Four times 4X = ? (X > 3)

Finals are over for me, and with only a few make-up assignments left I’m almost ready to close the book on this semester. In-between study sessions and periods of self-loathing I found that Expansion, Exploitation, Exploration and Extermination were a decent way to relieve stress, allowing me to mess with junk I had laying around in my steam library that I hadn’t really touched. In this case, I’ll talk about a quartet of 4X titles that I sunk around 6-10 hours into each over the past few weeks, all of which have come out in the last 2 years. Don’t worry, I’ll get back to the old game playing soon enough (Final Fantasy XII International probably), but for now these games and League of Legends have taken up most of my non-studying time. I also played the Dishonored DLC, and it does a great job of being more Dishonored. If you liked that game then you will like this DLC, straight up.

Also, The Last Express exists and seems crazy. Expect more on that eventually.

Endless Space

The Tech tree in all of its glory.

I mentioned Endless Space a bit in my World of Xeen blog, but after a bit more playtime I can indeed confirm that it’s pretty awesome and probably one of the best Space 4X games since Master of Orion 2, not that that particular sub-sub-genre has had much competition as of late (aside from the excellent, albeit dry Galactic Civilizations II, which came out in like 2005). Endless Space takes most of its cues from the former, though there is a bit of the latter as well. Movement is restricted to star lanes until you research technology that allows your ships to go wherever, wormholes act like chokepoints, and each star system has multiple planets of varying types and qualities (i.e. Terran, Lava, Arctic, Desert, Gas Giant, etc.), stuff you’d all expect from a game with “Space” in the title. Why Endless Space works for me as well as it does comes down to the elegance of its execution, rather than any sort of mind-blowing mechanical innovations. The interface is efficient and minimalistic, giving you most of the information you need in the lower right corner every time you press the “next turn” button, your production is segmented into Food, Industry, Dust (money), and Science and everything tells you exactly what it does in plain terms. The tech tree has 4 branches and is designed in a way that forces you to explore each one instead of min-maxing (which is kind of how I feel GalCiv could be at times, with its ultra-segmented tech tree). Combat is a rock-paper-scissors style affair, where picking tactical cards that counter other tactical cards is the only direct interaction you have, which is fine. The Space Battles certainly look pretty. If there’s one qualm I’ve had from Endless Space thus far, it’s that the AI is a brutal mo-fo. Even on easy, I found myself surrounded and outgunned on one of my (aborted) games. I like to turtle in these kinds of games, so aggressive, expansive AI is basically going to crush me unless I do the same. It’s a learning experience, if nothing else.

Warlock: Master of the Arcane

It bears mention that the DLC for this game is kind of gross because of how piecemeal it all is, but I'm sure it'll all be dirt cheap once a steam sale comes around.

Moving from Space to Fantasy, Warlock: Master of the Arcane takes many of its cues from the other Simtex developed 4X game Master of Magic, but for some reason takes place in the same fantasy world as the Majesty games, the most obvious benefit of which is the Sean Connery soundalike telling you whenever you’ve run out of money or whatnot. Warlock is also probably the lightest of these games. You choose from a wizard of your choice commanding 3 factions (Humans, Monsters and Undead, each with their own quirks but still playing relatively the same). Towns have limited building capacity based upon population, which means everything takes the same amount of time to build regardless. This forces you to more directly focus your towns on specific goals (i.e. making money, research, food) and also very much goes against the concept of turtling. Combat is similar to Civ V (also the hex map is uncannily similar to Civ V) and the way troops work encourages quality (high level) over quantity because every single one of your troops can level up to become insane powerhouses. There’s also an abundance of neutral monsters to facilitate this leveling up, and apparently one of the victory conditions is kill an epic monster… though I feel like if you had the military strength to do so you could probably conquer the rest of the world instead. Diplomacy is also pretty simple and straightforward. You can trade resources, make alliances and declare war. That’s about it. No “Hey buddy, you should declare war on this fellow and also here is some cash”, which I guess is fine, considering Majesty is also very much a combat-oriented 4X game. The real thing that makes it great however, is the plethora of spells available, with one of my favorite ones being the ability to raise land, allowing for travel across places that would otherwise require your troops to embark (also works similarly to Civ V in that they can fight back against proper naval units, but not well). It’s that kind of mechanic in particular that echoes Master of Magic so specifically, and since I liked it in MoM I like it in here. Figures.

Fallen Enchantress

I should take screenshots for this game, as the wiki only has concept art. It's butt ugly, and the world needs to know.

I find it more than a little hilarious that this game doesn’t have the words “Elemental: War of Magic” anywhere on it, despite basically being a direct sequel/version of the game that isn’t a complete mess. As you may remember, the original Elemental was apparently a complete trainwreck of half-finished brokenness, and anyone who bought it got a copy of this game for free. As it stands by itself, Fallen Enchantress is a pretty neat game. Anyone who played Gal Civ 2 will notice an abundance of similarities, from the way that diplomatic negotiations are handled to the powerful unit creation tools to the way the AI is really stupid on lower difficulties. However, while Gal Civ had cool spaceships and junk, Fallen Enchantress has a bunch of really ugly looking humans/monsters. For a game that came out in 2012, it looks more at home among 2002’s top releases. Ok, that’s a bit reductive, but my point is that it isn’t a looker. Gameplay wise it fares much better, once again encouraging aggressive expansion and military prowess (though you can still beat the game without declaring war on anyone, as I did at one point). The tech tree is pretty simple, and I found myself at the end of it playing on a small map. The spells aren’t quite as crazy as those of Warlock (or even something like Age of Wonders), but rest assured that you can make a single broken unit with like 50 buffs on at once. The combat is a tactical affair, aping Heroes of Might and Magic, though I wouldn’t call that a bad thing. That being said, it isn’t as tactical as something like heroes would be, but at least it’s better than Disciples III, not that there aren’t many strategy games worse than Disciples III. If you’ve been on the fence for a while, I’d say it’s worth a look if you like the way Stardock makes these kinds of games, though it bears mention that Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes is coming out next month and is a standalone expansion that is probably worth buying instead of the vanilla game.

Civilization V: Gods and Kings

The Celts get more faith in the early-game... which is about the second least useful ability in this expansion, behind the Dutch.

Civ V is still pretty great, but I think I’ve fallen upon what about that game annoys me so, besides the oft unpredictable and flighty AI: The endgame drags. The last two hours of a Civ game if you aren’t going for raw military conquest fall into the pattern of “press the end turn button to make the numbers go up”. This is obviously something that Firaxis has noticed, since that appears to be the focus of their next expansion, but I’ll have to wait and see. Also, like Civ IV, religion seems so ancillary and separate from every other mechanic that focusing on it, even in the early-goings, seems especially useful. Regardless, I think Civ V is still awesome and for this blog title to make sense I had to throw in a 4th game, because if @mento knows anything, it’s that clever wordplay for the title should determine what said blog should contain.

Bonus game: Syndicate (the 2012 commercial failure, not the Bullfrog classic)

There's no reason why this game had to be called what it is. Also, it deserved more success.

