I woke up this morning to find this post already sitting in the Giant Bomb text editor, written but un-published. I can only assume it's what my drunken mind thought would pass for a Blogvent entry. Given I've already missed my deadline, I figured it was probably best to just tidy everything up and post it as-is. Apologies for the late post, guys. I'll try not to let it happen again.
If yesterday's Blogvent contribution amounted to the ramblings of a half-drunk man, then tonight's instalment fully crosses the line into 'rantings of a completely drunk man' territory. For that reason alone, I intend to keep tonight's Blogvent entry very short. Cue bullet points!
I am now less than two hours from the end of the audiobook version of Stephen King's The Stand. As I've come to expect from him, it feels like the novel's end should have come over an hour ago. I'm now listening to the epilogue-ish tale of Stu Redman and Tom Cullen as they make their way back to Boulder, and the whole thing smacks of the "I know this should have ended, but I'm going to let the pen keep going" feeling that I've had from pretty much every one of King's books that I've read (Carriebeing the only notable exception). I'll keep on listening, but I can't help but think that the real ending happened a couple of chapters ago. Man, King really isn't great with endings, is he?
I am three badges into Pokémon White, and about to contend for my fourth. I'm enjoying the game, particularly its 'all-new' approach to the availability of Pokémon. At times it can feel a little patronising and hand-holdy, but that's probably because I've already spent so much time playing Pokémon this year, and the stories of these games are geared towards a much younger audience embarking on their first ever RPG. To be honest, I'm just excited about adding new types to my Pokédex, in the hope that I can eventually migrate everything over to Pokémon Y and bring the National Pokédex towards some kind of completion.
I learned this week that a friend passed away. He wasn't a particularly close friend, but at the same time, I knew him a bit too well to simply call him an acquaintance. He used to captain one of the local darts teams, and it was in the local league that I first met and got to know him. Due to his illness I ended up seeing a lot of him through work over the last year, and it was gut-wrenching to see a man I knew become slowly more and more debilitated. It's comforting to know he's no longer in any pain, but I can't quite believe I'm never going to see him again. He was a great man, and I'll miss him terribly.
That'll do for tonight. Please come back tomorrow for another Blogvent, when I promise I won't be quite so merrily slaughtered. Thank you for reading and goodbye.
Apologies for the lateness of today's entry. I've been out for a meal with my work colleagues tonight. As a consequence, what follows may seem like the inane ramblings of a half-drunk man. Rest assured, that's because that's exactly what they are.
When I've not been Pokémon-ing over the last week or so (yes, there are times when that is the case), I've been putting a bit of time into another 3DS game - specifically the new Zelda title, A Link Between Worlds. I haven't spent a huge amount of time with the game - I've just retrieved the Master Sword and am about to storm Hyrule Castle - but the time I have put into it has left me with a few thoughts to share on this latest instalment in Nintendo's flagship adventure franchise. As seems to have become customary for these Blogvent posts, I'll be laying out those thoughts in a series of bullet points. Ready? Go!
A Link Between Worlds delivers a comprehensive hit to the nostalgia centre in my brain. Maybe it's because I didn't play A Link to the Past until three years ago, and therefore all of its features and tropes are still fresh in my mind, but I've been consistently surprised by how much this sequel manages to evoke memories of the original within me. It's evident in the big things like the familiar overworld design and boss battles, but its success is just as much down to the little things, like the sound effects, subtle animations, and the behaviour of items and enemies within the gameworld. If it can get someone with limited experience with the source material giddy with nostalgia, then I'd love to hear reactions from those who hold up A Link to the Past as one of their all-time favourite games.
Holy crap, this game looks good. The visual style of A Link to the Past not only survives the transition to three dimensions, but benefits from it. And then there's the 3D! Before A Link Between Worlds, I'd never played a game with the 3DS's 3D effect on. Sure, I'd flipped the slider up on most games, just to see how the effect looked, but I never felt like my experience was lacking for choosing to play in 2D. With A Link Between Worlds, I can't not play with the 3D effect on. The added depth to the top-down visuals looks fantastic, filling an already-vibrant world with even more life.
I like the approach taken with Ravio's rent-an-item service. It's a mechanic that seems purpose-built to let novices pick up what they need to advance, without penalising series stalwarts by making them wait to get their hands on more advanced kit. Being able to explore the whole overworld more or less from the get-go was great, and left me feeling more encouraged to get stuck into the game's side-quests rather than letting them fall by the wayside due to an under-stocked inventory. There's a part of me that does miss the series staple of picking up a mysterious new item in each dungeon and then using it to solve puzzles and beat the boss, but that nostalgic buzz is a small price to pay for a much more flexible means of filling up Link's inventory.
I'm still not completely sold on the whole 'merging with walls' mechanic at the moment. I thought its introduction in Link's escape from Hyrule Castle was great, but since then I've only really used it to cross holes in the floor, squeeze through gaps in walls, and dislodge those pesky maiamai critters. It's a cool mechanic, it just doesn't seem to be being used to its full potential, and I really hope that changes in the upcoming dungeons.
Thanks for bearing with me through this, and apologies if any of it is incoherent or self-contradictory. I'll try to make tomorrow's post a little less rambly (not having three pints beforehand will probably help). Thanks for reading guys, take care and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
It's already the 4th of December, which means it's time for me to open another door on the Blogvent Calendar and share some hastily-scrawled musings with you all. I know I promised you all some brief thoughts on A Link Between Worlds today, but last night's events have left me wanting to write about something a little different. Hopefully you can forgive my change of mind. I assure you, those Zelda-based bullet points will be on their way tomorrow.
For the last couple of years, I've been playing drums with some friends as part of a hard rock and heavy metal covers band called Sudden Gunfire. Although we've been together since the start of 2012, we're still very much in our infancy at present. We've been working hard on getting a full evening's worth of music together, and now that we're approaching a repertoire of around thirty songs, we're hoping to start playing some of the pubs and rock bars in the local area next year. We've aired our material a few times at open mic nights and charity band afternoons under marquees in pub gardens, but to date our live experience has been both sporadic and rough-and-ready.
On the 14th of this month, that's set to change.
