I just played, like, 25 hours of Batman: Arkham Knight

I’m usually a few years behind the curve when it comes to big-budget games, because they have a tendency to launch at sixty bucks and my price point is usually about a third of that.  In the case of Batman: Arkham Knight, I’d heard enough mixed reviews that I held out until it dropped down to ten before I decided to take the plunge.

(And then I still sat on it for like a year before starting it.)

Thanks to those mixed reviews, I knew that there were two things that tended to annoy people about this particular iteration of the Arkham series, and I was prepared to be slightly annoyed by both in turn.  The first, and most common, complaint is that the super secret “true” ending is locked behind a mountain of pointless busywork, and the second is that you spend a lot of time participating in tank battles, which didn’t make a ton of sense to me at the time.

Both of these complaints are completely valid, and the whole tank battle thing makes a lot more sense now that I’ve actually played the game. The Arkham Knight incarnation of the Batmobile shifts between regular car mode and… well, to be honest, something that looks so much like a Tachikoma that I shall henceforth refer to it as the Batchikoma.  While in Batchikoma mode, you spend an awful lot of time blowing up swarms of REMOTELY PILOTED AND COMPLETELY UNMANNED DRONES, because Batman of course would never blow up a vehicle with a dude inside.  He’s very firm on the whole no-killing thing, after all, and also on the no-guns thing even though the Batchikoma is bristling with machine guns and cannon.

Come to think of it, the Batmobile in the 1989 movie had machine guns, I think.  Maybe it’s just a case of guns you hold are bad but guns mounted on your car are super cool?

This is probably something that doesn’t bear close examination.

Anyway, the joy of every Arkham game (Asylum excluded, due to its smaller scope) comes from bat-roping and gliding around a dingy and decaying, but beautifully-detailed Gotham City, full of people that you can punch without moral qualms because they are Bad People, and Arkham Knight’s Gotham is a wonderful playground of punching.  There’s a main plot, of course, revolving around Scarecrow and the titular Arkham Knight and their evil plan to do evil things, but there are subplots wherein many other Bat-villains show up to do villainous things necessitating their being punched into submission, and the DLC adds even more side stories.  If you have a favorite Bat-villain (and if they haven’t died in a previous entry of the Arkham series), they probably make an appearance, or at least get a mention. Heck, even some of the dead ones show up again because Reasons.

Yes, I’m a big old nerd and loved hearing a couple of random thugs debating the differences between Cluemaster and The Riddler.

What I’m getting at is that this is a really comprehensive Bat-simulator and Bat-history review, and I got thoroughly hooked on it.  Not QUITE to the point of getting the Super Secret Ending, mind you… but enough that I completed the main story (for ending A) and went back to clean up side stories for a few hours so I could get ending B legitimately rather than just YouTubing it.

My one quibble, to add to the complaints I’ve already addressed, is that Batman in this game is a colossal Bat-jerk.  Like, I have to wonder whether the writers read All-Star Batman and Robin…

…and took it seriously, because Batman in Arkham Knight is the most Goddamn Batman version of the Goddamn Batman ever.  You spend most of the game lying to allies or treating them like garbage, while rebuffing any offers of help.  You’re even a dick to Alfred, man. Alfred.

I mean, sure, dead parents, dark vengeance, I AM THE NIGHT, blah blah blah, but sheesh turn down the grimdark a touch there, Bruce.

Anyway.  Arkham Knight. Good times.  Makes me kinda want to go back and give Asylum and City another go.  Probably shouldn’t do that while I still have stuff on the backlog to play.  Most of what I have left to play is JRPGs.  This may hurt a little.

Posted in PS4, videogames | Leave a comment

I just played, like, 75 hours of Fire Emblem.

So, the last couple of years have seen me trying out various Nintendo franchises, generally for the first time ever.  Some of these – Mario Odyssey and 3D World, Pokemon Moon, Breath of the Wild, Metroid Other M, Mario Kart 8D – have been pretty good experiences!

Some… well, I really kind of regret buying Smash Brothers without someone else to play with, because it’s a wretched single player experience.  Live and learn!

The latest experiment was diving into Fire Emblem, Nintendo’s long-running strategy RPG series.  It’s one of those series that I used to vaguely be aware of in terms of “it’s like Shining Force, but your characters die for good” and more recently have become aware of in terms of “it’s like Shining Force, but your characters hook up a lot.”