Since I bought and finished it today, I figure I might as well throw some Syndicate in for good measure. As far as First Person Shooters that I bought for $5 are concerned, it pulls its weight incredibly well. That’s not to say that the 5 hour campaign doesn’t have a sort of dumb story (One of the things that appeals to me so much about the original game is the complete amoral nature of what you’re doing. There’s no bright light, you’re just murdering hordes of civilians with your drugged up cyber-agents because corporations, something that this new game plays with before making your character moral). On its own merits, it’s a very well made game with nice feeling weapons and a pretty awesome hacking mechanic that allows the game to justify the hordes of enemies it throws at you. I haven’t tried the co-op because I’m sure no one is online (a pity, since Jeff considered it the high point of the entire experience), but I found Syndicate an enjoyable experience that didn’t overstay its welcome. Also, the way your dude holds the pistol when running is absurdly cool

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I play old, bad games (Dark Messiah of Might and Magic)

I used to be good at writing long essays. Not anymore. DAMN YOU LEAGUE OF LEGENDSSSSSSS

Ah, here I am, sitting in the library not writing the essay on Che Guevara I’m supposed to be writing. It is my intent with this blog to, if nothing else, get me in the mood and mindset for writing about something serious and meaningful (like an essay worth roughly 25% of the grade in my Modern Latin American History class) by writing about something stupid and frivolous. Like a questionable video game that came out 6 years ago that I only played at all because it’s attached to a name I identify with. But before I regale you with tales of the Dark Messiah, let’s talk about other games. Because finals are in like 2 weeks and I’m not going to have an opportunity to talk about them then.

Other games

It's a Kart Racer that came out after 2002 that I enjoy. Huh.

I say with very little irony that Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing Transformed is probably one of the better Kart Racing games I’ve played. While the actual roster of characters isn’t necessarily one I can identify with, having never owned a Sega console in my life and finding the inclusion of everyone’s favorite NASCAR driver/Lady who almost gets naked in every Go Daddy commercial Danica Patrick to be hilarious, it’s at least comprehensive and (I assume) has the people you’d want in a Sega kart racer (but also Danica Patrick and Team Fortress, for some reason). The track design is suitably over-the-top in a way that Mario Kart isn’t and the part where you are a boat, a car, and a plane like it was Diddy Kong Racing (easily my favorite Kart racer of my N64-based youth) is icing. Then I could talk about how Football Manager is a britishy british man who says “Red Card” whenever he gets hit or that there isn’t a crummy blue shell equivalent and I’d pretty much say most of what I need to say. Haven’t played online yet, but I assume that there are people playing it, as it seems to go on sale on steam often enough. Either way, it’s a pretty great game to play in short bursts and if I knew other humans/had more wired xbox controllers I could hook up to my laptop It’d be a pretty awesome party game.

I am still playing through Final Fantasy XII International Zodiac Job System, and my physical copy of actual regular Final Fantasy XII arrived in the mail, so that guilt has been (somewhat) alleviated. I think. Not much new to say about that, other than that I think the Gambit system is pretty cool and also see how it will eventually result in the game playing itself like a more powerful version of the scripting found in Dragon Age. More on that eventually.

Organ Trail is neat and kind of funny, especially if you played the original version of the game like I did. It’s also a game clearly made for touch devices and not a mouse and keyboard, so aside from the part where it’s “Yo, it’s like the Oregon Trail for the Apple II but instead it’s a zombie apocalypse lol” I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you get it. I played it for like 90 minutes and you know what? I’m good. It’s a funny joke that is funny for about that long, but has all the depth of an elaborate flash game.

League of Legends continues to exist. I continue to enjoy it and do alright for myself if forced to play jungle. It’s a pity everyone always calls mid first, because I always thought that was my best position. I’m competent enough at whatever I end up as, in any case.

The main game

Orc Kicking Simulator 2006

But now, let’s talk about the main event, the reason why you voluntarily clicked on this thread, unless you are cool/weird and found it through the blogs tab on my profile page. Dark Messiah of Might and Magic was released in 2006 and was the second Might and Magic game released by Ubisoft, following Heroes of Might and Magic V, a game I think is pretty great despite the weird dislike it gets from dark corners of the internet. Whereas Heroes V was received pretty well, the reception to Dark Messiah was a bit more… mixed, with a console port coming out a few years later that I’m pretty sure no one liked. I for one, bought this game out of a sense of morbid curiosity, both because of my well-documented love of the Might and Magic series as well as me liking Dishonored far too much and wondering how Arkane’s previous games fare (yes, that means that at some point, somewhere down the road I will write about Arx Fatalis). The short answer is that Dark Messiah is not a good game, but I kind of like it anyways, saying something or other about my tastes. The long answer is that you should keep reading.

This part where you have to escape from a giant worm is bad and frustrating, but look at the obnoxiously bright lighting effects on those lightning daggers! Daggers are the second best weapon in this game, behind your foot.

Dark Messiah is a first person action game with an emphasis on melee combat. It is not, as I first suspected, a more open Deus Ex-like title where I could approach any given situation in whatever manner I chose. The game seems to imply as much, with a simple skill tree allowing you to emphasize in stealth or magic or melee combat. Not really. While I imagine playing through as a mage is viable, inasmuch as the game throws mana potions at you en-masse and the telekinesis spell being sort of overpowered, Dark Messiah is not a stealth game, despite clearly having a place to put points in called “stealth”. As I found, at best, putting points into stealth allowed me to wield the best daggers and occasionally backstab someone when I felt like it. It’s a pretty binary “hide in the shadows” thing, but it’s not great at saying what are shadows and what aren’t, though it’s also worth mention that with all 3 points into stealth and equipping the master thief armor does make stealth almost viable, though by that point the game is almost over and you have since specialized in the secret 4th skill tree: kicking.

Sadly, you can't kick this Paokai to death. You can, however, shoot it with a ballista that I didn't find until after I shot it full of arrows and killed it the hard way.

In 2006, physics in games were still a cool and novel thing, courtesy of Half Life 2. Dark Messiah takes this to hilarious and goofy extremes, running on the Source Engine and deciding throughout “This game has physics damn it and you’re going to notice them”. And notice them you will, with the constant and endless opportunities to press the F key to win. Spikes on the walls? Kick your enemies into them for instant death! Fire on the ground? Kick them into the fire! A section of the game conveniently taking place on the side of a cliff? Kick the suckers right off! It’s ridiculous and is the reason why I kind of like this game despite the actual melee combat consisting of “Use power attacks over and over and occasionally block”. There’s occasionally some bad first-person platforming and some rope arrows straight out of Thief (another plus in my book), but I still spent the vast majority of my time with the game murdering foes with the power of my mighty boot. And really, that was enough to entertain me and my shriveled, cynical heart. It’s not even a Dragon Age 2 scenario where there are a few specific things that I think the game does well in the midst of mediocrity, it’s a scenario where this game is kind of middling all-around and is unintentionally redeemed by one stupid mechanic that is absurdly overpowered. I… I just don’t even know. What does this say about me?

But to close out, the story bears mention as well, once again for the wrong reasons. Ashan, the world that all Ubisoft M&M games take place in, isn’t exactly what I’d call “original” or “interesting”, which is why Dark Messiah playing its plot as deathly straight as it does allows for some unintentional comedy. The game telegraphs its twist so blatantly that if you didn’t guess it you weren’t paying attention, which I will admit is a perfectly viable option. Along for the entire ride is Xana, who is basically a sassier, eviler, far more obnoxious Cortana. Every suggestive quip she makes is groan-inducing and your main character’s comebacks are equally as lame. Maybe I came in with low expectations, but somehow those expectations were met, inasmuch as I found the plot and the accompanying voice acting to be bad and goofy in a way I could get behind, the two words I use to describe this game in a nutshell.

It bears repeating: if you are a regular human you probably shouldn’t play this game, because it isn’t good. The combat is simplistic, the story is hilariously bad and you kind of kick everything to death. However, I'm still okay with playing this game, but only because my heart is black and withered and only capable of feeling things in ironic terms. Well then Comrades, may we meet again at our final victory. All hail Marxist Leninism!

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Yet another blog about Fire Emblem

Yes, this is the game with Roy in it. It's a pity he's probably the single worst Fire Emblem lord besides maybe NES Marth, with his bad stats and stupid late promotion.

