Dangerous Monster Crocodiles 4 and other excellent uses of time and money

In which, to no one's surprise, I feel the need to talk about Fire Emblem first.

The Nohr path is meant to be the more challenging of the two. But does it have better face-rubbing waifus?

What’s up everyone? I've had a bit of a weird week for video games. I went on vacation for a little while and was sorta busy with family stuff for the past few days, but even before that last week involved a lot of me watching weird late-night streams of people playing the new Fire Emblem game that won't come out here until sometime early next year. If you’ve been around this site for a while, you’ll probably know that I’m sort of a nut when it comes to Fire Emblem. I’ve finished most of the games in the series at least once, (that includes 4 of the 7 Japan-only titles), gave Awakening my Game of the Year award back in 2013 and even bought all the overpriced DLC for it. What I’ve seen of Fates suggests it is still a quality Fire Emblem-esque strategy game. It also seems to have doubled down on the anime waifu stuff that Awakening had a little bit of, which I am less than keen on but the fangirls in the forums I’ve been lurking around are very keen on. I’m very curious to see how the localizers deal with some of the more fanservice-y elements that are all over the place in the Japanese version, be it face rubbing, dress-up funtimes or maybe the pseudo-incest that can happen between your player-created avatar and their (non blood related) siblings from both families, Westermarck effect be damned, apparently.

Hoshido is meant to be more like Awakening, because it has grinding. Also, this is the one with the lesbian, if you care about that sort of thing.

It’s also worth noting that the game is being sold as two different campaigns based around what kingdom your character decides to side with (with a third neutral campaign coming as DLC). I’m a sucker and will inevitably get all 3 regardless of what pricing model happens (in Japan if you buy one campaign the other is discounted if you get it digitally), but I cannot say how that will fly with the rest of you. From a tactical angle it looks more interesting than Awakening did, especially since pairing-up was so broken in that game and it looks like the Nohr campaign will have more interesting objectives than just “Seize the throne” or “Defeat the boss”. Just figured I’d let you all know these important details about a game that isn’t coming out in the west for at least 6 months because I care. No, I still don’t know what the hell is up with that Fire Emblem/Shin Megami Tensei crossover thing but I’ll probably buy it.

This blog is actually about Devil May Cry 4

Dudes with white hair murdering demons the fourth

The existence of Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition is weird. Sure, Capcom in general is in a weird place right now (listen, I’ll defend Resident Evil Zero to a point, but I don’t really think it needs an HD update unless you want to tweak parts of the design while you’re at it), but this game is particularly weird. If you wanted an acknowledgement that the Ninja Theory reboot went too far in the direction of making a casual game for casual babies (or something, I dunno, I’d rather play that than the original Devil May Cry and its weird Resident Evil baggage at this point), I guess that DmC “Definitive Edition” that came out earlier this year and all the changes they made to make it play more like those old games would be that, right? But even beyond that, they felt the need to go back to a 7-year-old game that wasn’t universally beloved in the first place, clean it up a little and throw in 3 new characters all seemingly laser-focused on that same hardcore crowd who felt burned by DmC. It’s a weird gesture that makes me wonder exactly where the series will end up next, should Capcom actually decide to make new video games instead of just re-releasing old ones. Unless they wanna bring over Dragon’s Dogma Online. I’d be okay with that coming out over here.

Lemme start off by first saying that Devil May Cry 4 has some amazing combat, perhaps not so much a refinement of what was accomplished by DMC 3 as an expansion, especially with the extra characters introduced here. While more modern action games have managed to be technically interesting without being inaccessible, there’s something about the very mechanical, slightly stiff feeling of Devil May Cry 3 and 4 that I really enjoy. Maybe it’s because it feels sort of like a fighting game? Regardless, it’s probably best if I go through the characters one-by-one. You start the game as Nero, a white-haired bishonen who would probably be mistaken as Dante by someone not knowledgeable about the franchise. He only has one sword and one gun, but he learns a lot of different moves and has a stupid devil arm that you can use to grab and slam enemies for massive damage over and over again (and can even be used on bosses if you stun them). Thanks to that arm, as well as the way you can rev up his Red Queen sword if you press L2 right after executing an attack (haven’t quite gotten the timing yet, but I imagine if I practiced enough I eventually would) he’s sort of overpowered. Sure, his Blue Rose gun doesn’t do a whole lot, but when you can grab distant enemies with the Devil Bringer arm it doesn’t really matter. Once you get to a little past the halfway mark with Nero, you switch over to Dante, who is far less whiny and far more charmingly goofy. He plays pretty similarly to how he played in Devil May Cry 3, but can now switch his combat styles on the fly, which I’m sure would open up all sorts of combo possibilities if I was super elite e-sports crazy and could do more than occasionally switch from Swordmaster to Trickster when I need the extra agility (Unfortunately, I think most of the gunslinger moves kinda suck and I’ve never gotten the Royal Guard parry timing down). Alas, having to share the spotlight means his arsenal is a bit lacking. While I like the Rebellion sword and the Gilgamesh gauntlets just fine, I never really figured out the Lucifer weapon, which summons a bunch of phantom swords that you can detonate on command. It’s like the Nevan guitar in 3, inasmuch as I’m sure you can do bad things with it, but the “how” part is less straightforward than the other ones. While I don’t dislike him (or any of the characters, I think they’re all fun), he’s definitely not as broken as Nero can be. But those two squares were already in the game when it came out in 2008. How do the new guys fare? Quite well, thanks for asking! Vergil has his own campaign and plays a lot like he did in DMC 3 Special Edition, complete with all the teleporting/summoned sword craziness you’d expect. He has several new moves on top of those, obviously, but his biggest addition is the “concentration gauge” that fills when you don’t take damage, miss attacks or run around aimlessly and boosts your damage when it gets high enough. It’s a neat mechanic that rewards a more calculated approach to combat without directly hammering on any more mechanical complexity. Then there are Lady and Trish, who have their own campaign that splits along the same lines as Dante/Nero. Lady is basically Dante’s Gunslinger style on steroids, with only a slow (albeit powerful) bayonet for melee. Otherwise she’s all about guns, juggling between pistols, a shotgun and her trusty rocket launcher, all of which can be charged for a ton of damage and general murder funtimes. Throw in a grappling hook that acts like a less broken version of Nero’s arm and she has a lot of fun tools to work with. It’s almost disappointing how straightforward Trish is by comparison, having the Sparda sword which resembles Dante’s rebellion and hand-to-hand attacks that resemble Gilgamesh. That’s not to say she isn’t fun, or can’t do some bad things with her lightning trail divekicks and sword throwing insanity, but of all the characters she’s probably the least crazy.

Unfortunately, I wish I could stop with me talking about how much I love the combat and the new characters. But alas, the core problems that plagued Devil May Cry 4 when it came out 7 years ago are still there. So I totally played this game on 360 like 4 or 5 years ago, but never finished it When I played through this special edition, I was immediately reminded why. The structure of this game is straight up poor. So you start the game as Nero, obviously. He runs around for 12 chapters, solving boring “puzzles” and engaging in semi-frustrating platforming between fights before Dante shows up. As Dante, you go through the exact same levels, but backwards, fighting most of the same enemies and the exact same bosses you just spent the first 3-4 hours fighting, occasionally engaging in boring “puzzles” every now and again. Then, once you reach the last two chapters, you go back to playing as Nero and engage in boss rush where you fight most of them again. For a third time. The last boss (who himself is a repeat) is sort of a joke, credits roll and heads are scratched. It’s a bummer. Perhaps a victim of the rising cost of game development during the last console generation, it’s basically half a game stretched out to fill a full one. While Dante is still a whole character with plenty of crazy moves between his 3 weapons, 3 guns and 4 styles, it’s fair to say he sorta gets the shaft in favor of Señor Brasa Diablo. You get his last weapon, Lucifer, two chapters before you switch back to Nero and you get the bonus Dark Slayer style (where he uses the Yamato and has a couple of Vergil’s moves) on his last chapter. I guess I’m more willing to excuse that, given that the game is meant to be replayed, but it hardly fixes the problem if the last thing you want to do is deal with more repetition.

Finally, a video game where I can watch a bloodstained Chocobo die from gunfire wounds!

Thankfully, the combat is rrrrrly good, right? Right? This game has made me think about how much crap I’m willing to tolerate in a game if a certain aspect of it appeals to me on a fundamental level. I’ve shared my admiration for the undeniably Japanese, undeniably flawed Dragon’s Dogma before, along with the uncompromising Temple of Elemental Evil and the “Interactive Novel pretending to be a video game” that is Planescape Torment. So, if anything, some of my favorite games are fundamentally flawed in one way or another and I imagine some of you have similar feelings about other games. It’s pretty obvious why DMC 4 got the mixed reception that it did. Your enjoyment of that game is very decidedly tied to how much you’re willing to tolerate middling level design and repetition for the sake of interesting combat. But if it’s interesting combat you want, Bayonetta 2 doesn’t have to make that compromise and neither did Devil May Cry 3. I’m still enjoying plucking away at the Vergil and Lady/Trish campaigns a few missions at a time, which suggests I can tolerate that repetition to a degree, but I’m not sure if I’m going to mess with the higher difficulties all that much. I’d rather just replay DMC 3 or something. Still, I’m not going to pretend I didn’t enjoy my time with DMC 4. $25 is just about the right price and the new additions are all fun. I just wish the icing around the combat cake was *better*, to the point where I’m not sure where this game might end up come Game of the Year. Ah well. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to self-justify my purchase of Final Fantasy Type-0 by saying I’d rather play that than Lightning Returns.

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Brief Bloodbloggery and other excellent uses of time and money

Ho there wanderer, how farest you upon the roads of the Internet? Well, I hope. Not being in school and only working part-time right now means I have way too much free time on hand to engage in dumb video games or sleep for a regrettable number of hours. But that’s not your problem. That’s my problem. And I’m working on it. But while I’m working on improving myself and my life in general, there’s still plenty of time for writing about the games I have been playing in an act of self-indulgence and vanity that assumes any of you actually care what I think.I’d like to think some of you do, but I think I’ve figured out that this sort of stuff is as much writing practice and self-expression for me as it is anything coherent for the rest of you. Did you read my review of Pillars of Eternity? You should. I think that game is really great. Even as I totally backed The Bard’s Tale 4 like a sucker, knowing fully well that I had some problems with Wasteland 2 and have yet to see Torment: Tides of Numenera prove itself (assuming it comes out this year, which I sincerely doubt), it’s good to be reminded that Kickstarter can produce some absolute winners. But I think I’ll start this thing with some talk about a game that I don’t necessarily think is a winner…

Games I should like, but don’t: Klei's revenge

I think it’s telling that even when I wrote my last blog, I totally passed over that I did a playthrough of Invisible Inc. That game should have my name written all over it. Turn-based tactics? Sneaking stuff? Isometric camera perspective? The developers of… exactly zero games that I’ve really loved? Ok, maybe that should have been a bigger warning sign. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Mark of the Ninja just fine (and I like Don’t Starve in concept), but it felt like a stealth game for people who didn’t actually like stealth games. I like stealth games. I put that damn Thief reboot on my Game of the Year list last year as one of 3 people who didn’t totally hate or dismiss it as a Dishonored wannabe.

