"Old RPGs that you've probably heard I like" and other wonderful uses of time and money

One must be quite BRAVE to fight the same 27 bosses you just spent the last 30 hours of the game fighting

Yay Video Games. I have a rough draft of an essay that I should be doing right now, but while I have that half-page of writing in another window I should try to warm my writing brains up by doing this super hot exciting blog. It was going to be a competition between this and Bravely Default for which would be finished and get written about first, but Bravely Default hit a snag once I ran into Chapter 5 and realized that the rest of the game was going to be a glorified, repetitive boss-rush which I will admit dampened my enthusiasm for it quite a bit. Still, you can expect something about it maybe at some point soon. I also bought Thief, because I'm an idiot and I figured that I had to know for myself and also it was only $33. The first hour wasn't terrible so... here's hoping? I reinstalled the original three as a contingency plan should my expedition end in sorrow, and if I get sort of depressed by the labyrinthine level design of those old Thief games... I'll just play Dishonored again. Done. Crisis averted.

A Video Game that you may have expected me to have already written about

To get perspective about how nuts I am about Might and Magic, a third of my wiki points is from the page for this game

Even today I am still mildly surprised that Might and Magic X: Legacy is a video game that exists and that I have played it. It's a throwback to a series that traces its roots to the beginnings of Computer Role-Playing Games, comfortably sitting alongside Wizardry and Ultima in the pantheon of long-running RPGs that started in the 80s and died around the turn of the century. Wizardry lives on in the weird Japanese-developed dungeon crawlers that show up from time to time, Ultima in a bunch of EA's F2P nonsense and Richard Garriot's continual use of the name “Lord British” as a way to swindle people out of their money so he can go to space, and Might and Magic in the occasional Heroes game that Ubisoft puts out every few years in-between surprisingly decent puzzle games... so really they got the best deal of the three all things considered. And yet, here we are. Does this revival do the series name proud? Yes, absolutely. But that isn't as high a bar as one would think, given that the Might and Magic name has also been bestowed upon such high quality works as Might and Magic IX and Crusaders of Might and Magic, the former being a half-finished mess and the latter being just plain bad.

Pictured: Heart

Okay, that's a bit mean, and this game is much better than its predecessor that killed the series off in the first place. Might and Magic X is a rough little game, one clearly not made for very much money. It borrows art assets from previous Ubisoft M&M games like nobody's business (Heroes VI mostly, but there are models I recognized from Heroes V and Dark Messiah as well), has its share of weird technical jankiness and bugs (less so after the most recent patch, but still) and it still has the rather unfortunate handicap of being tied to Ubisoft's incredibly generic fantasy world of Ashan. But it also has Heart damn it, and it might just be the best realistic outcome for a modern game of this type, given that there might as well be zero attempt at a mass market audience in favor of aiming for the fans. I'm not sure how it will succeed in that regard, give the rather... touchy nature of the Might and Magic fanbase, but I've beaten 5 of the 9 previous RPGs and I think it's pretty dope. It's clear from the multitude of weirdly specific references to old Might and Magic games that MMX was made by a bunch of people who know what they're dealing with. You make a party of 4 dudes/ladies of various generic fantasy races and classes, explore a big world on a grid with a bunch of dungeons containing the occasional puzzle and then have to look up a list of all the skill trainers in the game so you don't have to wander around the 4 different cities based on half-remembered locations. Really, the one big series staple that didn't make the transition is the part where you had to pay money at training centers to level up... which I won't cry about. It's a small-scale experiment on the level of something like Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon and I think its $25 price tag ($30 if you want a free copy of Might and Magic VI, the soundtrack and an additional dungeon) reflects that.

It's not quite a crossword, but minesweeper is a pretty neat way to set up a puzzle room.

Still, it should be worth noting that the bulk of the influence comes from Might and Magic III-V trio rather than the better known VI-VIII, which is to say that it's turn-based and on a grid instead of real time free roaming. That might be a sticking point for some, but having finished World of Xeen last year and having gotten pretty deep into Etrian Odyssey this year I have no problem with this sort of movement style in a RPG, but I also fully accept that I am a crazy person. It also helps that the mechanics are solid and easy to understand. The turn-based combat works well, demanding more from the player than most of the older games did (inasmuch as mashing A and occasionally S was concerned) and I found it to be decently challenging on the normal “Adventurer” difficulty for most of the game. It starts off with some pretty nasty old-school RPG brutality, but kind of takes a dive about halfway through act 3, when your party starts reaching Grandmaster level skills and has obtained a bunch of relics (powerful unique items found in puzzle rooms or guarded by mini-bosses that essentially “level up” to become even more powerful. Generally I did not found a piece of random loot that eclipsed any of my relics, both in raw stats and in additional benefits) essentially turning the endgame into a massacre... a statement that makes even more sense once you realize that Act IV is basically just one long 3-hour dungeon crawl, which I will admit I found tiresome. Might and Magic is best when it's about exploration, and I could probably have done with a little less climax. It actually reminded me of some of Might and Magic VI's end-game dungeons. You know which ones I'm talking about. I'm looking at you Tomb of VARN.

Some of the collectable items are poems none too subtly recounting the events of previous Might and Magic games.

There's some decently clever puzzle solving thrown in as well. Not quite turning a dungeon floor into a crossword puzzle like World of Xeen, but there are more than a few riddle chests and pressure-plate puzzles that stumped me for a bit before figuring out the solution, which I would say is the mark of a good puzzle. There's a story in the game but in grand series tradition its a bit of a non-entity. Fine with me. Anyone who would be upset by a lack of story probably isn't going to play this game anyways. The world of Ashan is pretty dull and generic, but the game doesn't take itself super seriously, either with the “cynical” voice option for your characters (sort of grating after a while), the goofy out-of-place pop-culture references (another series staple) and as previously mentioned a bucketload of specific references to the old games.

It took me a bit to realize that the Uplay and Steam had the same screenshot button. Also hey a riddle chest.

But yes, I have complaints. Besides the aforementioned low-budgetness, which gives the game a cobbled-together look, it's not all that well-optimized on the technical front and I have to run it on lower settings than I think I should have to given that it's not much of a looker. I also ran into my fair share of minor bugs along the way, nothing gamebreaking, but enough weird janky stuff that reminded me of when I played the early access version in August. Gameplay wise, I'm not entirely sure if it's very well balanced. Dark Magic doesn't seem all that exciting for being exclusive to only one class (Air magic on the other hand...) and while there are some abilities that allow your fighter-types to attempt to tank damage for your other characters, you should not mistake that for a sustainable strategy. At some point I just threw my hands up and started pumping vitality for my mage to avoid one-hit-ko situations. The game doesn't give you enough high level loot until the end (and even then most of it is still inferior to the 20 or so relics you probably accrued before then) and there are only three tiers of rareness anyways.

It's no World of Xeen, but this game is alright by me.

Still, these are rather forgivable thanks to the simple fact that they made a game called Might and Magic the Tenth and it was good. I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of 36 hours doing most of the side quests and I'm already half-tempted to start the game over with an entirely different party. I'll admit: I'm not sure what someone who has never been exposed to the franchise would think. You definitely have to like these kinds of games already before giving MMX a go, because it doesn't hold your hand or condescend in any manner. Instead, it grabs you by the hand and says “Hey there, I hear you like old hack-n-slashy RPGs”, to which I reply “Yes Please”. Might and Magic X is a comfort food video game, one that doesn't entirely survive scrutiny when compared to its larger, more ambitious precursors. But it's an earnest effort and on its own merits a damn solid RPG. I highly recommend it.

Other things:

For some reason I played a lot of Defender's Quest recently. It's a Tower Defense-ass Tower Defense game, but... you level up and that apparently makes it okay? It's a decent time waster and I'll end up accidentally finishing it at some point.

Meanwhile, Long Live the Queen is a neat little trifle of a game, essentially a visual novel with stats and a Dark Souls-esque mean streak. I've heard it described as a “Anime Sansa Stark simulator” and that seems pretty apt. It started falling apart for me once I realized that it was very much an issue of trial and error, and it seems like there are a handful of optimal paths among the many, many wrong ones.

I bought beta access to Wasteland 2 for $10 (a special deal for kickstarter backers). Why? That's a great question, given that I've expressed a rather strict “No Early Access” policy in the past, but I figure with Brian Fargo straight up saying that the game is more than 3 months away I can afford to give it a spin and make guesses as to how many of the bugs I encounter and complain about are going to be fixed.

In celebration of this blog... I don't have any copies of Might and Magic 6-Pack or whatever to give away. Instead, I have these random other GOG codes, and since we were talking about Thief for a bit I think that what I have sort of fits that particular glove. The games I am giving away are as follows: Thief II: The Metal Age, Master of Magic, System Shock 2, and Dungeon Keeper, all fine games by my reckoning, and even if they've all aged a bit I'd say they all deserve to be called “classic”. So, to be eligible to win said video games... hell, I dunno. Write a haiku, like so:

Might and Magic ten,

Wizardry 8 is better,

but it is still good

And I'm done. If notifications are still broken... whatever.

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"Turn-based strategy games that look like old disney movies" and other wonderful uses of time and money

This blog has been sitting around on my hard drive for a while, so I figure I should post it now and leave what was to be the other half for another time. School is going okay, I guess. Thanks for asking. I wasn't lying when I said that things would slow down (when compared to the last 6 months when I was living in my parents' basement and had a lot of discretionary time to play a lot of bad video games) but reports of my demise have been exaggerated. I'm still here, and I'll still be doing these dumb internet blogs for the time being.

I was also told by a certain community-spotlight creating moderator that I should express in no uncertain terms that I think Kill la Kill is sort of a mess even if I think the action is pretty good for the most part. It's dumb in all of the wrong ways (as opposed to Gurenn Lagaan being dumb in all of the right ways), but unlike aforementioned moderator, I'm not quite ready to say the series has become irredeemable... but I'm starting to get there. And that's it from Arbitrary Anime corner this week! Tune in next week when I finally tell y'all what I really thought about the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist series (not really).

The Banner Saga

Pictured: A Saga

I really should have written something a while ago, when I actually finished the game. But here we are. I backed The Banner Saga on Kickstarter back during the post-Double Fine hype train, and it seems fitting that it has joined Broken Age as part of the vanguard for the wave of crowdfunded games that will ostensibly come out at some point this year hopefully maybe (and no, having your Alpha/Beta on Steam Early Access does not count). But how is it actually? It's good. Yes, crushing as it is to know, not every game that earns widespread Kickstarter success is going to set our collective anuses on fire with how great or revolutionary it is... and that's fine. Maybe it's because my personal stake is so low (I have always done the minimum pledge to just get the game in regards to everything that I've backed), but I have not yet had my expectations crushed. Of course, that could very well change. What has come out thus far has been rather small-scale. FTL is fantastic and Paper Sorcerer seems pretty good, but they're both quite limited in what they aim to accomplish (this game likewise). The big guns, the multi-million dollar landmarks like Wasteland 2 and Pillars of Eternity, those are the ones that will really test Kickstarter for me (As for Divinity: Original Sin, I'm totally fine with that game being bad as long as I can replicate some of the goofy nonsense I have seen in some videos of the alpha version) If nothing else, The Banner Saga is a great foundation for what could be a great series of games, even if this first installment only comes close to greatness.

Just look at that art design. No seriously, look at it. It's the most striking and unique part of the game and well-worth looking at.

