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It’s 2017, and I’m finally done with PS2 games.

May 24, 2017

The PS2 came out at possibly the worst possible time.  I was deep in the throes of an Everquest habit, and it followed up the PS1, a system where niche Japanese games tended to get incredibly small print runs and then disappear.

So I bought a ton of games for the thing based on “well, I don’t have time for this right now, but if I don’t buy it I’ll never be able to find it again”, which is (for the record) a terrible strategy.

Earlier this year, I finally admitted that there was a huge stack of JRPGs that were never going to get played, and those went on their way to eBay.  It was a wonderfully freeing sensation.

Still, I wasn’t going to give up on Fatal Frame III.  I’d played every other game in the series, and tried to start the third installment a couple of times, but for one reason or another had always bounced off of it early on.

More than that, I decided that I was going to Play It Right.  I own the disc version of the game, so I could have ripped that, but instead I found an “undub” ISO of the game online, loaded up PCSX2, applied all of the patches to make the game widescreen and to improve the resolution and add anti-aliasing and all of that, got about an hour in, was feeling quite good about the whole thing…

…and it crashed during a cutscene.  Save points in the Fatal Frame games can be a little scarce, so I wound up quite a bit back from where I’d gotten and was forced to re-evaluate what I really wanted out of the game.

It turns out that what I wanted was the ability to play a game without worrying whether the emulator I was running it on was going to up and die at any given moment, so I wound up going back to the “PS2 Classics” version off of PSN, which did NOT crash at any point and which actually looked OK, even if it wasn’t upscaled and antialiased and so on and so forth.

Fatal Frame 3 is a direct sequel to both Fatal Frames 1 & 2, though it doesn’t rely too much on you having played the earlier games.  If you HAVE, you will get to enjoy a lot of the callbacks, mind you, and I’d recommend Fatal Frame 2 to everyone just on principle, so at least play that one.

Much like every other game in the series, you find yourself smack in the middle of an obscure Japanese ritual designed to save the world from unspeakable darkness, at the cost of sacrificing girls TO unspeakable darkness which you would think would be the first sign that things aren’t going to go to plan.  There are a bunch of ghosts around, some of them are very unhappy with their state of affairs and want to kill you, you have a camera that somehow hurts ghosts, and there is a lot of wandering around looking for keys to open doors and a lot of undead that need to lose the significant prefix in order to dispel seals.

It’s pretty damn bleak and creepy, is what I’m getting at, though it does have the happiest ending I’ve seen in any game in the series.

On the downside, there’s rarely any real direction as to where you should be looking for the SPECIFIC ghosts you need to overcome to unseal any particular sealed door, so there is a lot of walking very slowly around a gigantic mansion, cursing your character’s inability to run, and then realizing that you have been holding the “run” button this time and that you actually COULD be moving even slower.  A FAQ is therefore recommended for those “where am I supposed to be going now?” moments.

Also recommended: headphones, a dark room to sit in, and a controller that supports rumble.  This game does a lot with rumble for atmosphere and I don’t think it would be nearly as effective without it.

It wasn’t my favorite game in the series, but there’s something about the specific nightmare fuel that the Fatal Frame games tap into that you won’t be finding anywhere else.

Oh, and I finished the Chuo line version of Densha De Go! Pocket last week as well.  So that’s all of the PS2 games off the backlog and only one physical PSP game left.  At some point here I am going to be down to only needing current-gen systems hooked up.

TERA, the Olive Bandit Mask, and me.

May 14, 2017

I’ve been comfortably MMO-free most of the year, and it’s been a good thing.  It’s not that I’m being particularly productive or, you know, DOING anything with my life, but at least I’m playing a lot of games that have definitive endings.

But, when I DO sink back into MMOs, I frequently wind up back in TERA because it’s got some of the best combat in the genre and I get to play a character best described as 4 feet of rage with an 8-foot axe.  And, with the recent announcement that it’s coming out for modern consoles (sorry, Switch owners), I figured that I should probably log in to make sure that my character names are safe.

It turns out that I logged in just in time to realize a major milestone.

See, TERA came out just over five years ago, and I picked it up in the first couple of weeks.  Then my wife wanted to give it a try, so I gave her my account and made a new one (this also gave me an excuse to buy the collector’s edition for pack-in goodies, I was not being entirely altruistic)

One of the things that I got through ordering the collector’s edition from Amazon was an in-game reward of a cosmetic item called the Olive Bandit Mask – at least, in theory.  It’s been in my Item Claim Window ever since, but I’ve never been able to actually get it on any of my characters.  I just get an error message when I try to accept the item:

So, not a BIG loss, because I’m not sure that I particularly WANT an Olive Bandit Mask on any of my characters, but it is always at the very top of the item claim window reminding me that it’s theoretically there.  It pokes me right in the OCD.