Oh, hey person. Thanks for reading my blog thing. Assuming this is a few days out and my blog thing has dropped off the front page of the forums, I congratulate you for being able to find it, considering that you’d have to look on my profile page or like… the community spotlight to find it. Either way, good on you for doing so. As far as video games that aren’t covered by this blog are concerned: Dark Messiah of Might and Magic seems sort of bad and goofy in a way I can get behind, but my burgeoning playthrough of that was stopped in its tracks by it crashing at a specific point a few hours in every single time, and I don’t have the patience to try to find a work-around. I did, however, “acquire” Final Fantasy XII International Zodiac Job System after finding out that someone had made an English patch for it, but other than deciding right out the gate that I utterly despise Vaan and wish Balthier was the main character I couldn’t tell you anything about it. Oh right, I started playing League of Legends again (and then proceeded to get a bit of carpal tunnel in my right hand), so if any of you are still playing, you can probably guess what my account name is. I’m still a decent mid or jungler (and can do the other 3 positions with varying levels of skill), for what that is worth, though I end up being the jungler more often than not because apparently people still aren’t into playing that position very much.

Anyone who played either of the other GBA Fire Emblem games will immediately be at home with this one. Because it's like those. But worse.

But now, let’s talk about Fire Emblem. Again. I’ve been hammering my way through Fire Emblem: Fuuin no Tsurugi (basically translated as “Sword of Seals”) probably since finishing Awakening (which I still mess around with here and there whenever new DLC comes out. The DLC itself is clearly overpriced at around $2 a map, but if you know who all of these Japan-only characters are, you’ll probably enjoy it just the same) and can give a pretty clear contrast between them. Whereas Awakening is probably the best game the series has had in a while, acting as a perfect introduction to new players and being backed up by an excellent localization. Fuuin no Tsurugi is only relevant to you, the regular human at home, because it has Roy in it and Roy was in the Smash Bros and not quite as good as Marth. It actually represents a significant downgrade from the SNES games that preceded it in terms of story, design and mechanics and is similarly blown out of the water by the other two GBA games, not to even talk about Path of Radiance or this newest installment. The rather literal, direct translation can certainly explain the dull writing, but as it stands I’m totally fine with the seventh installment (just called Fire Emblem here) being the series introduction to the west rather than this one. Can I explain why without sounding like a crazy person? Let’s find out!

Sophia joins halfway through the game with these stats on a fog of war desert mission. As far as I can tell, training her is virtually impossible

Fuuin no Tsurugi is still a Fire Emblem game, let’s get that out of the way. Weapon Triangle, Red and Green Cavaliers, support conversations and somewhat crummy Jeigan characters are all included. However there are no skills and every map has “Seize the Throne/Gate” as the main objective. Roy, son of Eliwood (making this a prequel to the other GBA game) gallivants his way across the world, being incredibly dull and fighting dragons along the way. While it’s weird to retroactively see characters and world-building explained by the overly literal and dry translation when the same was done in the other game much better, it stands that the plot is as straightforward as it is boring, with the support conversations (introduced with this game) suffering much the same fate. With the writing not being able to hold it up (which is fine, because I’m not one of those crazies who always comes to games for the story), what about the gameplay? It uses the same engine as the other two GBA games, how can it be worse? Design, mostly. The levels are all a bit larger than needs be (which, as you may expect, makes the 7 paladins you get pretty useful and the already tragically underpowered knights a liability, not that armored knights are never not sort of bad outside of a few notables.) It’s harder than Fire Emblem or The Sacred Stones on their default difficulties, and while I’m all for my Fire Emblem games being hard without being sadistic monsters (i.e. Lunatic mode), the difficulty is more “your units aren’t super great and enemy reinforcements move the turn they spawn” and less “I have to think smarter because this level design is ruthless”. Still not act 1 of Radiant Dawn for what that’s worth… ugh. I should probably also throw in that this game probably has one of the single most pathetic final bosses in the series, perhaps only rivaled by Beld in Thracia 776 and Formortiis in Sacred Stones.

Do yourself a favor: Play Thracia 776 and actually do questionably legal things with something fantastic instead of middling

I mean, for what it’s worth, it’s still a Fire Emblem game so I still enjoyed it, but I think as far as anyone’s ventures into the questionably legal realm of Japanese Fire Emblem are concerned, you’d be better served prioritizing other games in the series (I.e the ones for the SNES) before moving on to this one. Hell, after this one I only have 3 games in the series that I haven’t finished yet and those happen to be the first 3 installments. Also Tear Ring Saga, which I can already confirm is better than this game because it’s crazy and is a more logical successor to the Fire Emblem games that I like.

To talk about something else...

Totally worth $40 of the $50 I won for randomly taking a survey. I used the other $10 to buy Jeanne D'Arc

I also played Super Mario 3D Land, and man is that game awesome. Ok, allow me to make a correction: That game is ok for the first 8 worlds and then gets awesome once you reach the special worlds, at which point they start resembling Galaxy in terms of being crazy and imaginative and actually challenging instead of absurdly easy the way those base levels are. In any case, this and Fire Emblem Awakening alone have made me feel ok about owning a 3DS. Now all I need is a PS3 to play Demon’s Souls and I’ll be golden! What’s that? I need to save money again? Damn. I need a job.

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I play old games (Might and Magic: World of Xeen)

"Two blogs in one week? That's as crazy as having two games linked together into one big game!" said Lord Xeen

After the start of this year being nothing but the new and shiny, it’s time to talk about old games. Again, for the first time. I mean, it’s only been like 3 days since I posted that Fire Emblem blog, so other than me saying that “Endless Space seems pretty cool from the first game of it that I played (it took 8 hours)” but also “Fallen Enchantress does not give a very great first impression, more details to follow?”, I can’t exactly give you any accounts of a more modern fare. That’s fine with me. I need to get back on the old-game train, and the first stop on that train is a little game that took me at least 4 years of on and off playing to finish. That’s right kids. It’s Might and Magic time.

As stated in my previous blog, Might and Magic lies alongside Fire Emblem and Resident Evil in my personal pantheon of franchises that I revere and adore, perhaps irrationally. Where Fire Emblem is tactical turn-based-strategy at its finest and Resident Evil is… a lot of things, Might and Magic as it was made by New World Computing can be grouped into two categories: The hack ‘n slash-y series of RPGs dating back to 1987 and the Heroes of Might and Magic series of (tactical) turn based strategy. There are also a few spinoffs released, all of which deserve zero mention as anything other than totally awful (Amusingly, Clash of Heroes is probably the single best M&M spinoff to ever be made, but that’s under Ubisoft, so it probably doesn’t count as far as this discussion is concerned.) We’re talking about the former today. While they’re both party-based first person RPGs with goofy senses of humor and a tendency to mix Fantasy and Sci-Fi, Might and Magic is a lighter, far less mechanically dense series than its main counterpart Wizardry and that in turn has made it far easier for me to play most of the games in the series. While Wizardry 7 still frankly intimidates the hell out of me (Though I am considering playing through it over the summer), with even less said about the preceding 6 titles, every Might and Magic game from Isles of Terra onward are playable and accessible. Sure, the visuals of VI-VIII have held up extremely poorly, and Might and Magic IX is a half-finished mess that still manages to achieve an astounding level of competence (More on that… eventually.), but as a whole you’d be hard-pressed to find a series of RPGs from the early to late 90s that are as easy to understand and relatively old game bullshit-free as M&M.

"I concur" said Alamar

World of Xeen is worth mentioning for at least two reasons: On a personal level, It’s easily the oldest game of this kind that I’ve finished (at least until I get around to finishing Might and Magic III and/or Wizardry 7 by 2015), beating out the original Fallout by 4 years. It’s also the only game I can think of where it is actually two seamlessly integrated titles that you can switch between at a designated area. And indeed, that two-game nature of WoX should be noted, because the games themselves are entirely self-contained and can be played individually with only the only real thing lost being the post-game content where both halves of the world are united. I also mention this because I think Might and Magic V (Darkside) is a better and more interesting game than Might and Magic IV (Cloudside).