Essentially, The Crushing Candy Saga of Banners has two very separate, very distinct gameplay styles. There's the traversal stuff, which is basically a lite version of King of Dragon Pass (a game I think you should take a look at if only because it's such an unique, crazy thing), which is to say that it's sort of a “Choose your own adventure” book with numbers that are kept track of. While I'm unsure of how dynamic certain events can play out, it's clear that certain choices I made early on had actual repercussions as the story continued, and I can appreciate that. Where it falters for me is that you're sort of choosing blindly for the most part, and in situations where every outcome is a different degree of bad that's totally fine... but more often than not there is an optimal outcome to many situations, especially when it comes to keeping your characters alive. There's a reason why keeping a minor character intact for the entire game is an achievement: there are no less than 3 opportunities for him to kick the bucket throughout the course of the story and I guarantee you will run into at least one of them playing the game without any foreknowledge of what will come of it. That's the extreme example, but it illustrates my point that the game is occasionally randomly punishing for the sake of being random. There's also the issue of managing your caravan of dudes... but as far as I can tell there's no penalty to screwing that up, which I realized only at the end of the game when I could have leveled up more of my guys instead of spending it on supplies that were promptly stolen via random events. Sure, everyone starved to death, but I still beat the game.

I'd put more screenshots of this game out there if the screenshot function wasn't half-broken right now.

Then there's the combat, a turn-based tactical affair not dissimilar to Fire Emblem or Advance Wars, but still very much its own thing. The dynamic between strength and armor, the way the various special abilities can be used to control the field, all of these are great ideas that work well in practice and demand a certain amount of tactical thinking. Unfortunately, it's also a combat system that could simply use more stuff (which is to say both depth and complexity). It's not just that you're fighting different variations of the same enemies for the game's 9-10 hour runtime, it's that your own army could do with more than a few variations of the same 4 classes and a handful of unique guys here and there. I did alright for myself on Normal difficulty, all except for the last encounter, essentially a boss battle that is exponentially harder than anything else in the game up to that point, though it didn't sour me as much as the ending. The ending? Oh right. The ending is a terrible cliffhanger, which is a pity because I was enjoying the story quite a bit up to that point. It does a fantastic job of world-building without the usual exposition dumps that you expect from most video games (i.e. asking about lore or concepts in any given Bioware game that your character SHOULD know about if they had half a brain) and the game itself has such a rough, relentlessly bleak tone that I really appreciated.

In short, The Banner Saga is well-worth the 8-10 hour investment it asks for. I can't claim it's the hottest thing out on the interwebs, but I enjoyed my time with it and am looking forward to a sequel where they bother to explain all the deliberately cryptic junk they set up in this first one. I'm 3 for 3 on Kickstarter games I backed being good thus far, don't let me down now.

Other things:

Might and Magic X

will get its own write-up soon enough, once I get around to finishing it. I like it quite a bit. Despite being a little rough around the edges thanks to some technical problems and an obviously low budget, it's a worthy enough game to bear the Might and Magic name, which to be fair is also not exactly the highest hurdle to overcome. It's better than Might and Magic IX (which, to be fair, I also enjoyed more than it deserved. Oh right, did I mention that I got that game to work again? That's right. Now I can finish it!). How does it stack up to the games in the series that aren't half-finished messes? You'll find out... soon enough.

Bravely Default

Finally, a class that revolves entirely around throwing money at things, like the FF V Samurai on acid!

I've reached Chapter 3, and thus far Bravely Default (the worst/best name for a game since Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII) is probably the sequel to Final Fantasy V that I've always wanted, but with the crazy brave/default system of turn management. Unfortunately, also like Final Fantasy V, I've found the story utterly forgettable thus far and the characters one-note archetypes, and guessing by the reviews I've read that doesn't seem like it will change all that much. Oh well. I'll take what I can get, even if that leads to me doing dumb stuff like leaving my DS in sleep mode overnight so I can rebuild the village and get overpowered items too early in the game (hot tip: upgrade the weapons shop so you can get the Angel Bow, give it to someone who is a Thief and prepare to steamroll). I'm going to guess that you can probably expect something on this game too at some point maybe.

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate

So I bought (because it was on sale) and played some Monster Hunter when I was home two weekends ago instead of trying to finish Splinter Cell, which is what I originally was intending to do that weekend. I'll put it this way: It's probably a good thing that I can't bring the Wii U down to school with me (or rather, it's a good thing that I didn't buy the 3DS version for the same price), or else I'd be dead right now, given that I sunk something like 14 hours into it over the course of 3 days. Currently alternating between Longsword and Switch Axe, and I honestly have no idea how anyone could use the Greatsword, where the recovery animation isn't so much measured in frames as it is measured in seconds. That's all, I guess.

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"Third Person Shooters featuring Aliens" and other wonderful uses of time and money

2014 is here. Well, it's actually been here for 2 weeks, but between dealing with some personal junk and going back to school, my time with the vidja games has been here and there. I was going to write something up about Splinter Cell Blacklist, but because my brother uses the Xbox pretty much exclusively as a FIFA machine I was unable to finish it over the holidays or bring it down with me (spoilers: It would've ended up on the GOTY list had I played it earlier). Same goes for that Wii U box thing (Spoilers: My brother actually has almost beaten Wind Waker HD and I'm pretty proud of him for playing a video game that isn't FIFA). Instead, I just have this increasingly precarious laptop and my 3DS. So be it. I'll probably do a lot better this semester if I have less ways to distract myself (but of course the part where I'm writing this is in and of itself is probably a distraction from reading about Art History or some equally dire class that I've taken). But hey, it's okay. Because I certainly spent my limited video games time in great ways thus far!

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

A striking cover, if nothing else.

I told myself I was going to do better this year, that I wasn't going to deliberately go out of my way to play questionable and bad video games to feel alive, at least not to the same extent last year where I was buying that Sonic RPG and willingly playing through Grabbed by the Ghoulies among other things. I've clearly screwed that up already. While not outright bad, I'd say that The Bureau definitely falls into the “questionable” end of the spectrum, in that it doesn't actively make me want to stab myself with a rusty nail, but there's probably no reason for any of you to ever play it. “Competently mediocre” is the word I will use.

Remember back in like... 2010, when 2K announced the game then only known as “XCOM” and we all flipped the hell out because it was yet another beloved PC game being rebooted as what appeared to be a shooter? Yeah. It's funny to think back on that, given the way things turned out. Firaxis made Enemy Unknown, about as good as one would realistically expect a modern incarnation of that game to be, and the shooter thing known as XCOM went through a bunch of development problems before becoming the game that I played this week. It shows. The Bureau feels very much like a game made up of the pieces of a more ambitious title. The idea of G-Men running around Main Street USA and fighting secret aliens while covering things up is a great premise for a video game. It's a pity then, that the story of The Bureau is so... bleh. There are characters who you never really are given a reason to care about, there is dialogue that won't set your world on fire, there are plot twists that are amazingly dumb, and a protagonist who might as well be named McGruff, if not for the part where that name is already taken by a crime-fighting cartoon dog who tells you to take a bite out of crime. I'm not going to go into the specifics of how stupid things get, but I'd suggest looking up the last mission if you're really interested. It even comes with a really half-assed tie in to the good modern XCOM game!

Your agents CAN be useful, but you really do have to baby them to make that happen

But the Bureau is also a squad-based 3rd person shooter, and on that front it's... fine, actually. Remember Mass Effect? It's sort of like that, but not as good. It's a little more tactically demanding, but that's mostly because your AI squadmates aren't very bright on their own and require constant micromanagement to be especially effective. You can set up some sort of grand strategy involving the various tools at your disposal, and that's actually pretty cool. Flush dudes out of cover so they can walk into a mine, use a decoy to draw their fire and then hit them behind for more damage, have your commando taunt an enemy and have your support throw a bubble shield on him, throw down a turret to mow dudes who get too close down, etc. I didn't really have to do much of that on normal though. Spamming abilities for the purpose of doing things worked pretty well most of the time. I'd imagine that the game asks a lot more of that on the higher difficulties, but given the already squishy nature of you and your buddies along with the absurdly quick bleed-out time, I'd rather not deal with the exercise in pain that would turn into. There's also the part where you walk around your base talking to people like it was The Normandy, which would be great except for the part where: A. No one in this game is as interesting as any character on the Normandy, and B. There's not much reward for solving everyone's petty problems. There are also side missions you can go on and “deployments” you can send your agents on (like it was all the guild stuff in any given Assassin's Creed game), all for the benefit of backpacks with super circumstantial bonuses that ensure that you'll never use them. Same goes for weapons, actually. Sniper Rifles simply don't have enough ammunition to compete with the AR equivalents, and the Blaster Launcher is disappointingly tame for a weapon bearing that moniker. The shooting feels decent, if unspectacular.

Congratulations 2K Marin: You salvaged this mess enough to ship a game that wasn't constantly on fire.

All of this comes together to form a game that “entertained” me in a superficial sense, but probably won't leave much of a lasting impact. The Bureau is not an affront to nature like some of the things I played last year, nor is it a disappointing waste of great ideas. It just... is. I only paid $10 for it, which was an acceptable price, but in the end my time (and probably your time as well) is more valuable than that. If it was a better game or more of a trainwreck I could justify the 10 hours I spent on it, but I'm sort of having trouble doing so at the moment. This all being said, time-management is one of my personal weaknesses, it only makes sense that I would make the mistake of spending time with an utterly unremarkable game like The Bureau. I knew I should've bought Brothers instead. If there were 10 games better than it, the Bureau would likely not be one of them.

Dead Space the first

Unlike the above game, Dead Space 1 is still great. Just thought I'd let you all know. Maybe I'll go for the crazy and play Dead Space 2 while I'm here.

The Banner Saga

Lemme tell you guys: This game looks really good, and it probably works in its favor that it reminds me a bit of King of Dragon Pass

Seems really good and I feel pretty okay about giving those guys $10 like two years ago. More to come later. Actually, speaking of alien games, those jerks making Xenonauts sure are taking their sweet time. I've had that game in my steam library for months and it's still in some sort of half-broken alpha state. You're literally just making X-COM again, it can't be that hard. (note: I know it can be that hard, I was being sarcastic. But seriously guys.) Oh, and since we're on the topic of things I backed on kickstarter, Wasteland 2 and Divinity: Original Sin should be coming out pretty soon. I have high hopes for one and realistic hopes for the other (if nothing else, Original Sin will be an interesting mess, something that I couldn't really say for Divinity 2). And then there's Pillars of Eternity and that will hopefully be awesome as well. Basically, 2014 is the year that makes or breaks Kickstarter, and I'm excited to see the final results of me giving $15 to strangers on the internet in the spring of 2012.

Japanese Dungeon Crawlers?

Anime lolis be damned. These games are pretty good.

Yeah, I'm on the 5th stratum in Etrian Odyssey III, and I've learned some important lessons along the way. While that game is definitely hard, with proper party building it becomes a lot more manageable, and the game itself is flexible enough to allow for more unorthodox compositions of dudes. Now I just need to slog my way through the last 4 floors, no doubt grind to fight an absurdly powerful final boss and then I can move on to the much better looking Etrian Odyssey IV (as opposed to the “Remake of the first game, but with a set party and an actual story” known as Etrian Odyssey Untold, which I also bought for badly thought-out reasons). Consider me a fan. As a contingency, I also have Shin Megami Tensei IV, and I played enough of that game to know that it admirably succeeds in its goal of being extremely difficult and sort of unfair at the start and also making sure that I don't like any of the obvious characters who are obvious (Hmmm... I wonder which guy represents order and which guy represents chaos...?) But I also never finished Nocturne (I did get further over the break, so don't pretend that I'm not making progress... now I just need to bring my PS2 down to school), so any attempts at the new one will be tempered by the fact that I'd really rather play the old one anyways. So expect my blog of SMT IV in the summer of 2017, where I talk all about satan, or whatever.

