even tho it’s just for a few moments, getting to say thank you in person is enough for me.

In part 3 I’ll be going over all my knowledge of panels and other general tips I have for the show. Thanks for reading.

 

Chris’ Guide to San Diego Comic Con Part 1: Securing a badge

In less than one month, one of the largest and most prestigious conventions in the country will be celebrating its 50th anniversary at the San Diego convention center. San Diego’s Comic Con, or SDCC for short, is nothing short of a spectacle. Incorporating almost every aspect of popular culture, SDCC plays host to hollywood’s biggest celebrities, prime time’s most watched shows, the biggest upcoming video games, movies and of course the comic books themselves.

As someone who first attended the show in 2012 and has attended every show since then, I’ve accumulated knowledge and learned a ton about the event. These have helped me achieve some incredible Comic Con experiences. This guide is going to be geared for the attendee who has a specific goal in mind. An attendee who wants to make it into the impossible panel or obtain what may be the toughest autograph of the entire show. Naturally, I don’t know everything and there are many people whose experiences vastly dwarf my own. Regardless of my lack of experience compared to other veterans, I’m hopeful that what I’ve learned can help you get the most out of your expensive and difficult-to-obtain badge.

My guide is designed to be extremely specific and geared towards obtaining exclusives and autographs whilst giving various other tips for your overall SDCC experience. The other guide you should be using without any question is the San Diego Comic Con Unofficial Blog. They do absolutely stunning work over there and compile essential information for the show. I urge you to use this in order to be as informed as possible. Follow them on Twitter @SD_Comic_Con.

With such an alluring lineup of guests, panelists, and companies headlining the event every year, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that obtaining a badge to attend the show isn’t easy. In fact, it can be difficult enough to the point of utter frustration.

Whenever I bring up SDCC in conversation, one of the most harrowing things I hear consistently from friends is “Yea, I’m thinking of going next year.” It’s harrowing to me, because unbeknownst to them, the badge process is so much more complex than just logging onto your computer and clicking purchase.

Before I continue, please check out the SDCC Unofficial Blog’s ticket guide. This should give you a rough idea of the odds you have for obtaining a badge.

Before one can even attempt to purchase a badge, they have to have registered on Comic Con’s website and created a Member ID. You can create one here.

There’s somewhere in the vacinity of 130,000 badges up for grabs, and SDCC distributes their badges in two waves. One during Returning Registration, and one during Open Registration. Returning registration typically takes place towards the end of the year, around October or November. This process is only open to those who attended the show the year before. Yes, that’s correct, every single person who successfully attended one of the hardest conventions to get into has priority buying time for the next SDCC. If we take a look at the Unofficial Blog’s post which I linked to above, that means first timer’s have nothing short of daunting odds against them.

Open registration takes place towards the beginning of the calendar year, but took place in November 2018 for SDCC 2019. Open registration, as the name implies, is open to everyone with a Member ID. Yes, everyone. This is for both those who were unsuccessful during Returning Registration and for those who didn’t participate in Returning Registration.

The registration process is fairly straightforward. SDCC will email members with a waiting room link. Whatever you do, please do not ever share this link. Just don’t. Maximize your chances of getting into Comic Con by not doing this.

After clicking on the link, you’re asked to put in a code that was emailed to you. Once you put this code in, the Epic Waiting Room will randomly sort attendees into a virtual line. One that is invisible to you. Registration opens at 9AM PST and will stay open until every available badge sells. There is no advantage to punching your code in early since it will randomly sort members into a line. Trust me, I’ve tried.

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Example of Registration Code entry

After the site goes live, you get to stare at a spinning blue circle of anxiety for whatever period of time the Comic Con gods have decided for you. If you get to the front, your page will refresh and load into the badge purchase page. Select from available badges and enter your credit card information as soon as possible. You fifteen minutes to complete your purchase.

SDCC let’s each person buy badges for up to 3 registered Member IDs, including yourself. If you want to buy for others, make sure you have enough funds ahead of time and know the emails AND Member IDs of each person you are buying for. This is required for the purchasing process.

