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The Pitfalls of Overanalysis

I’ve been wanting to write about a couple different things for awhile now, but this post isn’t about them.

I’m playing Cave Story again. This marks the sixth time I’ve started a new game, and if I beat it, it will be my third time doing so on Normal difficulty. Technically, I’ve already beaten it this go-round with the “bad” ending, but I digress; it’s still a helluva lot of fun.

I’ve also recently been reminded of the existence of a certain segment of the Final Fantasy VII fanbase that is obsessed with analysis. It’s a segment I take with a grain of salt since, having dealt directly with them before, I’m aware that they can be blind to inaccuracy and sometimes prone to outright bias. It is a segment that exists to prove and argue, the type of group reminiscent of my early days at the FFVII Citadel: lots of debating, theories being tossed around, and so on. FFVII itself is a magnet for theory tossing—not only because of its shoddy translation, but also due to its haphazard production history and its familiar yet fantastical globalist, capitalist, biotech cyberpunk world.

Other, more recent favorites of mine—especially Cave Story and Halo—also have interesting worlds and behind-the-scenes stories, but aside from doing some bits of fanart, I’ve managed to avoid getting involved with the fandoms. I’m sick of debates and analyzing the deeper meaning of what are really inconsequential things. When I get a certain item in Bushlands/Grasstown in Cave Story, it has amusing implications, but I’m not about to write a lengthy diatribe about why it wound up in the protagonist’s pocket. Similarly, I don’t care so much about the true purpose behind, say, the Super Sweeper in Final Fantasy VII. A little speculation every now and again is fine, and can even be fun, but that’s as far as I’m willing to take things.

Say I’m getting old or whatever, but in the more than ten years that I’ve been in online fandom circles (mainly video game-related ones), I’ve found that overanalysis can get in the way of enjoyment, and that the franchise owners are more than willing to give fans too much of a good thing, if only they ask loudly enough. When a game’s obscurities become “clearer” through books and interviews, even when handled well, the loss of what was previously left unsaid can be disquieting if you’ve given such obscurities any thought at all, and outright infuriating if you’ve obsessed over it. This is especially true of sequels and spinoffs, such as StarCraft II, in which the deliciously vague became cold hard fact. Amongst its other crimes, Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII pulled a similar stunt, in large part by giving ample screen time to Lucrecia, a minor character in the original game. Portal 2 did right by Chell and GLaDOS, but altered the DNA of its single most important character: Aperture Laboratories itself.

Don’t get me started on Chrono Cross.

If this is what the fans want, it can only mean that they refuse to embrace their own imaginations, wanting absolute answers. The problem is that all this does is settle some arguments on the internet. Those of us who happen to like imagining the unseen in our games lose something in the process. Not everything has to be concrete.

So to the obsessed fans: dig and analyze and argue all you want, but once that long-awaited sequel or interview comes out, don’t be surprised if you find yourself underwhelmed. Nowadays, I prefer to enjoy my games (and manga, and so on) at face value and not sweat over a heavily researched dissertation on the canon. They’re more fun that way, be they a fresh experience or one which I’ve loved for over a decade.


Where I’ve Been, and the Return of Braincrumbs

Yes, I’m back. My main excuse for dropping the ball on this blog for so long was my cross-country move back in early April. It was quite a production, as you can probably imagine, and even now we’re still unpacking, buying new furniture, and generally settling in. Even with a bunch left to do, I feel as though life has only recently started to get back to normal. I’ve even had time to play some games.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to do with this blog. My personal blog at LJ is pretty much dead, and I thought about moving it somewhere else, but at the same time, I’m not 100% happy with Brainscraps either. Right now, the plan is to experiment with some non-gaming posts here, making it a more general blog, just with a heavy emphasis on gaming. Thoughts and/or opinions, if anyone has ’em, are appreciated.

