Fire Emblem: Chrom has his priorities straight

Thanks to the combined forces of Corona-chan, heavy rains locally, and a rapidly-dwindling work ethic, I have been getting some significant work done on pruning the backlog.

The most recent “big” game I’ve finished was Assassin’s Creed: Origins, which was an incredibly immersive experience that completely failed to stick the landing, to the point where I was very glad that there was an achievement that popped up to let me know that I’d finished the main story.  Still a very good game for the first 95%, though, and it means that I’ve finished every mainline AC game except Odyssey.  I may even be able to be completely caught up before AC: Vikings comes out in the fall.

Setting that aside, I’ve put about a dozen hours into Fire Emblem: Awakening so far, which I’m given to understand means that I have at least twice that to go.  Leaving TMS#FE aside, this is either my second or fourth Fire Emblem game, depending on how you count the paths in Fates, and it’s been a lot of fun so far.  Robin is kind of personality-free compared to Corrin from Fates, and Awakening has nowhere near the same waifu quotient, but the strategy gameplay is top-notch.

Looking back, I didn’t really understand the relationship system in Fates, and I’m not sure that any of my characters ever wound up married until I was playing the third game.  I’ve been focusing a little more on pairing characters up to boost their support ranks this time, and it has led to some really funny support conversations.

I am particularly fond of the way that Chrom expressed his undying love for Sumia.

Sadly, I missed my opportunity to recruit Tharja.  Since she features so prominently in TMS#FE, I assumed she was one of the main characters in Awakening and I was startled to find that she basically shows up in one battle and vanishes forever if you don’t recruit her at that point.

Anyway, it’s good times.  Now, if I can just get past the Chapter 12 battle that has me temporarily stymied…

 

Posted in 3DS, videogames | Leave a comment

A weird bit of Apple ephemera

Was digging through my drawer of assorted USB drives recently and stumbled across this thing.

Small plastic bear for scale.

If you bought a 2010 MacBook Air, which didn’t come with an optical drive, you got this in case you needed to reinstall the operating system.  Of course, they couldn’t give you just ANY pedestrian-looking USB thumb drive, so it’s tiny and slim and doesn’t have any ugly protective metal shield on the connectors.

I’ve never owned an Air, mind you.  I have this because, in 2010, I was working for my local university, and there was a professor who had a 2008 MBA and really wanted an upgrade.  As occasionally happens in these instances, they accidentally left their laptop on top of their car and then ran it over while backing out of their garage.

No, I’m not sure how you have something fall off your car while backing up and THEN run over it, especially in a way that would leave a perfectly-centered and flawlessly-parallel tread mark along the length of the computer.

It was not, however, my place to point this out to them.  My job was to take in the shards of what had once been a computer and issue them a new laptop.

Anyway, when I was setting up their new Mac, I asked them if they wanted the recovery key and they vaguely waved it away, which I took as justification to keep the thing.  I had to find a dodgy Chinese utility to unlock it and make it writable, but it’s a perfectly usable 8 GB thumb drive with a little story behind it.

Presumably, the computer it belonged to was dropped accidentally fell into a bathtub as soon as a newer model came out, but by then I was no longer working for the university.

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Assassin’s Creed III Remastered: A Second Chance to Make a Good Impression.

So, some open spoilers in this post, hopefully people will not be too upset as I’m talking about a game from 2012.

I originally played Assassin’s Creed III over the course of a weekend, shortly after release, skipping all of the side content because I wanted to push through all of the tedious bits where you’re playing as the world’s most boring assassin in the least interesting setting possible in order to finally find out what was going to happen with Desmond.

Then, when I finally found out what was going to happen with Desmond, I was in denial for a bit until ACIV came out and made it clear that, no, they were not going to do a AC game with him as the full-time protagonist and that the overarching story from the first five games was being binned in favor of games that leaned very hard into the historical tourism aspect and more-or-less ignored the modern day conflict.

So I have had something of a negative opinion of the game.

On the other hand, over the years I have heard several people say that the main story is bad, but that the side content makes up for it, and there’s always been a little bit of curiosity there.  Not enough to go back to the 20-frames-per-second make-some-tea-during-the-loading-screens PS3 version, but enough that when I got AC3 Remastered as part of a bundle I decided to give it a second go.

