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.

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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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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!
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
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.
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.
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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I played an old video game and would like to write about it (Kameo: Elements of Power)

I don't think it unfair to say that I've been blogging about some ancient and obscure stuff recently. Between games that (thankfully) no one bought, Russian-developed Heroes of Might and Magic derivatives, and generally terrible independently developed Role Playing Games. Well, today is... probably different, inasmuch as you've probably heard about this game if you haven't played it. But before we get into that fun write-up, let's talk about other games:

Still playing King's Bounty Warriors of the North too. Still pretty good, despite being notably less stable than its brethren. Quicksave often!
Still playing King's Bounty Warriors of the North too. Still pretty good, despite being notably less stable than its brethren. Quicksave often!

I've made the mistake of committing to buy the opposite version of Pokemon that a friend gets (sounds like he's getting Y, so X it is), so you'll probably see something on that in the near future... assuming I don't quit out of boredom like I did with Black version. I said I was done, but they get me every time. Nostalgia is a funny thing. I was 7 when I first played Pokemon Red. Seven! Like anyone that age who played Pokemon, I pretty much exclusively used my starter and whatever Legendaries I caught, because kids are dumb and you'd be surprised how far you can get with mostly just Venusaur. My recent adventures with bad minimalistic roguelike something something caused me to reinstall The Binding of Isaac and Dungeons of Dredmor. I really don't like The Binding of Isaac, as I've quickly remembered. I don't like the way you have to aim your shots with momentum, I don't like the disturbing imagery and I don't like the part where I'm terrible at it. Dungeons of Dredmor is pretty great though, especially with the three expansions that add such great skill trees as "Emomancy" and "Paranormal Investigator". I'm still not great at roguelikes, especially when I get impatient and inevitably make a mistake that leads to my demise, but at the very least it feels like I can compensate for bad luck unlike FTL where the right drops are almost necessary to beat the final boss. I also "finished" MGS Peace Walker via the HD Collection (the idea of playing that game with the PSP's awful control scheme seems like an exercise in pain) and was originally going to feature it as part of this blog, but I figured that would make it way too long and also I may as well get the "true" ending that requires me to grind out enough parts to finish Metal Gear ZEKE before rendering final judgement. Expect that next week, because I've already written most of it. All this Zelda talk has made me want to finish OOT Master Quest too.

Right, what were we talking about? Oh right. Relevant video games. Like ones from 2005.

Kameo: Elements of Power

Did the 360 really launch 8 years ago? Geez.
Did the 360 really launch 8 years ago? Geez.

Is, at the very least, much better than Grabbed by the Ghoulies or most of the Xbox 360's launch lineup.... which is about the highest level of praise I can muster for it. On my magical rainbow journey to discover the Rare games I missed between Starfox Adventures and Banjo-Kazooie Nuts and Bolts, I've come to the rather dark realization that for whatever greatness they achieved during the N64 era, they didn't exactly end up in their current situation as a shambling corpse/Kinect studio by chance. It's competently made, controls well and has some pretty great character abilities, but I couldn't help but feel underwhelmed by the entire thing. A lot of that has to do with where games have come in the past 8 years, but even if I were to have played it when it came out, I sort of doubt I'd have been significantly more wowed. Still better than Ghoulies.

This game makes a lot more sense once you remember that it was originally developed for the Gamecube, essentially scrapped, redeveloped for the Original Xbox and then prettyfied for the 360 Launch.
This game makes a lot more sense once you remember that it was originally developed for the Gamecube, essentially scrapped, redeveloped for the Original Xbox and then prettyfied for the 360 Launch.

As Kameo, resident fairy elf princess lady, you need to rescue your family from Trolls and your evil sister. To do this, you go through no less than four (4) different worlds, solving puzzles and murdering things with the help of the Elemental Warriors, cartoonish monsters that range from a plant that punches people to a dragon to weirdo stretchy monster. If this was a Zelda game (not an unfair comparison, though Starfox Adventures is still more of a Zelda game), these elemental warriors would essentially be the items, because Kameo isn't much good on her own. Each elemental warrior has one or two abilities that allow for puzzle solving or traversal (If something needs to be lit on fire, you probably should use Ash the Dragon, if a wheel needs to be turned maybe try Deep Blue's water spray, etc), some of which can also be used in combat, and there is a lot of that. The combat isn't especially deep or nuanced, but there's some satisfaction and fun to be had switching between the elemental warriors to get your combo meter up or whatever, and if you want an “A” rank (The only achievements in the game that seem in any way difficult) I'd imagine you'd have to perform well. Also much like a Zelda game there's a pointless overworld that adds absolutely nothing to the game, and you're not going to find much use for some of the 12 elemental warriors past puzzles that require their use, compounded even more by the fact that you receive them right up until the end of the game, a game that I beat in 7 hours. Forty-Below might as well be the Rod of Control from Twilight Princess with all the use I gave him.

Press RT to win combat.
Press RT to win combat.

If I really have a problem with Kameo (and I don't really have much of a problem with it), it probably revolves around the game lacking any sort of real challenge or difficulty. Much like Grabbed by the Ghoulies, it feels like Kameo was going to be a bigger, more ambitious game at one point (unlike Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Kameo is still a game that is occasionally fun) but a lot of that ambition was lost between it being developed for 3 consoles and then clearly being focus grouped as the token “Family” game for the 360s launch. The way the game condescendingly offers hints (i.e. exact directions on how to proceed) any time you get remotely stuck in what is already a stupefyingly easy game probably doesn't help either. There's a certain cynical bent to it, as if to say that this is not only a kid's game, but also kids are stupid and need to constantly be prodded in the right direction to avoid getting stuck. Hey there Microsoft suit probably responsible for this, I played Banjo-Kazooie when I was 6, give me some credit. I'm glad I played Kameo, because it's an easy 600 achievement points and still has some Rareware charm to it, but by the end I was less than enthused by the whole thing. Having played plenty of bad games recently, it's not a bad game, but it isn't great either. Maybe my prior complaints sound like nitpicking but there are also a handful of puzzles or sequences so poorly designed that I had to check the hint to see if I was doing anything wrong. Relying on touchy video game physics to successfully roll bombs at a boss is not a fun or rewarding mechanic.