Now, as I said before, I’ve been playing games again recently. After pretty much stopping all my gaming in early March in order to pack and do other moving-related things (with a few, scattered sessions here and there), I picked up where I left off in Rune Factory 3 in late April. Since then, I’ve beaten it, and soon followed it up with Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes and the single-player campaign in Portal 2. I have been wanting to write about all three (well, mainly just Rune Factory 3 and Portal 2), but didn’t have the usual luxury of spacing my posts, so I’m doing the mini-review thing again. Here we go…

Girls, Girls, Girls – Rune Factory 3: A Fantasy Harvest Moon

Daria's a bit nutty, but in an endearing way.

Rune Factory is one of my favorite game series of all time. A sublime blend of Harvest Moon‘s farm-based management (and dating) sim and a hack-and-slash dungeon crawler, it is heaven for those of us who like both types of gameplay. However, coming from Harvest Moon roots, it has not been without its hiccups along the way, including glitches, translation errors, and odd bits of game design. Thankfully, the series noticeably improves with each new entry, and Rune Factory 3 is certainly no exception, as it is the most enjoyable one yet.

The premise is very similar to what we have seen before: hero with amnesia, girl in a small town who gives him a farm to work on, etc. This time around, though, said hero is half-monster, with the ability to transform into a Wooly (the Rune Factory universe’s version of sheep), and said heroine is actually likable. All of the other bachelorettes in the game are interesting as well, with personalities that become fleshed out over the course of their sidequests. By the time I was ready to propose to the girl of my choice, I had maxed out the “love meter” for nearly all of the girls, mainly because I simply wanted to know more about them. On top of that, I liked the other townsfolk as well. Overall, the character development in Rune Factory 3 is outstanding, and a standard that all future games in the series should build upon.

The game’s mechanics have received some spit and polish as well. The farming system has been overhauled for both greater flexibility and greater challenge. Likewise, crafting is no longer the headache it once was, and rare items are now used in leveling up your existing equipment, and not much more than that. Meanwhile, the story progression is set up such that you don’t have to guess your way to the next event, but the player can still take things at their own pace.

Though we have yet to see how the localized Rune Factory Oceans—sorry, Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny—will turn out, for the time being, if you’re at all interested in the series but can only play just one of them, this is the one to play. Despite the occasional technical (or textual) hiccup, I wholeheartedly recommend this game to my fellow simulation and dungeon crawler fans.

Match Three Tactics – Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes

In between battles, things look a bit less puzzley.

And now for an entirely different sort of RPG, but no less unique; one set in the world of a Western series, and with turn-based tactical puzzle elements. Clash of Heroes is, as I understand it, something of a departure from your traditional Might & Magic, a series which I know nothing about. Despite my ignorance, it stood well enough on its own as a single entry, and one which I found rather enjoyable.

The campaign is fairly short for an RPG—roughly twenty hours—but that’s as much as this game needs, as there wouldn’t be any real added benefits to additional grinding, what with the low level caps and hard limits on how many units one can have on the field. Each of the game’s main characters is played in turn, and each of their “chapters” progresses similarly to each other, save for the final one, what with its love of multiple boss battles in a row without opportunities to save between each one. Back at the very beginning, the tutorial stuff is handled well enough, but stumbles when it comes to explaining the unlocking and acquisition of special “Elite” and “Champion” units. As for the story, it’s your standard save-the-world fare with conspiracies and a magical MacGuffin. So, the non-battle campaign stuff is, in a nutshell, average and a little rough around the edges.

The battle system in Clash of Heroes is similarly unpolished, but quite a bit of fun. Using the match-three puzzle genre as a point of inspiration, battles take place by lining up color-coded troops into horizontal (defensive) or vertical (offensive) formations. Only the units at the very end of rows can be picked up and moved around; others can just be deleted. As in your typical puzzle game, chains can be created by pulling off the right moves, with the reward being additional actions for that turn. It’s a system that takes some getting used to (especially when doing the optional “puzzle” boards), and there are obvious balance issues with some of the units, but in general it works.

Said balance issues are supposed to have been fixed in the XBLA version of this game (I played the original one on DS), but I don’t know how much else was tweaked. Certainly, it’s an okay time-killer if you can get it at a decent price, and for me, not a bad way to add some variety to an already RPG-heavy backlog. After beating it, though, I was ready to move on.