For comparison, back in 2013 it was 46 hours between my first and last trophy, and my in-game save said I’d been playing for 13:39.  On my replay, taking things a little slower, I played for 27:41 over 8 days.

For the record: The “angry Native American avenges his mother’s death while coincidentally being a major figure in every pivotal moment of the American Revolution” story is still roughly as bad as I’d remembered.

The side content, on the other hand, is more enjoyable.

There’s a quest chain where you collect doohickies for a guy who then gives you letters sent to Captain Kidd’s crew, and you follow those letters to find clues to eventually get a Cool Piece Of Gear.  I had not done this on my initial play through and was stunned to find out that there is a Mayan temple level in this game.

What in the hell.

There’s also a level that takes you to Edinburgh Castle.  Not THAT Edinburgh Castle, but the one in Jamaica.

There are over twenty missions that revolve around Connor building up a small town of colonists, making sure that the town has all the resources it needs to be independent and even helping with domestic issues like delivering a baby and helping a clueless dude woo his intended, because that’s the sort of thing you DO when you are hell-bent for revenge.

There are another set of missions built around naval combat, because being a ship’s captain just comes naturally to every dude raised in the woods.

Look, these just don’t make a damn bit of sense, and that’s largely why I ignored them on the first pass.  Knuckling down and doing all of them on the second pass made me realize:

This is the WEIRDEST damn game I have ever played.

Let me give you an example.

In other Assassin’s Creed games up to this point, you’d mostly purchased upgrades (bigger pouches, etc) from shops, so the acquisition process was (a) stab mans until you had money (b) exchange money for goods and services.

In Assassin’s Creed III, to upgrade one of your pouches: 

You need a pelt and some sewing thread. 

The pelt is easy. Find animal, stab animal, skin animal. Be sure that you don’t shoot it because using a firearm instantly ruins the pelt of anything you shoot. Alternately, if you have recruited a hunter for your homestead, you can buy the pelt from them.

To get the thread, you need to recruit a farmer and do farming missions to level them up so you can get wool. 

Then you need to find the recipe for sewing thread, in a specific chest in New York, which is inaccessible until late in the game. 

Then you need to recruit a tailor, who can make thread, and do tailoring missions to get them to the level where they can combine the thread and the pelt for you. 

OK, so that’s a convoluted way to upgrade your gear, but then it goes completely off the rails into should-I-have-a-spreadsheet?-land. 

Your homestead can product a huge range of various products, and you can ship these off to different markets and different shopkeepers and choose where you will sell them, and the different markets and shopkeepers all have different risk levels and tax rates assigned to them.  If you wanted, you could sit around for hours doing nothing but selling belts and buttons and plows and stomachache cures to Boston, or New York, or the Bahamas, depending on where they were in the most demand.  I did a little of this between missions and finished the game staggeringly rich.

There are also a bunch of British military forts scattered around the map, and Naval missions that you can run, and taking over these forts and doing these side missions gives you no direct reward, but lowers the taxes you will pay on your shipment and reduces the risk of your shipment being intercepted.  Because you may be a mass murderer but you are VERY concerned about taxes.

At this point, you might be forgiven for checking the front of the box to make sure that it says “Assassin’s Creed III” and that you didn’t bring the wrong thing home from the store.

So, in summary:  On a second run through AC3, knowing in advance that it was going to do the opposite of sticking the landing when it came to the Desmond story, I found myself actually enjoying it.  It made the bits where you are doing awesome parkour on skyscrapers even more disappointing, but I was able to push that down in my mind and focus on what the game DID have to offer.

I am also convinced that someone in a very important position at Ubisoft took the opportunity to make the crafting and trading game that they had always wanted to make, and had enough clout that they could get it done whether or not it belonged in a historical stabbing mans simulator.

Posted in videogames, Xbox One | Leave a comment

The Dark Souls of relaxing games

Played through Dark Souls again, which makes a sixth playthrough.  With the possible exception of the original Genesis/MegaDrive version of Sonic the Hedgehog, I think it’s the game that I have finished the most times.