Oh, for extra fun, here's a video of the Original Xbox version going through the same poorly-made introductory sequence that you go through in the retail version of the game.

I hear there's a co-op mode too, so maybe I'll force my friends to play it. Other than that though, I think I'm done with playing middling to bad Rare games and will probably play through Banjo-Tooie or something as a palette cleanser. Until next time?

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ArbitraryWater versus Independently-Developed Role Playing Games

OR: This blog isn't about Chrono Trigger, but I think Final Fantasy V is the best Final Fantasy.

No, seriously. It's King's Bounty, but with vikings and a few mechanical tweaks. I'm totally ok with that.
No, seriously. It's King's Bounty, but with vikings and a few mechanical tweaks. I'm totally ok with that.

Sooo... yeah. Video games, right guys? Since my last blog I started King's Bounty: Warriors of the North and will probably at some point think about finishing Kameo. While I feel like any write-up on Warriors of the North would just be me saying “Hey, it's like those other two King's Bounty games but there are vikings and sometimes the game crashes for no reason”. Kameo is totally decent, but the way it treats the player like an idiot keeps me from being able to deal with it for longer sittings. I can confirm that it is exponentially better than Grabbed by the Ghoulies and is probably also better than 99% of the Xbox 360's launch lineup, for as low a standard as that may be (the 1% is possibly Call of Duty 2, but I haven't played that one in like 5 years), so you'll probably see something on it at some point.

In any case, thanks to a thread decrying the evils of Steam's convenience and wide selection in favor of DRM-free peddlers of independent titles, I sort of ended up buying this indie RPG bundle from Bundle in a Box, also known as “Not the Humble Bundle”. Now the first warning sign that I may have made a bad decision with my $2 is that most of these games aren't actually in the wiki. Yeah, I get it, Platformers with art styles (™) are the ones that sell a bajillion copies on Steam, get the adoration of the mainstream press and along with barely-interactive non-games are sort of what one thinks of when the term “indie game” is thrown around. Well, I'm glad(?) to report that there are people making indie RPGs too. You may remember my friend Inquisitor from last fall as an example of “Great premise, abysmal execution”, perhaps Spiderweb Software's large catalog of high-quality comfort food RPGs, or maybe those Zeboyd games with the ultra-streamlined mechanics and grating sense of humor. All of them are on Steam or GOG, after all. Well, forget Steam, they're too mainstream. Forget GOG, they're too Polish. We're going down into the low-budget catacombs of obscure indie junk and I hope you brought a light, because there are Goatmen everywhere.

Keep in mind that these are basically superficial impressions based on playing any of these games for like an hour MAX. I have very little idea what kind of people actually buy these games, but I'm guessing most of them don't hang out around here, so I'm probably going to get away with this scot free.

Empires and Dungeons 2

Is ostensibly a strategy game with RPG elements, like all of those other strategy games I like to play, with something of a middle-eastern bent. As a sultan, you move around a tile-based map collecting resources, building up your fortress and occasionally “exploring” a randomly generated dungeon (which is to say you move from tile to tile fighting monsters by pressing one of three attack buttons and occasionally healing) in order to gain more gold and “honor”. It all seemed a bit shallow, to be honest, and between the three sound effects, the single 30 second music loop I figured I was good after two scenarios.

Styrateg

See above, but make it more RPG and less strategy. You move a handful of units around a tile-based, killing things for experience. I think “Why am I not just playing Heroes of Might and Magic/Disciples II/Age of Wonders/Eador/Master of Magic right now?” and stop.

Gamebook Adventures 2: Rise of the Necromancer

Imagine the entire game looking like this, but actually being interesting and occasionally you have to roll dice to avoid being crushed by a boulder.
Imagine the entire game looking like this, but actually being interesting and occasionally you have to roll dice to avoid being crushed by a boulder.

It's a “Choose your own adventure” book with stats, not dissimilar to something like King of Dragon Pass (a game I fully recommend only because of how crazy it is), but obviously more limited. Like, literally, the game presents itself as a book and tells you to turn to page X, which is pretty dang clever and hearkens back to a particular part of grade school where I read a ton of those suckers. I'm not sure how varied the game actually gets with multiple playthroughs, but it has an internal achievement system for getting specific things to happen (as well as getting the best possible ending). I ended up dying after a couple of bum rolls, but I might try again because it's probably the weirdest thing in this entire bundle.

Unemployment Quest

I get it. It's a commentary on being an unemployed young person but like it was a JRPG. Cute, but I'm already unemployed and I don't need to play a game that reminds me of that fact. Also it's deliberately tedious, so eff that noise. I'm sure it'd probably be decent if I gave it an honest shot, but ehhhh.

Dungeon Fray

Minimalistic Roguelike something something. You pick Fighter/Mage/Thief, get coins, use coins to buy stats, spells and potions, die because the randomly generated level surrounds you with high level monsters that you can't hurt. I know that Roguelike mechanics are the new “RPG-style progression in games that aren't RPGs”, but if we're getting down to the actual games that have inspired that trend, I want more options and not less. It did inspire me to reinstall Dungeons of Dredmor and The Binding of Isaac, so it has that going for it.

Hack, Slash, Loot

With a title like Hack, Slash, Loot I'd expect more excitement.
With a title like Hack, Slash, Loot I'd expect more excitement.

For some reason, it didn't want to run on my computer this time around, but being the only game in this bundle that is actually on Steam, I've played it before and I am proud to say: Minimalistic Roguelike something something. I must have disliked what I played enough to actually write an anti-recommendation on steam, so feel free to check that out.

Inaria

As far as I can tell, this is one of those deliberate throwbacks to old games, and in this case it seems like it's trying to imitate the first few Ultima titles but with a semi-open character development system and an interface that doesn't baffle me as someone born after the fall of communism. Might be alright. Then it crashed and I decided that I was probably good not spending any more time on it when I still have never gotten past the first few hours in Vampire: The Masquerade or... Thunderscape? Yeah, let's go with Thunderscape for a possible resurgence of me making fun of CD-ROM era DOS games. That, or Descent into Undermountain because that would no doubt be high-larious.