I’m given to understand that the IDEAL gateway Fire Emblem game is “Fire Emblem: Awakenings”, which came out a few years back.  I’m a contrarian, so I started with Fire Emblem: Fates.  It’s actually been in my backlog for a couple of years now, because I happened to be in the right place at the right time to pre-order the spiffy collector’s edition that sold out immediately and shot up in price.

It’s been sitting on a shelf with me wondering whether I should keep it sealed to maybe make it more valuable or whether I should just break down and play the damn thing, and I finally went with the “play” option.

Anyway.

This turned out to be basically like learning to swim at the deep end of the pool.  It’s a really ambitious trilogy of games, each of which are identical up through the first few levels and which then branch depending on how your character declares his or her allegiance to one of two warring kingdoms (one cartoonishly-evil, the other nauseatingly-good), or whether you elect to tell both kingdoms to pound sand and go your own way.

Ideally you play the “pound sand” route after the other two, but any order you play them in you are looking at a serious time investment.

It turns out that, yes, it’s pretty close to Shining Force, but with a strong emphasis on building relations between the soldiers in your army with an eye towards hooking them up with one another.  I didn’t really figure out how the whole relationship building thing worked until the third game, so I didn’t do much of that.  Instead, I just reveled in carefully moving my little minions across grid-based battlefields, cheering as they occasionally pulled off a critical hit at just the right moment and occasionally swearing when they missed an attack with an 88% hit chance.

I wound up playing through all three games back-to-back-to-back, so I think you can infer that I had a bloody good time with the entire process.  “Conquest”, the version of the game where your character signs on with the cartoonishly-evil kingdom, is a real kick in the pants at times, but I was fortunately forewarned that I should really drop $2.49 on buying a DLC map that let me grind up levels whenever things got too frustrating.

So, one more long-running Nintendo franchise marked off the checklist.  I don’t think I’ll be rushing to pick up either of the other two 3DS Fire Emblems just at the moment, but I’ll give the Switch game some serious thought when it makes its debut.

 

Posted in 3DS, videogames | 2 Comments

On Francophone Countries and Quest Completions.

So, for reasons I won’t go in to, I have been in Brussels for a few days. There is not much to recommend Brussels to anyone, though the Atomium was at least a decent way to kill a couple of hours immersing myself in a 1950s view of THE FUTURE.

Today, however, I took the high speed train in to Paris.

Side note: whatever else I have to say about Brussels, they have some pretty decent trains. They do not do a good job of explaining the train system to English speakers, however. Neither does Paris, for that matter. Frankly, there is more English in the Beijing transit system than in either of these two European countries, which makes about as much sense as a… a very non-sensical thing. I am not good at analogy.

Anyway. Paris. In the course of a day trip, I managed to climb the Eiffel Tower, take some pictures of the Arc Du Triumph and Notre Dame, and spend a few hours wandering through the Louvre saying “woah, I recognize that painting.”

Like, they have the ACTUAL painting from the DaVinci Code. It’s even in its own room. They must really have loved that movie.

That’s not important. What is important is that there is a street off the Place de la Republique that is basically wall to wall nerd stores and video game shops, and I had a mission.

I was going to find the Europe-only release of Fatal Frame 2 Wii Edition. Well, they call it Project Zero over there, but that’s not important. It’s one of a bunch of games that got translated by Nintendo of Europe and that NoA refused to pick up for NTSC regions because they didn’t see any point in tiny niche games while they were riding high off a hundred million people who had bought into the idea that Wii Boxing was going to slow their inexorable decline into middle age.

I allowed myself a budget of 60 Euros for this. I probably could have gone a little higher if pressed.

I was not pressed.

Brand new and half the budget I’d set myself.

It only took two game stores to find, too. Thanks go to RetroGamePlay of Paris for making it so ridiculously easy to check off the old quest log.

Even without that, Paris would have had some things to recommend. I swear! I’m pretty sure that I could make up a decent list of big, old buildings to look at while hoping you don’t get your wallet lifted.

Posted in videogames, Wii | Leave a comment

I’m really bad at anniversaries.

So, this blog turned 12 at the start of March, and I completely missed the opportunity to pat my own back at the time.  Now that I’ve realized that, just assume that I have had a sad little party with me and a cake with a novelty candle shaped like the number 12.