And that's it for now. You can expect things to be more sporadic from here on out, and actually if I'm being consistent with my blogging that probably means there's something wrong with my academic performance... so expect my Might and Magic X blog in two weeks.

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ArbitraryWater's best games of 2013 that didn't actually come out in 2013

2013 is over, and so are my Game of the Year lists. It's been a pretty good year for video games, and a pretty terrible year for everything else. Actually, it decided to give me one last punch in the gut this week and I've had to re-plan my immediate future quite extensively (including such fun tasks as: Registering for classes and trying to find housing two weeks before the semester starts). So my personal life is sort of in the toilet, yet I feel remarkably calm about the whole thing. But you aren't here to read vague references to my life in human space. You aren't even here for games that came out in 2013. In previous years I've occasionally said that this list is a better indication of how I actually play games, and that might not be true this year. If you want the most honest look, you might just want to take a glance at that “Worst of 2013” list again, because that's where most of my old-game playing energy was spent.

ALSO OH MAN WHY IS LIST FORMATTING SO BROKEN. Just follow the numbers and you'll be ok.

Best games of 2013 (that didn't come out in 2013)

1. Might and Magic: World of XeenI'm sort of cheating on this one, given that World of Xeen is actually composed of Might and Magic IV and V, both separate and distinct halves of a game that interconnects them in a way that I don't think I've seen again. *
5. Valkyria Chronicles III'll give Valkyria Chronicles II credit: Given how much better the first game supposedly is, I'll probably enjoy the hell out of it. Its PSP sequel has what might be the single most intolerably annoying cast of anime stereotypes this side of a Tales game... aaannnd I still enjoyed it. Weird.*
2. Super Mario 3D LandWhile I couldn't tell you if this game or Super Mario 3D World is the superior of the two, the second half of 3D Land is exactly the kind of thing that makes Mario games a force to be reckoned with in the first place.
8. King's Bounty: Warriors of the NorthDon't let the Vikings fool you, Warriors of the North is more King's Bounty with some slight tweaks here and there. And... that's good enough, given that as a fan of Heroes of Might and Magic, this entire series is basically just comfort food.
6. BayonettaBayonetta crosses my line of tolerance for batshit Japanese insanity with its unrelenting torrent of flashing lights, nonsensical plot, sexual imagery and references to other video games. It's also one of the finest character action games I've played.
3. Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the BetrayerMask of the Betrayer may have managed to usurp Fallout: New Vegas as my favorite Obsidian title, depending on the day of the week you ask me. *
7. Sonic & All-Stars Racing TransformedI was actually really surprised how much I enjoyed this game, given that I think Mario Kart is sort of dumb now. *
9. Far Cry 3Far Cry 3 is the big dumb sandbox I wish Far Cry 2 was all along. The only reason it isn't higher is because I think it wears out its welcome by the time you reach the second island, to not even get into my issues with the story and its continually squandered potential in favor of making me openly hate the protagonist. I might like Blood Dragon more, actually. Still a blast.
10. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of SeasonsWhile I didn't get around to Oracle of Ages this year, Oracle of Seasons is a solid Zelda game hamstrung by the limits of what the Gameboy Color was actually capable of. *
4. Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned CityThe question "Am I a bad enough dude to play these deliberately cruel dungeon crawlers with anime lolis?" was one I struggled with for quite some time. I'm not sure what made this one click, but consider me a fan of Etrian Odyssey. *

I could put images into this blog, but whatever. Who cares?

Nebulous Old Game of the Year: Might and Magic World of Xeen.

I say “Nebulous”, because it doesn't really matter what position a lot of these games are in, and really it's my mistake for numbering it at all this year. For a game that I basically played on and off over the course of four years and two computers, I can say with some confidence that World of Xeen is a fantastic old RPG that holds up surprisingly well. It's a goofy, lengthy dungeon crawl-y experience with some really clever, really crazy environmental puzzles. I don't think I've encountered a game that has a crossword puzzle as part of one of its dungeons. It should be mentioned that a lot of this praise is directed at the Might and Magic V half of World of Xeen, the stronger half and also the one I finished this year. It's not perfect (thus the use of the word “nebulous”), a little too obscure in spots, even when I was referencing a guide, but as far as something I can put a 1 next to on a list, I guess this works. (Really though, the first 3 items on this list are pretty interchangeable and if you want you can pretend that Mario or Neverwinter Nights is actually my old game of the year)

Best Mario Game that isn't that other Best Mario Game on my other list: Super Mario 3D Land

I dunno man. The second half of this game is pretty great. World still is probably better though.

Game most like Planescape Torment – Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer

Oh Obsidian. You may have all of Black Isle's talent, but you have the misfortune of living in an unfair world, where publisher after publisher after publisher treats your requests for additional funds or time like an annoyance, and your games as products that need to be shipped, regardless of how buggy they end up being. You have the best writers in the business, ones that Bioware no doubt envies with their increasing need to shove corny romantic interactions into every orfice of their increasingly mainstream “RPGs”, but you're stuck making smarter, buggier sequels to everyone else's IP. I've said my piece about KotOR 2 elsewhere, but I still think that game has very little business being called a sequel to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, or really Star Wars in general, lack of ending and weird deconstructionist themes aside. I've also said my piece about Fallout: New Vegas, which I think in general is a better game than Fallout 3 all around. And... well, I've also said my piece about this next game, namely that it's pretty awesome.

It should be noted that this award is exclusively aimed at the campaign contained in the Mask of the Betrayer Expansion. While the original campaign for Neverwinter Nights 2 is a perfectly decent D&D romp around the Sword Coast (see: Honorable Mentions) and Storm of Zehir is an admirable but questionable effort to recreate an Icewind Dale-like experience in an engine that doesn't really support tactical combat, Mask of the Betrayer sometimes feels like it's the sequel to Planescape Torment, or maybe an alternate universe version of KotOR 2 that I don't sort of hate. It's a game that consists entirely of things that Obsidian does well, with an interesting, low-key plot and some great supporting characters all surrounded by philosophical quandaries . I still think the combat in Neverwinter Nights is pretty mediocre and imprecise, I still think that the camera for this game is straight up awful and I also think that the Soul Hunger mechanic is really, really annoying. I've been tip-toeing around the story and individual events because I think they're really what make the game and it'd be a shame to spoil them. I'll just say that the evil ending, the really evil ending is... pretty great.

The Temple of Elemental Evil award for most sadistic video game: Etrian Odyssey III

I've had this game in my possession for almost two years at this point, so I couldn't tell you what made this one finally click for me after a long while. But here I am, telling you that this deliberately old-school, deliberately sadistic dungeon crawler with an art style that I think is pretty dumb is one of my favorite games of this year, old or no. While I think the term “Grind Treadmill” certainly applies here (except for the part where grinding is pretty trivial for the most part), being overleveled isn't going to do you a whole lot of good against some of the enemies in this game unless you also play it smart. Part of that is me playing with a rather unorthodox party (I always appreciate bum utility/support classes in my dumb RPGs, which is why I had to have a Farmer in my party for the first half before replacing her with a robot that shoots rocket fists) that doesn't contain a dedicated healer, but the fact that I've gotten as far as I have speaks to this game's flexibility (though to be totally blunt: I can't see how you could get very far in this game without a Hoplite, the “tank” class) and that flexibility also extends to character development. There are a lot of viable ways to skill your dudes, be it specialization or broad coverage, compounded by the ability to subclass once you reach the 3rd area. Maybe I've just become more patient, but this was a game that has impressed me enough to get the two 3DS ones as well.

Most Apologetically Present Game: Valkyria Chronicles II.

Know what? I'll buy that this game might not be on my list if I owned a PS3 and played the first one. Certainly, Valkyria Chronicles II has a lot of the things I associate with Japanese SRPGs that aren't Fire Emblem, namely the part where it's sort of grindy, repetitive and easily exploitable, and as far as I can tell it's generally considered worse than the first game by a decent margin. Still, in those dark first few months of the year, when I was probably failing some of my classes and suffering disastrous side-effects from the medication I was taking then, something about this game really appealed to me. Oh, its characters and plot are the worst. THE WORST, but the tactical gameplay is there in spades, even if the solution to most of your problems quickly becomes “Bum rush the bastards with fencers and maybe a couple of gunners or the tank for support”. But that's the great part! You could theoretically play this game and not in the super-cheesy way that I did to acquire victory. Still, even thinking about that, I think the presence of this game, this high up on the list is proof that most of the old games I played this year weren't quite of the same caliber as the new games I played around with.

Best Kart Racer of the last decade: Sonic and Sega All-Star Racing Transformed

I'm not even joking here. The last time I enjoyed a Kart Racer this much was Mario Kart DS, and this is a way better game than that. This game is really good. The way the cars handle, the way powerslides work, the crazy track designs full of Sega nostalgia for people who owned Dreamcasts (i.e. not me) and can remember when Sega did things.... it all works together quite well, and I'm just talking about playing against the AI. I've had limited experience against humanfolk, but that seems to work pretty great as well! Now if only I had other USB controllers to hook into my computer. That seems like a way I could have fun with others.

Second Best Zelda game I played this year, being that I only played two of them: Oracle of Seasons

Oracle of Seasons and its time-based counterpart Oracle of Ages (which I did not get around to this year) are most notable to me because they're Zelda games that aren't actually developed by Nintendo (Capcom did most of the work). On its own merits, Seasons holds up pretty well, though it probably didn't help that I forced myself to finish it right before I got A Link Between Worlds. However, a couple of things irk me: The ring system is pretty half-baked for items ostensibly capable of helping you, there are only a real handful of useful ones. I feel like there are one or two bum dungeons that drag on longer than they need to or focus too much on stuff like say... platforming with the Roc's Feather/Cape, and finally I think there are certain aspects of the game's scope that are limited by the GBC's hardware and the reliance on connecting the two games together to get the full treatment. Either way, its position on this list is rather dubious, even in the face of...

Honorable Mentions: Quest for Glory 1, Neverwinter Nights 2 vanilla, Syndicate and probably some other things I'll only remember when I post this blog

Quest For Glory was actually number 10 on the original version of this list. As someone who was born after the fall of Communism, I cannot for the life of me understand the appeal of Sierra's brand of old-school Adventure Game. When you tell me that you could accidentally make it impossible to finish King's Quest V hours before it became readily apparent, or that Leisure Suit Larry was a thing that people found funny, or that Police Quest was not supposed to be a hilarious joke, I will shrug and look at you like you are a crazy old man, because you are. As I found out this year, that ire does not quite extend to Quest For Glory, which throws RPG elements (and thus multiple solutions to any given problem) into the usual adventure game mold with mostly positive results. It's still full of accidental death and bad puns, but I might seriously consider playing my character through the rest of the series if only to see that goodwill burn out on some ridiculous, obscure puzzle that no one would ever have gotten without buying a hint book of some sort.

