Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge - Part Four

<< Part Three - The Clownbat Under The MountainBack to the Pokémon CenterPart Five - Grounded Lightning >>

Hey guys, and welcome to Part Four of my Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge. As always, if you're not familiar with the concept of a 'Nuzlocke', I highly recommend starting with Part Zero of this blog series, as it should answer any questions you might have about the specifics of this self-imposed challenge. If you've missed any of the previous episodes, you can access them by way of the handy-dandy navigation bars at the top and bottom of this blog, so you can flick back and forth between episodes.

Today's entry should be a pretty eventful one - it covers Route 25, the gym battle with Misty, and the subsequent journey south over Routes 5 and 6 to reach Vermilion City. Get yourselves comfy, kids. It's time for the continued adventures of Team Judi Drench to resume...

Part Four - Two Badges, Three Fallen Comrades

That's right, I'm taking the soap opera approach with this one. Over the course of this blog, three members of the team will die valiantly in battle, giving their lives so that their surviving companions might proceed. But who will it be? Will Rosie the Mankey's pitiful defence finally be her undoing? Will Beryl the Rattata bite off more than she can chew with her Hyper Fang? Or could it be that our very own Judi Drench, the series' mascot, meets a premature demise? The answer lies beyond this paragraph, dear reader...

Hiker Nob and his army of Geodude will always be my favourite thing about Route 25

After resting up and making some small changes to our party at the end of the last instalment, the first thing I want to do is take Mandragora, our newly acquired Oddish, out into battle to get some crucial training in before challenging Misty. Being part Grass-type, he's currently the only Pokémon we have that poses a super-effective threat to Misty's Water-types, so I want him to at least be strong enough to hold his own in the Cerulean City gym. Route 25 seems like the best place for this, an area filled with as-yet unchallenged trainers and buckets of Exp ripe for the taking. With Mandragora at the head of my party, I start navigating my way through the maze of hedges and trainers towards Bill's house - we may as well stop by and grab the S.S. Ticket while we're here, I figure.

Initially everything goes smoothly. The indigenous trainers of Route 25 don't throw anything particularly difficult at me, mostly Bug- and Normal-types that don't stand up very well to Bird Jesus' winning combination of strength and speed. All is going well until I meet a young male Camper with an Ekans and a Sandshrew. I think nothing of it - I've taken down loads of Ekans while training on Route 4, and Sandshrew won't be able to stand up to a Water Gun from Judi Drench. I switch Mandragora out and bring in Rufus the Butterfree, knowing his Confusion will make short work of the Ekans. Rufus switches into a Poison Sting that not only finds its mark, but inflicts the dreaded Poison status effect as well. I check my inventory - no Antidotes. Fuck. Even so, I'm pretty sure I can ride this one out. Rufus gets off two Confusions to put the Ekans down, living to fight another day...

...or so I think.

What I've forgotten is that in this Nuzlocke, I've employed the rule that keeps the Battle Style at 'Set' rather than 'Shift'. The chance I thought I would have to safely switch out Rufus doesn't exist. Instead, the opposing trainer immediately brings out his Sandshrew, and the last red sliver of my beloved Butterfree's HP is consumed by his Poison and disappears into black nothingness.

NOOOOOOOO!!!!!

It's hard to articulate the feelings that swell up in me as Rufus dies, never again to be used in battle. There's a definite pang of sadness that aches in my chest, combined with a sense of shock, and also of fear as I realise my seemingly invincible party is, in fact, as mortal as you or I. Later on, back at the PC in the Cerulean City Pokémon Center, I deposit Rufus into 'the Graveyard' (a special box on my PC reserved for fallen Pokémon), and the 'what if' thoughts begin. What if I'd switched him out sooner? What if I'd used a Super Potion instead of forcing that second Confusion? There are other rhetorical questions I could recount, but ultimately the 'what ifs' don't matter. Rufus is gone.

I fill the all-too-apparent hole in my team with Uri Geller, the Abra I caught on Route 24 towards the end of Part Three. He is level 10, he only knows Teleport, and for a while I resent him. He doesn't know any attacking moves like Confusion. He doesn't have access to useful moves like Poisonpowder and Stun Spore. He is a shitty, Adamant-natured Abra who only knows Teleport. He isn't Rufus. Sighing and cursing, I leave the Pokémon Center and once more return to Route 25 to resume the grind.

Team Judi Drench makes it through the rest of the trainers without incident. I'm lucky enough to land a lot of critical hits in the remaining battles, and although I know it's a stupid thought, I like to imagine my team are fighting even harder than before to avenge their fallen friend. We soon reach Bill's house at the end of the route, and while there we give him a hand with de-Clefairy-ing himself. Our reward for returning the self-professed Pokémaniac to human form is the S.S. Ticket, an important item that we'll need in order to attend the party on board the S.S. Anne that's currently docked in Vermilion City. We say our goodbyes to Bill, and return to the patch of grass on Route 25 to do some more training.

Mandragora is levelling up fairly quickly, but the myriad Pidgey on Route 25 pose a problem for him by resisting his Absorb and doing super-effective damage with their Flying-type Gust moves. As a result I end up falling back on the Official Weak Pokémon Grinding Method™, leading with the weaker Mandragora, and then switching into one of my stronger Pokémon on the first turn of battle. I spend a pretty mindless half-hour here, battling in this fashion as Mandragora's level creeps slowly upwards.

Then, in my complacency, disaster strikes for a second time.

While battling a Pidgey, I switch out of Mandragora and into Beryl, confident that a quick Hyper Fang will put the wild bird down without a fuss. But the Hyper Fang misses, and the Pidgey uses its turn, the turn it never should have had, to Gust dear sweet Beryl out of existence.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!! :(

Beryl's death makes me feel even worse than Rufus'. At least with Rufus I felt like I was making the right decision at the time, even if hindsight told me there were better courses of action to take. With Beryl, it was sheer complacency on my part that brought about her demise, and I hate myself for it. Cradling the lifeless Rattata in my arms, I rush back to the Cerulean City Pokémon Center and place her in 'the Graveyard' beside Rufus. I've now lost two Pokémon, two of my original team, within the last hour.

I toy with the idea of bringing Clownbat into the party, but decide against it - an Electric-type gym is coming our way soon, so having two Flying-types in the party probably wouldn't be wise. Instead I bring in Monty the Ekans, feeling confident that in spite of his poor current moveset, he'll prove more of an asset long-term than the pitifully under-powered Howard the Beedrill. By now Mandragora is level 18, and while he hasn't learned any more potent Grass-type moves, he's at least strong enough to be doing a fair amount of damage with his Absorb attack. Bird Jesus is level 17, Rosie is level 16, and Judi Drench is level 21. I figure now is as good a time as any to enter the Cerulean City gym and challenge Misty for our second badge.

Misty may only have two Pokémon, but they're going to cause us a ton of trouble before this battle is over.

As with Brock's gym, I try to formulate a rough advance strategy in order to deal with Misty's powerful Staryu and Starmie. Leading with Mandragora makes the most sense, as he'll be able to resist Water-type attacks while doing super-effective damage with his Grass-type Absorb attack. In reserve I have Judi Drench, who recently learned the Dark-type attack Bite (which could come in real handy against the part-Psychic Starmie), and Bird Jesus, whose respectable strength and speed make her a reliable final member of my lead trio. Mandragora has no trouble dealing with the two trainers blocking the path to Misty - a reassuring assertion that my strategy should work. I talk to the leader of the Cerulean City gym, and begin what ends up being a much tougher battle than I anticipated.

Misty leads with her Staryu, which in turn opens the battle with Harden (an interesting tactic, considering she's just declared her strategy to be 'all-out offensive'. Mandragora tries to get a Sleep Powder up, but its unreliable accuracy causes it to miss, perhaps ultimately swaying the direction of much of the first half of this battle. Staryu easily out-speeds Mandragora and unleashes Water Pulse, a Water-type attack that also carries a chance of confusing its target. Mandragora ends up confused, and his first attempt at an Absorb becomes self-damaging. Keen not to let the confusion hurt Mandragora too much, I switch out to Judi Drench. Staryu throws out another Water Pulse and, would you believe it, Judi Drench succumbs to confusion as well.

