By MajorMitch 0 Comments
Life got a little busier than usual for me in October, but I still managed to squeeze some quality gaming time in. In addition to what I talk about below I also played 140, which is a cool but short game. There’s not a lot to say about it, but I did enjoy it (check out Patrick’s actually quick Quick Look if you’re curious what it is). Anyway, on to what I spent most of my gaming time on in October!
When I got my PlayStation Vita earlier this year, perhaps the primary deciding factor in the purchase was that I never owned a PlayStation Portable. There were a handful of PSP games I always wanted to play, and all (but one) of them are playable on a Vita, essentially making it a two-in-one handheld for me. Near the top of the PSP list was Jeanne d’Arc, which I finally got around to playing this month. I like that style of turn based tactics in general, and Jeanne d’Arc is certainly a very good one. At its core, it’s mostly comparable to things like Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem, but it also has some touches that give it an identity of its own. Most of those touches come from developer Level-5, whose fingerprints are all over this game. Similar to recent Dragon Quest games (or even the more recent Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch to some extent), Jeanne d’Arc is a purer, more focused take on its genre. You don’t have anything like the wildly intricate class customization of a Final Fantasy Tactics, or the ambitiously large and intense battles of a Fire Emblem. Instead, it focuses on fewer, more well defined characters and smaller battles, while still managing to throw in a few simple customization options for good measure. Those options primarily come from a tried and true equippable skills system. Skills generally range from special attacks or spells to basic stat buffs, and there’s also the option to fuse two skills together into another one. It wouldn’t be a Level-5 game without what amounts to an “alchemy pot,” after all.
I find Level-5’s style to be both hit and miss in Jeanne d’Arc, much like I do in their other games. In many ways I really appreciate simple and focused game design, and think a lot of games would benefit from such an approach. At the same time, Level-5 likes to make a lot of long, grindy games (Jeanne d’Arc included), and I don’t know that their approach does much to benefit the grind. Most of the battles in Jeanne d’Arc follow a standard pattern, and that routine repeats for quite a while. More bluntly, I think the game could use a little something extra as the game goes on to make the constant battling a little more interesting (alternatively the game could have been a little shorter). That gripe aside, I personally enjoy the core of that routine more than enough to carry me through the game, and other aspects of the package do a fine job of supporting it. I find the game’s bizarre alternate history entertaining, and like the story overall. Parts of it can get a little too “anime” for my tastes, but I enjoy the main beats and the characters more than I probably should. Even better are the animated cut scenes, which are surprisingly frequent for a handheld game, and absolutely gorgeous. These touches are welcome, even if they aren’t the main reason to play Jeanne d’Arc. That reason is for its turn based tactical battles, which I think are good enough to make Jeanne d’Arc worth playing for anyone interested in the genre.
The Stanley Parable
The Stanley Parable is a very, very silly thing. I spent a good few hours with it, and feel like I’ve seen most of the “endings” (all the ones I could find on my own at least), but I still don’t really know how I feel about it. I think the fact that the Internet is so weirdly militant about keeping it spoiler-free (I’ll avoid spoilers as well) speaks to just how reliant the game is on its jokes, meta-commentary and unpredictable left turns, which is also a big part of what makes the game so silly. It’s almost like a big in-joke made into a game, a stream of amusing commentary on modern game design expressed in the form of the very thing it’s commenting on. I don’t think that’s the worst idea in the world, and for the most part I think it does what it sets out to do, and has plenty of funny moments to boot. At the same time, I think the jokes miss plenty of times too, and a lot of them aren’t super original; if you’ve played a lot of games then you’ll likely have heard a lot of this before. Maybe not expressed in the form of a game with a narrator who has a sharp accent, but you’ve heard a lot of this somewhere. And if you haven’t played a lot of games, then you might not even get what The Stanley Parable is talking about to begin with. It’s a weird aspect to pin the hopes and ambitions of a game on, and truth be told I don’t know if I like it or not. It’s a game about games that doesn’t do much more than comment on games. In other words, as a game itself I don’t find it that interesting. Come for the jokes and the commentary with reasonable expectations and you’ll probably have a good enough time with The Stanley Parable, but I don’t think I got much more out of it than that.