The Original Campaign for Neverwinter Nights 2 is the most straightforward, Bioware-y thing Obsidian has ever done, and for the most part that's fine. It's a pretty archetypical romp around the sword coast, a lot more linear than you'd expect with a plot that you definitely would expect. Part of what redeems it for me is the way that your party members interact, inasmuch as they totally hate each other and would probably strangle the rest in their sleep if not for your presence. It's worth a look at... once, but in the grand pantheon of CRPGs it's really nothing special. It's clear that like the first Neverwinter Nights, the focus is still mostly on the player-created modules, none of which I'll actually play because, despite being the most complete incarnation of D&D 3.5 in a video game I don't think the combat in these games is actually all that fun. You have camera issues and AI scripting issues up the wazoo, which makes party-based combat less fun than it should be. Still, for something that leads up to Mask of the Betrayer, it's alright by me.

It is completely insane that Jeff forced Syndicate onto last year's GOTY list, but on its own merits it was a pretty fun 5 hour first person shooter campaign that I'll never feel the need to play again. The way hacking dudes interacts with shooting makes for a fun time, but if I didn't get it for $5 I think my standards would've been a bit higher. Also, I can barely remember what happened in that game.

And... that's it. I'm done. I was thinking about writing about things that aren't video games, but let's be real, you don't really want to read me ranting about Fullmetal Alchemist, do you? I guess I could rant about Giant Bomb's GOTY choices, but I'll leave that to the rest of you. Happy New Year, or whatever.

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ArbitraryWater's best games of 2013 that actually came out in 2013

Now that people are all up in their GOTY business, I figure it's time to finally unveil my list after last week's pile of misfortune and sorrow. My other usual list (Games of X that did not come out in X) is still in flux, so that probably won't be for a bit. As you might expect, I probably missed some of the biggest and “most important” games of the year, either because I didn't have the console in question (The Last of Us) or didn't really care (Gone Home). That's clearly my problem, but I might as well tell you now in case you had any questions later.

EDIT: Holy crap list formatting is broken as hell. Oh well. the numbers are right, so at least you have that.

GOTY 2013

1. Fire Emblem: AwakeningI am unapologetic in my love of Fire Emblem, and Awakening happens to be a Fire Emblem game that came out this year. Certainly helps that it's the best the series has been in a long while.*
3. BioShock InfiniteEven now, it's difficult to decide where I want Bioshock Infinite to be on this list, but I'll go with my gut feeling when I completed it and give it this high end spot. *
5. Dragon's Dogma: Dark ArisenI think I might like Dragon's Dogma MORE than when I played it a year ago. Sure, the small gameplay enhancements offered by Dark Arisen are nice, as is the brutal punch in the face known as Bitterblack Isle, but... screw it. I just wanted another excuse to put Dragon's Dogma on this list.
2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between WorldsMy only complaint about A Link Between Worlds is that I wish it was longer and maybe a little more difficult. Other than those minor quibbles... it might be almost perfect. *
4. Super Mario 3D WorldMuch like Zelda, Super Mario 3D World is proof that when Nintendo brings their A-Game, they BRING IT. *
9. Saints Row IVSaints Row IV maybe takes a bit too much from its prior incarnations (specifically, it literally reuses the world of Saints Row the Third), but it's still the king of insane, self-aware video games. *
7. Assassin's Creed IV: Black FlagAssassin's Creed is skirting dangerously close to burning out with its yearly release schedule, but ACIV succeeds at fulfilling the promise that ACIII squandered as far as gameplay is concerned. Pirates!*
8. XCOM: Enemy WithinEnemy Within doesn't fix some of the fundamental problems I have with Enemy Unknown, but it did mix enough up to where I willingly played it again and enjoyed doing so. It's a pity that for all the fantastic enhancements to the mid-game, the end-game is still flaccid and dull.
6. DmC Devil May CryThis is one of those times when I will gleefully proclaim "Screw the haters", even as I sort of mourn the part where this game's complete lack of success means that the series isn't going anywhere for the next few years. It's no DMC3, but what is?
10. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual DestiniesCapcom's series of Anime Courtroom Antics returns in fine form after the rather underwhelming Apollo Justice (which you can tell was underwhelming because they didn't make a direct sequel for 6 years and instead focused on Edgeworth and Professor Layton related spinoffs). It also might have the best DLC of this year, involving a case where you defend a Killer Whale of murder.

Aaaaand that's that. Now, as per usual, some elaboration for those who care. I'm tired, so I'm not going to post any screenshots until tomorrow.

Preemptive game of the year 2013: Fire Emblem Awakening

I'm just going to throw this out there: As a long time fan of the series and as someone insane enough to do things like “download translation patches so I can play the SNES ones in English”, I don't think Fire Emblem: Awakening is the best game in the series. It's pretty damn close though, and after the two rather bland DS titles that followed Radiant Dawn (not that Radiant Dawn is all that hot either, but I've already said words about that game before) it's good to know that Nintendo's flagship SRPG series is back on track. (still waiting on that Advance Wars sequel that will knock my socks off) Part of that just comes from throwing almost every notable feature from previous games out there.You've got the world map and alternate promotions from Sacred Stones, the class changing features of the DS games and A marriage/support system similar to that of Seisen no Keifu. Another is simply the presentation, which shows that Intelligent Systems finally got a budget for once, and when combined with 8-4's fantastic localization (the story is kind of ehhhhh but the writing is super well done) it stands out.

But then of course there's the part where it's still a Fire Emblem game, and I've proven to stick my neck out for some of the more mediocre installments. Awakening is far from that, and if you own a 3DS and don't hate yourself (because seriously, the normal difficulty is a joke, especially with all of the grinding available) I would fully and unequivocally recommend it. But of course I would, because I'm the second most vocal Fire Emblem fan on these forums after the guy who thinks he's the king of the moon. Let's be honest: You're far more interested in my number 2 choice.

My Number 2 Choice – The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Despite Ocarina of Time easily being one of my favorite games (because it's an easy, uncontroversial answer that anyone who isn't a hipster bastard would nod their head in agreement with) I wouldn't call myself a unilateral fan of Zelda. I loathed what I played of Majora's Mask, never finished Twilight Princess despite it being the game we got with our Wii, and did not even purchase Skyward Sword (but given me buying myself Mario Galaxy 2 for my birthday last month and having recently “obtained” Xenoblade, Muramasa and The Last Story, I think one last Wii game is not out of the question), so you could say that I haven't been fully on board since The Wind Waker (or maybe Four Swords Adventures if that counts). This is the Zelda game that makes me excited about Zelda again after long being on the internet snark train.

One could be dismissive about that, (rightfully) claiming that it goes out of its way to push at the nostalgia buttons of anyone who ever loved A Link to the Past, but here's the thing: I never finished A Link to the Past. I have a pretty solid memory of those first three light world dungeons from when I owned it on GBA but I was probably too young and dumb to get much further. I recognize enough to know where they're coming from, but not enough to know how far they skirt the line between “Loving Homage” and “Blatant Cash-In”. In the end, it doesn't matter as much as you'd think. While the zero filler, zero condescension, zero bullshit approach is certainly welcome and reminiscent of a SNES game, the non-linear nature of tackling the dungeons and the way items are handled is the most experimental thing the series has done in a long while. It certainly helps that the act of just running around the overworld, looking for Baby Malamai and Heart Pieces is genuinely fun, but the dungeons themselves are universally fantastic and use the items (as well as the merge ability) to great effect.

As I said above, my one problem is that I wish it was a bit longer and a bit harder, because I died around a grand total of 6 times (most of them early on, like twice to the final boss) and was never super stumped when it came to puzzles. So basically, I'm saying that I'd kill for a Master Quest equivalent to this game, but even without that I'd once again universally recommend it to anyone who has a 3DS and doesn't hate themselves.

Most Bioshock Infinite: Bioshock Infinite

Infinite might be my most personally contentious game on this list, if only because I've found myself agreeing with some of the criticism leveled at it in the months after its release. I still think the backlash is (unsurprisingly) overblown, a lot of it the product of sniveling pseudo-intellectuals who write a lot of words on their tumblr (because “Game Journalism” is broken and they're the ones to fix it from their ivory towers) without actually saying a whole lot. But still, 9 months after release I can certainly take a step back and say “Yeah, that ending is sort of pretentious and self-important in its craziness”.

But even when Bioshock Infinite revealed its hand; that it wasn't actually about Race, Religion and Nationalism and instead about multidimensional insanity, I still really enjoyed where most of that story went. A lot of that has to do with the dynamic between Booker and Elizabeth, which holds up even as the plot goes in weird directions and the shooting gets increasingly tiresome when you realize that despite being able to only hold two guns, you'll never have enough ammo to avoid constant switching out, especially when dealing with some of the tougher bullet sponges. I couldn't tell you if this is better than the original Bioshock or not. I'll lean towards “yes”, if only because OG Bioshock blatantly steals a lot of its cues from System Shock 2 (aka: the game that Bioshock was ostensibly the spiritual successor to). Either way, consider this position a rather shaky one at best.

Best self-justification for now owning a Wii U: Super Mario 3D World.

In order to avoid having to write something up later, you can count this as my blog for the next handful of games. Super Mario 3D World is... pretty much Super Mario 3D Land with the added benefit of 5 different selectable characters. It's a little too easy at first, but at a certain point the game decides to tell you “It's on” and then you start losing lives by the truckload. The level design is fantastic, and I can only think of one specifically that I will loathe playing again in order to get all of the stamps, green stars and golden flagpoles. It also uses one-off gimmicks really well, and aside from some of those levels getting harder, faster, more challenging remixes in the later worlds, there are a lot of ideas that are used exactly once to great effect, be it that level that is like Mario Kart, the one that's a single screen, etc etc. While I desperately hope that Nintendo will avoid the temptation to whore this particular formula out the same way New Super Mario Bros was, this is a great follow-up to a great game.

Best game featuring pirates since Sid Meier's Pirates!: Assassin's Creed IV

I'll admit, this one is a little tentative, because much like Dragon's Dogma last year, I have not quite finished AC4 as of this writing. That being said, I think it's a much, much better game than AC3 for a myriad of reasons. It makes side content both fun and worthwhile again, lightens up the tone by including a protagonist who isn't a complete wet blanket and treats the modern day stuff as ancillary, which it should have been all along. It's the best the series has been in... like 4 years, so I'm pretty stoked to play more after some of my open world fatigue has subsided (see below).

Most ridiculous open world game: Saints Row IV

Saints Row IV is a video game, and it's not ashamed of being so. After playing Saints Row: The Third last year and understanding why it was almost Giant Bomb's Game of the Year 2011 (and, by the way, Skyrim still deserved to win if Dark Souls wasn't even being considered), it makes sense that I'd enjoy this new one almost as much. It's still surprisingly clever and occasionally laugh-out-loud hilarious, having superpowers allows for you to feel appropriately overpowered and trivializes a lot of the tedium I expect from games like these, and the supporting cast is still super great. If I have a problem with it, it's with the fact that it takes a lot of its joke cues from SR3, and while having super powers is pretty great, it also means the game is easy in an almost broken way. But if you want proof that I enjoyed it, consider the fact that I did all of the side stuff after pretty much ignoring all of it in the last one. It's a pity that the Enter the Dominatrix DLC was a total waste of time, but maybe the Christmas one is a different story

Game number 11: Pokemon X

The fact that I am here, even acknowledging a Pokemon game says something about the direction my life has taken. Pokemon X/Y does not reinvent the wheel. It's insultingly easy at times, and Klefki is still the single dumbest looking Pocket Monster since Luvdisc or maybe Trubbish, but it is a massive step-up presentation-wise and also serves to make the meta-game aspects a lot easier and more transparent to their own benefit. For the period of a few weeks, I was actively doing stuff like EV training and breeding for nature, something that I never thought I'd sink into. But then the realization that I still wasn't that dedicated sunk in, and I was left with the rather dull postgame stuff as a result. Still, something I thoroughly enjoyed.