On the local gigging circuit, there's a very popular band called Old Country Union. They play acoustic rock covers alongside their own original, Eagles-influenced compositions, and I highly recommend them to anyone who thinks that sounds like their kind of thing. On Saturday 14th December, Old Country Union are hosting a huge band night at the local theatre, bringing some of the best and most diverse musical talent onto the biggest stage in town and all in the name of charity. Even now I'm not entirely sure how it's happened, but we're on the bill.
This is a huge opportunity for us. We'll be playing half an hour of our most refined and energetic material to a crowd of around three-hundred-and-fifty, so it's an incredible chance for us to make a name for ourselves in front of local music-goers and set ourselves up to start 2014 heading in the right direction. I'm nervous as hell at the prospect, but also insanely excited. After spending two years working on these songs behind closed doors and in front of small, sometimes disinterested crowds, it will be awesome to finally play them to people who want to hear them. I'm also hugely grateful to Old Country Union for taking a punt on us and giving us a spot on the bill. We're the outliers on what is frankly a stellar line-up, but that just makes me even more determined to put on the best show possible and try to compete.
If you're at all interested in what we sound like, I've embedded a couple of videos below:
Thanks for reading guys. Take care, and I'll see you around.
Hey guys, and welcome to the third entry in this twenty-four day self-imposed blogging initiative. Today's entry isn't about games, so if you're not keen on reading about non-game-related stuff, feel free to skip this and come back tomorrow, when hopefully I'll have a little something to say about A Link Between Worlds.
I love the written word. Coming from a blogger, that sentence probably doesn't surprise anyone, but I don't just love to write - I love to read as well. Sitting in the comfort of my room with a book in my hands and a mug of hot chocolate beside me is one of the purest pleasures I know. Unfortunately, my slow reading speed and my collector's tendency have resulted in me accruing a lot of books in recent months that I haven't been able to dedicate reading time to. In addition, I have a lot of books that I haven't yet obtained, but which I'm keen to get hold of, even though it means adding them to that ever-growing literary pile of shame (yes folks, what's true for games is also true for books in the case of this humble blogger).
At the end of October I bought a monthly subscription to Audible, the digital audiobook service run by Amazon. The rationale behind it was to try and overlap my 'reading time' with other parts of my day - with an audiobook, I can engage in the story on my journeys to and from work, or when I'm grinding out levels in whatever RPG I happen to be playing. So far, the plan is working pretty well. My first choice of download was Stephen King's The Stand, a book I've tried to read a few times, but the size of which has daunted me enough to force me to keep putting it down. Thanks to the audiobook, I'm now a mere six chapters from its end (a little under five hours of listening remaining), and I can honestly say it's let me experience a book I probably never would have made it all the way through otherwise. It's not my favourite of King's works - it takes far too long to get going, and the substance of the story is spread way too thin for my liking, but the characters are some of my favourites from amongst the King novels I've read, and as the story approaches its climax, it's really starting to move on a-pace.
I already have my next listen lined up for when I finish The Stand - a recent novel called Company of Liars, by Karen Maitland. Billed as a 'historical thriller' set in Medieval Europe, It's not a book I would have thought about reading under regular circumstances, but figured that this new initiative isn't just a means of getting through the books I already know I want to read, but also a great opportunity to try new things I wouldn't otherwise have taken a chance on. I'm looking forward to starting to listen to it in the coming days, just as soon as I finish travelling with Stu Redman, Fran Goldsmith, and the mysterious Dark Man Randall Flagg.
That'll do for today's Blogvent Calendar entry, I think. I'll close by saying that if any of you have any recommendations, books that you've read recently and think I might enjoy, please throw them my way. I'm primarily a fantasy and sci-fi reader, but I'm open-minded enough to accept any recommendations. If I like the look of it, and it's available on Audible, then it might just end up being next month's listen. Thanks for reading guys, take care, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
Hey guys, dankempster here, proving that I haven't dropped out of this self-imposed blogging cycle quite as early as some people (myself included) probably expected. Day 2 of Blogvent is here, and with it comes another bite-sized block of bloggery from yours truly. Yeah, I realise I'm no Mento when it comes to strings of alliteration, but it's not downright terrible, right? Anyway, moving on...
In a comment on yesterday's entry, MajorMitch asked me how I thought Pokémon X and Y stacked up compared to the rest of the series. Being as 2013 has turned into something of a Poké-palooza for me gaming-wise, I figure I'm in a pretty good position to pass judgement. I'll probably do a much deeper breakdown of this stuff in an extended blog post in the New Year, after I've put paid to White and White 2 and can finally call time on my completionist affair with the franchise. That being said, my stance on X and Y (specifically Y, as that's the version I played) is something I've been wanting to get written down while it's all still fairly fresh in my mind. What follows is more likely to resemble a stream of consciousness than a constructed essay, so bear with me. Think of this as the brainstorming session - that essay is likely to come in the New Year.
Going into Pokémon Y, the most immediately apparent improvement was the graphical leap. The full 3D visuals are gorgeous and charming, with the wider range of animation they afford allowing the personalities of many of the game's Pokémon to shine through. I'm not sure if the environments are larger, but the extra dimension, occasional use of dynamic camera angles and fuller range of movement made them feel larger. Trainer customisation is something that the series has needed for quite some time in my opinion, and its debut in this generation was a welcome one.
I was very impressed by the game's online infrastructure, both in terms of its flexibility and its reliability. Having never delved into that side of the previous games due to the original DS's draconian internet settings, I was a bit taken aback by the wealth of options on offer. It was a joy being able to trade and battle with my good friend Duncan, who lives far away in Scotland. By far my favourite aspect of the online features is Wonder Trade, a brilliant concept that I've used a lot since beating the Elite Four. Never would I have believed functionality on a Nintendo handheld could impress me, but Pokémon Y has achieved just that.
I know a lot of players had issues with the game's difficulty (or lack thereof), and I can see where they're coming from, but it didn't bother me too much. I took the Exp. Share as an invitation to train various different kinds of Pokémon throughout my journey through Kalos, only settling on a 'final team' just before the final gym. I was a touch over-levelled through the Elite Four and post-game content, but it didn't stop me from having a blast with the game, and if it had, I think I would have just turned it off.