On the other hand, I have a different anniversary coming up at the end of the month.  It’s nearly 12 years since I finished Star Wars: Battlefront II, felt really good about that, and went on to play and finish Geist in, like, the same week.  It really marked the switchover from buying a ton of games and never playing them to the point where I was still… buying too many games, but occasionally playing them to completion.

It was a few years later that I signed up for a backloggery account, and this is where I’m at today:

9 of those unfinished games are various Kingdom Hearts titles because I was dumb and bought the super deluxe version of Kingdom Hearts III that came with remastered versions of all the earlier games, and I have yet to tackle them because it’s kind of daunting.  I am a bit of an idiot sometimes.

Also, because I’m a total data nerd, here’s the breakdown by console generation and by year.  The trends aren’t anything too weird, except for 2010.  That appears to have been the “working through my Sega Saturn collection” year, and 2017 was the let’s-just-clear-out-the-old-stuff year.

I mostly follow Wikipedia’s list of console generations, flawed as it is.  I disagree with it on the WiiU, which I consider a 7th generation console. Basically, WiiU is to Wii as the Atari 5200 is to the Atari 2600, a more powerful version of a vastly more popular console with a godawful controller but not enough to signal a generational shift.

Yes, I know that the 5200 wasn’t innately backwards compatible with the 2600 and you needed an add-on.  Look, it’s not a perfect analogy.  Let’s just accept that I am insane and move on.

2013 and 2014 were some pretty iffy years, huh.  I appear to have been mostly working through 360 and PC3 titles still – looking back at 2013 and 2014, almost all of those “Gen 8” games I finished were Vita games.  The only PS4 game I got through in that two year stretch was Call of Duty: Ghosts.  Small wonder that some people were trying to convince us all that high-budget games were dead and that the future was mobile games and walking simulators.

Not that I mind the occasional walking simulator.  I just played through “Soma” the other night, and that’s basically a walking simulator with about a dozen points where you meet something that can kill you – and you can set the monsters to non-lethal mode, if you want a less stressful time of things.  I also quite liked Dear Esther and Gone Home.  Sometimes it’s good to just be able to absorb yourself in an atmosphere without a ton of conflict.

On the other hand, I just started “Ghost Recon: Wildlands”, and part of the character creation process was choosing between 46 distinct shirts.  Not kidding about that, either.  46 different shirts in a game where I will almost always be looking at my character’s backpack.  That is the epitome of just throwing budget at a game without really stopping to wonder whether they should.

But I picked the perfect medium blue button-down shirt, and that’s very important to me.

Anyway, 11 months until this thing turns into a teenager.  Maybe I’ll get through those 33 unplayed games by then?

 

Posted in videogames | 2 Comments

I have played the greatest game in the history of video games.

So, to be clear, I’ve never played any of the “Disaster Report” titles.  My understanding of the series is that it is a set of fairly bleak games where you found yourself smack dab in the middle of horrible things happening and need to scavenge for resources to survive while the world around you does its level best to kill you.

Honestly, that’s a little too hard-core for me.

On the other hand, if you take that basic idea, only the horrible thing that is happening is that Tokyo is inexplicably invaded by a whole host of giant monsters while mecha rampage through the streets… well, that is an ENTIRELY different story.

And that’s the gimmick behind Kyoei Toshi, aka “City Shrouded in Shadows”.  It’s a survival game where your goals include “avoid being stepped on by Ultraman” and “don’t get eaten by the Legion insects from the Gamera movies” and “try not to get brutally crushed by a construction mecha”.

This is not a safe place to be.

In the meantime, you have a just-a-little-bit-mysterious girlfriend who you are trying to keep alive and drag along with you.  It’s rather like Ico, I suppose, if Fumito Ueda had decided to drop Godzilla into that game to spice it up a bit.

There’s a plot beyond “survive”, of course, in that you are being chased by well-dressed agents of some nefarious organization who have decided that you are somehow responsible for the giant monsters.  So when you’re not caught in the middle of a fight between Eva-01 and an angel, you may be running away while they try to ram you with a car, or being chased by them through an office building while it is being blown apart by yet another Toho Studios monster who I will not spoil in this article.