Previously, I’ve played the original releases on PC and PS3 (once each), the PS4 remaster 2 and a half times to get the platinum trophy and the Switch version to see what handheld Souls would be like.  I really didn’t have a reason to play through the PC remaster, other than that I’d gotten it for free as an owner of the original release, but it has kind of become a game that I can just chill out and play from opening to end credits as a way to relax.

I skip most of the optional bosses, summon NPC helpers for the fights where I can, and I don’t stop to farm at any point except when I need to get a bunch of humanity to save Solaire from going insane.

I was going a little TOO fast this time, actually, and I wound up in the Duke’s Archives with a +7 Zweihander and a realization that everything takes more hits to kill when you only have a +7 weapon in the Duke’s Archives.

At that point, I did have to stop and kill the Tower Knight on the top of Sen’s Fortress a few times.  The difference between a +7 weapon and a +10 is huge, and a quick run through New Londo Ruins got that up to a +14, and things went much smoother for the rest of the back end of the game:

It took me nearly 11 hours in the Switch version, 15 hours in the PS3 version, 60 hours to clear the PC version the first time I played it and 65 hours for the Platinum trophy on PS4.  So I am getting my playtime down!

Still not going to be speed running any time soon.

And yes, my Chosen Undead was named Karen because the image of a knight in full plate armor with a massive 2-handed sword storming the parapets of Anor Londo and WANTING TO SEE THE MANAGER RIGHT NOW just made me giggle.

I only died to three bosses on this run – the Centipede Demon, Smough, and Ceaseless Discharge – and only once each.  I had several embarrassing deaths trying to run through the Catacombs to get to Pinwheel, but that’s what I get for trying to rush things.

Apart from that, I died a few times in the Duke’s Archives and once in the Crystal Caves because of a slippery path and a bottomless pit.  I also got invaded once, by someone who stopped and waved politely before proving that he was much better at PVP.  So really I didn’t see YOU DIED all that many times.

OK, OK, there were some deaths to the Anor Londo archers.  That’s rather embarrassing because I was used to just charging up the ramp and pancaking them with the Zweihander and I fell off the ledge three times before I remembered the trick to it.

I don’t think I could do this sort of relaxed run on any of the other games in the series.  Maybe DS2, though I don’t remember if it had many NPC summons you could call on and I always get bogged down farming a set of armor from the Iron Keep knights.  Certainly not 3.  Dark Souls 3 is not a mellow game.

Posted in PC Gaming, Souls | Leave a comment

I finished “Love Live: School Idol Festival” and survived

To get things out of the way:  Love Live: School Idol Festival is a free-to-play rhythm game with Gacha elements where you can tap your way through many cheery songs from the Love Live! and Love Live! Sunshine!! franchise, while collecting trading cards featuring the members of the various school idol groups and using them to build your own perfect team of idols.  It gates your playtime behind an energy mechanic, and collecting the best trading cards involves spending premium currency which you buy with real money.

I’ve played a few games like this, and LLSIF is by far the most casual-friendly of the lot.  I’ve been playing for nearly two years and have only spent six dollars in their shop – and that was because, after a year or so, I figured I should give them SOME sort of payment and bought the “welcome new player!” pack.

If all you want to do in the game is open it up on your commute and lose yourself in tapping icons rhythmically while the bus or train does the driving, it is perfect for that.  There are dozens of songs in the game, and I would put it WELL above the Vita Love Live! rhythm games that cost Y4800 each for a paltry song selection.

On the other hand, it also has a story mode, and a collectathon aspect, and that is where the game gets into grind and grind with a side order of grind and grind for dessert.  I don’t recommend you follow me down this rabbit hole.

There are two different long stories in LLSIF – 47 stories for μ’s and 36 for Aquors, each split into 4 chapters each.  Unlocking the Aquors story mode is trivial and largely consists of making sure that you have at least one Aquors character in each of your idol groups while playing songs, so I won’t go into it.

Unlocking the μ’s story mode is done by player level, which increases as you complete songs in the rhythm mode.  Playing songs at higher difficulty levels gives you more player xp.