After you purchase them, wait for your confirmation email and enjoy your breakfast of champions, you’re going to Comic Con.

Badges have gone up in price a bit each year. This year, Preview Night was $48, Thursday, Friday and Saturday were each priced at $66. Sunday was priced at $45. Juniors, or those aged 13-17 have a significantly lower price, as do seniors (60+) and military attendees.

Preview Night is just a sneak peak of the show floor Wednesday night, and I’ve never bothered as you don’t have any sort of advantage scoring merchandise or exclusives early. If you don’t mind the spending the extra money and want to see things a bit early, I’d say go for it.

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Success

So now you know the process, but we’re here to learn the intricacies. How do you maximize your chances? How do you do everything you can to get in?

I want to reiterate the most important piece of info I shared above. SDCC lets you buy for up to THREE people including yourself. Assuming you have friends who have Member IDs and are trying to go with you as a group, you all need to “queue” together during the badge registration process. This means everyone wakes up in the morning, gets their code punched in, and waits. The Unofficial Blog estimated that Returning Registration is roughly a 50/50 shot of obtaining a badge. If you and two other friends are each attempting to buy, you only have to win one out of three 50/50 coin flips. You can still whiff and be out of luck, but this vastly increases your chances than attempting it solo.

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You’re able to buy whatever is still available. This example is from 2014.

But what if you have a group that’s larger than three people? That’s where things get a bit hairy. You’d have to decide among yourselves ahead of time who will buy for who should they get it. Or maybe there’s other arrangements you can make depending on the circumstances, it’s all up to you and your group. Granted, the more people you have in the queue, the better your odds are. So you may all get to go regardless.

For those who aren’t eligible for Returning Registration, the odds are quite poor and the odds are frustrating. However, you absolutely should queue with multiple friends or family to maximize your odds. If you have family or friends who do not plan on going and are extraordinarily kind human beings, they can create Member IDs and join the queue with you. That way, should the people who don’t plan on attending in the first place get in, they can buy for you and up to two others. If you can make these arrangements, it will make Open Registration a much less agonizing process. Additionally you can set up multiple computers and use the links and codes from your friends on separate devices in case they want to sleep in or are unavailable.

Remember also that if you have friends or family who were successful in Returning Registration, they can participate in Open Registration to buy for others as well! Ask around and make arrangements to try and overcome the odds. This will also work for Returning Registration! Are people in your group from last year not wanting to attend next year? They’re still eligible for Returning Registration and might be kind enough to help you out.

As of recent years, badges are mailed out to attendees. Even if you buy for your group of 3, badges will be mailed individually to the addresses on each Member ID.Gone are the days of Wednesday afternoon badge pickup at the Town and Country Hotel.

IMPORTANT: DO NOT POST PICTURES OF YOUR BADGES ON SOCIAL MEDIA. If anyone steals your picture and puts your badge “up for sale” somewhere, you could get banned. Please be careful with your info!

Professionals badge registration is also available to those in the industry, and SDCC does allow volunteers to attend the show when they aren’t on duty. Because I am neither a professional nor have I volunteered in the past, I’ll refer you all to the Unofficial Blog for details on those options.

Program guides, bags/pins and lanyards are available in the Sails Pavilion beginning Wednesday and can be picked up at your convenience. Those without 4 day badges may be turned away by security if they attempt to go to the Sails Pavilion on Wednesday, so keep that in mind if you only have single day badges. 

As for hotel arrangements, I’m going to refer you to the Unofficial Blog as they have all the details you can possibly want. Personally, my group has opted for early bird hotel registration despite the mandatory deposit, because it’s guaranteed and a 5-8 minute Uber ride to the convention center. Closer hotels are more expensive and are lottery based. The badge lottery is stressful enough, so booking with confidence is my preference.

If you don’t get a badge, there are still a ton of things to do outside the convention center that do not require a badge! Downtown San Diego basically transforms into Comic Con, so don’t be afraid to plan a trip anyways.

