Go! Go! GOTY! ~Day Four~ (Tesla Effect)

Day Four

Phew, this one comes in right under the wire. Turns out, this game was a little bigger than I anticipated, though perhaps "bloated" is more the word. I'm afraid to say that my opinion on Tesla Effect has worsened now that I've played it all the way through to the end. It's still a great adventure game, and the scenes with FMV actors are as fun as they were from the offset, but the game suffers from a lot of weird pacing and scale problems past the first few chapters and seems to have carried over some of the excesses of the FMV generation.

Let's start with the pacing problems. Tesla Effect takes place in a few venues, one of which is Chandler Street: Tex's home and that of a bunch of colorful locals who usually have something piquant or sardonic to offer to the current mystery Tex is working on. This street, though it becomes very familiar as the game continues, is where the "asking NPCs questions" side of the game comes into focus, and for as largely empty as the street is it's fun to stroll around badgering the neighbors and collecting information. The other venues are, I suppose, what you'd call "instances" or "stages": self-contained areas of little narrative importance beyond the chapter you're currently playing (if you ever return to these places, it's usually just to talk to an NPC). There's usually one big puzzle to solve there, often involving a set of collectibles necessary to move on with the plot, and a bunch of secondary puzzles which usually lead to one of said collectibles. It's a tad formulaic, and some of the puzzles aren't quite as fun as they could be. Instead, we get the same bunch of Layton/Mensa also-rans that pop up frequently in any adventure game from the FMV generation onwards, some completely incongruous stealth and laser-dodging sequences (fortunately neither are particularly tough) and, though I hesitate to say anything about the finale, a difficult and excruciatingly precise timed puzzle to cap the game off. I sorely wish Tesla Effect could've played to its strengths more and focused on the NPC interrogations. Not with LA Noire's half-baked "human lie detector" routine, necessarily, but something akin to that perhaps. You know, detective stuff.

A safety warning typed up by super geniuses at the Nicola Tesla super genius enclave. Albeit, super geniuses without a spellchecker. Though to be fair to them and their present issue with giant death balls of plasma, they may have been in a hurry.

The scale of some of the areas, too, can be a bit of an issue at times. One of the late-game locations, a giant abandoned hi-tech facility, has about an acre of empty rooms, test chambers, reactors and an enormous atrium, but you're usually just solving one or two inventory puzzles per each of its four floors and were it not so gigantic you'd be done within fifteen minutes. As it is, the items and hotspots are so spread out that you're spending an hour simply exploring the place. Maybe it's verisimilitudinous for this facility to be big enough to house a hundred people, given that they bothered to install all these impressive fixtures and a nuclear reactor, but it's still a chore to sift through the dozens of rooms for collectible objects needed for a puzzle.

Speaking of which, I've got nothing against collectibles (quite the contrary, in fact) but the game seems to lean on item hunting a little too often. I very much recommend switching the difficulty to "casual": even if you don't intend to use the hints provided on this easier mode, the player's torch will generate a sparkling effect on any item in the environment the player can collect, even through drawers and cabinets the player can interact with. When it comes to finding tiny keys and other smaller objects lying in the dark, the feature is invaluable for saving time.

So Tesla Effect has its problems, on top of those inescapable ones that come with being an FMV game. Maybe dumb Mensa puzzles and silly action sequences were trademarks of the Tex Murphy franchise, I wouldn't know as a series novice, but they don't seem like a particularly good fit. I'd still recommend Tesla Effect though; I enjoyed its writing and acting, its near-future setting and crazy ideas, its charm and chutzpah, and... well, you simply just don't see this type of point and click adventure game around any more.

Maybe with good reason.

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Go! Go! GOTY! ~Day Three~ (Tesla Effect)

Day Three

Confession time: I've never played a Tex Murphy game, at least before today. I dropped out of adventure games around the advent of FMV and needing multiple CDs per game, and even though the Tex Murphy series are generally regarded as some of the few good ones (though perhaps still stricken with the same abstruseness that briefly put the adventure game genre on ice), I've never gone back to check them out. I actually bought the whole set in a GOG sale some months back, so it's perhaps sheer bone-idleness. Anyway, the point of this pre-amble is to say that Tesla Effect seems very much a game built to appease its pre-existing fanbase, which has lead to some bemusement on my part as a Murphy neophyte.

In a sense, the statement that the game is made specifically for current Tex Murphy fans is literally true, being the result of a successful Kickstarter driven by deeply nostalgic crowd. The game itself makes numerous references to both the Kickstarter campaign that allowed it to exist (though in the usual peripheral metaphorical way, such as a set of mugshots in a burned down building) and Tex's many past adventures, as he'll occasionally find some artifact from a previous game and have it switch to a "flashback" mode that plays back that game's FMV in as high a quality as the developers can manage from the source footage. Even without the direct flashbacks, many of the game's legacy characters make a return, and there's plenty of references to their shared history with Tex.

The game has a lot of great looking FMV too. It'd have to, with a 16GB install.

In a sense, this is both exclusionary and cozy. The world feels lived in, its characters having been developed through multiple adventures and appear in this game fully formed. Tex Murphy's actor Chris Jones, who is also the series' long-time director and formerly of Access Games, has an easy familiarity with the role and its tonal swings from serious noir gumshoe to goofy, pratfalling adventure game hero. It sort of feels like coming to a TV show several seasons in, when you can appreciate how it now runs like a well-oiled machine but sort of wish you could go back to its awkward early days just to be there on the ground floor. Something I fully intend to do with Tex Murphy as soon as I've completed this new one.

Beyond that, I'll have more to say about the game once I've seen it to its conclusion, hopefully tomorrow. For right now, that I'm actually eager to see more of it should be proof enough that I think it's pretty great so far. Sharp and funny script, well acted (for an FMV game) by a cast of actors and mostly actors fine with being dolled up in absurd prosthetics, never too perplexing and even has a collectible side-quest. I love those!

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Go! Go! GOTY! ~Day Two~ (OlliOlli & Mind: Path to Thalamus)

Day Two

  • Game: OlliOlli
  • Source: The Humble Indie Bundle 13
  • Started: 02/12

I definitely like the idea of OlliOlli, Roll7's Indie throwback to the glory days of skateboard simulators, in which the player's sk8r av8r performs tricks with the merest of button taps while rolling down a 2D side-scrolling course filled with steps, grind rails and other skating game fixtures. It's streamlined in such a way that many of even the more complex tricks require simply performing some variant of a hadoken maneuver with the analog stick (or the D-pad in my case, if we're doing fighter game gestures anyway). The key is to land these tricks accurately, however, which involves pressing the lower face button on your preferred controller just before hitting the ground, which is easily forgotten in the heat of the moment. Any combos that the player pulls off are greatly devalued if the landing isn't performed correctly, generating a "Sloppy!" exclamation and a score that is several magnitudes smaller than it may have otherwise been. Conversely, pinpoint accurate landings (both on the ground, and when crossing to a rail) greatly boosts the player's score instead. Most skater games ask that you risk the most daredevil flips and kicks and holds and then simply land them satisfactorily for the points they accrue, while OlliOlli demands that landing the trick is everything and the rest might as well be showing off.

Pictured: Someone way better at this game than I am.

I feel this philosophy, and the analog stick-focused control scheme in general, is more an homage to EA's Skate series rather than to Neversoft's Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. It's easy to mistake OlliOlli for a game based on the latter, given its vaguely cartoonish presentation (one that reminds me a lot of Semi Secret Software's Canabalt, or Konami's Tomena Sanner, which are other endless runner types with pseudo-rotoscoped faceless protagonists, albeit ones in sharper suits), but its emphasis on meticulousness firmly puts it closer to the "simulation" side of the skateboarding genre scale (the other side possibly labelled "fart jokes, Bam Margera and hassling vagrants for some reason"). As someone who didn't particularly care for either Skate's focus on realism (excepting any mission that involved hurting yourself for money) nor its weird stick-flicking ollie controls, that antipathy has passed over to OlliOlli in turn. Maybe we'll see a true pretender to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater crown further down the road, but it's unfortunately not here.