BUT.  Did I mention that it’s been just over five years since TERA launched, and nearly five years since I bought that second copy to play myself?

IT’S ALMOST GONE.  Four more days and it will just poof into the virtual ether, ever unclaimed (though not for lack of trying) and I will not see it any more.

I may have to log in around 1 PM on the 19th just to count down the minutes.  Also to run around as a bunny girl with a giant axe, of course.

In which, I sink into new depravities.

May 12, 2017

There’s a fairly straightforward correlation between your interest in another culture and the degree to which your native culture starts thinking of you as a little weird.

Taking Japan as the example here, it’s not too weird to go out for the occasional sushi dinner.  Add a couple of Hokusai woodblock prints, and you’re even in the “classy” tier of cultural interest.  Maybe even watch a couple of Studio Ghibli movies, you’re still good.

Then, maybe you have conversations about seeing Dragonball or Sailor Moon on TV, and you’re starting to slip a little further away from acceptability.  Add a Crunchyroll subscription or a Hatsune Miku Nendo on your desk, and people will start filing you into the category of humans that maybe shouldn’t be invited to dinner parties.  Devote yourself to your 2D waifu, maybe make a little shrine, maybe buy a hug pillow, maybe marry your hug pillow, and people start to ask whether maybe there’s some way to get the police to look into what sorts of things you get up to in your spare time.

And then, when you descend even further into the depths of obsession… there, hovering just at the event horizon of madness, there you find the railfans.

For the record, I don’t know as I’m quite there, nor do I think I’ll ever be quite there.  I don’t quite have the personality that leads to hanging out by the train tracks trying to snap a photo of a rare locomotive.

But, well, maybe call me train-curious.  Not ready to dive into the subculture head-first, but interested enough to try a game like Densha De Go! Pocket, a game in which you drive passenger trains and in which you’re graded on (a) meeting your schedule, (b) stopping precisely at the stations on your route, and (c) obeying posted speed limits.

I swear, from here I HEARD you close the browser tab.

For the record, when I picked up DDG, I thought I was buying the version based on the Yamanote line.  That’s the loop line that goes around Tokyo, and I have spent an awful lot of time riding it myself.  So, yes, I intended to buy a game about driving a train in a circle and obeying speed limits while doing so.

It turns out, the wrong disc was in the case and I instead wound up with the version of Densha De Go! Pocket that covers the Chuo line, which intersects with the Yamanote at Shinjuku station but which generally goes out of Tokyo and to more rural parts of the metropolitan area.  I’m not as familiar with the Chuo line, so when I realized that I had the wrong disc I was more than a little vexed.

I shouldn’t have been – while, sure, it’s not exactly the experience I had in mind, it’s still a very comforting and meditative experience to listen to track sounds and announcements and station jingles and pilot virtual commuters to their destinations.  The track graphics aren’t amazing by modern standards, but they’re not bad by PSP standards, and the Chuo line version even lets you unlock the Narita Express, which is one of my favorite trains to ride as it usually means that I am going from the airport into Tokyo.

I’ve only put a couple of hours in.  I’ve gotten better, I think – my first attempt at coming into a station left me coming to a stop 19 meters beyond the place I was SUPPOSED to stop at, and my latest had me land only 28cm off the mark – but there are a lot of tracks to unlock still and a ton of depth left to plumb.

And maybe I can find a copy of the Yamanote version someday.  That would be cool, too.

 

 

Moenai Gomi

May 9, 2017

When I wrapped up Suchie-Pai IV, I thought I might be out of mahjong games, but it turns out that I still have at least two PSP games.

Today’s post is about the one I decided to start with: Moeru Mahjong Moe-Jong.  I picked it up from PSN several years ago for super cheap, and looking back at the post I made at the time I see that I wondered if maybe there wasn’t a reason for that.

Turns out, there was!  It’s kinda painful!

To give it due credit, the mahjong is pretty good.  It’s a very rare example of a proper four player game, with multiple rounds played and the winner determined by score after all rounds are finished or when someone goes below 0 score, which means that strategy is a little different from the 2-player arcade-style games I’ve been playing recently.

For example, in the 2-player games, you almost always want to go for a win, even if you have a lousy tanyao or yakuhai hand that will only net you 1000-1300 points.  In a four player game, it can sometimes be better to stay at tempai and pray that at least two other players are in noten, getting you more net points and widening the gap between yourself and everyone else on the board.  This is a really difficult mental leap for me, but I’ve had a fair bit of luck with it.

…but…

While the mahjong is good, it’s wrapped up in a trope-laden story about a maid cafe employee of the tea-spilling and plate-breaking variety, who keeps angering customers and being challenged to mahjong, and the game features some of the worst voice acting I’ve heard in any language.   It features a bevy of idols from AKB48, so you would expect a certain level of, I dunno, polish? and what you get instead is this terrible monotone delivery where you wonder whether they were allowed multiple takes or whether they just went with the first one.