Seriously.  Don’t throw “City Shrouded in Shadow” into Google Image Search, because half of the fun of the game is not knowing who is going to show up.  The opening movie reveals that you will be meeting Godzilla, Gamera, Ultraman, the aforementioned Eva-01 and Alphonse from Patlabor, and that should be enough for anyone of a certain age and inclination.

It is not a particularly polished game.  Frankly, it looks like 90% of the budget for the game went into licensing the characters, and whatever was left had to be stretched across the entire development budget.  There are lots of barren environments, recycled props and some absolutely dire textures, and the frame rate is questionable, at best.  In addition, some of the game sequences are teeth-grindingly frustrating, with bottomless pits opening below you without warning and the like, and let’s not forget the occasional sequence where you need to navigate through hazards by staring at a mini-map because the camera is deliberately locked to an entirely useless angle.  This is not a “AAA” game, and even “AA” is pushing it a little.

THESE THINGS ARE NOT IMPORTANT, but I mention them so it doesn’t look like I’m blindly raving about this game.  It has flaws.  So many flaws.  They do not matter.

Oh, you probably need to know some Japanese.  A fair bit of Japanese, if I’m honest.  I’m sure there are translation guides on the Internet, though.

Also, while this is a low budget game, it’s also quite affordable.  You can get it from the Japanese PSN for Y4104, if you have a Japanese account and can get your hands on a Japanese PSN points card.  Physical copies are available on Amazon for about the price of a regular PS4 game.

Seriously, we are talking the pinnacle of interactive entertainment, the end result of decades of game developers honing their craft.  Any price would be a small price to pay.

 

Posted in PS4, videogames | 1 Comment

I got a new phone, and it’s OK.

So, let me take a minute to unpack this:  Modern smartphones are pretty much magical devices by this point.  I am still lightly flabbergasted at the notion that you can cram a battery-powered computer into a six-inch slab of aluminum and then carry it around in your pocket, subjecting it to all manner of abuse, until you decide that it is not quite shiny enough and discard it for a newer and shinier one.

I would like to say things about having the entirety of human knowledge and understanding at my fingertips, but then I load up twitter and it’s 75% cat pictures so I really am not doing much with the whole entirety of human knowledge thing.

Anyway. I bought a new phone, though not really because my old one wasn’t shiny enough.  I had been using an iPhone 6s+ for the last three years, and had zero complaints with anything about it.  It didn’t feel particularly slow, it let me take photos and browse the web and play Love Live! School Idol Festival when I felt like a rhythm game and so on.

On the other hand, it developed a CHARMING little quirk where, as soon as the battery dropped to 49%, the phone would immediately turn itself off until connected to power, at which point it would say that it actually had 10% power left… but then that number would climb back up to 50% far more quickly than a phone could actually charge.  Normally I would deal with this, but I have a trip coming up in a few weeks and didn’t want to be in a situation where I was constantly checking my battery level.

So it was off to the Apple store, where they gave me a very generous trade-in and I walked out with a new iPhone XR.  They don’t make pink phones any more – cowards – but they do make the XR in Product (Red) which means that I can feel a little good about contributing towards AIDS eradication in Africa at the same time as I buy an electronic device that probably relies on conflict minerals mined in Africa.  I think those two balance out a little, making this a Guilt Free purchase.

Pardon the kinda blurry picture, I am not in the business of taking product glamour shots.

While I’d prefer not to have needed a new phone, I have to give Apple some credit for the ease of the backup and restore process when moving from one iPhone to the next.

I powered up this phone for the first time, it asked me if I would like to get the stuff from my old phone out of iCloud, and then it went and did all of that more-or-less without any interaction on my part.  It even handled the fact that I had stuff from two different iTunes Store regions, and iOS used to be really bad about that.  I did have to hook it up to a computer to sync music over from iTunes, and I’ve had to reenter some passwords, but otherwise it’s like I have the same phone as I did last week, just with no headphone jack and with facial recognition instead of a fingerprint sensor and hopefully 100% less crashing.

Also Love Live! has a little border on it now instead of filling the entire screen, presumably so it wouldn’t have to deal with the screen notch.  I don’t particularly care about the border or the notch, I am just happy that all of my stuff came over to the new phone properly. I had JUST collected all 18 of the birthday titles, and I would have been quite gutted to lose those.  Bushiroad lets you set a passcode to transfer your progress from one phone to the next via their servers, but I am just as glad to have it copy over without needing to go through their process.