Stacked up against the rest of the series, Y felt a bit like 'Pokémon: Greatest Hits' to me. The roster is huge and represents every previous generation pretty well, and a lot of the series' staple features are beautifully streamlined and more accessible than ever. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it does go to great lengths to perfect the circle and make sure the ride is as smooth as possible.
One last thing - Super Training is incredible. I've never ventured into the dark, murky underworld of the Pokémon meta-game before, save for an attempt to EV train a Charizard in Pokémon SoulSilver that wound up just being very tedious. Super Training puts all that stuff out there in plain(-ish) sight, making it much easier to train a solid battling team. If none of the other new features survive into Gen VII and beyond, I really hope that Super Training at least makes the cut.
I think that's enough bullet points for now. I have darts shortly and need to finish getting ready, so I'll call it a day at this juncture. Hopefully it's shed a little more light on what I thought of Pokémon X and Y, as well as providing a useful future reference for me when it comes to writing that series-wide retrospective in early 2014. Thanks for reading guys, take it easy and I'll see you around.
...Man, I need to stop falling off the blogging bandwagon.
A new episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII should have been written three weeks ago. It wasn't, and I apologise for that. It's one of many potential blogs that have fallen by the wayside in recent times, partly due to being busy, but primarily due to a severe case of 'I can't be bothered'. Somewhere along the line, blogging started feeling like hard work, and I do enough of that in the average week to feel like not wanting to do any more come the weekend. It's a pitiful state of affairs, because I used to love coming to this space, to my own little corner of the internet, to wax lyrical about what I'd been playing. The fact that the act of blogging has stopped being fun upsets me a little.
In an attempt to break yet another blogging drought, far too many of which have hindered my Giant Bomb activity this year, I'm going to try and write a little something every day from now until Christmas Eve. These won't be long blogs, probably a paragraph or two at most, but this exercise is less about quantity and more about getting myself writing regularly again, a habit I seem only too ready to break of late. Think of this as an advent calendar in blog form, a daily door you can open in the run-up to Christmas and sample the delights that lie behind it. Those delights probably won't be especially delightful most days, and for that I apologise in advance. I hate to sound selfish, but this is genuinely more for me than it is for you.
I continue to play games, even if I'm not writing about them - that much is at least constant. For today's entry, I'll quickly recap what I have been playing since I finishedMetal Gear Solid: Peace Walker just short of a month ago:
The Pokémon series continues to hold a vice-like grip upon my gaming habits. I thought I was done with Pokémon Y weeks ago, but I find myself continuing to return to it every few days, if only to facilitate my friend Duncan's training with a convenient trade, or to breed a hitherto un-obtained pre-evolution to fill out my Pokédex a little more. Last month I made my way through Pokémon Platinum, and I have just set out on a journey through Pokémon White. At this point I'm pretty sure I won't be able to declare myself officially 'done' with the series until I beat that, and Pokémon White 2, and transfer everything into Pokémon Y using the upcoming Pokémon Bank service. It's genuinely frightening how much of a hold this series has on me right now, but I've had a lot of fun with all the Pokémon games I've played this year, and I expect that to continue through this final month of 2013.
I downloaded A Link Between Worlds on its release last week. I haven't put anywhere near as much time into it as I'd have liked to (for reasons outlined clearly in the previous bullet point), but what I have played has been top notch. I've just recovered the three pendants in Hyrule and am about to hunt down the Master Sword in the Lost Woods. Progress is slow, but I'm confident I'll see the end of this one by the end of the year.
In the interest of keeping up with my tradition of playing an Assassin's Creed title every year, I've also just started played AC: Revelations. I haven't delved far into the game, only making it past the first couple of missions in Sequence 2, but I've already got that comfortable, familiar feeling from playing through its opening chapters. Ezio Auditore is one of my favourite characters from this generation, and I look forward to spending more time with him and finding out how his story arc ends.
I think that'll do for now. It's late, I have work in the morning, and I could do with a bit of sleep as I've been somewhat deprived of it all week. Hopefully I'll be able to maintain enough interest in this endeavour to throw another one of these up tomorrow. It most likely won't be game-related, and will probably be shorter than this, but hey, something's better than nothing, right? Take it easy guys, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
I bet you thought you'd seen the last of this, right? You thought I'd retired this silly blog series to the confines of my profile's archive, where it would sit unfinished and forgotten by all. Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but much like a stealth agent past his prime, it's been coaxed out of retirement for one final mission. That's right, folks - it's time for the final episode of Metal Gear Madness.
It's been a long time since I wrote one of these, so I'll frame what's to follow with a little context. Back in May of this year, I began a ludicrous endeavour to play through every main canon Metal Gear title back-to-back, over the course of just thirty-one short days. Originally dubbed 'Metal Gear May Madness', the plan flopped spectacularly as I only made it through the first five titles in the series. Determined to see my crazy ideas through, I dropped the 'May' segment of its moniker and carried it over into June, in which I managed to complete the next two games. However, with one game remaining, the inevitable happened - I burned out on tactical espionage action. I put the final game to one side, hoping to return to it before year's end and complete this ridiculous octet of blogs. After a few months' hiatus, I finally wrapped up the last game in the series last week, and I'm here to tell you all about it.
If you want more information on the series as a whole, I'd advise you to read through the introductory post I put together at the end of April - it's essentially a foreword to everything that followed, and it should answer any questions you might have (except, perhaps, those regarding my sanity). If you'd rather dive into the series at a specific point, I've embedded a helpful table of all the previous episodes just below. If, however, you're here to find out exactly what I thought of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, then I urge you to read on.