Contains: Hacking, Slashing, First Person perspectives

But perhaps I should back up a bit for the uninformed. World of Xeen is comprised of the second and third games using the engine built for Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra. You build a party of adventurers by rolling some virtual dice and picking some classes and then are unleashed upon the grid-based first person world. Skills are learned, loot with prefixes and suffixes is obtained (predating Diablo’s use by 5 years, though the frequency isn’t such where it can be called a loot game) and spells are cast. There is also a lot of fighting, but whereas Wizardry goes full turn-based random encounter, Might and Magic lets you see your foes, engage them at range if your guys have bows or spells and so on while on the map. This all leads to a breezier, less agonizingly slow CRPG experience, and while there is depth to be found in the combat until the end when you just kinda steamroll everything in your path by casting the same three spells and having your frontline dudes attack 14 times with their Obsidian Battleaxes. It’s also a lot about exploration. While there isn’t real nonlinearity in World of Xeen, at least not the same way there is in Might and Magic VI, you can still explore (and are very much encouraged to explore) every corner of the world if you have the skills (Swimming, Pathfinding, Mountaineering) and the strength to fight whatever gets in your way, with a few optional side-dungeons and encounters here and there. Dungeons have their fair share of puzzles, the best and most awesome example of which is an entire floor of a dungeon being a massive crossword puzzle (at which point I said “Alright video game, you’ve proven your worth”) I’m not going to pretend I didn’t cheat on some of them, my laziness as a person playing this game in the 21st century showing through, but they’re all clever and for the most part quite solveable. Oh hey, here’s a video that I recorded like 4 years ago that shows something like that.

Oh hey there cloth map. Sure, the map I have is a .PDF, but it's still a map in my heart.

Ah, that’s all well and good but we’re still talking about what are essentially two separate games. Might and Magic IV: Clouds of Xeen came out in 1992 and is probably the way to start out, at least on a first playthrough. It’s pretty gradual with the RPG power curve and follows the structure of “Get x Megacredits to unlock the next dungeon, at which point you find that dungeon and earn some more Megacredits.” It’s made of pretty standard fantasy stylings, and the max level for characters is something like 20. There are some pretty good dungeons, the initial set of Dwarven mines being of note for being really big, but Darkside of Xeen (1993) is a step up in almost all ways. It’s still kinda linear, in that every town requires a pass and every dungeon requires a key, but the world is a lot weirder. The sky is orange, the monsters are more elaborately designed, and the soundtrack is moodier. The developers also went far crazier with their dungeon design and the power curve. When you got a million experience in Clouds of Xeen, it was announced in all caps as A MILLION EXPERIENCE. In Darkside of Xeen, the game throws free levels, +20 to stats, and millions of experience by the truckload. Remember how I said I finished Clouds with my party around level 20? I finished Darkside with my party averaging around level 60 (and the combined world content with some of my characters being around level 100). You start getting so much experience that the only real limitation to how utterly broken your party can be is the amount of gold you have to level them up, which you also need because of how tough most late game enemies can be. The dungeons are similarly cranked up to 11. Aside from the aforementioned crossword puzzle, there’s the insertion of vowels in sentences, cryptograms spelling out the names of Star Trek characters (something that would be used again in Might and Magic VI) and that part where you have to use the numbers made by the level geography to answer math problems. You know, old school video game stuff. Admittedly, I may be exaggerating Darkside of Xeen’s superiority, I finished the cloudside years ago and some of it is admittedly fuzzy. Still, I don’t think I’m exaggerating by much when I say that the darkside is easily the superior half of World of Xeen.

Lava Golem says: "Play this game or you will be sad!"

Regardless of which one I think is better, it still stands that I find this game to be amazingly accessible. Sure, the UI is obviously kind of crusty and unoptimized, but you can control everything with the mouse if you so desire and the graphics are still charming in their cartoony VGA-ness. While I’d still say that Might and Magic VI is the main draw of the 6 pack on GOG, I can confirm with blog-level certainty that World of Xeen isn’t a half-bad investment of time either (really though, the only questionable additions in that pack are the first two, but that’s mostly due to age and not necessarily qualitative, according to people old enough to be able to tolerate CRPGs released in 1987 and 1989 respectively. There’s also Swords of Xeen, some sort of fan mod, but I don’t know enough about that to give any sort of definitive answer one way or another.) I’ve spent enough time ranting though. End of story? If you like old RPGs that aren’t all about “story” and whatnot, give this one a look. Yeah. Old games are back, bitches.

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ArbitraryWater's preemptive Game of the Year 2013*

Me? Writing about a Fire Emblem game? Crazy, I know.

Oh, I’m sorry. Were you surprised? No. Of course you weren’t. As the second most obsessive Fire Emblem fan on these forums, you knew that this would come up sooner or later. And, after only a mere 25 or so hours I can tell you with absolute certainty that… Fire Emblem Awakening is a Fire Emblem game and is definitively a better time sink than Dead Space 3. Oh, other games? What other games? Studying for midterms isn’t games, silly. Ok. A bit of Endless Space, but I haven’t played enough other than to tell you that it seems really cool and I will possibly be writing about it in the future. Much like how I’ll be writing about Far Cry 3/World of Xeen in the future. Yeahhhhh…. Really. Maybe I’ll do something with those 50 Genesis Games I bought off amazon downloads for $7.50 while I’m at it, unaware that they didn’t come with steam keys. (I also bought Binary Domain. You should really check out their sale).

Sadly, no special-edition 3DS for me, for as much as it breaks my heart. On the other hand, I saved like $25 getting one used off ebay, and it came with a bitchin Super Mario case, so I can't complain too much.

Anywhoo, if you didn’t already know, Fire Emblem is probably one of my single favorite series of video games, sitting alongside Might and Magic, Resident Evil, and “Anything that was made using the Infinity Engine” in franchises with an inordinate number of installments, most of which I have probably played. Admittedly, I haven’t played every Fire Emblem game to completion, four of the 13 still elude my grasp (five if you count Tear Ring Saga, which is Fire Emblem in all but name and also it’s on drugs). I’ve written about them a few times on this website, both as new, japan type, experiences as well as ranting about how Sacred Stones is too easy or how Radiant Dawn’s erratic difficulty curve and constantly shifting roster of units really bums be out. There’s something to be said for its particular brand of Turn Based Strategy, with a mechanical lightness that belies how devious things can get. I’d compare it to the most recent XCOM in that regard, except I’ve kind of soured on XCOM as of late and am secretly in my heart of hearts considering a retroactive demotion to second place with Dishonored as my GOTY of 2012. Ironman Classic isn’t fun, and some of the mechanical inadequacies of that game have reared their ugly heads a bit too often in my case. Oh well. What was I talking about? Oh right. Fire Emblem is cool, you should play it if you are into self-loathing or perhaps a deeply tactical experience that doesn’t involve endless grinding for JP just so you can be strong enough to fight Wiegraf.

“But what of this specific Fire Emblem”, you ask? Well, I’m glad you clicked on this blog, because that is what it happens to be about. Awakening can be best described as a grab bag of all of the best features of Fire Emblems past, which sadly does not include the ability to capture enemies and steal their items. No, what it does have is a world map (Fire Emblem Gaiden/The Sacred Stones), Alternate Promotions (Sacred Stones), Hella character skills (SNES and Gamecube/Wii titles), Reclassing (Shadow Dragon), a Player-created unit (Shin Monshou no Nazo), and Waifu obtaining (Geneology of the Holy War, though instead of a second generation the game uses time travel to explain why everyone’s overpowered kids are fighting alongside their parents. Also there is no incest, sadly). Also there is DLC, which I will get to in a moment. All of this together makes for perhaps the most mechanically interesting Fire Emblem and a nice return to form after the rather… underwhelming DS installments. It also clearly has the largest budget of them all, with voice acting, 3D graphics that don’t look terrible and those crazy prerendered cutscenes that are also quite good-looking. The soundtrack is also pretty awesome, if you’re willing to youtube it.

