By AndrewB 11 Comments
It's been awhile, hasn't it? I think the last time I wrote a blog, it was with the intent to muse about my time with Dragon Age 2. And then I started to loathe Dragon Age 2. And then I gave it another shot. So that's as good a place as any to begin.
Dragon Age 2.
So guess what? Dragon Age 2 is not what Dragon Age: Origins is/was to me. Turns out that the arm of Bioware responsible for the Dragon Age franchise was rushed to put out a sequel and it turned out accordingly. But hey, I have good news for those of you who haven't played the game yet and may have been turned off by the *hatred* towards this game: it's not all bad!
But let's start with the obvious. The wrong. The things you've probably heard a million times over if you've read any bit of criticism for Dragon Age 2. Recycled areas. Enemies that come in waves which spawn right in front of your eyes. Those are the two big ones. Those are the ones that make playing this game a chore rather than a pleasure. These are the things you should be kicking yourself over for paying $60 for this game. Luckily, I payed somewhere between $10 and $15. I'd say that, of the two, the worst blight on the game is the move from carefully crafted encounters you could strategize for, to spawning waves that leave you wondering if you should hold off from using any of your powers, because it's downright frustrating narrowly surviving a group of enemies only to realize that 6 more just appeared behind your most vulnerable, already pretty battered party members.
And not to belabor the ill, but that ending! I sided with the mages, by the way, because my main character *was* a mage, and even though she was a goody-two-shoes, she had at least some sense of self-preservation. Anyway, let me just start off this conversation with: what the fuck? Those last two bosses are weird. The First Enchanter turning himself into a kind of abomination you've never seen before, and for no real reason other than why not. Then the leader of the Templars, possessed by a sword. turning gigantic statues that come out of nowhere into your enemies. And guess which fight was the hardest? It was the one before the real final encounter, because at least with the last boss you get backup from an almost endless supply of allies you've recruited over the course of the game.
But enough about that. I came here to tell you that Dragon Age the Second *isn't* a flaming piece of shit, because the main story eventually leads to interesting places, which will in turn hopefully lead to more interesting places in Dragon Age the Third. Also, the game happens to include a pair of characters very nearly tied for what would have been my favorite characters of the year for 2011. The duo of Aveline and Varric *make* Dragon Age 2. That is without question.
I'm specifically amazed with the character of Aveline, who's tale is more interesting than anything else in the game to the extent where I feel like she could have been the main character. The odd one out in a Bioware game , these days, as a strong and independent woman who's never crying on your shoulder, recovering from the disaster of a battle at Lothering, losing her King, losing her husband, and losing her life, to eventually overthrow corruption in Kirkwall to become captain of the guard, and eventually find happiness in new friends and even a new relationship. That certainly sounds like main character material to me.
Just a shame that she's blind to Hawke's unrequited love for her, though those romantic advances you can make towards her are all the more funny because of it. Bearing witness towards, and helping push forward her relationship with Donnic is just as hilarious.
So ultimately, I must thank Lukas Kristjanson for writing Aveline, and Joanna Roth for bringing her character to life, and redeeming an otherwise poorly conceived video game.
And that's all I want to say about Dragon Age 2, for now.
There's this visual novel I heard about on the Giant Bomb dot com web forums early last month. Since then, it's been sweeping the nation (or more accurately a handful of people on these forums, and a ton of die-hard crazies over at the "game"s official forums). Hey guys, it's a pretty awesome little project, and you should definitely give it a go.
First you should check out this thread.
Then you should try it yourself.
Then you should come back here and read what I'm about to say, because I'm going to spoil the crap out of it in talking about it here.
Let's start with the awesome. Like, how awesome is it that a team of strangers could come together to create something as well-put-together and sweet as Katawa Shoujo, better than many commercial projects, from the base of a single image posted on 4chan?
I was speaking of characters making a game with Dragon Age 2, and now I'll carry that conversation over to Katawa Shoujp as well. Because what else is more important to a story than characters, to begin with? And when we're talking characters in this visual novel, there's one obvious standout.
There are two factors that draw me to Rin. First of all, she's just well-written. Fantastically unique. Crazy and out-there, but believe it or not… she's believable. And that leads me to factor the second: Rin actually reminds me a lot of myself, and my own struggles dealing with an artistic crisis that's been ongoing since I was her age. The parallels I can draw between myself and her make it all the worse seeing her fail; seeing her utterly break. It's funny, now that I think back on it, she actually ends up being the most fragile character. And her two "bad" endings (technically one "bad," one "neutral") are two of the most depressing things to come out of this game. Particularly the neutral ending, which basically sees Rin trapped, doomed to follow a path in life she doesn't really believe in. But heck, for as sweet as her good ending is, that just ends up with a still uncertain (yet at least free) future for both herself and Hisao.