My history with Peace Walker is a pretty colourful one. I originally played the game on PSP back when it first released in 2010, and had a blast with it, in spite of some maddeningly fiddly controls. I reached the game's first ending, but for reasons I couldn't quite remember, I didn't push on through Chapter 5 in pursuit of the 'true' ending. Fast forward to 2013 and I opted to download the HD Edition of the game to my PS3, mainly so as not to have to struggle with those infuriating controls a second time round. I made it halfway through the game's story missions before becoming burned out on the Metal Gear franchise as a whole and electing to put the game down for a while. I came back to it in late October and quickly brought myself level with my old PSP save file, before pushing on through the final chapter and seeing the true ending on November 2nd. I just wanted to clarify my history with the game before pressing on, because if any of this blog ends up seeming a little disjointed, it's probably a reflection of the on-and-off relationship I've had with Peace Walker.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is, at its core, a spiritual successor to the first Metal Gear Solid title on the PSP, Portable Ops. As a result, a lot of what I said about that game holds true here as well - the stealth gameplay is confined to bite-sized missions better suited to its handheld origins, and there's a lot of emphasis on unit recruitment and resource management alongside the actual sneaking. Peace Walker doesn't so much differ from Portable Ops as it does expertly refine the foundations laid out for it. Recruiting soldiers was a bit of a chore in Portable Ops as you had to drag your target over to a truck. Peace Walker streamlines the process through the introduction of Fulton Recovery balloons, which you can simply attach to a KO'd soldier and have them whisked away to Mother Base. The squad-building is also much more involved in Peace Walker, especially regarding research and development. Recruiting good soldiers adds to your stock of GMP points, which can then be spent researching new and improved weapons and equipment. The better your squads are, the more research possibilities will become open to you. Throw in the additional 'Outer OPS' mechanic, not dissimilar to the Assassins' Guild dispatch missions in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, and you have a much more robust and fully featured system than Portable Ops (and consequently, one that's much easier to get lost in).
I also want to draw attention to two major positives of playing the console-based HD Edition over the original PSP release. The first of these is the aforementioned improvement to the control scheme, thanks to the increased number of buttons offered on the PS3's controller. For those of you unaware, Peace Walker on PSP maps its camera control to the face buttons by default. Yep - Triangle, X, Circle and Square move the camera up, down, right and left respectively. This is sensibly moved to the right analog stick in the console versions, freeing up the face buttons for more conventional commands like crouch and context-sensitive actions. The second pair of shoulder buttons also serves the game well, taking over the item and weapon windows from the PSP's d-pad. In simpler terms, Peace Walker on the PS3 (and presumably the 360) plays almost exactly like Metal Gear Solid 4, as opposed to the PSP version's crude approximation. The other improvement comes in the game's frame rate, which was choppy on the PSP but seems to run at a silky smooth sixty frames per second almost entirely throughout on PS3. It may not be the prettiest Metal Gear game, but the smoother frame rate goes a long way towards making up for the lower-fidelity textures.
The game's not without its faults, though. Remember earlier on, when I said I couldn't remember why I'd given up on Peace Walker on PSP without reaching its true ending? Well, my push to the end of Chapter 5 this time around has given me a pretty good idea why. There's no kind way of saying this, so I'll put it bluntly - the final chapter of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is garbage. Its story missions consist of a series of games of hide-and-seek, in which a prisoner repeatedly escapes from Mother Base and must be found and brought back. This trick was tedious by the third time the game pulled it, but it actually happens a total of seven times. The final time, the game doesn't even give you the courtesy of a main mission in which to find him - it expects you to hunt through the numerous 'Extra OPS' missions until you find him (I actually ended up turning to an internet guide on this one, because I just wanted the damn thing to end). The final boss fight is suitably challenging, but the narrative twist that frames it (namely Paz being a triple agent and commandeering Mother Base's own Metal Gear ZEKE at the behest of Big Boss's former ally, Major Zero) feels contrived, even by Metal Gear standards. To be frank, I'd have been happier with the story if the game had called it quits at the end of Chapter 4. That first ending might have been a bit of the preachy side, but it seemed an appropriate enough dénouement for a Metal Gear title.
Peace Walker is the only game I played through this challenge that doesn't actually give you an end-game statistical break-down. I can kind of understand why - the game doesn't shy away from encouraging the player to be a little more bloodthirsty than they typically would be in a Metal Gear title - but it's still a little disappointing not to see that final rank pop up, not to mention the empty gap it leaves at the bottom of this page. I'm pretty sure I'm done with Peace Walker for now - although there are quite a few Extra OPS missions I'm yet to touch, I'm not feeling any burning desire to jump back in and take them on. This is, in all probability, the last bit of Metal Gear I'll be playing until MGSV finally rolls around. It's been an interesting ride, and a very fun one at times, but at this point I'm glad to put the series down for a while.
Outside of Peace Walker I've been spending most of my game time these last couple of weeks playing Pokémon Y on my 3DS. I'm hoping to put out a blog about it in its own right later this week, so for now I'll just say I'm really, really liking it and leave it at that. Besides that, I've also returned to Crimson Shroud with a view to clearing that from The End-Of-Year Agenda in the next couple of days. As soon as that's done, I plan to throw myself fully into the last few episodes of another serial blog that's long overdue a conclusion, so be sure to look out for that. In the meantime, thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.
It's become something of an unwritten tradition towards the end of the year for me to put together a list of games I'd like to beat before the clock strikes midnight on December 31st. So far this year I've finished a total of twenty-eight titles, so I figured with just under three months still available to me, it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect myself to finish another ten games in 2013. Below is a provisional list of those ten games that I hope to polish off before the year is out. I've tried to accommodate a variety of consoles and genres on the list, to try and avoid potentially burning out on anything. As always, it's probably best to take this list with a pinch of salt - my gaming desires can change on a whim, so some of these titles might end up being substituted for others as I go. Ready for those games now? Here they are!
Not long after posting my last blog, I picked up Crimson Shroud from the Nintendo 3DS eShop for what seems like a reasonable price point of £7.19. I've played about four hours of it thus far, and I really like what I've played. Mechanically it's an interesting emulation of table-top RPGs, with a lot of actions in battle determined by rolling a handful of dice on the 3DS's touch screen. The battle system places a lot of emphasis on buffs and debuffs, making them pretty much essential if you want to gain an upper hand over the enemy, which gives every battle a highly tactical and strategic feel. The way the game handles MP is pretty novel, too - it gradually depletes outside of battle, and is replenished when characters perform (or are hit by) certain actions. These two aspects of the gameplay come together to create a battle system that encourages players to spend their first few turns laying a solid foundation before beginning to exchange blows. It's a cool twist on traditional JRPG battling, and one that definitely works.