The song difficulty levels are Easy, Normal, Hard, Expert and Master.  I generally do all right with Hard difficulty.

You need to reach level 155 to unlock the final μ’s story chapter.  If you started the game today and played exclusively “Hard” songs, it would take about 6000 songs to reach level 155.  They’re short songs, mind you, but even at three minutes or less there is a certain time commitment.

Fortunately, there are occasional 5x or even 10x XP events.  Of course, if you want to spam a lot of songs during these XP events, you will be running out of energy very quickly and spending premium currency to recover.  This could get expensive, if the game didn’t give you a persistent drip-feed of the premium currency for just opening the application and claiming your daily rewards every day.

So finishing the μ’s and Aquors story modes, like I did this week, really represents possibly the most time I’ve sunk into any game that wasn’t an MMO.  It doesn’t FEEL like it, though. Most days I spent less than a minute in the app, with occasional binges where I’d knock out 30 or 40 songs in a day.  Airports, in particular, were great occasions to just completely zone out and tap the screen to the accompaniment of cheerful tunes.

These two jpegs represent a staggering time commitment.

What elevates the game above the traditional predatory gacha nonsense is the fact that you don’t need to get the best cards to get to this point.  As long as you are hitting notes, you can complete every song using a team of the 9 most common free cards, and you would hit level 155 at the same speed as a whale who had spent hundreds of dollars to deck out their group in all the best Ultra Rare cards

Still, those common cards wouldn’t LOOK as pretty… and that’s where they hook the whales.

Here’s a typical rare card.  Despite the name, “Rares” are quite common and you can get these with non-premium currency.  The “1360”, “3040” and “1000” values on this card represent its strengths, which translate to the score you will get when hitting notes when using this card as one of your team members in the rhythm game.

If you get a duplicate of the same card, you can “idolize” the card by mashing the two together and getting an idol version of the same character.  The numbers don’t get any bigger, though.

Much cuter!  Now let’s take a look at an idolized Ultra Rare card.

OH MAH GOD IT’S SO SHINY.  AND THE NUMBERS ARE SO MUCH BIGGER.

Side note: this was an event UR, which means that I got it basically by logging in on the right day and playing the game, rather than spending money to get it from a random draw.  Actual random draw URs have numbers that are EVEN BIGGER.  If you want to chase the high scores, you want those big numbers.

Note also the “Level” and “Bond” here.  “Level” is the card level, which you increase by feeding other cards to this card.  So to get a level 100 UR card, I have shoveled an endless supply of lesser idols into Honoka’s gaping maw.

“Bond” is increased by using the card in your team, and the higher level cards have a higher bond cap.  When you both idolize a card AND reach its bond cap, it unlocks a side story, some of which are pretty hilarious.

EVERY CARD HAS A SIDE STORY.

THERE ARE OVER TWO THOUSAND CARDS.

When I said “grind, grind, and more grind”, this is what I was talking about.

If you wanted to build up a team of the absolute rarest and prettiest versions of your Love Live! waifus,  and get them to max level so their numbers were the highest possible, and just completely give up on life in general… you absolutely could!

To be clear, I do not recommend this.

Also, please do not lewd the Love Live! girls as they are in high school and you should have SOME standards.

You can lewd the third years if you must.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in iOS, videogames | 1 Comment

I am weak to cute things

I did not need a second Switch.

Technically, yes, I had a launch model that was hackable and I had no intentions of ever actually hacking it and so I can probably sell it for a decent sum, and even if I don’t do that my wife would probably like to have her own Switch to play her Otome games on without having to wade through my disturbing collection of strip Mahjong games, and I DO play a fair amount in handheld mode so the extended battery life in the new model is probably a good thing, but…

I really did not need this.  I haven’t even ever played an Animal Crossing game!

On the other hand, the pastel joycons are really cute.  And the white dock with the Tanuki on it is also cute.  And I am weak to cute things.

Besides, I just got my tax refund.  If I’m being honest, I had NOT received my tax refund at the point where I bought this but we will not go into that.

