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I thought I knew what these words meant

August 23, 2015

…but, trust me, right now I’m hoping they don’t mean what I think they mean.  And, even if there’s a less-disturbing meaning, I still don’t think this is anything I’d want to put on my hair.

henna_n_placenta

Seriously, you could print “Completely reverses the effects of male pattern baldness” on the front of this bag and I think it would still be a hard sell.

 

Waifus In Spaaaaaaaace

August 22, 2015

Star_Ocean_The_Last_HopeI really don’t play a ton of JRPGs – not because I dislike the genre, but because they tend to be rather long affairs and I just don’t have the hours to devote to them like I did back when my “backlog” consisted of a shelf of about a dozen SNES and Genesis cartridges.  In the time it takes to grind through a single Epic Story Wherein An Amnesiac Youth Discovers A Massive Conspiracy And Saves The World, I can play five or six games In Which A Grizzled Combat Veteran Shoots A Lot Of People In The Head In The Name Of Peace.

That said, I got sold on Star Ocean: The Last Hope: International for two reasons:

First, the character designs are pretty cool.

Second, the main character’s name is EDGE MAVERICK.

You have to say it like that, by the way.  All capitals are very important when it comes to EDGE MAVERICK.

Anyway, I’ve put about eight hours in so far and I’m liking it a lot.  I did hit a bit of a roadblock in the form of the game’s second real boss fight, but looking around online suggests that I just came at it way under level and need to back off and do some old fashioned grinding before making a second attempt.

RememberMe

Before I got going on Star Ocean, though, I needed a game to run through to try out a new video card, and I decided that it was a good time to finally play Remember Me.  It’s very pretty, the Future Paris it’s set in is a place I’d like to see more of, and the main character is definitely someone who deserves a sequel, so I hope it gets one.  It’s also been given away to PS+ subscribers and regularly sees huge discounts on Steam, so I suspect that it did not meet sales goals and a sequel is a pipe dream.  So it goes.

I also finally GET that there is a standardish control layout for 3rd-person action games, much like the very standard control layout used by virtually every console FPS since Halo, and I feel a bit daft for not picking up on it previously.  Now, if only fighting games could settle on a standard…

 

Stabbity Stabbity Pokey Pokey

August 10, 2015

It’s been a while since I’ve finished two games on the same day, and I honestly don’t know if there are two games in my collection that could possibly be any more different.

rubrabbitsThe Rub Rabbits! is a prequel to the earlier game, released in the US as Feel The Magic XX/XY, is pretty much identical to the earlier game in that it is a collection of weird mini-games that you, as the player, must guide the main character through if he is to ever win his true love.  It’s a game that could only have been released as a retail game during that weird period where the touchscreen on the DS was something new and novel; these days it would probably be written off as a cheap mobile game and sold for 0.99 on the app store.

It’s hilarious nonetheless.  There aren’t many games that ask you to hit your friends on their heads to knock them out, then quickly bury them in snow before a roaming bear can find them, or that set you the task of picking fruit by throwing your girlfriend into the trees and catching what comes down, or that have you tied up and rolling around a mansion’s foyer trying to avoid shots fired from your obsessed stalker’s “love cannons” on the balcony.

To add to the bizarre factor, this thing came out of Sonic Team and was produced by Yuji Naka.  It has a heck of a pedigree for a mini-game compilation album.

If you have a few hours and a DS lying around, I daresay that checking out both games is worth it.  Maybe Sega will even dig them out some day and throw them up for iDevices and Androids, they’re pretty much made for it.

I’m not sure which DS game I’ll hit next.  I put Theresia in and gave it fifteen minutes before I decided not to continue.  It has fantastic sound design and a delightful level of “creepy” to recommend it, but the graphics are just too grainy to think about staring at them for the twenty hours or so it would take to play through.

ninjagaidensigma2frontChanging the tone completely from The Rub Rabbits!, I cranked out the last three levels of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 tonight.  I was playing on “Acolyte”, which is basically the equivalent of the first game’s “Ninja Dog” mode, so I don’t know that I can take TOO much pride in seeing the end credits roll, but I’m going to take the W and not worry too much about the details.