Goddammit, I just want tricks assigned to face buttons and manuals on the D-pad, and maybe not to fall over so much. Is that so wrong? Then again, I'm someone who still thinks the best racing game ever made is Diddy Kong Racing, so I appreciate that not everyone shares my viewpoint on any genre that involves wheels.

  • Game: Mind: Path to Thalamus
  • Source: Remute's "Rewind Your Mind" bundle (Groupees)
  • Started: 02/12

If Jazzpunk was a first-person adventure game that was a little out of the ordinary, Mind: Path to Thalamus is quite usual indeed. One of the more recent entries in an endless series of thoughtful, narratively dry and absurdly picturesque "walking simulators" evidently inspired by ancient forerunner Myst, Mind: Path to Thalamus has you walking around locations of natural beauty while solving general environment puzzles involving spheres and mirrors. Specifically, a neuron-shaped ball is necessary for a lot of the game's puzzles, as they can be placed in areas where the game shifts in some way: whether that's spreading out a thick gaseous barrier to make it passable, or making it night so certain hidden details become apparent in the moonlight, or making it rain to raise floating wooden bridges. Finding these neuron balls and the right place to put them makes the meteorological shift permanent, and is the impetus for much of the early game. Well, with the exception of a neat reflection puzzle involving mirrors that was shown off in the game's Quick Look that occurs before the title drop.

It's very pretty, I'll give it that much. This is in-game, by the way, not some random artwork.

Unfortunately, and maybe this is an issue specific to this not particularly great office PC and underwhelming computers like it, the sphere carrying element can get awful glitchy. Frequently I'd find myself moving faster than the ball I was holding, letting it simply drop to the ground until I hit a glacial pace that allowed me to hang onto it. Add to that the game's apparent lack of a run button and you have a game that's far less palatable than it should be, especially when it makes its various zones so unnecessarily expansive. I can understand that a leisurely gait is preferred in these meditative first-person adventure games where you're delving into the trauma of a lost loved one in some metaphysical and highly symbolic realm, but it sure does get tiring if you're spending an hour trying to complete a puzzle you figured out 57 minutes ago.

I'm afraid I'm going to have to relegate this one to my "Not On This PC" folder on Steam, reserved for games I feel I can't do right by with the hardware I currently have. A particular puzzle early on involving carrying the neuron balls across precarious underwater platforms is frustratingly impossible with the juddery awkwardness with which my computer runs the scenario. It might get better later on, but considering how grating the lead character's occasionally awful delivery can be as he narrates his deep musings while throwing brainballs around, I'm going to surmise that I'm not missing out on some vital last-second GOTY list entry.

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Go! Go! GOTY! ~Day One~ (Jazzpunk)

I've not been keeping up with new releases this year. Some, sure, but not nearly as many as I would prefer, and as a result any big end of year GOTY blog from yours truly is going to look rather tumbleweed-y as of right now. Which is why I'm replacing the usual December Desura Dementia series with Go! Go! GOTY!: a title derived from present front-runner for Indie Game of 2014 Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~ (please note that this is a facetious accolade).

The purpose of Go! Go! GOTY! is to play through as many of the 2014 Indie games I have sitting in the various libraries of digital distribution clients in a desperate bid to fill out an eventual "GOTY 2014" list. The list itself, and the comics-"enhanced" awards blog that accompanies it, should be up around the 20th. At least, that's the date I'm aiming for, and when Go! Go! GOTY! is expected to conclude. After that, I'll almost certainly be too busy with Christmas stuff to worry about a daily series.

Every day of Go! Go! GOTY (I am already regretting that name) will contain a summary of whatever I've been playing over the past twenty-four hours. I hope to complete as many of these games as possible, but given I have at least twenty and maybe more to come if I keep buying up bundles, I suspect an equally large number will see a few hours of playtime and be disregarded in lieu of more pressing fare. Games I actually manage to complete will obviously get a more detailed appraisal.

So without any further ado...

Day One

  • Game: Jazzpunk
  • Source: Humble Indie Bundle 13
  • Started: 01/12
  • Ended: 01/12

Starting gentle, and with one of the more pressing items on the ol' Steam backlog, we have Necrophone Games's Jazzpunk, a first-person comedy adventure game. No doubt you've seen the QL for this game already (or have had plenty of time to check out the game yourselves), but to explain Jazzpunk succinctly would be to take something away from it. You are essentially tasked with completing a minor adventure game puzzle tangentially related to classic espionage tropes in order to complete each of the game's four scenarios, but it's rarely that cut and dry. The game is filled with incidental interactivity, side-missions, places to explore and dumb jokes to laugh at. There's references, satire, puns, slapstick, scatological and every other humor type under the sun, so chances are if one joke fails to land there's another just around the corner that will fare better. Personally, I found the hit/miss ratio of the jokes in this game to be unconventionally weighted towards the "hit" side, which is fairly notable when most video game humor is either kind of flat, forced or just dumb. And not necessarily in the fun non-pejorative sense of calling them dumb.

Man, so let me explain the three seashells (a reference everyone but Dan Ryckert will get).

Obviously the natural ancestor of Jazzpunk would be the absurdist and joke-laden LucasFilm/SCUMM graphic adventure games of old. You could go even further back, with comedy text adventures often penned by Douglas Adams, but Jazzpunk and the SCUMM games are a largely visual medium with fewer moving parts than the entire English language to build jokes from, which makes it that much easier for its designers to anticipate the player's actions and set up jokey conclusions in advance to cater to every possibility the player might devise. Most everything in Jazzpunk can be interacted with to some extent, though the player is generally limited in what they can do in the pure puzzle game sense. There's usually only a handful of items the player picks up, and most don't serve any additional purpose besides the core one it was built for.

That said, Jazzpunk does find time to insert plenty of additional "gameplay", for those desperate for more of it. Interludes like a hacker-based version of Frogger, a pizza survival horror, a microbiotic Space Invaders, a wedding-themed multiplayer shooter (named "Wedding Qake") and other allusions to classic games can be found by poking around a little, and "poking around a little" might as well be the game's mission statement. There's also a story, of sorts, so it isn't entirely just a series of unconnected non-sequitur scenarios where you run around degaussing pigeons, poisoning cowboys or tossing a red bandana, sais and a pizza onto some poor sea turtle on the beach. Like Gone Home, a motivated speedrunner could probably beat this within a few minutes (but hey, they could do that for the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time too). But like Gone Home, the appeal is definitely in exploring a bit and getting absorbed in the atmosphere (and humor, in Jazzpunk's case), however, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it.

It's worth going all around the world. It's pun overload. Watch out for the ominous "The Cube", sitting out in the Pacific Ocean.

Given what else I have on this list, I'm guessing it can only go down from here. Join me in finding out, won't you?

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Dark Souls II: Bosswatch (Part 2)

Hey all bearers of curses both belligerent and numerous, and welcome to part two of the Dark Souls II Bosswatch, wherein I commentate on the various boss encounters in From Software's newest in their series of masochism simulators. We left off last time with the defeat of the Lost Sinner and the acquisition of the first of the four Great Souls, necessary (well, only kinda, it turns out) to unlock the next part of the game, and a lot of grousing about how similar a lot of these bosses are. The ones that look like big dudes with a sword, specifically. I surmised last time that such encounters were the unfortunate result of it being the early game, where they wanted to impart the values of defense, evasion and choosing one's moment to strike, and didn't want to throw off new players with too many awesome 50-foot-long dragons and Cthulhoids just yet. We'll see if that theory pans out.

There are spoilers here for the majority of Dark Souls II; at least in terms of what you can expect to see, if nothing too concrete about a narrative thread just yet. I'm also going to start speculating on lore a bit more here just to keep things interesting. Given how sparse it apparently is, I'm hopefully not going to be too far off what the YouTube Lore groupthink has already come up with.