No, really. This game SHOULD be made for me

So with that in mind, I didn’t much care for the 5 or so hours I spent playing through Invisible Inc on its “beginner” difficulty. While it didn’t enrage me the same way CounterSpy did with its brand of soul-crushing mediocrity, I think I’ve come to realize that procedurally generated levels and roguelike elements aren’t so much a portal to infinite replayability as they are an excuse for not needing to design any hand-crafted scenarios that might actually be interesting on their own merits. But while the core mechanics of Invisible Inc. work as advertised (you can, in fact, be a sneaky dude who hacks things, steals stuff, maybe knocks out a few guards along the way in a turn based fashion), I don’t think they’re very fun to mess around with. I like it when stealth games allow me to work with machinelike precision, but also improvise if things go wrong (that, or abuse quick saves like no tomorrow). Because it’s all randomly generated nonsense, Invisible Inc is all improvisation around environments that were spit out by a computer instead of a human designer. Throw in a FTL-esque race against the clock and the part where it has roguelikelike elements and suddenly it’s a game that focuses on the parts of stealth games that annoy me, especially when you get screwed over by a random guard that you didn’t know was there or whatnot. If you want to approach this game from the perspective of turn-based tactics, I usually like those games if they allow for a breadth of options. This game? Not so much. Each agent has one or two gimmicks that might make certain things easier, but it’s not like you have a wide variety of actions you can take between knocking a guard out or just trying to sneak out of his field of vision. You can’t go too aggressive because ammo is in short supply/stun rods take power or have to recharge, and you can’t be too passive because there’s a constantly ticking up alarm level that will eventually end with heavily armed guards knowing exactly where your agents are. If I sound a little vague talking about this game, it’s because I’ve already started forgetting the specifics. It’s obviously meant to be replayed multiple times on higher difficulties with different starting agents and hacking programs, but the core of the experience wasn’t entertaining enough for me to want to do that, and not just because I finished it like right before I bought that PS4. If this sounds like something that might interest you, in spite of my relatively underwhelming experience, maybe wait for a sale? It’s probably not as bad as I’m making it sound out to be, but I didn’t much care for it.

(Hopefully this segment won’t return next blog. I’m hoping Massive Chalice becomes more interesting than it initially appeared.)

So I own a Playstation 4

As mentioned in my last blog, I sorta blew my federal and state tax refund on a Sony Playstation 4 and a handful of games. That’s worked out pretty well. I think Mortal Kombat X is a solid, fun fighting game that thankfully seems to have an abundance of people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing online. Far Cry 4 might be the game that breaks the concept of “climbing towers to reveal more of your minimap” for me, but it’s also chaotic nonsense in the same way the 3rd game was, so I’m pretty happy about that. I also picked up Lords of the Fallen and Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin, but haven’t played enough of those to write anything serious, at least not yet. (oh right, also my PS4 was bundled with The Last of Us. I haven’t played it) Instead, let’s talk about that game the rest of you already talked about like 3 months ago: Bloodborne!

Bloodborne was a pretty good motivator to get a PS4. Sure, it helps that this computer is on its last legs as something that can reliably play modern stuff, but this game alone makes me feel alright about my poor financial decisions. It’s been just long enough since I found Demon’s Souls sorta underwhelming for one of these kinds of games to be fresh again, and to its credit, Bloodborne does enough differently from its forebears to be an unique experience, even underneath the larger Souls umbrella (which it is still undoubtedly a part of). I just got the benefits of faster loading times, a couple balance and matchmaking tweaks and all the important information in the wikis already filled out, unlike the rest of you. I’ll refrain from reiterating the broad points about the game, because I imagine a lot of you already know them. For as much as I really enjoyed the way Dark Souls 2 allowed for a larger variety of interesting character builds and made the multiplayer side of things a lot better than the first game, I don’t particularly resent Bloodborne for going in the complete opposite direction of only a handful of different builds and far less emphasis on multiplayer covenant funtimes. That’s fine. While I might consider a platinum somewhere down the road, I’m not enough of a super duper hardcore souls guy to be incredibly bothered that I can’t run around with dual greatswords like a maniac at all times like I did in DS2. The trick weapons have enough variety unto themselves and they all seem useful. I personally found the most use out of the Blade of Mercy, with its ultra-fast attack speed allowing me to lock down most enemies long enough to rip them apart, though before that the Threaded Cane also did the job quite nicely. But then I made a new character to mess around with some of the strength weapons and the Hunter’s Axe seems preeeeeeety good too. And boy, the game really goes there with its enemy and boss design, especially by the end when it changes from a more gothic Van Helsing-esque monster hunt to Lovecraftian Moon Aliens being crazy. If I do have a problem with it, it’s that it hides too many of its character building features until around the halfway mark. That includes Caryll Runes (hidden in a totally optional area), interesting blood gems to socket into your weapons, like half the weapons themselves unless you know exactly where they are, and the hunter’s tools that are this game’s equivalent of magic (as a counterpoint, most of them seem to be of dubious usefulness).

I don’t really feel the need to prattle on too much, chances are you already know what Bloodborne is and how you feel about it. But needless to say, I enjoyed it quite a bit and it will likely show up somewhere on my game of the year list. But this year isn’t quite over yet. I still have some things I’d like to play, things that haven’t come out yet, and likely things that haven’t even popped up on my radar. Lemme tell you about Serpent in the Staglands. It’s like someone made Baldur’s Gate. In 1993. And set it in a world inspired by Romanian folklore. It’s sort of insane and I’m digging it thus far, given the way it commits to being “olde skoole” wholeheartedly. And hey, maybe Massive Chalice won’t continue to be sorta “eh”. We’ll see. Until next time!

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An Arbitrary Update in the month of May (and other excellent uses of time and money)

It’s been awhile since I’ve written one of these things, hasn’t it? Well, things are going ok. I bought a PS4 (along with Bloodborne, Mortal Kombat X and Lords of the Fallen), so now I can hang with all the cool kids and play catch-up on the stuff that I missed last year because my computer couldn’t handle it. That means at some point down the road I need to purchase/borrow/steal copies of The Evil Within and Far Cry 4, the former because I hate myself and need to see the game for myself, the latter because I really liked Far Cry 3 and figure more of that is something I could do with every now and again. My PSN ID is AquaRandom, should you wish to beat my ass at MK. Why isn’t it ArbitraryWater? That name was already taken when I made my account last year, weirdly enough.

The blog output should be a little more consistent this summer and maybe at some point I’ll get around to writing that Pillars of Eternity review I’ve been mentally writing in my head for the past month and a half. Why haven’t I finished it yet? Because I had finals and there’s something to be said for momentum when you’re playing games. I’ll try to finish it this week! I have nothing but free time once I’m done with work, time that I can spend in questionable ways, be it playing video games or attempting to write a Pathfinder campaign, given it’s my first time as DM. Hell, maybe I’ll try to finish Lightning Returns. That seems like a bad idea. Well, maybe not as bad as trying to play Conception II, but that’s another story...

Another 240 hours of Monster Hunter (Or: Why the L button on my 3DS is broken)

Seregios gonna get you

I think I’ve just about burnt out on this for the time being, at least as something that I play on a daily, obsessive basis to the detriment of my academic and social pursuits. It only took 340 or so hours for that to happen; no big deal. I’ve already written a whole piece on Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate and its excellently crafted animation-priority boss battle gameplay, so I’ll keep this brief: Monster Hunter 4 is one of the best games I’ve played this year. It’s an insidiously addictive grind treadmill that can be played in short bursts or marathon sessions, and it has enough content and variety to avoid the problem of serious repetition. Wanna know why I did so abysmally last semester? Well, a bunch of personal stuff reared its ugly head, but Monster Hunter certainly didn’t help!

Since my last blog I’ve basically reached the end-game of non-DLC quest funtimes. I have several nice sets of G-Rank armor, maxed out weapons and have started taking up evade lancing with the dope Crimson Fatalis lance I made out of its body parts. It works pretty well. For me, the greatest strength of Monster Hunter is the way it rewards the player for understanding and reacting to the various nuances of the weapons and the monsters you fight. Did you know that you can do mid-air reloads with bowguns if you jump off a ledge? The emergency dive when running away from monsters while your weapon is sheathed is completely invincible for all of its active frames? Gogmazios is a terrifying giant tar dragon? Some of the systems are arcane nonsense, I had a wiki on hand pretty much at all times, but the core gameplay of fighting big, horrific monsters (preferably with others) is solid, fun and most importantly for me, pretty much free of any sort of egregious fluff. Oh, I still have to gather some random ore or bugs or fish every now and again, but by G rank I was pretty singularly focused on the art of ice cold monster murdering.

But let’s say you aren’t willing to sacrifice all your free time and/or physical and mental wellbeing to the kind of investment I’ve made. Is Monster Hunter still something someone could enjoy without making a bunch of ridiculous rank 10 weapons that look like they’re made from the parts of the monsters you’ve murdered? Yeah, probably. I’m not going to be a snob and say “The game doesn’t really even start until you reach high/G rank quests.” because I don’t think that’s true. I will say that you’re missing out if you just play through the low rank story missions long enough to fight Shagaru Magala, because to me the core of Monster Hunter is playing with others, be they strangers or friends. Still, if the time commitment intimidates you I imagine if you stuck with a small handful of weapons and didn’t try to grind a bunch of stuff out you’d be able to see whatever you want to see in a semi-reasonable amount of time. If you’re on the fence, try the demo, or buy it on sale or something, then watch a bunch of GaijinHunter’s tutorial videos on the Youtubes. Like a lot of the games I like, it’s probably not for everyone and that’s ok. Games that are actually for everyone are either focus-tested to the point of blandness or Super Mario Bros-level masterpieces. I wouldn’t go as far as to call Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate a masterpiece, but it is an excellent alternative to crack cocaine.