This continues for about seven or eight turns - I switch constantly between Mandragora, Judi Drench and Bird Jesus, only to have the incoming critter damaged and confused by Staryu's Water Pulse. It's incredibly bad luck for me, considering Water Pulse's chance to confuse is apparently only 20%. I'm so busy maintaining this switcheroo song-and-dance that I completely neglect to monitor the HP of my Pokémon. Eventually Mandragora switches into an oncoming Water Pulse that it simply can't stand up to, and becomes my third Pokémon to die over the course of this blog.

NNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :'(

There will be time to grieve for Mandragora, but that time is not now. Right now I have a gym battle to win, and five other Pokémon to preserve. Judi Drench becomes my first choice, mainly because neither of his attacks will be impeded by the Staryu's Harden. It's as if Mandragora's passing has lifted a curse from the entire team, because now Staryu's Water Pulse doesn't seem able to confuse me any longer. Judi lays into Staryu with Bite, and it doesn't take long to dispose of the starfish Pokémon. It's followed by a Starmie, but as planned, that fares even worse against Judi's Bite, and doesn't stick around long enough to do any lasting damage. The residual Exp earned by Bird Jesus from Staryu also pushes her over into level 18, and a wonderful transformation occurs at the battle's end:

Misty grudgingly concedes defeat, and rewards me with the Cascadebadge and a TM containing the dreaded Water Pulse. I teach it to Judi in place of Water Gun, and hope that it might end up causing as many problems for my opponents as it has done for me today. It is a victory, but ultimately a bittersweet one - something I'm reminded of as I take Mandragora back to the Pokémon Center and lay him to rest in 'the Graveyard'. It feels strange, to have lost three companions in such a short space of time. I resolve not to replace Mandragora yet, mainly because as I said earlier, Clownbat wouldn't be a good idea so close to the Electric-type gym, and Howard just isn't strong enough to cut the mustard. I decide to roll with a party of five for now, and see what the next few potential captures bring.

Which begs the question - if Team Rocket are really so villainous, why the hell haven't you locked them up yet?

Now that Misty is beaten and the Cascadebadge is in our possession, we can move on to Route 5 and pick up that next capture. The path to Route 5 is a little bit around-the-houses (or more literally, though-the-houses) and involves an encounter with another member of the mysterious Team Rocket, who's apparently just ransacked a nearby house. Given the local police force are far too pre-occupied with standing around to apprehend this rapscallion, it's up to Judi Drench and co. to dish out some cold hard justice. His Pokémon don't stand up at all to my onslaught, and after suffering so many losses in such a short space of time, it's reassuring to see that my team can still fight well even in its weakened state. The fleeing villain leaves behind the TM for the Ground-type move Dig, which is sure to come in handy against Lt. Surge's Electric-type Pokémon in the next gym. I decide to hold onto it for the time being - I'd hate to teach it to one of the team, only to lose them in a trainer battle on the S.S. Anne.

Following the path down to Route 5, I quickly head over to the nearest patch of grass and search through it until I find the first new encounter of the area - a female Meowth. I've never trained a Meowth myself, and figure it might make a suitable substitute for Beryl as our new sort-of-speedy Normal-type. I wear it down with Monty the Ekans and manage to catch it comfortably in a Poké Ball.

This little lady has the ability Pickup, meaning she randomly finds useful items as I walk around. That's sure to come in handy and will hopefully save me from spending so much money on healing items.

With Kit-E-Kat the Meowth joining the party as its (possibly) temporary sixth member, all that remains to be done before wrapping this part of the Nuzlocke up is to head south through the Underground Passage towards Route 6 and Vermilion City, our next big destination. Route 6 doesn't yield any new captures, as we've already caught all the native Pokémon species before (specifically Pidgey, Oddish and Meowth), but the trainer battles on the route do enable Uri Geller to hit level 16, providing the team with yet another evolution:

I forgot to get a picture of the actual evolution screen, so this will have to do. I'm still really bummed about that Adamant nature, by the way.

I head south from the terminus of the Underground Passage, clearing Route 6 of trainers along the way, until I finally arrive in Vermilion City. What adventures await us in this sunny port town? I'm afraid you'll have to wait until the next part of this blog series to find out, as this is where Part Four ends...

Progress Report:

Time: 6:20 --- Location: Vermilion City --- Deaths: 3
The Graveyard

As always, thanks very much for reading the latest instalment in my Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge blog series. Part Five should hopefully be up on Tuesday, and will most likely chronicle the party's visit to the S.S. Anne and their attempt to win a Thunderbadge from the mighty Lt. Surge. Until then, take care, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Pokémon FireRed Version (GBA)

<< Part Three - The Clownbat Under The MountainBack to the Pokémon CenterPart Five - Grounded Lightning >>
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Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge - Part Three

<< Part Two - Rockin' With BrockBack to the Pokémon CenterPart Four - Two Badges, Three Fallen Comrades >>

A very happy Tuesday to one and all, and welcome to the third part of my Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge. As usual, I'll get the formalities out of the way first. If the word 'Nuzlocke' means nothing to you beyond looking like a loan-word of dubious origin, then I highly recommend checking out Part Zero of this series before you begin - it explains in detail the mechanics of this alternative way of playing Pokémon, and should answer any questions you might have. If you've missed any previous episodes, I'm now including handy-dandy navigation bars at the top and bottom of every blog so you can easily flick back and forth through the series. When the series is over, the 'Back to the Pokémon Center' option will turn into a link taking you to a 'hub blog' listing every episode. For those of you who have caught up, let's pick up our adventure where we left off - at the foot of the ominous Mount Moon...

Part Three - The Clownbat Under The Mountain

That dark entrance represents the start of a perilous journey through our most dangerous challenge yet. Also it's full of really annoying Zubat.

We resume our journey having just rested our party in the Pokémon Center at the foot of Mount Moon - a cavern linking Pewter City to Cerulean City, the next objective of our journey. Before delving into the mountain's depths, though, I decide to back-track a bit and get a bit more grinding done on Route 4. The time spent battling countless Spearow, Pidgey and Nidoran pays off as Rufus and Howard (a.k.a. "ManBugCow") once again evolve, this time to reach their final forms:

With the two buffed-up bugs taking residence in my team, and most of my other party members boasting a couple more levels under their belts too, I rest up at the Pokémon Center one last time before entering the ominous, towering mountain before me. First order of the day is, naturally, to run around like a headless chicken near the mountain entrance until we get our first encounter. Unsurprisingly, it's a Zubat. Disappointed that we couldn't have attracted a Geodude for a little bit of party diversity, I throw a Poké Ball and bring the flapping nuisance onto our side.

Practically nobody who reads this will understand the nickname, but I don't care. Long live the somewhat clownish Zubat!

Given that our party is currently comprised of a full six, Clownbat is automatically beamed over to Box 1 of Bill's PC. It's reassuring to know that I'm now at a point in the Nuzlocke where if anything bad happens to my team, I at least have some reserve Pokémon in the PC that I can fall back on. With our capture for the area secured I start moving deeper into Mount Moon, with Judi Drench fearlessly leading the way at the head of my party. With all the experience he's hoovering up, it doesn't come as much of a surprise when this happens fairly early on in my journey through the mountain:

Judi is definitely the figurehead of the challenge so far at this point. He's proving to be my hero, at least.

It's nice how, even at this fairly early stage in the run, my Pokémon are beginning to settle into defined 'roles' within the team. Judi Drench is the closest thing we have to a tank right now, his slightly higher level and access to Withdraw allowing him to soak up lots of physical damage without too much worry. Rosie the Mankey is our physical powerhouse while Rufus the Butterfree is establishing himself as the special attacker thanks to his recently-acquired Confusion attack. Finally, Beryl the Rattata and Bird Jesus the Pidgey are both super-speedy, letting them get hits in and take wild Pokémon down before they have a chance to even think. The only team member who hasn't really assumed a role is poor old Howard the Beedrill.

Our first showdown against the evil Team Rocket is pretty anticlimactic

A little ways into the mountain, I start to encounter members of the nefarious Team Rocket, who are apparently here to steal Pokémon fossils or something (man, this game's story is disjointed as fuck). It's around this point that I learn a valuable lesson and switch my team around so Rosie is my first Pokémon out in battle. The reason for this is that while she's a pretty strong physical attacker who's quick enough to get the one-up against most opponents, she's also my most frail Pokémon defensively. Switching her in to deal with this Rocket Grunt's Rattata leaves her open to a critical hit that very nearly kills her outright. Not wanting to take chances again, I switch my team up accordingly, and Rosie starts coming out first.

I genuinely picked this in the hope it might bestow some bad luck on the challenge at some point. Two fingers up to the mighty Helix!

