AndrewB's yearly (?) gaming update!

Dear Giant Bomb,

I have a problem. I buy too many games. More than I'm ever going to play. Currently, in the midst of a job and trying to catch up on other forms of entertainment/education (I could list my back catalog of books and movies/TV series as well; currently marathon-ing Game of Thrones), I'm also trying to finish Pokemon White 2, Valkyria Chronicles: 2, a Hard mode run through in Fire Emblem, Bioshock: Infinite and X-Com: Enemy Unknown, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, Assassin's Creed: II, Resident Evil 5, Spec Ops: The Line, a second playthrough of the Golden Sun series, as well as gifted copies of Borderlands 2 and Orcs Must Die! (which obviously can't be "finished," I suppose?), which I feel obligated to attempt to prioritize because I wanted to play them both at some point and they were given to me for free.

And then there's Civilization V, which I continue to put hours upon hours into even before the upcoming expansion claims me.

Oh, and that's also being generous on the amount of games I've written off entirely, such as Batman: Arkham City, Hitman: Absolution, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, Dungeon Defenders, Titan Quest... I suppose this list could go on.

There are assuredly at least a hundred threads on adult gaming, and how we just don't have the time to play all of the games we want, so I'm going to randomly meander through my current thoughts on the games most pressing to me at the moment.

Valkyria Chronicles: 2

The reason I bought this game through the PSP side of the PSN store was twofold. First, I'm hot off the heels of the latest and greatest in the Fire Emblem series, and feel like it's too late to go back. Or rather, too expensive, since the Gamecube games released in the States are all hideously rare by now, and the only hope I'd have to play them would be to borrow them from a colleague at work (which, now that I think about it, I might attempt). Second, it's come highly recommended as a tactical RPG from the likes of @abyssful (wait... that's @yummylee... and he was speaking to the first game). Well, at a meager $10, I decided "what the hell." I likely won't play the first game because I don't own a PS3 and, given the backwards-compatibility status on the PS4, probably won't ever have the chance.

Cosette, you're just too cliche to be anything less than annoying.
Cosette, you're just too cliche to be anything less than annoying.

I'm not too deep into things so far. Surely I'm not even halfway through the tutorial yet. Unfortunately, I've hit this wall where the story and the characters are so uninteresting that I wish someone would come along and create a Westernized adult version of the game just so I could stomach it. Off the heels of Fire Emblem: Awakening (a game I adored and a game that opened me up to an entire franchise), I'm just so sick of Anime character tropes; the same tropes that made me become disinterested in Anime to begin with.

Yet I feel like I need to give this game a chance. I mean, the tactical gameplay seems fantastic, even if the early-goings have been brain-dead simple (it's tutorial, after all). A third-person character perspective mixed with semi real-time combat for a sense of urgency seems like a good break from the norm of your typical Tactics game (we'll get to that in a bit), coupled with the diverse set of classes and the choice of who to bring along on a mission makes it seem like it would be right up my alley.

The only downside I see to the PSP offering (and correct me if I'm wrong) is that, judging off the gameplay I've seen from the Giant Bomb Quick Look for the first game, the area sizes seem to be much smaller; separated into multiple mini-areas that you switch between to better accommodate the PSP's hardware limitations. You can also correct me on this one, and it calls back to my comments on Anime tropes, but the story seems like it will end up being your typical "B" grade story tossed together in the transition between full-priced console product to mostly-forgotten handheld hardware (I point to Final Fantasy Tactics / Tactics Advance, although Advance had a serviceable, if more juvenile, story).

Look, guys... I'm just sick of "arrogant hero," "clutzy female love interest," and "even more arrogant rival-cum-friend" (not to mention the whole cast of side-characters). Again, hot off the trails of Fire Emblem and thinking back to my time with Tales of "insert title here"-ia, I've seen this all before and it's not getting any more endearing (in fact, it makes it all the harder to go back to those games... and as a side note to that, might I recommend the aforementioned Golden Sun as a breath of fresh air away from all that?).

In conclusion, I feel obligated to play more of Valkyria Chonicles 2 only to see if the gameplay holds up the end of the bargain that the story does not seem to be thus far, and because I spent money on it. That seems to be the case for a lot of games lately (see Spec-Ops: The Line, even though technically it came free with my early GOTY contender - Bioshock: Infinite).

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together

This is my second attempt to play the PSP Tactics Ogre game. I petered out on the difficulty curve with my first attempt, getting my ass handed to me in many a random battle (but only because my OCD-ness means I never want to lose a single character - and boy, let me tell you, that made the early-goings of Fire Emblem: Awakening a lot of fun). I guess all I can say is that things aren't going much more smoothly.