I haven’t finished it yet, so maybe it will improve.   There also appear to be a few other modes, so maybe you can ignore the story mode if you want.

There’s always hope.

Follow-up:  No, it’s just awful.  The voice acting never improves, and the last opponent is possibly the most blatant cheat imaginable – literally, in a game where the mahjong is almost completely played straight up until her, she has the ability to manipulate the dora on what seems like a whim, so almost every one of her wins is a mangan or yakuman.  There are 15 challengers, and I spent longer trying to beat the last challenger than all of the ones before her.  This might have made sense in an arcade port, where it’s designed to suck Y100 coins out of the player, but it’s unforgivable for a game where you can spend every hand of a match ahead and have the computer decide that it’s going to pull an impossibly-high-scoring hand out of thin air and jump from fourth place to first at the last possible second.

 

 

Criminal Girls

May 5, 2017

I thought I was playing a goofy, pervy dungeon crawler.  I wasn’t expecting a treatise on morality and societal expectations.

Let’s start over.

Criminal Girls is a game that probably would have slipped completely under the radar in Western markets, if it weren’t for a Kotaku article titled “In This Game, You Spank Girls”  (Which, if I’m honest, is a pretty good headline.)

It’s an old-school top-down JRPG, in which your character has taken a part-time job without looking in to the fine details and discovers that it’s quite a bit different than they believed.  Turns out, your new job takes place in Hell, and the goal of the job is to rehabilitate seven girls who were condemned to hell for Earthly sins but who are being given a second chance at life, if they can just make it through a series of dungeons and find redemption.

And, yes, there’s a fair bit of spanking, because that’s how you motivate your charges to learn new skills.

Oh, Japan.

The actual spanking mini-game is about as visually tame as you can imagine.  Little markers fly across the screen at an SD representation of the character and you must press the circle button at the right moment.  This isn’t an adult game, it’s just modestly pervy.

In between spankings, you traverse dungeon levels, fighting random encounters to level and finding chests full of money or consumable items.  Some of the harder-to-find chests unlock new moves for your team.  There’s no armor or weapon upgrades, so there’s not a lot of inventory management.  This is somewhat refreshing, actually, though people looking for a loot game ala Diablo will not be well served.

While wandering the halls of Hell, you are treated to a near-constant commentary from your charges, mostly complaining about how they can’t believe they’re STILL walking and isn’t it time for a break yet and when are we going to take a break and Oh My God MORE dungeon why are you making us doooooo this.

This does tend to relieve some of the guilt you may have otherwise felt when it’s spanking time again.

Combat is… also interesting.  It’s turn-based, and the start of every turn has the characters in your team telling you what they’re willing to do, from which you get to select one option.  The options – and thus, the fighting efficacy of your team – are affected by how motivated your team is, so you will have only very basic attacks at the start and then work up to screen-filling lightning storms as you progress through the game.  You can also swap characters in and out of the active team during fights, so you don’t get stuck in a situation of needing a particular skill from a particular character but having them warming the bench.

So, by now you may be wondering about the way I started this post, so let’s talk about that.

After going through several fairly traditional dungeon levels – you get your swamp dungeon, your fire dungeon, your ice dungeon – you find yourself in the modern world, where all of your team members need to confront the Dire Sins that led to their damnation.

This is where things may just get a little personal for the player, because these hardened criminals really haven’t done anything wrong.  At worst, they’re guilty of the sort of slack that gets most of us through the day.  One of them is in Hell because she decided that she didn’t like to go to piano lessons any more, another is there because she got hooked on MMORPGs, failed in high school, and now she’s 20 years old and doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life.

This is, I think, the point where the developers decided to metaphorically stab the player with a metaphorical dagger, and every time you unlock a new story, the metaphorical dagger gets metaphorically twisted just a little more.  It’s a near certainty that one or more of these Horrible Moral Failings is going to apply to the person holding the PSP, and suddenly the whole dragging the characters through dungeons while happily spanking them so they’ll learn their new heal spell takes on a whole new turn.  Hope you never stayed up too late playing WoW!

Oh, and the final boss?  Well, without spoiling too much, you’re not going to feel good about fighting them, either.

Criminal Girls is a weird game, even for Japan.  It sells itself on being ridiculously naughty, isn’t actually all THAT naughty when you actually play it, and hits you with a massive dose of The Feels when you’re about three-quarters of the way in.  It got remade for the Vita, and rather surprisingly got a US release, albeit one rather heavily edited for content.  I haven’t played that version, so I can’t specifically recommend it, but barring a few years of language study it’s probably your best option.

 

All Souled Out

April 30, 2017

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.

“just”

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.

 

I’m not playing an MMO

April 23, 2017

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.