Transferring user data was pretty slick.  I have to give Nintendo credit there.  I understand that it doesn’t work for every title, but I don’t own any of the ones that it doesn’t work for.  I’m having to re-download all of my games because it deleted all of the ones that were on the SD card when I moved it from Switch A to Switch B, but right now Comcast has removed the bandwidth cap for residential customers so I don’t really mind all that much.

Anyway, now I can go back to playing the exact same games I was playing on the existing Switch.

Just slightly cuter.

 

 

Posted in Switch, videogames | 1 Comment

Birthday Party, Cheesecake, Jelly Bean, Boom

Social distancing continues.  From scrolling through social media, some of my friends and extended family are handling it better than others.

From the perspective of a Gen-Xer, however, it really hasn’t been that weird.  We grew up convinced that we were going to get blown up by nuclear war – or, worse, survive the war and need to live though the aftermath – and then after THAT seemed fairly unlikely we had the panic of wondering whether Bush was going to turn on the draft again and send us off to parts foreign to shoot at persons foreign.

Oh, then we had 9/11 right when my career should have been kicking into career mode, and the 2008 crash right when I had decided to go back to school to become a translator.

I also grew up making my own food from about the age of… I think I was trusted to work the oven at about 10 years old?  So a lot of my meals were “peel back corner of foil to expose tater tots” and the idea that you can get bored of eating the same thing every day is a little alien to me.

So, really, the last couple of months have been “oh, we’re having a global pandemic now? I haven’t seen one of those before.  Well, whatever.”

I really wanted an excuse to use this image.

My biggest source of stress, really, is that I work in – I hate this word – “cybersecurity”, which is a profession that is extremely busy right now.  Job security is nice and all, but I do occasionally wish that I could reach through the internet and throttle the people I work with.

After one particularly throttle-inspiring day, my wife suggested that I should sit down and play something familiar to relax me, which seemed like a great plan and which lead me to boot up Half-Life 2 for at least my fifth playthrough.  I originally played the astonishingly-good 2005 Xbox port and have gone through it twice in Windows and once on a Mac since then.

This time, I decided to give the Xbox 360 release a try – I wanted to see how the Xbox One X upscaling worked and it seemed like an easy way to rack up some cheap gamerscore.

I do like seeing numbers get bigger.

I’ve never pulled off the “Play through Ravenholm with the gravity gun” achievement, so I decided to give that a go this time.  It took a couple of retries on some of the bits where you are swarmed with fast zombies and don’t have a lot of convenient saw blades lying around, but I can mark this off the list:

I did NOT manage to get the Keep Off The Sand achievement, and I am mildly vexed by that.  Something for the future, there.

As for the upscaling, that turned out decently.  You get edges sharp enough to cut yourself on, albeit with some jaggies, and it’s really obvious what parts of the game are vintage 2004 bitmaps.  This is not a dsfix-for-Dark-Souls sort of revelation where it turns out that the low resolution was masking really nice textures, but it gets rid of the softness you’d see when running a 720p game on a modern 4k set and that’s really all I had hoped for.

You should be able to click on this to get the full 4k image, please excuse me for the 1.6 MB file.

A scripted event like this is probably the worst-case scenario for showcasing the upscale, since you’re just standing around listening to Eli and Alyx talk and have plenty of time to look at control panels.  When the game is in motion and you are trying to insert Bullet A into Combine Soldier B, you don’t really have time for that.

For comparison’s sake, I loaded up the Steam version and set it to 4k.  It looked pretty much identical, which was surprising.  I would have expected higher-resolution textures on the PC side of things.

There’s probably a mod for that.

Anyway, on a fifth playthrough, I have come to the conclusion that the game peaks with the “Sandtraps” level and that the Nova Prospekt / Entanglement / Anticitizen One / Follow Freeman! levels could stand to be about half as long as they are.  The Big Damn Climactic battle with all of the Striders in Follow Freeman!, especially, just seemed to drag on and on.  I do not remember the Striders needing seven rockets EACH to take down, nor do I remember there being FIVE of them in that fight.

If I ever go for a sixth run, I will probably just play up through Sandtraps, level-skip to Our Benefactors, and call it good.

Posted in videogames, Xbox One | Leave a comment