Hopefully this was insightful and helps you get your badge. In Part 2 I’ll be discussing the gritty details of navigating the Exhibit Hall, and securing the autograph or exclusive merchandise that you’ve set your heart on getting. Thanks for reading.

Games of March 2019

Happy Devil May Cry 5 release day everyone. This month has been a long time coming, bringing several AAA titles and two that I’ve personally been waiting for for quite some time.

My top 3 for this month are:

Devil May Cry 5

Release: March 8

Platforms: XBO, PS4, PC

I mean, I wouldn’t wish everyone a happy launch day if I wasn’t completely sold on this right? Capcom’s RE engine makes the already over the top action icon look better than it ever has and the prospect of listening to Johnny Yong Bosch shout one-liners alongside Reuben Langdon while slaying demons is just icing on the demon cake.

If you like action games don’t miss it.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Release: March 22

Platforms: XBO, PS4, PC

FromSoftware has been cooking this Japanese inspired Samurai simulator for what seems like forever, and we’re weeks away from getting to see what this non soulsborne title will be like. I’m ready to be impaled and decimated by everything that is going to be thrown at me during my time with Sekiro and I couldn’t be more excited.

Yoshi’s Crafted World

Release: March 29

Platforms: Switch

Why would I promote a game with a main character guilty of tax fraud? Mostly because it’s difficult to deny the adorable appeal of the artistic design that the game has. Maybe it will end up being fairly easy and intended for younger players, but it could also be a ton of fun and a solid platformer to keep Nintendo enthusiasts entertained until the next big first party release.

That’s all for this month. As we get closer to E3 the AAA titles do begin to slow down a bit, giving us time to catch up until we get to more announcements and inch closer to the summer and fall titles.

 

Tells from Nintendo’s February Direct

Nintendo had no shortage of announcements during their Direct on the 13th, but as interesting and informative as some announcements were, it’s what they did not show or talk about that I find the most interesting, and the most telling.

Obviously there was no Metroid news to be expected. Nintendo already told us in an update video that development has to be restarted and that it will be some time before we hear anything. This isn’t to say, however, that another Metroid isn’t in progress unrelated to the Prime series, and it isn’t out of the question that Samus shows up at E3 in some form, but I find it highly unlikely.

Notably absent from the direct was any mention of Star Fox. Nintendo has gleefully launched first party after first party behemoth multiple times the past few years with Breath of the Wild, Mario Odyssey, Smash Bros. and Pokemon Let’s Go being a mere fraction of their first party offerings. This year we know to expect Animal Crossing, Luigi’s Mansion and Mario Maker 2, but there’s likely room for more at E3, even if it’s not on track to release this year. Star Fox has already shown up on the Switch with his team in Starlink: Battle for Atlas, but a mainline or even spin-off title could be in the works.

Speaking of Animal Crossing and Luigi’s Mansion, they were nowhere to be found. It’s not difficult to predict Nintendo headlining their E3 conference with Animal Crossing and the forthcoming mainline Pokemon title. We can infer fall and winter launches for these with the current trajectory of information that we’ve received in the past year, and though fans will have to wait a bit longer, E3 will likely be loaded with information on not only these titles, but surprises we may not even expect.

The most telling to me, was the deliberate silence on Smash Bros. Ultimate news. “You’ll just have to wait for more” is quite plain in its message, but their timing looks to be very specific when you look closer. Joker from Persona 5 is due to release in April of this year, which is the month immediately following the Sega Fes 2019 event in Japan on March 30-31. It’s speculated that a slew of Persona related announcements are to be revealed at this time, not limited to Joker’s full reveal in Smash, Persona 5 R, and Persona 5 Arena. Persona 5 also has a special “Stars and Ours” broadcast on March 23rd, which could also hold a surprise or two when it airs. With this information in mind, it makes perfect sense that April would be the month for Joker, even if I would have liked him to release yesterday.

It’s also very possible to get a Smash Bros. Direct sometime at the end of March in order to reveal the rest of patch 3.0. But we’ll have to wait and find out.