When the month began I wasn’t sure if I was going to play Pokemon X/Y or not. I like Pokemon in a general sense (I consider the original Red/Blue among my all-time favorite games), but I’m not so into the series that I care to play every single release; call me a fair weather fan. Once it came out, however, Pokemon X/Y appeared to offer just enough improvements, and my slate was clean enough, that I decided to take the plunge. Overall X/Y is, like every game in the series, very much an iterative step forward, but it also might be one of the bigger steps forward in the ways I care about. The campaign itself is the same basic setup as always, and is still a big old grind; I think at this point it’s safe to say I don’t get much out of Pokemon campaigns anymore. But X/Y has implemented a few subtle refinements that smooth out the process just enough, such as giving you access to roller skates and a bike much earlier for quicker movement. Other things like inventory and Pokemon management seem snappier than ever, but most importantly is the new EXP Share, which almost seems broken. With it on, all the Pokemon in your party gain experience for every fight, whether they are used in battle or not. It makes leveling Pokemon super fast; I finished the game with my team around level 75, which is at least 20 levels higher than usual. It may be kind of broken, but I personally appreciate it. You can turn it off if you want to grind even more, but for people like me who have played a lot of Pokemon campaigns and primarily want to see the post-game stuff, it was nice to be able to power through a little more quickly.
Now that I’m done with the campaign I’m looking forward to trying out some of the post-game activities in Pokemon X/Y, which in all honesty is why I got the game to begin with. I likely won’t dive back in for a little while (I need a Poke-break), but I’ve already gotten a slight taste of what’s perhaps X/Y’s biggest improvement: its online features. This is easily the most online focused Pokemon yet, with slick and easy ways to trade and battle with all sorts of people in all sorts of ways. I haven’t built a serious competitive team since the Diamond/Pearl days, but the prospect of online battling in X/Y has me wanting to suit up and make a new team. The desire to make a new team is further bolstered by Super Training, which seems like a more hassle-free method of EV training. For how fun competitive battling is I still think creating a competitive team is way more obtuse and time consuming than it should be, but X/Y does appear to be making that process slightly simpler, which is the right direction. Baby steps, right? As for the rest of the changes, I’m mostly indifferent. The new Pokemon seem cool enough, and the new Fairy type is probably worth having; Dragon did need a nerf. I do really like the new visuals, and this is far and away the best the series has ever looked. I do wish all the Pokemon were voiced like Pikachu, but again, baby steps. Finally, perhaps my biggest gripe with the game so far is actually a camera and control issue. Basically, I think 8-way movement with the circle pad is weird (why not full 360 degree motion?), and the camera is occasionally awful, most notably in Lumiose City. In fact, that whole city is just a mess. The city layout, the camera and the movement make me dread going there. Those gripes aside, however, I think Pokemon X/Y is a good Pokemon game, and probably one of the better ones in a while. It remains to be seen how much I get into the post-game content, but early prospects are positive. It may still be making baby steps, but at least it’s making the right baby steps.
Looking Ahead to November
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but new consoles are coming out! I’ve had a PlayStation 4 pre-ordered since they’ve been available, and I’m pretty excited about it. Regardless of what you think of the launch lineup, I’m still curious to check out some combination of Knack, Need for Speed: Rivals, Killzone: Shadow Fall and Battlefield 4. I haven’t settled on exactly which of those I’ll play, but I bet I’ll play at least one or two of them close to launch. And there’s always Resogun too. More than anything though, I’m just excited to finally have a promising new console up to modern standards. That said, the pair of November games I’m most excited for are, ironically, two Nintendo games that have nothing to do with new hardware. I think The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Super Mario 3D World are both looking really sharp right now. Oh, and Tearaway comes out too, maybe that will be cool? Anyway, November’s a busy month for games, but all of the new releases I’m interested in happen in the second half of the month. The only thing I know for sure I’ll play before then is The Wonderful 101, which I’ve already started. Otherwise I’ll probably take it fairly easy the next two weeks, which are the proverbial calm before the storm. Come November 15, things might get a little wild.