Other Junk:

Being the person of excellent taste that I am, I introduced my roommate (The same roommate whom I played way too much League of Legends with back in the day) to Dragon’s Dogma because he hadn’t played it. This led to me experiencing a lot of that game again, vicariously, including the Bitterblack Isle stuff that I had hardly touched at all. Yo, speaking of Monster Hunter, Dragon’s Dogma sure does take some inspiration from that, but in the context of a regular action game for humans (albeit one with its own share of bizarre design choices and quirks), while the Dark Arisen content might as well turn into Dark Souls at some point, right down to it being sadistically hard and evoking a lot of profanities from the player. Despite all those various influences, the thing I’ll say about DD is that there’s nothing else quite like it and it’s still one of my favorite games from the last few years…. which is probably why the idea of a Free-to-Play online variant seems like it could either be the best thing ever or a massive disappointment.

Down the rabbit hole of “Obscure old games” that I sometimes descend to, I’m going to just mention Fantasy General as something that I’ve been spending a decent amount of time with. A hex-based turn-based strategy game from 1996 from the team that made Panzer General, Fantasy General scratches the itch for more minimalistic, chess-like strategy that I’m surprisingly into. With a lot of the strategy games that I like being dense and mechanics heavy, the refreshingly straightforward nature of “Cavalry get bonuses on open plains, heavy infantry are the strongest overall, Siege Weapons are squishy as hell but can attack indirectly” it actually reminds me a decent amount of Advance Wars and made me realize how much I’d like a new one of those. Not that I’m complaining, Intelligent Systems. You are free to make as many Fire Emblem games as you dang please (even if they come out in Japan next month but not until next year for the states), but with Codename: STEAM being sort of a disappointment and Advance Wars Dual Strike being almost a decade old at this point, don’t you think we could use a new one of those? Oh right. Days of Ruin. But, one of those without the bad PG edginess and rocking rock music CO themes that all sound the same. Please and thank you.

Yo the Eternal Lords expansion for Age of Wonders III is pretty good. I’m the only person on these forums who likes and has played a significant amount of Age of Wonders III? Ok. There are tiger people and ice goblins now. The tweaks the developers have made since launch last year continue to impress, it’s become a much better game.

Blackguards 2 seems alright!

Looking ahead

With this summer ostensibly being my time to get my shit together and plan things out, I wonder if I could apply the same goal-oriented approach to my idiotic video game junk? I can try! The scattering of partially-finished games that I’d like to finish is something I’d really like to tackle in an efficient fashion so we don’t end up with a “No really, I’ll finish Icewind Dale 2 at some point” situation. But does that even matter? Leaving stuff unfinished always has bugged the more obsessive-compulsive aspects of my personality, but on the other hand I usually play what I feel like playing at any given moment… which thus far has been a lot of low-commitment matches of strategy games and the like. How important is it that I clear away this hypothetical backlog? How important is it that I try to keep up with the games that are hip and relevant and thus engender more discussion? I’m sorry if this sounds like I’m thinking aloud (in written form). I am. Ok. Goals? Goals. Finish Pillars of Eternity by the end of this week. Ok? good. Done. No other guarantees, but that one is something I can likely keep. I won’t make any promises for the likes of Persona Q/Dragon Age Inquisition/Anvil of Dawn/Lightning Returns/Pokemon Omega Ruby/Fantasy Life/One of those God of War games/A Lunatic difficulty Playthrough of Fire Emblem Awakening, but I still have like 3 ½ months to figure that out, right? Oh, I’ll spend less time playing video games and more time trying to figure stuff out like how to be responsible? Dang. Well, I’ll try. And to the rest of you, I wish you well. Here, have a video of Dan and some other Game Informer folks engaging in what I can only describe as "Not quite as funny as Bioforge, still pretty funny"

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100 hours of MH (and other excellent uses of time and money but not really because I just played Monster Hunter)

Hey guys, apropos of nothing and definitely not related to this week’s blog, here are some hour counts for some video games according to my steam library/3DS usage statistics.

Keep in mind that a lot of those games attained the hour count they did over the course of weeks if not months. Now obviously I can’t count the number of hours I’ve spent playing the likes of any given Heroes of Might and Magic game (except the rather underwhelming Heroes VI, which I clocked in a mere 29 hours into), or any number of older PC or console titles. I’m just throwing these numbers out there to give you a decent idea that yeah, I do like to spend some time playing some games occasionally. Now I’m going to list another number: 112 hours. You may notice that number is bigger than the other numbers. Now I’m going to tell you that number was reached over the course of a little more than 3 weeks. Shock! Horror! What could have done such a thing? Was it the League of Legends? No, I’m an old man now and playing too much League makes my wrist hurt. What about Lightning Returns, you said you were going to play that, right? No, I still haven’t played a ton of Lightning Returns. Alas dear reader, you already know what dark and terrible force has consumed me. They call it… Monster Hunter. It's true. I've fallen into the mouth of Mango.

I have a problem. I have a problem with Monster Hunter, that only writing about it will cure. That, and maybe asking my roommate to hide my copy from me until the weekend so I can actually get around to doing my dang homework and/or playing games that aren’t Monster Hunter. Sure, I could talk about how Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition actually adds something of value, unlike the enhanced editions of Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2. Sure, I could tell you what I thought of the first episode of Resident Evil Revelations 2, but it was like 2 hours long and I haven’t gotten around to the other episodes yet. It’s all meaningless anyways, I’d argue Crusader Kings II is a much, much scarier game given my attempts at understanding that. Wait, what were we talking about?

Monster Hunter is basically drugs

The Gore Magala is basically the first real difficulty hump monster in the game. There's a reason why the sucker is on the cover.

You remember when Patrick played like 15 hours of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and triumphantly declared that he “got” it after doing so? I can’t help but find that to be a little presumptuous now. I’ll admit, I played a little more than that of 3U myself, and yeah, I would have likely played a lot more if had permanent access to the Wii U at my parents’ house, but that’s dipping your toe into a lake. To get all uppity with my computer man elitism, it’s the equivalent of playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown on Normal difficulty once, then declaring that you’re a fan of Turn-Based Strategy games despite XCOM being probably one of the single most approachable titles in the genre. You get the idea, you likely get the appeal, but you have yet to really find the intricacy that makes the enthusiasts go for it in the first place. Me? I’ve descended into the abyss, and yet even with the hour count in the triple digits there’s still a ridiculous amount of content I haven’t seen. I just fought a giant enemy crab for the first time recently. It has a dinosaur skull for its shell and spits water at you while strafing. I killed it with a giant thunder greatsword that I made from murdering a bunch of Khezu, which are basically a cross between a dragon and a lamprey (and also electric). That’s not even getting to the half-dozen other weapons I’ve crafted for use against dozens of other beasts, all so I can carve them up to make better gear to murder more powerful foes. It’s a delirious treadmill of slaughter that only ends when I realize that it’s 2AM and I have work in 6 hours. Not since my freshman addiction to League of Legends have I made so many poor decisions about how to spend my time in the span of only a few weeks. That is both a testament to Monster Hunter’s quality as a game and as an alternative to smack.

I haven't even encountered whatever monster that is on the cover of the Japanese version! All I know is that it's probably terrifying.

Monster Hunter has been compared to the Souls series quite a bit, and for good reason. They both share a love of animation-priority combat systems, initially steep learning curves, heavy memorization elements and dedicated, zealous fanbases. I, quite frankly, don’t think I could have made the jump to enjoying Monster Hunter if not for the Souls series. Dark Souls is also, for whatever mystique has formed around it, a difficult action RPG that rewards patience and has a definitive end. MH is not structured that way, and I think its structure has made me understand why people got addicted to Destiny or like… any given MMO ever made what with the endless grind treadmill and the pleasure centers of the brain. The difference, then, is that I actually like the way Monster Hunter plays. It’s essentially a game that consists almost entirely of boss fights, is decidedly multiplayer-focused (I certainly play it that way) and is about the continual murder of large, ferocious monsters. There are 14 types of weapons in MH4U and they all play significantly different from one another and with the exception of the large, clumsy, support-focused Hunting Horn I’ve enjoyed using them all to some degree. This wouldn’t mean a whole lot if I didn’t also think the monsters were fun to fight. They are similarly distinct (even differently colored variants of the same monster tend to do things differently) and are dynamic and interesting enough that I haven’t gotten bored of fighting any of them yet. To be fair, there are also A LOT of monsters, what with the whole 10 years worth of franchise to draw from, and the craziest part is that even at my current hour count I figure I’ve only seen like half of them. Even the writing, which is for all intents and purposes filler, is surprisingly clever.

Tigrex? Pfft. I can take a Tigrex.

There is a lot of game in Monster Hunter to support itself. It’s a pity then, that the parts of the game that are not the parts where you are killing some sort of giant dragon thing are lame and not great. I’d imagine a lot of it is just a consequence of series baggage weighing things down, but going on gathering quests to find one rare drop bug or type of ore is tedious at best, a waste of time at worst. I can say similar things in regards to rare monster materials, though other than the time I hunted Pink Rathians for 2-3 days just so I could get a dang ruby to get better armor I haven’t experienced a ton of that thankfully. There’s also the part where, even though it explains itself and eases the player in better than 3 ultimate did, you’re still going to need a wiki handy to know what drops where, weapon upgrade trees and even certain concepts like affinity (critical chance, for the record). If Dark Souls got off on not telling you a whole lot then this game is sort of restricted by it. While you can certainly discover the nuances of the weapons and the monsters by yourself, there’s no excuse for not telling me what any given armor skill actually does unless I have enough points for it to tell me, nor do I really want to skim a guide to know where I can find “Fuicum Ore”. I also think the way levels are structured can be a little weird, I could do with absolutely zero delivery/gather quests, I think the mounting minigame is piss-easy and I wish the single-player stuff was more interesting. None of this stuff has been enough to really turn me off from Monster Hunter, obviously, but lest you think I am showering this game too much with my praises it’s not perfect and it’s certainly not for everyone. Unfortunately, until Brad Muir stops making turn-based XCOM/Fire Emblem wannabes and goes back to making Brazen a reality, I’m not sure if you can have a game like Monster Hunter without the caveat of some of the surrounding mechanics being archaic in a bad way. Well, I guess you could also play Dragon’s Dogma, but that actually plays like a normal action game. You should play Dragon’s Dogma regardless.

Based on the ridiculous amount of time sunk into it, you’d think I’d be tired of Monster Hunter. Not so. Not so, to the point where I’m forcing myself to not play it until the weekend because holy shit I’ve played way too much Monster Hunter. I guess I have to play that copy of Majora’s Mask I touched like once, maybe try to finish Persona Q even though I sorta hate the 4th labyrinth. Heck, I’m good for whatever until Pillars of Eternity comes out later this month. Maybe I’ll just do homework and go to bed before midnight. Maybe.