Nintendo has given us its roadmap to E3 and even slated huge games for the fall, and the details are due sooner than later. Animal Crossing, Pokemon, Bloodstained and more are going to make nothing short of an incredible year for Switch owners and this isn’t even counting incredible 3rd party offerings like Bayonetta 3 and Rune Factory 5.

It’s tough to wait but fun to speculate. I fully expect all eyes to be on Nintendo leading up to E3 in June.

Resident Evil 2 Review

Resident Evil 2 is a game that preyed on my paranoia while simultaneously giving me the tools to face it head on. Following in the footsteps of Resident Evil 7, Resident Evil 2 puts you in a horrific claustrophobic environment and challenges you to survive using finite resources while you try to uncover just what started this zombie apocalypse in the first place.

The game features protagonists Leon Kennedy, a fresh recruit for the Raccoon Police Department and Claire Redfield, a college student looking for her brother Chris, who also works for the R.P.D. Each character has their own campaign featuring unique weapons with interconnected stories.

The game is simple enough to play. Carefully gather resources as you explore your surroundings and kill whatever stands in your way, or run. Your inventory space is small, and players will be rewarded for effectively using everything they come across. Board up windows to keep zombies from breaking in, combine gunpowder to make more ammo and grind herbs to keep your health up.

Resident Evil 2 triumphs in establishing a setting that is both terrifying and fascinating. Halls are narrow and quiet with zombies both inhabiting the station and trying to break through the windows. What’s more is it’s never easy to tell exactly if a zombie is truly dead. Many times I’d leave zombies at my feat after several headshots only for them to lunge at me on the ground when I revisited the area hours later. Lickers are another feral horror lurking throughout the game that are blind but act viciously to any sound they hear.

But one particular enemy stands out among all others. Affectionately known as Mr. X, this hulking, fedora-wearing bio-weapon is designed to hunt you down and chase you no matter where you run to. You cannot harm him. Your only option is to flee or attempt to stun him with bullets or grenades.

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X gonna give it to ya

Mr. X, unsettling and terrifying as he is, is a fantastic design element that brings a unique kind of tension to the game. It forces you to explore carefully, especially since you can hear his heavy boot echo through the halls of the station. He can hear you and track you regardless of how well you think you outran him. Though I love to hate him, he’s an essential component that returns to ruin your day again and again, even after you’ve left the station for good.

Resident Evil 2’s story is simple on the surface. Claire is trying to find her brother who’s been off the grid for a long time, and Leon is a duty-bound rookie cop who can’t help but investigate what’s going on. Add in bio-terrorism shenanigans and the mysterious Umbrella corporation and you’ve got a recipe for something that’s over the top, yet grounded by a small but compelling cast of characters.

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No they are not dead yet.

Fan favorite Ada Wong, a mysterious ally in Leon’s campaign, has excellent chemistry with Leon and both deliver fantastically cheesy one-liners that helped make an otherwise tragic tale lighter in tone.

Similarly, Sherry Birkin works with Claire in her campaign and offers her own unique perspective that presents the player with information that Leon’s perspective never gets to see.

Even if it’s predictable at times, Resident Evil’s story is supplemented with various notes and memos from different characters. Finding these around each of the game’s four main environments give extra life to a story that’s solely inhabited by the undead. I loved discovering pieces of clues left behind by former officers and memos on the computers of Umbrella employees that helped me piece together the greater picture of what was unfolding as I progressed. Best of all, it’s there if you want it, and you can skip them if you don’t.

Leon and Claire’s campaigns each have two routes to them. The first acts as an introductory route with whichever character you play as arriving at the police station before the other. The second act puts you in the perspective of the character that arrived at the station second. Aside from offering a different start, the second playthrough offers a new weapon, new enemy and key item placements and a definitive ending not shown in the first routes.

Even though I liked the second routes more, repetition does set in to some degree as I visited the same locations and killed the same enemies and bosses each time.