There are just too many systems at play, but damn if I don't want to love it...
There are just too many systems at play, but damn if I don't want to love it...

You see, I have this problem. I know that GameFAQs exist, and I know that these games have such complex systems and minute decisions to be made that can decide the outcome of who lives, who dies, what minor variation to the story you'll see, and what loot/units you'll acquire. Thus, I feel the need to make every mission a research project. No playing until I've studied exactly what I should and shouldn't do, what exact squares I should step on to maximize random loot drops, what characters must remain alive to recruit, which ones must I kill and loot to get the best gear... etc, etc. All of of this is assuredly pointless considering I'm not trying to play competitively and could get through the game without it, yet this is my problem with such games; knowing there are all these complex underpinnings prevents me from dropping the FAQ and just having fun with the game. This is especially true for a game as difficult as Tactics Ogre seems to be, since I feel like if I don't maximize every advantage, I'll be getting my ass handed to me all the more.

Thus, I'm not too deep into attempt #2, much like my attempt through Valkyria Chronicles 2, but already I'm feeling the lure to ruin the fun of the game and fall down the rabbit-hole of Tactical-JRPG system overload. And this is why I buy into games like Project Eternity, Torment: Tides of Numenera, and Wasteland). I mean, I'm frozen up on what equipment to buy fresh out of the gate, and with 30,000 gil burning through my pocket.

Pokemon: White 2

I was very tempted to just go back to playing any one of various copies of all of the Pokemon mainline handheld RPGs to date, but Yellow had a save file from my mom on it (which I'm sure I'd one day regret deleting, assuming the battery doesn't die long before the worst). Oh, and I have this whole Pokemon game that I technically haven't finished yet. Of course, being me, this is a brand new savegame, instead of the one that was probably past the halfway point in the game.

Maybe I should just keep using my staple team?
Maybe I should just keep using my staple team?

My big problem with modern Pokemon games is the lack of freshness. The story has always been the same old drivel (see also: my above rant about Anime and perhaps Japanese storytelling in video games in general), and even with the heavier focus on it in Black/White 2, I just don't care about anything more than raising a team of 6 Pokemon and beating the Elite 4 (or is that 5, or 6 this time?). So basically, all I want is to use a fresh set of Pokemon I haven't used before or haven't used in a good long while to keep things fresh. So with this playthrough, what I've done is hand-breed (no, not in that way, you sick-minded b-word(s)) an entire team of the exact Pokemon I want to use throughout the game, instead of wait until the very late stages of the game where I'm actually able to capture them.

And it's working! I'm actually making progress! I'm going to Poke-geek out a bit and just state that I'm using the less-than-optimal but awesome team of: Yamask, Gligar, Riolu, Zorua, and Larvesta, with one free slot for whatever else I decide. The idea of using interesting options over the normal Pokemon I'd choose has revitalized my interest in finishing the game, and I'm now in Castelia city doing the Team "whatever they're calling them these days" side-quest; maybe about half-way to where I was in the game before restarting in the first place.

So without a whole lot more to say on the subject of Pokemon, I move along.

Fire Emblem: Awakening

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I could talk for days on the subject, but all I really wanted to say was this - I laugh aloud every time Donnell takes a swing at an enemy, or an enemy takes a swing at Donnell (referring to the late-game with Donnell). And Donnell can't even learn Galeforce.

Then I try to play on Hard, and I weep at how tough it is keeping people alive in the early-goings.

Bioshock: Infinite

I can't really have a discussion about the game without going into spoilers, besides to say that this game looks breathtaking. PC version, of course. Even with the holdovers from a generation of aged consoles - specifically texture resolution and maybe polygon count - the lighting and and art style make me marvel at every awe-inspiring view I'm able to breathe in-between combat situations.

The game looks so jaw-droppingly amazing so often, before we even take into account all of its other accomplishments.
The game looks so jaw-droppingly amazing so often, before we even take into account all of its other accomplishments.

Unless you want to play through the game multiple times in a quick-like manner just to experience the story, you will assuredly want to go with the "hard" difficulty out of the gate. Normal is painfully easy up until a few very late combat sessions. Basically, if you want the game to be a game, play on Hard. I'm not the only one to realize and suggest this, I assure you.

Word of warning, however: this is one of those experiences you're going to want to play through again a second time, even if time is something you have precious little of, just so you can notice all of the things you couldn't have picked up on with your first time through the game.