And here, as a bonus, are what I think of each weapon type:

Sword and Shield: Possibly my favorite weapon class. Fast and relentless, but unlike the dual blades you can block and use items. The fact that none of the attack strings are super long means I can dodge out of the way instead of committing to something, which certainly helps when I’m playing sloppy.

Dual Blades: Ridiculously fast and capable of outputting a lot of damage in demon mode, especially when it comes to these dope Gravios swords I made that do fire damage and inflict poison. They eat up sharpness like crazy though, and I don’t have any armor sets to help with that yet.

Longsword: My initial weapon of choice. As its name implies, the giant two-handed katanas have a long range and are decently fast once you know what you’re doing with them. I haven’t used them as much in recent days because the spirit slashes that you need to up your damage output also have a nasty habit of smacking teammates around and I like to be a team player.

Greatsword: I initially didn’t know what to do with these until I watched a tutorial video and learned that until you can get an opening to do a charged swing you’re better off sheathing the weapon and hitting with the drawing attack constantly. But man, MAN is hitting a monster with 2 fully charged swings super satisfying.

Hammer: To date, the only weapon type I haven’t touched. Will rectify when I craft a decent hammer.

Lance: I haven’t messed around with the regular lance a whole lot, given the presence of its sexier counterpart. For what is ostensibly a defense-oriented weapon, it’s surprisingly mobile given the charge attack and the ability to sidestep 3 times in a row after a stab. Also that counter move seems awesome but I don’t have the timing on it down quite yet.

Gunlance: It’s a damn lance that is also a gun. I don’t know how you couldn’t like that. Less mobile than the regular lance but you can stab things and shoot them at the same time, which I approve of. I just need to get better at blocking with it, that or get way into evade lancing, which is a thing that people do I guess.

Switch Axe: A fun weapon to use, between the longer-ranged axe and the faster sword forms you can pump out a lot of damage very quickly. It gets bonus points from me for having what is my favorite finishing move, the overdrive stab (I don’t think it’s called that but whatever), where you explode the elemental power of the sword in their face and it auto-switches back to axe.

Insect Glaive: A new weapon to this game, it has speed, reach and can pole vault to do mounting attacks willy-nilly. The cost? Having to manage insect “juice” buffs by hitting certain parts of the monster with your attack bug. Not a problem once I got the hang of it, but getting there was occasionally annoying. The increase in damage output is significant though.

Hunting Horn: I’m not above playing a support role and that’s something this weapon does super well. I just wish the weapon itself wasn’t so… clumsy? Slow? I know it can KO enemies the same way the hammer does, but it doesn’t seem to do that nearly as well. On the plus side, I’m swinging around a giant bell like it was a hammer and smacking monsters in the face.

Charge Blade: The other new weapon, similar in concept to the Switch Axe. Essentially you want to charge up the blade with the sword and shield form and then blow your elemental bursts with the axe form, but I haven’t quite mastered it yet. Still fun to use.

Light/Heavy Bowgun. They are functionally the same weapon. The Light Bowgun is far more mobile, can be equipped with a silencer to decrease monster aggro and can do a 3-4 round burst shot that leaves you vulnerable but can cause some hurt if you do it right. The Heavy Bowgun is more powerful, can be equipped with a basic shield to automatically block frontal attacks (has saved me multiple times) and can enter a “siege mode” where you crouch down and can fire like 30 bullets into a monster without reloading. I’ve found both variants equally useful, though my preference tends towards the heavy version because DPS yo.

Bow: A weird weapon, one that I haven’t fully gotten the hang of. More mobile and closer-ranged than either bowgun, it can inflict status effects extremely quickly and certain shot types are more useful against different monsters. The learning curve comes from knowing where the “critical distance” is for each type of shot (Spread, Rapid and Pierce) and acting accordingly, something I still occasionally have trouble with.

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The return of me playing bad games for inexplicable reasons (and other excellent uses of time and money)

This last week has been something of a nightmarish blur. Between getting sick, playing 45 or so hours of Monster Hunter, watching EXCEPTIONALLY questionable garbage anime that at 3 in the morning (which I will not specify, lest I lose whatever shred of respectability I have left) and at one point sleeping for 12 hours and missing all of my classes, it’s fair to say that I’ve had a weird time over the past 10 or so days. So, in order to ground myself I finally sat down and turned to something I’ve been meaning to do for a while; namely finish Bound By Flame after not touching it for a month. At some point I’m not sure if I’m doing it for me, for you or for our dark masters beyond the pale of human understanding, but all I know is that this written blog is the only way I’m going to feel alright about spending time and money on this instead of finishing Wasteland 2 or Dragon Age Inquisition. But maybe I should mention some things about some other things first?

Pre-rendered backgrounds, fixed camera angles and tank controls. Just as God intended.

Hey guys, I still like Resident Evil. Enough that I totally pre-ordered Revelations 2 once I found out I could get it for $10 off on Green Man Gaming. But while that is another (likely self-flagellating) blog for another time, I’d just like to briefly ruminate on the recent re-release of the gamecube remake of the first game, which I played on PS3. Surprise surprise! It’s still really good! While I think people who use the “modern” controls are absolute monsters and I will still haughtily sniff at those who complain about limited inventory space (those same people carrying ink ribbons and the knife everywhere), there’s no doubt that the old Resident Evil games are not for everyone. This remake is especially uncompromising at times, what with all the zombies you have to decapitate or burn, an early game that is decidedly stingy with ammunition and healing items and Chris’ 6 inventory slots and lack of grenade launcher making his side notably more difficult. If I have anything else to say, it’s that the HD-ifying made an already great looking game even prettier and that I can really appreciate the economy of efficiency that the story of the original Resident Evil has. While the voice acting is still cheesy but not iconically terrible as the original, the cutscenes in this remake last as long as they need to with no real bloat or filler. Mansion, Zombies, Umbrella, Lab, T-Virus, Wesker is a bad dude. Done. It’s a nice change of pace from… what the series currently is. I figure I’ll talk about Persona Q as its own thing once I get that last dungeon all done with, either in another blog or a formal review. I’ve also gotten somewhat back on the League of Legends train since my last blog, though dodgy apartment internet and the ever-present threat of carpal tunnel have made that less of a crippling addiction than I initially feared. Yo, League of Legends is still fun.

The Main Event

Bound By Flame: The classy gentleman's D-tier RPG romp!

I’ve been trying to figure out a metaphor that works for Bound by Flame, and the best I can think of is that it’s the Eragon of RPGs. For those of you who didn’t read too many mediocre fantasy novels in Middle School the same way I did, Eragon is a fantasy novel (the first in a quadrilogy) that borrows heavily from the likes of Star Wars (the first book is basically A New Hope but with Dragons and poorly-written prose) and Lord of the Rings (The same way every fantasy thing from the last 60 years has borrowed from tolkien, but worse) all while passing itself off with complete earnestness as if its the most original thing in the world. Makes sense then, that Eragon was originally written when the author was 15 and Bound By Flame was developed by french studio Spiders, whose other noteworthy game has been Mars: War Logs. But whereas I dropped Christopher Paolini’s novels after I got old enough to realize they were all sorts of dumb, I found a certain ironic, twisted pleasure in Bound By Flame’s earnestness, even as I was cursing it the entire 15-ish hour run time. Don’t consider that a recommendation; I’m just sort of broken.

Edwen is budget Morrigan, from her ridiculous cleavage-y outfit to her acerbic, secretive attitude. But unlike Morrigan she's just sort of a B-word and doesn't actually have any redeeming characteristics.

There’s a certain stereotype associated with RPGs developed on the European continent, namely that they’re mechanically ambitious but janky romps that punch above their weight with mixed results depending on the title in question. Sometimes it leads to games that confuse and intimidate me but people seem to enjoy, like Risen! Sometimes it leads to games I genuinely like despite their obvious flaws like the first Witcher or Two Worlds 2! Sometimes it leads to quick look fodder like Raven’s Cry! Bound by Flame does not really buck that stereotype. Mechanically, it’s a third-person action RPG with a combat system that I’d describe as being ill-fitting for the situations you find yourself in. With a heavy focus on dodging or parrying depending on if you decide to go daggers or swords, you can sort of see what the developers were going for, but it doesn’t work that way at all. Instead, screwing up on a dodge or parry usually leads to enemies ganging up on you and death by stun-lock, so the “real” tactics for success involve getting way too good at dodging, or (as I started to do by the end of the game) cheesing your way to victory by kiting fools around and placing traps everywhere. The RPG systems are nothing special, albeit with a heavier-than-usual emphasis on crafting because crafting is a thing I guess. Incremental percentage improvements as a substitute for interesting abilities has never been very compelling for me.

See? High quality dialogue from your main protagonist. The swearing isn't lame and awkward at all!

That’s most of the game, but there’s also the part of the game that wants to be like Mass Effect or Dragon Age. That is where my “so bad it’s ironically hilarious” defense comes in. Bound By Flame’s writing is mesmerizing amateur-hour fantasy at its least self-aware. Your character, Vulcan (whom you can rename but everyone still calls you Vulcan so why bother) is accidentally possessed by a fire demon as part of a last-ditch effort to save the world against the dark hordes of the ice lords (who are evil and icy because the NPCs tell you they are when spouting exposition because why show anything). The supporting cast also tries to borrow from the Bioware formula, but whereas the best written supporting characters in Bioware games have things like nuance and subtlety, the supporting characters in BBF are all some variety of one note. There’s the guy who talks entirely in the third person and that’s totally wacky, right? Or what about the prim and proper undead guy who talks all posh? Or the Elf dude who has no discernable personality? Or the other girl? You can talk to them and they will deliver their backstories with all the effort of reading a grocery list. Don’t get me wrong, they’re useless in combat on a Jade Empire level, but that all leads to the true star of the story: your main character Vulcan, who I imagine is supposed to talk like a tough mercenary dude but comes off more as a somewhat petulant teenager trying really hard to be a badass with hilarious results. The poor quality of the writing and voice acting really elevate Bound By Flame to unintentionally hilarious farce, but the handful of “moral” choices you make also help. Instead of Mass Effect level “Do you wish to pet the dog or murder the dog?”, the moral choices in this game are usually “Do you want this clearly evil demon to possess more of you for better fire magic, or do you want to be able to wear helmets?” with the ending sort of obviously reflecting those choices. It’s, as I said, completely amateur-hour in a way I have not seen from a modern attempt at RPGs. And it’s on all the current-gen consoles too! I bet some people bought it just because they needed something to play on their PS4/Xbox One and they paid $60 for it. I feel really bad for them, I really do. I don’t feel bad for myself because I knew what I was getting into.