Those who wish for a plethora of bosses in their games may be disappointed in Resident Evil’s recurring boss appearances but I found each encounter to be enjoyable despite the fact that it’s mainly the same character each time.

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Leon, get out of there!

One of my biggest takeaways from playing Resident Evil 2 was that despite my lack of enthusiasm towards the horror genre in general, it presented me with a game that was too much fun even if I reacted to every jump scare in the entire game.

I was enamored with every environment and felt compelled to explore and loot every room so that I could watch the area turn from red in color to blue on my map, indicating that I had found every item it contained.

The game is fairly short, with my longest playthrough clocking in at under ten hours, but because it’s designed to be played through multiple times and beating both routes with either character unlocks a new mode with Hunk, I didn’t mind at all.

Additionally, Capcom is planning to release an update on February 15 called the Ghost Survivors featuring three new playable characters.

The Verdict:

Resident Evil 2 is a fantastic entry into survival horror for people who may be like me and are averse to the genre. It’s designed to be scary, but it gives you all the tools to not only fight back, but to explore and discovery Raccoon City’s secrets. I hope that future titles embrace the third person, slow paced perspective that is polished to a tee in this installment.

I fully expect this to be a Game of the Year contender and should not be missed by anyone who enjoys horror, action or zombies.

9.5/10

Games of February 2019

While it can’t match the heavy hitters that highlighted last month, February has a handful of games you should probably have on your radar.

Though I don’t plan on picking anything up this month, my top 3 are:

Steins; Gate Elite

Release: February 15

Platforms: PS4, Switch

Fans of the anime masterpiece Steins; Gate should look forward to the visual novel coming to Switch and PS4 on February 15. It’s a fantastic time travel story that will put you through every emotion you can think of. This is an incredibly easy recommendation to anyone remotely interested in anime or visual novels in general, and an especially great Switch pickup. Switch owners will get a fun 8-bit mode as free bonus DLC on the 19th.

Jump Force

Release: February 15

Platforms: XBO, PS4

Do you like anime? No, I mean, do you REALLY like anime? Because Bandai Namco is bringing you an anime crossover with a comical amount of manga heroes and shoving them into an arena to beat each other into the next anime season. I walked away disappointed from the open beta, but die-hard fans of these anime should find a ton to like, especially those coming from other arena fighters.

Anthem

Release: February 22

Platforms: XBO, PS4, PC

If you’re looking for a new multiplayer game while you’re waiting for the new Monster Hunter World Expansion or Smash Bros. DLC like I am, Anthem may be right up your alley. Javelin exosuits, giant monsters, and online co-op are what you’ll get in Bioware’s new sci-fi action shooter. I’m not entirely sold on it yet myself, but I’m all for more awesome co-op games. A beta version of the game is also available for anyone looking to try it out.

Those are my top 3 for this month. Of course, other releases like Far Cry: New Dawn, Crackdown 3, and Metro Exodus are sure to be on plenty of people’s lists as well.

Next month has a ton of highly anticipated titles to look forward to as well as potential Persona related announcements. I’ll have the entirety of Kingdom Hearts III to help pass the time for those.

The impressive strengths and odd weaknesses of Tales of Vesperia Definitive Edition

JRPG season seems to be in full swing with Kingdom Hearts III finally releasing, but one game hope it doesn’t overshadow too much is Bandai Namco’s definitive edition of Tales of Vesperia.

I’ve had experience with many Tales games that have come after Vesperia, and despite Vesperia sharing an abundance of qualities with both its predecessors and successors, I found it uniquely enjoyable compared to what I had come to expect.

After more than 50 hours of getting lost in its fantasy world I can say that the game has aged incredibly well for being originally released in 2008 and the mechanics make for a fun and frantic combat system that kept me grinding for skills and monster parts.

One of the interesting draws to this particular Tales game its very odd cast of characters. No character has an abundance of things in common with each other, but their motivations and values draw them to work towards similar goals.