No-Man's Wharf

No-Man's Wharf is sort of like this game's Blighttown without the horrible venomous swamp at the bottom (which got transplanted to Harvest Valley, it seems) considering all its rickety bridges and enemies popping out of hiding places. It's also oppressively dark too, but I fixed that with one of these Pharros' Lockstones I keep picking up that turned all the lights on. Having zero trouble with the enemies in this region (the only tough ones are scared by the light), I proceeded to effortlessly clear the level and reach the dock at the end, when something made me slip and fall off to my death. This is already after meeting the NPC that trades souls for useless/duplicate items, so I had quite the number on me at this point. I bet you'll never guess what happened to me on my way to collect them. They really ought to put up some railings or something...

Flexile Sentry

Hey, getting tired of all those big knight bosses that either hit slow and hard or hit fast and frequently? How about a combination of the two? The Flexile Sentry are a pair of warriors apparently tied at the hip (I thought that was just an expression), who alternate being the aggressor depending on how often you try to get behind them. Honestly, that the fight is taking place in the hull of a pirate ship is kind of more exciting than the fact that it's another big sword dude. Well, half of this boss is a sword dude, the other being a club dude. (Fortunately, they both count as the same entity as far as a health bar is concerned.)

It's an interesting twist on the usual tactic of trying to circle around and flank a larger, slower enemy, but not so interesting to distinguish it from the game's many other bosses with a similar approach. As for immediately after the fight, I took a boat to a new location, got all excited and then... nope. Lost Bastille again. I guess this was the other way to get there? So that's two paths from the start I've been hopping between, getting a little further with each, and they both lead to the same dungeon and Great Soul. Dammit. Might see what that giant pit back in Majula's all about...

Executioner's Chariot

Now this is more like it! It ends with another deliberately-paced battle of picking one's moment over and over, again, but at least the build-up is something different. It's also the most obnoxious boss battle we've had so far, seemingly Dark Souls 2's equivalent of the Bed of Chaos or Dragon God puzzle boss, but I guess you can't have everything.

The Chariot boss fight requires that you head down an arcing corridor that constantly has this demonic unstoppable chariot racing through, sort of like that matador black velvet painting-inspired stage in Psychonauts. There's also a dozen skeletons, and two necromancers that keep bringing them back. As you head further down the corridor, you have to deal with more skeletons on top of the chariot and any necromancer that might be nearby. It is extremely easy to get yourself overwhelmed here, and I must've died around 20 times just on this part. Add to that the 20 times I died even getting here thanks to some asshole mummy ninjas and a black phantom that was guarding the fog door. Even coming back after I'd passed through Huntsman's Copse way earlier (this boss fight is on the way to the Skeleton Lords) didn't make it any easier. Of course, once you've beaten the necromancers and have raised a portcullis to smash the chariot, it becomes the aforementioned tank boss against the demonic horses that were charging around. The relatively tight corridor makes it tricky to maneuver, but it's the same boss fight again. Circle, avoid, block and hit when the enemy's stuck in an animation for an attack that you're outside the range of.

Shaded Woods/Ruins

I liked this area, for as familiar as parts of it were. From Majula, you can pass through another exit once you've brought the luckless pyromancer vendor lady back to life and have access to a lever she was blocking. It then becomes a three-way split, two of which are blocked but clearly lead to somewhere interesting further down the road, and the last to a misty forest. This misty forest immediately recalls that annoying part of the forest in Dark Souls I where there's a bunch of NPC humanoids who fight like phantoms. 50% were invisible in that game, which has been raised to 100% for this foggy copse. It's a little harrowing, and kind of a neat departure. Your options are to hug a wall and look for a way out, or to try to face down enemies you can't even see who all have the power to sneak up behind you and backstab you. I opted for the former.

After this forest comes a relatively small area full of tough leonine axemen, an enormous basilisk and these tittering curse jars that sap you with a nasty status effect if you get too close. Well, nasty if you aren't going through the whole game Hollowed like I've been doing. I rescued some kind of Painted World of Ariamis crow lady here, met a depressed Dumbledore (Grumbledore?) and stopped hitting a friendly scorpionman long enough to hear what he had to say about the next boss.

Scorpioness Najka

The bastard daughter of Quelaag and Gwyndolin, Najka does the whole "top half is a nude woman, bottom half is a gross bug", only this time it's a scorpion. She has backstory too: her mate, a scorpion man I accidentally slashed a few times before I realized he was friendly, tells me that the two of them were created by a mage years ago and she eventually regressed to her current feral state. He gave me one of these anti-petrification logs as thanks for dealing with her, which was nice. Coincidentally enough, and another parallel with Quelaag, I was unable to talk to him until I bought the special ring that allows conversations with monsters.

Her sting is more or less death (it did about 75% of my health bar and gave me the Toxic condition, which meant I wasn't able to get out of her range and hit an Estus in time to stop the other 25% from draining out) but what's more troublesome is her array of sorceries. Lots of powerful soul arrow spells, including homing ones and a nasty barrage that I was getting destroyed by every time. Once I'd found a slightly more magic-resistant shield, it was simply a matter of avoiding the worst of her attacks (not hard, fortunately, as most of the hugely damaging ones have a lot of telegraphing) and slowly wearing her down. She leaves herself wide open after the sting, at least, which meant I could unload a few double-handed attacks before she recovered. Still, a nasty boss, and a good reminder for why I'd been leaving the Shaded Woods well enough alone so far.

Grave of Saints

Opting to drop down the big hole in Majula rather than deal with anything more on the Shaded Ruins path, the first place I came to was this relatively small crypt area full of rats. There's a bunch of places to stick Pharros' Lockstones into, at least before we start getting all R-rated, but the first one I tried was a trap and I'm not sure I want to waste the few I have left. This place reminds me a lot of The Catacombs from the last game, probably because of all the corpses interred in sepulchers around here. Even so, there's something definitely foreboding about dropping into such a dark and unwelcoming place, and it ended up being more gentle than the intimidation factor would allow you to believe.

Royal Rat Vanguard

The Royal Rat Vanguard is a mob fight against mobs that mob you. We need better terms for video game things. In this case, it's a large pack of rats that continue to multiply and pour out of the walls, like the worst archeological survey of a tomb Henry Jones Sr. ever undertook. The goal is to take down one rat in particular, the Royal Rat Vanguard, and unlike other mob battles the rest of the creatures don't factor into the final boss health bar.

I actually liked this fight. It basically amounted to killing giant rats for ten minutes, but at least it was somewhat clever and original. What you're doing is playing the shell game with a bunch of identical rat enemies, with more coming in every second. The actual boss hits way harder and can build up petrification and poison, but for a slightly larger mohawk running down its back it can be tough to pick that particular one out of the crowd. It also doesn't have that much more health, and took about four hits before finally dying. I will say, though, for as easy as I thought it was, I did go through all my Estus flasks just surviving the swarming by the lesser enemies. Dare I mention that the Fool's Idol and Pinwheel (the latter of whom also inhabited its game's version of the catacombs) were earlier examples of this type of mimic boss and risk sounding dismissive about a boss I liked? Either way, it beats another giant dude with a sword.

Iron Keep

I'd popped into the Iron Keep briefly to grab that ember McDuff wanted, but I didn't feel like sticking around. A castle partially submerged by lava, the facts regarding how such a structure wouldn't make a whole lot of sense given how the rest of the castle probably would've melted along with the base is mitigated somewhat by the Rule of Cool. It's also packed with tough katana-wielding knights and some nasty flame traps. The goofy turtle guys from the Forest of Fallen Giants are here too, and still hit like freight trains with those clubs.

Old Iron King

It's definitely one of the Great Soul guys, given that he got his own cutscene before I fought him for the first time, and he's also one of the more impressive, visually-speaking. An enormous stony dragon dude emerging from lava to swing at you with his bare fists. It looks like a metal as hell JRPG boss and I thoroughly approve. I feel like I should switch my appearance to look more like Adol Christin before fighting him.