Frayed Knights: The Skull of Smakh-Daon

Pictured: Witty dialogue. Also, one of two games in this bundle to actually have pages on the site. Well done Frayed Knights, someone clearly cared.
Pictured: Witty dialogue. Also, one of two games in this bundle to actually have pages on the site. Well done Frayed Knights, someone clearly cared.

If you chuckled at the title, congratulations: that is about the level of humor you can expect from this “humorous” RPG. Ok, I'm being really flippant. Frayed Knights seems like the most complete and “Actually a RPG” among this bundle of things that can very loosely be called Role Playing Games. It clearly takes some amount of influence from Wizardry, so I can confirm that the combat seems alright... but like a lot of games that try to be funny, it thinks that it's more clever than it actually is. Your party is essentially the B-team, loveable misfits of the RPG adventuring world, and that premise has plenty of room to be great, but while I didn't cringe at most of the attempts at humor, I did sort of roll my eyes. Maybe it gets better later on, but unlike most of these other games it at least has enough depth to be interesting from a mechanical angle. I think I'll keep it installed. It's not like a game being bad has stopped me from playing it, as the past several months of blogging have attested and for all I know this game may not end up being bad.

And that was my wonderful, extra-crispy adventure into the dark world of video games that are on Steam Greenlight (a few of these actually are, by the way, so if you feel the need to vote up Frayed Knights, go for it) but don't get approved because they aren't about zombies, slenderman, unrealistic promises given by games that are still in a pre-alpha state, unique art styles or zombie slendermans. I feel like I've been educated if nothing else. I'm going to guess that RPGs are harder to make than many other kinds of games, and if you don't have the pedigree to make 4 Million dollars on Kickstarter you're stuck with the money and talent that you do have. I almost feel bad, because unlike those old blogs where I made fun of DOS games and recorded videos of them, the people making these games are obviously still in business and these titles aren't something I found on shady abandonware sites. But that's life, I guess. To me, stuff like Avernum and Eador are proof that zero-budget games without a ton of aesthetic flair can be just as compelling as the Baldur's Gates of the universe.

If you're interested in reproducing my experiences, the bundle is going on for 8 more hours at the time of me posting this (link in the second paragraph). I wouldn't recommend it, but whatever. I probably should've paid above the average to get a handful of other stuff, but I see no way to up my pledge and I'd imagine a lot of the same things would be said. Have a good one.

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King's Blogging: Arbitrary Princess

I'm told this game is popular
I'm told this game is popular

So hey guys, Grand Theft Auto V. According to “The Internet” it's pretty cool, but I give it a month before the backlash hits in-earnest and a vocal contingent starts going after that game, much as Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us got theirs. Probably won't stop it from earning a bazillion Game of the Year awards because games journalists are a bunch of predictable bastards (the other game that will dominate GOTY awards? Gone Home, because the 90s and games that are barely games are things that game websites eat like candy. Sorry Brothers.). For my part, I'll probably take a look at it at some point in the future despite not being into the way that Rockstar makes open world games and never really being into GTA in general. What does this have to do with anything in this blog? Not much, really. I just figured that being “relevant” is a great smokescreen for when I reveal that this blog is about a Russian-developed strategy game that came out four years ago and borrows liberally from other games that I happen to like a lot. Because of course it is. But first, other games that are also not relevant?

This blog is also about Might and Magic IX

I play old, bad games. Part Eleventy
I play old, bad games. Part Eleventy

But then it stopped working. I'm not sure if the problem is the game itself, my slowly imploding computer or me not wanting it enough, as it stands I cannot finish the dying breath of New World Computing's generally fantastic RPG franchise (Oh, except hell has frozen over and Might and Magic X not only exists, but seems promising based on the rough alpha build available on Steam Early Access). That didn't stop me from spending like 20something hours with it before it went kaput, and I have the saves on hand should it decide to cooperate. I'm going to invoke a variation of Wolpaw's Law and tell you my thoughts about it anyways, despite the part where I clearly haven't made it to the end of the game and beaten fake Loki, or whatever. I'm sure those who have finished this gem will object, but I will do as I must. For freedom. And for you, the reader.

These liches are actually the dessicated remnants of what could have been a fairly decent RPG.
These liches are actually the dessicated remnants of what could have been a fairly decent RPG.

Might and Magic IX came out in 2002 during the death-throes of 3DO. Released in a pre-alpha state, clearly needing another year or so of development, it's probably the most obvious casualty of the publisher's desperate attempts to stay afloat before going under entirely about a year later. Whereas I and many others will still maintain that Heroes of Might and Magic IV (also released that year) is both a totally enjoyable strategy game and one worthy of being a part of the series despite some fairly unfortunate issues, M&M IX earns no such sympathy. That's because, unsurprisingly, it's not very good. Oh, I still sort of enjoyed what I played of it, because if RE6 proved anything it's that I'm way too forgiving where my favorite game franchises are concerned, but there was no point where I said “This is a quality video game”. A lot of that simply boils down to the part where it's clearly unfinished. A lot of the ideas in the game, be they branching class paths, a streamlined skill system, the transition from the engine of the past three games to fully polygonal environments and the change in environment to the northern vikingish lands of Chedain all sound good on paper. In practice, branching classes means that your characters will be relatively homogenous for most of the game until they get their second promotion, exacerbated by the reduced number of skills. The transition to the already-aged Lithtech engine results in a profoundly ugly looking game with cramped outdoor environments and sprawling, empty cities. Finally, the new world doesn't really bother to tie itself in to previous games or Heroes IV aside from a handful of cursory nods. It is, in short, something of a mess. Perhaps less a mess than it probably could have been, considering the circumstances, but a mess all the same.

Yep, this is pretty much what the game looks like. It's not pretty, but somehow it's not as bad as it looks?
Yep, this is pretty much what the game looks like. It's not pretty, but somehow it's not as bad as it looks?

