So, about sixty hours over the last couple weeks sunk into re-playing Dark Souls II because I wanted to check out the changes for the Scholar of the First Sin edition and I wanted to play the three DLC expansions that came with the PS4 version. This probably wasn’t the BEST use of time, but now I know what people are talking about when they grouse about the Fume Knight fight and now I have a sense of shared pain with everyone who’s done it before me.
Actually, the Fume Knight fight may just be my favorite example of what is so addictive about these games, though that may just be the masochism talking. He has no gimmicks, there’s no long run back to him, and he will absolutely kill you in two hits, three if you’re lucky… but he also only has about six moves in his arsenal, and once you’ve learned what each move looks like, and how to dodge it, and what you can do AFTER dodging it… well, then it’s just a matter of playing it until you get through the fight without making mistakes.
I was expecting a serious difficulty spike from the SotFS edition, and there definitely was one in some of the early zones, but I think it’s balanced out by the sheer number of NPC summons that you can use to help you on boss fights and the improvements to where items are placed – the vanilla game frequently had you going well out of your way to find keys and quest items (Dull Ember and Lost Sinner Key, I am looking at YOU) and the remix puts them right in your path where you find them during normal zone exploration.
A second playthrough did make me realize that there really is an awful lot of filler in between talking to Vendrick and then going down to the Throne of Want for the final boss fight. I suspect FROM recognized some of that when they added the zipline that lets you skip an entire zone. 🙂
Anyway, that’s done and I can stop dreaming in iframes now.
If I don’t post for a while, it’s usually because I’m playing one MMO or another and am in the incredibly addictive pre-level-cap feedback loop part of the game.
This is not the case.
Rather, I’m playing Dark Souls II again, and justifying it to myself as being a completely different game because I’m playing the “Scholar of the First Sin” edition, which was a remixed version of the game meant to address complaints that the initial DS2 release was lacking in difficulty.
As a bee-tee-dubya, it decidedly succeeds in this goal. One of the first zones that you can reach in the game is a zone called “Heide’s Tower of Flame”, which is a bit forgettable in the original and which serves mostly to be a crossroads to take you to a couple of boss fights.
The remixed version is, well, rather more memorable. By the time I GOT to the boss fights, my personal How To Souls level had gone up more than a few times, and both bosses were pushovers compared to basic enemies from the zone I’d had to go through to reach them.
But I’m going a little too in-depth here. It’s harder, it’s still brilliant to play, the co-op portion of the game is still very active, not much more needs to be said.
Other recent games played include Titanfall 2, which jumped right to the top of my Favorite FPS Campaigns Of All Time list (PLAY THIS IF YOU CAN, IT’S FREQUENTLY HEAVILY DISCOUNTED AND OMG BEST ROBOT PAL EVER) and 7th Dragon III:VFD, a 3DS RPG mostly notable for letting me play as an old dude with white hair surrounded by cute girls. It also gets some extra points from me for being ALL about the buffs and debuffs you use in combat; JRPGs are infamous for boss encounters that are immune to status effects and this one thankfully abandons that trope.
Another day, another mahjong game. This time, Idol Janshi Suchie-Pai IV – the last entry in the series and not a bad way to wrap things up.
Fourteen years passed between the first Suchie-Pai game, a Super Famicom cartridge from 1993, and this late PS2 release, and the characters know it. The characters know each other, they have memories of earlier days, and for a mahjong game it has a lot of talking – some of it very self-aware. For example, the first opponent you defeat tearfully starts taking off her outfit, because that’s what you DO when you lose at mahjong, and the main character quickly stops her with a “No, no, we don’t do that in this day and age.”
So, while Japanese knowledge isn’t essential, the game is a lot funnier with at least a basic understanding.
As usual, the plot is just there to move things along. The You & Me game center, a setting in the first games in the series, has closed down and been replaced with Maid Cafe You & Me, with the player as the manager of the cafe and tasked with running around Akihabara to poach maids from OTHER establishments. That’s a bit of an in-joke in itself, considering when this came out and how arcades were on the downturn but you couldn’t throw a rock in Akiba without it bouncing off a frilled skirt.
Naturally you do this by challenging them to mahjong, although at least one of the maids you run into is just tired of her current job and comes back to You & Me without a fight.
Matches are broken up with little skits, though of course you can just skip them if you don’t follow the language. They’re very energetic, with lots of animation and vocal emotion, and I kind of want to make avatar images out of the little talking heads.
The last boss is the series mascot, Miyuri. I’m not sure if this is actually the first time you play mahjong against her – in previous entries, she’s just been someone you bump into and who tells you where to find your next opponent or so on. She DEFINITELY wasn’t an opponent in any of the games where clothes actually go flying, for obvious reasons.