Alas, he's another boss that would've been more fun were he better implemented code-wise. The old phantom hit syndrome is considerably worse here, but that wasn't the part that killed me over and over. All his flame attacks, many of which cannot be avoided (or avoided exactly once with some cover, which the boss then gets around by moving), will knock you into a block break animation (or outright kill you if you don't block) and then hits again before fading away. Either that, or it sends you flying into the lava. It's like the Scorpioness fight, in that certain attacks just seem to end the battle, but with less room to escape them. Conversely, the non-fire attacks are super easy to avoid and leave the guy open for a little too long. The harsh juxtaposition of "here's an opening even a drunk, blind wussbaby like yourself can take advantage of" and "nope, fuck you, you're dead" depending on what the boss is throwing at you, while functional insofar as creating opportunities to attack while still being maintaining a sufficient level of difficulty, just seems uneven. Sort of like Lisa Simpsons's fishsticks: burned on the outside but frozen on the inside. Though mostly just the burned on the outside. I guess some more fire resistance wouldn't have gone amiss.

The Gutter + Black Gulch

After the Grave of Saints, the Majula Hole route just goes full nightmare fuel from then on. I said No-Man's Wharf was this game's equivalent of a bottomless Blighttown, but that honor clearly belongs to the Gutter: a pitch-black zone of rickety platforms hovering over an endless abyss. It's when I finally started to burn through the couple hours' worth of torches I'd accrued, lighting sconces just to keep track of where I'd been and what still lies beneath. Additionally, it's filled with statues that spit gobs of poison in your face if you walk into their view, so it often became a puzzle of smashing them without getting spotted by another one nearby. Sort of like a game of Pick-Up Sticks, you had to find the one that didn't have another one covering it and work your way through the network. The Black Gulch was better lighted, but no less terrifying. If it wasn't the Lovecraftian creatures springing out of shallow pools and holes in the wall (the latter gave me flashbacks to the "what won't come out no more?!" scene from Big Trouble in Little China), it had about a thousand more of those spitting statues.

The Rotten

At the end of this terror spelunk is this guy, who has a great visual design and is definitely closer to the game's spiritual successor to Gravelord Nito. A rotting pile of flesh filled with, and apparently comprised of, semi-sentient naked bodies a la Castlevania's Legion, this venomous Frankenstein's monster is more than a little intimidating. His intro also shows that he's the one that's been building all these poison-spitting statues. It's a neat melancholy touch, as it hints that he was presumably once some kind of sculptor, but it also means I have more of a grudge against this putrefying heap. I hated those statues!

He has some slow deliberate attacks (shock) which can be stopped by lopping off his arms, which in all fairness didn't seem to have much to connect them to the central core. Though I got some items from these arms, he starts doing these nasty hex-based (the hexes of the Dark Souls DLC are now in the game from the offset, and are one of the magic types you can learn alongside sorceries and miracles) AoE spells more frequently once an arm has gone or if he's just getting down there in HP. It feels like one of those risk/reward scenarios, where you can try for extra loot at the cost of slightly tougher attacks to deal with. Of course, if you chop off both he just grows them back again somehow. JRPG bosses, you know how it is. Didn't take long to bring him down, but then I'm getting used to fighting these large, slow-moving tanks. Funny that.

The Smelter Demon

The Smelter Demon is an optional boss in the Iron Keep (at least, all I found behind him was a bonfire and a door that led to a part of the level I'd already been to) and is absolutely no joke. A giant suit of armor, powered by a burning flame core, he's a (don't say "big guy with sword") a, uh (don't say "big guy with sword") very (don't say "big guy with sword") robust (what?) um (no, keep going, this might work) physically imposing (nope, we're losing it) guy with a sword? (and there we go. Kudos, Mr. Writer.)

Hoo boy, this guy. Woof. The Smelter Demon, I would like to believe without actually going to check, seems to be "that boss". You know, the equivalent of the Artorias battle. The fight where the odds are so unbelievably stacked against you that you think someone forgot to carry a one somewhere. Early on, he's just another big, slow brute, but it's around the point where you've taken off 30% of his health that he decides enough is enough and immolates his own blade. His attacks at this point now do huge amounts of additional fire damage to anyone whose flame resistance isn't through the roof. Even blocking all his blows, I was taking equivalent damage to being out in the open just from the fire addition. It's not like this gear I'm wearing isn't particularly fireproof either: it's among the most resistant of the stuff I've found so far. Essentially, this battle goes from "all right, let me just figure out the timing on all his big swing combos and specials and find an opening" to "oh my god, how I do I stop myself getting set on fire? I'm melting, I'm melting, what a world, what a world". The Flash Sweat pyromancy and a +1 fire resist ring was what I used in the end, but it still took more than a handful of tries, let's just say for the sake of my minimal pride.

Doors of Pharros + Brightstone Cove Tseldora

The Shaded Ruins route, which appears to be only one left open to me, eventually leads to the Doors of Pharros, which appears to be a limestone cave filled with rectangular rocks and more Lockstone holes. It's also got a few beefy knight types roaming around, including these mastodon guys which I very much like the look of. It feels like a place I'll need to comb to find all its secrets. And more than a few of these Lockstones to boot, though most seem to lead to more enemies and traps. The Brightstone Cove is a little more interesting, as it starts as a dilapidated military encampment before moving to a valley of asshole mages and eventually a spider temple. The look has gone from wet limestone to dry sandstone too, with a very desert-y feel to a lot of these adobe abodes.

Prowling Magus + Congregation

Boy, what did I interrupt here? The Prowling Magus is a sorcery-casting hollow surrounded by his "congregration", which collectively take up the second boss health bar. The congegration are a couple of miracle-casting clerics (they heal too) and a bunch of minor hollows, some of which are crawling. It's an odd group, and like the Rat Vanguard battle is a lot of bodies packed into a relatively small chapel. It's long but not wide, at any rate. I mean the chapel, weirdos.

I imagine the only way someone could lose this fight is if they got surprised by the numbers and overwhelmed. The priests are obviously the first targets, given that they can heal everyone, but they're always surrounded by the other congegration and you can't take your eyes off the big mage guy for a second. Once they're dead, the other congegration members quickly follow, and then it's just a particularly squishy mage with no protection.

The Duke's Dear Freja

Imagine Nickelodeon's Catdog, but with "spider" instead of "cat". And "dog". Not for arachnophobes (sorry Jeff, I know you were itching to get into more Dark Souls), this boss is an enormous two-headed spider who moves slow and is easy enough to predict. But I'm not entirely sure that's what the odd title of this boss is referring to. Nearby is the corpse of a colossal dragon, and it appears to be the source of the smaller spiders, presumably growing inside of it. Once I killed the boss, the Great Soul actually appeared below the dragon's mouth. It's possible given the numerous Duke's Archives allusions (the use of Duke in the name, the many crystals on the way in, the fact that Seath was a giant white dragon too) that the dragon is the "Freja" the title refers to, and was possibly the mate of Seath (who was made a Duke by Gwyn, don't forget) long ago. While there is a human Duke around, he's also like Seath in that he clearly went mad digging too deep into his scholarly pursuits. That's my theory anyway, probably debunked by a lot of Soulsian Sleuths on YT and the like, and now that I've thought about it I'm noticing a lot of other parallels to the big soul bosses of this game and the last too. The Lost Sinner is a female (thanks to user @savage for pointing that out) and has links to the First Flame, like the Bed of Chaos. Nito and the Rotten both live in a very dark pit far below the Earth and are apparently made out of lots of undead stitched together somehow. I suppose there's not much linking the Old Iron King and the Four Kings, beyond their titles, but both were brought to ruin when their respective kingdoms were destroyed by catastrophe, though one was water and one was fire (and yes, the Four Kings kind of effed up their own kingdom with dark magicks long before it got flooded, but I have an elemental theme going here so don't interrupt me with all your logic).

As for this boss fight, the issues are really twofold: a legion of smaller spiders, who have a charge attack that frequently drops my HP by 60% unguarded; and a floor covered with sticky cobwebs that restrict one's movement. It often feels you're trying to wade through molasses attempting to escape the big spider's beam o' death (which gives you ample opportunity to go whack its other head, which is how I beat it) and all the smaller spiders. I actually died a few times because I ignoring the smaller ones: I simply assumed they would keep respawning indefinitely. It turns out I was right, but not to the extent I was thinking. While they were definitely respawning, they were doing so at nothing like a constant rate. Removing the half dozen from the start made the battle way easier, as I only ended up seeing about three or four more throughout the entire battle.