The journey through Mount Moon isn't actually as bad as I'd hyped it up to be. In fact, I think it might have been a slightly calmer journey than my one through Viridian Forest in the last instalment. Sure, the wild Pokémon are stronger, but so are my team, and unlike the threat of Poison in the forest, there's no real long-term risks for being in here apart from the possibility of running out of Potions (and don't worry, I'm well-stocked with those at the moment). The fact I now have the added comfort of an Escape Rope in the inventory, just in case my fortunes suddenly turn, is also reassuring. As I come to the end of this subterranean mountain pass, I do battle with a Super Nerd who rewards my victory with a choice of two fossils. I pick the Dome Fossil, which I'll definitely be reviving on Cinnabar Island and counting as my capture for that area, if the run ever makes it that far.

*breathes in deeply* Ahhhhh, fresh air!

It's not far from there to the exit of Mount Moon, and I emerge once more into the warmth and light of the ever-present Kanto sun (seriously Game Freak, no day/night cycle? What gives?). This eastern terminus of Route 4 features a patch of grass, which means I once again have an opportunity to capture another reserve Pokémon for our PC. The candidate is an Ekans, a Pokémon I've never had the pleasure of training due to it being a (Fire)Red exclusive (I grew up with Blue, and later played LeafGreen). It doesn't put up much of a fight, surrendering to the iron grip of its Poké Ball with no real resistance. I name him Monty and bid him farewell as he zooms off to Bill in the ether of the data-stream. I think about the possibility of swapping him into the team in place of Howard, who seems to have exhausted what little usefulness he once had, but decide against it - if all goes well, I should be able to get hold of something much more useful in the short-term a little way ahead.

Monty the snake. Like Monty Python. Geddit?

From Monty's home in the long grass of Route 4, I keep moving east until I finally arrive in Cerulean City. As usual, the first ports of call are the city's Pokémon Center (to restore my weakened team after their arduous mountain journey) and Poké Mart (to replenish my stock of Potions and other healing items).

I love the music for this place. I love pretty much all the music in this game, come to think of it - it brings back a lot of fond childhood memories.

With my Pokémon healed and my item bag refilled, I have a decision to make - do I take on the Cerulean Gym Leader Misty now, or do I head north first to visit Bill and potentially get another couple of captures? I opt for the second choice, mainly because I stand a chance of meeting a Grass-type Pokémon on the northern routes, and catching one of those would put us in a much better position for Misty's gym. It also means a bit more training for my team, and the stronger we are when we face off against the next gym leader, the better. So I head north from the Pokémon Center, about to take my first step onto Route 24, when who should appear but our good friend Duncan.

I completely forgot this was going to happen. Oh shit.

Duncan's sudden arrival catches me completely off-guard - I'd forgotten that there's a rival battle here. What's worse is that although my team have made it unscathed through Mount Moon, they're still painfully underlevelled for this battle (Judi Drench, my highest-level Pokémon, is only level 17 at this point). I have foolishly walked into a battle that could very possibly result in the first death (or deaths) of the Nuzlocke. Duncan's first Pokémon out is a level 17 Pidgeotto, a monstrous threat that I elect to counter with Judi Drench. He soaks up the physical hits reassuringly well, and manages to whittle away at the bird with his Water Gun until it faints. Next up is his level 18 Bulbasaur, which doesn't stand a chance against the type advantage of the lower-levelled Bird Jesus. His level 16 Abra only seems to know the useless Teleport, which puts it at a huge disadvantage against Howard's Poison Sting and Fury Attack combo, and Rosie finishes the job by knocking out his level 15 Rattata with a single Karate Chop.

The levels may not have been in my favour, but thankfully strategy prevailed on this occasion.

Sensing that I have pretty much enough material to make up a whole blog at this point, I decide to do a quick run of Nugget Bridge, make my captures for Routes 24 and 25, and then head back to the Cerulean City Pokémon Center to save my progress. Nugget Bridge is the name for the trainer-laden bridge that makes up the western path of Route 24. Beat all five trainers and the sixth trainer at the end of the bridge gives you a shiny Nugget as a reward for your battling prowess.

Well that was easy. Almost annoyingly so. I hope this Nuzlocke starts to get a bit more taxing soon.

With the perils of Nugget Bridge now behind me, all that remains to be done is to grab my potential captures on these two Routes before I wrap this episode up. First up is Route 24, where it takes me a little while to find a new encounter (I am very happy I invoked the duplicates clause on this run). Eventually I stumble upon an Abra. Fuck is my instant reaction - Abra have an annoying habit of teleporting away on the very first turn of battle. My only hope is to just throw a Poké Ball at it, without wearing down its health at all, and crossing my fingers as tightly as possible. And, by some miracle delivered from the Nuzlocke gods themselves, the Abra doesn't break free, and I nail my capture for the route:

Because what else are you going to call a Pokémon that bends spoons? Shame about the terrible Nature, though...

My Route 25 capture is more straightforward, but also possibly more important to the run overall. It's a male Oddish, a Grass-type that's sure to come in handy if I intend to put Misty out to pasture.

Welcome to the team, Mandragora. Looks like we've got some trainin' to do...

With two more captures secured, I head south again, back across Nugget Bridge and into Cerulean City. After healing up my team at the Pokémon Center, my final act of this instalment is to make the first party switch of the challenge thus far. Mandragora comes in at the expense of Howard the Beedrill, who just wasn't pulling his weight within the team dynamic any more. He joins Clownbat, Monty and Uri Geller in the PC, where they shall most likely stay until such time as I need to call upon their assistance. With our slightly amended team ready to go, it's time to put in some hard work training before we can finally take on Misty for our second badge...

Progress Report:

Time: 4:38 --- Location: Cerulean City --- Deaths: 0

I guess that'll do it for Part Three of my Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge. I'll be preparing Part Four this week so it can go up this weekend. If all goes to plan, Judi Drench and co. will be meeting Bill, battling Misty, and leaving for pastures new on the way to Vermilion City. You can expect the next part to go up this coming weekend (probably Sunday, as Saturday looks set to be a very busy day indeed for me). Until then, thanks very much for reading, take care, and I'll see you around.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Pokémon FireRed Version (GBA)

<< Part Two - Rockin' With BrockBack to the Pokémon CenterPart Four - Two Badges, Three Fallen Comrades >>
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Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge - Part Two

<< Part One - It's A Team-Building ExerciseBack to the Pokémon CenterPart Three - The Clownbat Under The Mountain >>

Good day one and all, and welcome to Part Two of my Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge. Over the next few weeks I'm planning to play through this remake of the original Pokémon Red, with a set of self-imposed rules intended to make the game both more challenging and more interesting, and periodically blogging about my progress along the way. If you're not familiar with the concept of a 'Nuzlocke' run, or if you are and want to know what variations of the core rules I've chosen to adopt, then you can read about the foundations for the series in this blog here. If you missed the previous episode, you can find Part One - It's A Team-Building Exercise here. The rest of us will be picking up rookie trainer Dan's journey right where we left off - at the entrance to the menacing Viridian Forest...

Part Two - Rockin' With Brock

Don't be fooled by the pleasant outward appearance - Viridian Forest is a hive of danger, where one Poison Sting could spell doom for Judi Drench and co.

Trekking through Viridian Forest is without a doubt the scariest thing I've had to face in this Nuzlocke run so far. Most of the wild Pokémon in here aren't that strong, and even thought the Bug Catcher trainers dotted around the forest boast high-level Bug-type Pokémon, they're either weak first-forms like Caterpie, or second-forms with no attacking moves like Metapod. The threat comes from the seemingly innocuous Weedle, and its Poison Sting attack - a move with pitiful base power, but that stands a decent chance of inflicting the Poison status effect on my my still-forming party. Because Poisoned Pokémon take damage outside of battle as well as in, and due to the distance I've come from the Pokémon Center in Viridian City, there's a very real possibility that untreated Poison could result in a Pokémon's premature demise.

As a precaution, I spend ALL of my spare cash on Antidotes. It may be a short-sighted investment, but if it means not dying of Poison, it's definitely worth it.

The first order of the day, being as I've just stepped into a new area, is to find and hopefully capture a new Pokémon to add to my blossoming band of critters. My first encounter is a Weedle, which I manage to wear down and trap in one of my Poké Balls without getting Poisoned. As I hinted at in the previous episode, I named the Weedle 'Howard', completing my 'ManBugCow' in-game double-act.