And I couldn't talk about Katawa Shoujo and not mention Lilly, the tall, blonde, queen of passive-agressiveness herself. I grew attached to Lilly in a weird way. Her path was the first I ended up taking, and by the time I was done, I was left wondering if I really wanted to try any others. It felt like it would taint the experience. And I still maintain that Lilly seems, in a way, to be the "real" choice of girls in Katawa Shoujo. Her path includes moments with all of the other girls, where others paths tend to leave you more isolated. It's also the only one to include an epilogue, and thus is the path that wraps things up in the neatest package. But I've since considered the fact that every path is written by a different person, and I figure that might have something to do with it.
Anyway, getting back to Lilly, while I feel like her character is the strongest (mentally), and most personally appealing to me, even I have to admit that the actual story arc is a bit cliche. The most sappy-romance inspired of the bunch, to be sure. The thing is, I don't mind that. And the scene where she forces Hisao to experience "things" the way she does, with the blindfold, did a good job of being (I use the word again) sweet and meaningful, instead of straight-up fetish smut.
In fact, Katawa Shoujo does a good job of organically tying in an incredible number of fetishes into their sex scenes, if you're coming at it from that angle. The thing is, I feel like if you're coming into a visual novel like Katawa Shoujo because you're looking to satisfy something your typical "harem" story would accomplish, you're going to be sorely disappointed. For one thing, alllll~ of the sex scenes in this VN made me feel uncomfortable on different levels. I think that had something to do with the attachment I had come to feel for the characters, and being a little more interested in hearing their story than watching them fuck, but at the same time that's an intregal part of their stories and development as characters… so it's a bit of a dilemma.
And then of course there's the frustrating parts to Katawa Shoujo. Namely Hisao, who so often acts like the most dense moron n the universe. Can I get a show of hands for people who *didn't* guess the fate of Emi's father at the first mention of him and the fact that Emi was a part of a car accident which took her legs in the first place? That's easily the worst of his dumb moments. Or how about not immediately going after the woman you confessed your love to before she exits your life forever, waiting until it's almost too late and then nearly dying of another heart attack as you finally reach her? It's these moments where you wish you had more control over the character who is supposed to be your surrogate, although I guess you could argue that he isn't really representing *you,* as someone like, say, Gordon Freeman. He's his own person with his own story.
Speaking of own story, I did find it particularly interesting how much Hisao's own path changes based on which girl he's dating. The biggest changes are in choice of career path. With Lilly, he decides to become a Science teacher. With Shizune, he wants to be a sign language teacher. Then there are the more hazy moments. I can't remember if he ever really thinks ahead for his future with Hanako. He's even more lost than Rin herself in Rin's path. The other curiosity is what Hisao chooses to do with the letter he receives from his long-forgotten first love, Iwanoko. I can't remember specifics from each path off the top of my head, but I recall that his reaction to the note is quite different depending on the girl he is with. For the most part, he dismisses the letter, figuring he is not meant to reply in the first place. In Hanako's route, however, he seems particularly weak. He responds to the letter. It has more meaning to him. He clings to his past where he wouldn't have with any other girl. It's a nice While it never really amounts to much, it's still… interesting.
Finally, let me speak of Shizune's path; a path I was at first super disappointed in (it was the second one I tried for, and at that time I was still feeling weirdly attached to Lilly to the point where it felt wrong seeing her in any other light besides "girlfriend"), then came around to much later in a second run. I still think it's weird that there is literally one choice to be made in her entire story, and that things wrap up in the most unfullfilling way. I also have to admit that i'm not really interested in the love tale between Hisao and Shizune. I was always more drawn in by the triangle. By Misha's not-so-secret lust for Shizune, and her jealousy towards you because of your closeness. I also, god help me, like Misha. There, i said it. I liked her character. I'd honestly rather be dating her than Shizune, but that's never to be, because Misha is after only one thing, and it isn't your comfort.