Like the first “Sigma” game, this is an updated and expanded version of Ninja Gaiden 2, with selectable difficulty levels and three added levels where you play as different characters and get a little more backstory.   When the game came out, these were a little infamous for the added Sixaxis motion controls, but I didn’t find them particularly distracting – more like nice changes of pace from the ever-raising stakes of the Ryu levels.

It’s possibly the best Pure Goddamned Action game I’ve played, with levels that are over-the-top but don’t have the heavy camp factor of Oneechanbara.  The first level alone is worth the price of admission, a chase through a future Tokyo where all skyscrapers in Japan are topped with neon-covered pagodas and you fight a King Kong-sized Buddha statue as the level’s mid and final boss.  I’d seen it before, in the form of a Dead or Alive 5: Last Round stage, and I confess to a faint squeal of fanboy ecstasy when I recognized it.

If I have one quibble with the Dead or Alive / Ninja Gaiden universe, though, it’s that I have a really hard time keeping track of exactly how many hidden ninja villages there are on and around Mount Fuji. I don’t think, for example, that the Hayabusa and Hayate clans are from the same village, and then there’s the Black Spider Clan’s village, and there might be a couple of others.  My experience visiting Mount Fuji was that there were mostly just a bunch of tourists climbing it because it was there.

…though, I guess, if there WERE ninjas, I probably wouldn’t have seen them.  Something to think on.

I had a hard time finding this for reasonable prices used in the US, but I lucked into a cheap copy of the “Premium Box” edition when I was in Japan last year. It included the game, the soundtrack, a few cheap character goods, and a slim artbook/strategy guide for about Y2000, which was DEFINITELY in my price range.  It also booted up and realized that I was using a US PS3, so the entire game was in English and used X to confirm and O to cancel.  Honestly, if the manual hadn’t been in Japanese, I would have thought that I was reverse-importing a US copy that had somehow made its way to Akihabara.

 

Numbers! Part Two

August 9, 2015

Warning: Dreadfully dull post full of navel gazing ahead.

Last year around this time, I realized that I’d been keeping track of my backlog progress for seven years, and that I’d finished 250 games in those seven years, and then I spent some time breaking that down into numbers.

With another year down, and since I’ve been really trying to hit the backlog hard, I thought I’d follow it up with a sequel.

I’ve finished 62 games and expansions in the last year, which is pretty nuts.  I’ll admit that there are a couple of very short games in the mix there, and at least one shmup that I hated so much that I credit-fed to the end without shame.  Those are balanced out, I think, by the 150+ hours I put into Skyrim/Dragonborn/Dawnguard and the let’s-not-talk-about-it number of hours I spent finishing a pair of Everquest expansions.

By system, it breaks down to PC (27), PS4/PS3/PS2/Vita/PSP (16), Xbox/360/Windows Phone (13), and WiiU/Wii/3DS (6).   Only 13 of the games I finished were on portable systems.

The single biggest category was FPS (11), followed by Hidden Object (9) mostly because those have proven a fun way for my wife and I to spend a weekend evening.  The only other categories to break 5 games played were Rhythm (6), 3rd-person action (5), Horror (5) and Shmup (5).

All of those 3rd-person-action games were from the “Character Action Game” subgenre, which is basically a name created by people who want to make it very clear that they play Manly Action Games For Real Manly Men, rather than “Push A For Awesome” games like Assassin’s Creed.  That was Killer Is Dead, Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae, Oneechanbara Z2 Chaos and El Shaddai.

It is possibly the dumbest distinction I have come across in the gaming community, but there you have it.  It’s a pretty fun subgenre, anyway, if you can ignore the chest-thumping.

Surprisingly, considering all the jokes I make about fan-servicey games, I only played 5 that I’d put into the “Questionable” category.  While my mother might make disparaging comments about me wasting my life if she happened to visit, at least there weren’t many games I’d feel embarrassed about having left out on the coffee table.

Anyway, a very productive year of gaming.  I’ll hopefully forget to do this again next year :)

 

How many barrels will thy vengeance yield thee?