There are mediocre and bad games I can recommend under specific circumstances, but unless you’re a self-loathing glutton for punishment (I am) or want a venerable gold mine of a video game to laugh at for the wrong reasons (I did), I’d steer clear of Bound by Flame for any amount of money. I’m sure you can find the funny bits on youtube if you really want to, but the actual game part is sort of terrible and there are better ways of spending 15 or so hours of your time. You could do what I did and play way too much Monster Hunter! Speaking of which, I have to grind a Gravios for his animal parts, so I’ll see you later. Here: Have the best speedrun from Awesome Games Done Quick.

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Arbitrary versus XIII-2

I dunno about you guys, but I had a pretty fantastic holiday break. I opened presents, hung out with family, held babies and watched a copious amount of Mystery Science Theater with my younger brother. Well, 2015 is happening. Time to get back to school and start hating myself again. That’s how that works, right? Oh, you want me to talk about the video games I played over said break? You don’t? Oh, well too bad. I’m going to tell you about them anyways.

Here are some things I played that don’t deserve their own multi-paragraph thing

I finished all the post-game content for “2014’s 2013 Game of the Year” Etrian Odyssey IV. If the part where I was willing to do the stuff that you could do after the credits rolled is any indication, I like that game a lot. You’ve heard my spiel about how if it isn’t the best game in the series (I think it is, at least thus far) it’s the best place to jump in for normal people, so I won’t repeat it. If EO III was the game that made me a fan of the series (despite the part where it’s sadistically brutal at times!), IV has cemented my loyalty and I will probably buy that Etrian Odyssey II remake the second it comes to the states despite the part where I still need to get through that remake of the first Etrian Odyssey. And Persona Q. And while we’re talking about similar games, Shin Megami Tensei IV.

In terms of games I played with friends and such, the Jackbox Party Pack was one of them! Like a lot of dumb party style party games, it’s not so much a contest of skill as it is a way to manufacture laughter from a decently sized group of people who don’t need to be proficient in anything but lying. The part where you can play it with smart phones and the part where it’s on PS3 means I will likely pick it up for my own party hijinks at some point… right after I earn the capital necessary to purchase Puyo Puyo Tetris because holy crap I need to own that game. Other than that and the requisite spread of fighting games I play with one friend whenever we’re in town together, the Hoard game that was free on PSN a couple of months ago is a surprisingly great Age of Booty-esque strategy type game for 4 players on one console, so if you downloaded it, thinking nothing of it before, I suggest giving it another looksie with friends. There was also a requisite amount of Smash Bros (that game is great), a dash of Bayonetta 2, me watching my buddy play Far Cry 4 and just a hint of Divinity Original Sin co-op.

But of course, I was on break for something like two weeks. So after we had exhausted all the fun stuff, we moved onto the “fun” stuff. Boy guys, Playstation All-Stars sure is a shitty Smash Bros ripoff that fails to understand what makes Smash Bros good, am I right? So of course we played a lot of it. It’s not the part where the roster is sorta bad, or the part where only supers count for kills, or the cheap looking menus or the seeming desire to mix the concept of “chaotic party thing” with “serious fighting game” (not very well, I might add), it’s the all of those together put into soulless package dictated by the marketing department. If we were going to play terrible party games, we should’ve just played a game of Dokapon Kingdom, because that game is both terrible and amazing and we had like 2 weeks to do it. Don’t worry though, we played some Mario Party afterwards to wash the taste out of our mouths.

Final Fantasy Thirteen Two.

Despite the part where Lightning is on the cover of this game, she is in it for all of 5 minutes. Instead you play as her not-emotionally dead sister.

If I had to use one word to describe Final Fantasy XIII-2 it would be reactionary. If Final Fantasy XIII was a game that obliviously did its own thing, seemingly to its own detriment, then its direct sequel is a game seemingly aimed at addressing all the complaints leveled at its predecessor…. while also sorta being a sequel to Final Fantasy XIII. I’m not entirely sure what Lightning Returns is yet, but I can assure you that it is its own brand of crazy and not unlike Majora’s Mask.

What do I mean by it “sorta” being a sequel? I’m going to be honest, FF XIII wrapped itself up pretty well and given the direction the story of this game takes you could’ve set it in an entirely different world and used entirely different characters and the plot would have more or less remained intact. In fact, aside from Hope it’s not even like the principal cast of FF XIII shows up for longer than “cameo” status (whatever man, Serah was in that game for like 5 minutes). I’m not going to bag on Square too much about this, it’s just weird to me that the direct sequel to Final Fantasy XIII doesn’t actually have a ton of connection to the underlying plot of Final Fantasy XIII. I get it. Asset generation is expensive. People (not necessarily me but maybe not not necessarily me) didn’t much care for the story and characters of FF XIII. You can have your cake and eat it too, I guess.

As funny as it would've been to do so, I did not put up the money to dress the protagonists of this game in Mass Effect armor. In retrospect, I bet I would have enjoyed it more if I did.

But to get into the story itself, I don’t think I’ve seen a more flagrant abuse of “Because Time Travel” as a plot device in quite some time. Don’t take that as an insult; the lack of internal time travel logic contributes to what is a delightfully bonkers tale about Laura Bailey and Sora from Kingdom Hearts solving paradoxes and defending the past (and future) “Because Time Travel”. I think FF XIII’s ensemble worked through sheer force of attrition, but I don’t think Serah and Noel are quite as compelling leads by comparison. At least Caius is an alright villain even if his plan falls apart if you think too hard about it and hot young man bishonen Hope isn’t a whiny brat. The time travel conceit also allows for some excellent fake-out paradox endings, the best of which involves Snow showing up and proving that Troy Baker will always be the hero in everything. I’ve included it below for your pleasure.

As for the way it plays, Final Fantasy XIII-2 has the same surprisingly compelling macromanagement-focused combat system that made me sorta like the last one. Only without 20 hours of stuff before having access to all the gameplay systems. It also has pokemon-esque creature capturing mechanics, is decidedly far less linear (the wide open areas occasionally causing problems with the frame rate) and is also way easier to cheese. Say what you will about the linearity of Final Fantasy XIII, the upside to that was that your party was usually appropriately leveled for most of the encounters in that game. This game? Well, let’s just say that most non-boss encounters were solved through the deft use of COM/RAV/RAV and pressing the A button over and over. Don’t get me wrong, some boss encounters were challenging and part of that success came from me already knowing what to do from 40 hours of the last game, but aside from the final boss I don’t think any one encounter was particularly tough. Similarly, the monster stuff is neat but didn’t really demand much from me through my management of that. Maybe if I did more of the post-game stuff, maybe a couple of those DLC bosses I’d change my tune, but after the 22ish hours that I spent on the game I was good for the time being.

I only play the highest quality of video games.

Still, in general I’d say I liked XIII-2 a lot more than the first game. Maybe not enough for me to recommend it without caveats, but hey, I’d still recommend it. It’s proof if nothing else that Square can learn from their mistakes and then go on to make new, different mistakes. Like perhaps this game where I can play dress up with Lightning and give her sexy librarian glasses on all of her outfits because of course I would do that. You can expect my thoughts on that soon enough, but for now I’m distracted by what should’ve been everyone’s 2014 Game of the Year: Bound by Flame. Sure, I’m long overdue to play more Dragon Age, but what’s the fun in that?

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ArbitraryWater's Top 10 Games of 2014 that actually came out in 2014

The year is finally over, and so is my other list. Which means it's time for the big guns: Games from this year that I actually played this year. 2014 hasn't been the best year for video games, though it's been a much better year for me personally than 2013 or 2012 were. These forums have also seen better days, mayhaps, but I clearly still think this place is worth saving.

Game of The Year 2014

1. Bayonetta 2Bayonetta 2 is the hyperkinetic stripper witch game that doles out batshit insanity and extremely fun, extremely well-made character action combat in equal measure. It's probably the best character action game I've played since Devil May Cry 3, but unlike that one it's actually approachable by normal humans.
2. Middle-earth: Shadow of MordorThe nemesis system and its underlying components elevate Shadow of Mordor, which what would otherwise be a good but unspectacular open world action game, into something that you could actually say has never been fully done before in a video game. Helps that it's a mechanically solid, dumb sandbox that smartly keeps the main story stuff in the background (because that stuff isn't what makes the game). Very interested to see how these ideas will show up in games during the coming years.
3. Age of Wonders IIIIf games were ranked by hour count, Age of Wonders III would likely be number 1 on the list this year. It's a fun, well-made tactical wargame of the kind I enjoy so immensely, and it helps that the developers have been aggressive in their post-game support, patching and updating the game in such a way as to make it even better than it already was. Also doesn't hurt that the music is really good.
4. Dark Souls IIDark Souls II is not Dark Souls. I take issue with parts of DS 2's structure, its boss design and storytelling, but it's more mechanically interesting with the first game and I had a lot of fun running around like a maniac with dual greatswords, killing invaders in the bell tower and using pyromancy to once again be sorta OP.
5. Might & Magic X LegacyMight and Magic X is the best game I could've realistically hoped for under Ubisoft's tenure. It's a clearly low budget, clearly experimental title not without problems, but it also does the seemingly impossible thing of nailing the essence of what made its forebears so great.
6. Dragon Age: InquisitionDragon Age is a return to form for Bioware after 3 years of disappointment. It has a little too much "Single-Player MMO-itis" for me to be comfortable putting it super high on the list (Also: I haven't played it all the way through), but it's a hell of a lot better than Mass Effect 3 and I liked that game well enough.
7. Divinity: Original SinThe only reason Divinity isn't higher on this list is due to my computer exploding near the end of this summer and with it my save from 30 hours into this game. Should I ever get over that disappointment, chances are I'd probably consider this to be one of the best RPGs in years, period.
8. ThiefHah! Thought you had seen the last of me being the only guy who liked that Thief game, didn't you? Well, no. It's on this list, after all. A pure stealth game that is about being sneaky, not teleporting like a maniac or shooting your way through situations after you get discovered. Not without some pretty obvious flaws, but hey, that seems to be a common theme this year.
9. Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace AttorneyYo, I really, really like the Ace Attorney franchise and think that crossing it over with Professor Layton is a thing that works surprisingly great. It might not be as good as Dual Destinies, but I'm glad it made it over here nonetheless.
10. Wasteland 2Wasteland 2 is nothing if not unapologetic about what it is, which is to say that it's an old-school CRPG made in the style of something that wouldn't be out of place among the luminaries of the late 90s. It's not as GOOD as those games, mind you, but it's a dead on simulacrum and for that it has my appreciation. Still, if there's one old-school inspired RPG of this year to get, it's Divinity.

