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Month: April 2010

Are You Ready For Some Space Marines?!

I was beginning to get burned out on RPGs, so yesterday, I installed and started Halo, one of the games on this year’s “must play” list. I say “installed” because it’s the PC port, which I’ve had for a long time, but never once touched. Having played FPSes since Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, I’m most accustomed with traditional computer controls; replacing WASD and a mouse with analog sticks is anathema to me.

That aside, Halo is clearly a previous-gen console game with traditional PC FPS window dressing, going by its aesthetics and limitations. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. The graphics, as straightforward and colorful (albeit with a selective palette) as they are compared to other FPSes from back then, bring to mind much of Blizzard’s work, and certain limitations—namely, that the player can only carry two weapons at a time—lend an additional layer of challenge. Overall, an enormous amount of craft and care is on display, and although Halo remains the most overhyped game of the ’00s, it’s also hard to hate.

The world of Halo.As every gamer knows by now, the player character is the nondescriptly-named Master Chief, a human marine fighting against the alien Covenant on a far-off world. His physical build is strong but not very distinctive, and he is completely covered by armor, right down to the reflective gold mask that hides his face. I’d always gotten the impression that his name and outward appearance were designed as such so that anyone could slide into his shoes, and had thus assumed that he was mute. However, he does have your typical tough-guy voice to match his special armor. Despite this, to his credit, he retains much of his blank-slate persona, and is as inoffensive and plain an avatar as I ever saw one.

The alien enemies are inoffensive as well—I’m a few hours in, and it looks as though I’ll never have to turn my guns against other humans. The grunt-level Covenant come across as cartoonish, what with their dwarven builds and high-pitched voices which wouldn’t be out of place in Worms, but the tougher ones have a certain lightness about them as well. No one would ever mistake Halo for hard sci-fi. Rather, it’s pop sci-fi, with a simple story centered around survival.

Halo‘s environments share much of this pop sensibility, but the best ones (that I’ve seen so far) are atmospheric, and add layers of character. Similarly distinctive is how the missions are presented in the campaign mode. Each mission blends right into the next one, with only a temporary, subtle display of said mission’s title letting the player know where they are in the grand scheme of things (ETA, 04/19: Now that I think about it, though, I do see very brief snippets of load screens between chapters. Either Halo‘s just that old or my computer’s just that badass). The HUD and NPC AI seem to be as good as it got for 2001, and still hold up well today. And the music, oh man the music. I had already been familiar with one or two tracks from Halo, but overall, the soundtrack is outstanding, and the sound editing even better, with much the same natural approach as the mission presentation. Oh, and no supply crates! All of the ammo, weapons, and whatnot I’ve picked up just lie there on the field, mostly near the dead.

So how does it feel playing Halo? As Master Chief, I feel very much like a leader of men, a soldier others look up to. However, there’s also an undercurrent of loneliness and a little bit of paranoia. So far, I’ve been on my own—both through chance and design—for decent stretches, where I am almost always outnumbered. When this happens, both large, open spaces and narrow hallways are approached with caution, with little to no music and a smattering of sound effects (as required) highlighting the action. NPCs—both enemies and fellow marines—don’t respawn, so backtracking adds to this emptiness. Also adding to it are the parts when I am with other marines; their simple camaraderie, via actions and dialogue, is missed when they aren’t around. It has been a long time since I played a proper FPS campaign, but I don’t recall one making me feel this way before (Portal, not being a “proper FPS”, doesn’t count).

The only major problem I’ve had with Halo so far has involved an apparent bug. A certain enemy disappears after I run away past a set point, and this disappearance seems to impede the flow of the story. I don’t think I’ll be able to take this guy down without a sniper rifle, which I had gotten rid of roughly a third of the way to that point, but after doing some lengthy backtracking, I found I couldn’t get to the place where I had ditched it. As such, I’m going to load up a save file from before I lost the sniper rifle, and make damn sure I hold onto it this time.

In general, I’m having a good time with Halo. The look is appealing in the way that any polished product made for a mass audience is. The fights are challenging enough (for the record, I’m playing on Normal), the maps are interesting but not overly complicated, and the Warthog vehicle, when it is available, handles well. It’s still weird to think of how this game helped change how traditionally PC genres were handled on consoles, since if Halo was PC-only, it might’ve earned the legacy of being merely “great” as opposed to “classic”. However, it’s still “great”, and because of that, I’m looking forward to finishing the campaign.

The Quarterly (Plus a Week and a Half) Progress Report

I’ve been playing a lot these past few weeks. First off, there was the WiiWare version of Cave Story, which I started the day it came out, and beat the week after PAX East. Save for the uneven “new” soundtrack and sound mix, it’s much the same as the freeware version, which is to say fantastic. I did a straight playthrough of the game, pretty much identical to my first one, save that this time I went after the Spur, a crazy awesome weapon. I want to replay it again sometime soon for certain secrets that I missed, mainly the ones that will unlock “Hell”.

Another game I’ve beaten recently, albeit one that I’ve been playing for much longer, was Rune Factory Frontier, the first and only non-handheld entry in the Rune Factory series, and also one devoid of any Harvest Moon branding, at least in its English-translated form (doubtless because the publisher on this one is Marvelous/XSEED instead of Natsume). Frontier is a direct continuation of the original Rune Factory, and is as deep, engrossing, and flawed as its DS predecessors.

Here's some of my Runey notes. Really.
Here's some of my Runey notes. Really.