For some reason I didn't get a screenshot of Howard the Weedle's summary screen, so I guess this proof of capture will have to do. Also, so what if Howard's a girl?

After heading back to Viridian City Pokémon Center to heal up my new addition, I commit to blitzing through the forest as quickly as I possibly can. It's a fraught, tense journey in which I use up all but one of my precious Antidotes, and I very nearly lose Rosie the Mankey to the trainer with the level 9 Weedle hanging out near the forest's exit. When I finally do emerge on the other side of the forest, I breathe an audible sigh of relief. The nearby grass is still technically Route 2, so I can't actually capture anything here. Instead I head straight for Pewter City, to rest up in the Pokémon Center.

New places, new faces, but the same ol' red-roofed buildings.

The next important destination on my Pokémon journey is the Pewter City Gym, to take on the leader Brock for my first gym badge. However, there's a slight problem with this course of action - namely, my team is cripplingly under-levelled. Because I didn't have the luxury of being able to endure Poison in Viridian Forest, my team hasn't gained a great number of levels since the end of Part One. I decide to rectify this by heading south, into the patch of grass at the northern end of Route 2, and doing some grinding to bring my party a bit more up to scratch. The experience yield isn't as great as it would be in Viridian Forest, but there's less chance of running into any Weedle, and I'm closer to the Pokémon Center if anything does go terribly wrong. I get Rosie the Mankey up to lv11, Judi Drench to lv13, and pull the rest of my party up a few levels for good measure. It's here that I get my first evolutions of the Nuzlocke, with Rufus and Howard both evolving up to their second stage (Metapod and Kakuna respectively):

With my team in a slightly more competitive state after this spate of grinding, I head back to the Pokémon Center to heal and to plan my strategy against Brock. This isn't something I've ever really felt the need to do when playing a Pokémon game before, and definitely not in the case of the very first gym. Usually I can just fall back on my knowledge of the type chart and rely on the questionable trainer AI to make poor move decisions while I whale on their Pokémon with super-effective moves, but on this occasion I'm not willing to take that risk, even if it is a pretty small one. Brock's Rock-type Pokémon have weaknesses to Water- and Fighting-types, represented in my team by Judi Drench and Rosie respectively. However, they also have high physical defences, so I reason that I'll be better off leading with the special-oriented Judi Drench, keeping the physical-oriented Rosie in reserve. Judi Drench also has a higher physical defence stat which I can boost with Withdraw, so he'll stand a better chance of shrugging off Brock's powerful Rock-type attacking moves. With a plan in place, I head for the Pewter City Gym and our first big face-off of the Nuzlocke.

Let's dance, Brocko!

The regular trainer standing between myself and Brock goes down pretty easily, although his Sandshrew sticks around a little longer than I would've liked and manages to get a bit of damage off on Judi Drench. Thankfully it's nothing a Potion can't cure, and no sooner have I taken him down a peg than I'm standing in front of Brock himself. This is it, guys - our first gym battle...

At least Brock wears a shirt in this remake. His topless, arms-crossed stance always bothered me in Blue.

Brock leads with a level 12 Geodude, and I start with Judi Drench. Judi opens with a Withdraw to strengthen his shell against any physical onslaught, a wise decision as the opposing Geodude throws a Tackle in my direction. That's the only move Geodude manages to get off, as a Water Gun from Judi takes it down in one fell swoop. Next out is his ace, the level 14 Onix. It starts with Bind, locking Judi into battle and doing extra damage at the end of the turn to boot. Judi throws out another Water Gun, taking Onix's HP instantly down to the red zone. The helpless Onix's final action is to use Harden, a futile act considering its bolstered physical defence has no impact on the special-oriented damage of Judi's final Water Gun. Onix relinquishes its hold on Judi and faints as Brock calls it back to his Poké Ball. The battle is over, and we've won without any losses to our team. Judi Drench even goes up a level, to boot.

One badge down, seven to go. Maybe this Nuzlocke thing isn't going to be as difficult as I thought...

Brock hands over the Boulderbadge in recognition of our consummate victory, and also gives us the TM for Rock Tomb. I decide to teach it to Rosie to give her some move coverage against dangerous Flying types. I then skip back to the Pokémon Center to heal before taking the next step on our journey, east onto Route 3. At the route entrance, I'm stopped by one of Professor Oak's Aides, who has a special gift to pass on to me from my mother back in Pallet Town:

AT LAST! I CAN MOVE QUICKLY NOW!!!

Thinking this episode has gone on for quite a long time already, I vow to make my way through Route 3's trainers, pick up my capture for the route, and bring things to a halt when I reach the Pokémon Center at the entrance to Mount Moon. The trainers that populate the maze-like configuration at the route's entrance actually serve to give me a harder time than Brock, probably more because of the type diversity than anything else. There's a lot of switching in and out and quite a few Potions are used, necessitating a return to the Pewter City Poké Mart to restock my item supplies. Once all of the trainers are down for the count, though, it's smooth sailing to the route's main patch of grass where I encounter my potential capture for the area - a level 7 Pidgey. I try to go in lightly, but a Quick Attack from Beryl the Rattata winds up doing critical damage, and the Pidgey is left with only a sliver of HP remaining. I throw a Poké Ball next turn, which easily finds its mark and gives our team its sixth official member:

After all the Twitch Plays Pokémon goodness, there was no way I could nickname my Pidgey anything else.

With a full team of Pokémon at my command and one badge safely pinned to my chest, I'm beginning to feel a little more comfortable about things at this point. Next up is Mount Moon, which is almost as sure to prove a challenge as it is to throw a Zubat my way as my first capture...

Progress Report:

Time: 2:15 --- Location: Route 4 --- Deaths: 0

I think that high note closes Part Two of my Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge quite nicely, if I do say no myself. The next episode will probably focus on our journey through the mountain caves and into Celadon City, and may even stretch as far as taking on Misty for our second badge. If all goes to plan, that episode should be up for your reading pleasure on Tuesday. Until then, thanks very much for reading, take care, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Pokémon FireRed Version (GBA)

<< Part One - It's A Team-Building ExerciseBack to the Pokémon CenterPart Three - The Clownbat Under The Mountain >>
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Letting Off Some Steam - March Edition

It's the second Saturday of March, which means it's once again time to start looking through my vast digitally distributed backlog in search of unfinished games to feature in this month's instalment of...

March Edition - Point-and-Click Adventures!

If you're not familiar with this monthly featurette, permit me to get you up to speed. Letting Off Some Steam is a blog I'm planning to run on the second weekend of every month in 2014, in which I look at some of the games I've bought on Steam but never had the time or the inclination to play through. The hope is that by doing this I can decide which of these games interest me the most, which in turn should help me to better prioritise my Steam backlog. This month's 'theme' for Letting Off Some Steam is point-and-click adventure games, and first up on the agenda is...

Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars (Director's Cut)

The environments look great, but I'm not keen on the character art

The first thing that came into my head upon starting this remastered version of the original Broken Sword was "damn, that's some bad voice acting". The unconvincing French accent of Nico's voice actress doesn't make a great first impression. Thankfully, the game managed to redeem itself once it got going. Having not played the original version of Broken Sword, I don't have a point of reference to talk about gameplay changes, so I'm purely judging the Director's Cut on its own merits here. The point-and-click gameplay and inventory interface are both intuitive to use and visually well-presented. The glowing 'points of interest' on-screen proved helpful in my exploration of the environments, but at the same time I still felt in complete control of the experience and not like I was being guided. I'm not a huge fan of the updated character art, but all in all Broken Sword seems like an interesting adventure game, and one that I'll probably be coming back to in the future.

Jolly Rover

Jolly Rover exceeded my expectations by bringing a lot of heart and some funny quips to the table

Can a game sucker-punch a human being? Because I'm pretty sure that's what Jolly Rover did to me in the half-hour I spent playing it earlier today. Before that, it was just a by-product of buying a cheap indie game bundle - something I had no interest in playing. Now, it's a charming, funny indie adventure game that I'm very keen to get back to playing as soon as possible. The art direction is simple but appealing, and the humorous dialogue had me chuckling to myself numerous times. In terms of both its gameplay and its presentation it reminds me of the remake of Secret of Monkey Island I played a few years ago, to the point where I'm curious as to whether it's running on the same engine. It also seems to have a well-implemented hint system whereby you can trade in-game collectibles in exchange for advice on how to progress. Jolly Rover is definitely one of those cases where I was very glad to have my preconceptions shattered.