Honorable Mentions: Shadowrun Returns, Resident Evil: Revelations HD and Civ V: Brave New World

While I don't think the basic campaign included with Shadowrun Returns is necessarily all that great (in fact, I'd go as far as to say it was middling enough to provoke me into writing a formal review instead of just a blog), its potential is already paying off in the form of fan-made modules in the style of the original Neverwinter Nights, not to mention the Berlin expansion next year that will hopefully be something resembling an actual RPG instead of a linear series of missions that Patrick Klepek would mistake for a strategy game. Now that it will probably be a daily deal on the Steam sale, I highly endorse picking it up, if only to sate your appetite until Wasteland 2 finally comes out.

Resident Evil Revelations is a better game than Resident Evil 6, but I don't think I like it as much as Resident Evil 6, for as paradoxical as that seems. While RE6 is flashy, sort of a mess and occasionally aggravating, Revelations is undeniably decent, even if its roots as a portable game show more than it would like (such as the part where you're constantly followed around by an AI partner, but there is no actual co-op in the campaign). The story is complete nonsense, even by Resident Evil standards, and the enemy design is a bit bland, but I quite enjoyed the 10 or so hours it took to finish the game. That's not even mentioning the several hours I spent playing Raid mode, which I feel like is neat enough that it could be split off into its own thing. It's not quite “putting the series back on track” or anything, but as a hybrid approach resembling the old and the new it does fine for itself.

Much like when Gods and Kings came out last year, I thought that Brave New World would facilitate a lot more poor life choices when it came to spending a lot of time with a 4X game. That... hasn't really happened. The changes are all super smart, making the end game less of a drag, making a culture victory more fun to play towards, throwing in some really neat civilizations like Venice... but still, I have yet to put my hour count for Civ V over the 100 hour mark. It's still somehow my most played game on Steam, but I still have to be in a specific mood for 4X stuff to grab me, I guess.

And with that, I only have one last list to go. You'll possibly see that one next week, but that all depends on if and when I finish some stuff that's been sitting on the back burner for a while. Who knows? Maybe I'll finally beat Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne like I've been threatening to do for the last 3 years. Also I somehow got my hands on Xenoblade, Muramasa and The Last Story, and while the chances of me finishing any one of those games this year is nil, they may make for great material early next year. Until then, keep on windjamming.

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ArbitraryWater's Worst and Most Questionable Games of 2013 that may or may not have come out in 2013

It's December now. Time to start thinking about Game of the Year junk and all that. While Giant Bomb will no doubt grace us with some amazing, overproduced video magic nonsense and 4 hour podcasts involving grown men arguing about the quality of games that involve the word “Brothers” in the title, I'll be over here, making my two usual holiday lists and accompanying write-ups. But I'll be taking a break from video games (and thus this website) for a while sometime early next year, so I figure there's no better time than now then to discuss the true stars of 2013. No, not Bioshock, not Grand Theft Auto the Fifth. The Last of Us? What is that? No. We're talking about the baddest and most questionable video games I played this year. You may recall the list I made, or perhaps the blogs. But I think it a bit crude to rate them in a top 10 list. No, all of these gems are bad or questionable in their own special way and I think it's time everyone gets a trophy. Thus, special achievement awards.

Most Disappointing 3rd person shooter with a vaguely horror-ish theme: Dead Space 3.

Original Blog Here

Dead Space 3 is a game that dies the death of a thousand corporate mandates. Most of the things that make that game bad can be traced to poorly-advised attempts to make it mass-market viable. Like the naked suggestion that you should pay them real money to make your probes come back faster, the shift to universal ammo (ensuring that you'll never run out) or the entirely unnecessary addition of co-op.

A couple of years from now, when we discuss how great Dead Space 1 and 2 were, this will be the unfortunate footnote

But even without those things, Dead Space 3 would still be inferior to its forebears. It starts out promising enough (, the first 1/3rd or so of the game on that flotilla of long-abandoned ships is pretty alright, nothing special but certainly still enjoyable. But then you touch down on the Ice Planet... and everything suddenly becomes progressively lazier and progressively worse the further down you go. Any sort of tension evaporates as you realize that Necromorphs will always appear out of the places you expect (a vent, probably behind you), when you expect them to (usually when you press a switch or something) in environments that look oddly similar to the environments you passed through an hour ago (dilapidated old military buildings). It certainly doesn't hurt that you've got ammo for days. Resorting to the plasma cutter because you're out of everything else? Pish posh. Now that ammunition is universal, who is going to stop you from blowing shit up with a grenade launcher/chain lightning gun at all times? (answer: NO ONE) Actually, I will give it this: the weapon customization system is really neat and I'd like it in a better designed game please and thank you. I haven't even mentioned the story, which reaches a level of colossally dumb that most other games can only dream of. I'll just leave it at that. NECROMORPH MOON.

Least Disappointing 3rd Person Shooter with a vaguely horror-ish theme: Resident Evil 6

Original Blawg

How can you be disappointed in a game you expected to be bad from the onset?

Now let me be entirely blunt: Resident Evil 6 is only the least disappointing because I had very low expectations going in, given the pretty widespread condemnation that title received when it came out last year. I was pleasantly surprised, and by pleasantly surprised I mean that I didn't entirely hate it. Oh, it's a bad game; endemic of everything wrong with “AAA” and Japanese game development today, but in some ways I applaud its deluded ambitions. Resident Evil Revelations, which I also played this year, is a much better game, but this is a far more honest indicator of where the series is now, maybe for the better, certainly for the worse. The story is the usual brand of nonsense you'd expect from the series but much like Resident Evil 5 I feel that the raw amount of money thrown in its general direction makes something that would otherwise be super cheesy and lame quite watchable. I willingly played through parts of it again cooperatively with a friend on his copy (which I gave to him, because I'm a bad person). I even think the basic shooting mechanics are alright, overly-close camera notwithstanding.

It's everywhere else that RE6 falters, though at least you can say its failures come in different flavors. Leon's Campaign is the most playable and reminiscent of the older games in the series; RE4 specifically. Chris' is a questionable attempt at something resembling Gears of War, Jake's consists of a lot of really bad scripted set-pieces and Ada's... well Ada probably has the worst of the lot with what might be one of the single worst stealth sequences I've seen in a video game. All of them contain moments that make you go “Was any of this playtested?” (every single boss fight comes to mind) and a generous barrage of insta-death QTEs for good measure. But still, I think I'd voluntarily replay the entirety of this game than have to slog through the mediocrity of Dead Space 3, because at least Resident Evil 6 tries. Oh sure, It's the effort of a Japanese company trying to make a game that appeals to Western audiences without understanding what makes something like Gears of War good, but it's a far more interesting failure because of it. Or maybe my love for previous Resident Evil games has subconsciously blinded me and I'm simply crazy.

Best game that I still fully acknowledge as being not-great/guilty pleasure award: Dark Messiah of Might and Magic.

Original Write up thingy

FEAR THE BOOT OF JUSTICE

After almost giving Dishonored my Game of the Year last year (and some days I'll tell you that it is my GOTY 2012 and XCOM is in the #1 spot by accident), I figured I had to know what Arkane had been up to previously. While my eventual playthrough of Arx Fatalis hasn't happened yet, I did play this little “gem” earlier in the year. I'm not going to tell you that Dark Messiah is a game of considerable quality, but I had fun playing it. While its RPG, stealth and exploration aspects are a bit half-baked, as a first person action game where you kick things into other things it cannot be beaten. All the ancient weapons and magicks of Ashan are no match for your mighty foot. Enemy is near conveniently placed spikes? Kick them into the spikes! Enemy is near a ledge? KICK THEM OFF THE LEDGE. It's a clear indication of when that game was released, since physics were all the rage in 2006 instead of just being something you passively acknowledged and continued onward. The story is also dumb, but of course it is.

Worst game that I'm surprised didn't kill the franchise then and there: Devil May Cry 2

Original Blog

The internet has apparently been right these past 10 years; this game is REALLY bad.

While I question if the first Devil May Cry necessarily holds up all that well with its Resident Evil-esque camera angles and comparatively stiff controls, it's clear that it is at least an important, influential title that has laid the groundwork for many of the character action games that have come after it. It's sequel, on the other hand... might be the worst game I played to completion this year. It's as shallow and bland as Devil May Cry 3 is nuanced and flashy. You don't get any new moves, and all of your melee weapons handle the same with slightly different stats. Guns are absurdly overpowered and you'll need that because of how poorly designed a lot of the bosses are. The game is around 5-6 hours long, and that was playing through both characters' stories. There is an egregiously bad underwater segment at one point. Capcom barely acknowledges its existence, and that's probably for the best, given how it all feels like a second-rate imitation of Devil May Cry rather than any sort of sequel. Still, this is the team that went on to make 3 and 4, so I'll at least give them credit for learning from their mistakes.

Worst halloween-type game from a developer I otherwise respect: Grabbed by the Ghoulies

Blog, the Original

At least with Devil May Cry 2 I had people who could sympathize with my plight. As Nuts and Bolts was so keen to remind us, NO ONE played this game. Thus, I was left to complain about it all alone.

I guess I could have put Costume Quest for this category as well, but Costume Quest is a $15 downloadable title clearly aimed at actual children (because I can't see how any adult in their right mind would find Costume Quest's repetitive brand of ultra-shallow “My first RPG” enjoyable past the first 30 minutes of its 4 hour playtime) made by Double Fine, a developer not exactly known for making stuff with great gameplay; Brad Muir's tower defense/shooter/copyright infringement machine aside. Grabbed by the Ghoulies was a $50 retail title made by Rareware, also known as the people responsible for like half of my favorite childhood games, and it's also openly aggravating at times instead of just mind-numbingly boring. Ghoulies is... I guess a brawler type game where you have no moves and instead just point the right stick in the general direction of your enemies. It's also basically a series of challenge rooms with conditions like “Kill X Enemy” and “Don't Kill X Enemy”, with difficulty varying wildly from one room to the next (because your health also varies from room to room, naturally). There's very little nuance to the combat in a game that is all combat, and if the repetition doesn't get you the random, frustrating difficulty spikes will. Along with Kameo (Another game I played this year, the highest level of praise for which I can muster being: “It's alright”), it's clear that Rare didn't become a soulless husk of a company that only puts out kinect games by accident. And, as always, that's a shame because Banjo-Kazooie Nuts and Bolts was the shit.

Worst game that I didn't finish because of how bored I was by the time I gave up: Kingdoms of Amalur Reckoning

BLOG YO

No seriously, it becomes progressively easier and more boring the longer you play.