That table-top RPG feel I mentioned earlier on extends to the game's presentation, too. The characters and enemies all appear in-game as figurines, a design choice that's a little jarring at first due to the lack of animation, but I quickly grew to admire it. Coupled with the well-written narrative, the whole thing has an interactive-storybook feel not dissimilar to the '1000 Years of Dreams' short stories from Mistwalker's Lost Odyssey. The world, characters and story of Crimson Shroud ooze that archetypal Matsuno atmosphere - the frequent mentions of zealous religious types, corrupt government officials and mysterious magic echo his previous works like Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy Tactics, and serve to build an incredibly detailed world in a fairly short space of time. I get the impression that Crimson Shroud is pretty short by JRPG standards, given its fairly limited mechanics and status as an eShop title, but that's fine by me. I imagine I'll have this wrapped up fairly soon.
As you can probably tell from my last blog, it's been a pretty Pokémon-heavy summer for me. Having chalked up playthroughs of LeafGreen, SoulSilver and Emerald, I've grown gradually more and more interested in the upcoming release of the sixth generation of Pokémon games. Strangely, this is the first time I've ever boarded the hype train for a new Pokémon release. The fad hit my primary school a couple of months after the launch of Red and Blue, and by the time sequels were being teased in the form of Gold and Silver, my friends and I had already moved on to whatever the next playground craze was. I completely missed out on the Game Boy Advance generation of games, and was late to the party with both Diamond and White, both of which I ended up buying on a nostalgic whim. X and Y mark the first time I've followed the steady trickle of pre-release info, allowing myself to get excited for the impending launch of a Pokémon game.
I've opted for Pokémon Y over Pokémon X, mainly because I prefer the look of the version-exclusive legendary (evil flying monster beats fairy deer for me). What I'm looking forward to most, though, is the fact that a couple of my friends have decided to jump back into the franchise along with me. I can't wait to pretend I'm ten years old again, collecting, trading and battling with friends as we explore the Kalos region together. I know at least one of my friends has pre-ordered X, so it'll be cool to trade version-exclusives with him (something I could never do as a kid - all my friends and I owned Blue). I expect Pokémon Y to keep me busy through what remains of October and into November. Depending on the amount of post-game content and Nintendo's penchant for Wi-fi events, it may even end up staying in my 3DS into 2014.
Okay, I know I said I was going to try and keep this list varied as far as consoles goes, and this being the third 3DS game out of three doesn't do that argument many favours, but trust me - it'll be the last 3DS title on this list. It's also a bit unorthodox to include a game that has no discernible end, given this is supposed to be a list of games I'd like to beat before the end of the year. As far as New Leaf goes, my requisite for 'beating' the game is simply to try and pay off all my loans to Tom Nook. If I can manage that before the year is out, I'll be happy.
I haven't played an Animal Crossing game in over six years (my last experience with the franchise was with Wild World on the original DS through late 2006 and early 2007). After such a long break from the series' gameplay, it's refreshing to come back and do it all again in a new town with new residents. The game has an undeniable charm, from the cute character designs to the off-the-wall writing that breathes so much life into every animal you meet. Given that the world changes with the seasons, and every day in the game brings something new to experience, I'm pretty sure I'll be playing this right through 'til the end of the year, most likely in half-hourly sessions to unwind after work.
This is the first of two unfinished titles I intend to return to and complete before the end of 2013. Those of you who followed my blogging antics earlier in the year will be aware of Metal Gear May Madness (subsequently just Metal Gear Madness), an attempt to make it through the entire series of Metal Gear games in as short a space of time as possible. Of the eight games I set out to beat, Peace Walker is the only one I didn't manage to finish. Burned out on the franchise after two-and-a-half months of little else, I decided to call it quits on Big Boss's exploits in Costa Rica about half way through, with every intention of returning to it later on.
It's been another two months since then, and I think I'm more than ready to jump back into Peace Walker and see it through to its conclusion. I love its specific twist on the established Metal Gear formula, combining a deeper and more engaging version of Portable Ops' squad-building mechanics with a structure not dissimilar to quest-driven games like Monster Hunter. Playing the HD version on PS3 definitely goes a long way to improving the experience too, thanks to the availability of a second analog stick that's absent in the more fiddly PSP original. I look forward to pressing on with this one in the near future, especially since learning that I didn't actually 'finish' it when I played the PSP version a few years ago.
Another game that's been sitting unfinished on my shelf for some time now, I started playing Final Fantasy Tactics Advance around this time last year. That means it's been in and out of my 'now playing' rotation for over a year now, so I should really be pushing to finish it. It's a great little strategy RPG, boasting a ton of features and versatility without ever becoming overwhelming or obtuse like its spiritual predecessor, the original Final Fantasy Tactics. The story and characters aren't complex, but they serve the gameplay well enough to keep me interested in what's going on in the realm of Ivalice between the myriad battles faced by Marche, Montblanc, and the rest of Clan Gaslight.
My biggest problem with FFTA is that it's difficult for me to play for prolonged periods of time. The battle system is fantastic, but it results in battles that are often protracted, and the game ends up feeling a bit like a drag. This is especially true if, like me, the player spends lots of time taking on side quests and dispatch missions in lieu of making story progress. I've clocked up around eighty hours of game time in FFTA across three separate play sessions, and I'm still only three quarters of the way through its twenty-four main story missions. It's a great game though, and I hope I can find the patience to persevere with it and finally cross it off my Pile of Shame.
Playing Brotherhood last year, I was seriously impressed with the advancements made on the gameplay front, but found its Borgia-centric story to be a little lacking. I've been informed that Revelations' story is a marked improvement on account of its return to a more personal angle, exploring the link between Ezio and Altair while still furthering the story of the ongoing struggle between the Assassins and the Templars. If Revelations can deliver the gameplay improvements of Brotherhood with a story that's as engaging as that of AC II, then I could see it potentially becoming my favourite game in the series to date. Either way, I'm still eager to explore fifteenth century Constantinople and find out how Ezio's story ends.
I feel like I haven't shown my PC enough gaming love this year. At the start of 2013 the relationship was thriving - I polished off the remaining episodes of Series One of Telltale's Sam & Max, and became totally absorbed in the brilliant The Walking Dead. I even invested in the Xpadder software, in the hope of mapping some of my Steam games to a controller to make them more comfortable to play. In spite of all this, though, my laptop faded into the background once more as I turned my attention to Metal Gear May Madness and an unscheduled Poké-marathon. I feel guilty for neglecting my PC gaming catalogue through the summer, and I hope to try and make amends for that by playing a couple of titles before the year ends.