The major flaws this time around come courtesy of the Runey system. Unlike previous games, where runes can be collected to replenish action points both on the farm and in dungeons, said runes are dungeon-only. On the main character’s homestead—and in the surrounding town—live Runeys, color-coded creatures whose presence determines how fast and well your crops grow. Redistributing Runeys from area to area for good results is a finicky bit of business. First off, although Runeys have a set food chain, and certain types like certain areas more than others, it’s difficult to figure out how it all works; from day to day, some Runeys will decline or die off for no apparent reason, while others multiply. Secondly, there are only two ways to check the Runey level for the entire town, one of which is by talking to a specific person, and the other is by looking at a certain device in a fixed location. It would’ve been much more convenient to have an item in order to look up Runey levels whenever I wanted to, but such is not the case. That being said, I wound up keeping a pen and paper close by whenever I checked on Runeys, which was roughly every few (in-game) days at times.

Runeys—and constant loading screens—notwithstanding, this is the best Rune Factory yet. It feels like it moves at a slightly slower pace even though the actual in-game clock is the same (where one minute is equal to one real-life second), probably because it can be tough to figure out how to trigger the next round of story events, but these sorts of games were never meant to be rushed through. The farming, dungeon crawling, crafting, cooking, and so on are extremely well balanced, and can be challenging without being frustrating. The localization gets the job done, though I could’ve sworn I saw a bit of kanji slip through at one point, and the voice acting is good. The graphics are some of the most lush that I’ve ever seen on the Wii. The simplicity and charm that defines the series is in ample supply. In short, if I had to recommend a Rune Factory to someone, it would be Frontier.

I’ve also been playing a little more Pokemon Platinum, which, if you recall, I started on the way to PAX East. There’s not much to say here other than it’s a Pokemon game, though I am very much enjoying the aesthetic upgrades from Ruby, which I played last year (and speaking of Ruby, I’m still debating whether or not to import my Pokemon from that game). It’s very samey, though, but I kind of expected that. The current plan is to mostly play the game whenever I need to kill time, such as while doing laundry. As such, I expect to wrap up with the main quest several months from now.

After beating Rune Factory Frontier, I took a break for a little while, then started Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. Rather, I tried to start it. The difficulty caught me off-guard, as well as the system where some of your experience and whatnot can be carried over to a new game, and after a couple of tries, I quit. This after an aborted attempt to start the game some months ago. Well, the good news is that the fourth time was the charm, and I am now over ten hours in. The battle system is different, but very awesome, with its SRPG-esque character movement tactics making for some really interesting fights. Dragon Quarter has other quirks, too, though they don’t fit so much in the “awesome” column as the “it is what it is” one—from the character design to the fact that the game ends when a certain slowly and constantly upticking meter gets to 100.00%. Very strange game, but I’m having fun.

Finally: the backlog update! Since my January 3rd post, I have beaten five of the pictured games, started (but have not yet finished) two of them, bought and beat two, borrowed one (which I’m still playing), added one to the backlog (Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard), and currently have one on preorder (StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty Collector’s Edition).

Counting Metroid Prime: Trilogy as “one”, January’s photo showed 22 games, and now, on the shelf above me, there are 16 of them (not counting the preorder). I’m making progress!

How to Fix a DS Lite

As I mentioned in my previous post, I repaired my DS Lite yesterday. I had first noticed problems with the d-pad’s down button while playing Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer; just a regular press and hold wasn’t working, and I would find myself having to apply more pressure in order to get Shiren to walk southward for awhile. Once I encountered this same problem not long after starting Pokemon Platinum, I decided right then and there that I would be taking apart my DS sometime soon to rectify this situation.

Though the prospect of doing DIY repair on a home console is one I dread (case in point: I sold my busted phat PS2 instead of attempting to fix its disk reading problem), taking apart handhelds is something I’ve been doing for a long time now. Back in the day, it was a Tiger LCD game that would give me trouble. Fortunately, all it took was a clean work surface and a small enough screwdriver to take the thing apart and correct the problem, which typically involved inverted rubbery plastic nubs, the ones which serve as the liaison between the game’s buttons and the motherboard.

I have seen the innards of both these puppies.I was facing a similar issue with my DS, and one I thought would be relatively easy to fix. This would be the second Nintendo handheld I would ever open up. The first was the used Game Boy Advance I bought last year. After a bit of bad luck with an earlier seller, the Arctic White GBA I wound up with arrived in excellent condition and worked fine. There was, however, one little problem in the form of a big spot of dust in the space between the clear top layer and the screen itself. I borrowed a triwing screwdriver, brought out a can of compressed air, and got to work. This bit of minor electronic surgery ended up being successful.

I was a bit more nervous about repairing the DS Lite, though. When the touchscreen on my Phat went all wonky, I unloaded it on eBay, seeing my misfortune as a perfect excuse to upgrade. However, I am more attached to my lovely Ice Blue Lite. It’s a Japanese model that cost me more than any of the North American ones would have, and therefore would be expensive to replace if something went wrong. I thought about sending it to Nintendo of America for repairs if something really went wrong, but again, it’s a Japanese Lite and I’m not sure if they would fix something like that, one reason being the button action on the thing is very different from that on my husband’s, which is a North American model.

PAX East 2010, Part Three: The Final Countdown

And here’s the conclusion! This one was delayed since I was waiting for namatamiku to get his box of Cool Stuff. He should’ve received it by now, but I haven’t heard from him personally yet. Anyway, I have other posts I want to write and can’t wait any longer, so here’s Part Three in all its glory. Also, nama, if you haven’t done so already, open the box and check out the Cool Stuff before reading this post; not everything I sent you is mentioned here, but I would like to keep it all a surprise 😉