And here's some additional commentary on every game on my list. Feel free to skip the paragraphs you don't want to read. I might've gone a little overboard and am not going to bother posting any pictures to break up the wall of text staring you down.

Game of the Year 2014: Bayonetta 2

I imagine Bayonetta 2 is like drugs. No, not the horrifying addiction or the awful side-effects that end with you in a gutter clutching a dirty syringe, but the part where everything is flashing and crazy at all times. Much like the first game, it’s a magical cacophony of sensory overload, hyper-sexual imagery and anime craziness while a sassy british witch lady says some double-entendre to her foes. It’s honestly a little too much at times, but I imagine that’s the point.

The sheer spectacle at play would be enough on its own to recommend Bayonetta 2, but it just so happens that it is also one of the finest character action games I’ve ever played. Is it the way the combat is often split into short, intense bursts? Maybe it’s the broad weapon variety where everyone can find their own favorite? (I’m a big fan of the giant hammer myself). Or maybe it’s the part where I’m a witch lady doing sexually suggestive moves while wearing a Link costume. I thought Bayonetta 1 was quite good on those fronts, but something about this second game was enough to motivate me to play on a harder difficulty, something that I haven’t done with one of these games since… DmC, actually. So not that long. Still! This game is better than DmC and has a certain amount of mechanical precision that makes pulling off crazy stuff feel both effortless and fun. I think the normal difficulty is maybe a tad too easy, but that’s coming from the perspective of someone who has played a decent number of these games.

For the rest of you I offer only one suggestion to improve your lives: Play Bayonetta 2. If you own a Wii U. Don’t own one? Well, heck, don’t ever buy a console for one game. I think there are enough games on the Wii U to make it a console worth owning, but your mileage may vary depending on your love of Mario doing what Mario does.

Runner up to Game of the Year: Shadow of Mordor.

“More than the sum of its parts” is a phrase that can be dangerously overused, but I think that’s true in the case of Shadow of Mordor, one of the bigger surprises for me and others this year. You can reduce it to its components, saying “It’s like Assassin’s Creed in Lord of the Rings with combat that’s like Batman: Arkham Asylum” and you wouldn’t be far off the mark. Add in the Nemesis system though, and suddenly familiar game mechanics gain a whole new context to be used in, where Orc Captains will talk shit to you every time you encounter them. It could be dismissed as gimmicky, but that one thing turns a well made open-world action game into something that is both memorable and unique. Sure, the story is garbage and the connections to Tolkien are tenuous at best, but when you’re running around Mordor bulldozing/mind-controlling orcs to take down their hierarchy it’s the kind of sandbox nonsense I can really appreciate, where the dynamic game systems at play overshadow and possibly compensate for the “constructed” parts. It’s going to be fun to see how developers play on these ideas in the future.

Strategy game that I played a decent amount of this year: Age of Wonders 3

I’ve stuck with Age of Wonders 3 in a way that I haven’t stuck to a strategy game in a long time. Not so much a Civ-style 4X as a Heroes of Might and Magic style tactical wargame, it offers a level of complexity greater than that of Heroes to both its benefit and detriment. Either way, this is easily the game I’ve played the most this year, just playing one-off skirmish maps. I haven’t even touched the campaigns. It’s a game with a ton of ways to play based on the race and class you pick for your leader. Goblins are sorta squishy, but what if you backed up their racial units with an army of mechanical flame tanks and golems? Or perhaps what if you made a Dwarf Rogue and ambushed your enemies with units who are invisible on several different types of terrain? It’s a pity that more people didn’t play it, or perhaps were offput by it at launch, because the developers have also been quite aggressive with their support post-release; patching and balancing in ways that have improved what I already considered a pretty great game.

Souls game of the year: Dark Souls II

I wrote a whole blog about Dark Souls II, so you don’t need me to repeat my spiel. It’s a good game and a worthy enough sequel to the first Dark Souls. It plays it a little too safe at times, has too many bosses who are just huge knight dudes swinging weapons in wide arcs, but allows for more varied and interesting character builds and for once I actually had fun with the PVP in these sorts of games. I’m sure if I jumped in now I’d get slaughtered by some ridiculous ninja monsters, but that’s the benefit of being an early adopter right there.

Best old-school RPG revival: Might and Magic X

Yeah, suuuuure. The guy with the Might and Magic related avatar puts the Might and Magic game on his list. You got me. Weirdly enough, there are no less than three games on this list that could easily fill that qualification. Might and Magic X is unapologetically old-school and unapologetically Might and Magic in a way I never thought I’d see from a property owned by the company that seemingly churns out multiple Assassin’s Creed games every year from their 40 separate studios. I’m not going to pretend that the weird, low-budget experiment that they put out is perfect, but given the number of weirdly specific references to the older games in the series, it seems pretty obvious to me that the developers knew exactly who they were making the game for. Namely, me. I’m not sure what a person without a history with the series would think, or whatever, but it seems like the RPG hardcore liked it well enough. Hopefully it sold well enough that a Might and Magic XI isn’t far behind.

Blog Forthcoming: Dragon Age Inquisition.

I admit, I gotta play more Dragon Age before I have any final words to say about it. Namely in a separate write-up. Good thing I’m at home with zero responsibilities for like another 12 days, right?

Kickstarter game of the year or something: Divinity Original Sin

I’ve been pretty outspoken about my disdain for the unfortunate pile of mediocrity known as Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga. It’s not a very good game and I don’t think it’s worth your time. The original Divine Divinity might be, if you can get past the part where it’s really hard (I didn’t), Beyond Divinity is apparently like that first game except bad, and Dragon Commander at least has some really funny/intriguing political stuff to compensate for the part where it’s sorta a bad RTS. Point is: I didn’t have super high expectations for Divinity Original Sin. It miiiiight just be one of the better RPGs I’ve played in a long while. It doesn’t lean on nostalgia like a crutch, but it’s also a game that is playing towards a specific audience and doing so very well. Heck, the only reason this game isn’t theoretically my Game of the Year is because my computer exploded this summer and I haven’t mustered up the heart to start a new game yet. Maybe next year…

Game most likely NOT to appear on your own personal list: Thief

I liked Thief. I know there are a handful of users here who also liked it, but it seems like the general reaction to that game has been negative. Part of that might be valid, part of that might be games reviewers not actually liking stealth-ass stealth games where you can’t shoot your way out the second you get discovered and part of that is probably the weighty reputation of the original Thief trilogy, a reputation that would probably have been impossible to live up to in any case. Excuses aside, it’s a game I enjoyed for most of its (20-ish hours doing everything) run-time. I can’t say if you’ll feel the same way, but if you like the sneaky games about sneaking, maybe check it out the next time it’s on sale?

I don’t really have anything else to say about this game other than what I already wrote up in that one blog: Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright

So there

The “I like old RPGs and this RPG is like those old RPGs so it gets a spot on this list by default” award for competence in execution: Wasteland 2

If you are going to get one RPG this steam sale, get Divinity. If you already own Divinity, maybe have another 60 hours of time on your hands and don’t want to play Wizardry 8, Wasteland 2 isn’t a bad option at all. Much like Might and Magic and Divinity, I’ll use the term “Unapologetically Old-School” to describe this game, but maybe I’ll throw in the added caveat that Wasteland 2 brings a lot of the baggage from the classic RPGs of yore in addition to its turn-based combat and heavy reliance on numbers. What do I mean by this? It’s not exactly a looker. The writing sometimes gets a little too cheeky or cliche for its own good. The interface is sorta clunky. It’s lengthy as hell and I don’t necessarily think all of the content made for it is 100% a winner. Nonetheless, I look forward to finishing the second half of it sometime next year, likely before Pillars of Eternity comes out and I figure out if that turns out well or not.

Special Achievement Awards:

Game numero 11: Super Smash Bros (for 3DS and Wii U)

I still like Smash Bros, apparently. I thought I was too good for the series after Street Fighter IV showed me what real fighting games were about, but I guess not. It’s still a blast to play with friends and has a roster of characters I can support (because there are no less than 4 Fire Emblem representatives and hey Shulk is pretty cool too). Much like Pokemon, I will probably pretend I’m too good for these games until they actually come out and I enjoy them for the rest of my life.

Other Honorable Mentions: The Banner Saga, Borderlands the Pre-Sequel, The Wolf Among Us

The Banner Saga is a Strategy RPG/Oregon Trail thing that I think is absolutely beautiful and well worth your time, but I don’t think the actual combat parts of it are super amazing. I think the game runs out of steam from that angle before the 10 or so hours are through and the Oregon Trail stuff loses a bit of its significance when you realize that keeping people alive isn’t necessarily super important. Borderlands is more Borderlands, but that’s okay because it’s been long enough that a new Borderlands is still fun. The Wolf Among Us has some pacing issues, it drags like crazy during its mid chapters (3 and 4 especially) and doesn’t even bother giving the illusion that your decisions matter at all. But as a noir-ish cop thing about Fairy Tales? Surprisingly effective. I’d rather have another season of this than another season of The Walking Dead and its misery porn miserableness, but maybe Telltale’s magic only worked for me once.

Most Disappointing Game: Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth

Thought I was going to say Bravely Default, weren’t you? Bravely Default is alright right up until it decides that turning the last third of the game into a repetitive boss rush is a good idea. That might’ve soured Square’s Final Fantasy throwback for me and kept it off this list, but whatever. I still really enjoyed those first 40 hours or whatever. But Beyond Earth? Beyond Earth is a worse version of Civilization V with a sci-fi wrapper, if I’m going to be blunt. It’s not different enough to be a real sequel and the parts of it that are different aren’t necessarily fantastic on their own. I could foresee improvements coming in the form of expansions somewhere down the line (much like with Civ V), but while there’s nothing modern that’s quite like Bravely Default (for as flawed as it may be), there is no reason to currently get Beyond Earth when there is a superior alternative that does almost the exact same thing.

Runner up for Most Disappointing Game: Xenonauts

Nope. Still not Bravely Default. Xenonauts’ problem is the part where they pretty much just made the original X-COM again, did some tweaking and rebalancing, then called it a day. Don’t get me wrong, I really like X-COM. But after the Firaxis reboot and after playing strategy games that aren’t so… clunky or punishing, playing a game slavishly devoted to recreating a 20-year-old classic wasn’t quite my cup of tea.

Heroes of Might and Magic game of the year: Heroes V Tribes of the East

Probably should’ve mentioned this in my old game of the year blog, but yo: Heroes V is pretty great and sometimes I’m convinced it’s better than III. It’s a pity that a lot of crazier strategies aren’t so useful against the AI, but maybe at some point I can blackmail my friends into playing this with me?

