Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer was my first “real” roguelike, and it was fantastic, but also nerve-wracking. I almost didn’t want to beat the game. It wasn’t because I was enjoying it too much, though there was some of that, too. Rather, I was afraid of the consequences I would face should I fail. Already I had died numerous times, and after every instance, I was whisked back to the starting town of Canyon Hamlet with all experience and stat boosts vanished into the aether, and all of the items and money on my person gone as well. To have this happen to me once I passed the point of no return, and with some excellent customized equipment to boot, would’ve been devastating. Such are the risks in Shiren, but it made the joy and sense of accomplishment that much sweeter once I reached my final destination.
Shiren is a DS port of a 1995 Super Famicom game, and a spinoff of a Dragon Quest spinoff. This latter bit is important, since the music in a certain dungeon struck me as very Koichi Sugiyama, and lo and behold, it turned out that the DQ series composer was responsible for Shiren‘s excellent soundtrack. While I was playing, it was pointed out to me that the lack of absolute permanence in death separates it from the oldest adherents to the roguelike genre, including Rogue itself. In fact, not only is death impermanent though inconvenient (for the reasons I stated in the first paragraph), but starting over again and again is encouraged. There’s not much to the main story, but to take full advantage of the game’s features and build Shiren up into a warrior worthy of taking on Table Mountain’s heights means completing various sidequests, most all of which require several cycles of restarts from Canyon Hamlet for maximum effect. These sidequests typically involve helping other people in the area, and the results can be anything from a new party member to a free stat boost.
This is a game that, much like life itself, rewards perseverance, patience, and effort. Though it’s not for everyone, for fans of tough-as-nails dungeon crawlers, I can’t recommend it enough. A Wii sequel, simply released in the US as Shiren the Wanderer and said to be more forgiving than the Shiren of old (a la Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon), came out earlier this week and has been getting good reviews so far. I definitely plan to pick it up sometime, but not right away, because, you know, RPG-heavy backlog and all.
Since wrapping up Shiren, I’ve moved on to another of my Must Plays for 2010, namely, Chrono Cross. Even before starting this game, my feelings on it were mixed. This was due to a blend of my strong affection toward its immediate predecessor, Chrono Trigger; the varied opinions on the game floating about on the internet; and the overexposure I had to Yasunori Mitsuda’s soundtrack, thanks to places like the now-defunct Gaming FM. Still, I wanted to keep an open mind, and went into the game knowing as little about it as possible.
I’m currently about twelve hours in, and am finding it to be… interesting. It has appropriated some of Chrono Trigger‘s better ideas, the most noticeable one being the lack of enemies on the overworld, and has thrown in a few cute tiny references to said previous game, from familiar lines and names to certain musical themes. There’s other throwbacks as well, but what’s most striking about Chrono Cross is what is different. Instead of time travel, the theme this time around is parallel dimensions and alternate histories, which is intriguing on its own, but I can’t help feeling that more could’ve been done with it. Maybe more will be, but something tells me that the Cross world won’t approach the depth and variety of Trigger‘s.
Another thing that’s substantially different is the battle system. A great amount of emphasis is placed on physical attacks, which are separated into three tiers, based on accuracy and power, and each one costing a certain number of turn points. The successful execution of these attacks tie into the use of Elements, which serve as both magic and healing items in this game. On top of that, Elements come in six colors, and their usage affects the overall field of battle, as well as the effectiveness of summoning, which I haven’t had a chance to mess around with yet. It’s a complex-looking system, but easy to grasp the basics of after a few hours. Unfortunately, it’s also rather dull, due largely to the physical attack emphasis I mentioned at the beginning. The generally low difficulty curve doesn’t help either.
The writing in Cross leaves much to be desired. Main character Serge is a silent hero, like Crono was before him, and I don’t have much of a problem with that. Other characters, however, are too vague about their motivations, fickle in their treatment of me, and/or generally don’t provide enough of a reason for me to care about the fate of this alternate world that I’ve found myself in. Kid in particular seems to have been designed as Cross‘ answer to Trigger‘s Marle, but she’s neither as interesting nor as fun as her predecessor. There’s also the matter of pacing, and when and how certain scenes are triggered. For example, I could explore an entire town and listen to various people discuss how to get into a certain place for no apparent reason, then go into an area I bypassed early on, only to have a cutscene happens where Kid goes, “Hey, let’s try to get into (certain place)!” Now you wouldn’t think this would be a problem, but going by the dialogue and the town’s layout, I got the impression that I was supposed to go to this specific area first, and then find out the details on how to get into the place that Kid mentioned by exploring the town.
Anyway, I’m sticking with Chrono Cross, just to see where it all winds up, and also to see if my experience will improve any.
Special Stage: First up, some sad news: P.S. Triple’s run on 1UP officially ended last week. No new strip, just a goodbye message, and a reminder that the iPhone apps are there if anybody wants ’em. I’ll miss the adventures of Triple and the others, especially X-Locks and most especially Saygah, who I’ve since made my avatar on CAG. I’ve also been working on a piece of Triple fanart, but it’s not done yet; knowing me, it might be awhile. Anyway, thanks for the fifty strips you did bring us, Micro Magazine and Mission One!
Gus Mastrapa’s piece “21st-Century Shooters Are No Country for Old Men” is a lamentation of being a thirtysomething FPS gamer in a landscape dominated by youngsters. I haven’t touched an online multiplayer FPS in at least five years, but I can totally see where Gus came from in his article. The most remarkable part of this piece was the comments section. On GameLife, whenever there’s this many comments on a piece, it usually means there’s a good old fashioned flamewar going on. However, the comments here are from other adult gamers, like Gus, who have encountered teenagers and college students on virtual battlefields, and all the frustrations that can ensue. They shared their own stories and gave tips for how to enjoy oneself as an older FPS player. Great stuff all around. If you don’t want to wade through it all, there’s a follow-up piece here, highlighting some of the best comments and emails Gus got.
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So, we went home for Thanksgiving, then it was off to the Caribbean for a long-needed vacation; we got back on the 5th and quickly settled back into old routines. My husband brought his DS and some games for the trip, though the only one he touched was the excellent Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime. He put some more hours into it over the course of the trip, though he still has yet to finish it.
Me, I didn’t bring my DS, or any portable system. Having been playing a ton of games during my year of mostly-unemployment, I needed a break. Any games I played were of the non-video variety at my parents’ house—the local paper’s Universal Sudoku and Wordy Gurdy, mainly. Also, as we don’t watch TV here, we saw some Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! and naturally, we all played along. Slight non-sequitur: Pat Sajak and Alex Trebek are definitely getting on in years, but Vanna White still looks fabulous.
Neither of us touched games at all once the vacation part of the trip got underway, though I did read more of the copy of Edge (issue no. 208) I’d asked my husband to pick up shortly before we left home at the start of all of this. As is typical, some of the articles were interesting (the TGS wrap-up, also the cover story; the columns and retro features, as usual; etc.), and others just made my eyes glaze over in a “I don’t care about this; why am I reading this?” sort of way (the Ninja Theory interview). The Inbox section concerned one of those topics I totally don’t give a shit about: story in games. This is the sort of thing I generally look upon with eye-rolling, as I do with the “games as art” validation-seekers, because most of the people arguing tend to miss the bigger picture. I still haven’t read the article that sparked this whole brouhaha, but I got the basic gist of what it was about from readers’ letters. However, out of all the mail and forum posts that were printed, I agreed with the last one the most, as its author really seemed to get it. Here’s an excerpt: Also, (Clint) Hocking speaks as if the entire gaming community is composed of MMOG, RTS, and FPS players… (T)he gaming market is broad and diverse, and there are many genres that simply don’t lend themselves to interactive storytelling and some that lend themselves better to linear storytelling. The highly popular Ace Attorney series couldn’t exist without linear storytelling, and yet it provides the unique experience of interactively exploring a set narrative, something that just cannot be achieved with other media. Bravo, Jose Bonilla; I couldn’t have said it better myself, and though you didn’t win Letter of the Month, I’d send you a DSi if I could.
Anyway, we’re back, and have spent the past week catching up on real life, as well as console gaming. Assassin’s Creed II is being played nearly every night by my husband; the meta-narrative gets twistier and twistier, while the controls continue to annoy. Meanwhile, I’ve started Radiata Stories, my first tri-Ace game. It’s one of those quirky types of RPG, and features things like nearly two hundred possible party members and a restricted sort of freedom. Of course, I plan to write more about it later. Oh, and a certain weird “bug” I kept noticing in Tales of Legendia might actually be my controller’s fault, as I think it briefly happened again in Radiata. What happens is that sometimes, usually right after a save file is loaded, my controlled character will just start randomly walking, usually to the right. It’s not bad enough that I feel the need to replace my controller, but fortunately, I have a new DualShock 2 still in the packaging if it comes down to that. Still, as I’m not 100% sure that I saw that same oddity in Radiata, it might really be a Legendia bug after all. We’ll see.