I especially enjoyed the rivalry between protagonist Yuri and his childhood friend Flynn. Yuri, previously a knight from the imperial army, left with the view that life can’t get better for the poorer people in his city from the inside and wants to find a path separate from the knights. Flynn joined the knights with the explicit goal of changing things from the inside, and believes he can accomplish Yuri’s goal by believing in the governmental system in place.

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It’s fun to see each cast member go through several changes throughout the story, making the narrative both dynamic and unpredictable, even if they do fall into some cliche anime stereotypes. We see characters like Estelle go from sheltered princess to a headstrong medic and ostracized “extremist” Rita evolve into a genius mage and Blastia researcher.

Maybe this is obvious, but combat has always been Tales’ biggest strength. Combos allow you to get creative and each character plays very differently, making the cast both diverse and useful to switch around depending on the enemy type.

Skills obtained from weapons let you do even more over the top maneuvers like linking arcane artes back into base artes, and enhancing your overlimit. It provides an almost dizzying amount of options but there’s no shortage of skills to cater exactly to the playstyle you prefer.

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Great game

For as much as it gets right, Tales of Vesperia has some aspects I took serious issue with.

For one, you can completely miss side quests and be unable to go back to complete them after certain portions of the game.

It’s difficult to fault the game too much for this, especially since the amount of content is staggering. However, it’s incredibly frustrating to learn after the fact that I had missed some crucial side quest trigger by not talking to a specific NPC or visited a specific area of a town at a very precise point in the game. Depending on the quest, there’s very few clues to lead the player to trigger these quests, and it’s made worse by the fact that some of the most interesting pieces of story and world lore come from these.

Not only are some of the best story pieces in the side quests, but powerful equipment is as well. As someone who constantly chases the best gear in every game they touch, it was crushing to learn I had missed some fantastic sword or spell that I’d have to try again for on a new game file.

I know that this isn’t the series’ first time using timed side quests, but it’s definitely a mechanic I think Tales could do without.

For a game that understands and develops its heroes so well, it definitely had some one-dimensional antagonists that I found difficult to feel even remotely attached to or even appreciate.

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Yuri agrees with me.

Crazed killers, egotistical masterminds and brooding anti-heroes are just a taste of the stereotype suite of rogues you’ll encounter and I wish there were more to them. Maybe this is overly nit picky, but it’s disappointing because the narrative is constructed so well and the villains deserved better. This is by no means exhaustive of every enemy in the game, but the disparity between fun villains and aggravatingly boring ones is rough.

Negative aspects aside I’m very happy I was able to experience this game in it’s definitive form, and I encourage anyone who missed out on this the first time around to give it a shot. There’s content to keep you busy here for an impressive amount of time, and 50 hours didn’t even get me to the post-game dungeons. I know Kingdom Hearts III is many JRPG fan’s game of choice right now, but I hope that this release isn’t overshadowed too much.

Games of January 2019

2019 looks to carry the momentum of all the huge titles that arrived one after the other towards the end of last year. Rather than highlight everything slated for release, I want to go over what I’m personally looking forward to, as well as a few others.

Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition

Release: January 11

Platforms: XBO, PS4, Switch, PC

Originally releasing back in 2008 exclusive to the Xbox 360 and then getting a Japan only re-release a year later on PS3, Bandai Namco has finally granted the west a full English release of one of the most beloved “Tales of” games. New playable characters, additional voiced segments and visual upgrades round out a JRPG that’s aged very well. I haven’t played the series since Xillia 2, but I’m eager to evaluate how Vesperia stacks up against some of my favorites in the series.

Resident Evil 2

Release: January 25

Platforms: XBO, PS4, PC

Moving from re-releases to remakes, Resident Evil 2 is a gore-filled terror fest that I got to play back at San Diego Comic Con last year.  Capcom was able to provide a revamped horror experience when they released Resident Evil 7 almost two years ago, and this installment looks to provide just as traumatizing an experience. A “One-Shot” timed demo is currently available on all platforms, so give it a try if you’re on the fence like me and aren’t sure if playing games while stressing about jump scares every ten seconds is worth it.