Loom

It's certainly unique, but that isn't enough to keep me interested in playing Loom

Of all four games I played in preparation for this month's Letting Off Some Steam, Loom is the one that left me feeling the most divided. On the one hand, I admire its efforts to break the conventional point-and-click mould in terms of its simplified interface and music-based object interaction. It's also the game that seems to be telling the most interesting story out of everything I sampled today. On the other hand, though, the lack of a detailed interface or inventory, or even a book of 'drafts' (the game's name for sequences of notes that affect objects) left me feeling like I lacked the proper information I needed in order to play. It also moves painfully slowly, even by the standards of the usually methodical point-and-click genre. Add those shortcomings to its outdated presentation and the result is a game I'm not sure I'm willing to persevere with - a real shame, considering how interesting the game's premise is.

Tales of Monkey Island

Guybrush Threepwood is as funny as ever in Telltale's episodic Monkey Island revival

I love the way Telltale do adventure games. Last year it was The Walking Dead that got its claws into me, and the year before that it was the first season of Sam and Max. Tales of Monkey Island is pretty close to the latter when it comes to both presentation and gameplay (a fact which also served as a welcome reminder I should really get back to playing through the rest of the dog-and-rabbity-thing duo's episodic adventures). As you'd expect from a Monkey Island game, it's also pretty funny to boot - the opening forty minutes of Episode 1 were full of referential jokes and other oddities that had me gleefully giggling at Guybrush throughout. If I had to level one complaint at the game, it's that the inventory management side of things seems a little messy . Combining inventory items in particular seems unnecessarily clunky - why I can't I just drag one item over another and release? That's a relatively minor quibble, though, and one that I'm sure won't keep me from playing through the Tales of Monkey Island series at some point down the line.

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That just about does it for another instalment of Letting Off Some Steam. Out of these four games, I think it's going to be Jolly Rover that I return to first, while Loom is the lowest priority of them all. It's been a pretty fun edition to write, actually, and a good example of why this was worth doing in the first place, because I probably would never have even installed Jolly Rover otherwise.

Away from Steam, I'm continuing to work my way through Final Fantasy VIII little by little. I'm right at the end of Disc 2 now, I believe, and am about to confront Sorceress Edea inside Galbadia Garden. I also spent the last week or so playing through the 3DS version of LEGO The Lord of the Rings, which my good friend @ThomasMayhew got me for my birthday last week. Having never played a LEGO game before I had a surprising amount of fun romping through its cutesy, brick-based version of Middle Earth. I finished the main quest with a completion percentage around 70%, but I'm still dipping in and out of it at the moment to find more hidden items and unlock new characters.

All that remains to be said at this point is thanks, as always, for reading. I'm hoping to put together the next part of my Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge tomorrow, so keep your eyes peeled for that. Until then, take care and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Final Fantasy VIII (PS3)

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Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge - Part One

<< Part Zero - Laying Down The LawsBack to the Pokémon CenterPart Two - Rockin' With Brock >>

Good day one and all, and welcome to the first proper part of my Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge blog series. Over the coming weeks I'm going to be playing through the Game Boy Advance remake of the original Pokémon Red in a way I've never played Pokémon before - under the strict and unforgiving restrictions of a Nuzlocke challenge. If you're not familiar with the concept of a Nuzlocke run, I've laid out all the rules in Part Zero of this series, which you can find by clicking this link. This first instalment will follow our intrepid hero 'Dan' as he leaves his home in Pallet Town, and embarks on a life-changing quest across the Kanto region...

Part One - It's A Team-Building Exercise

...says Professor Oak, with all the joviality of a man who is blissfully unaware of the concept of a 'Nuzlocke'.

As boring as these game introductions are once you've seen half a dozen of them, they never fail to take me back to my first time playing Pokémon Blue some fifteen years ago. In keeping with personal Pokémon tradition, I name the main character 'Dan', and my rival after one of my good friends - on this occasion, a chap named 'Duncan'. The Red and Blue/Ash and Gary stuff never really washed with me, probably because Pokémon isn't really about the story, it's more about your own journey through this wonderful world. After setting some names and scrolling through more of Oak's inane ramblings, the game plonks me down in Pallet Town, and the Nuzlocke is GO!

Our journey begins. First port of call - that PC in the top-left corner, to withdraw the all-important free Potion!

...well, sort of. There are a couple of things I need to do first. First thing I do is open up the Options menu and switch the battle mode from 'Shift' to 'Set'. This means the game won't give me the choice of switching Pokémon whenever I KO an opposing trainer's Pokémon, making battles just that little bit harder. I also check my Trainer Card to find out my ID number, the last digit of which will determined which starter Pokémon we pick at Oak's Lab.

My Trainer ID number ends in an 8, which means I'll be rolling with Squirtle as our starter. Not a bad result.

With those two things done, I leave my house and set off onto Route 1. As if my magic, Professor Oak appears, and stops me from venturing into the tall grass by offering to give me my first Pokémon. He whisks us away to his lab where Duncan is already waiting impatiently. Not wasting any time, I head straight for the Poké Ball containing Squirtle and make him our first acquisition. It's here that the challenge hits its first minor delay, because according to the Nuzlocke rules, I have to give this guy a nickname. I panic. I become oblivious to the male gender symbol beside my Squirtle's name. I bestow upon him, the nickname:

That's Dame Judi Drench to you, bucko!

It seemed like a good idea at the time - a witty pun to start the Nuzlocke off. In actuality I'm pretty sure all it's achieved is making my Squirtle hate me. But there are no undo buttons on a Nuzlocke, no take-backs - Squirtle is Judi Drench. Duncan picks a Bulbasaur, and predictably challenges me to a battle. It's here that I realise with some worry in my heart that if I don't play it safe here, I could very realistically end up failing this challenge at the very first hurdle. The initial battle is a flurry of Tackles and Tail Whips, strategy abandoned in favour of simple spamming. Thankfully Judi comes out on top, and I don't even have to use my coveted Potion.

Judi, I think this could be the start of a beautiful relationship...

With my new compadré in tow, I leave Pallet Town and make through Route 1 heading for Viridian City. On the way I bump into a few Rattata, but due to my current lack of Poké Balls, these encounters don't count for Nuzlocke purposes. Upon arriving at Viridian City I heal Judi at the Pokémon Center, then drop into the Poké Mart in order to pick up a special parcel for Professor Oak (like most other RPGs, Pokémon opens with rat-killing and fetch-quests). I run the parcel back south to Pallet, felling a few more Rattata and Pidgey along the way, and return to Oak's Lab to hand him the parcel. He thanks me by handing me a Pokédex (not hugely important), and also:

Okay guys, shit just got real.

The receipt of these Poké Balls means the Nuzlocke challenge is now officially up and running. I waste no time in running north, back onto Route 1, in search of the first addition to my team. The first Pokémon I encounter is a female Rattata, which thankfully doesn't put up much of a fight against Judi (who's now level 7 and has a Water-type attack at her disposal). The Poké Ball hits its mark first time, and this purple rat becomes the second member of my team.

Meet Bashful Beryl the Rattata. I was kinda hoping for a Pidgey, but I guess you can't win 'em all.

With another Poké Ball set at my belt I return to Viridian City and heal up my team at the Pokémon Center. I also call back into the Poké Mart to purchase some more Poké Balls and a handful of Potions and Antidotes for the likely perilous upcoming journey through Viridian Forest. From here there are two more places I can go to try and add to my team - Route 2 to the north, and Route 22 to the west. I opt to visit Route 22 first, where the first Pokémon I meet is a female Mankey. She too is no match for the raw power of Judi Drench, and joins the team without any trouble.

I was listening to AC/DC when I caught Rosie the Mankey. Hence the name.

I waste no time in heading up to Route 2 and snagging the fourth and final member of my team for this episode - a male Caterpie.

Meet Rufus the Caterpie. Here's hoping in Part Two I can find a Weedle and call it Howard. On a related note, y'all should definitely check out The ManBuyCow Podcast.

With this fantastic four now in my possession, there's one thing left to do before I wrap this part of the challenge up - specifically, I want to hit up Duncan on Route 22 and teach him a lesson (mainly so I can take his money and use it to buy more precious Potions). This means grinding out levels against wild Pokémon in the tall grass nearby. A short stint of grinding takes most of my party up between level 7 and level 9, as well as teaching me a fundamental truth about Nuzlockes - critical hits are to be feared. There were multiple occasions while training up Rosie on Route 22 that she was critically hit and reduced to only 1 or 2 HP. From here on out, I'm going to try and treat every turn as if I could be critically hit, and plan accordingly.

Now that my party seems fairly competitive, I head a little further along Route 22 and confront Duncan for our second rival battle.

It's a confrontation I almost immediately regret when I see his party - a level 9 Pidgey and a level 9 Bulbasaur aren't foes to take lightly at this early stage in the game. Thankfully I'm able to take them down without sustaining any losses, although my party is significantly weakened by the ordeal. Knowing I've got off incredibly lucky up until now, I decide to head back to Viridian City and recuperate at the Pokémon Center. The next destination is the unforgiving Viridian Forest, and I don't expect my luck to keep holding out forever...

Progress Report:

Time - 1:05 --- Location -Viridian City --- Deaths - 0

So here ends Part One of my Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge. I apologise that nothing interesting has really happened so far, but I have had a lot of fun putting this blog together. I don't often go for image-heavy formatting, so it's been nice doing something different in that respect, as well. Part Two of the series, covering Viridian Forest, Pewter City and the first gym battle, will probably be on its way this weekend, so keep your eyes peeled for that. Until then, thanks very much for reading, take care, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Pokémon FireRed Version (GBA)

<< Part Zero - Laying Down The LawsBack to the Pokémon CenterPart Two - Rockin' With Brock >>
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Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge - Part Zero

Back to the Pokémon CenterPart One - It's A Team-Building Exercise >>

If there's one thing that can be said of my user activity on Giant Bomb, it's that I enjoy writing serial blogs. In my time on this website I've put together two big blog series - January 2012's A Month in Skyrim, a daily journal chronicling my in-game actions in the most recent Elder Scrolls game from my character's own perspective; and my 'blognum opus', Enduring Final Fantasy VII, in which I replayed what is perhaps my favourite game of all time to see if it still holds up. I've also put up other semi-serialised blog content (last year's Metal Gear Madness, for instance), although I consider those to be closer to features than full-on series of blogs. Regardless, the point still stands - I like to take an idea and run with it. Preferably through the Giant Bomb blogosphere, if I can.

It's been just over two months since my time with Final Fantasy VII came to an end, and I've found myself itching to once again dive into some kind of long-term continuous blogging commitment. Having spent so much of last year with the Pokémon franchise, I was pretty sure my next blog series would involve Game Freak's collectable critters in some capacity, and the most obvious option was to attempt a 'Nuzlocke' run through one of the games. A Nuzlocke run is an idea that I started toying with when playing through the entire franchise last year, but ultimately decided against because the mechanics weren't really compatible with the "catch-'em-all" ethos driving those playthroughs. Now that my epic journey through the Pokémon world is all but over and all of my pocket monsters are finally residing comfortably in one cartridge, I figure it's the perfect time to go back to one of the earlier games in the series and finally attempt a Nuzlocke.

The first thing to do was to settle on a specific game in the franchise in which to play this Nuzlocke run. I initially toyed with one of the second-generation Pokémon games, purely because they feature so much content to explore and experience. However, given the nature of a Nuzlocke, and being as this is the first time I've ever attempted one, there's no guarantee we'll see even half of that content. The second game that sprung to mind was Pokémon White 2, as it's the only main series Pokémon game that I own which I haven't played yet. That seemed like a bad idea too, though, on the basis that a Nuzlocke run probably isn't the best way to experience a Pokémon game for the first time. My third and final choice was FireRed/LeafGreen, the Game Boy Advance remakes of the games that started it all. Being as it's the game I'm most familiar with, it seemed like the safest option in terms of guaranteeing a fairly lengthy series.

So ladies and gentlemen, without any further ado, I bring you the newest serial blog to come out of Dan Kempster Enterprises:

Part Zero - Laying Down The Laws

Before the series gets properly underway and I start catching some pokeymans, there are some foundations that need to be laid - the first of which should probably be explaining what a 'Nuzlocke' run actually is.

A 'Nuzlocke' run, also known as Pokémon: Hard Mode, is a game of Pokémon played with a set of self-imposed rules and restrictions. The aim is to take the kid-friendly, pretty easy core content of the Pokémon games and make it more challenging for the player. The name is derived from the original Pokémon: Hard Mode comic strip, which featured the player's Nuzleaf frequently stylised as the character Locke from LOST. There are several variations on the Nuzlocke format, some of which I'll be employing for my own run, but there are two core tenets which form the basis of every Nuzlocke run:

  1. The player can only capture the first Pokémon they meet in any given area. Failing to do so (e.g. making the Pokémon faint, or running away) means the player forfeits their capture for that area.
  2. If a Pokémon faints, it is considered 'dead' and must be either released or permanently boxed in the PC. If all Pokémon in the party faint, the game is over.

Alongside these two main rules, I'll be using a handful of additional restrictions to personalise my experience with the game. These are as follows:

  • All caught Pokémon must be nicknamed, to encourage a stronger bond between the player and their Pokémon. As someone who doesn't normally nickname their Pokémon, this should be an interesting rule to follow.
  • The player's choice of starter Pokémon is determined by the final digit of their Trainer ID. 1, 2 and 3 correspond to the Grass-type starter; 4, 5 and 6 to the Fire-type starter, and 7, 8 and 9 to the Water-type starter. If the Trainer ID ends in 0, the player has the freedom to choose their starter as normal.
  • Encounters are not counted against the player for the purposes of the Nuzlocke until they obtain their first Poké Balls. It would be unfair to penalise myself if I don't have the means to catch a Pokémon in the first place.
  • If the first Pokémon encountered on a route is the same species as a Pokémon already caught by the player, the encounter can be considered void and the player may look for another Pokémon. This is known as the 'species clause' or 'duplicates clause'. I'm invoking it because it should ensure I end up owning and using a wide variety of Pokémon throughout the run, rather than trudging through the first half of the game with a party full of Rattata and Pidgey.
  • 'Event' Pokémon (by which I mean one-off Pokemon gifted to the player, such as the Eevee in Celadon City and the Hitmonlee/Hitmonchan in the Fighting Dojo) may be used, providing the player has not already obtained a Pokémon within that area.

I think that covers all the bases as far as the rules and regulations go. If all goes to plan, the first proper part of this Nuzlocke challenge (covering from Pallet Town up to Viridian Forest) should be up on Tuesday. Until then, thanks very much for reading. I hope you'll join me on what should be an interesting (and hopefully entertaining) new serial blogging adventure. Take care guys, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Pokémon FireRed Version (GBA)

Back to the Pokémon CenterPart One - It's A Team-Building Exercise >>
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Birthday Bloggery

Today is my twenty-fourth birthday.

Those of you who've been following my blogs for any length of time should be aware that I'm not a celebratory person when it comes to my own birthday. This year, for reasons I can't really articulate, feels different. It's the first time since my mid-teens where I've actually let my guard down enough to revel in the attention and enjoy the generosity of others in the form of gifts and well-wishing. It's also the first birthday for a very long time where things have felt... different. Like I said, it's difficult to put into words, but I'm not talking about drastic changes here - it's almost like an invisible, almost imperceptible shift has taken place in the world around me and made me feel like I'm travelling on a different road than I was this time last year. It's a comforting feeling, one that sure beats the worry of being stuck in the same place that usually occupies that part of my mind. Perhaps this year is my year.

I got some pretty awesome gifts from family and friends to mark the occasion. My wonderful parents bought me a Kindle, something which I've been considering getting for some time now. For a very long time, I maintained that I would never 'go digital' when it came to books. I'm the kind of man who finds joy in the physicality of his possessions. It's the reason why my video game collection is currently stacked up in console-specific piles on the far side of my bedroom. Unfortunately, it's also the reason my bookshelves are fit to burst, a problem I'm hoping this digital bookshelf will alleviate. I sat down with it on my lunch break and I have to admit I'm really impressed. The interface is a little clunky but it's not too much of a chore to choose a book and get reading, and the display really is just like reading off a page in an actual book. The title I've decided to read first on it is none other than fellow Giant Bomber @mooseymcman's debut novel 'The Telluric Adventures: The Allegiance of Justice', and I've also downloaded Neil Gaiman's 'The Ocean at the End of the Lane' and Markus Zusak's 'The Book Thief'. I'm hoping its sleekness and portability will encourage me to read more this year, especially on my lunch breaks at work. Also on the topic of e-books, I really think that the book publishing industry needs to start bundling download codes for digital versions with physically published books, like the ones that come with DVDs and Blu-Rays. There will always be titles that I want to read badly enough to buy physical copies, but it would be awesome to have access to those titles on my Kindle too.

My other main gift was from my sister, who got me a copy of Dark Souls for the Xbox 360. I've been a spectator to that game capturing the hearts and minds of more or less all of the Giant Bomb staff over the last few months, and I'm keen to give the game a go myself. I'll probably hold off on starting it until I at least finish Final Fantasy VIII (I believe I'm over half-way through the second disc at this point), but it's definitely a high priority for me to check out. Also worth noting is that my wonderful friend Duncan has invited me to revisit my gaming past by buying me copies of the two movie-licensed Lord of the Rings games, The Two Towers and Return of the King. I remember having an absolute blast with the former when I played it over ten years ago, so it should be very interesting to go back and see how those games hold up.

Sticking with the topic of video games, and more specifically blogging about video games, I'm pleased to announce that the new serial blog I've been teasing for the last couple of months is finally ready to go. Last year I spent a lot of time playing through the Pokémon franchise. One thing I really wanted to attempt in that time was a Nuzlocke run (essentially a 'hard mode' where the player self-imposes some rules to make the game more challenging), but given the "gotta catch 'em all" nature of my playthroughs, it wasn't really conducive to my end goal. Now that everything has at last been migrated into my Pokémon Y cartridge, I'm in a position where I can embark on a Nuzlocke without it harming my end goal. I've chosen Pokémon FireRed Version for my debut Nuzlocke, and I'll be posting episodic updates on this here blog as I work my way through the game. Hopefully the inaugural episode explaining the full rules of the Nuzlocke will be up tomorrow, with the first proper episode following some time next week.

Finally, some apologies are due. I broke my blogging schedule last weekend, mainly because the whole Gaming Agenda/Post-Game Danalysis thing has started to feel a little bit too formulaic and repetitive. I felt like I was saying the same things over and over again without any justification, and for that reason I've decided to abandon that format. I'll still be doing the Letting Off Some Steam posts on the second Saturday of every month, and I'll be running the aforementioned FireRed Nuzlocke serial blog as often as I can, but aside from those two regular sections I'm going to go back to a more free-form approach to blogging from now on. I'll probably write about games as I beat them from here on out. Consequently, the next game you'll probably see me blogging about will be Final Fantasy VIII, which I'm hoping to wrap up within the next few weeks.

Here ends this self-indulgent exercise in birthday bloggery. Thanks for reading guys, take care, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Final Fantasy VIII (PS3/PSP)

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Getting Off-Track - Some Thoughts On Forza Motorsport 4

There's no denying this is a great driving game, but it's got some issues...

I've been playing quite a bit of Forza Motorsport 4 over the last month or so. It's proven a great accompaniment to getting caught up on my backlog of Bombcasts - a game I can turn to and mindlessly grind out races for a couple of hours while listening to the dulcet tones of the Bomb Crew. That's not to say it isn't a great game, though. Forza 4 boasts an excellent driving model and an astounding array of difficulty level sliders, and those two things combine to create a racing game that can be played and enjoyed by just about everyone. Its model of persistent player progression is expertly implemented as well, its RPG-esque 'driver level' mechanic drip-feeding the player with new, faster cars at regular intervals. It's a design philosophy that certainly worked on me for the most part, instilling a 'one-more-race' mentality in me just so I could go up another level and pick another car to add to my virtual garage. There's no denying that it's a great racing game. But, having reached the end of its ten-season World Tour mode and accumulated a completion percentage of only 6%, I'm done with it. This blog is my attempt to try and explain why.

My relationship with racing sims is a long and colourful one, punctuated by several highs and lows that I'm pretty sure I've documented in previous blogs on this site, so I won't go into too much detail about it here. Before this most recent foray into the genre, my last lengthy stint with a game of this kind was with Forza 3 back in 2011. Much the same thing happened with that - I played through its seasonal career mode, hit the level cap, and then put it back on the shelf with next to no desire to return to it. I just felt incredibly weary of it, despite there being still so much content left to explore and experience. Fast forward to 2014 and my time with Forza 4 has been almost a carbon copy - an enjoyable ride through the career mode that stalled almost as soon as that isolated mode was over.

Hey guys... I don't mean to be rude, but... haven't we raced here already today?

Reaching the level cap probably played a small part in that. From what I can remember, once you hit driver level 50 in Forza 3, there's nowhere else to go, and any XP you could be earning from races just ceases to exist. Forza 4 continues to let you gain XP and driver levels beyond 50, but stops rewarding you with cars and instead starts dumping heaps of Credits into your hands with every level-up. There's something about the sudden withdrawal of those steadily drip-fed car-choice rewards that made the whole thing feel less like it was worth continuing to play. Sure, I'm now earning more Credits to spend on cars, but I was earning those from every race anyway. A new car is comparatively a much bigger deal, which is why having that reward taken away probably left me feeling less compelled to keep pushing through the game's event list.

That is a metric shit-ton of events, confined to a handful of locations

But that's just one aspect of it, and certainly not the biggest reason for my willingness to put these games back on the shelf and ignore them. What I've come to realise holds Forza 4 back for me (and what also held back its predecessor when I played it three years ago) is the relative dearth of track options in the game. I say 'relative' because when you look at things in terms of pure numbers, there's a huge disparity. Forza 4 is a game that features almost 500 cars from over 80 manufacturers. Its huge Event List is comprised of almost 1,200 individual races across 290 different events. This veritable smorgasbord of content is spread across just 26 locations. Yes, you read that right - TWENTY SIX, and that's counting the Nurburgring GP circuit and the Nordschleife as two separate locations. In actuality the game features 114 different circuits to race on, but many of these are merely different track configurations of the same locations. Ten different track configurations for Fujimi Kaido might sound impressive, but it's still just ten different ways to drive on the same damn mountain. This astounding lack of variety is pretty well masked by the globe-trotting nature of the World Tour mode, but when it's laid out in the grid-like format of the Event List, the homogeneity becomes too much for me personally to bear.

Dirt and snow rally tracks are just one example of how Gran Turismo 4's track roster trumps Forza 4's for variety

Going back a little further along the timeline of my history with racing games, I spent a significant amount of 2005 and 2006 with another racing sim - namely Gran Turismo 4. I'm mentioning Gran Turismo 4 here because in many respects it's comparable to Forza 4 - its roster of cars exceeds 700, and while I'm not sure of the exact number of races hidden away in its eponymous career mode, my memory of the experience tells me that there were a LOT of them. Comparatively, I spent a lot more time with GT4 than I have with Forza 4 - possibly even more than with Forzas 3 and 4 combined. The reason for this? Well I can't say this with categorical certainty, but I think the track roster may have had something to do with it. GT4 features fifty tracks - technically less than half the number of tracks in Forza 4, but with nearly double the number of unique locations. The result was that it took a lot longer for that sense of 'been there, done that' to settle in with GT4, because there was enough variety in the track roster that I never really felt like I was racing on the same circuits over and over again. So although the Forza series has my preferred driving model, I'd still be much more inclined to pick up a Gran Turismo game the next time I find myself hankering after a bit of automotive action.

At this junction I think I'm once again done with racing sims for a while. Not owning an Xbox One means that Forza 5 is out of the question by default, but even if it were an option, I don't think I'll be returning to Turn 10's series until it proves itself capable of supporting its lengthy career modes with more diverse track rosters. As for Gran Turismo, I know the sixth instalment in the series launched on PS3 recently with largely positive reception, but I feel like I've more than had my fill of driving for the time being and don't much care for the idea of launching myself into yet another car collect-a-thon right now. For the moment I'm content to shift my attention back to Final Fantasy VIII and Rayman Origins, both of which I'm hoping to beat before the end of the month. Thanks very much for reading guys, take care, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Final Fantasy VIII (PS3)

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Letting Off Some Steam - February Edition

I'm a little later posting this week's blog than originally intended. I'll spare you the detailed reasons why, but suffice it to say some difficult family matters have dominated these last couple of weeks, and that, combined with a week of feeling under the weather myself, has resulted in me not really wanting to do anything this weekend. However, I have a tight blogging schedule to uphold, and I don't intend to let it slip this early in the year. So here's this month's instalment of...

February Edition - First-Person Shooters!