Meet the avatar of death himself/herself.

With all that said, I’ll just say flat-out that the gameplay is fantastic, but of course you already knew that because it was a Fire Emblem game and I’m the one writing this blog. You can’t fall into the trap of raising a crummy unit because everyone in your army is useable and effective, if not an absurdly powerful whirlwind of death and destruction the way your created tactician character is. While the ability to use both tomes and swords is good enough, the real power of your tactician comes in the form of the veteran skill, which they start with and boosts their experience gain by 1.5x as long as they’re paired up, a new mechanic that replaces rescuing and involves having two of your units fighting together, one giving stat bonuses to the other with chances of an extra attack of a full damage block (which is increased by the units’ support with each other, which is where the Waifu element comes into play). Since there is usually little reason not to have your units paired up, this led to my tactician easily becoming overleveled even without grinding, which this game has. That’s not to say that Hard difficulty isn’t respectably difficult, it certainly was until I gave into the temptation of easy, unlimited grinding, further emphasized by the DLC.

Know what Fire Emblem really needed? A bride class that only Women can use (yes, it's DLC only and has yet to come out in North America. Male characters get the Demon Fighter class instead)

Oh man. The DLC. While I can attest that fighting and obtaining old Fire Emblem characters is cool, especially with all of the overpowered bonus characters you get as a result, one of the DLC maps I purchased also allowed for painless, quick grinding of the likes that could only be found in a Disgaea game, and there’s a different one that is part of that same pack that allows for quick, painless gold grinding. Needless to say, if you give me a way to ruin the game for myself, I’ll probably do it. If you are in your right mind and want to be around $2 richer, for the love of all that is strategic and such, don’t download that map. I can see it being useful for some of the absurdly difficult postgame content (which, again, is all DLC and none of which is currently out in the United States), but it kinda burned out a lot of the difficulty. That’s not to say that I didn’t have units die and was forced to restart (in this game, bows are actually hazardous to flying units), but generally most of my units could one-shot just about everything by the end. I’m tempted to start a playthrough on Lunatic and try not to grind, because everything I’ve heard and seen about that difficulty suggests I will hate myself for doing it, and as we all know, Self-loathing builds character. That’s why I’m a productive member of society here, sitting up at 1AM writing a blog about crazy strategy games.

Henry likes murder and bad puns. Also puppies.

Certain classes are better than others as well, though that’s to be expected. Pegasus Knights and Dark Mages are hilariously broken, thanks to the Dark Flier’s ability to move again after killing an enemy and the Dark Mages in this game actually being super dangerous tanky mages (with buyable Nosferatu, no less) instead of the useful but also somewhat crummy novelty characters they were in previous installments. Below that, your main unit’s tactician class is unsurprisingly deadly in its versatility and unique skills, and of course the main lord Chrom is good at killing everything as long as he isn’t targeted by like 4 mages in a row. My personal favorites though, are probably the hilarious War Cleric (using axes as well as staves, made even more hilarious if you make Lissa one instead of a Sage like you’re clearly meant to) and the assassin (having an instakill skill with a pitiful activation rate but otherwise being the glass cannons I want out of such a class). I would’ve made an army of War Clerics if I could, but not enough of the units I used had it as a class, so I was forced to settle for having no less than 3 assassins by the end and another unit with the insta-kill skill inherited. Also the weapon triangle still ostensibly exists, so I guess variety is… good? Bah. If I wanted weapon triangle control, I would’ve made a bunch of great knights. Also, you should use Henry, if only because he’s a dark mage (and thus crazy powerful) as well as being the most delightfully sociopathic character I have encountered in a while.

Don't do it. I know you want those forged Brave Axes as much as the next man, but you're a better person for saying no.

Oh right. The characters. I feel like the plot needs to be mentioned as mostly being a way to justify the presence of children characters, and the entire middle of the plot feels like it’s barely connected to how the ending shakes out, and it’s pretty easy to tell who is the bad guy and who isn’t. I wouldn’t call it bad, most Fire Emblem games aren’t especially masterful with their storytelling, unless you really identified with the overt “YO GUYS, RACISM IS HELLA BAD” subtext of Path of Radiance. Instead, it’s probably the characters that are worth mentioning. Since supporting is a pretty important mechanic in this game, and since almost every female character can support (and thus marry) almost every male character, there’s A LOT to be found in that support archive once you’ve finished the game, and I give mad props to 8-4 for the localization, which is top-notch and successful at making characters that otherwise fit pretty squarely into certain anime archetypes interesting and occasionally hilarious. Just… just watch this. Not a support (though those are probably all up on the youtubes), but easily an example of why having professionals at work can be a definite boon on the script. (Minor Spoilers, I guess)

Pega-Pony-Princess indeed.

With all of this said, I’m pretty sure this still isn’t my favorite Fire Emblem game. Most of the later maps don’t have any victory conditions other than Kill Everyone/Kill the Boss, and with the last game I played being Thracia 776, with its definitive trait probably being its utterly devious and clever level design, this one didn’t quite do it for me in the same way. But seriously. If you have a 3DS, you should probably purchase this game for a sum of money, though if you want a physical copy they’re apparently a total bitch to find. I only had to go to two gamestops to get mine, but I’d give caution to those seeking for such. Fire Emblem is still Fire Emblem guys, and I don’t think I’d have it any other way. Dinosarus?

*It's not impossible, but for all I know Bioshock Infinite will really blow my socks off.

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I play modern games (Dead Space 3)

Alternate title: On the Ice Planet, no one can hear me scream except my co op buddy and that's because we failed that stupid climbing sequence like 4 times.

Man, I’m surprisingly relevant this year. Normally, you’d be listening to me talk about some RPG that came out more than a decade ago and probably only came out in Japan or from similarly obscure roots. Well, not today. Today, we talk about a game that came out this week, as opposed to 1999. I’m on the bleeding edge here, and I’m not going to stop until I run out of blood (i.e. money. So… after this blog. Yeah, just don’t expect me to be writing about Bioshock Infinite any time soon). But before I regale you with tales of me dismembering limbs and being kinda “eh” about it, let’s talk other games.

Easily the best Zelda game to have been released in this decade!

I played through the first dungeon of Darksiders, and that game seems pretty neat with how blatantly derivative it is, but I could really do with fewer of those stupid challenge rooms the game seems to throw whenever padding is required. I also kind of dig the game’s extremely 90’s aesthetic and the deathly seriousness that it presents itself despite being the most McFarlane/Liefeld esque thing ever, at least to my untrained eyes. I’ll probably keep going, and I have the second one as well, so a direct comparison blog is not out of the question. Apparently people don’t like the second game as much? Other than that bit, not really much else, other than me messing with a bit of the post-game in Valkyria Chronicles II and the usual indecision that takes place whenever I finish a game and try to find a new one. Storm of Zehir? Dinosaurs? That game I intend to finish? That other game I intend to finish?