The best thing I can say about both Devil May Cry 2 and Grabbed by the Ghoulies is that they're over quickly. Kingdoms of Amalur is a Single Player MMO that runs out of steam long before you get anywhere near the finishing line, as I found out around the 25 hour mark. It's a title with a lot of really interesting ideas and systems that aren't capitalized upon well enough to last its entire running length. Part of that simply has to do with a bad power curve: it becomes incredibly easy to cheese the various gameplay systems at work, be it through maxing out sagecrafting in order to socket health regeneration gems into every single piece of armor or simply spamming the handful of powerful attack skills at your disposal. But even then, it doesn't have enough content to justify its length. Stuff starts repeating heavily around the halfway mark, and the writing isn't good enough to justify the usual “Kill X” or “Go to X” quests that populate the world. It's a pity there will never be another one, because I could have seen a sequel really delivering on the promise shown in Reckoning.

Worst Bioware Game that isn't that Sonic RPG/Most controversial item on this list: Jade Empire

Blog thing

So hey, Baldur's Gate 2 was pretty great.

I wanted to like Jade Empire, and in some ways I feel like I would've loved it had I played it when it came out in 2005. It was Bioware's first attempt at original IP, a mish mash of Asian culture and mythology with a different twist on the usual Good/Evil axis. It has a pretty great supporting cast, some really good individual vignettes...and a really abysmal combat system compounded by shallow, imbalanced character progression. If you've noticed a theme running throughout these awards, “monotonous combat” is one of them. Still, Jade Empire isn't bad. It has its moments (one featuring John Cleese as a stereotypical European imperialist being a particular highlight) and I can see how someone could have liked this game had they played it when it was new and relevant. As it stands I didn't, and I think it's outclassed by everything Bioware has made before and after. Though, if this is their low point then I'd say they still have a pretty good track record as a developer... well, besides this next game.

Worst Bioware Game that is that Sonic RPG -- Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood

There is no blog because I found this game un-entertaining enough that I have yet to finish it. Don't worry, that will change one day, probably when I need to feel bummed out about life again.

The Alpha Protocol Award for “Game that I liked until it fell apart at the seams”: Assassin's Creed III

Thing Blog

Tomahawking Redcoats? I don't see how that could go wrong.

I probably liked Assassin's Creed III more than some of you, given that I did continue playing after the protagonist switch and the 6-hour long tutorial, but that doesn't mean I don't think it's sort of a mess. As I mentioned in my blog, it throws a ton of side activities at you but disconnects them all in such a way to not really give the player any motivation to do them, leaving me to just barrel through the main story, far too much of which consists of eavesdropping, forced stealth and chase sequences, all of which were sort of bad when Assassin's Creed 1 did them 5 years prior and somehow worse now. The final chase of the game is one of the worst things I've seen in a long time. It's good that Ubisoft seems to have found their footing again with Black Flag, but they should probably slow down and take a long, hard look at where they want this series to go.

Best Blog about the nature of Time Travel in Chrono Trigger/Game my Computer hates the most: Might and Magic IX

Original thing

No seriously, just play Wizardry 8. Everyone with a vague appreciation for RPGs should play Wizardry 8.

That first award is there mostly as a reminder that 90% of my blogs don't reach more than 20ish comments. My most commented on blog this year was the one about Might and Magic IX (and King's Bounty: Crossworlds, but that game is actually good so it won't get a mention here), but unfortunately due to some offhand thing that @video_game_king probably said, it somehow became dominated with a discussion about Chrono Trigger, which is also a good old game and that reminds me: I should get back to Chrono Cross. My second award is a reference to the fact that my computer now refuses to run Might and Magic IX, despite being able to do so previously. I'm guessing I played more than half of it, so I can say with certainty that regular human beings should not play Might and Magic IX, a game that is staggeringly competent despite the fact that it was shipped in a very broken, very unfinished state. As a fan of the series I needed to play it (and I'll need to complete it) for my own sake. For the rest of you: Just play Might and Magic VI or VII. Or Wizardry 8. Wizardry 8 is still great.

And that's it, at least for now! I'll probably have my more legitimate awards lists done next week or so, so if you found this lengthy bitch-fest a bit too dour, you have nothing but positivity to expect moving forward! I'm pretty close to finishing Saints Row IV, and that game is pretty great, though I may play something else as a palette cleanser before going back to Assassin's Creed. Like.. I dunno... Arcanum or Fallout 2? You know, my CRPG white whales. Speaking of Fallout, it and its sequels are free on GOG until like... saturday Catch that hot old school RPG action and get some old games on sale while you're there.

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I play modern games: A Link Between XCOMs

Well, I CLEARLY can't finish up my Game of the Year list until I play more New Super Luigi U. Just look! It might as well say SYSTEM SELLER right on the box! What's a 3D World?

Thanksgiving has come and gone. It was a fairly low-key one for me this year, with surprisingly little in the realm of “eating a regrettable amount of turkey/stuffing/sweet potatoes/green beans/sparkling cider/pie” and more “Eating a Rueben at 11PM because I didn't stuff myself with turkey, then very much regretting it the next morning”. It's not all horrible indigestion though: I am now the semi-proud owner of a Wii U. Thanks to the power of that Best Buy black friday deal, I convinced/tricked my parents to get one for “The Family” as an early Christmas present (because we're all old now and there won't be any more magic or surprise until my older sisters start having kids), and thus I can know with confidence that I'll be able to play the worthwhile exclusives for that system during its lifetime and let it collect dust otherwise except when people want to play that chase game in Nintendo Land. But anyways, we're not here to talk about how Super Mario 3D World seems pretty cool, or how New Super Mario Bros U seems exactly like New Super Mario Bros/Wii/2. No, let's back up a bit, to like a week ago when I thought about writing a blog, but didn't. They shot lasers into my eyes like 3 weeks ago. It's going well.

XCOM: Enemy Within

We will be watching, Commander

The reason I abstained from writing an entire blog about the expansion to my GOTY of last year (though in retrospect, I'm half-convinced Dishonored should have won instead) is because I wondered how much I could write before just repeating what I wrote about the base game a year ago. This week, I figured that it doesn't matter because no one reads my old stuff past the week it goes on the community spotlight and this blog is really about Zelda anyways. As an expansion, Enemy Within is pretty much exactly what I wanted out of an expansion to Enemy Unknown, which is to say that it adds more variables and numbers to a game that was sort of lacking in them before. Don't get me wrong, I am fully behind Firaxis' modern re-imagining of the 1994 strategy classic (far more than I am behind Xenonauts, which seems to get an update to its alpha version roughly once every trillion years), but it was very much a game that relied on difficulty instead of complexity.

Colonel Smatters was my MVP of this run. Truly one of Earth's Greatest Heroes. It should also be mentioned that being able to set the language for your soldiers is a really nice touch and makes it feel like an international organization instead of a bunch of American dudes. All we need now are accents and we're golden.

Enemy Within alleviates some of this by re-balancing the old skills and items, making the game generally harder (Thin Men are now legitimately frightening early on) and throwing in MEC Troopers and Gene Mods to compensate. I heavily invested in MECs during my playthrough, due to their uncanny ability to take and dish absurd amounts of damage, often over an area thanks to the presence of a flamethrower, grenade launcher and proximity mines. They aren't without their drawbacks though: Their inability to take cover means that they take a lot of hot plasma to the face, which they can't really mitigate early on (some of their later skills allow for some serious damage sponge potential). They're expensive, costing 50 Meld to build a level 1 suit, 200 to get it all the way to level 3, and their weapons use a ridiculous amount of ammo (a grand 2 normal shots or 3 overwatch shots before you buy the ammo capacity foundry upgrade). Gene mods are a lot less interesting, basically a handful of stat or situation boosts that can make your regular soldiers more dangerous and durable, though Memetic Skin (cloaked whenever you move into high cover) might be the most broken thing in the world if you use it right, especially with Snipers who treat all cover as high cover. Both require Meld, a resource found in most missions that is attached to a timer, which in turn forces you to play more aggressively than the notoriously boring move > overwatch party that comprised a lot of the strategy for the higher difficulties. It's a smart change in a game full of smart changes. The EXALT stuff, while very much optional, is also a nice change of pace when you're fighting waves of guys who are similarly equipped like your soldiers, often vying for control of a specific point or points.

Unfortunately, some of the more... fundamental problems I had with XCOM still remain. Both in this and in vanilla, there comes a point where the difficulty curve plateaus and it stops being interesting, around the time you are consistently able to equip your dudes with plasma weapons. This is something that even the appearance of Muton Elites, Sectopods and Ethereals for the last 15% of the game can't fix. The endgame is dull, perhaps as a counterbalance to how easily screwed you can get early on, and it's led me to believe the game is actually balanced for Ironman mode. The final mission is unchanged and about as abysmal as you may have remembered it being, putting the cherry of poor taste on top of a boring sundae. It doesn't entirely detract from how generally great the rest of the game is, but those last few hours are such a slog. Also, I finally saw the Slingshot DLC content, and it's weird as hell that they'd include a named unique character in a game with generic, customizable soldiers and the whole thing feels extraneous and out of place as a result. Even with these reservations, I'll issue this blanket statement: If you liked Enemy Unknown, you will like this expansion. If you didn't, this won't change your mind. Even now I'm severely tempted to start an Ironman classic playthrough with a bunch of second wave options turned on. But I won't, because I still have to write about:

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

This is a pretty good cover.

I have a confession to make: I never finished A Link to the Past. I got it for the GBA back in Christmas of 2002, but I was too young (around 10 or 11) to make much of a dent in it. I think I got as far as... the first dark world dungeon, if I recall. At some point I lost that cartridge, though I do have it on my Wii's virtual console... which is super convenient since I just put away my Wii to set up the Wii U. Maybe I'll just get that data transfer done and play it that way. Why? Because after playing this, I need to play (and finish) a Link to the Past. Even remembering the little that I do of those first few dungeons and the light world, it's uncanny how much deja vu I had at times. A Link Between Worlds banks hard on nostalgia, but because of my ignorance I'm not entirely sure to what degree it does so, but I'm going to guess it skirts the line pretty closely between “Loving homage” and “Cynical play at your childhood”. Regardless, I didn't need a knowledge of the 22-year-old classic to enjoy what this 3DS incarnation has put forth.

In fact, I was surprised how much I really enjoyed this game. I've never been the world's biggest Zelda fan, I never beat Twilight Princess, I never touched Skyward Sword and my choice of favorite is still the very safe, rather boring option of Ocarina of Time. For all its old-school trappings, A Link Between Worlds is probably the most experimental the series has been since Majora's Mask, which I also feel the desire to finish despite the part where I've vocally stated my distaste for Majora's Mask (hell, I feel the desire to play through the entire series at this point). In focusing on nonlinear dungeon progression and keeping the item progression almost entirely separate from that, they've made a much more mercenary, freewheeling Zelda game that doesn't patronize the player and makes the side stuff a lot more interesting and useful. The mere act of exploring around the world is quite fun, since there are rupees (which, bucking the grand traditions of the series, actually have a use) and baby malamai (which you use to upgrade your items) everywhere. In fact, if you do nothing but the main path, you'll actually miss out on a not insignificant amount of content. Those puzzle challenge rooms that force you to use items in clever ways? So fantastic, and you'll need the money if you want to buy any of the items instead of just renting them (and you can't upgrade a rented item).

The ability to merge with the wall is very much a vital part of the game, and you should get used to thinking about dungeons in terms of "What would happen if I stuck myself to the wall here?"