That being said, it's clearly a Might and Magic game. The dungeons are usually decently clever, with puzzles one would expect from a Might and Magic game (i.e. a lot of pushing levers) and the combat is still that pseudo real time thing that you can make turn-based with a press of the enter key. The main quest is structured like that of Might and Magic VI, which is to say that it's pretty nonlinear and you can go pretty much wherever from the start. Occasionally some of the series' goofy charm comes through in spite of the general blandness at hand with some of the weird one-off instances that happen here and there. The presence of a fan-made patch removes pretty much all of the game-breaking bugs. But it's not enough for me to tell you, the normal human to play it. It's enough for me, the self-loathing individual who likes Might and Magic a whole lot, but I'm probably not in the most positive life circumstances at the moment. If you want to play a Might and Magic game, play pretty much any of the other ones (the first two are ancient but the rest are surprisingly playable in this day and age). If you want a great RPG of that style that came out in the 21st century, play Wizardry 8. It came out 6 months earlier, is also available on GOG and is sort of fantastic in general. Hell, I even have a code for it hanging around for some reason, though I'm waiting for the opportune moment to give it out. Maybe you are that opportune moment! But until then...

King's Bounty: Armored Princess

Woman Protagonist. Take THAT, Sexism!
Woman Protagonist. Take THAT, Sexism!

Is the semi-sequel/standalone expansion to King's Bounty: The Legend, something of a modern take on the old DOS classic King's Bounty, which in turn was the genesis for Heroes of Might and Magic, keeping this blog in the theme of the same 5 games I write about all the time. To say that these modern King's Bounty titles take influence from Heroes is putting it rather lightly. While the turn-based strategy elements are eschewed in favor of the more free roaming, RPG-like aspects of the original King's Bounty, the tactical combat will be familiar to pretty much everyone who has touched Heroes of Might and Magic at some point, to the level where you can probably guess certain units abilities. Hex Grid? Check. Black Dragons are totes def immune to magic? Yep. It's blatant and shameless, but that's ok because it's also pretty great. Not as great as heroes, but of course, what is? (Answer: probably Age of Wonders or Eador)

Unless you're a monster who can't handle the metaphysical conceit of unit stacks, there is a lot to enjoy about this game's tactical combat
Unless you're a monster who can't handle the metaphysical conceit of unit stacks, there is a lot to enjoy about this game's tactical combat

The previous paragraph was about these games in general, because between The Legend, Armored Princess (and mini expansion Crossworlds) and the recent Warriors of the North, they're all functionally similar. Why I finished Armored Princess first mostly comes down to the fact that I had a save file around 20 hours in from last year and needed something to play after Might and Magic IX broke. The flow of these games involves running around an overworld in real-time, recruiting various troops based on your leadership stat (another carry-over from OG King's Bounty), solving quests and engaging in tactical combat between armies. The game is sectioned off into islands, and unless you're overleveled like I was by the end of the game, you'll probably not have the leadership necessary to complete them in one go. Since everything is in real time, you can totally lure monsters away, juke around them and grab whatever they were guarding, something that becomes easier once you gain the ability to fly around and above anyone you find threatening, though it should also be mentioned that you start being able to deal with overwhelming odds much more easily by the end of the game, when you have the skills and spells necessary to overcome the battle of numbers. An increased understanding of your tactical options simply by playing through the game doesn't hurt either (Contrary to what you may think, Snakes are your friends, thanks to their inherent reach attack and poison abilities).

Rage is essentially the Warrior's answer to mana, and you can make your cute baby dragon murder some fools with boiling lava rather effectively.
Rage is essentially the Warrior's answer to mana, and you can make your cute baby dragon murder some fools with boiling lava rather effectively.

Because of the sheer breadth of units available, you really have the opportunity to experiment, which helps make the tactical combat continually fresh, especially if you don't stick to the same units constantly. For my part, I just sort of ran around with armies of ultra-expensive dragons by the end of the campaign, and that worked out alright because of the absurd amount of gold that ends up thrown at you. I'd say that it's probably not a bad idea to play on hard if you already know how to play these games, or maybe play as a Mage since they seem pretty gimped early on. There are also Boss Battles on occasion, for once something that Heroes went on to steal rather than the other way around. They're usually not incredibly tough, though you'll probably want to stick with tankier units and shooters when handling such foes.

The next step could be into uncharted waters
The next step could be into uncharted waters

All this said, I could see how someone could get burned out before the end of the 40ish hours it takes to complete Armored Princess. That's a pretty long time, but thankfully the end game drags a lot less than the beginning, when you're still surgically taking out the armies you can handle. All in all, it was nice to play a game that wasn't soul-crushingly horrible for once, though I still have to finish Kameo (not actually soul-crushing) and then I need to figure out what to play next. I may not have access to video games in the coming future, so prioritizing the important (or bad) stuff has become less of a leisurely suggestion and more of a goal. Maybe I'll make a poll again! Maybe I'll play one of the other King's Bounty games! Maybe I'll pick something off that horrible, forsaken list! Maybe Tomb Raider? The future is bright my friends. Here, have a speedrun.

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I continue to play old, bad games (Grabbed by the Ghoulies)

Soooo... I finally reformatted my computer with the hope that it'd stop being difficult. Thus far, my wish has been granted, though reinstalling 11GB games sure is a time-consuming process. I salvaged most of the documents and save files that mattered, so at some point I'll be able to continue where I left off in regards to Quest for Glory 2 and The Witcher 2. But why talk about potentially good games when I could talk about certainly bad games? That's what I'm here for, at any rate.

I continue to go down a long, dark road with no light at the end.

Rare: Makers of fine interactive entertainment!
Rare: Makers of fine interactive entertainment!