Kingdom Hearts 3

Release: January 29

Platforms: XBO, PS4

So yeah, this game is actually real and we’re just weeks away from Square’s Disney crossover fiesta. Like Resident Evil 2, I walked away impressed from my time with the demo at Comic Con. I’m still trying to get myself to finish all the contents of 2.8, but I’m not finding it to be anywhere near as fun or interesting as the demo I got to play last July. I don’t think it’ll take any convincing on my part to get Kingdom Hearts fans on board, and I’ll be picking this one up just to finally see how this incredibly convoluted story gets wrapped up. A wise man once told me, back in 2005, “Chris, we will be in college and Kingdom Hearts 3 still will not have come out yet.” I was able to get his positive impressions on the demo just before his first semester of graduate school.

That’s not the entirety of January, however. Here’s a handful of other games you can look forward to this month:

  • Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr’s Journey (3DS): Jan 11
  • New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (Switch): Jan 11
  • Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (PS4, XBO): Jan 18
  • Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes (Switch): Jan 18
  • Life is Strange 2 – Episode 2: “Rules” (PC, PS4, XBO): Jan 22

Spider-Man “Silver Lining” Review

(Warning: Full spoilers ahead)

What Spider-Man’s final DLC chapter lacks in Symbiote suits, it makes up for with challenging fast-paced sequences, a surprisingly humorous story, and a finale that excites me for what’s to come.

By now, if you’ve played any episodes from “The City that Never Sleeps” you can likely pencil out what to expect from “Silver Lining.” The story revolves around a specific character, Screwball offers you challenge missions to complete and the villain has warehouses around the city that offers wave after wave of goons to defeat and claim even more tokens.

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Arnold has seen better days.

What makes “Silver Lining” stand out however, is that it doesn’t leave you hanging. We’re at the finale and are rewarded with closure for several story lines. Screwball’s challenges don’t fall victim to repetition and instead end with us finally ending her streaming days. The villain warehouses (or sewers this time) introduce us to a character working for Silver Sable and give us insight into who he is, what his motivations are, and closes it in a satisfying fashion true to Spidey’s character.

One surprising and unique story that I didn’t expect to continue in this episode was Captain Yuri Watanabe’s. We know that she’s left the force in her vendetta against Hammerhead and his gang, but what we don’t know is the full extent of her fall from grace. We’re finally given an answer in the form of strange audio recordings that Spider-Man can find scattered across the city, similar to the backpacks from the main game. After discovering the final recording, we’re shown the full extent that the previous DLC had on her, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her in a villain role moving forward.

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I think this means no more Spider-Cop.

 

We’re also reunited with Felicia Hardy and although it seemed obvious that she never truly met her demise, she was still a surprising and welcome inclusion.

Everything “Silver Lining” throws at you has immense payoffs and play off of an phenomenally written story that fans have been invested in for months now. Alternatively, choosing not to pursue the side missions that I thought enriched my experience so much wouldn’t even be a detriment to the player. Silver Sable’s story colliding with Hammerhead’s was already a blast from beginning to end, and there were so many moments where I found myself either literally laughing out loud from the humorous moments between Spider-Man and Sable or sitting with a stupid grin on my face from discovering easter eggs or nailing a photo-bomb in a Screwball challenge.

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Who’s that anti-hero?

 

My favorite aspect of this episode was how Spider-Man handles Miles Morales’ desire to become a hero. It’s an all too common trope to have heroes shy away from helping their younger friends or family develop into budding crime fighters in an effort to spare them from the danger that comes with it. Instead, Spider-Man empathizes with Miles’ desire to use his powers to help people. He slowly develops Miles, encouraging him to stay eager but to not be rash and put himself into danger. Miles is recruited in this episode to help Spider-Man in a way that doesn’t involve going head-to-head with super villains and then at the very end, the two begin web slinging around New York. I look forward to playing as Miles in the sequel.

The Verdict:

“Silver Lining” learns from the past mistakes of the previous episodes. Repetition is at a bare minimum and stories we’ve been following since the first part are given closure or tease a sequel that I hope is on its way.

9/10