Said dungeons are universally well-designed, there are no boring/frustrating Water Temple equivalents, though they also seem shorter on average. In fact, I never got seriously stuck, given my knowledge that: Any given dungeon can only assume you have the item required to complete it and nothing else thanks to the rental system. That means that any puzzles you run into can only require that item, merging with the wall or otherwise messing with stuff you'd have regardless of which order you tackled the dungeon. That's not to say they don't find clever ways to use those items (au contrare, it means that they have to find clever ways to use those items as opposed to whatever the hell that top thing was in Twilight Princess), but my point is that I wouldn't have minded something a little more taxing, something a little crazier. The combat I have less issue with being easy (especially if you were like me and used the upgraded fire rod to incinerate whatever came in my way) because of the presence of Hero mode, as seems to be standard with the series now, though they should really just make it avaliable from the start instead of a New Game + sort of thing. Maybe Master Quest has spoiled me with its crazy, gloves-off style of design, but I think the proof in favor of ALBW is that I had to force myself to not finish it before we went off for Thanksgiving stuff, whereas I still haven't finished that Master Quest disk despite owning it for 2 years. These are still some prime examples of how to make a good Zelda dungeons and I won't have anyone saying anything different. Better than Oracle of Seasons, which is my most recent benchmark for the series. Oh right, I totally finished Oracle of Seasons. It's pretty good (it's not this, that's for sure) and somewhere between Saints Row IV (which I got for $15 off Amazon) and whatever the heck I have on this Wii U box I'll probably get around to playing my linked Oracle of Ages game as well. It still blows my mind that those games weren't actually made by Nintendo, or that they crammed that much game into a Gameboy Color cartridge. Oh, right, what were we talking about again? 3DS Games? Why would we talk about something relevant when I can wax about 10+ year old CRPGs instead?

According to my usage statistics, which I had never actually looked at before, (apparently I've played more Pokemon X in the past month than I have Fire Emblem since February, which scares me and oh hey I'd still be up for battling or whatevz.) It took me somewhere in the realm of 15 hours to beat A Link Between Worlds. I didn't get all of the heart containers or weapon upgrades, but I'd say I did my fair share of exploring and screwing around before deciding that any more completionism was unnecessary and made a beeline for the critical path. Your mileage may vary. Just remember that this game is still longer than Jade Empire. All in all, I think A Link Between Worlds will most certainly find a place on my Game of the Year list, which I thought was set in stone but between this, Super Mario 3D World and Saints Row, I cannot make that list for a while. Don't worry, the “Best Games of 2013 that didn't come out in 2013” and “Worst Games I played in 2013 that may or may not have come out in 2013” awards blogs are also mentally in the works. Looks like I'll have my work cut out for me this December. Good. I'll want to do something a bit crazy before I take that break from video games that I've been threatening to do. Have a (relevant) speedrun.

OH RIGHT. As an addendum, the Deadliest Warrior expansion to Chivalry is cray-crazy from the 3 straight hours that I played of it thanks to the added absurdity of Pirates fighting Ninjas fighting Samurai fighting Knights fighting Spartans fighting Vikings (because 6 team deathmatch is a thing). I'm still bad at Chivalry. Chivalry is still really dumb and great. We should play Chivalry together.

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I play questionable, modern games (Assassin's Creed III)

Hey guys. I played video games once again for your sick pleasures. In this case, I continue my way down the magical path of questionable video games. Sure, I also played some Batman: Arkham Asylum , but you already know that game is good when you played it 4 years ago. I now know firsthand that game is great, and from what I've played of Arkham City it seems to be of a similar quality. But that's it. No one wants to read another write-up about how good the combat flow is in those games, or how they compare against each other (thus far, Asylum is winning out in my mind). Instead, let's talk about another game, one that I'm sure you've been waiting with baited breath for me to give a verbal thrashing. Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood Assassin's Creed the Third.

I can now see why AC3 won Giant Bomb's “Most Disappointing” last year instead of Resident Evil 6. Unlike aforementioned RE6, I wouldn't call Assassin's Creed III a bad game. I mostly enjoyed my time with it. But it's also a mess, and that's even in starker contrast when compared to the rather slick open world stylings of AC2 or Brotherhood. It's a victim of its own ambitions; compartmentalized to the point of farce and that's not even getting into the part where the tutorial section is roughly 5-6 hours long. Its portrayal of Colonial America is one that is surprisingly great, far less “America Rah Rah” than I expected, though that is still hampered by the part where it's really all about ancient aliens and is a prime example of the “All-Story” that was so mocked during last year's GOTY deliberation. Deservedly so.

Also you can climb trees now. Because you are a Native American. Racist.

Assassin's Creed III is a game of systems. Climbing, combat, hunting, assassin's guild stuff, taking over forts, liberating cities from Templar control, assassination contracts, catching Benjamin Franklin's almanac pages for no good reason, Boats, exploring underground passages, petting animals that part where you can craft stuff and... I dunno. Desmond. While the previous games had a lot of these ancillary mechanics thrown upon the normal gameplay loop of climbing tall buildings, stabbing people in the face and neck and hiding from guards introduced in the first game... because it's not like that first game had much else. AC3 has all of these, but doesn't quite know what to do with them. When you upgraded your villa to make more money in AC2, you did it to get better armor and weapons, the direct benefits of which were fairly evident, especially where that extra health was concerned. Sure, you didn't really need to upgrade your throwing knife capacity all that much,and you certainly didn't need to be a completionist monster and collect all of those feathers, but extraneous, unnecessary upgrades are sort of part and parcel with what makes an open world game.

I can count the number of times I fought a bear on one finger. Because you have to kill a bear in the main story.

However, that's how everything that isn't the main quest feels in AC3. It's there, if you want to do it, but there isn't necessarily a useful reward for doing so. Take money. You probably will earn most of your money through trade caravans, selling goods that are generated on your homestead, crafting better items to make more money, or just getting rid of whatever Connor has randomly looted from the piles of corpses (or animal corpses) he creates. What can you spend this money on? Better weapons? I did just fine with the tomahawk the game starts you with. Boat Upgrades maybe, but there are like two boat missions as part of Connor's main journey. The boat side quests are quite fun, but they are also quite self-contained and you could very well ignore them. Same goes for city liberation (More Assassin dudes for your guild stuff), fort liberation (More money I guess), almanac pages (achievement points) and the frankly terrible optional objectives during missions (self-satisfaction, but really just self-loathing because you restarted that mission like 8 times to make sure you didn't get detected). Guess what? I'll jump through your video game completionist hoops if you give me a reason, video game. I got all 108 characters in Suikoden III and I enjoyed doing so, even beyond the rather satisfying epilogue story. Assassin's Creed triple fails to give the player a reason. It's not even like any of these systems are bad, or even un-fun (those boat missions are actually some of the best stuff the game has to offer). They just feel so... unnecessary.

Don't worry, Desmond is here to remind you of the dumb, unnecessary narrative justification for why you can go through all of these historical events. But this time he actually does things!

But what I've harped on is icing, or at least the outer layer of this metaphorical video game cake. The core gameplay loop is still fine. The smart climbing button is a good addition. The changes to the combat on the other hand... aren't necessarily explained super well. If the game told me that I had to press an additional button after doing a counter, I must of missed it, because I didn't realize you could vary your counter-attacks until halfway through my merry adventure, or that certain enemies didn't respond well to certain counters. That isn't really the game's problem so much as it was my problem. But don't worry, Air Conditioning 3 has mission design that at its worst makes me wonder if anyone actually play-tested that segment. There's an almost crippling reliance on eavesdropping and chasing guys, neither of which which was fun in the previous titles, and then there's the occasional no-detection stealth sequence, allowing you to discover first hand how poor the sneaking mechanics are in the series as a whole. There are also more than a few set-piece moments, a lot of which are based on something vaguely resembling historical fact, like that time where you help your bro Samuel Adams throw tea in the Boston harbor, or that part where you run through a hail of gunfire during the battle of Bunker Hill (to stab someone, of course). These also suffer from inconsistencies in quality, with the worst easily being that egregiously terrible final chase and the best... I dunno. That part where you ride with Paul Revere is alright. Certainly no “Fistfighting the Pope”, but what is? Oh, and don't forget Desmond getting outside of the Animus, the final instance of which can lightly be considered something of a proof-of-concept if they ever decide to make a game fully set in modern times.

But let's sit back and get real: the modern/sci-fi part of Assassin's Creed is the worst part. I didn't always think that. It was a neat hook in the first game when they kept it all sort of purposefully vague, and that ending twist in the second where the ancient aliens directly address Desmond was a fantastic way to cap it off. But there's a point in 3 where I realized that I didn't like any of the characters and really didn't care for the part where Desmond is the chosen one who has to save the world with the help of “Those who came before”, and given the way that story hastily wraps itself up in a a way that left a bad taste in my mouth, I'm sort of glad that AC4 has reduced it to a sort of hilarious meta-joke about game development.

Drink every time he utters the phrase "WHERE IS CHARLES LEE"

Connor has a much more interesting tale, though it also concludes in a rushed and unsatisfying manner, though his story cannot be mentioned without mentioning his father Haytham, who you play as for the first 4 or so hours of the game. I understand why they did it. It serves as a nice set-up for the primary antagonists of the story, tricks you into rooting for them and then... SURPRISE you were a Templar the whole time. That would've been fine on its own, but when the game transitions over to Connor there is still another two or so hours of tutorializing that could have been streamlined or averted. I feel like a lot of people dropped off there because of that, and I wouldn't blame them. Connor himself is the polar opposite of Ezio: serious, idealistic, and more than a little naïve, something of a wet blanket. However, this allows him to act as an outside observer to the actions of everyone else, and point out the occasional hypocrisies that are usually swept under the rug in elementary school-type history. To its credit, AC3 is a lot less pro-America than I initially thought it would be, especially in its portrayal of George Washington. It also plays devil's advocate with the Templars, first with the return of the “You probably shouldn't have killed me you idiot” speeches that were a longer-winded aspect of the first game that I liked and also the interactions that Connor has with his father once they meet up. It's right when all of these are coming together in a really interesting way that the game decides it needs to end and barrels towards the conclusion with reckless abandon. It hurts the modern side far more than the historical (especially in the way it sets it up as a choice, then proceeds to choose for the player) but both Connor and Desmond feel like they've been cheated out of a satisfying conclusion.

I am morbidly interested in knowing what happens in this Evil George Washington DLC, but I'm sure as heck not paying money for it. If any of you played it, you should tell me how it goes.

All of this makes it sound like I hated this game. I really didn't. Part of that is no doubt in part because I played this game with my brother and didn't have to do every single eavesdrop and whatnot, but there are plenty of individual parts in the game that are well-made and enjoyable, and aside from those last three hours I was quite enjoying my time with the story. The problem is, Assassin's Creed III is less than the sum of these parts, one that feels like it was made by 8 different studios (and it was) and in some ways crushed under the weight of its own ambition. I got Air Conditioning 4: Bigger Blacker Flag as an early birthday present, so you can expect me to tell you exactly how superior pirate fun time adventures are to this. At some point. XCOM Enemy Within comes out on tuesday, I'm getting lasik (!) on thursday and Desktop Dungeons is really hard. Until then, don't shove an electroshock game down your pants.

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Pokeblog: Dual Versions of Destiny

Of all of my video game purchases this year, my best one thus far is probably that 3DS I got off Ebay for $120. With it, I was finally able to dispose of (i.e. sell) my launch-era DS Phat with a broken hinge to one of my friends in exchange for $20 and possibly his copy of Muramasa. Fire Emblem is still my preemptive game of the year (though, it probably doesn't hurt that I haven't actually played a ton of games that came out this year) and Super Mario 3D Land will probably end up somewhere on my “Best of 2013 that didn't come out in 2013” list. But for once I am going to tell you about games that have come out in 2013, recently even. Also they're both for the 3DS. Which is why I mentioned it in the first place.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies

It's funny that Apollo Justice is actually a better character in this than he was in his own game. Guess it helps not to be overshadowed by chessmaster Hobo Phoenix.