Anyway, Miyuri cheats. Like, oh my God, you would not believe how evil this little girl is, especially as she’s always talking about how she doesn’t know how to play and acting all nervous about her tiles and then lays down a yakuman and giggles about how “mahjong is fun!”
Srsly evil. SO many Game Over screens. Fortunately the game comes with unlimited continues, and it finally decided I had suffered enough and gave me a winning hand of a kind I had NEVER seen before. Like, it laid my tiles down for me, and the little “press O to tsumo” prompt popped up, and I looked at the tiles, and I looked at the “would you like to win now?” prompt, and I looked at the tiles again and pressed O assuming that there was some mistake, and…
I had to look this up, because wut.
It turns out to be a very weird win condition – basically, a win condition that only shows up when you have a draw that is SO awful that it’s actually almost impossible to have such a bad hand. I will let Wikipedia explain it:
I had a bit of a hard time laying my hands on a copy of Suchie-Pai IV in Japan, and it took several trips to random Book-Offs and Mandarakes before I found a copy, but it was worth the hunt. After playing several Saturn mahjong games, the change to PS2-era resolution and animation quality was a heck of a jump, and it was good times spending a few hours with the familiar characters.
Even if Miyuri IS evil.
Well, ok, I guess, the series has a lot of fans, and I liked playing the Ninja Gaiden characters in Warriors Orochi 3 so I’ll at least look at a trailer…
…it’s too long until August 29th. GIVE IT TO ME NOW.
Uh, where was I?
Oh, yes. Rule of Rose. A game which is a bit tricky to talk about because it’s very difficult to separate the good bits (It has a really twisted and creepy story, which is probably why you are playing horror games in the first place) from the bad (the actual game bits of the game). Nonetheless, let’s give it a go here.
First, the bits I liked:
The story, as mentioned, is creepy as all get out and I did not expect it to go where it eventually went. There’s some things in here that would be bad enough if it were adults doing horrific things to adults, but this adds the extra shock value of “kids sure are awful, aren’t they?” on top of those. Seriously, this is not a happy world to be in.
Also your character – Jennifer, that’s her name, forgot it for a minute – has a dog who is just the best dog. Seriously, 10/10 on the doggo scale.
Furthermore, the bulk of the game is set on a massive dirigible, which is an uncommon setting and which has a lot of visual information to help keep you from getting turned around.
This is an important thing, and it’s something that a lot of games do not do well, so I thought it deserved its own side note. Being able to communicate a good world to players is a hard thing for games to do well, because it involves giving lots of cues and landmarks. Shenmue II, as an example of a game I played earlier this year, plasters every available surface with signs and shopfronts and visually distinct NPCs. There’s no quest marker or compass happily floating at the top of the screen, because it isn’t necessary – the game has so many things to navigate by that getting lost is a rare event.
Then there’s the bad, starting with Jennifer, who is roughly the most passive character in the history of fiction. I think you’re expected to cheer her on, being the main character and all that and inasmuch as horrible things she doesn’t deserve are generally happening to her… but at the same time, she needs a good pep talk and spine implant.
Chapter transitions take place when you faint. You faint a lot. I can’t put into words how much that annoys me.
When you aren’t fainting, your character is suffering through a fairly tedious Silent Hill knockoff. Lots of corridors with locked doors, keys to find, random puzzles to figure out. The pain of this part is somewhat alleviated by aforementioned doggo, who can be given items to sniff and who will usually lead you directly to the next required puzzle piece.
Also, the fairly straightforward dirigible bit is followed by one of the most tedious segments I’ve suffered through, where you wander through the confusing halls and rooms of a massive mansion until people throw enough wadded-up notes at you to trigger the final boss fight.
I’m not making that up. Eventually I needed to pull up a walkthrough to find “oh, here is the threatening note that I haven’t had thrown at me yet. I need to go into the library, then leave the library, then go into the sewing room and leave the sewing room, and that will trigger the last event so I can get on with the game.”
According to the helpfully-timestamped save files, I was stuck in this last bit for the best part of two hours, all of it with the same bit of music repeating over and over and over and I will hear it in my dreams.
So that’s bad, but I have saved the worst part of the game for last, and that’s the combat system.
I don’t expect that your average British girl from the 1930s is going to go all Heather Mason when confronted with eldritch horrors. I expect a certain degree of squeamishness and the like, and that’s OK. Jennifer, well… every swing, no matter the weapon, is this sort of half-hearted wiggling of whatever you have in your hand in the general direction you’re facing. She frequently turns her head away from the weapon and just kind of pokes with it. There is so little IMPACT to your actions that I entertained the thought that your enemies might just be falling over out of embarrassment.
You’re not expected to fight everything, thankfully, and the best course of action is generally to shuffle – I refuse to call it a “run” – past the enemies.