I played through the original Max Payne about two years ago and thought it a very fun and competent shooter, with a pretty interesting 'film noir' tone and aesthetic. Ever since I've been meaning to check out the sequel, which many people have informed me is an improvement on its predecessor in just about every conceivable way. I also bought Max Payne 3 earlier this year and am itching to play it, but I know that I can't in any good conscience unless I make it through the second game in the series beforehand. All these factors point to it being a perfect game to get reacquainted with my PC on. I can see this possibly being a late November/early December job, a shorter action game to break up the lengthier RPG and open-world games on this list.
If this year has confirmed anything, it's that I really like BioShock. I adored Infinite, and found a lot to like in BioShock 2 as well after playing both games in quick succession. This year coincidentally saw the release of BioShock's predecessor, System Shock 2, on digital delivery services like GOG.com and Steam. With both of these facts in mind, it seems somehow fitting to devote some of what's left of 2013 to finding out where BioShock came from, and why System Shock 2 is held in such high regard.
Another factor in me picking System Shock 2 over any of the other many games presently on my Pile of Shame was reading fellow Giant Bomber @MajorMitch's latest blog, in which he sings its various praises and draws some comparisons between it and Ken Levine's more recent work. What was previously my innate gamer's curiosity has now been cemented as a full-blown desire to play this game, and MajorMitch's blog is largely responsible for that shift. You should definitely check out his blogs, by the way - he articulates his opinions brilliantly and succinctly, in a way that makes me look like even more of a dithering rambler than I already am. Go on, what are you waiting for - follow him!
The Tomb Raider franchise has always occupied a special place in my gamer's heart. It's a series I grew up playing, a series that I stuck with through depressing lows and incredible resurgences. The last couple of years have been no different - last year saw me revisit the Legend/Anniversary/Underworld trilogy, and at the start of this year developers Crystal Dynamics presented us with a whole new Lara Croft as part of their successful series reboot. But in spite of all this recent hands-on time with Lara, I still find myself wanting more.
Tomb Raider III is one of those games that I played a lot of when I was younger, but never actually finished. I recall its puzzles and level design perplexing my entire family, a frustration only surpassed by the reward of eventually figuring out the solutions to those puzzles. More than any other, it's the game I regret not finishing the most out of those first five CORE-developed titles. I'd like to pick up this game for the first time in fifteen years and at least try to make amends for never beating it, even if I'm not entirely convinced that I'll be able to.
Remember when I said there were two unfinished games on this list? Well, I guess this takes it up to three. Since 2010 I've been putting out an episodic serial blog called Enduring Final Fantasy VII, a blow-by-blow account of a run through Final Fantasy VII, trying to determine whether or not the game is still relevant and enjoyable over a decade after its initial release. It's been a long ol' road through what is arguably Squaresoft's most divisive RPG, punctuated by prolonged hiatuses (most of which were caused by missing PSP chargers), but I like to think of the series as my 'blognum opus', a piece of internet writing that has come to define my online presence just as much as my avatar and username.
It's been just under a year since the most recent episode of Enduring FFVII was posted. That seems crazy, but it's worryingly true. I'm at a point where I'm pretty sure only three episodes remain - one covering the game's multitude of optional content, one covering the descent into the North Crater, and the finale covering the final boss battles and ending sequence. I'm in a position where I could quite comfortably play through what remains of the game and knock out those remaining episodes, but I've been suffering a major lack of motivation to actually sit down and get it done. I'm hoping to put the procrastination out to pasture in these last months of 2013, and finally bring Enduring FFVII to the end it so justly deserves.
So there you have it - a list of ten games I'd like to try and beat before the end of 2013. In all honesty, laying it all out like that makes it seem a little more daunting than I'd originally thought it would be, but I'm prepared to rise to the challenge. If any of you guys have your own 'check-lists' for the remainder of the year, I'd be interested to know what's on them. In the meantime, thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.
It's been a long while since I last did one of these blog thing-a-ma-jiggies. I haven't scrolled back to check, but I think the two-month gap between my last blog and this one might make for my longest Giant Bomb blogging hiatus. There's no good reason for this, unless of course you count a profound lack of desire to blog as a valid excuse. I just haven't really wanted to write about video games of late. That's not to say I haven't been playing anything, though. In fact, since my last blog post, I've wrapped up a respectable seven games, taking my total for the year so far up to twenty-eight titles. I'll try to say a little bit about everything I've played in the following post. It probably won't be very cohesive or coherent, as I'm very out of practice when it comes to putting these things together. If you promise to be understanding, I'll do my best to make this at least semi-readable.
Gotta Play 'Em All
I knew that my most-commented blog on this site would come back to haunt me eventually. A little over two years after loudly and unashamedly proclaiming that Pokémon isn't for you (or me) any more, I've found myself caught up in a whirlwind of Poké-mania this summer. It all started with a run through LeafGreen, which was primarily intended just to scratch a nostalgic itch (I grew up playing Pokémon Blue, and decided to pick up this re-imagining for its graphical and mechanical improvements). I loved revisiting the Kanto region, catching and training a bunch of monsters to take on the gym leaders and Elite Four. The prettier presentation, deeper mechanics and expanded post-game content all helped breathe new life into an old experience - I'd definitely call LeafGreen one of the best examples I've seen of a remake done right.
After finishing up LeafGreen, I found myself still hungry for more of the catchable critters. The logical next step was to pick up a copy of one of its Gen IV remake sequels. I opted for SoulSilver over HeartGold for reasons I'm not entirely sure of myself (as a kid, Silver always felt like it should be paired with Blue, and Gold with Red, so maybe that's why). What started as a noncommittal excursion into the Johto region ended up turning into an epic 140-hour time-sink. It was awesome to see so many of the things I liked about Pokémon Diamond present in SoulSilver, and the amount of content on offer on the tiny cartridge is simply staggering - it's not often you find a game where the amount of post-game content actually exceeds the main game itself. Having put so much time into my playthrough, I feel confident saying that SoulSilver is my favourite Pokémon game to date.