Hey guys, remember Rare? Makers of fine 2D and 3D platformers, overrated but important first person shooters and easily the best Kart Racer on the N64, they're responsible for a good chunk of my childhood, especially back when the N64 is the only console I owned. Then... they made Star Fox Adventures were sold to Microsoft and I could no longer care, because I didn't own an Xbox the first. I had a 360 when the fantastic Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts came out and I will continue to call it one of my favorite games of this console generation, but it sold poorly and now whatever remains of the studio is doomed to make Kinect games for the rest of its pitiful existence. Now maybe it's time to fill in those gaps, especially since I'm on a self-loathing kick right now and have noticed a significant increase in the number of bad games I've played this year. I played and enjoyed that Conker remake last year, but that was because the N64 version is far more expensive and rare (hilarious pun) than its Original Xbox counterpart, but I digress. Now, here I am, $13 poorer in monetary means and and significantly poorer in spirit. Why? Because Grabbed by the Ghoulies is a game I paid money for. That was a mistake.

There are also a few parts where you get your hands on weapons, but those segments aren't actually that different from the rest of the game.
There are also a few parts where you get your hands on weapons, but those segments aren't actually that different from the rest of the game.

Released in October 2003, Grabbed by the Ghoulies' legacy will probably be as the butt of a bunch of pretty hilarious self-aware jokes in Nuts and Bolts. That seems about right, because the game itself isn't much to talk about (which is why this blog is a bit of a short one). Whereas last week's punching bag (Devil May Cry 2) is at least sort of interesting in the ways that it is bad, Grabbed by the Ghoulies is just kind of a brief, shallow non-entity that would have been better served as a 30 minute minigame in Banjo-Tooie rather than a full retail title. As a guy named Cooper who wants to save his girlfriend from spooky mansion, it's a pretty simple setup rivaling Luigi's Mansion, though with far more potential racism involved. The structure of the game consists of entering a room and killing the bad guys therein by pointing the right stick in their general direction and hoping that everything dies. Ok, there are powerups and some enemies need to be killed in specific ways, but in general I'd ascribe very little depth or nuance to the combat on its own. The developers clearly knew that, so another core mechanic of the game is that each room starts you with variably health and a handful of stipulations such as "Don't use weapons", "Kill everything within the alotted time" or "Don't kill two of the same enemy in a row". Failing one of these sub-objectives causes the reaper to appear, and if he touches you it's a one-hit kill. If he touches you. You can outrun him and his touch can kill enemies that wander in his path, so in some cases it's almost beneficial to screw up these objectives. It's not like you're losing much progress if you die or anything.

Otherwise, this may as well be the entire game.
Otherwise, this may as well be the entire game.

And... that's about it, aside from the part where there is a hidden book in each room and for every 5 books a challenge level is unlocked (all leading to a particularly devious final challenge where you have to finish the entire game again in one sitting with only 10 health per room) I won't deny that the game has some of that Rareware charm with the Grant Kirkhope soundtrack or the number of goofy double-entendres going on, but this all feels like it was at some point intended to be far deeper and more involved than it actually is, something that seems super obvious when the anticlimactic final 20 minutes of the game roll around and I asked myself "That's it?". I'd actually be really interested in reading about the development of this game for that reason, but somehow I doubt this particular title is going to be the subject of many retrospectives when every other game that Rare has made is probably more deserving.

And now I'm probably off to play Kameo next, with the assumption that it will have to be better than this particular gem. And after that...? Who knows? I don't. Maybe back to Chrono Cross. Maybe The Last Remnant. Maybe I'll do something with my life! No. Probably not. I'll probably just play video games.

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I play old, bad games (Devil May Cry 2)

What am I doing with my life again? Oh, right. Looking for employment, bolstered by the fact that all of the teenagers with summer jobs have to go back to school in a week. I would too, except for the part where I'm not. Living at home has its perks, don't get me wrong, but I'm also stranded in Southeastern Idaho with a handful of friends who are either still in High School or are skipping fall semester as well for various reasons. So... clearly what I need to do with my time is play infamously bad sequels to beloved games, which will clearly escalate until I sink 50 hours into Suikoden IV or look up prices for Sonic 2006 on Ebay. Actually, scratch that. This one may have broken me. But not really, because Sonic Chronicles still needs to be played.

It should be noted that playing this game in HD did not make it any more tolerable
It should be noted that playing this game in HD did not make it any more tolerable

Devil May Cry 2 is a bad game. I feel like that has been canonized as fact by the internet. While plenty of other bad or questionable game sequels will have their share of defenders (I will defend Dragon Age II more than it deserves), I have yet to encounter anyone who doesn’t think that DMC2 is anything better than mediocre (though I’m sure I’ll encounter one of them by the time this blog has run its course). But of course, given my sort of positive (neutral?) reception to the much derided Resident Evil 6, I figured I should know for myself. Also, I finished Bayonetta recently, so I figured that I may as well play the low watermark of the genre just to give myself that much more contrast. That was a poor idea. Or maybe it was a great idea, because now I can write this blog and give it the textual thrashing it so very deserves. I haven’t encountered a game that squanders the promise and legacy of the original title as badly as this one does since Deus Ex Invisible War. Both feel like bad imitations or parodies of the series they claim to represent rather than actual installments. Both came out in 2003. Coincidence? I think not.

The addition of a dedicated dodge button is actually a big part of why this game is so laughably easy
The addition of a dedicated dodge button is actually a big part of why this game is so laughably easy

And really, that Invisible War comparison can be extended to what makes it bad as well. It has all of the elements of a Devil May Cry game; you can knock hell demons in the air and juggle them with pistols, varying attacks can improve your score and the writing is probably only good in an ironic sense. Devil May Cry 2 is also responsible for some of Dante’s more iconic moves, like the one where he fires his pistols in two different directions, and also threw in a dedicated dodge button (one that would later be used as the style button in DMC3 and 4). Unfortunately, it also does all of these things poorly. Dante’s moves have some lag to them (the usually trusty Stinger is remarkably ineffectual), different combos are not done by pausing between button presses but by what direction you are holding the analog stick, something that I didn’t really discover until I had almost finished the game. You also don’t get new moves, rather you just upgrade your weapons to do more damage against already weak enemies. Instead of getting new melee weapons that handle differently, you get two additional swords with minor stat differences but otherwise handle the same as Rebellion.