Aperture Don’t Stop – Portal 2

Aperture Science has seen better days.

Rounding out this post filled with strange genres is the sequel to gaming’s most beloved first-person environmental puzzler black comedy. This is—so far—the only big new “hardcore” game I have been interested in this year, and thankfully, it lived up to the hype. In this return trip to Aperture Laboratories, test subject Chell once again has to deal with the artificial intelligence GLaDOS and solve her way through chambers and corridors filled with endless amounts of Science. A chatty supporting player, the orb Wheatley, is along for the ride this time, and as in the first game, the environments are characters of their own.

Having gone through the original Portal twice (as well as the tough fan-made Flash Version Mappack after playthrough no. 2), I didn’t have as much trouble thinking my way through the environments in this sequel, even with a handful of new gimmicks thrown into the mix. The one time when I did take a hint to move forward, it was to a problem whose solution wasn’t very obvious; also, it was given to me in a natural manner in-game, reflective of the immersive approach Valve has (once again) employed in this world. There are some things in the environments that either feel gamey or don’t make much sense in the grand scheme of things, messing with the immersion, but they are few. Still, though, I feel that the original Portal did a slightly better job in this area. The wonder—and dread—that I felt playing through Portal were strong enough that I can still recall them; I had no such strong emotional reactions with Portal 2, save for a certain pair of moments, both of which were not driven by the overall environment, but mainly just the audio.

I don’t know if Portal 2‘s bigger, shinier, more mainstream approach is responsible for this less immersive experience, but I do feel that it has contributed to the lowered difficulty curve. There were certain puzzles in Portal that required damn good timing, and there’s quite a bit less of that this time around. Timing is still important in certain instances, but even then the game is more lenient, asking you to rely more on your own cleverness. Going through each individual area has become less about accomplishment and more about seeing what happens next.

Portal 2 is very good indeed (or at least the single-player campaign is. As of this writing, I haven’t done any of the cooperative stuff), but gaming magic is not something that can be easily replicated, especially in a sequel. If you loved the original and wouldn’t mind a longer sequel with more story and fewer mentions of cake, there is much to like in Portal 2. However, it’s a bit like StarCraft 2 in its polished approach, and it’s missing of that intangible something that made its predecessor go beyond the realm of “very good” and into “classic”.

Special Stage: Because of the move, I didn’t make it to PAX East this year. Instead, the plan is to go to PAX Prime, and indeed, we’re all booked for that trip and ready to go. There, we hope to witness the fourth “season” of Canon Fodder. The Season Three roundup is here, and sadly, not as entertaining a read as past summaries, mainly because there’s video attached this time.

P.S. to Kotaku (and various other gaming news outlets): There is no dash in “Square Enix”. None. I don’t care how silly or serious the article is, you’re embarrassing yourselves (not that that’s hard for you all). I’ve read way too many press releases, visited way too many of their sites, and bought way too many of their products to know for a fact that there is no dash in “Square Enix”.

(Sorry, little pet peeve of mine.)

And speaking of Square, I found myself greatly amused by The Dark Id’s Let’s Play of Chrono Cross. It really demonstrates just how much of a clusterfuck that game is, and makes it that much funnier and more entertaining. His earlier LP of Dirge of Cerberus is also not to be missed.

Oh, and finally, I’m now on the Twitters.


Holiday Games, Motion Controls, and Alla That

Just added Rune Factory 3 to the ol’ backlog this week. Can’t wait to dig into this latest localization in my beloved hack-and-slash meets Harvest Moon series, but it’s going to have to wait until I’m done with Etrian Odyssey II‘s main quest—which will be very soon, if all goes well. Maybe Eternal Sonata, too. Can’t be playing too many RPGs at once.

Even with the new addition, my backlog’s looking pretty good. Looking at the pic I took in January and comparing it with the current stack, it’s noticeably smaller: by eight game cases, to be precise. I’ve only beaten half of my 2010 Must-Plays, though, and will likey have room for just one more before year’s end; I’m currently leaning towards Tales of the Abyss to fill that slot. Then, there are all the games that have been/will be, coming out this season.

