FFXIV: The Road Back

Catgirl with an axe has no time for your crap.

So I’ve been back on FFXIV for long enough that I actually had to give them money to keep playing, and I gave them money so I guess that means that I’m having a good time.

I spent the first couple of days being completely lost, of course.  Thankfully, your character in this game can take on any job and I had never played a rogue so I was able to start from level one as a rogue to kind of figure out what I was doing.

Then I leveled all of my combat jobs up to a certain point so I could clear all of the low level gear out of my bank, and did a lot of googling to find out what the non-gear junk was used for and deleted or sold a lot of it… and in the process, I found that I pretty much had my feet under me and I could try to play of my higher level jobs.

Embarrassingly, it turns out that I am pretty awful at playing the White Mage job that was previously my highest-level job, so I need a lot of practice there to actually keep the bars full.

One other benefit of going through all of the jobs and playing them out of the lower levels is that I got to see all of the different job storylines, some of which were quite good.  I particularly enjoyed the “Pugilist” story, because I absolutely loved the central character.

We’re all there with you, Hamon.

But let’s make this less about me and move on to some of the changes that they’ve made to the game that make it a lot more friendly as a newbie or a returner, because I am really impressed with how accessible they have tried to make things.

Starting with: Hall of the Novice.

 

Apparently this is a feature that was added in early 2016, and it’s absolutely brilliant.  You choose a role (healer / tank / dps) and are given a set of simple exercises to follow, like getting out of AE damaging effects or tanking multiple opponents at once, and passing these exercises gives you a set of pretty decent level 15 gear that also LOOKS nice so you can use it as cosmetic armor at higher levels.  I don’t know if Square-Enix was the first MMO publisher to come up with this sort of tutorial, but I can’t give them enough credit for it.

Also new since the last time I played is the Squadron feature, which lets you recruit NPCs and build up a nice little stable of minions:

You can send your minions on missions to level them up, which gives you some rewards along the way.  It’s vaguely reminiscent of the garrison feature in WoW.

Most importantly, however, once your squadron reaches rank 2 (this takes 3 or 4 days of sending them on missions), you can undertake “command” missions, which spawn an instanced four-man dungeon that your character runs with three of your squadron members filling out the other roles in the group.  So, if you want to do dungeon content at your own pace or just don’t want to deal with other humans, this gives you a way to do some of that.

It doesn’t replace the dungeon content you need to go through for story purposes, but I have been enjoying it for the ability to poke around corners of dungeons that I never got to see before since the group always wanted to take the most efficient path to the final boss. My squadron members have no choice in the pace I am playing at. 🙂

Finally, the last thing I am going to gush about is how much effort FFXIV has put in to ensuring that older content stays sort of relevant.  While I have been leveling up jobs and re-learning the game, I’ve been doing a ton of low-level dungeon content, and I have never had a hard time finding a group – the instance finder scales players down to the level of the content they’re doing, but gives them rewards at the end based on their level.  So my level 20 character might be grouped with a level 70 character, but the level 70 character will be scaled down to my level and will get appropriately compensated for slumming with me at the end of the dungeon.

A lot of the original game’s story is locked between raids, as well, so there are incentives for high-level characters to re-run the old raids for the benefit of the newbies who are just seeing the content for the first time.  As a result, I’ve gotten to see a bunch of the game that was completely inaccessible to me when I was playing a few years ago.

Side anecdote:  For shorter queue times, I have generally been playing in the Warrior role, which is a tanking spec.  Most of the time, this means that I am just standing next to the REAL tank and getting carried through by the level 70 pro who has done this content a thousand times.

Most of the time.

The other night, however, I queued into one of these legacy raids, the whole raid trotted up to the first batch of enemies, and… everyone just stood there.  Like, there were 24 people in the raid, and 21 of them were staring at the three people who had signed up to tank and wondering when one of us was going to get on with it.

After about a minute, I YOLOed and charged into the mobs, which was the cue for the healers to start healing and the deeps to start slamming their faces into their keyboards, and we wound up clearing everything without too many setbacks.  It was at once a proud moment and a I Have No Idea What I Am Doing And Everyone Is Watching Me Do It moment.

So yeah.  That was pretty good times.

Thankfully the next legacy raid was back to me standing next to the person who knew what they were doing, though.

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This is almost certainly a bad idea.

So yeah.  Square-Enix has sent me so many “PLEASE PLAY FINAL FANTASY FOURTEEN” emails that I finally broke down and reinstalled the thing.

I’ve been MMO-clean for a while now, and it’s been great as far as clearing out the mountain of backlog, but I’ve been hitting a brick wall recently where I will start a new game, get between 30 minutes and six hours in to it, and then realize that it is either hopelessly vapid or soul-crushingly depressing and that I don’t want to spend any more time wanting to throttle the characters or throw myself off a bridge.

For the record, Omega Quintet would be an example of the former, and The Witcher 3 would be an example of the latter.  I quite liked the first two Witcher games, but I got several hours into 3 and frankly I didn’t CARE whether Geralt ever found his daughter-surrogate or not, because every person in the game is just awful.

So I was in the right frame of mind to get suckered in by a half-price sale on the recent FFXIV expansion and some free game time.

It’s important to note that FFXIV is an MMO designed to be played with a controller, and this is critical because my left hand has reached a point where it simply can’t hold a position over WASD for hours at a time without me starting to get micro tremors and numbness.  I’m going to be a gamepad peasant for the rest of my days, I’m afraid, but at least that isn’t a barrier to entry for this game.

That said, it has been nearly four years since the last time I played, so I have a character with a bunch of high-level jobs and absolutely no clue how to play any of them.  Obviously, I needed to start something new in order to have fewer buttons to press, and that has me playing a rogue for the first time in any MMO ever.  Normally I play tanks, or at least reasonably rugged DPS classes, and it’s taken some adjusting to the degree of squishiness I am currently “enjoying”.

…for the record, I’m not enjoying it.

What I am enjoying is the rogue story.  Every class in FFXIV comes with its own little storyline – nothing too crazy, just a few unique quests with cutscenes – and the rogue class quest is a generally enjoyable story of working occasionally-with and occasionally-against the city guard as you both try to stop a terrorist organization from killing the rightful leaders of the city.

It features the most adorable Lalafell ever, which is a hell of a high hurdle to clear.

Mind you, she’s the captain of the city guard and doesn’t understand why all of you rogues haven’t been arrested and thrown into very dark cells years ago, so the adorableness is exactly skin-deep.

This isn’t actually the first time I have reinstalled FFXIV in the last four years.  The other time was when they sent me a “play for free and oh would you like a maid outfit?” email, which I signed in for just long enough to claim.

Now I just need a pair of severe black-rimmed glasses, and we’re looking at maximum fetish mode engaged.

Actually I may have some glasses in the bank.  I have a ridiculously-cluttered bank.  I don’t know what half the stuff in it does and I don’t know why I kept it in the first place, but theoretically it was important?

Anyway.  I have played for roughly a day, my rogue is level 32 and is looking at a quest that will let her become a ninja, and in general I’m looking at the death of my spare time from now until I decide that I’m just logging in every day to try to make the numbers bigger, which is the point where I traditionally stop playing MMOs and go outside to see whether there are still other people or whether the bombs finally dropped and it’s just me and the cockroaches.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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?

 

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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.

 

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