At some point during my time with SoulSilver, I made a subconscious commitment to journey through every region in the main series of Pokémon games and catch as many different types as possible. The most recent leg of that journey took me to the Hoenn region for the first time ever, in the form of Pokémon Emerald. I'm not sure if it's because of the regressive nature of moving from a DS title to a GBA one, or if it's because I have no nostalgic attachment to the third generation of Pokémon games, or even if I'm simply just burned out on the series' formula at this point, but I didn't enjoy Emerald as much as I did the other two games. It's still a great Pokémon game, and the tussle between the two evil Teams and the history of the trio of legendary Pokémon go a long way towards making the story somewhat interesting, but nothing about it really pulled me in the same way that LeafGreen and SoulSilver did.
Right now, having transferred all my caught Pokémon from LeafGreen and Emerald into SoulSilver, my Pokédex total stands at 254 different types caught. Presently I'm on a break from Pokémon, mainly to give myself a reprieve from the series' formula before the release of X and Y in a couple of weeks time. A few friends and I have all picked up 3DSes (a little more on that in a moment), with a view to trying to re-capture our childhood in a flurry of trading and battling when the new games come out. Part of me still stands by what I said in that unexpectedly controversial blog in 2011 - Pokémon isn't intended for me any more, and no matter how hard I try, none of these games will replicate that feeling I had as a nine-year-old kid playing Pokémon Blue. But in pursuing this new goal, I've found something else in the series to love, and I can't wait to experience more of that when I continue my journey through Y, Platinum, White and White 2 in the coming months.
As I mentioned above, a couple of weeks back I chose to expand my collection of games consoles by picking up a Nintendo 3DS. A big part of that was down to the upcoming release of Pokémon X and Y, but there are also a few other reasons for the purchase. I'd really like to try out some of the strategy RPGs available for it - most notably Fire Emblem: Awakening, which fellow Giant Bombers @Sparky_Buzzsaw, @ArbitraryWater and @Video_Game_King have heaped praise upon, and Crimson Shroud, the latest brainchild of Japanese developer Yasumi Matsuno, which has been on my radar for some time now. Add to that the usual barrage of first-party titles under the umbrellas of Mario and Zelda, and it was pretty hard for me not to drop some of this month's salary on a nice shiny cosmic black 3DS.
Early impressions of the hardware have been very positive. I opted for the regular model over the XL (mainly because larger screens aren't an extravagance worth £35, in my eyes), and the shape, size and weight of it all feel 'right'. I know some people think the whole 'user-account-tied-to-the-console' concept is a little retrograde, but in the case of a handheld I think it makes sense. It's a little thing, but I really like the fact it has a built-in pedometer (I'm on a bit of a health kick at the moment, so being able to see how many steps I've taken is a nice affirmation that I'm heading in the right direction). Then there's the 3D aspect touted in the console's name. Anybody who knows me will know that I'm in fairly strong opposition of 3D - I'll invariably choose to see 2D versions of movies over their 3D counterparts - but the 3D effect on the 3DS's top screen doesn't really bother me that much. Maybe it's because I don't need to wear a stupid pair of glasses to appreciate it.
So far my experience with software has been limited. The first game I picked up for my 3DS was Animal Crossing: New Leaf (an interesting mirroring of my decision to pick up Wild World with my original DS, now that I think about it). I'm putting a little bit of time into it each day, and it's proving to be a great way to unwind after a long day at work. I've also made a few purchases from the eShop, including Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (which was half price last weekend), and a bunch of Virtual Console games including three Legend of Zelda titles from the Game Boy Color, which I never got to experience as a kid. All of those should keep me pretty busy in the coming months, and at least I won't be short of anything to play on my lunch breaks in future. If anybody's interested, my friend code is 0490-5718-6398 - feel free to add me and send me your code if you'd like to be friends.
Open World Shenanigans
When I haven't been playing Pokémon or getting to grips with my 3DS in my game time, I've been losing myself in open world games on consoles instead. In my last blog I mentioned that I was playing through Saints Row 2, which I ended up finishing late in July. I had a really fun time with it - although it's clearly a bit rough around the edges and nowhere near as impressive as its contemporary Grand Theft Auto IV, it is a lot of fun to play and most of its story missions are both varied and well structured. My biggest disappointment with the game was that it didn't go to great lengths to expand on the original Saints Row, to the point where it almost felt like a DLC mission pack than a full-fledged sequel, but considering I picked it up or a tenner I can't really complain too much. I intend to play Saints Row: The Third at some point over the winter, to see how the series continued to develop beyond its gangster trappings.
Not long after finishing Saints Row 2 I leapt into a decidedly more retro take on sandbox rampaging. No, not Retro City Rampage (although I am planning to play that soon) - I'm talking about Grand Theft Auto: London 1969, a mission expansion pack for the original Grand Theft Auto. Being a mission pack, most of what I said about the original game last year still stands - it's a product of its time, a fun distraction that becomes instantly less fun when you try to play it properly. One advantage it does have over its source material is that its missions are much less combat-oriented, focusing instead on lots and lots of driving. It means less mission variety, but it makes the experience less frustrating, and provides more of what I liked about playing the original - navigating the top-down city, referring to paper maps, and memorising important locations for later reference, all of which add up to a rewarding feeling of 'knowing' the game world. I can't really call it better or worse than the original Grand Theft Auto (it's essentially the same game), but the more lenient mission structure meant I had a lot more fun (or perhaps that should read 'a lot less frustration') playing London 1969.
Completing the trifecta of open world action was my most recent sandbox session - the recently released Grand Theft Auto V. I thought about saving this for a blog of its own, and I may yet choose to do that, but having finished the main story missions yesterday, I feel almost obliged to weigh in on it briefly here. I really, really like the core story of GTA V. The narrative, and the three central characters that drive it, are probably my favourite in the series to date. I found Michael in particular to be a fascinating character, his disillusioned outlook on modern life providing an interesting twist on the 'reluctant-criminal-forced-out-of-retirement' archetype that developers Rockstar have become so well known for showcasing. The game addresses the complaints about GTA IV's stale mission design with some truly diverse and memorable missions making up GTA V's core experience. The heist missions in particular, including their set-ups, are fantastic - I echo Jeff's sentiment that it's a shame there weren't more of them, and I hope that any DLC we see in GTA V's future provides us with a few more spectacular scores.