…BUT. There are some mandatory combat sequences, and one of them in particular nearly broke me. Let me see if I can describe the mechanics without giving too much story away here.
So, you’re in a room, and your opponent is strung from the ceiling by means of a pulley system. They swoop down in a random, take a couple of swipes at you, and then get pulled back into the ceiling. Not so bad so far.
When swooping, or sometimes post-swoop while they’re danging there, they spew out this repulsive green poison vomit stuff. If you get stuck in it, it hurts you AND reduces your walking speed to nearly zero, so you will take a lot more damage while trying to get out of it. The associated sound effects are… unpleasant.
OK, so, not the worst boss fight ever YET, just annoying?
The boss takes a massive amount of damage before dying, more than anything else in the game, to the point where I wonder if it wasn’t maybe actually a bug. It took me 36 – I started counting, after the first couple of attempts – thirty-six hits with a meat cleaver to bring the boss down, and I could only connect with her once or twice per swoop and only if the swoop happened to be in a part of the room close to me, and only if she swooped down facing a direction where the initial vomit spew was facing away from me.
Oh, and there’s zero feedback to tell you that you’re actually bringing their life down. There’s a blood spray when you hit them, sure, but no health bar or limping or anything to tell you that you’re actually hurting them – and with as many hits as it takes, it FEELS like one of those video game fights where you needed to do a side quest to get the super secret weapon that can actually damage the boss, and don’t you feel silly for coming in here without it?
So, to sum it up, I don’t normally file games under “better on Youtube” but I’m going to put this one squarely into that file. It could have been brilliant if they’d worked on the actual game parts of it a little more, but as it is… there are better ways you could spend a dozen hours of your life.
On the bright side, I DID get this thing out of a clearance bin for a shade under $12 back in the day and apparently it’s quite rare and I stand to turn a little bit of a profit on it. I will feel bad for inflicting this on its future owner, but hopefully they know what they’re buying.
The last time I booted up Disney Infinity, it was April of last year and the game hadn’t yet gotten the axe. I had just gotten the Inside Out playset and spent a very enjoyable weekend day running around in it.
Anyway, I knew that the lights had been turned off on it, and I’d taken advantage of clearance sales to pick up the last few figures and playsets I wanted, but this still stung a bit when I started up the game:
It stung even more when I put the Finding Dory playset piece on its base and got a little ways into it, because it is really obvious that the folks at Avalanche had finally gotten to break out of their rut when they made it and I really want to see what they were planning to do with Moana and the other stuff they were working on.
To put it simply: In the Finding Dory playset, you go through a bunch of levels looking for fish to save, and your goal is generally to save X fish in Y time… but there are areas you can’t open up when you play them the first time, and then as you progress through the game you get new traversal abilities, and those let you go back to those earlier levels and now you can open up new paths and…
THIS IS METROID. WITH FISH.
So I played through What-if-Samus-Was-A-Super-Scatterbrained-Blue-Tang, and then I started looking for other playsets I hadn’t completed yet.
The first was Star Wars: Twilight of the Republic, which was 100% still in the general rut of how Disney Infinity playsets were designed. You get to run around worlds from <property>, there’s a general storyline but a ton of inane little side quests, there are high spots of absurdity…
…in this image, I am riding a Bantha on Coruscant, having just found all of its babies and delivered them to a pen for safety. In the main storyline, someone is trying to build an army of killer robots. I’ll get back to those killer robots soon enough, but right now it’s time to herd Banthas.
And, there are low spots. Like, the last level, where you are guided through the entire level by, God, I’m not even going to type the name, I’m just going to put a couple of screenshots here and you can imagine the pain. All dialogue is fully voiced, by the way. If you are masochistic, you can read these to yourself in HIS voice.
…so, if I’m honest, that was a bit of a low point. It was, at least, followed by a REALLY good boss fight to wrap up the playset.
That brings us, then, to the final playset on my stack, and the one that really shows what could have, and should have been done with the franchise, because it’s Toy Box Speedway, a game in which you can take any of your Disney Infinity figures, and stick them in karts based on a weird mix of the game’s franchises, and race around any of nine tracks based on different Disney properties, and it makes no sense at all but when I am drifting around the streets of San Fransokyo as Quorra from Tron: Legacy riding the log from the Splash Mountain ride at Disneyland and firing machine guns at Hawkeye in his little go-kart, it doesn’t have to make sense. It’s too pure, too beautiful for this world. Nothing gold can stay.
It supports local co-op, at least, so even though the servers are shut down and buried it will be something I can drag out the next time I have a friend over.
Ironically, the last bits of Disney Infinity stuff I have yet to play are the sets that came with Disney Infinity 1.0, because I didn’t get in to the game until they put out the Marvel characters. That’s for another time.