The “YO I SHOULD PLAY MORE OF THIS” award for being seemingly super rad: Legend of Grimrock 2

YO I SHOULD PLAY MORE GRIMROCK 2. It seems pretty rad.

Stuff I need to check out next year: The Evil Within, DKC Tropical Freeze, Lords of the Fallen.

I figure I’ll be able to save up for a PS4 sometime this summer. Then I can play that Not Resident Evil game and that Not Dark Souls game. Donkey Kong Country is just my own negligence. Hoping my brother gets it for Christmas.

All American Hero: Dan Ryckert

Self Explanatory.

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ArbitraryWater's Top 10 Games of 2014 that didn't actually come out in 2014

It's that time again, dear readers. The time for us all to reflect and think "What have I actually accomplished in my life?" In my case, the answer is "I played some video games and didn't do super great this semester". But because I'm not a slave, devoted to games that merely came out this year, I choose to recognize those games that didn't come out this year. What I've learned is that most of the games I played actually did come out this year, and here are 10 others. Games marked with an asterisk have additional commentary below the list.

1. Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the TitanIf Etrian Odyssey III was the game that finally got me into the series, EO IV is the one that I can actually recommend to others. It's a classical dungeon crawler of superior construction, with a lot of ways to build a viable team and some surprisingly decent writing. *

2. Valkyria Chronicles

I might take issue with Valkyria Chronicles' occasionally discordant tone, but it's a turn-based strategy game that is a step or two away from being one of the all-time greats.*

3. Gyakuten Kenji 2

I've played every single Ace Attorney game, and this might legitimately be one of my favorites. Certainly helps that it has a professional quality fan translation underlying what is likely some solid writing.
4. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes BackCrash 2 is a platformer that comes from an era when it was okay to be just a platformer. I can appreciate that sort of purity and Crash 2 still holds up extremely well because of it.

5. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

The Peanut Butter/Chocolate cross between Platinum and Kojima has many of the strengths of both companies without as many of their excesses. It's short and the combat is perhaps less deep than it appears, but it's a fun crazy ride while it lasts.

6. Crash Team Racing

No joke, might be the best Kart Racer of that era. Sonic and Sega All Stars Transformed is secret best Kart Racer of all time though.

7. Demon's Souls

Weirdly enough, I wasn't super keen on Demon's Souls. Not sure if Dark Souls 2 gave me my fill of sadism or I've just played a better version of this game elsewhere. *

8. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

"It's Castlevania yo". Just put that on the back of the box. It's a spacewhipper that does the spacewhipping thing well with few surprises but also few caveats.

9. Tales of Maj'EyalA surprisingly accessible Roguelike that stole my attention for like a week straight before I remembered that I'm not patient enough to be good at these sorts of games.

10. Final Fantasy XIII

Huh. Well, maybe. I liked it more than I disliked it, and somehow there aren't very many other old games I'd put on this list. What the hell, why not? *

2014's 2013 Game of the Year: Etrian Odyssey IV

Do you like Dungeon Crawling? Sadism? Moe Anime Lolis? Well, I have fantastic news: Etrian Odyssey the Fourth is a game that has all of those things while being somewhat more approachable to normal people than its predecessors. Still, if you're one of those people who "Plays RPGs for the story", boy howdy is this the wrong game for you. It has a story, there's some decently written flavor text, but at no point does EOIV ever pretend that is anything other than icing to the murder cake. And as someone who will always be a mechanics first guy, that's alright by me. Part of my love for this game comes down to polish, it's prettier, better sounding and slightly more streamlined than its forebears (not to mention slightly easier), but it's also still a game that rewards caution and punishes excessive risk-taking. It's also quite flexible with its party building: other than maybe needing a healer and possibly a tank, I think you could get quite creative with how you want to approach your plucky band of anime heroes. (that being said, the classes aren't quite as crazy or unorthodox as the classes in Etrian Odyssey III, but I'll take that over screwing myself over right at the last floor). If you're one of those people who got Persona Q because it had the Persona in it, but still enjoy the tile moving and the monster fighting, may I recommend this as a second taste of Atlus' dungeon crawling expertise?

Best game trying to exhibit the horrors of war and then immediately following it up with the obligatory beach scene: Valkyria Chronicles

For once my old gamesmanship actually bothers to intersect with things that are sorta popular, namely the recent PC port of Valkyria Chronicles that I didn't buy because I already own it on PS3. My issues with its occasionally jarring tonal whiplash aside (and even then, it's not nearly as bad as the second game, but if Patrick Klepek plays more of this game he's going to say a thing or two about where the story goes), I think Valkyria Chronicles is a great strategy game bordering on excellence, with a few things here and there holding it back. I could get into talking about how Scouts are friggin' overpowered in a way they aren't in the second game, or how Welkin is as boring as he is inoffensive, but this is all about positivity so I can emphasize how much fun moving roving death squads of anime teenagers around fake anime World War II is a rewarding strategy experience that Sega should capitalize on more. They won't, but hey, that translation patch for VC 3 is apparently pretty good.

Runner up for Souls Game of the Year: Demon's Souls

I dunno guys. Something about Demon's Souls never clicked with me. Maybe it was the part where I've played two other games like it, maybe it was me playing as a magician and using my mighty spells and crescent falchion to bulldoze through tough enemies, maybe it's just the level-based structure of the thing, but something, something didn't work for me and thus I will resort to the default attitude of "You people who think this game is better than Dark Souls 1 are crazy". That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, or that it isn't well made. I recognize I'm the problem here. If I played it back in 2009, maybe things would be different, but as for now I think I liked Dark Souls 2 more.

A game that I played this year, that just so happened to worm its way onto one of these lists: Final Fantasy XIII.

I've made myself quite clear on Final Fantasy XIII. Namely, that I think it's alright. No more, no less. Sometimes a slog, sometimes a surprise, with an ensemble cast of characters who border between being likeable and being inoffensively bland, it's a game that earns its divisive nature. Still, I'm intrigued enough by the story and enjoyed the combat enough to want to continue the doomed saga of Lightning and friends, and given that I just so happen to have two weeks before school starts... Well, I'll just say that a blog on XIII-2 in the near future is not out of the question. But mostly because I want to play Lightning Returns.

A disappointment that I'm 6 years late for (and one of the reasons why FF XIII made it onto the list): Metal Gear Solid 4

Shit guys. How did Metal Gear Solid 4 almost win Giant Bomb's game of the year in 2008? Were we really so easily enamored by the fact that this so-called "conclusion" to the series wrapped everything up in a disgustingly convenient fashion that we missed the part where the story is a bunch of self-congratulatory wankery wrapped in fanservice? I like crazy Metal Gear. I like watching Drew Scanlon be boggled by the postmodern acid trip pretending to be a stealth game that is Metal Gear Solid 2. But MGS 4 is somehow the wrong kind of crazy and by the end of the 90 minute ending cutscene I sorta wanted to die. Here's hoping that The Phantom Pain is either more grounded or the right kind of crazy, so that we can go back in time and give Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts the game of the year award it so richly deserved.

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I play old games, which are likely a wonderful use of time and money.

Alternate Title: Resident Rambling, the return of me talking about old games.

I’m definitely studying for finals. No, really. Ask my Spanish professor. For some reason or another, writing about stuff isn’t a bad way of decompressing from catching up on missed assignments (which also includes writing about stuff) or trying to remember exactly what Toni Morrison said in that one article she wrote about writing. Obviously, I haven’t played a ton of video games this week, nor am I really going to play a ton of video games next week (at least until Thursday…) Still, between the reading guides and the google docs I’ve managed to edge my way through Resident Evil Zero, and I have some thoughts about it! Who knew bringing the Wii (not the Wii U, sadly) down to school would pay dividends in non-Dokapon related ways!

The other Resident Evil game.

Biohazard ZERO, starring teen girl and extreme dude

I’m not the biggest Resident Evil nut on these forums, but I’d say that my appreciation for that series ranges from “zealous” to “apologetic” depending on the time of day and in what context we’re talking about it in. It’s not dissimilar to my relationship with the Might and Magic series, except without the part where M&M at its worst is still totally okay (one-off mistakes like Crusaders of Might and Magic as exceptions). When Resident Evil is bad, it’s grandiose in its baditude. I might claim to have mostly enjoyed RE6, but I’m not going to claim it’s a “good” game in any sense of the word. It’s a beautiful disaster that takes all the wrong lessons from modern game development and implements them in a frenzied haze of QTEs, bad set-pieces and cutscenes that clearly cost a lot of money to produce. I’m not going to pretend that it’s a series that hasn’t lost its way and Capcom clearly has no idea what to do with it, nor am I going to pretend that I won’t feel a twinge of self-loathing when I willingly pay $20 for an HD remaster of a 12-year-old remake of a game that came out in 1996 next month, but hey: names have power. Just ask @yummylee why he bought those Umbrella/Darkside Chronicles games despite not having a motion controller to play them with.

Unlike the old versions of RE2 and Re4, there's no real indication that the original N64 version of RE0 was going to be dramatically different from what became the final product.

Still, the Resident Evil games of the past are some of my favorites and occupy the special space of being titles that I can replay and enjoy on a whim. Some of the talk about REmake HD on these forums unsurprisingly led to talk about Zero. It’s been more than a few years since I’ve sat down and finished RE0, so what better time to play it than when my academic standing is on the line? Resident Evil Zero is an… interesting game. Announced as a N64 exclusive and then moved to the Gamecube, it’s sort of the forgotten child of the series, standing in the shadow of the far more popular, far better remake of Resident Evil 1. As a prequel, it basically tells the story of the founding of Umbrella and the creation of the T-Virus by James Marcus through the adventures of plucky STARS rookie (and subject of weird easter egg in RE2) Rebecca Chambers and “Wouldn’t be out of place in an ad for AXE body spray circa 2001” tattooed guy and escaped prisoner Billy Coen. While I’m not going to bag on RE0 too much for what it isn’t, how can you make a Resident Evil prequel that takes place the night before the first game and not focus on what happened to STARS Bravo Team? Keep in mind this game doesn’t really have any direct bearing on the rest of the series other than: A. Some back story, notably revealing that Marcus was responsible for the outbreak at the Arklay Laboratory and B. Telling what Rebecca was up to before she was in the first game. Turns out she had a pretty rough two nights. There’s also some stuff about how Billy was a soldier who was wrongfully blamed for some sort of vague massacre thing and perhaps most interestingly a look at Albert Wesker and William Birkin overseeing the whole thing (ending with Wesker deciding that Umbrella is finished and Birkin giving him that virus that turned him into a Matrix rip-off). Of course, given the convoluted and pointless nature of the rest of the Resident Evil story, going after Zero for being straightforward and pointless doesn’t seem like the best use of my time.