August 8, 2015

fable_age_01_titleCall me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse and a fondness for digital entertainment,  I thought I would sail about the iOS app store and see what could be found.

Since then, I have played a good number of “free-to-play” games, and it’s been a very small fraction of those that have felt, well, “fair” is probably the best description.    The first Fantasy Defense game is my best example of that – it was absolutely free to download and play, and I was eventually able to clear the game without spending a dime in the in-game store.

I did buy some random currency for $5 AFTER I cleared it, mind you, because it was a fantastic game and the developers deserved to get paid.

Rare positive examples aside, I’ve tried a ton of games that turned out to be thinly-disguised whale hunts.  Montowers was a particularly grotesque example, and Gameloft’s My Little Pony was infamous for a) being targeted at preteen girls and b) having a main quest line that couldn’t be completed without dropping a couple hundred dollars on virtual ponies.

fable_age_03_collectionThat leads me to Fable Age, which came to my attention by way of my wife, who is something of a nightmare for developers; a white whale if you will, because she has a tremendous patience when it comes to extracting fun from these games without spending money on frivolous stamina refreshes and one-time power ups.

I think that is probably as far as I can stretch the Moby Dick references without actually reading the damn thing.

Anyway. Fable Age, a game where you collect characters from NOT DISNEY versions of fairy tales DID WE MENTION THESE ARE NOT THE DISNEY CHARACTERS, take them into battle in “quest books”, match colorful gems, watch damage numbers dance above the heads of your opponents, watch damage numbers dance above the heads of your characters when your opponents retaliate, and generally try to get a lot more of column A than column B.  At the end of each chapter of the quest book, you get some loot, which you can use to power up your characters.  Occasionally this loot contains another character, though they’re generally fairly low-powered.  At the end of every quest book (usually 3 to 5 chapters), you get a “Fable Stone”, which is the game’s premium currency.  Collecting five of these allows you to get a much more powerful random character.  Collect characters, level them, collect more characters, rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat.

fable_age_05_combatWhen in combat, you do damage by matching colorful gems.  When you clear out gems, other gems cascade down to take their place, and of course sometimes THESE gems form chains and there are happy explosions and enthusiastic music.

There’s more to it, of course – your characters all have special attacks which power up over time, and there are mechanics based around the color (element) of your characters and the color/element of the thing you are trying to defeat, and you have a resource (“links”), which allows you chain together strings of unlike colors to make longer combos, and your characters have passive effects which affect damage, or which increase elemental resistances, or which boost the number of links you have, and it’s actually a little deep if you get into it.

But at its core, it’s all about sliding your finger over pretty colors, watching the numbers fly, and building up teams of cute fairy-tale characters to kick assorted arse and take assorted names.

It has a pretty interesting way of gating content based on player level, as an aside.  Undertaking quests takes a certain amount of stamina, and your maximum stamina increases with level.  If you’re low level with 15 stamina, and you’re looking at an optional quest with a 25 stamina cost, you know you’re not ready for it.  When you DO get up to a level where you have 25 stamina and you’re looking at that same quest, you’re weighing the odds of actually beating the thing versus the odds of spending your entire stamina pool and having nothing to show for it.  As silly as that sounds, it can actually get a little tense.

fable_age_02_booksFortunately, quests with that high of stamina costs are strictly side quests so far.  There are thirty “quest books”, and the chapters in these come with single-digit stamina costs, at least as far as I’ve seen.  You can play a ton of them without worrying about running out of stamina too quickly.  It’s honestly, well, fair.

I know, I’m shocked too.

Now, if you want the absolute best characters, you’re probably going to be shelling out actual cash.  Likewise, if you can’t put the thing down and do something else when you run out of stamina and need to wait for it to recharge, you’re going to suffer the costs of impatience.

On the other hand, I’ve managed to get some pretty powerful heroes from the scarce few pieces of premium currency that I’ve gotten through game play, and it’s very much a game that I’m able to play for 15 or 20 minutes and walk away from, so I’ve had a lot of fun with it so far and managed to avoid temptation in the process.