How I played 90% of the game: The Screenshot
How I played 90% of the game: The Screenshot

Though secretly, none of that melee stuff actually matters because you are often better off shooting everything with your pistols than you are trying to close the distance. Much like how kicking everything was the best idea in Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, most of the guns in Devil May Cry 2 are notably overpowered in a way that allows you to dump with impunity, having the assurance that most foes will die before they reach you. While yes, you still need to use your sword and it still does a respectable amount of damage, there are several bosses who are designed in such a way as to make closing in to melee range less than smart. Oh, did I mention the bosses? There are quite a few of them and most of them are complete jokes once you activate Devil Trigger and take down 30% of their health with a single burst of gunfire. Some of them could probably fit in other games in the series just fine (in fact, you fight that lava spider from the first game for no real reason), but then there’s that part where you have to fight a demon helicopter and the only way to deal with it involves standing still and shooting since any attempt at a melee attack will end with you running into its rotors and taking damage. That particular segment is egregiously bad, but may still be topped by the rather unfortunate underwater boss that Lucia has to fight, continuing to prove that the water level of every game is always the worst one.

I actually like Dante's outfit in this game quite a bit, being that it's the one he wears in Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne, but what's with the half-cape midriff thing on the right?
I actually like Dante's outfit in this game quite a bit, being that it's the one he wears in Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne, but what's with the half-cape midriff thing on the right?

You’ll notice that this was the first time I bothered mentioning the game’s second playable character (apparently Trish is also playable if you beat Hard mode with Dante, but that’s not happening). It’s because, unlike Vergil or Nero, Lucia handles very similarly to Dante. She’s faster, her dodges aren’t quite as good and she has different projectile weapons, but you can still get away with doing the same stuff in her short-er disk. I have no idea why the game was split into two disks, given that Lucia goes through the same dull, brown and grey levels as Dante, (the unfortunate water level being the notable exception) and the game itself is around 5 hours long. It’s not like that space is being filled by a ton of cutscenes or FMV anyways. Dante hardly speaks for most of his adventure and only barely starts to resemble the one-liner slinging bishonen we all know and love(?) by the end. Lucia’s story is shorter and even less coherent in that regard. I’m not going to pretend that story is something I look for in Devil May Cry games, but the way it is executed in this particular one is about as lazy and half-assed as possible. At no point does anyone say “Let’s Rock Baby!” in an unironic fashion. That is clearly a misstep.

The ultimate irony to all of this is that the same team went on to make DMC 3 and 4, the former of which I can confirm to still be totally awesome. Since the franchise is pretty much dead for another 5-8 years thanks to DmC: Devil May Cry, it might be fun to try to finish 1 and 4 somewhere down the line just so I can talk about the series as a whole, but for now I have…. *sigh* that Sonic RPG to play more of. Also Wizardry 6-8 are on sale on GOG, but today only. Here, have a speedrun of Might and Magic VIII, another underwhelming sequel (though still not bad at all). I'ma play Divekick now.

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I probably played video games this week and now I am going to write about them

Another week of unemployment means another week of me bumming around my house while my parents make passive-aggressive remarks about how I spend my time. If I was going back to school for the fall (I’m not) I’d probably be getting ready for that. But I’m not. So I don’t. Instead I play video games! Oh no. What am I doing with my life.

Might and Magic X Early Access

This screenshot that I took is proof that this game exists and isn't just the product of a particularly vivid dream that I had.
This screenshot that I took is proof that this game exists and isn't just the product of a particularly vivid dream that I had.

The mere fact that a game called “Might and Magic the tenth” actually exists is probably enough to cause me to foam at the mouth while my eyes roll back in my head and everything turns to blackness.It’s like if someone was making a new Resident Evil game in the classical style (oh wait, that’s happening sort of), or a sequel to Temple of Elemental Evil (that is never happening). I had fully expected the RPG branch of New World Computing’s signature franchise to languish in the gutter for all eternity while Heroes of Might and Magic got new installments every 5 years (I should probably play more Heroes VI. It’s actually quite excellent, though it’s no Heroes V) In any case; Ubisoft’s revival of those games I like a lot went into early access on Monday for the rather daunting price of $30 (which I paid, because I’m a bad person). Of course I had to get my refund for the broken, unplayable Realms of Arkania remake 5 minutes after purchasing it. This early access build comprises the entire first act of the game (around 20%), with only 4 of the 12 potential classes being accessible, one for each race. This is all part of the game’s “Open Development” initiative where they’re pretty much showing stuff to fans every step of the way (essentially like it was a kickstarter campaign without the kickstarter) only for someone to complain in broken English that it’s not exactly like the old games and is therefore garbage. Just remember, for as stupid as these forums can get at times, they’re still miles better than any Might and Magic forum I’ve ever been on. Those guys are the definition of an unpleasable fanbase, right next to those No Mutants Allowed guys. Oh right. Video games.

I spent that extra credit money on Divekick instead. Currently I'm thinking about maining Markman because upkicks.
I spent that extra credit money on Divekick instead. Currently I'm thinking about maining Markman because upkicks.

From what I’ve played thus far, I’m impressed. Oh, it’s janky as hell, but unlike that aforementioned Realms of Arkania remake, at least it’s honest about being an incomplete mess. This early, clearly pre-alpha version of Might and Magic X feels like a Might and Magic game. Sure, there are some pretty bad Might and Magic games, but if what I’ve experienced in this early access version pans out to the rest of the game I will declare Ubisoft the winner of the universe. But what is Might and Magic X? It’s essentially a hybrid between the grid-based earlier games and the free roaming latter ones. You move around much as you would in World of Xeen (though perhaps a more modern comparison is Legend of Grimrock, albeit turn-based) but the character building more resembles Might and Magic VI-IX, with putting points in skills and upgrading them in the usual style of Novice > Expert > Master > Grandmaster, with each class having different restrictions on the levels of skills. I’ve been through a couple of dungeons thus far, and I’ll probably play through to the end. There are several obvious issues that need to be fixed (day/night cycle, weapon breakage rates, movement speed), but the game is coming out early next year, which will (hopefully) give the developers enough time to fix this stuff.