Dranglaic Castle

After obtaining all four of the Great Souls, I was finally able to move past one of the locked doors at the crossroads bonfire in the Shaded Woods. It lead to this immense and foreboding castle, clearly the game's equivalent to Anor Londo, where the rest of the game's central quest line takes place and where more of the overarching plot is revealed. We get a comparatively huge dump of lore here, courtesy of an invisible chancellor who greets newcomers at the door. Turns out the erstwhile King Vendrick once did what I'm doing, uniting all the ancient Great Souls in the defense of his Kingdom. Something went awry though, possibly involving an invasion of giants or his mysterious foundling wife Queen Nashandra, and the next few zones after this one appear to be digging into this mystery of what happened to Dranglaic. Like Anor Londo, it's a lot of pristine walkways and corridors filled with tough knights and archers and traps and weird mechanisms that power elevators and other impressive feats of engineering.

Twin Dragonriders

Well, it's the Dragonrider boss again, but now there's two of them. Probably some HP inflation too, given how long it's been since Heide's Tower of Flame, though I seemed to get through them both pretty quickly. They're in what appears to be a treasury, which would be neat if I was allowed to take anything. This fight just seems like an excuse to add a boss in somewhere to break up Dranglaic Castle a bit and give players something to do besides get ganked by archers. I've enjoyed exploring this place well enough and absorbing what little lore about King Vendrick and Queen Nashandra I can (the latter appears to still be alive and well, though I've yet to ascertain if it's a Gwynevere illusion ploy or there's something amiss about this enigmatic waif-turned-monarch), so I'm not sure these diversionary tactics are really necessary.

The fight's made trickier by the fact that one of the Dragonriders remains out of reach and has one of those enormous Anor Londo Knight greatbows, traditionally used for harpooning dragons. I'll admit I came to the solution for this fight entirely by serendipity: the raised platform the archer is on (which I hid underneath so it couldn't shoot me) can be demolished by the other Dragonrider's swings, and for some reason the archer doesn't put the bow away after they drop down. That meant an easy kill as it just stood there trying to get a bead on me as I sliced its back to ribbons, with a very slow partner who was easy enough to defend against. Once the archer had gone, the other quickly followed. I want to say it was an interesting boss fight, but how interesting can "but now there's two of them" possibly be? Just filler, really, and nothing more. In fact, I'm not even counting this as the tenth boss to conclude this episode of Bosswatch. It can be nine-and-a-half.

Looking Glass Knight

If you said "another big guy with a sword", then kudos. You've just joined me on the least interesting game of Dark Souls Boss Bingo ever played, currently in progress. The LGK looks sort of neat, at least, as a giant suit of armor that sorta resembles the suit Tigris of Gaul wore in Gladiator, with that intimidatingly serene mask. I suppose I could've said the Jason Vorhees mask too, given how it serves a similar purpose. With a closer look, it actually sort of looks like the Virgin Mary with a crown of thorns, which is getting that particular strain of mythology mixed up a little. His only other notable feature is his enormous reflective greatshield, from which he presumably draws his name and which comes into play in the battle itself.

Beyond the usual swings, most of which bottomed out my stamina pretty rapidly, he has a number of lightning-based moves (with a bit of charge up for the truly daring to exploit) and one where he sets his mirror shield down and creates a phantom. Oddly, this phantom was always either Benhart, a friendly mercenary I keep meeting with a crystalline greatsword, or myself. Needless to say, the "me" phantom was considerably easier to kill, which is why the boss summoned it exactly once during my four attempts on this fight. For as common as these giant knight bosses are becoming (and that should probably be a past participle rather than a present one), I quite liked the purity of this fight. The way he'd finish a swing combo in such a way that his shield ended up between us meant that the usual tactic of blocking and then hitting during the downtime wouldn't work, as everything that hits the colossal shield simply bounced off. Ditto my spear's sweeping strong attack, which was usually quite reliable against armored foes. A bit more tactical, which I don't mind.

The Bit at the End

Anyway, that'll have to do it for this episode of Bosswatch. It's the last day of November, which means I've got to start preparing next month's big daily series. Please stick around to see what that's all about. As for Dark Souls II, I imagine I'll get a few hours in here or there whenever I'm not knee-deep in this new series or busy with other stuff in the run up to Christmas, but I might be putting off the next (and probably final, given how things appear to be coming to a head) part closer to the holidays, possibly around the time the GOTY podcasts start showing up. Until then, take care, and keep a cautious eye on any suits of armor you happen to walk by: you never know, it might be a Dark Souls II boss.

(And hey, if you want to offer your thoughts or knowhow on any of the bosses featured in this episode or last, by all means drop them into the comments. I'm intending to leave all the lore absorption until after the game ends, to help bring context to whatever conclusion its building towards, but I can't imagine there's anything too spoiler-y about any of these guys. Unless it turns out that the reason half of these bosses are giant suits of animated armor is because the Guild of Blacksmiths is behind everything.)

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Dark Souls II: Bosswatch (Part 1)

Greetings all, as we merge the blackest of Fridays with the darkest of Souls. The Souls games have always been a major timesink for me due to their immersion, their unwillingness to hold your hand and, most of all, the colorful and varied boss encounters that are likely to hand you your own undead ass a few dozen times apiece. These boss encounters are always the pinnacle of the Souls experience, as you painstakingly learn their tactics and how to use those tactics against them, and there's nothing quite like seeing that big "YOU VANQUISHED" (or equivalent) whenever you finally defeat them. I would say the essence of any Souls game is its boss battles, and there's usually a lot of them.

With that in mind, I've decided to write about my Dark Souls II playthrough using these bosses as a focal point. I'll briefly touch on the locations they inhabit, since a lot of work has evidently gone into these environments, but it'll largely be spent describing the bosses; their appearance and their attack patterns in particular. Hopefully I can figure out some context for what they are and why they're guarding their specific area, but I might overlook a few things.

So, yeah, this is another reactions blog, albeit one with a bit more depth and a lot more complaining. Welcome to Dark Souls II: Bosswatch!

Things Betwixt

The game's tutorial area, described as a realm between realms. At least that's what the title of this place implies. Personally, it just makes me peckish for caramel candy bars. There's a bunch of tutorial areas with enemies behind fog doors, or there's a direct path to the exit directly ahead if you're already familiar with the series and just want to get on with it. Of course, if one's actually genuinely familiar with the series, they know that there's going to be some useful hidden stuff concealed in these tutorial areas because that's how Souls rolls.

Visually, it feels kind of foreboding. I mean, I guess it's supposed to, given the horrors to come. Lots of giant dead trees and low visibility. Makes for a good switch when you eventually emerge into the sunlight of Majula, the game's hub and only safe haven. Well, but for a few oddly aggressive pig rat things.

Ogre

I don't know how to describe the ogres in this game. They look kind of like monstrous bipedal hippos with goofy expressions. A hungry, hungry hippo, it turns out, as one of its favorite moves is to pick you up and bite you several times. It's three hugely damaging attacks that causes the bleeding effect (which is just a huge damage boost on top) so it's pretty much instant death unless you're rocking some high defense and/or HP totals.

But then it's not really a boss, just a tough enemy you meet very early on. I cut my teeth (or its teeth) on a nearby ogre in Things Betwixt to make sure I hadn't completely forgotten everything from last year's Dark Souls playthrough. While I defeated one, eventually, I decided to come back once I had some modest armor and a decent spear/halberd weapon to take care of the other two wandering around, since that's what I used in DS1. The ogre near the house of the old women who introduce you to the game had a ring on him, so that was pretty fortuitous. Of the many changes made to DS2, I think having more ring slots is one of the few I'm onboard with. Clearly, From Software fondly recalls their Eternal Ring days.