It's a shame that throughout my time with GTA V, the game's narrative felt so distinctly at odds with the world in which it was set. I don't mean the physical world of Los Santos and Blaine County, which I personally found gorgeous to observe, thrilling to navigate and rewarding to explore. I'm referring to the cultural world that the GTA series has built up over the years - this satirical slant on Western democratic capitalism that parodies commercialism and juxtaposes societal commentary with knob gags. I can't quite put my finger on why, but that side of the game just didn't work for me this time around. Maybe I've just outgrown that phase of life where replacing another number with '69' is funny. It's a minor complaint, but I was also really disappointed by the classic rock radio station this time around. GTA IV's Liberty Rock Radio was always going to be a tough act to follow, especially after the attitude injection it received from The Lost & Damned's extra tracks, but it doesn't seem like GTA V's Los Santos Rock Radio was even trying. I still really enjoyed my time with GTA V, to the point where it'll almost certainly be in my Top Ten list for the end of the year, but these two things did sour the experience a little.
So that's what I've been up to for the last two months or so. I'm hoping that from here on out I'll be able to maintain a more consistent blogging schedule here on Giant Bomb. I have every intention of putting together the last few episodes of Enduring Final Fantasy VII in the next few weeks, so expect to see those appearing in this space shortly. That aforementioned deeper look at GTA V might also materialise, if I can find a way of articulating what I feel that says anything more than what I already have above. There will no doubt be some thoughts on Pokémon X and Y next month, once my friends and I have had some hands-on time with them. In the meantime, I think I'm going to check up on the residents of my town in New Leaf, then dive back into Los Santos and do a few more side missions. Thanks for reading guys, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS)
The last month or so has felt pretty stagnant for me games-wise. In a move that's more reminiscent of me five years ago than me right now, I've been wanting to start a lot of games, attempting to start quite a few of them, and not finishing any of them. I've ended up with a few games that currently stand unfinished, a couple of which I've lost all desire to play. This blog is an attempt to clear my gaming slate, by drawing a line under some of those games and vowing to tackle the others with renewed vigour. I'll begin at the most obvious place...
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Readers of this blog will be aware that back in May I embarked on a quest to play through every canonical Metal Gear game as part of a Metal Gear Madness challenge. Peace Walker is the eighth and final game of the challenge, but try as I might, I just can't muster the will to keep playing it. It's not that it's a bad game - quite the opposite, I think it's one of the best games in the series. Its gameplay is an awesome evolution of the micro-management concept debuted in Portable Ops, and its position in the series' overarching narrative makes it a very interesting game to follow story-wise. I just... don't want to play it any more. I think I'm just all Metal Gear-ed out right now, having played seven other titles in the stealth-action series back-to-back. I've made it up to the point where Snake fights the third AI weapon (the Cocoon?), but just cannot bring myself to play any further. I'll probably return to it and play through the remainder of the game before the year is out, but right now I just want to put it down and forget about it for a month or two. Apologies to anybody who was awaiting the final instalment of the Metal Gear Madness blog series, but you're going to have to wait a little longer.
Pokémon LeafGreen Version
I started playing Pokémon LeafGreen back at the end of April, with a view to gradually working my way through an adventure in every region from the franchise before Pokémon X&Y are released in October. I kept up my Pokémon training alongside the first few Metal Gear games in the first half of May, but my commitment slowly began to taper off until I put the game down in mid-May, and I haven't returned to it since. Right now my team of level 50-something first-generation Pokémon are sitting on the steps of the Indigo League HQ, braced to face the Elite Four, and as yet I haven't taken the plunge and stepped through those hallowed doors. Right now I'm in two minds as to how to re-approach LeafGreen. One option, the sane option, is to turn the DS back on, pretend the two-month hiatus never happened, lay waste to the Elite Four and watch the credits roll. The other, much less sane option is to start my adventure from scratch and train a whole new bunch of critters from the Kanto region. The first option is the most likely, and it probably won't be long before I take that plunge and add LeafGreen to the list of games I've beaten this year. Then I can comfortably move on to SoulSilver and have some fun in Johto.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
It's incredible to think that my on-again, off-again relationship with this game has been going on for around a year now. It was either late summer or early autumn that I turned to Final Fantasy Tactics Advance to scratch my strategy RPG itch, and even though I've sunk around sixty hours into it, I'm still quite a way from the end. Recently I've been feeling my desire to get back into it return, so I'm sure it won't be long before I rejoin Marche, Montblanc and the rest of Clan Gaslight on their adventures in Ivalice. I think I'm about two thirds of the way through the main story missions, with about 130 of the game's 300 missions completed. Hopefully another twenty hours or so will finally see me able to cross this off my Pile of Shame after all these years.
Saints Row 2
I won't beat around the bush here - the primary reason I'm playing this game is because of Ryan. One thing that's been nagging at me since I heard the news is the memory of his voice on pretty much every Bombcast of late 2011 saying, "You should play Saints Row The Third!". So I bought the Full Package edition for my PS3, but I've run into some problems with the console overheating and have had to put the game on hold, at least until this unbearable heatwave is over. Unable to play SR3, I've instead fallen back on Saints Row 2, which I own for the 360. It feels a lot closer to my memories of the original Saints Row than the opening hour or so of SR3 did, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I've taken over about two thirds of Stilwater at this point, having crushed the Ronin and nearly finished dealing with the Sons of Samedi. It's an exercise in silliness and mindlessness, but there's no denying that causing wanton destruction on such a large scale is damn fun. At this rate I anticipate I'll be done with SR2 within the next week or so. Hopefully by then the heatwave will have passed, and I'll be able to play my PS3 again.
So that's where I'm at games-wise right now. My immediate plan is to drop Peace Walker for the time being and focus on Saints Row 2. In the meantime I'll probably wrap up the unfinished business in Pokémon LeafGreen and then swap it for Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, which I may even start taking to work and playing on my lunch breaks. When all that's done and dusted, I'll be able to consider my slate clean (or at least significantly less messy than it is right now). I realise this is a blog written primarily for my own benefit, but if any of you have stuck around long enough to reach this point, then you have my thanks for reading it. Take it easy, Giant Bomb, and I'll see you around.
...Oh, and while I remember, there's one more loose end to tie up: