February was a productive month, gaming-wise. After completing Tropico 4‘s campaign, I went ahead and played On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode Two, which was more of the same Penny Arcade-themed adventuring, albeit with a gimmicky end boss. There was something of a cliffhanger at the end, though, and given that Episode Three was cancelled, I would have to rely on Penny Arcade’s own documents should I wish to know the rest of the story. (ETA: Pete has informed me that Zeboyd is working on Episode 3. Huzzah!)
I also took up Pokemon White again, where, among other things, I added the last three Gym Badges to my collection. There was also a handful of new story events to play through, where Team Plasma continued in their quest to free Pokemon everywhere from trainer oppression. Compared to past Pokemon enemy squads, Team Plasma is easier to empathize with, though no more or less devoted to their cause. Their leader, the enigmatic N, is certainly the most memorable such character that I’ve yet seen in the series. Although I’ve set the game aside again, largely for practical reasons (Pokemon White has a season-based system that uses the DS’ internal clock, and I haven’t seen Winter or Spring yet), I’m looking forward to taking on Victory Road and the Pokemon League.
Tropico 4 was also revisited, much earlier than I thought I would. This time, it was to play the first two DLC missions. The one contained in the “Junta Military” pack was quite challenging, while the “Plantador” mission had a thick streak of humor, with its pop-culture friendly occult theme. In between all of this, I made a lot of progress in Sonic Colors, finally beating it on the 28th. It remains a wonderful Sonic, and simply a great platformer in general.
After all that was wrapped up, I decided to go back to the Halo franchise with the next game in the series, Halo Wars. I was already familiar with developer Ensemble Studios’ work through Age of Empires II, and therefore expected good things from what wound up being their final game. Thanks to Halo Wars‘ interesting missions and marvelous control scheme, I wasn’t disappointed. By necessity, it’s a lot simpler than PC RTSes, but far from dull; it’s probably the most fun I’ve had with a Halo game since the original. Sadly, the campaign was over fairly quickly, but on the plus side, it gave me my last beaten game of the month.
The PS2 port of Baroque was decided upon as my next game, and the first one for March. I started it yesterday and played for the better part of the afternoon, but decided to drop it in the end. It’s a roguelike, but with action, as opposed to turn-based, gameplay, which is unusual for the genre. Nevertheless, it has roguelike-style difficulty, complete with randomly-generated dungeons and being booted back to the starting area at Level 1 every time you die. I died quite a bit early on, but made progress at a steady pace, and then, not very long after starting over yet again, I came across the Experience Wings.
The Experience Wings are a piece of equipment that boost the amount of experience points one can get from each defeated monster. Needless to say, they make level grinding much easier, lessening the pain I felt just on Normal difficulty. However, after going through several floors, I play through a story event that sends me back to the beginning, at Level 1. After making it so that the Experience Wings can be carried over to this new session, I do it all again, though it’s much more monotonous this time, and the same thing happens. While reading some info about the game afterward, I found that progression is determined not by what floor of the dungeon you make it to, but whether or not you can fulfill the arbitrary and oftentimes vaguely hinted-at goals given to you by the macabre, dull, and badly voice-acted NPCs. Upon learning this, I could readily envision the tediousness this would entail, and promptly decided to give it up.
So, what’s on the agenda next? As I said before, I’m on hiatus from Pokemon White again; also, I don’t think we’ll be tackling Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles‘ tough endgame again anytime soon. Right now, my plan is to continue on with more Halo games I haven’t played yet, namely Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach. I also have Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary in my backlog, which I’d like to play co-op, but that’s not as big a priority. I also want to start another JRPG, though I haven’t settled on which one yet. Tales of the Abyss, perhaps?
How many games will I beat in March? Stay tuned…
Special Stage: Congrats once again to my friend and fellow Citadeler Tarale on her recent engagement! The incredibly geeky story of how she proposed to her boyfriend, via Team Fortress 2 and with some special help from Valve, made Kotaku Australia; here’s the story!