To the uninitiated, permit me to quickly explain - Letting Off Some Steam is a monthly blog feature in which I download and sample a handful of titles from my Steam account for about half an hour each. The idea behind it is to get a feel for which games in my ever-expanding digitally-distributed backlog are most deserving of my time, so I can start to prioritise this unwieldy collection and maybe even start playing through some of them. Last month's theme was platformers, and this month I've opted to check out four unplayed first-person shooters. First up:

DOOM 3

DOOM 3's visuals are its most striking asset

DOOM 3's first impression is a very mixed one. On the one hand, it still looks great, especially considering it turns ten this year. The environments and monsters are the game's best visual showcase, the characters slightly less so (they animate well, but they're all built like meat-heads). The couple of guns I had access to in the game's opening forty-five minutes were also incredibly satisfying to use, leading me to assume that the game's gunplay will at least be enjoyable. On the other hand, though, the entire thing smacks unashamedly of lazy sci-fi cliché, from the featureless steel corridors of its near-future Mars setting to the experiment-gone-awry premise. These things aren't necessarily bad things in their own right, but they seem at odds with the much more ambitious visual presentation of the game. I also found it difficult to get past the game feeling more like a horror title than the run-and-gun slaughter-fest I've come to associate with the DOOM name since playing the original in late 2012. I could see myself coming back to DOOM 3 in the future and playing through the whole campaign, but it certainly isn't a high priority for me.

Far Cry

On paper this should be something I could really get into, so why won't it 'click'?

I'm one of those weirdos who holds up Far Cry 2 as one of their favourite games of the last ten years. I know it was a deeply flawed game, but those flaws seemed insignificant to me when stacked up against the emergent nature of the combat and the impact of the buddy mechanic. I thought it would therefore stand to reason that I'd love the original Far Cry too, but the half-hour I spent with it today was pretty conflicting for me. Fundamentally the combat is the same, with the emphasis placed on using the natural cover of the environment and offering multiple ways to approach each combat scenario, but it lacks the ebb and flow of Far Cry 2's gunplay. The environments are gorgeous and the guns feel good to shoot, but the combat itself seems to be lacking something I can't quite put my finger on. Also, the voice acting is fucking terrible, and I can't work out whether it's in a deliberate, B-movie-ish kind of way or just a straight-up awful kind of way. Hopefully a little more time and perseverance will endear the original Far Cry to me a little more, but I'm not in any major hurry to find out.

Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD

Stranger's Wrath appears to do some really interesting things with its first-person trappings

To date, Stranger's Wrath is the only Oddworld game I haven't yet finished. Having spent almost an hour with it earlier today, that's a fact I'm starting to feel ashamed of. In terms of its story, characters and presentation, it's a noticeably different beast from its puzzle-platforming predecessors, but there's still something quintessentially and comfortingly "Oddworld" about it all. Gameplay-wise it's part third-person platformer, part first-person shooter, with the latter being distinguished and defined by its unique 'live ammo' concept which brings an unexpected level of strategy to proceedings both in and out of combat. I had a lot of fun experimenting with the different kinds of ammo and their various effects, laying traps for unwitting outlaws and watching them unfold before bagging their bounty. Between its intriguing protagonist, mesmerising world and unique amalgamation of its various gameplay elements, Stranger's Wrath is a game I want to see more of, as soon as possible.

Red Faction II

I bought Red Faction II for pennies a little while back, an impulse purchase dictated solely by a lingering love and respect for the original Red Faction which I played years ago on the PlayStation 2. That game blew my teenage mind with its arsenal of crazy weaponry and literally earth-shattering GeoMod technology. Having now sunk some time into the first couple of levels of this sequel, I'm not sure whether I'm holding the first Red Faction in higher regard than it deserves, or if this is just a wholly disappointing follow-up (probably a bit of both, if we're being honest). It doesn't look great, the GeoMod stuff doesn't seem as well-implemented, and the shooting feels really underwhelming, especially hot on the heels of time spent with DOOM 3 and Far Cry. I think I can comforably put Red Faction II on my pile of games to ignore, and take solace in the fact that I didn't pay any more than a couple of quid for it.

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There you have it - another four games trialled and tested in this second instalment of Letting Off Some Steam. Out of these four I'm pretty sure it's Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath that'll be promoted to March's Gaming Agenda, with Far Cry and DOOM 3 taking up residence on the 'I'll Get Around To It Eventually' pile. Red Faction II is, sadly, very unlikely to ever be played at all.

I've literally just noticed, while checking back on last month's Letting Off Some Steam to make sure my formatting is consistent, that this is my three-hundredth blog post on Giant Bomb. Being as next weekend is my dedicated week for an opinion piece, I may try to find some special way to commemorate the milestone then. Until then, I'd like to say thanks for reading, take care, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Final Fantasy VIII (PS3)

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The Gaming Agenda - February 2014

January was a pretty successful month for me, gaming-wise. I made it through all four of the titles I'd intended to finish through the month, and started a fifth that I'll hopefully be able to wrap up in this month. Now, as January disappears over the temporal horizon and February shuffles in to take its place, it's time for me to put together another Gaming Agenda blog - a sort of gaming 'to-do' list, laying out the games I want to play before the month is over. What with February being the shortest month, the list is a little shorter than last month's Gaming Agenda, but given the comparative length of the games involved I'd say it's also a much more ambitious list this time around. And speaking of games, here they are:

Final Fantasy VIII

I genuinely think I've played PS2 games that looked worse than Final Fantasy VIII

This is one of two games that I'm carrying over to February, having started it towards the end of January. So far I'm about six hours in and am just about to head off to Timber for Squall's first SeeD mission. It's been great fun getting re-acquainted with the game's mechanics, wrapping my head back around the sometimes confusing, but incredibly rewarding Junction system. Early thoughts boil down to Squall being a much bigger dick than I remember him being, and the game looking surprisingly good for a fifteen-year-old PS1 game. Seriously, those 3D character models hold up astoundingly well. My hope is that I'll be able to finish Final Fantasy VIII by the end of February - a pretty big ask, but by no means impossible. I'll be sure to keep you posted with my progress through the month.

Forza Motorsport 4

Driving fast cars hasn't got boring yet, probably because the game is still regularly giving me fast cars

Forza Motorsport 4 is the other game that I've brought through from January. I hadn't originally got any plans to play it, but seeing a friend tweeting about Gran Turismo 6 started the itch for some kind of racing simulator, and Forza 4 was the one within closest reach. The draw of levels, experience points and drip-fed rewards of new cars is keeping me engaged for now, but having just hit level 41 out of a possible 50, I'm not sure if the appeal will last once I hit the level cap. I was toying with the idea of pursuing the Bucket List Achievement, but as of right now I'm all but certain that I'll be putting the game down when I reach the end of its World Tour mode. I have about two-and-a-half seasons left to get through, and I'm pretty sure I can see those through before the end of February.

Rayman Origins

I don't think I've ever seen a 2D platformer that looks as good as Rayman Origins

By far the stand-out title from last month's edition of Letting Off Some Steam, this zany platformer earned its place on February's Gaming Agenda thanks to its gorgeous aesthetics, satisfying platforming, and retro throw-back style and structure. Its first half hour was a blast to play, and if I'm right in thinking that future worlds and levels will bring new power-ups and characters to experiment with, I'm sure the rest of the game will be just as rewarding to play through. The loose plan is to pick this up two weeks into February, when hopefully I'll be done with Forza 4, and divide my gaming time between this and Final Fantasy VIII through the back end of the month.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

I've got no idea who this guy is, but I'm looking forward to meeting him

The next part of my continued effort to beat every Zelda game I own will be attempting to tackle the most recent home console release in the series, the Wii-exclusive Skyward Sword. I picked up a brand new copy of the game last year in a sale for the very reasonable price of £10, and now that I have my very own Wii to play it on, I've decided to make it my next priority. I'm not really looking forward to the supposedly slow and dreary opening tutorial, but everything else I've seen and heard about the game has got me very excited to play through it. As with Final Fantasy VIII last month, I don't expect to finish this in February, but I would like to start it before the month is over and carry it through to March.

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So that's what I intend to play this month. It's not going to be easy getting through Final Fantasy VIII in the next twenty-seven days, much less getting through the remainder of Forza 4's World Tour and all of Rayman Origins alongside it, but I'm definitely going to give it a damn good try. Be sure to come back next week, when I'll be Letting Off Some Steam with a specifically first-person-shooty flavour to it. Thanks very much for reading, take care, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Final Fantasy VIII (PS3)

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