The biggest game-changer so far is that it supports wireless charging, which lets me take advantage of the Qi chargers that are left over from my flirtation with Windows phones a few years back.  I have missed that.

So this blog post is pretty much 700 words of “I spent some money on a new gadget and it is generally OK in every way” which makes me feel genuine sympathy towards tech bloggers who need to find a way to be excited about the Newest Shiniest Phone every year. 🙂

They probably take better product shots than me, though.

 

Posted in gadgets, iOS | 6 Comments

If you think Mahjong ain’t happening, get down with the midnight fever.

OK.  So I am probably one of about ten people who still remembers Super Zugan, a Kitty Films / Studio Dean production from the early 90s, but the damn theme song keeps getting stuck in my head whenever I buy a new mahjong game and I feel like inflicting it on you.

Not that I bought a NEW mahjong game, mind you.  Rather, I just paid a princely Y1980 for a very old mahjong game that just happened to get a Switch port, from MightyCraft.  We were originally supposed to get this back in January, but the release got pulled at the very last minute for some “discussions” with Nintendo.  I half expected that it would never resurface, but apparently those discussions were fruitful.

I’ve owned the Saturn version of the game for well over 20 years at this point, so rebuying it on Switch was half for the novelty and half for the nostalgia and maybe a little bit for the convenience factor.  It takes some time to hook up a Saturn whenever I feel like raging at how insufferable of a cheater Akira is, after all, but now I will be able to think very unkind thoughts about her wherever I go!  We are truly in a gilded age.

On that topic, however, this release does have a difficulty setting.  I don’t recall the Saturn version having any difficulty settings, or maybe I just never checked.  Akira may be slightly less vicious if you crank the difficulty down a bit.

SRMPV is a pretty good example of mid-90s slightly-naughty mahjong games, though not up to the production values of something like the Suchie-Pai Series.  You only have three opponents to play against and it doesn’t have the huge cast of famous voice actresses or Kenichi Sonoda character designs.

It DOES have Sakura Tange’s first role, though.  That’s an actress who went on to do much bigger and better things.

To further compare it to that series, it’s more of a pure mahjong game, which is a strong selling point.  There aren’t any power-ups or any mini games that you can use to defeat your opponent.  If you want to win, you need to mahjong the bejesus out of her.  It’s a fine game, and I recommend it to one and all.

So, let’s talk about the port.

It may annoy the super purists, but MightyCraft did some tweaking to fit it to the Switch screen.  They didn’t mess with the aspect ratio of any of the FMVs, fortunately.  You get a lovely pillar boxed version, like so…

..but they did change the title screen and play field to fit the wider screen.  I suspect they did some cropping at the top and bottom, but it’s not anything offensive.

(Though, guys, the Switch does not have a “Start” button, and pressing the + button does nothing.  You could have edited out the “St” and “rt” there.)

I kind of wish it had a faux-scanline filter that you could turn on, but that is a super minor quibble.

SRMPV is especially good if you are new to the game and need prompting for when you can meld off your opponent’s hand.  You will be prompted for every single chi and pon as they discard tiles, notified when you can call riichi, all very convenient stuff.

One other thing of note – the Saturn original of this game was one of the notorious red label 18+ games, featuring some low-resolution nudity once you managed to play well enough to completely run your opponent out of clothing, and I suspect that is WHY it disappeared at the 11th hour and just now managed to get a release.  I haven’t played enough to confirm this, but I suspect the art went through a little bit of editing to conform to 2019 standards.

Well, technically, the last red label game was released over 20 years ago.  So “edited to conform to 1997 standards” is maybe more accurate.

Followup: Yup, the original FMVs have been visited by the Mysterious Light Rays Of Decency, blotting out all offensive bits.

Anyway.  I have occasionally made fun of the Switch for its wide variety of The Hottest Games Of 2011, but I am not going to deny that it makes me giddy to see publishers dig DEEP into the back catalog and unearth some long-buried gems.  They’re even talking about bringing out PVI and P7, presumably if enough of us old weirdos buy PV.

Hopefully we never get Mahou no Janshi Poe Poe Poemy, though.  Digging THAT deep, that’s how you get balrogs.

Posted in mahjong, Saturn, Switch, videogames | 5 Comments