By GrantHeaslip 27 Comments
Fire Emblem: Awakening (chapter 19/26)
I have a really weird relationship with Fire Emblem: Awakening. I started it at the end of June, moved, and completely stopped playing for around a month. I resumed sometime in August, but fell off again, and picked it up for real near the end of September. I'm now on the warpath to finishing it, if just to finally put it behind me. I say this just to establish that you should take my opinions about this game with a grain of salt.
There's a lot of cool things about Awakening, but I just can't get meaningfully invested in the characters or story, and I find I'm often just not in the mood to play it. I can't point to any one thing and say "that's why I don't love it", but I don't love it. It's a remarkably well-executed and polished game -- in a way that puts so much of today's buggy, day-one-patched stuff to shame -- and it's really obvious that Intelligent Systems has been honing this formula for ages. The gulf between the respect I have for the game and my personal taste for it has been wearing on me.
If I had to point at one thing about it that's disagreed with me, it's that it feels unfocused. There's a lot of characters, and maybe because of that, most of them lean pretty heavily on one or two shticks. My map is always full of random battles and StreetPass teams, but I really only deal with that stuff for the sake of grinding, not because I find repeating easy battles fun. I often have very specific goals in mind when grinding -- such as building up affinity, weapon skill, and equalizing lower-leveled characters; and while that's satisfying in its own way, it feels a bit soulless. I'm finding the story to be perfectly serviceable, but it's not like I'm sitting on the edge of my seat wondering what might happen next, and in the context of a JRPG, I think that's a problem. I'm hitting a point where I feel like I've experienced most of what I want to from the game, but still have 10+ hours to go.
I do love the affinity system, which I unfortunately neglected and somewhat misunderstood through a lot of the early game. It's, in my mind, the redeeming side of the lack of focus, because it lets you create your own stories and/or badass character teams. I married my tome-using MC to Lucina, and they're a two-person wrecking crew in a really satisfying and narratively contextualized way. Same goes for Stahl and Cordelia, who have the added bonus of extreme mobility and amazing tanking potential. Vaike and Nowi; Lon'qu and Panne; Chrom and Sumia; and various other unmarried pairs have all turned into very reliable crews. I didn't realize it early on, but the support mechanic may be the most important and rewarding aspect of the game -- If I played the game again, I'd put way more thought and planning into it.
When everything comes together, Awakening can feel rewarding like almost nothing else. In the paralogue in which you're protecting Tiki, I took one look at the situation and figured "there's no way I can possibly get through this without losses", but I got my units into a perfect support formation and made it through. At one point, I pulled off a brilliant-feeling unit shuffle (complete with a choice Olivia iron sword kill) to get a unit healed and safely paired up. I'm sure I'm playing the game terribly by series veteran standards, but it makes me feel like like I'm smart, and that's what matters!
P.S. I love the character design and art. It goes a really long way to giving the characters, well, character.
Super Mario Galaxy
I caught a nasty cold last week, and I dug out my copy of Super Mario Galaxy as a sort of video game comfort food. Six(!) years later, it's still a great game. The last time I played it, it was on a fairly bad SDTV over the stock composite cables, and while I remember it looking good even then, on a nice widescreen monitor in 480p (via Wii2HDMI), it looks really good even by modern HD standards. I've seen the screenshots of it upscaled in Wii emulators, and while they do look better, Galaxy hardly needs to be rendered in HD to be a looker.
The levels are wonderfully varied, inventive, and playful; and the way they're organized into hubs makes it really easy to hop between them and keep things fresh. The controls are tight, the surprising breadth of game mechanics are really smoothly dolled out and trained, and the production values and polish are almost without compare. This is one of those games that almost never breaks character. It's quite possibly one of my favourite games ever made, though I'll feel more comfortable saying that once I'm finished playing and my 2007 memories have been thoroughly challenged by recent experience.
And man, the music. I'm only 20-something stars in, and I know there's some great stuff coming (Gusty Garden Galaxy in particular), but here's some favourites from early on:
I incredibly never got around to playing Super Mario Galaxy 2 -- a mistake I hope to rectify soon.