Other things:

I saw Elysium with my dad and sister. It has great visual design and premise, squandered by being rather predictable and extremely unsubtle with its social commentary. Hey, hey guys. We are the 99%, am I right?

The new Dishonored DLC is pretty great. I suggest that if you liked that game as much as I did (then again, I think I like that game more than most people) you should purchase this content for a sum of money.

I’m also playing that Sonic RPG. Why? Because I hate myself and it’s a gold mine for blogging material. I have Big the Cat in my party now, so I’m clearly going in the right direction. Will there be Chaos Emeralds? Probably. Will I always pick the dickish dialogue choices as Sonic, even though they don’t actually do anything? Yes. Will there continue to be annoying, semi-demanding timing-based RPG mechanics like it was a Mario RPG, but bad? Yes.

Oh right, I’m also also playing Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker now that I have the MGS HD collection and can play it with controls that aren’t garbage. Unsurprisingly it feels like an uprezzed PSP game

Clearly the even numbered game is the one I should play. Devil May Cry is like Star Trek, right?
Clearly the even numbered game is the one I should play. Devil May Cry is like Star Trek, right?

I also also also played the first few levels of Devil May Cry 2 (because I also bought the DMC HD collection) so that will go great. Given how I thought Resident Evil 6 wasn’t as bad as it was cracked up to be, maybe I think the same about DMC 2. Oh wait, I fought a demon helicopter and beat it by standing in place and shooting it with pistols for 5 minutes straight. Nevermind, this game is garbage and feels like a second rate imitation of the rest of the series. Given that I’m already doing horrible things to myself with aforementioned Sonic RPG, I may as well go all the way down the hole and play this high quality video game as well. Oh sure, I could play the first game in order to prove that I am a stronger person than Brad Shoemaker, and sure, I could play Devil May Cry 3 again and do something crazy like use Gunslinger or Royal Guard, but I may as well continue this bad game kick I’m on until I end up playing Sonic 2006 or some other legendarily bad title.

Bayonetta

I feel like any sort of gameplay screenshot would fail to capture the true insanity at work here
I feel like any sort of gameplay screenshot would fail to capture the true insanity at work here

Speaking of Devil May Cry, Bayonetta is sort of that but dialed up to eleven (which makes sense, given that Platinum has plenty of Capcom alumni in their ranks)It’s a character action game with an emphasis on being as batshit crazy Japanese as humanly possible, and also I guess the action is pretty excellent as well. It’s not quite at technical as Devil May Cry, you can mash out damaging combos quite easily, but I somehow doubt it’s any less complex if those combo videos on youtube are any indication. It’s also far less brutal with its checkpointing, and given the number of times I died on most of the levels that is probably a good thing. While I died my fair share to some of the rather aggressive and damaging enemies, I usually got better ranks on the boss levels, since most of the bosses in the game aren’t actually all that tough, thanks to easily telegraphed attacks that you can dodge and slow-mo pummel the heck out of. If I have a complaint with the gameplay, it’s that a lot of the extra systems, weapons and even characters are hidden behind various prerequisites that I have no real chance of achieving because I’m not super great at these kinds of games. The camera, while mostly fine, sometimes messes up, and in a game that has as much happening on the screen as possible that is occasionally frustrating.

See? Can you understand anything that this screenshot is presenting you?
See? Can you understand anything that this screenshot is presenting you?

But let’s be honest, what makes Bayonetta stand out isn’t its high quality murdering-of-angels, the part that people care about is the part where you play as a sexy librarian witch lady and crazy shit is happening on-screen at all times. To say that the plot of Bayonetta is nonsensical is understatement. At no point does anyone actually say anything resembling coherency, the protagonist herself treats everything like a joke and at one point you surf a missile and it turns into Space Harrier (also Yuri Lowenthal is there, somewhere). I’ll probably get some flak for this, but it’s also a bit too much. I thought I had a pretty decent tolerance for the Japanese brand of chaotic self-aware insanity (I think Warioware and Excel Saga are pretty great), but Bayonetta is a constant assault on one’s senses, doing everything in such a way to let you know that it’s all deliberate and expecting you to nod your head and let it all wash over you in a flood of pseudo-religious imagery, goofy references to other video games, absurd stripper hair moves and cheeky british accents. That worked for a while, but it never lets up and the game is around 10 hours long. I’m clearly the one with the problem on this one, but by the end I found the game’s tone grating and try-hard rather than genuinely amusing or entertaining. That still doesn’t change the fact that it plays incredibly well, and it’s still not nearly as bad as the unironic bad high-school anime stylings of Valkyria Chronicles II or the “HEY LOOK HOW WACKY AND ANIME WE ARE” tone of Disgaea, but I feel like it deserves a mention if I’m giving a recommendation to someone else. So that’s why I wrote about it. 4 stars?

Well, that was a lot of writing, wasn’t it? Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to watch Brad brute-force his way through a video game with a combination of cheese tactics, seething rage and Vinny’s constant optimism in lieu of actually learning how to play it well.

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ArbitraryWater versus generic fantasy games

OR: I stop playing a game that I stopped enjoying, both to my own shock and that of others.

Well, now I've done it.
Well, now I've done it.

Oh hi internet. Short-term unemployment has its benefits, especially when you’re living at home and don’t have to pay for anything. One of these benefits is the ability to spend far too much time on dumb nerd stuff, like the video games, when your parents aren’t getting on your case about where direction you want to go in with one’s life. I’ve also started reading books again (The Emperor’s Soul is a nice, short story that exhibits Brandon Sanderson’s strengths as a writer. The Rithmatist does as well, but it also is dragged down by all of the dumb stuff that is part and parcel with Young Adult novels) and using the money I got from my previous job I’ve made poor life choices in regards to cheap Ebay purchases. I bought a copy of Soul Calibur 2 for the Gamecube, because Link is in it, and also that Bioware-developed Sonic RPG so I could write another blog where I mercilessly make fun of something. I’ve similarly come close to pulling the trigger on $30 copies of Suikoden V, a game that taunts me with its rarity despite the part where I’m intimidated by lengthy JRPGs and still haven’t finished Chrono Cross. Money is a dangerous thing. That I know for sure. But hey, video games that I’ve owned for a while!