Special Stage: Had a lot of internet to catch up on once I came back, and have read even more since then, so here are a couple of the more interesting links. First off, there’s word of a new, serious gaming periodical on the horizon called Killscreen. I don’t know if I’ll get a subscription, but I love this sort of thing, so maybe. Second, Kotaku isn’t one of my favorite sites, but they do some good posts on occasion, and this time around, there’s two I’d like to share: Achievement Chore, the true tale of a housewife with a huge Gamerscore, and the 2009 Gift Guide, which includes suggestions from the sublime—I very much second the recommendation for the Cloud Strife and Hardy Daytona set, though their description of it leaves much to be desired—to the bizarre.
Some years back, I got on a big nostalgia trip for certain Archie Comics Digests that I used to own in my middle school days. I no longer had them in my possession, but found most of them on eBay as part of two large lots of Betty and Veronica Double Digests and Jughead Double Digests. I bought both lots, which left me with far more Archies than I ever thought I’d own. Since then, I’ve reread the old favorites, and read some of the new (to me) issues for the first time. Recently, I’ve gone back to them, which is when I noticed the video game ads.
Back then, as now, such ads weren’t uncommon in comic books. They could readily be found alongside ads for breakfast cereals like Cap’n Crunch and Fruity Pebbles, sales clubs where kids could earn fabulous prizes, and of course, comics subscriptions. Here are some of the ads that have jogged my memory:
The Little Mermaid handheld electronic game, from the back cover of Betty and Veronica Double Digest No. 31, May 1992 – I can’t recall if I was still reading Archies in 1992, but I was reading comics in general at the time, and recall seeing this ad somewhere. Tiger’s handheld games were ubiquitous back then; for those who don’t remember them, they were little LCD games along the lines of Nintendo’s Game & Watch handhelds. Kind of fun for awhile, but nothing to write home about. I had a Pinball one, while my sister’s had a crude approximation of Sonic the Hedgehog. As you can see from the ad, the basic design of the handhelds had changed since then. The gameplay was probably still meh, though.
Mappy-Land for the NES, back cover of Jughead’s Double Digest No. 1, October 1989 – Here we have the oldest ad in this set. I saw this ad for Mappy-Land in several comic digests back then, but usually on the interior, where it had a clean white background (just the paper color, really). Seeing it here in yellow strikes me as a bit unusual. Anyway, I’ve never played this, but always thought it was a well-designed ad, what with the mouse trap and Apple-esque type and layout. Looking back on it now, the list of other Taxan-published games piques my interest more than Mappy-Land itself; Star Soldier is fairly well-known in retro gaming circles, and Fist of the North Star is, of course, based on the manga and anime of the same name. The original arcade version of Mappy is currently available on Virtual Console, but it remains to be seen if Mappy-Land will show up there as well.
Mickey Mousecapade for the NES, interior page from Betty and Veronica Double Digest No. 18, April 1990 – Here is another ad that popped up a lot; note that it also has a yellow background, but for once, this was purely intentional. Mickey Mousecapade was the first of several beloved Disney games published by Capcom, but it also seems to be among the least remembered. Go on any Internet messageboard to discuss Capcom’s Disney games, and I’ll bet you that nine times out of ten, DuckTales will be the first one mentioned. I played DuckTales back in the day like everyone else, and what I most remember about it was that the control scheme for Scrooge’s pogo cane maneuver was annoying. I’ve never played Mickey Mousecapade, but for some reason, I’ve always imagined that the controls were better.
Various games by HAL, interior page from Betty and Veronica Double Digest No. 31, May 1992 – Finally, no more yellow backgrounds, not to mention the first appearance of 16-bit games! Here we have five titles published by HAL America, which could be ordered directly by calling a toll-free number: Quantum Fighter, DayDreamin’ Davey, and Vegas Dream for NES, and Hole in One Golf and HyperZone for the SNES. Do you remember any of these, because I sure don’t. The funniest thing about this is that also in 1992, a certain HAL-developed game would become more famous than all five of these combined: Kirby’s Dream Land. Since then, HAL became a beloved second-party developer for Nintendo, best known for its Kirby and Super Smash Bros. franchises; knowing this, it’s kind of funny to see this old ad now.