The game I actually finished

Alternate universe me is wrecking fools with Donnel as we speak

In an alternate universe, this blog would be about Fire Emblem. Sadly, because I don’t currently have a job and because the onset of adulthood has made my parents reluctant to purchase me video game related things, I don’t have a 3DS. Until I do, which is basically when I get a job in like the spring or something, I’m going to have to rely on Tear Ring Saga and it's "This is pretty much Fire Emblem but on acid" for my turn-based-tactical murdering action. But enough about that, let’s talk about Dead Space 3! It’s… ok? Yeah. Ok. That’s about the highest level of praise and enthusiasm I can muster for it. That’s unfortunate. As you may remember, Dead Space 2 was #3 on my “Best of 2012 that didn’t come out in 2012” list, and I put that game on roughly equal footing with the first game, which didn’t make a list whenever I played it, for whatever reason. Point is, I liked those other two games quite a bit, and I found this third one to be underwhelming, albeit competent and still enjoyable.

Current universe me is wondering how best to spend the $10 credit on Green Man Gaming that he got for purchasing this game

DS3 is a game that goes in the wrong direction, plain and simple. While I question the scariness of the other two games other than some cheap jump scares and some gloomy atmosphere, Dead Space 3 doesn’t even bother with either. It soon becomes apparent that enemies are going to spawn any time you do anything of note, and there will probably be a few behind you, or something. I’m usually not one for nitpicking nebulous traits like “atmosphere”, but the way the game is designed makes most of the non-set piece encounters in the game blur together into a mess of “BLARGITY BLARG I AM A NECROMORPH” followed by me shooting aforementioned fake-zombie in the legs with my chaingun. Much like our very own Brad Shoemaker, I blame the repetitive level design and lack of variety in enemies for that, both traits being far more prevalent in the second half of the game than the first. Also there are exactly 5 boss battles, 3 of which are against the exact same enemy, oh and they’re all on the ice planet. Blame everything on the ice planet, because I was actually enjoying myself quite a bit when I was on that flotilla of ships.

Despite having a cooler looking suit, Carver feels entirely unnecessary. Kind of like every member of the cast

The ice planet is also when the story gets significantly dumber, so it has that in its favor too. Oh right. The story. It’s… something else. While I don’t think the first or second games are masterworks by any stretch, they kept it subtle for the most part and didn’t focus so much on the human drama (and the parts of DS2 that did were the parts that kinda sucked). I still maintain that making Isaac talk was a terrible idea, and the things they make him say in this one continue to confirm that assertion. This game loves itself some poorly-written human drama, and some poorly written explanations for what the actual nature of the markers actually are, leading up to an ending reveal that is hilarious in how colossally stupid it is. Carver sucks too, with his only character trait being that he is a tough-guy soldier prick for most of the game and then comes around for ill-explained reasons. Having played parts of the game solo and parts of the game with random people online, I can confirm that his presence seems forced when he is there and it’s even funnier when you’re playing through a segment alone and the game comes up with some absurd justification for why he can’t follow you around. It all operates on this middle ground between the isolation of the other games and the constant companionship of Resident Evil 5/6 and it doesn’t work nearly as well as either of those did (keep in mind that the presence of Sheva in RE5 didn’t bother me nearly as much as it apparently did for other people). I mean, the actual act of playing with another person makes things somewhat more enjoyable, especially if there is some shared humor involving my webcam mic being automatically turned on without my knowledge, but I’m going to side with the people who say that the co-op is totally unnecessary, but it also fits for the kind of game Dead Space 3 is and it’s sad that I have to say that.

Blargity Blarg aim for the legs

If the game does something good, it’s that the shooting is still pretty great and the weapon customization is actually quite awesome. I messed around with various weapons before finally settling on what worked for me, which is to say a Contact Beam/Chain Lightning Gun on one hand and a Chaingun/Magnesium Afterburner on the other. However, if there is an issue that arises from this nifty customization, it’s probably the whole “universal ammo” thing. I was always drowning in it, and much like Deus Ex Invisible War it meant that I could abuse heavy weapons as well as I darn pleased, as you can tell from the above weapon choices. I bet the pure survival and the classic modes would fix those specific issues and I can confirm that I think the set weapons of the previous games were probably better, but it’s still a neat mechanic that fits the kind of game that Dead Space 3 is, which is to say that it’s a third person shooter where you shoot things that run directly at you. (Except for those parts where you fight enemies with guns because apparently that’s a thing that they needed to throw in. Those parts are also not great).

I’m not going to waste much more time with my prattle, other than to say that Dead Space 3 does its job with a workmanlike degree of competence, no more but possibly more less. I think I as a person could have probably been ok with not ever having to have played it, but at least it’s given me the opportunity to say that if you plan on playing this game, wait for it to be $30 and possibly grab a buddy so you can make fun of the story and kill necromorphs together. Now I’m poor and that much further away from Fire Emblem-ing it up. And that, dear reader, is the scariest thing of all.

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Devil May Cry, but Valkyria don't care.

Alternate title: ArbitraryWater versus lengthy tactical RPGs and also heavy metal demon murdering.

Oh, what's that you say? A new year and only one blog from famed bloggist ArbitraryWater? Well, that's about to be fixed. Now there are two blogs. Before we talk about a video game, let's talk about a different video game.

A DIFFERENT VIDEO GAME:

It's not necessarily the best game in the series, but it is worthy of being part of the series

DmC: Devil May Cry is successful at being a Devil May Cry game. While, admittedly that isn’t a high bar considering that DMC2 and 4 are also Devil May Cry games, it’s also a good Devil May Cry game and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as DMC3, at least by me. While my attempts to play the first one have fallen flat because of the controls and camera and my playthrough of 4 was halted by the realization that I was going to have to play the entire game again, backwards, as Dante, Devil May Cry 3 remains one of my favorite PS2 games and probably one of my favorite old games that I’ve blogged about. So basically, what I’m saying is that a lot of the vocal opposition to this game is unwarranted. While the controls have been tweaked and the lock-on removed, I can still do the thing where I hit dudes, juggle them in the air, slam them down and then rush them with Stinger/Trillion Stabs. Maybe I’m not hardcore enough or whatever, but I think that DmC nails the gameplay of the series quite well. I’m not going to go as far as to say it’s better than DMC3, but it also makes up for it with visual aesthetic and storytelling flair both of which are lacking in the other games outside of my ironic enjoyment of the kind of nonsense that comes from Dante surfing on missiles or whatever. If I have any qualms, it’s that the game didn’t break my knees and then kick me while I was down. I played on hard and was distinctly not getting horribly defeated like I was with the third game. That probably has to do with the game having fewer bosses and fewer asshole bosses, so I’m hoping that Son of Sparda mode fills that void when I inevitably go for another playthrough. Point is, I like this game and think you should play it if you like this kind of game. Speaking of games I like and think you should play if you like that kind of game…

Some short impressions of other games, if you care:

The original Star Fox for SNES is interesting. As a game, it’s not dense enough for me to be able to write a blog about it (also, I’d have to play through it on the other levels), but as a technical achievement for the SNES it’s impressive. As a game… it’s still totally ok. The controls aren’t quite as smooth as its N64 counterpart, there’s no lock-on, but I’ll be danged if it isn’t Star Fox.

Tactical maps and anthropomorphic animals. Really, why did this get canceled again?

Star Fox 2 is a lot weirder, and not just because it’s a complete game that was never released and then leaked to the public like it was Thrill Kill or maybe that PS1 port of Baldur’s Gate (which is horrendous, by the way). It’s also even weirder in hindsight, with a lot of the mechanics it used being incorporated into the underrated Star Fox Command for DS. That means there’s this whole pseudo-RTS portion with your goal being to intercept enemy missiles and blow up bases, and you can also select from different pilots who have different characteristics. It also probably holds up better, because the draw distance is less of an issue and the controls are a bit more responsive, at least on my Xbox controller (and yes, I have a real one now as opposed to that horrible bootleg one I’ve been complaining about for all of last semester)

Dino Crisis is Resident Evil with Dinosaurs, and being that I could use some more old style Resident Evil in my life, I will attempt to play more.