Kingdoms of Amalur is an ok fantasy game

Not generic at all!
Not generic at all!

And not much more. You may recall me giving it an honorable mention in my GOTY blog of last year, but that was only 15 hours in. Now, at around 40 hours and nearing the end of the main questline (to not even talk about the dozens of side-quests that I’ve deliberately ignored and also The House of Sorrows), I think I may have reached my limit. It’s a mechanically solid game with a lot of smart ideas regarding combat and character building but it doesn’t execute on them well enough to last for its entire length, and the other aspects of the game (i.e. the world and the writing in general) don’t pick up the slack well enough to make me want to slog through another dozen or so hours of tediously easy button mashing just so I can claim to have finished a game I think ran out of steam a dozen hours previous. In essence, it would be better if it were 2/3rds as long, had better loot, more nuanced combat and wasn’t as easily exploitable. All things that a sequel could fix, but… well… you know the likelihood of that. Thanks Obama Curt Schilling.

Definitely not a single-player MMO!
Definitely not a single-player MMO!

But I’ll back up a bit. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is the only game that was ever put out by 38 Studios (developed by the also defunct Big Huge Games) and will probably be the only true legacy of all the insanity that studio went through last year. It is one of two open-world RPGs with heavy emphasis on combat that came out in 2012, but unlike Dragon’s Dogma and its indefinite cross between Dark Souls, Monster Hunter and maybe the Elder Scrolls, the influences of KoA are far more distinct and easily recognizable. The game is basically a single-player MMO with God of War-esque combat and color-coded loot with prefixes like it was Diablo. The world is split into zones, all full of individuals with exclamation marks above their heads indicating that you should go to X and kill X or otherwise be someone’s glorified errand boy, but there are also some elder scrolls-like guild questlines and a main story that you’ll probably forget exists most of the time. On paper, all of this sounds alright. On paper. In actuality, the world is sort of boring and generic and at some point I started to ignore most of the extraneous dialogue that the game offered to me. While there were a few quests here and there that I found to be interesting and well-written, the vast majority of them are pretty forgettable tasks from lazy peasants who can’t bother to do anything themselves. I didn’t necessarily take this as an issue, since story is probably the most ignorable part of this game, and unlike something like say… Valkyria Chronicles II, it was never aggressively bad enough to earn any sort of major reprimand from me.

Something that I appreciated about the otherwise middling Jade Empire was that the “evil” solutions often revolved around telling people to solve their own goddamn problems instead of making you do all their busy work. Amalur could’ve really used some more of that.
Something that I appreciated about the otherwise middling Jade Empire was that the “evil” solutions often revolved around telling people to solve their own goddamn problems instead of making you do all their busy work. Amalur could’ve really used some more of that.

For me, a bad story isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, and initially Reckoning’s gameplay is pretty neat. You have a pretty flexible character development system that allows for easy respec-ing and a combat system that allows for combo-based enemy beating. And, early on, it worked for me. Playing on hard with a Finesse/Magic hybrid character, I was better off dodging attacks and throwing chakrams than directly engaging against enemies capable of taking off chunks of my health and stunning me out of attack animations. But at some point around that 20 hour mark the tables started to turn and I started to steamroll most of what opposed me. This is partially because the game overlevels you with all of the various quests it throws at you, but also because you can start socketing “+2 health regen per second” gems in most of your armor and become virtually unkillable as a result. It also didn’t hurt that I switched my character over to the “Jack of All Trades” hybrid archetype and enjoyed all of the damage-boosting and survivability benefits that came with it. And that was pretty fun, for a while. But around today I… finally just got bored of it. I’ve been using the same weapons for the last 4 or so hours because the loot drops are sort of bad, I have an inordinate amount of gold because there’s rarely anything to spend it on and I can sort of win all of the combat by pressing X a bunch, possibly with my eyes closed. I’ve proven that I will finish games for the sake of finishing them, but you know what? I think I’m good. While excessive grinding is sometimes cathartic for me, I still have Bayonetta and Devil Survivor to finish and I’d much rather spend my time on those then deal with whatever excitement no doubt awaits me at the end of Kingdoms of Amalur. Will I defeat the Tuatha? Will I defy fate? Will I possibly press X a bunch after using that ability that makes it so I ignore hitstun? Who knows? Not I. Not I.

But, to not end this blog on a downer, here’s something that I did like:

Quest for Glory is a surprisingly decent fantasy game

Just remember to type FEED BEAR and you'll be good. Oh wait, I played the VGA version because text parsers are scary.
Just remember to type FEED BEAR and you'll be good. Oh wait, I played the VGA version because text parsers are scary.

I finished (the VGA version of) Quest for Glory with some mild cheating involved, which is to say that I sometimes used a guide because old adventure games sure do love them some obscure and retarded puzzle solutions, especially when Sierra is concerned. That being said, as far as Sierra games go, it’s actually pretty straightforward and logical in the way it presents its puzzles (which makes me assume that Roberta Williams had no real hand in this title) and the addition of RPG elements and different classes actually makes the game far more interesting than it otherwise would be. It still trades a lot on deliberately bad puns and a decidedly goofy sense of humor, but I’ll admit that some of the parts of the game got a chuckle out of me for as antiquated as any sort of reference to Monty Python or that Jim Henson puppet dinosaur show could be. The way the classes are laid out seems rather clever, and playing as a Thief, I was pleasantly surprised to find that some of the puzzle solutions involved sneaking past things or stealing junk. Oh sure, I still skimmed a guide because my time is valuable and I don’t feel like drawing a map, but if there was a Sierra adventure game series that holds up the least poorly, QFG may be it. We’ll find out… once I finish the other 4 games in the series, which thankfully is mostly relegated to the DOS era and only the final game in the series looking like it fell out of 1998. I’m going to see how long it takes before I resort to a guide for (the VGA version of) QFG2. I’m guessing like an hour, given the way that the streets are laid out.

But to really not end this blog on a dour note, here's a speedrun of Temple of Elemental Evil done in 4 minutes. You're welcome.

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