The Ultimate Game Club, interior page from Betty and Veronica Double Digest No. 22, December 1990 – This is, to me, the most interesting ad of the bunch. According to the ad’s text, the Ultimate Game Club carried just about every console and handheld game ever made (at the time), sold Japanese consoles and games, matched advertised prices, bought and sold used games, and shipped all orders via overnight FedEx, all for an annual membership fee. I imagine that for serious gamers in 1990 (at least, those with the money to spend), services like these were a godsend. Nowadays, with the likes of Amazon, eBay, Play-Asia, and others, us gamers are spoiled rotten by the breadth of selection and special offers available to us. Anyway, I also remember this ad very well, and recall being intrigued by the high price for Romance of the Three Kingdoms. At the time, I didn’t think games could be that expensive.
I did a little research in an effort to learn more about the Ultimate Game Club, and found this interesting tidbit on the Lost Levels forums. Apparently, the UGC had a publishing arm called Innovation Tech, but a quick Google search for that name revealed that they had only ever planned to publish two games, The Dinosaur Dooley and Buzz & Waldog, and both of them were cancelled. In my original search for UGC-related info, I also happened upon an auction for a Vidpro display card, which includes the following in its description: These Vidpro cards were only sold to a licensed Nintendo retailer of which we were one of them called “The Ultimate Game Club” but that’s another story. Lo and behold, the Ultimate Game Club lives, sort of. The seller is even located in the same town as the old UGC!
Anyway, that wraps up my little tour of old video game ads. There might’ve been one or two that I overlooked or accidentally thumbed past, but these are the major ones, if not the most memorable. If I get on another comics nostalgia trip, perhaps I’ll do this again some time. I know of at least one ad from various early-90s Disney Comics titles that I’d like to highlight…
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For gamers—or Cheap Ass Gamers, at least—one of the highlights of the holiday season is Toys R Us’ buy two get one (of equal or lesser value) free sale on video games. This B2G1, to use CAG parlance, is usually one of the best sales of any year, especially considering all the new releases that get thrust on us around this time. Me, I’ve only taken advantage of a Toys R Us B2G1 once, many years ago; it was long before I became a CAG and possibly the first time the chain had ever done such a sale. I remember Final Fantasy X being one of the games I picked up, and I think the others were Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4. I never beat the latter two, and even sold Vice City at one point, but played FFX through to the end, including that inane final battle. Since then, I tend to ignore the B2G1s since Toys R Us’ selection is fairly limited; that, or I just forget about the sale until it’s too late.
This year, it’s been a different story. Not only had Toys R Us had their annual sale, but other retailers have jumped into the fray with B2G1s of their own. Amazon was the first, with “select titles” being eligible for the offer, and Best Buy followed soon after, their deal covering all in-stock 360, Wii, and PS3 games. B2G1 sales were also spotted at some CAGs’ local Blockbuster and GameStop stores.
I missed out on the first Amazon B2G1, and wasn’t interested in the others, but a later deal caught my attention. Even though, once again, “select games” were the only ones eligible (albeit, there were a lot of them) and the entire offer only covered the three current-gen consoles, Amazon’s “spend $80, get a $40 promotional credit” deal was too good to pass up. The online retailer is already one of my favorite places to shop for games, due to a combination of wide selection, good prices, and great customer service, so it was a no-brainer, really. To cover the $80 requirement, I picked up Metroid Prime Trilogy and Super Paper Mario. Once I got the promo code, the $40 credit went towards Devil May Cry 4 and Rune Factory Frontier (it wasn’t eligible, but I also picked up Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story at the same time), which are currently en route. All in all, I spent, on average, a little less than thirty dollars on each game.
One of my main motivations in taking advantage of this offer was to add some variety to my backlog, which had turned into one that consisted entirely of RPGs. Yeah, I know that Rune Factory Frontier and the Marios I picked up could be considered RPGs, but they’re also different enough to stand out from the rest. Anyway, I started Super Paper Mario not long after it arrived; I was done with Legendia and was itching to play this new acquisition. It’s excellent, and I plan to write up my thoughts on the game sometime in the future. Meanwhile, I’ve also been shaping up my (literal) game plan for the rest of the year. Ys: Ark of Napishtim is on the agenda once I’m done with Mario, and I’m considering Radiata Stories for a possible post-Thanksgiving playthrough. Over Christmas, I plan to dig into the DS port of Chrono Trigger, and possibly Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story. My husband and I might also finally play Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles sometime soon. Once the New Year rolls around, I’ll still have a big backlog, but hopefully it’ll be a few games smaller than it is now.
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There hasn’t been all that much going on with me lately, gaming-wise. Since my last post, I beat Etrian Odyssey and began delving into the postgame stratum, a set of floors with some especially tough monsters. As they approached or hit the level cap of 70, I knocked each member of my main party (a Landsknecht, a Dark Hunter, a Medic, a Survivalist, and a Troubadour) back ten levels for the privilege of being able to reassign their skill points. Then, I decided to retire them and start over with their apprentices back at level 1, taking advantage of certain stat benefits. With this new party, I’ve plowed through some of the optional quests I never took on, including what has to be the single most tedious one in the game. They’re now in their 40s, level-wise, but it will still be awhile before I can enter that postgame stratum again without worrying about being annihilated. As one can imagine, this grinding has become rather tedious, and thus, it’s since replaced Planet Puzzle League as my mainstay “laundry day game”.
Best. Podcast. Ever.
I’ve also taken to listening to the game’s sound on laundry days as well, which I never did with PPL. When playing the latter, my headphones would instead be hooked up to a crusty old iPod Mini loaded with episodes of Listen UP. I listened to their last-ever show in two sessions (three hours makes for a long podcast), the second being on Monday, as I folded my laundry (as opposed to washing and folding). I can’t recall exactly when I first started listening to 1UP Yours—sometime last spring, I think—but I loved both it and its successor, Four Guys One Up Listen UP, and downloaded the latest episode every week. Now there’s no more Whacha’ Been Playin?, John’s iPhone Game of the Week, Four Minute Warning, “weekend confirmed”, or “we are ghost”, but despite the team’s separation (with Garnett now at Shacknews, John gone to GamePro, and David still at 1UP), new, separate podcasts are being promised (and maybe with at least a couple of those old elements intact, as hinted at in the last episode?). Looking forward to whatever you guys come up with, and thanks for all the great shows. Also, congrats to Garnett for finally starting Yakuza 2!
What else has been going on lately? Well, I’ve been trying to stick to a daily routine in Wii Fit Plus. The “My Wii Fit Plus” feature is a fantastic addition to the regular Wii Fit formula, and there are a handful of other tweaks and additions that I like as well, most particularly the routines. One thing that’s particularly annoying, though, is the lack of drag-and-drop flexibility in the Custom Routine feature (I think this problem might also plague the pre-set routines, or rather, the part in which you can string many of said routines together, but I haven’t fiddled around with that enough to know if that is the case). If I want to add a new exercise to my routine, I can’t simply place it wherever I want. Instead, it automatically gets tacked on to the end. Therefore, if I want my exercises in a different order, I have to delete them and reset the whole routine. If there’s something I’m overlooking and drag-and-drop can be done, please let me know. Anyway, despite that and other nitpicky flaws, it’s still a great upgrade from Wii Fit, especially for $20.
There’s also been Tales of Legendia, which I beat back in September. I’ve finally went back to it this past weekend to start the Character Quests in earnest. I’m only a few hours into them, and so far, they’re very cutscene heavy, but all right. Even though much is familiar, the monsters are now tougher, several features that weren’t available to me in the main game are now, and there’s a certain change in my party’s makeup (which might be kind of spoilery, so this is all I’ll say about it). Though I’m enjoying them, I hope that these quests don’t take too long to get through; my backlog is still fairly big, and I need to whittle it down before getting certain games I’ve been holding off on buying. It’s the classic hardcore gamer’s dilemma: too many good games and not enough time to play them.
Just a quick roundup of links which you may or may not find interesting.
– I’d been hooked on Etrian Odyssey, but a certain plot development made me stop dead in my tracks. To say that I had a strong emotional reaction to this scene is an understatement. I finally picked up the game again this past weekend, and can kind of see where things are going. Please note that the post linked above contains spoilers.
– Also from that LJ post: Cloud Strife unisex perfume (aka, “Square Enix Products is even crazier than anyone thought”) and the news of Garnett Lee’s departure from 1UP. In addition to his regular journalistic duties, Garnett is (was?) the host of Listen UP, formerly 1UP Yours, one of video gaming’s most beloved podcasts. We’ll see what happens from here…
– Speaking of 1UP, I stumbled upon one of their newer blogs recently, which is devoted to translations of P.S. Triple, a Japanese four-panel comic which features game consoles as idol singers. It’s sort of like a cross between OS-tans and Castle Vidcons. For the best experience, start from the intro post on the last page and work your way up.
– Finally, Wii Fit Plus is now available! Just picked up my copy this morning, but have yet to set up the Balance Board and try it out. Metacritic only has two scores up at the moment; the IGN review is long-winded, as they tend to be, but the GameDaily one is a bit more concise and covers the major new features quite well.
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