Forest of the Fallen Giants

I feel that anyone who has seen any promotional material for the game, and specifically the Giant Bomb content pertaining to it, is familiar with this region. It's a collection of ruined buildings and dead trees not entirely unlike Dark Souls's opening area the Undead Burg. The enemies are weak but plentiful, and there's a few dead ends and shortcuts to find. There's a few mysteries around here too (I still have no idea how to fight this particular salamander type creature that I can see many floors below one of the bonfires) and (at least) two bosses.

Last Giant

The Last Giant is one of many large humanoid trees that you occasionally spot while exploring The Forest of the Fallen Giants, which can be easily mistaken for odd statues. They have enormous holes where their faces should be, so there's always something a little off-putting about them. It takes one of them waking up and lurching towards you before you understand just how unsettling they can be.

I guess this is the first boss for most people. He pretty much sets a precedent for the vast majority of enemies I'll meet in the next couple of areas: really big guys who move really slow but hit really hard. Got caught a few times by his stomp and his swing range, the former only because the hitbox detection in this game is so wack. You spend pretty much the whole battle walking between his legs and hacking his feet. It wasn't the most challenging boss encounter, neither was it the most interesting.

The Pursuer

I'd already met this guy previously further down in the ruins, on top of a random roof, but I died fairly quickly. I didn't really know what to expect at the time, and it wasn't introduced as a boss fight (no fog door, and he didn't have a boss health bar). I guess it was the game's way of building some early intimidation for this specific boss, but I wonder what would've happened if I had beaten him then and there. He doesn't look like much, like a gleaning white knight hovering off the ground with a nasty looking spear, but he moves pretty fast compared to the sluggish undead in this area.

Either way, the Pursuer is easily the toughest boss I fought in the early game, largely because I hadn't upgraded my weapon too much yet and was doing slithers of damage to his health bar. He guards a shortcut to a much later dungeon down a different route too, so maybe he was meant to be a little more of a challenge. Predictable attacks, but again I got dinged by that awful sense of how far an enemy's weapon ought to extend compared to how much it actually does. I think I died twice or thrice from underestimating the length of a combo chain (that little spin finisher in particular), and about a dozen times because a swing was able to hit me despite clearly missing by a yard.

Heide's Tower of Flame

I don't know who Heide is, but their Tower of Flame sucks. There's towers, for sure, but hardly any flames. I'm giving this place a bad Yelp review, because I only yelped a couple of times when I fell off the haphazard walkways into the ocean far below. Pulling a Metal Gear Scanlon, as we call it 'round these parts.

Dragonrider

After a brief visit to Lost Bastille, I thought I'd instead check one of the other routes out of Majula to make sure I wasn't going anywhere too high level just yet. Heide's Tower of Flame was within easy reach, but... well, let's just say this game is clearly very fond of the "big and slow" enemy archetype. After beating down (and being beat down by) eight-foot tall knight dudes for an hour, I accidentally wandered into Dragonrider's boss room and mistook him for yet another of these large enemies. Beat him in one shot, since he moves and acts exactly like everything else around here just slightly faster and with more health. I imagine hitting those switches to raise the platforms in his small arena probably made the fight more palatable as well.

Old Dragonslayer

Goddammit, why is Ornstein in this game? At least he doesn't have his portly companion around to back him up. I also found out too late that the recently acquired Old Knight Halberd is very strong but also very fragile, with a terrible durability that was already running low when I went into the fight. He got me with his speed and combos a few times, as once he stuns you with that first blow and follows up with three more, there's not a whole lot of stamina or health left to weather it. He's easy enough to get around, though, and most of his attacks are the forward stabby kind that leaves him open. Didn't take long to slay the dragonslayer. Figures that there's nothing behind him other than a bonfire and some covenant I don't qualify for.

Huntsman's Copse

This is an alternate area you can get to by talking to a priestess lady you first meet in Heide's Tower of Flame. She sets herself up in this circular spinny chamber thing near Majula that you need to pay her to activate. Good thing I only have to do this once, because I can then teleport to the bonfires on either route. I'll probably be seeing her again anyway though, as I've been thinking of spending points on Faith to cast a few handy miracles, since I got a lot of use out of the heals and homeward bone-type spells last time. Miracles always seem the most practical of the spell categories. But that's neither here nor there. The Huntsman's Copse is this game's equivalent to those forests in Dark Souls and its DLC area, filled with rogues and other shady sorts.

Skeleton Lords

So, all right, let me tell you what's up with these guys. This fight seems to be your Gravelord Nito equivalent, where every skeleton with a bone to pick rises up to help their undead master and gives you a headache of a group battle to deal with. The three Skeleton Lords are actually fairly weak, or at least they are compared to my level ~50 dude. Rather, it's how they die and spawn four new skeletons (with a neat flying ghost skull effect that reminds me of Doom II's Icon of Sin) that complicates matters in a boss fight where you're already having to keep an eye on numerous enemies. That said, even dealing with a pack of weak skeletons when there's a couple of fireball-casting liches hovering around isn't the hard part. The hard part is when the last Skeleton Lord dies and he releases unto this world a quartet of bonewheels. Now, if you're unfamiliar with bonewheels, they're absolutely the pits when they're in a group and you're in a big open area. Like, say, a boss fight room. Like, say, the room what this boss fight is in. It's a super cheap battle that I perhaps made a little easier on myself due to my level (I swear I've only gone to, like, four other places. No grinding either), but my oh my is it obnoxious all the same.

Earthen Peak

The Earthen Peak, which follows both the Huntsman's Copse and the customary poison wasteland that is Harvest Valley, is a place that immediately reminded me of Sen's Fortress: There are poison pools, poison vases and traps everywhere, and lots of precarious walkways and nasty archers. No snake people (well, until the boss), but lots of headless Mannikins and mummified Silverbacks to give you migraines. There's even a few pyromancer types too.

Covetous Demon

The Covetous Demon guards the entrance to the Earthen Peak, but I suppose he could also be considered the boss of Harvest Valley too. I feel like I saw the title transition before then though, running through a few rooms with poison vases before the fog door. He's an enormous slug-like demon that is perhaps not the game's most pleasant boss to look at. This is usually the point where I compare him to a prior Souls boss, and there's been a few that are grotesquely bulbous, but honestly fighting him reminded me a lot more of Empress Bulblax from Pikmin 2.

Between my +7 Winged Spear and half-decent level, the Covetous Demon wasn't quite the challenge it appeared to be. I dimly recall watching a clip from an old "Best of Giant Bomb" video from indefatigable community member @turboman where Vinny got ate by this boss and lost all his armor, and I imagine that was how this boss might present a challenge: players running back with their second-best armor set, frantic to recover all their priceless gear. Despite the old phantom hit problems again (it appeared to have no range, as a Jabba ersatz with stubby arms, but clearly that wasn't the case) I beat it in one try.

Mytha, the Baneful

Mytha's one of the few bosses I got to hear some backstory on before I met her. Apparently she's the ancient Queen of whatever kingdom this was, who turned to sorcery to keep herself eternally beautiful. The poisonous fluids she used to maintain her immortality also turned her into a lamia creature, and she lost her head in the process and has to carry it around with her. Sort of like a mix of the legends behind the gorgon Medusa, the infamous blood Countess Elizabeth Bathory and Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her. Possibly the three greatest (great meaning large or immense, I use it in the pejorative sense) female monsters in history?

There's a trick to this battle, in much the same way as there was one for the Dragonrider. I didn't realize it until I'd abandoned it as being too difficult, but there's something you can do to remove a lot of the poisonous pools in the Earthen Peak which includes the one that covers the entire boss arena that will ensure that the boss is constantly at full health (poison heals her, naturally) while you end up dead within seconds. Once the poison pools have been taken care of, she's a cinch. Actually, a lot like Ornstein with that big spear, but with sorcery and poison to worry about in addition (neither can be blocked without a bit of health loss, unless you have a special shield). Once again, I'm probably too overleveled for this part of the game. I suspect the game's built in such a way that they intend you to finish one of the paths to the four McGuffin Flames you need before moving onto the others? But even then, you'd be overpowered for the alternate paths. An odd progression system, for sure, though one that has a precedent with Dark Souls.