In what might be the widest disparity of durability between any pair of Resident Evil protagonists, Billy is a friggin' tank who can take absurd amounts of punishment while Rebecca is made of glass and will go into orange caution after only a few zombie bites. But of course she's the only one who can mix herbs for some reason.

So then, how does it play? Like a Resident Evil game, silly. There are tank controls, fixed camera angles and an emphasis on conserving ammunition until the end of the game when you realize you have like 40 shotgun shells. What differentiates Zero from the rest of the series is twofold: You’re usually controlling Billy and Rebecca at the same time (though you can split them up whenevz), meaning you have twice as much firepower but dodging zombies without someone getting hurt is twice as difficult, and there are no item boxes, instead you can just drop an item on the ground if you don’t need it. The former is sadly underused as an interesting game mechanic. There are a handful of times where the two protagonists will be split up, maybe they’ll have to turn on two different switches at the same time, but I’d go as far as to say it never quite goes for the crazy potential such a premise offers. The latter differentiator is actually a pretty big deal. It’s sort of like playing that “Real Survivor” bonus mode in REmake… as Chris. Sure, you have 12 slots between both characters, but when the shotgun and grenade launcher take up two slots each, juggling ammo, healing items and key items really reveals how efficient you are with your Resident Evil inventory management skills. I am not very efficient with my Resident Evil inventory management skills, especially in this game where I haven’t played it in years and don’t quite remember when and where to use certain key items. Zero is also remarkably stingy with ammunition for weapons other than the handgun. I’d go as far as to call it the hardest game in the series. REmake might have Crimson Heads, but those guys are not much of an issue if you play it smart. Know what are an issue? Leech Zombies. If you aren’t using molotovs or flame rounds in the grenade launcher, these suckers take a bajillion hits to kill and will explode upon death all while a suitably fear-inducing musical theme plays whenever they are in the same room as you. THEY ARE THE WORST. There are also like Hunters n’ stuff, but pffft. Whatever. Hunters? Shoot those guys with the acid rounds. Virus infected monkeys? Shoot those guys with whatever. Leech Zombies are the true survival horror.

No seriously, eff the hookshot.

If I (and many others) have a place to bag on RE0 about though, it’s not the inventory management or the story. The inventory management stuff is only a real hassle after you leave the second area and have to cart that damn hookshot with you along with everything else and the story is just sort of a missed opportunity. If I have a place to talk about where Zero falters, it’s that I don’t think the main area of the game is very interesting. While the train you start on and the lab/water treatment plant areas of the game are actually pretty interesting, the Umbrella Training Facility is no Spencer Mansion or RPD Station. It’s just another ornate building filled with zombies, laid out in a manner that is depressingly straightforward and linear. There’s no sense of “place” the same way there is for the best areas in Resident Evil and it seems sort of small by comparison. The puzzles aren’t all that inspired either. The basement of the facility has some grim stuff going on in it, but even that straight up repeats a puzzle that was in a previous Resident Evil game (the power puzzle in RE2). Once you get to the second disk things get a little more atmospheric, though the puzzles still never go beyond “braindead obvious” or “there was nowhere else to go in this place so obviously the solution is here”. It’s telling that I think the single best sequence in Resident Evil Zero is when you’re alone as Rebecca and you essentially stumble upon the lab entrance from Resident Evil 2 (followed by a somewhat easy boss fight against a prototype Tyrant). It’s tense in a way the rest of the game really isn’t, but of course it’s also like 30 minutes before you get Billy again and once again double your firepower (though the water treatment plant isn’t bad as a final area with its worn down machinery and stark lighting. It just feels sort of half-baked in a way the sinister laboratories that usually define Resident Evil endgames don’t).

So then, what can be learned from whatever drivel I just spent the last handful of hours writing up? I still like Resident Evil Zero. I think it has a grim, even gloomy atmosphere that it does really well, even if the game part of it isn’t quite as well paced or inspired as I remembered it being. It’s one of the weaker installments in the series for sure, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth taking another look at.

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Professor Layton versus ArbitraryWater (and other wonderful uses of time and money)

Ah, greetings dear readers. Turkey day has come and gone, as has Black Friday (I didn’t buy anything), and I’ve been enjoying the comforts of family and friends along with the usual discomfort of eating an inordinate amount of food. Know what else I’ve been enjoying? Anime! Thought I was going to say Video Games, huh? Nope. Those too, but let me take a second to say that Steins;Gate and Psycho Pass are two of the better animes I’ve watched in a long while. Ok, that second is over. My break was pretty good. Played a lot of video games! Perhaps I can tell you about them below!

Bayonetta 2

Stripper Witch 2: Still something you might have trouble explaining to your mom

You may recall that I played the first Bayonetta last year, where I found it a great, if somewhat overwhelming, character action game. Welp, a few weeks ago I went home for my birthday and bought myself this game as a present for myself (Because that’s what you do when you’re an adult. You buy presents for yourself and your parents give you clothing because that’s what you actually need). Given that the Wii U is technically for “the family”, I can’t actually bring it down to school until I rustle up the capital needed to purchase a replacement. Fine by me. I have enough distractions from important things without high quality action games at my beck and call (except, y’know, the part where I have a 360 and the Devil May Cry HD collection, or a PC and Metal Gear Rising). Even now, during this Turkey-related holiday break, I find myself replaying it on 3rd Climax and still having a blast. Yo, if you own a Wii U and like these sorts of games (maybe even if you don’t), it’s very much a must-have for the system. No ifs ands or buts about it. Is it worth getting a Wii U for on its own? Nah. No one game is ever worth purchasing a system for. I’d argue that there are more than enough must-own titles to make the Wii U a justifiable purchase, though that obviously depends on how much one enjoys first party Nintendo games.

Do you like sensory overload? I sure do.

In general gameplay terms, the hyperkinetic character action fever dream is still in full effect, albeit without some of the minor issues I had with the first game. It’s a little easier, the pacing is tighter and the game is more generous at doling out weapons, which allowed me to find the ones that suited my fancy (a big fan of the giant hammer and the double swords, not a big fan of the ice/fire maces), whereas I don’t think I ever found anything better than that first katana in Bayo 1. The story is still complete nonsense, though I found it a little less overwhelming than the first. But man, whenever anyone is talking about things it sure does become tempting to press the skip cutscene button. Still silly and exceptionally Japanese, just the way I like it. I’m no wizard, I’m not fantastic at these types of games, but Bayonetta 2 is easily one of the best I’ve played in quite some time. Better than Metal Gear Rising. Better than that DMC reboot. Better than the little bit of God of War I played that one time. Don’t be surprised when it ends up quite high on my Game of the Year list.

Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright

Solving Puzzles and Solving Crimes both require a lot of pointing.

After thoroughly enjoying and finishing Gyaukaten Kenji 2, my first order of business was to purchase this thingy for a sum of money. I’ll admit my expectations were sort of low after hearing some rumblings that the game wasn’t well-loved when it came out in Japan like two years ago, nor was I quite sure how well I’d take to the Professor Layton school of dumb video game logic puzzles. It turns out that: A. The game is very good and B. I like the Professor Layton school of dumb video game logic puzzles. For those who don’t know, PL vs PW is essentially a cross-over in the purest sense, in that you are either doing a Professor Layton-style puzzle or engaging in a Phoenix Wright investigation/courtroom segment without much creative interaction from either side. That’s fine, as it turns out, and the story that brings together the Ace Attorney and the Puzzling Professor is a surprisingly good one, albeit with an ending I found a little too convenient for its own good (which is the same thing I thought about Ghost Trick, for the record). While I’m not one for sharing details about the story when the story is the main draw, I think this game gets a lot of mileage out of its faux-medieval setting and the weird logic that sometimes accompanies it. I also thought the puzzles were decently clever without being crushingly difficult, and the game gives the player enough hint coins that you could brute force your way through without much difficulty.

All that said, I think the game plays it a little too softball with the courtroom segments. Maybe I’m a little spoiled, but Inquisitor Barnham is hardly the antagonistic presence that some other notable prosecutors/rivals have been. The cross-examination of multiple witnesses is a nice touch, especially when it comes to using their testimonies to contradict one another, as is the inclusion of magic spells as admissible evidence. Still, with those only comprising half the game, it’s not unfair to say that they aren’t the sole focus the way they are in other Ace Attorney games, and that’s fine. Because as a whole, Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright is a game I very much enjoyed. If you’re not a crazy person like me who has played every game in the series, then this isn’t a bad place to go either, since the story is entirely self-contained and not reliant on callbacks or previous knowledge the same way some of the more reference-heavy Ace Attorney games have been. It’s not quite as good as Dual Destinies, but it will probably end up on my Game of the Year list in some form too… though that likely says more about this year than it does this game.

Other nonsense:

I’ve been playing Dragon Age: Inquisition, though due to finals being in a few weeks and me needing to finish this semester strong, I’m not sure how much I’m going to play until the next holiday break. I like that game quite a bit, but I’ve been semi-deliberately avoiding a lot of discussion about it on these forums to keep myself fresh. Thus far I’ve been wandering around the Hinterlands, playing on hard and making heavy use of the tactical view, where it plays sort of like a cross between Origins and DA2. The idea of playing it like a bad action RPG doesn’t really work with me, to be honest. I figure it will get its own write-up should I ever have the trillion hours necessary to complete this game, because holy hell does it seem big.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is for all intents and purposes a stand-alone expansion for Bordlerands 2. I am surprisingly fine with that, given that I enjoyed BL2 despite its occasionally caustic sense of humor and repetitive grind treadmill. Sometimes you just want a dumb loot game, and this delivers that quite handily. I imagine I’m about halfway through the story, playing as Athena and generally enjoying the use of melee attacks and that reflector shield she has. Probably helps that the writing is a lot less offensive and it’s been like two years since I’ve played one of these, but I’ll likely finish this before the year is through.

Also I played some Mario Party with friends during the break. Holy shit, Mario Party is terrible. So of course we played two different games in the series. Well, actually, Mario Party 6 is terrible. Mario Party 4? Surprisingly ok. For as much as people say those games didn’t really change all that much from year to year, there is a drastic difference in minigame quality for those two games, not to mention a difference in board game quality. I’m half tempted to get the entire series on Ebay and do some sort of ill-advised comprehensive overview but that would cost too much in terms of both funds and human suffering to be something I’ll do anytime soon. Oh! Also we played some Smash Bros but that game is exactly what you’d expect. I like playing as Shulk. It looks very pretty. The end.

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