To sum up: A surprisingly fair free-to-play game with cheery graphics and music and all the carefully-calculated endorphin releases you could hope for.

Take it away, Melville.

Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.

THE END

False Idols

August 4, 2015

megpoid_the_music#After knocking the K-On! rhythm game out of the backlog last week, I went back to the PSP shelf, picked up Megpoid The Music#, booted it for long enough to do the data install, and stuck it in my bag to play during my lunch breaks at work.

Yes, the “#” is part of the name, and it’s pronounced “Megpoid the Music Sharp”.  I do not lie.

After a few minutes playing, I made a major assumption.  It turned out to be very wrong, but more on that in a moment.

It felt very much like a quick-and-dirty Project Diva knock-off, and I figured that it had been pushed out the door in late 2009 to cash in on the Miku craze.  From that perspective, I was willing to forgive it some of its faults – like a constant barrage of “now loading” screens, a lack of auto-save, a painful “hitch” when changing outfits, and songs that are embarrassingly short – we’re talking less than two minutes in many cases.

(The songs are good, mind you – there are some very catchy tunes on this disc.  They’re just very, very short)

Then, having made this initial assumption, I looked the game up online, because I was curious who the main character was.

That was… a eye opener.

It turns out that this actually came out in 2013 – and, from that perspective, it’s really hard to look at it too charitably.  It STILL feels like a quick-and-dirty Project Diva knockoff, or maybe just a promotional tool to boost the popularity of the Megpoid Vocaloid production software, but it’s a promotional tool that they had the nerve to charge Y5800 for.

(There was also a collector’s edition, which came with a figure.  It originally retailed for Y9698.   If you’d like a copy, Amazon Japan has new copies in stock, priced to move at Y2800.)

Thankfully, I picked it up used in July of 2014, and I think it cost me something like Y480. I got Y480 worth of game out of it.

For extra weird factor, this isn’t available on the PSN store – so either it was a UMD-only release in 2013, or it got pulled down at some point.   If you could play it on a Vita, it might at least help with the loading times, but it looks like that just isn’t an option.

I still have one more rhythm game to play from my 2014 used-game-shopping binge, and that one will have me breaking out my 9-year old Coral Pink Nintendo DS Lite, just for old time’s sake.  Kind of looking forward to it, to be honest – the Vita and 3DSXL are phenomenal game systems, but the PSP and DS Lite NAILED the “portable” aspect of the portable game system.

Hey now, Hey now, Ika Ika Un-day

August 3, 2015

I’ve been playing Splatoon in a very relaxed fashion since its release, finishing the single player, doing some Amiibo challenges, logging on for Splatfests, that sort of thing.  I saw people at the level cap of twenty within its first week of release, but I didn’t see any reason to emulate them.  Just playing in a relaxed fashion was about to slowly grind my way up the levels.

Then Nintendo released the August patch notes, which include a level cap increase from 20 to FIFTY.

This comes with a new scoring system, cribbed from the Splatfest system, and I’m not fond of it in the least.

Right now, it’s pretty easy to get about 900 points in a round of Turf War.  I have games where I can hit the 1200 mark and some where I get shut down, but let’s average at 900.  With a win, there’s a bonus of 300 points – an extra 33%.  This is a pretty good perk, but it’s nothing to rant about if you don’t get it.

In Splatfest scoring, you get 2 points on a loss – assuming you’ve done a bare minimum – and 5 points on a win.  That’s an extra 150% win bonus, and it makes losses REALLY sting.

I’m pretty sure I’ll never have the drive to hit level 50.  That said, I wanted to at least TRY to get to 20 before the patch…

WiiU_screenshot_TV_01769

…and made it with a couple of days to spare, even, thanks to a string of really good teams.

Splatoon has been a genuinely new experience for me – it’s the first time I’ve ever gotten in to a multiplayer-focused game from the ground floor, and it has been a ton of fun to watch the game evolve.  I’m a little anxious about what the Big Dang Patch is going to bring – the level cap increase also comes with a bunch of map tweaks and special weapon changes – but it’s been a fun ride so far. :)

 

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