Rune Factory 3 was my last “must preorder” of the year, but there are many more I’d love to get at some point. Kirby’s Epic Yarn is chief among these, of course, but Epic Mickey looks really good, and recent positive press for Sonic Colors have renewed my slight interest in that game; on a similar note, Goldeneye‘s reviews have got me interested in that title at all. Even the new Super Mario All-Stars collection is pretty tempting. Strange that the Wii has so many top-notch games this holiday season, but the only reasons I have to complain are time and money. Otherwise, I’m happy to see all this Wii love.

Also, what's up with the SyFy Kids branding?

There’s not really anything left for me on the DS front until next year, when I’m looking forward to Ghost Trick, and awaiting US release dates for Ace Attorney Investigations 2, Dragon Quest VI, and (hopefully) Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2. The same goes for other platforms: Portal 2 (it would be crazy not to play this) and Duke Nukem Forever (it would also be crazy not to play this, but for obviously different reasons) on PC, Rune Factory Oceans on Wii, and… I can’t think of anything off the top of my head for 360. Then there’s the sequel to my favorite Wii game, de Blob: The Underground, which I only just learned recently is multiplatform like whoa, and have been, since its unveiling, incredibly skeptical about, for gameplay-related reasons.

de Blob 2‘s presence on non-Nintendo platforms seems to be a symptom of the motion control onslaught that’s been happening as of late. Sony’s PlayStation Move isn’t something I’ve followed all that closely, but I haven’t heard much bad about it. Kinect is a different beast altogether—even though I don’t plan on getting one, I have been curious about this controller-free device. Microsoft’s thrown a lot of money at marketing the thing, but at the same time, there’s been this caginess, first with the price, and more recently, with the review embargo, which was only lifted once it went on sale. Given the few reviews I’ve read, it’s not surprising: Kinect was made to be divisive. It does some things amazingly well, but lacks in other key respects, and the general takeaway is that it’s an amazing but unrefined bit of technology, plus you need a lot of space just to use the thing. Me, I’m still skeptical about what the Kinect holds in store for future games that aren’t Dance Central sequels. The Wii and the Move are both capable of sophisticated types of motion-enhanced gaming (my favorite being first-person games—finally, precision that can rival a mouse!) and can offer solid experiences with simpler ones because they involve controllers. Microsoft’s early investments have paid off very well before, but it remains to be seen whether this will be the company’s latest success, on the scale of Xbox Live.

In the meantime, there’s a shit-ton of games to play, catch up on, and keep an eye out for. Just like last year, it’s a great time to be a gamer, even with those ever-present backlogs.


Wander, You Idiot

Shadow of the Colossus annoyed me. It was a very atmospheric game, the control scheme was inventive, and the animation was satisfyingly realistic, but there was one thing about it that broke the immersion for me: the hints given to you by the game’s god-like being, Dormin, if you happen to take awhile figuring something out. There was no way to turn them off, at least in the first playthrough (I tried), which made the whole situation worse, especially since SotC‘s excellent predecessor, ICO, didn’t drop hints at all. If there’s one thing that irks me, it’s a game that doesn’t trust its player.

Recently, though, I’ve thought about it some more and came up with a story-related explanation for these unwanted hints: the protagonist character, Wander, is a fucking moron.

Major spoilers ahead. Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


Site Business

Really quickly, I just wanted to make note of some recent changes made here at Brain Scrap House. First off, and you might have noticed this earlier, is that I’ve started italicizing the titles of games; it just made sense to do this.

Secondly, I’ve changed the “FWXD Archive” to “Old Stuff”. Now, in addition to the two original BSH columns from FWXD are several pre-BSH reviews, impressions, etc. from my LiveJournal account. A link to the okamiblog archive can now also be found there.

Thirdly, the Links page has been updated with several new sites to check out.

Finally, BSH has a new address: brainscraps.net. The old addy will still work fine for both the blog and syndication feeds for the time being; whether or not you’d like to change your bookmarks is completely up to you.