And the last thing I'll say about Katawa Shoujo is this, and something I touched on a bit earlier when talking about Rin: some of those "bad end" paths are pretty brutal. As I said, I already mentioned that bit with Rin, but the other noteworthy (and similar) one is the neutral end for Hanako, in which you continue to cling to her like a "project," and she realizes that nothing in her life has changed, that she'll just be isolated with herself and her two best friends, forever living in her protective bubble, and seems to give up any hope that things will ever be different. All this in front of a completely oblivious Hisao.
Seeing those bad endings made me hate that I needed to get them in order to get to that 100% complete mark and fill out the gallery (and that last picture you get at 100% is so not worth it…)
Look, if you're crazy and you still want to hear more about my thoughts on Katawa Shoujo, or want to talk about it in any way, I'd be more than happy to talk with you (as long as you let me talk like Misha the whole time~!), but I feel like I have to end it or risk writing my own little novel right here.
All things Mass Effect.
In commemoration of the third and final game (in this story arc), I somehow found myself playing through the current Mass Effect franchise from beginning to end. Again. This is run number 3 (how fitting!), I think. Twice paragon, once renegade (twice renegade for ME 2).
Honestly, there's not much to say really.
Well, there *is* the fact that I played through both on the hardest difficulty levels. That was a first for me in Mass Effect 1, and again, my second for the sequel. What I learned from the experience is one of two things: either these games just aren't that difficult, or I've found some sort of Zen (not the planet from Half-Life, either). I breezed through both, particularly the second game. In fact, I hadn't died once up until the Collector ship. And man, that reminded me just how brutal some of the checkpointing can be. Making all the way through a good 10 minute combat sequence only to be cut down by the very last Scion, who is at just a sliver of health himself, no less, is frustrating.
This is also my first renegade Shepard from start to finish, and let me tell you, I'm finding the game more fun playing Renegade. It works out a lot better in the first game. I got through while maintaining a romance with Kaidan, being a hardass, but never feeling like I did something "evil." Mass Effect 2 doesn't do as good of a job with the grey areas. Or maybe it's just that they make the future ramifications for your actions seem more obvious. Destroy this possible cure to the Genophage? Hand over the keys to the Collector base to the egomaniacal space racist (and have every single crewmate, even the EVIL ones, comment to you about how much a dumbs you are)?
But man, those "pull the right trigger for awesome" sequences are almost always priceless. I also feel like the dialog and even the tone of the character *fits* better as a renegade. Shepard as a no-compromises badass feels right; feels like the only way someone could get the things she does done properly.
Except you'd better damn well give Liara a hug when that left trigger sequence pops up, regardless of how much of a space asshole you're role-playing.
So yeah, I'm done with all games Mass Effect besides the third game for a very long while.
Also, I know how the third game ends now (don't worry, I'm not going to say anything spoiler-y here, but you should maybe avoid looking at my prior forum posts in case I've quoted something with spoilers in it). Yeah, curiosity got the better of me, and my hunch that I had pretty much figured where things were going… well, it turned out to be right, so I don't feel like anything was necessarily spoiled for me. It's the journey that matter right now. I won't comment on how I feel about Bioware's storytelling opus, and I feel like I really can't pass judgement until I've seen it for myself, but there it is.
So I recently purchased Icewind Dale and Baldur's Gate 2 Complete on GoG (mostly for the easy access to the soundtrack, as I already own BG2, of course). I tried playing a little Icewind Dale. It's surreal playing the only Infinity Engine game I've never set eyes on before now, a good 12 years after its release. It's also… not good. I can't sit through Infinity Engine combat (D&D 2nd edition, no less) without a story that's worth a damn, or characters I care about. My party may be my own creations, but the most interesting thing about any of them is that one is voiced by Sarevok (Kevin Michael Richardson), who even jokes about wishing he was in Baldur's Gate when you click on him too many times. So I gave up on that early on.
Now I'm thinking about playing through Baldur's Gate 2 instead. It's been FOREVER since I made it any deeper than that first Irenicus dungeon/tutorial area and up to recruiting Aerie. Even though I've seen most everything there is to see from that game, I feel better playing a story and experiencing it with a lovable cast. Besides, I've never finished the Jahiera romance, due to it being perpetually BROKEN, and only fixed via a fan made patch years later.
Unfortunately, that plan may have to be put on hold for awhile. For now I have work, and then hopefully at the end of the work week I'll have Mass Effect 3 in my hands. Maybe. Hopefully. I'd hate to be one of those people who takes a sick day to play a video game. I might have to admit I have a problem, at that point.