Dragon Age: Origins, My Thoughts:

I had this long thing written up where I talked about the minutiae of the game’s various systems and how they blurred the line between MMO-style systems and single-player games, and then I decided to throw it all out and just sum things up:

Surprisingly few dragons.  Loved the story.  Hated the combat.  Hated the crafting.  Would 100% bone Alistair if I was into dudes.  Settled for shagging the hot french assassin nun.  10/10, would play 40 hours to get into nun’s pants again.

 

 

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

I’d like to say “Done with PSP games”, but I still have four PSP games in the backlog.  They’re all PSN download versions, though, so I get to pack away both my Ceramic White PSP-1000 and my Lilac PSP-3000 and play those last few games on a Vita.

The final game spun up – for now, anyway, I’m not ruling out picking up the odd cheap PSP game in future – was another train simulator, this time the “Yamanote Line” version of Densha De Go! Pocket.

Much like the Chuo line version, it’s all about keeping to schedules and careful stopping at stations without exceeding any speed limits.  It gets a TON of points for representing the train line I’m most familiar with – I have spent a lot of hours riding the Yamanote – but loses some points for being a little less interesting to actually play.  The Chuo line, after all, has all kinds of expresses and limited expresses and local service trains, while the Yamanote just has, well, trains that stop at every single stop.  The game mixes it up a little by having morning and evening trains and throwing in some weather now and again, but it’s still a little more tedious to get through all of the track variations to unlock the two “secret” tracks… and then those are just driving a full loop of the Yamanote line, but doing it with an older train.

I can recommend either of these to anyone who’s been to Japan and fallen in love with the train system there – there’s very little language knowledge required and there’s something wonderfully meditative about the routine of departing a station, getting up to speed, then slowing down for the next station.

I also got my second “excellent!” stop, which you only get for stopping precisely on the mark.  Normally you have an acceptable range of +/- 5 meters from the stopping line, and (for me) being less than 50cm off is a Good Stop, so this was 100% luck:

Breaking the PSP out for a couple of games has really reminded me what a wonderful little console it was, particularly in the pre-smartphone era.  I spent several mind-numbing years doing software QA for very large and very dull companies, followed by several years of college, and having a PSP loaded up with music and short videos and games did wonders for keeping me sane.  It also helped me keep myself from panicking on one very disturbing occasion when I found myself halfway up a mountain and caught in an entirely out-of-season typhoon, but that’s a story for another time.

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Dead or Alive DLC is needlessly complicated

Though I don’t often write about it, the Dead or Alive series of fighting games remains my favorite beat-em-up and Barbie-simulator series – and, given that I am rubbish at the actual fighting part of the game, the part where I collect pretty dresses for my digital combatants represents, by far, the more important part of the package.

So, when I heard that some outfits were being pulled off of PSN due to rights expiring, I figured that I should see about getting them while I still could.

Keep in mind that I bought the game off the Japanese store, so DLC is always a little tricky because it’s being bought with a secondary PSN account.  DoA5 checks your licenses when you start the game, but once activated the content is available to all users of the console.  So, if I get the urge to buy a premium outfit, I need to buy it off the Japanese PSN, start DoA5 while logged into the Japanese account, wait for it to check my licenses, close DoA5, log in to my US account and run it, at which point the costumes are available to me and I can put an adorable purple witch costume on Marie Rose and go online for my regular dose of being humiliated by people who can actually play.

But look cute while I’m doing it, is the important point.

I may have gone off on a tangent there, and I apologize.

Anyway.  All of the costumes being pulled were part of Season Pass 4, so I exchanged some yen for that and the PS4 dutifully reported that I had exchanged money for virtual goods and now owned them.

But, as usual, the costumes weren’t actually available in-game. I don’t often actually buy costumes and I never remember the process that I need to go through, so this is half a rant and half something I can look back on later to remind myself of the process.

First, I needed to download costume “catalogs” – these are the actual DLC packs that contain the outfits. You can download them even if you don’t own the costumes, which is critical – how else will you SEE the adorable purple witch outfit on the Marie Rose you are currently shaming if you don’t have the costume data?

There are over 40 costume catalogs, as an aside.

Downloading the catalogs still didn’t unlock the costumes, so I fumed a bit.

Then I remembered that the “Season Pass” wasn’t actually a license for the costumes.  Rather, buying the Season Pass sets the price of the DLC packages bundled in the Season Pass to “free”.  So, I had to look up which packages were included in the Season Pass, find them in the store (where they were, correctly, marked free), “buy” those packages and suddenly I had all of my outfits.

In an ideal world, costume catalogs would just be part of the game data so they were automatically installed as part of the update process, and the act of buying a Season Pass would automatically license your account for all of the included content and automatically start any required downloads. As it is, it’s a lot of extra steps, and it means that my Japanese PSN download list is ridiculously full of DoA5 costume catalogs and it’s hard to find anything else sometimes.

Of all the first world problems I have ranted about on this site, a rant about the difficulty of playing virtual dress up on my virtual harem is possibly the most first-worldy ever, but… well, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s read more than a couple of posts, now that I think about it.  I am not a deep man, I do not explore particularly deep topics.

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

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.

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TERA, the Olive Bandit Mask, and me.

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.

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In which, I sink into new depravities.

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.

 

 

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Moenai Gomi

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.

 

 

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