Now then, our main event:

Valkyria Chronicles II: It's not as grindy as those other grindy games!

Being that I don’t own a PS3 and don’t intend to until an undetermined date (On my list of consoles to buy, a 3DS ranks higher. Because Fire Emblem) I haven’t played Valkyria Chronicles. Right next to Demon’s Souls and MGS4 (and maybe like... Ni no Kuni?), it would probably be one of the first games I would buy if when I eventually get one, and thus I decided to go for its sequel instead, which is generally seen as inferior for reasons I’m not entirely sure of because I don’t know enough people who have played both games to give me any sort of valid opinion, other than that the Japan-only 3 installment is of course the best. Luckily for me, Valkyria Chronicles II is pretty dang fantastic in its own right, and if this is what I have to expect from the original, I think I will do just fine. Like the other 75% of my PSP library, it’s some variety of tactical and some variety of RPG, but whereas Final Fantasy Tactics is grindy and slow, and Tactics Ogre is grindy and slow (but I like it far better than FFT for some reason and have played significantly more of it), Valkyria Chronicles II is… less grindy and slow. Hey, it’s tactical RPGs we’re talking about here. If the hour count is less than 40 hours then it’s either in the Fire Emblem/XCOM camp of simple mechanics extrapolated into brutal deathtraps or it’s not actually a SRPG. Also there is crafting, because of course there is.

Oh, I'm sorry, did someone say Class systems? Sold. Like, really. The international version of Final Fantasy XII? I would totally buy that if I didn't have to do horrible things to a PS2 and also learn Japanese.

The best way to describe the gameplay is that it’s kinda like XCOM or maybe Fire Emblem, but with a bit more FFT/Tactics Ogre type of thing going on and you directly control your units when you move them. Also it’s anime WWII, but I’ll get to that later. It also has a branching class system, and as you know from my love of Final Fantasy V and my irrational love of Final Fantasy X-2, I really like class systems, but thankfully unlike all of those games every class in VC2 is actually useful. Ok, to be fair I barely ever used engineers because of my kamikaze style of engagement (which the game encourages by rankings only being based on how quickly you finished any given mission), but I guess if you wanted better healing or universal stat boosts that only last a turn (part of the Anthem Corp sub-class) they’d do the job perfectly fine. The same goes for Mortarers, whom I rarely used because just rushing a dude with a shocktrooper or gunner would usually produce superior results and enemies would rarely group up in a way that would make a mortar worth using. If there were classes which I considered invaluable for most missions, I’d probably go with fencers and snipers, both low-movement units capable of one-shotting most enemies and putting a dent into bosses. I also found little use for the commands features, which are basically CO Powers from advance wars if the CO Powers made it so you couldn’t make as many moves. I don’t care about a nebulous boost to my anti-personnel attack power. It costs 4 Command Points. 4 Command Points I could use to make 4 other units move and be far more efficient with their murder sprees. And really, the only way to beat some boss characters is by bum rushing them with your fencers (or snipers, at least until they run out of ammo) anyways, which is made more annoying by their tendency to dodge your attacks. There’s also a nice variety of missions, most of which can be solved by killing everyone, but there are also escort missions that suck and collection missions that suck less.

If you took a drink any time any of these characters said anything stupid, you'd be dead before the game even starts.
But on the other hand, you kill tanks by shooting them in the back, so I guess all is forgiven. If you like these kinds of games, play this game. Or the first one, because that's apparently better.

Regardless of how much I hated the escort missions due to the fragility of the escort APC, the fact stands that I think VC2’s gameplay is fantastic. Like most games of the genre it starts slow, perhaps too slow, (also it doesn’t help that the mechanics aren’t necessarily explained all that well) but by the 7-10 hour mark most of the systems have been revealed and you can start messing with the advanced classes and building a more diverse squad that suits your play style. I would say it’s a shoo-in for a high spot on my inevitable “Best of 2013 that didn’t come out in 2013” list, except for one thing… The story and characters are really, really, really bad. How bad are they? That’s a good question. While the story of the first game is apparently no masterwork and the story of the third game is apparently pretty good, the story of Valkyria Chronicles II is predictable and generic throughout. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue. You all know that I’m fine with generic stories if the gameplay is good, but the problem with VC2 is that there is a lot of story and all of it is the worst anime tropes and archetypes imaginable. The three main characters are a headstrong young guy who’s kind of an idiot but is full of determination and heart, a supportive young girl with a tragic past and a dream, and a cynical fellow who is a foil to the main guy, but still goes along with all of his boneheaded schemes. If you find these characters original or interesting, play a few JRPGs, maybe watch some high-school anime and get back to me. Oh, and don’t worry, the rest of the supporting cast falls squarely into bad archetypes as well. Yes, I am aware that archetypes can be used for good, just look at Persona 3 and how it handles and develops its cast, but the character development is all of the most unsubtle moments of stupidity. I think my favorite is still the part where Avan shoots himself so that Cosette will overcome her fear of blood and whatnot. Then we get into the whole dichotomy between these hilarious anime high-school antics and the part where all of these characters are mass-murderers and it gets a little more… weird, let’s say? I was fine with it in Full Metal Panic, where the entire point of the parts that were good (i.e. everything that they would later put into Full Metal Panic Fumoffu), was that Sosuke’s utter inability to view the world through anything other than the lens of combat was a gold mine for comedy. But I’m ranting again, and falling down the “Talking about Anime” hole. I’ve also started watching Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, and think it is pretty dope, if we’re on the subject.

Dinosaurs

But enough prattle. I think Valkyria Chronicles II is sort of awesome, in spite of it also being the worst high-school anime ever. I’m glad I sunk my requisite 50+ hours into it, but I also don’t think I’ll be sinking any more, at least not anytime soon (even though it has some postgame content for funsies). I’m nearing the end of World of Xeen, and the only real handicap preventing me from finishing it are the parts where leveling up now costs absurd sums of money, and my characters have a lot of leveling up to do. You can expect that one… soon? Dinosaurs?

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A blog about blogging

Here I have sunk to writing about what I want to write about over the next few months. Oh well. It fulfills my self-inflicted rule to write something every two weeks, and since I'm not taking an english class this semester I guess I won't have any other real output. I figure this is dumb and personal enough that anyone who would care is following me, and thus I don't need to attach this mofo to the forums. Tell me which ones I should play first, and I'll probably somewhat listen to you!

Let's get this S*** Done: An experiement in self-discipline

If I have any resolutions for 2013 that are in the petty, video-game oriented vein as opposed to serious life decisions (i.e. work out more often, go to the library to do homework, etc.) they mostly revolve around attempting to clear up the wide swath of unfinished games I have laying around. With that in mind (as well as the implicit assumption that I'm probably not going to be buying a whole ton of games this semester, sans perhaps Bioshock) I'm going to play a little game with myself and you, the reader. Can I finish most or all of these games before Mid-April? Hell if I know, but won't it be fun to try and watch me fail in the process? Also, maybe I'll try to stick to the order presented here. That should be fun, right?

1. Valkyria Chronicles II

I'm currently playing through this, and if not for my crummy PSP AC adapter I'd probably be playing it right now. If anything, me writing something about this is guaranteed at some point within the next few weeks, though I'm a little less than halfway through at the moment

2. Far Cry 3

I've captured every single tower and camp on the first Island but have done barely any of the main quest. Once again, me writing about this sometime soon is kind of guaranteed.

3. Might and Magic IX

I've sunk enough time in this game that I may as well go the whole way and recoup my investment. I think I've said it before, but I'm pretty sure only people like me should play Might and Magic IX. Anyone who isn't a fan of the franchise already should give it a wide bearth, and even people who like Might and Magic should treat it as strictly optional. That being said, the state the game is in, with it clearly being half-finished makes the actual act of playing simultaneously fascinating and depressing. Also the gameplay is still fun sometimes, in spite of itself.