Ace Attorney is probably one of those franchises that I'd follow into the pits of hell. Something about the anime courtroom antics appeals to me on a fundamental level, even though the gameplay involves a lot of trial and error and I'd say there has yet to be a truly bad one, though I've heard... less than great things about Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney. Thankfully, unlike certain other franchises that I've followed into the metaphorical pits of video game hell (Resident Evil), it hasn't yet reached the point of me writing semi-apologetic blogs about games that people seem to hate a lot. In fact, I'd say that its new 3DS outing is one of the better installments of the series. Certainly better than Apollo Justice, that's for sure. I feel like talking about the game in any sort of detail would be spoileriffic, so I'll have to speak in generalities.

It's a bit easier than previous games, there are some pretty fantastic characters, including the three main protagonists though some returning faces really get the short end of the stick, especially a certain late-game cameo. The game looks really good, having transitioned to 3D models that are just as expressive as their sprite counterparts. The music is really good as well, unsurprisingly. I'm not sure how well it would work as a game for first-timers though. There are more than a few references to previous games (including a rather hilarious jab at that infuriating music segment from AJ:AA), and it's pretty much a direct sequel to Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, so if you haven't slogged through that one yet (It's not the best one in the series, that's for sure), there are some things you won't get, for as much of that game as this one seems to sweep under the rug. Play it. Otherwise Capcom won't release these in the US anymore and I'll have to rely on overly-literal fan translations to get my fix like I will with Ace Attorney Investigations 2 once they finish that one. And you wouldn't want that, would you?

Pokemon X/Y

You have to catch them all.

I'm not going to blow your mind when I say that Pokemon X/Y is totally like the other 5 generations of Pokemon games that came before it. However, it's also the best Pokemon has been; period. While my memories of Gold probably can't be topped, I've enjoyed the hell out of Pokemon X despite the part where I am both a grown adult and someone who thought they were done with the series for good. Of course, that gives the impression that I haven't played the series since gold... which is entirely untrue. Even after Leaf Green, when I said I was done with the series, I still sunk an embarrassing amount of time in Diamond and Soul Silver. Black version was apparently my limit, I lasted about 4-5 hours before this computer arrived in the mail and I was able to finally play PC games that came out after 2005. Sorry Black version, but Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a far more compelling experience in the fall of 2011.

FULL 3D. IT EVEN HAS WORKING MIRRORS. Also I made my trainer a pretty lady. Bet you're jealous!

The mechanics of catching monsters and forcing them to fight for the pleasure of your 11-12 year old trainer self continues unabated, but I'm going to be honest here when I say that if you are playing Pokemon for its compelling story, challenging difficulty or innovative gameplay concepts you are doing so for the wrong reason. For a lot people posting on these forums, I'd imagine the appeal of the series probably hinges on its status as RPG comfort food; predictable, safe and nostalgic. You may notice I've been talking about the series in general terms. That's because Pokemon X does not buck any sort of trend. You can still attempt to catch them all, there is an evil team that wants to do evil things (and you'll probably catch the Legendary on the box while defeating them) and at some point there will probably be a Pikachu despite the little rodent not being anything special stat wise (unless you give them a light ball, at which point its special attack reaches levels rivaling the likes of Mewtwo).

Sylveon and other fairies are here to eff Dragon types UP. Also Froakie, apparently. Hey man, there aren't that many screenshots in the wiki to work with.

However, for as ingrained as Pokemon's core gameplay has always been, anyone who says that the series hasn't changed since Red and Blue is willfully ignorant or on hunkadunk. Pokemon now is far more complex than Pokemon then. The thing is though, a lot of those changes aren't always obvious at first glance and more than a few are aimed at the postgame or competitive settings. Like every other title in the series, you can probably coast by most of X/Y using just your starter, over-leveling them to compensate for whatever weaknesses may result like when you were 7 and used Venusaur almost exclusively. In fact, you can do that even more easily in X/Y thanks to the new EXP share, one of many convenience tweaks that make this game for me. Sure, it means that your entire team will probably be >5 levels higher than most of the other trainers you encounter and you can sort of steamroll everything, but it removes a lot of the tedium involved with trying to evenly level all of your pocket monsters and I will continue to emphasize the part where any difficulty those previous games had was simply an issue of grinding. That's not all though. Having gone back and messed with the DS pokemon games in my possession, those are some slow-ass RPGs. X/Y is a much faster, snappier game thanks to the rollerblades it gives you before the first gym. Throw in super training, a mechanic that simultaneously makes the meta-elements significantly easier and more transparent, and suddenly the competitive aspects become a lot more friendly as well since you no longer have to write down your pokemon's EV numbers and such. It also doesn't hurt that X and Y have the biggest variety of pokemon to catch, which means that if you had a team you previously relied upon, you can probaly recreate it here.

What does it say about me that I find the idea of "Mega Charizard" to be totally awesome and not at all dumb?

It cannot be stressed enough that these small changes, combined with the move to full 3D are what make Pokemon X for me. It's been long enough that I would have probably enjoyed it regardless (the game certainly looks good), but for the first time I am seriously looking at stuff like natures and base stats, and then using that information to crush my friends and the random suckers who challenge me to a battle over the game's constant online presence (another great thing, though I believe it was also in B/W). If I have some sticking points, there's not much of a post-game besides the usual Battle Tower equivalent and looking for Mega Stones (which, along with the fairy type, seem to throw a wrench in a lot of the previously established metagame). It also cannot be stressed enough how easy the game is. Anything else is sort of indicative of Pokemon as a whole, and I've come to terms with the fact that Nintendo will never change it. And if that's an issue for you...? Well, as Tomb Raider expert, Final Fantasy VII finisher and fellow bloggist @dankempster once said: Pokemon isn't for you anymore. Play Shin Megami Tensei if you want similar ideas with more mature themes and demanding gameplay. That's the long and short of it.

Also, PM me if you want to exchange friend codes. I'd be down.

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I play stealth games for the story

Transfarring Compatible!

Once again you find yourself on the precipice of doom. That, or you accidentally clicked on this blog thing. Either way, you've clearly made the right decision and should probably continue reading. This blog still isn't about the impact of torture in GTA V, the quality of the satire in GTA V, the disillusionment of “Games Journalism” in regards to GTA V, the general quality of Pokemon X/Y (that's next week's write up) my Top 10 Video Games that are also Video Games, or a lengthy dissertation on the relative merits of that Sonic RPG (one day). Instead, let's continue where we left off last week and I'll finish this Peace Walker blog so I can finally be rid of that game. All you need to know is that I've started playing Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, which as far as I can tell is like Assassin's Creed II and also why did it take me so long to play this game. Sold.

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker

Imagine this, but in 720p

Is a Metal Gear Solid game, a series I happen to like. I still haven't played 4 because I don't own a PS3, but MGS 2 and 3 are some of my favorite PS2 games, even playing them years after the fact. While I am firmly on the MGS 2 side of the fence and will always love the part where it's sort of just a giant, upraised middle finger to people who liked the first game, I'm not going to say no to Snake Eater either. And Peace Walker is basically the sequel to Snake Eater, whatever the heck Portable Ops is be damned. There are jungles, camouflage indexes and serious suspension of disbelief when you realize it's supposed to be set during the Cold War but you're fighting unarmed drones, all of which sounds like MGS 3 to me...

Meet the only gun you are going to use 90% of the time. Because it's a Metal Gear game.

But it's also sort of like Monster Hunter? Or rather, it's sort of like whatever Portable Ops was, but made into a legit full MGS game? Indeed, the parts where Peace Walker is a PSP game that I played on a console are fairly apparent. In addition to whatever solo sneaking Snake has going on, there's a base-management mechanic where you build up a private army of mercenaries (mostly by abducting them via balloon), research new weapons and technology (like better silenced tranquilizer pistols. Also Lime Soda) and engage in multiplayer connectivity that seems to only make sense if you lived in a country where people who owned PSPs and rode the train every day. The game doesn't do a great job of explaining why you'd want to do most of this stuff until you realize that every boss battle is against an armored vehicle and rocket launchers (specifically Stinger Missiles) are your friends. I found this base-building mechanic to be pretty cool, even if some aspects of it are also sort of grindy (namely the part where you build your own Metal Gear). The actual missions themselves are compartmentalized, both for the main story as well as for any side stuff (a lot of which nets you new blueprints for stuff). It's all decently fun.

I'll be blunt here: I've never actually thought the Metal Gear Solid school of stealth was very great. Most of it involves shooting guys in the head with a Tranquilizer and then hiding the bodies while struggling against the unwieldy controls. I actually played enough of Peace Walker on PSP to know that I could not live in a world where I had to use the face buttons to aim, and with this HD version I can confirm that having actual analog control makes shooting guys in the head quite easy, especially after playing some MGS 2 and remembering the way you had to aim in those games. You can even play most of the missions cooperatively with other people, which sounds both great and totally unmanageable (I imagine it becomes a shooter at that point). By the end of the game, when there are more enemies with helmets, I mixed up my tactics a bit, inasmuch as I CQC'd them to the ground and held them up before abducting via balloon. There are also terrible boss fights against vehicles! Do you like shooting waves of enemies with overly-generous auto-aim? How about aiming for the AI pod of whatever AI weapon you're fighting, running out of Stinger missiles, calling a supply beacon, rinse and repeat? Boss fights are sort of bad, and the part where you have to grind them for Metal Gear parts is secretly the bane of my existence... which is why I didn't do it.

The cutscenes are mostly in this motion comic form, both to save money and because it looks pretty cool.

Oh right. The story! It's a Metal Gear Solid game, which is to say that it's insane, there are long-winded conversations that don't really go anywhere, and at some point there are strawman arguments about how Nuclear Weapons are bad. I like Metal Gear's brand of crazy quite a bit, and Peace Walker has the crazy in spades. The main bad guy is legitimately and unironically named “Hot Coldman” and one of the main plot points revolves around an AI built to resemble The Boss. The main drive of the story is also one giant after-school special about the flaws of Nuclear Deterrence theory, and I sort of had to laugh when the credits rolled because Kojima still has all the subtlety of your neighbors who have illegal fireworks displays every year. In any case, the “true” ending (which I watched on youtube because I really didn't want to grind for Metal Gear parts) is the brand of stupid crazy that I wanted out of the game the entire time, and it seems to set up what I assume Ground Zeroes is going to revolve around quite nicely. Seriously though, I think the dynamic between Miller and Big Boss is a pretty good one and also Otacon's dad is in the game and voiced by the same voice actor as Otacon. So that's weird.

If you can't really get a read on my opinion of Peace Walker from the preceding paragraphs, it's because I'm still not entirely sure where my opinion of Peace Walker lies. It's safe to say that I like it less than the full numbered installments that I've played, but I'm not entirely sure to what extent I dislike it. Metal Gear isn't exactly known for its sterling gameplay, so I can't decide if I find the story compellingly crazy or cloyingly preachy. Eh. Maybe it's both. If you'll excuse me, I have some pocket monsters to capture or italians to stab. Or lunch to eat.

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