Lost Bastille

The Lost Bastille can be reached as early as the Forest of Fallen Giants, but given how much trouble I had with the Pursuer boss I put this one on the back-burner for a while. I did manage to find a new blacksmith, McDuff, on my first visit, but he won't trade with me just yet. I know I keep comparing places in this game to equivalents in the earlier Souls games, but it often feels like the game is doing it deliberately. The game's dropped several hints, in fact, that support the idea that Dranglaic might've been Lordran many thousands of years ago, and most of these new structures were built on the ruins of the old. Anyway, given that this is a moody prison with a lot of nasty enemies roaming around and a few vertiginous pathways, it immediately reminded me of the Tower of Latria from Demon's Souls. It's at least a bit more picturesque than that dank hellhole of Cthulhus, with some beautiful moonlit ramparts.

Ruin Sentinels

Another day, another multi-boss of deliberate knight types. These skinny ladies probably gave most people heading through Lost Bastille a lot of problems, as their lengthy reach and relatively small fighting arena means you cannot ever turn your back on one of them. Given that there's three of them, it's not easy to keep them all in view. The game does throw you a bone by letting you take down one separate from the other two by fighting her on the ledge you emerge onto after going through the fog door. That means you only have to fight the other two simultaneously. Not tricky, but again I feel I'm a much higher level now (almost 70) than I perhaps ought to be for this part of the game. Blame it on all this skipping around I'm doing. (I went to get the Dull Ember for McDuff for a Uchigatana, for the record. Of course, now I find out that it's not as good as this wimpy spear I've been using so far, and doesn't even exceed its Dex-boosted damage scaling bonus which is the whole point of katanas. Well, that and looking cool. And, yeah, okay, the much higher counter-attack damage if we're getting all technical.)

Belfry Luna

This is odd. I found this tower by using one of Pharro's Lockstones, which are rare items that occasionally reveal secret areas if you use it in the right place, but it seems to be an area built specifically for a PvP covenant. There's all these squat dudes in yeoman armor, and it's just a few floors and then a boss. Do players really spend time just sitting in this little tower waiting to invade people?

Belfry Gargoyles

Hey, remember these guys from Dark Souls? Remember how much fun it was fighting two of them at the same time? Well, here's five. It's a dumb remix boss battle, like Ornstein, and like Ornstein there's not a whole lot to the fight if you're already familiar with it from fighting something very similar in the previous game. It's a bit like the Maneaters fight from Demon's too, come to think of it, which strengthens the Tower of Latria comparison. You're not only faced with multiple opponents, but you're also on the clock as more of them tag in the longer you stretch the fight out. Rather brutal, but one that--once again--I feel I might have been overqualified to handle in my mid-70s. I certainly don't mind the boss battles where I only die once or twice, as I feel like that's a good balance between the "How do I stop dying?" and "Aha, is this our chance?" steps of boss strategizing. I do take exception to the repetition and callbacks with most of these bosses. Just doesn't feel like they tried too hard this time. I'll reserve final judgement until after the game is done though; chances are they back-loaded this with all the weird and nasty ones.

Sinner's Rest

Given the build-up, it would've been safe to assume this was one of the big four Lord Souls I'm meant to be chasing after, and I'd be right. The Lost Bastille ended quite spectacularly, with a big tower that lead an underwater passage to a rather neat keep lying in a cove underneath the rest of the complex.

The Lost Sinner

As for the Lost Sinner, well, it's another big dude with deliberate attack patterns again, albeit one that moves very quickly and turns the lights out before the fight. I'm glad I found that Bastille key after the Gargoyles, since using it to turn more lights on thereby allowing me see the guy made things easier. At the same time, I feel like I missed some awesome Zatoichi-style blind swordsman action by illuminating the arena beforehand. At any rate, I beat him in two tries. I don't mean to sound like I'm bragging (Lord knows I've died due to the stupidest shit a hundred times over), just marvelling at how the boss fights in this game are a far cry from the original's. It helps that half of them have been almost identical sword/spear duels with slightly larger opponents wearing armor.

The Bit at the End

Anyway, beating the first big story boss of the game ought to be a decent stopping point for this initial episode of Dark Souls II: Bosswatch. I'll continue to keep a journal on the foes I meet for future parts to this series, and I'll try to be more positive the next time the boss turns out to be some giant dude with a sword again. No promises though.

Meanwhile, I have something big planned for December 1st. It's not another series of Desura Dementia, since that didn't seem to drum up much interest in 2013 and I haven't bought nearly as many Indie Royale bundles this year, but it's akin in spirit. Hopefully I can get another Bosswatch out before it begins.

Thanks for stopping by, and be safe out there on Black Friday. Don't get run down by demonic forces while grabbing all those discounts, like I did with a certain chariot boss coming up in the next episode...

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A Super Smash Catastrophy

I don't play Super Smash Bros. the correct way. Perhaps that's a little reductive, as there's never any particular correct way to play a video game (besides Dark Souls, of course), but I'm fairly certain that many people don't play Smash extensively for the same reasons I do.

Like this, only more weathered with age.

When I was younger, I had a passing familiarity with Nintendo but no real experience with the NES beyond the occasional look while at the houses of friends. I didn't own a Nintendo console until the 1990s, and that was a Game Boy that my parents bought me and my sister at an airport while on holiday to keep us quiet on the plane. Well, quiet for the two or three hours that the batteries persisted. Instead, my first real exposure to the world of Mario and Link and Little Mac and Samus Aran came with the Nintendo Official Sticker Album. This sort of thing was huge in the late 80s and 90s: a thin volume bought for a couple of quid with about 300 empty rectangular spaces for stickers. You bought the stickers in allowance-priced booster packs, around 5-10 at a time, and would have no idea what you'd find until after you'd walked out of the store and opened the packet up. It combined the trepidation of discovery with the satisfaction of a completing a set of something: the sort of thing that drove many kids my age from prior generations to philately and numismatics. Since I couldn't pronounce or spell either of those words at the time, my vice was stickers.

It's due to this that I tend to associate Nintendo nostalgia most strongly with collecting those damn stickers. The amount of times I would find nothing but doubles and be despondent for my wasted cash (provided I couldn't trade them away) while other times finding the super rare foil sticker I needed to complete a page of Super Mario Bros. 3 Koopalings and be ecstatic for procuring such a rare treasure. Nintendo nostalgia is sort of what Nintendo's all about these days, and while for many that means endless iterative sequels and nickel-and-diming long-time fans with older classics on the Virtual Console, it's the Super Smash Bros. series and their trophy collectibles that hit me hardest in the nostalgia nerve cluster, making me paralytic with wistful remembrance.

Like this, but far less valuable.

Which brings me back to that incomplete thought from the first paragraph: I do not play Smash for the friendly competition (the 3DS version isn't particularly conducive to online play from what I'm hearing) nor to challenge myself with 100-Man Smash milestones or beating Classic mode on the highest difficulty level. It's to collect shit. 685 trophies, to be precise.

Because I went to all this trouble with little to show for it besides a giant haul of virtual figurines, I thought I'd detail the process of collecting this immense amount of worthless tchotchkes for those also of a kleptomaniacal bent, tangentially touching on some of Smash Bros 3DS's various modes, characters and idiosyncrasies in the process. As Super Smash Bros for Wii U hovers menacingly overhead in the release schedules, a game I am definitely going to have to ignore for a few months while I recover from this exhausting scavenger hunt, it seems like an ideal time to thoroughly explicate on Nintendo's new slugger and how it continues to entrap folk with its shiny gewgaws.

This is my not-so-secret and not-particularly-shameful secret shame: I play video games the same way Vinny does, and it hurts me.

