Beat Devil May Cry 4 last week. Not the best game in the series, but certainly had its high points. All the hallmarks were there: bishies, hot chicks, gothic interiors, death metal songs that play during battles, and occasional violations of the 180° rule when moving from place to place. Unlike the others, Dante is not playable for much of the game. Instead, the player takes the role of Nero, a young man with similar fashion sense and slightly less campiness than Mr. Sparda. He also has a glowing arm, which can be used to grab far-off enemies and unleash brutal attacks on them. These attacks vary depending on the enemy, reminding me of Quick Time Events, though not in the traditional sense. As such, Nero is a fun character to play. Dante controls much the same as always, and is also tougher to control compared to Nero, due to the lack of Glowing Hand.
Although Rune Factory Frontier is mad addictive, this is what I'll be playing today!
As for Rune Factory Frontier, I’m still plugging away at it, and passed the 100-hour mark this weekend. All that has been ever said about JRPGs and linearity doesn’t quite apply to the Rune Factory series. Yes, there is a single storyline and a set progression in terms of unlockable areas, and no, you can’t fully customize your hero character, but everything else is wide open. There’s tons of things to do—farming, fishing, crafting, cooking, and much more—and like any good Harvest Moon, there’s also a wide range of girls to hit on, and eventually, marry. It’s rich and immersive in a way that JRPGs traditionally aren’t, and despite the glaring flaws, I’m as hooked on Frontier as I was with its DS brethren. Can’t wait for Rune Factory 3‘s localization (please let this happen!).
Apart from games themselves, I’m getting a little weary of CAG’s forums again and am ready to take another hiatus from them, largely due to the fact that there’s hardly any humor in them. This seems to be a problem with many gaming forums, where games are Serious Business and there’s little to no room for levity. Perhaps this also explains why Shimrra won Best CAG Blog in this year’s Cheapy Awards, even though his regular Daily HaHa posts are mainly just images ganked from the likes of 4chan. Humor is in very short supply amongst gamers, it seems.
Anyway, looking forward to PAX East at the end of this week, and have been going over my options for what to see and do. Meanwhile, I will be playing Cave Story. On my Wii.
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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Feeling too tired to delve deeper into the story-heavy Tales of Legendia, and knowing that Etrian Odyssey was much lighter in that respect, I finally got around to starting the latter this afternoon. I had bought a copy listed as “New” from an Amazon Marketplace seller several months ago. The shrinkwrapping was surprisingly poor for Atlus, the case had some minor imperfections, and though the manual was present and in perfect shape, the usual DS Health and Safety Guide was missing. That said, I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised to find a save file on the cart once I fired it up. I had never left feedback for the seller, and it’s way too late to do so now, but I did file a complaint regarding the wrongly-labeled condition of the item.
Anyway, the game. I’d been intimidated by Etrian Odyssey, which is my main reason for putting off playing it for so long. Not because of its storied difficulty, but because of the map-drawing mechanic. Somehow, I had gotten the impression that the mapping tools enabled players to design the dungeons, including item, event, and enemy placements. I don’t know why I thought this, as it makes no sense, but there you go. It turns out that the mapping tools are not there for design, but actual cartography. Unlike other dungeon crawlers, which automatically draw the maps for you as you explore them, Etrian Odyssey makes you do the hard work. Maps have to be painted in, walls drawn to denote borders, treasure locations noted, and so on.
All this takes place in the land of Etria, where there’s just a town, and a labyrinth of a forest. Officials in the town are rewarding adventuring guilds for exploring the labyrinth, and the player is in charge of such a guild. The town contains all the necessities: an equipment store, a guildhall to create and manage party members, a hotel to rest and save at, an apothecary for healing purposes, and so on, and then there’s the untamed wilderness of the labyrinth, filled with random battles against monsters and things to do and see.
Navigating in the towns is done entirely through menus, while travel in the dungeon takes place in a 3D first-person point of view on the top screen, and on the map grid on the bottom one. Battles are carried out in the classic Dragon Quest style: your entire party’s commands are entered in before each turn, and still images of the enemies are shown on-screen with accompanying battle effects. The difficulty of said battles lives up to the game’s reputation, and I expect it will only get harder from here. Also throughout the dungeon are treasures, odd crystals which I don’t quite know the purpose of yet, and little events that are activated either automatically, or when the A button is pressed after a prompt.
So far, I’ve completed just one mission, and found an odd loophole in the midst of it. The beginners’ mission requires talking to a knight stationed within the first floor of the labyrinth; he asks you to map out a certain area before letting you pass, in order to complete the first task of mapping said floor. However, after I’d satisfied the knight, I did some backtracking to find areas I’d been to before, but died in the middle of (the only save point that I know of so far is in town; fortunately, newly mapped areas can be saved when the Game Over screen is reached). In the middle of this backtracking, I found a place I hadn’t mapped that appeared to be within the boundaries that the knight had originally specified. I don’t know if this was an oversight, a bug, or if I really didn’t have to map the whole area, just most of it. Doubt it’s the latter, though, and a quick look at a GameFAQs doc verified that the knight wanted the whole space within the set boundaries mapped. It should be interesting to see if there are any other such quirks as the game goes on. So far, it’s got the simple atmosphere I was hoping for, and holds my interest enough to me to stick with it. Not sure if it’s “engrossing” yet, but I can certainly see it becoming so.
Special Stage: Totally unrelated, but I rambled on a bit about the Compilation of FFVII and related matters in my LJ early this morning. I hope at least some of it makes sense.