It feels weird writing so little about what is surely, as previously stated, my game of the year thus far, but I guess my impressions are echoed in the many spoilercasts/ spoiler-heavy forum threads on the matter. Thus, I'll leave the topic by just mentioning the two "oh my god" story moments and leaving it up to people to ask where they want me to elaborate or talk more about:

Oh my god moment #1: The return to Rapture.

I just didn't see it coming. In fact, I'd heard nothing but denials that there were any links between Infinite and the older titles in the series, even if this link is somewhat of a throwaway thing not directly important to the present story being told. It surprised me and blew me away.

Oh my god moment #2: The ending revelation.

With a wild stab, and much later, a more educated guess, I had actually figured out the revelation that you're Comstock from the early moments of the game. I guess all of those Infinity Series/Extreme Escape Adventure (Zero Escape) VNs have honed my ability to see through space-time related plot twists. Still, the ending was no less affecting. Realizing that it all had to end with your death, and multiverse versions of Elizabeth murdering her own father for it all to end, still made me cry. And even still, I'm finding it fun to go back through the earlier portions of the game and seeing every bit of plot foreshadowing (though again, with a certain sense of loathing knowing I'll most likely never have the time for a full run through of the game again if I want to get anything else accomplished).

XCom: Enemy Unknown:

Hard is hard.
Hard is hard.

I only have one short comment on XCom, which ties into my problem with Fire Emblem: I can't complete a run through on Hard difficulty (at least on Ironman) because of my OCD tendency to never be able to accept losing someone, especially not an entire squad. All of my hard playthroughs have come to a stalemate with me abandoning them because the next move will result in my losing all or most of a squad no matter what I do. So for as much as I love the game and would posture it as the game of the year for 2012, I feel like I have to give up on it unless I want another boring playthrough on Normal.

Also, I'd prefer a hastened new X-Com game to a new Civ game, because there's much more to be tapped out of this pseudo-reboot than there is from a new Civ game. The upcoming expansion pack and further refinements/expansions to an already perfect game are all I would need out of that branch for a long while, so long as they don't make things too complex.

Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm:

I must confess that I feel a little disheartened by the Starcraft II expansion despite enjoying it greatly (very minor spoilers might be ahead, but I'm keeping things vague).

As someone who plays the franchise for the single-player gameplay and story alone, the additional wait time brought about by the Multiplayer (both to let the current community lavish and to work the balance issues out of the additional expansion units/enhancements) sucked hard, especially since -without trying to spoil anything- there's that huge story backpedal that Brad and countless others have mentioned that makes a lot of Wings of Liberty meaningless, as well the general goofiness of this new all-story that Blizzard is fitting into the Starcraft universe in a big way, and the equal goofiness of the seemingly anime-inspired over-the-top combat in some portions of the game.

And normal is easy.
And normal is easy.

Though my biggest complaint on the gameplay side lies with the single player balance. For as much as they've seemed to refine the multiplayer to death, it's disappointing that I could beat the entirety of the single player campaign on Normal using basically the same strategy: you flood your minerals and gas with the optimal workers, and then you pump out Zerglings. With a continual supply of the things, nothing stands in your way. Couple it with the flying Zergling upgrade, faster Zerglings, and Kerrigan's ability to respawn dead Zerglings, and you have an unstoppable killing machine of hundreds of units able to reach practically anywhere they need to in an instant. All you need is a couple of units to counter the lackluster air support, or on air-heavy missions, just substitute Zerglings for Hydralisks and you're still all set. Then again, much of these complaints are alleviated by playing on Hard out of the gate, as much like Bioshock: Infinite, Hard is the new Normal. Even then, however, I've trounced the first few missions I've played on Hard using the same strategy, where I got my ass handed to me in even some of the early Wings of Liberty missions.

That said, the ending to the game, for as middling as much of the plot has become, still left me feeling like I immediately wanted the Protoss expansion pack. That's unfortunate, given that there's no signs that Blizzard won't withhold that longer for more sales on WOL/HOTS and to give the multiplayer community more time to re-establish after a slight lagging loss to popular MOBA games.

Conclusion?

I don't really have one. I've just played a whole lot of games lately, and, in a rare twist, have actually finished quite a number of them because they've just been that compelling and/or good. Either that, or they've been just fascinating enough for me to meddle with and talk about in hopes that conversation might push me to finish them (as is the case for many of the more impenetrable strategy RPGS).

Here's hoping there will be a whole lot more of those amazing titles which compel me enough to divert me from everything else and obsess over this year, and with this coming generation!

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