4. Might and Magic: World of Xeen

The other Might and Magic related blemish on my backlog (sure, I technically never finished The Mandate of Heaven, but I was close enough and I lost that save when I had to wipe my computer), I'm actually quite far in World of Xeen. Like, I could probably knock out the rest of the game pretty easily. Maybe I will.

5. Final Fantasy X-2

And here's where things get a bit more nebulous. While I've got my mind on finishing those above four games for certain, the rest of the list and the order of the rest of the list is less clear. While I certainly played enough FFX2 to feel comfortable writing about it, I should probably go the extra mile and finish it while I'm here. Assuming I am not secretly swamped with homework the entire time.

6. Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne

See above, although the difference between these two JRPGs is that SMT Nocturne is balls hard and kind of intimidating. But hey, satan, right? Can't beat that.

7. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

This game starts slow, but I can already tell it does a lot of things that I would like.

8. Tear Ring Saga

In terms of "I should probably finish this game", Tear Ring Saga is not necessarily pressing. But on the other hand, it's like Fire Emblem but crazy, so I really want to see the extent of insanity past the first few maps I've completed.

9. Fire Emblem Gaiden

FE Gaiden is, once again, not necessarily great when compared to what the franchise has become. It is weird as hell, and I'd like to be able to express in exact terms how weird as hell it is.

10. Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

And here's where we reach even more nebulous territory. I've sunk 2 hours into this game, liked what I played but never touched it again. If I am to truly be able to rank Troika's games from 1 to 3, I will have to give their final title a go.

11. Neverwinter Nights 2

Pffffft. Yeah. Right.

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An addendum to GOTY: 2012 Strikes Back

Because nothing quite says bringing in a new year like dragging the old one through the mud a bit. Which is fine with me. 2012 wasn't necessarily a great year for me personally, but as my GOTY list will attest, it was preeeeettyyy good for video games. So thus, let's talk about some games that I've now had the opportunity to play thanks to my overly long Christmas break. So let's dive in?

Dragon's Dogma

Fighting Giant Monsters is far more fun than it probably should be, considering what else there is.

Dragon's Dogma is some sort of weird masterwork, a "flawed gem" if you will. While the first 90% of the game itself is a open-world RPG with not a lot to do and has a story that doesn't really go anywhere until you fight the titular Dragon, that last 10% of the game, with the dark, messed up world, the multiple chambers of the Everfall and the utterly insane ending are kind of brilliant. While I was already on board enough to give it the #7 spot on my list, I think the ending probably would've put it above Borderlands 2 on that list, though obviously I still think Dragon's Dogma has some problems that would probably make someone who isn't me balk. Be it the utter lack of charm from any of the characters (though I find the pawns' tendency to spout encyclopedic nonsense every 3 seconds charming in its own obnoxious way), the lack of fast travel or the somewhat clunky menu structure, I can see why this game isn't for everyone. It's messed up in some pretty obvious ways. To use a direct, albeit confusing comparison, it's basically Final Fantasy V (or basically any other game that I'm weirdly into) in that my enjoyment of the mechanics at play far trumps whatever other inadequacies the game has.

But know what? Most of that didn't bother me, and some of what excites me about Dragon's Dogma is the potential it brings for a sequel, and the various directions Capcom could go in reaching that goal. The core gameplay, being the combat, is already solid. Maybe make it a bit more dungeon crawl-y, maybe throw in some 4 player co-op (I mean, with the whole mechanic of pawns you're practically halfway there), and make there be more giant monsters for me to crawl up and stab in the face. All of those things would make whatever sequel that comes out of Dragon's Dogma something that I could justly support. In other words, you should play it, but only if you are a crazy person who can be sustained by good combat and not a whole lot else. I still like it more than Amalur, something that I probably should use the last week of this break to finish as well.

Persona 4 Arena

If I had played it before writing my GOTY list, Persona 4 Arena would have been available for the following awards: Best Fanservice, Best Justification of a Spinoff, Best Bad Ending, Best Visual Novel (sorry Katawa Shoujo!), Best use of Foreshadowing, Best Robot Ladies, Best Spinoff to a Game I've Never Actually Beaten But Have Watched Being Beaten, and also probably Best Fighting Game, but that's mostly because I didn't even find Street Fighter x Tekken disappointing or infuriating enough to mention in my Dishonorable Mentions category. While the story mode echoes that of Blazblue in that there is proportionally more dialogue than there is fighting, the difference is that Persona 4 Arena has fantastic writing that I enjoy and more than its fair share of callbacks to both P3 and P4, rather than bullshit anime nonsense (and not the good kind either). In fact, since I have yet to face an actual human opponent, the story is really all I can comment on, since you can literally win every battle in story mode by mashing X (or square). It certainly seems like an ArcSys fighting game. And with that said, the story mode is some sort of narrative genius, since it manages to believably justify its existence, the (oh!) collusion of the casts of Persona 3, a robot having a northeastern accent, and in the process sets up story events that make me really want to see where Persona 5 will go. I mean, seriously. In a year of bad endings, it's nice to know that Dragon's Dogma and P4A are still holding the torch for conclusions that are kind of balls crazy in a good way. If you have any love of Persona 4, any at all, you should play this game. I picked it up for $30 new at gamestop, so you don't have much of an excuse. Hell, it's probably a good fighting game too.

Mark, of the Ninja

Mark the Ninja is a preeeettyyy great Stealth Game that also happens to look really good and probably would have been somewhere on my list had I played it before December 23rd. It succeeds at making you feel like a crazy badass Ninja, and while the ending twist is predictable, at least it's executed well for the level of ambition that the story pursues. That being said, while it is mechanically excellent and pretty awesome, it is by no means my favorite stealth game, and find the comments of the Bomb Squad during GOTY, namely those of Patrick and his somewhat retarded claim that "Stealth is terrible and all trial and error but nope this game isn't trial and error at all" (yes I am aware that everyone else on the GB crew has shared something of a similar opinion, but he was the most vocal so he gets the call-out) to be unfortunate. In it's mechanical preciseness, Mark of the Ninja loses a lot of tension that comes with stealth, because you know exactly what a guard will do upon you using an item or tactic. Some may find this predictability comforting, but it irks me in some odd way because of how artificial it feels. Sure, stealth in games has never been the most believable of mechanics, but the absolute nature of the mechanics in Mark of the Ninja make it feel like a machine. I'm nitpicking and probably being a crazy old games person, so I'll have to mention that I'm probably crazy and you should still play Mark the Ninja, even if the Giant Bomb staff is a bunch of pussies who are probably incapable of playing any sort of game that challenges them and praise games that make frustrating mechanics palatable to their watered-down game journalist sensibilities. Blargity Blarg I am so hardcore.*

Far Cry 3

So, to get off the subject of things that will probably incense the wrong sort of people on these forums, I think Far Cry 3 is alright, 8 or so hours in. I've done barely any story missions and have instead taken out every radio tower and base with a focused precision. Silenced Sniper Rifle is my friend and companion, and I've died far more times to falling and wildlife than I have to enemy gunfire. I'm having a blast, so I'm hoping it stays that way once I accidentally clear out the entire map before getting anywhere in the main quest. I guess we'll have to see, won't we?

*: Obviously, I'm exaggerating, but yeah I am still sort of annoyed that the kind of games I like are ignored or treated with derision by the staff of this website (see: that awful, borderline insulting Baldur's Gate Quick Look) Probably the reason why I read Rock Paper Shotgun even though those guys are on the opposite end of the spectrum and are crazy old-guard PC enthusiasts (or elitists) who gush endlessly about some C64/Amiga game that came out before I was born before complaining about how the kids these days don't get what makes the games good.

Happy New Year?

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