Xenogears is one of those games that I had long been curious about, but didn’t want to play, both because and in spite of its reputation. I didn’t like Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht, mainly due to its sedate dungeons and overlong, poorly-paced cutscenes, and didn’t relish the thought of slogging through its predecessor. However, at the same time I wanted to know why Xenogears has commanded such attention. Therefore, when a new Let’s Play of the game by The Dark Id appeared at the Let’s Play Archive, I dove right in.
"All shall be mocked accordingly..."
It turns out that I had made the right decision. Seemingly every new dungeon, rare as they are, is described as the worst in the game; the story has some interesting ideas but is needlessly complicated, poorly plotted (a good example: that old JRPG trope, the battle tournament, is used as a major plot device twice), and did far more telling that showing; and from the looks of it, the staff had just about run out of money when it came time to work on Disk 2. The Dark Id’s humorous asides, especially the ones involving sandwiches and/or Citan Uzuki’s dickery, plus his astoundingly thorough analysis of the game’s quirks, made all this the more digestible; I’m sure I would’ve experienced Chrono Cross levels of rage if I had played this myself.
This Xenogears Let’s Play is easily the longest one I’ve ever read, and took me some time to get through. Not long after wrapping it up, I decided to play a new game. I’d already finished with Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny and given up on the original Tropico after finding it a bit too difficult, and not the fun kind of difficult, either. Also, I wasn’t in the mood to pick up Sonic Colors or Pokemon White again. There was that damned-cute-moogle-fest Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, which I was (and still am) playing co-op, but I needed a new single-player game. So, the new game I played? Bayonetta.
For the next three days, I found myself immersed in the closest thing to a masterpiece I have played in the action game genre. Bayonetta is marvelous, with slickness, humor, and outrageousness in abundance. The title character is a strong, sexy, and ridiculous gunslinger and a great follow-up to a certain other beautiful mixed-race hero from an earlier game by the same director. Speaking of which, there are several homages in Bayonetta—some more subtle than others—to director Hideki Kamiya’s previous works, to certain classic Sega franchises, and to games that have nothing to do with either. My favorites of these made me absolutely giddy as this already awesome game got even better. In general, there is so much love put into Bayonetta—love of the heroine, her world, the action, and of video games themselves. I don’t know if I’ll ever experience another game like this again.
The next game I played only took me two days to get through, but has a much longer title: Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode One. This was one of several games I picked up during this past December’s Steam Holiday Sale, and more or less on a whim at that. The game itself plays a bit like a weirdly balanced JRPG with notes of graphical text adventure and that unmistakeable Penny Arcade feel. It was all right, and I’m looking forward to playing Episode Two sometime soon, in part because one of my favorite PA characters, Charles, makes an appearance.
After Rain-Slick Precipice, Episode One, I decided to delve back into the world of Caribbean island management—but via Tropico 4 this time. The campaign this time around is a long one at twenty missions, but once I got to a certain point, the previous starting islands began to make repeat appearances. This was a little disappointing, as were the moments when the sound would stop during a cutscene, or the one time during the final mission where the game crashed, or the few other tiny annoyances presented themselves, but I was still engrossed for a good two weeks. In many little ways, it’s much improved from Tropico 3, and I ended up spending more time playing it than I do with a lot of JRPGs. I wrapped up the campaign this afternoon, so now I’m going to step back from it for awhile and catch up on just about everything I’d been neglecting in the meantime, such as, well, this blog…
Comments Off on Let’s Play! And After That, Let’s Really Play!
It’s a new year, which means the annual status report on my backlog. I would’ve had this up sooner was I not waiting on Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey to arrive from Play-Asia. This was one of seven(!) console and handheld games I ordered for myself shortly before the New Year. Then there’s Sonic Chronicles, purchased at Best Buy after Christmas, plus a not insignificant number of computer games purchased during Steam’s amazing Holiday Sale. All this plus my preexisting Pile of Shame adds up to a mountain of games to pick and choose from in 2012.
What have I gotten myself into? DX
My DS backlog has become particularly large with fourteen entries, at least half of which are RPGs. The Xbox 360 and PC piles have grown some as well, as has the Wii one, which was nonexistentthis time last year. The GameCube stack is unchanged, and the PS2 one has shrunken, but only slightly. All in all, the number of console and handheld games this year comes to thirty-five; add in PC/Mac, and it’s closer to fifty, which is more than double the tally from last year.
This growth, particularly on the DS side, was largely fueled by my wanting to pick up certain out-of-print games before they became impossible to find. There’s also the matter of my not being able to beat many games last year, thanks to certain real-life factors. Therefore, my goal this year is to beat at least twenty-five games, which would be a marked improvement from last year’s seventeen.
Here are my must-play games for 2012, in no particular order:
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES – Now that Rogue Galaxy has been beaten (and thoroughly enjoyed), Persona 3 is the candidate best-suited to fill its shoes as the Game I’ve Had in My Backlog Since Forever That I Really Should Play.
Half-Life – As was the case with Halo, I feel that I ought to play this FPS.
Tales of the Abyss – I think I’m about due for another fun Tales experience.
Last Window: The Secret of Cape West – Yet not before replaying Hotel Dusk.
Soul Nomad and the World Eaters
Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation
Professor Layton and the Curious Village
The Legendary Starfy
Going by previous backlog posts, I’ll probably end up playing somewhere between a third and half of this list, and one or two games will make repeat appearances on next year’s. We’ll see how it goes.
Welcome to the home of PAX Prime, the Washington State Convention Center in lovely Seattle, WA!
This was where we spent much of our weekend—attending panels, checking out the cosplayers, and going hands-on with upcoming games in the massive Expo Hall(s). Actually, we didn’t get to play as much as we liked, since the lines for popular titles, most memorably Star Wars: The Old Republic, were incredibly long. As with PAX East, panels were our main priority.
However, we did watch a lot of games being played, in all sorts of genres, and checking out the booths themselves was also enjoyable. The booth that was hardest to ignore was the one for FireFall. They were a major sponsor of the show this year by the looks of things; in addition to the huge booth, there was an animatronic display near the Expo Hall entrance (Prototype 2‘s booth was also in that area), FireFall branding on the PAX swag bag, ads on the escalators, and more. Clearly the goal of FireFall‘s publishers was to get the name and look of the game firmly entrenched in our minds. As for the game itself, I didn’t get to play it, but it looks like an MMO action game of some sort. It is also highly derivative in its aesthetics—even the logo is StarCraft-ish.
Bethesda’s booth was impressive as well, thanks to a large dragon that loomed over the area dedicated to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Bethesda also had some Prey 2 stuff as well as Rage in playable form. Save for some canned, stiff animation, Rage looks absolutely stunning, though I seriously doubt that my computer will be able to run it.
Although I didn’t see anything of the game itself, the BioShock Infinite display was marvelous, and the most unique thing I saw on the show floor. There were a few other standouts scattered about, including a plant-like thing for Rift, the inflatable Normandy hovering over Mass Effect 3, the secret society quiz terminals for The Secret World, and Sega’s Rise of Nightmares prison cell. For the Kinect version of Just Dance 3, Ubisoft had a simple stage, but dancing con-goers added the extra hook.
Some people tend to forget this, but geeky non-video games have a large presence at PAX as well. There were a lot of areas dedicated to board, pen-and-paper, and trading card gaming, including a whole branch of the Expo Hall. Publishers of such games had their own booths, plus there were a handful of booths selling games, gaming accessories such as dice, and even dedicated pieces of gaming and collection furniture.
Other vendors included Seattle import specialist Pink Gorilla (which had plenty of import games at their booth, but strangely, no PS2 ones) and artbook localizer Udon, who shared space with comic book publisher Oni Press. There was also a booth selling general anime merchandise, but I was immediately turned off once I noticed that the Nendoroids and certain other items were bootlegs. Square Enix had Deus Ex: Human Revolution Play Arts Kai figures on display at their booth but, much to my dismay, the company wasn’t selling any of their collectables at the show.
Upstairs was a sort of annex to the main hall, where indie game publishers and lesser-known PC hardware manufacturers lived. This room saw a lot of traffic thanks in large part to the presence of Mojang, aka the Minecraft developer. Meanwhile, there was the Handheld Lounge, a land of beanbag chairs occupying hall space on two floors, and sponsored by Nintendo. Although Ninty had a large booth in the Expo Hall, they showed additional games here, including two upcoming Kirby games and Dragon Quest Monsters. Unfortunately, I had somehow forgotten to take photos of both areas.
I could go on, but to describe everything I saw would double the length of this post. Therefore, I’ll close out with brief impressions of the games I actually played.
Kirby Mass Attack for the DS is one of the most unique platformers I have seen in some time. The entire game is played with the stylus, and up to ten Kirbies can be controlled at once. These Kirbies are obtained by eating food found on the field (Maxim Tomatoes, as expected, are the “strongest” of these foods), and some areas can only be reached with a certain number of Kirbies. Though the game is being released very soon, the copies available for play in the Handheld Lounge were in Japanese. I guess the localization wasn’t ready for the show.
Kirby’s Return to Dream Land and Fortune Street were the only Wii games shown in the Handheld Lounge. The former supports up to four players at once and is as madcap as one expects from the studio that also makes the Smash Bros. games; unfortunately, the other characters aren’t as versatile or as necessary as Kirby, which is this game’s greatest weakness. Fortune Street is the first of the Itadaki Street games to be released outside of Japan, but I don’t think it will do very well since, for a board-style party games, it is way too complicated.
Pokedex 3D is neat, and I’ll probably download it once/if I get a 3DS. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 is about what I expected, which is to say I’m still planning on buying it.
At the Microsoft booth, I played around a little with Sonic CD, which thankfully has an option to turn on the original graphics, since the “new” ones look horrible. My husband and I also tried out Trine 2, which looks and plays very well, and Pinball FX 2 which is great save for the fact that the balls blend into the playfield a bit too much.
The main indie game I tried at the show was Path of Exile, a Diablo clone with not much to it. The user interface reminded me of Torchlight‘s, but having the health and mana meters on opposite sides of the screen was inconvenient.
That’s about it for the Expo Hall. In tomorrow’s post, I’ll talk about the panels and certain other events which I attended.
Comments Off on PAX Pix 2011, Part One: The Expo Hall
Our Wii has been getting a decent amount of playing time these past few months. First there was Chrono Trigger‘s much celebrated arrival on Virtual Console. At the time of its purchase, I also got Toki Tori, an environmental puzzler I’d been meaning to pick up for awhile. Later on, Kirby’s Epic Yarn gave me a nice respite from JRPGs, and not too long afterward, Shiren the Wanderer marked the end of my break.
I didn’t play Chrono Trigger, seeing as how my most recent playthrough was only just last year, via the DS port. Instead, my husband dove into this personal favorite of both of ours (ironically enough, we had named our Wii “Marle” when we had first gotten it). It is, like other Virtual Console offerings, the original game with nothing else added on, warts and all. Therefore, instead of the rich, fleshed-out DS localization, the original Ted Woolsey script is in full effect here. I have no problem with these old Woolsey localizations; the rushed Secret of Mana notwithstanding, he did a bang-up job given the restrictions he had to work with. The G-rated references to “juice” and “lemonade” in bar scenes are pretty silly to our adult selves, though. Localization aside, one interesting thing my husband pointed out in his playthrough was how similar the boss battles are in terms of the number of targets, how they act, and how they must be handled. This lack of diversity is one of the game’s weaker points, and only obvious to us now.
Oh, and before I forget, Chrono Trigger looks magnificent on an HDTV, especially those huge boss sprites. Not to mention the ending which was, this time around, one that neither of us had ever seen before. It was a fun playthrough to watch, and we even learned some new tricks; thanks to RPG Classics’ comprehensive Chrono Trigger shrine for those.
While he was playing Chrono Trigger, I started Toki Tori, and alternated between that and Final Fantasy Tactics A2 in my regular game-playing. Toki Tori is a remake of a Game Boy Color title; it has the same puzzles, apparently, but all new graphics and control options. The goal of the game, a 2D puzzler starring a squat yellow bird, is to collect all the eggs in each stage. There isn’t a time limit, but the bird can’t jump, plus there are restrictions on special moves and items. It’s possible to beat some stages with items to spare, but most of the time, I found myself coming up with solutions that neatly used everything at my disposal. The difficulty ramps up a bit in the final set of stages, which take place underwater and includes a new, albeit limited, floating action.
The WiiWare version favors the Wiimote, with not too much prompt-wise in either the documentation or the game itself for those of us who prefer the Classic Controller. Also, with its forty stages (not including tutorials), it feels shorter than it should be for a game of this type. Still, despite these quibbles, not to mention a rather… unexpected ending, Toki Tori is fun and worth checking out for puzzle fans.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn was the next game to keep the Wii busy. Although I haven’t played the entire series, I have loved Kirby games since the very first one on the original Game Boy. This particular entry might just be the best one of all. Many Kirby hallmarks are present—capturing and using enemies as projectiles, tons of collectables, and an optional co-op mode for starters—but Kirby cannot fly (under normal circumstances), his more elaborate transformations are context-sensitive, and there are no lives, just ways to lose a ton of beads. These differences are just that—differences—and in no way lessen the “Kirbyness” of the game. In general, this is a tightly-designed Kirby with many inspired implementations of its fabric-based theme and one of the best soundtracks ever recorded for a platformer. Only the final boss battle, which could’ve been bigger and better, disappointed, and even then only a little. Currently, even though I’ve beaten it, there’s still tons of doodads to collect (most of which can be used to decorate “Kirby’s Pad” in the hub world), minigames to tackle, and high scores to beat. I expect to be playing this, on and off, for some time yet.
Finally, there’s Shiren the Wanderer, which I came to neglect FFTA2 in favor of. As in the DS port of the original Shiren, we’re in the shoes of the titular silent protagonist, who has come to a strange new land chasing legends and treasure. This time around, his party members are old colleagues, one of which is with you from the beginning. These party members can also be directed to do certain actions, or even controlled individually. Also different this time is how the dungeons are presented. Instead of having to go through the entire thing in one straight line (with breaks along the way in the form of towns), multi-level dungeons are given to you in chunks with as few as three floors and as many as twenty-five, and typically with a brief boss fight at the end. Upon completing most of these, Shiren and his friends not only get to keep their money and items, but their levels as well. If you die, however, you will have all of your non-stored stuff taken away (in Normal mode, anyway) and your levels reset to what they were before you entered that dungeon.
The story this time around is a bit more complicated, not to mention convoluted, with a legendary mansion and mysterious girl as its centerpieces. It all made sense by the end—well, most of it—but the story is mere window dressing for the randomly-generated and sometimes devilish dungeons. As for the other trappings, the music is decent and the graphics are sometimes ugly, but generally okay. This goes for the animation as well, though the slidiness of the characters’ (especially the ferret Koppa’s) walks in non-dungeon areas can be distracting.
That’s it for the Wii games for awhile. Since this Wii binge started, Final Fantasy III (aka FFVI) came out on Virtual Console (on my birthday, no less!) and was promptly purchased, though I have no idea when either of us are going to start it. I also have a few disk-based Wii and Gamecube titles in my backlog. However, the almost-beaten FFTA2 has been neglected for some time now and there’s a decently-sized pile of games for other systems still to play. Time to get crackin’.
It took several months—nearly half a year, actually—to get through Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne start to finish. While this can be largely attributed to real-life factors (namely, moving to and resettling on the opposite side of the contiguous United States), there’s still the matter of the game itself. After all, during that same timeframe, I beat one game, started and beat two others, and started and logged over ninety hours into a fourth. Why was I dragging my heels with Nocturne specifically?
Simply spam this 60-80% of the time and you're golden.
The game itself certainly had something to do with it. Nocturne is a slog at times, made all the more dull by overly simplistic dungeons for most of the game, a peculiar enemy distribution setup, and the auto attack feature. The bare-bones story—Tokyo is destroyed during a ritual, and a new world is going to be born from its ruins—doesn’t help much either, nor does the fact that a good portion of the game’s small cast is made up of bastards. Meanwhile, the NPC human spirits floating around are largely blazé about the horror that has befallen their city; one would think there’d be a bit more panic, or a sense of dread, rather than your typical NPC banter on what various important characters are up to these days. On the other hand, the NPC demons behave in a somewhat more believable manner, given the context.
The meat of the gameplay revolves around the battle and demon recruitment/fusion systems. The turn-based battle system is the same as the one in the later, and superior, Digital Devil Saga games, complete with its potential for unfairness. However, it also shares its auto battle option, which I used as frequently in Nocturne as I did sparingly in DDS. Thanks to an uneven demon distribution in a handful of locations—resulting in some low-level enemies regularly showing up in what should be higher-level areas—I found myself pressing the Triangle button quite often, in order to get the stupidly easy battles over and done with. However, I turned on Auto Mode in more evenly matched bouts as well, the faster to grind my way through dungeons that were, more often than not, the same three corridors (or even worse, the same one or two tiles) over and over again.
As for demon recruitment and fusion, it is a neat idea, but the system is set up to force the player to constantly “upgrade” to better demons. How this is accomplished is simple: all the game’s demons level slower than the main character. Thusly, unlike other RPGs with monster recruitment elements, you cannot develop a fondness for any particular demon, lest you be left behind. This, I believe, is overlooking a crucial element in what makes a good monster recruitment system. Demons are not companions, but mere weapons; they are utterly disposable, and must constantly be replaced with (or fused into) something better.
The smaller touches sprinkled throughout the game aren’t much better. There is a peaceful race of beings in the game, the Manikins, who are all right for the most part, but the vast majority of the Manikin shopkeepers are gay stereotypes who give the Jamaican accent of Digital Devil Saga‘s Cielo a run for its eyeroll-inducing money. A neat puzzle-based minigame is marred by its length and the lack of a way of quitting without saving your progress. There is an optional area called the Labyrinth of Amala, but by the point in the game where I could first access it, I had already decided that I didn’t want to run around even more boring dungeons when I didn’t have to. Devil May Cry star Dante appears in the game, but I only saw him once, and I wasn’t compelled to go looking for him again. As for the aesthetics, the graphics are typical of an early PS2 game, if more washed out, and the music is nothing special.
So in short, I found Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne mediocre and dry. That said, I don’t understand the love that Nocturne commands from many gamers on the Internet. Perhaps it garners such affection because it was the first main-series MegaTen game to be localized in English and contained themes and imagery unlike any other JRPG previously released in the West. Maybe it’s that an M-rated JRPG was unique in 2004—hell, it’s still a novelty to this day—and the Nocturne world has plenty of dark imagery to back up that ESRB designation, not to mention swear words and, it could be said, the aforementioned gay stereotypes, too. Many tout the deep demon fusion system, which is the best thing Nocturne has going for it, but this is not as interesting or enjoyable as similar party management features in other, better games (Pokemon comes to mind, as does Disgaea).
Whatever it is, I don’t think Nocturne has held up very well over the years, and I’m unsure if I would’ve liked it even back when it was first released. While appearing to be polished, in reality it’s rough around the edges, not to mention flawed, and lacks any sort of charisma to make up for its deficiencies. It wasn’t so bad or boring that I quit halfway through, but neither was I driven to find out what happens next in the story, or to see the next dungeon or set of enemies. Nocturne is a game that is the true definition of average.
Comments Off on The Land of Auto-Attacking and Assholes