Section 1: The Character Trophies (1-102)

Classic Mode

The mode that is the most different this time around is the ironically-named Classic mode, in which the player's character marches along one of up to three different paths after each stage. Each of these paths leads to a different fight and a different reward: Red paths tend to be the hardest but contain the best treasures, while the inverse is true for blue paths. Green is somewhere in the middle. In addition, the player can boost the "intensity" of this mode, greatly increasing both the rewards and the difficulty of the fights.

In addition, the player determines the reward they receive from each battle with a quickly moving roulette. They tend to range from cash prizes (used elsewhere) to 1-5 custom parts to 1-5 trophies. If you're skilled enough and have the entrance fee, playing on a high intensity is perhaps one of the better ways to earn both trophies and custom parts. It does mean that you have to fight the game's new boss: a shapeshifting entity known as Master Core that's no pushover on higher intensity levels, as the player is forced to fight more of its forms in succession.

Has anyone actually played this?

However, several special trophies are tied to the Classic mode. These include the first trophies for every playable character, including the three Mii Fighter variants, which adds up to 51 Classic Mode playthroughs. In addition, there's a trophy for beating Classic mode at 5.0 intensity (Master Hand), one for beating it at 9.0 intensity (Guardians from Ketzal's Corridors, which I'm not sure has anything to do with anything) and one for completing it with all characters (Crazy Hand).

It's... no easy feat beating the game on 9.0 intensity, and it's one of the few Challenges (the game's ersatz achievement system) that the game won't let you skip. It's considered the toughest single-player challenge in the game and must be defeated in order to consider oneself a Smash champion. On the other hand, if you do make it, you can rest assured that nothing else in the game will present quite that level of difficulty.

All-Star Mode

Unlike Classic mode, which changes frequently and presents a number of different scenarios for its fights, All-Star is a very staid affair where the player has to fight every character in the game (besides the Miis) in chronological order. While it's fun for a game historian like myself to identify which character is linked to which release/year, the unchanging nature of these battles, the amount of time it takes to defeat 48 fighters and the strict "one KO and you're out" rule makes them something of a grind. What's worse is that the stages themselves are still filled with random hazards that can quickly kill an inattentive player, which is presumably the same reason why items were removed. Seems odd they'd keep one and not the other. If I never have to encounter Yellow Devil again...

If you thought this guy was an asshole before...

It's a perplexing and tedious process, but you also need another 51 playthroughs here to get every character's "alternate" trophy, usually depicting them in one of their many other costumes. I generally like some of the choices for costume switches in this game: having every Koopaling as an alternative for Bowser Jr, or Alph for Captain Olimar, or Little Mac's pink training tracksuit or his Arcade green wireframe appearance. Zero Suit Samus has her end-game bonus apparel (though not her "Justin Bailey" colors, oddly). Peach has Daisy's get-up; Mario, Luigi and Wario can all pretend to be Waluigi should they ever want to; and the Animal Crossing Villager, Wii Fit Trainer and Fire Emblem's Robin can all be gender-swapped. They even have a version of Ness with a Mr. Saturn T-shirt.

In addition to those gruelling 51 playthroughs, there's three additional trophies linked to challenges: one for beating it on Easy (Legend of Zelda's Epona) one for beating it on Normal (Kid Icarus's Medusa), one for beating it on Hard (Nintendoji, from a Japan-only Club Nintendo reward game). There's a challenge for completing it with all characters, but that just nets you some Mii gear.

Smash Run

The game's alternative to the original's Adventure Mode, the player has five minutes to fight their way through a throng of monsters from Kirby, Pokemon, Kid Icarus: Uprising and Mario. In defeating enemies and finding chests, they can collect stat boosts which continually make them stronger as well as collectibles and cash which they keep once the game is over. The mode culminates in a Smash battle with varying conditions (including special Multi-Man Melees and races), which the player can end up winning or losing dependent on their stat increases as commonly as their own skill.

You want something fast, like whatever the hell this frog ninja thing is, to sweep up all the chests in Smash Run. Smashing your way through enemies for their item drops works too.

There are no challenges related to Smash Run that provide trophies: instead, Smash Run has its own collectible series of sorts called Smash Run Powers. These can be equipped to characters before starting and can provide various boons while playing, ranging from temporarily boosting stats to giving them a free item. They have higher level grades as well, which means they can be used more often. However, the character has a limited amount of room for these powers, and better ones tend to take up more space. There's 176 discrete Smash Run Powers to find too, so it'll take a while to get them all. There's also a challenge that tasks you to place first with every character at the end of the Smash Run, so either way you'll be spending some time with the mode in order to unlock everything.

Section 2: The Challenge Trophies (103-138)

We've touched on a few of these already, but the game has multiple Challenges: goals which act like achievements and will each provide an unlockable trophy, custom part, new stage or music track for the sound test. In addition, the player earns a reward for completing an entire screen's worth of these challenges. Fortunately, the game also throws the player a bone in the form of the Golden Hammers: There are three for each screen of 35 challenges, and allows you to skip the least pleasant ones. Definitely worth taking advantage of. There's 36 trophies you can only get via Challenges.

  • Challenge #1: Toad Trophy - Collect 30 unique Trophies.
  • Challenge #42: Redd Trophy - Collect 150 unique Trophies.
  • Challenge #87: Luigi + Poltergust Trophy - Collect 500 unique Trophies.
  • Challenge #105: Wentworth Trophy - Collect 600 unique Trophies.

These four are simple enough, since we're collecting all the trophies anyway.

  • Challenge #3: Epona Trophy - Clear All-Star on Easy.
  • Challenge #51: Master Hand Trophy - Clear Classic with 5 characters.
  • Challenge #69: Medusa Trophy - Clear All-Star on Normal.
  • Challenge #71: Guardians Trophy - Clear Classic on 9.0 Intensity.
  • Challenge #79: Crazy Hand Trophy - Clear Classic with all characters.
  • Challenge #99: Nintendoji Trophy - Clear All-Star on Hard.

As previously discussed, the challenges that pertain to Classic and All-Star modes.

  • Challenge #5: Peach + Royal Ribbon Trophy (Mario Kart) - Battle 3 times on the Rainbow Road Stage.
  • Challenge #19: Cragalanche Trophy (Kid Icarus: Uprising) - Battle 3 times on the Reset Bomb Forest Stage.
  • Challenge #31: Mr. Saturn Trophy - Win 2 Smash Battles with Ness.
  • Challenge #46: Golden Retriever Trophy (Nintendogs) - Battle 3 times on the Living Room Stage.
  • Challenge #52: Dark Emperor Trophy (Find Mii) - Battle 3 times on the Find Mii Stage.

These are kind of fun. You don't need to go out of your way much, but there's a few challenges like these where you simply have to try out a few stages or characters in the standard Smash mode for a while. Nice, easy introductory challenges.

  • Challenge #21: Dark Pit Staff Trophy - Unlock Dark Pit.
  • Challenge #60: Tortimer Island Trophy (Animal Crossing) - Unlock every stage.

Like the previous, though they may take a little longer. Dark Pit's one of the last characters to become unlocked and the stages require that you complete a few other simple challenges first (#6, #9, #17, #20, #23, #25, #54).

  • Challenge #47: Mugly Trophy (Donkey Kong Country Returns) - Get 10 KOs knocking opponents into other opponents in StreetSmash.
  • Challenge #95: Koopa Troopa (Green) Trophy - Same as above, only 20 KOs.

StreetSmash is the game's attempt to shoehorn in some StreetPass functionality. It's actually kind of fun, though utterly unlike anything else in Super Smash Bros. Instead, you're pushing around a token trying to knock other tokens off the board by charging up and boosting in a direction of your choosing. It's like sumo meets tiddlywinks. Fortunately, in order to get all the related challenges, you can just play the practice mode over and over, which doesn't require you actually StreetPass with anyone. Good if you live out in the middle of nowhere like me.

  • Challenge #16: Timmy + Tommy Trophy (Animal Crossing) - Play Trophy Rush for the first time.

Trophy Rush is the best means of collecting the random trophies that make up the vast majority of the trophies out there to find. I guess this challenge is here in case you haven't found this mode yet (its hidden in the Trophies sub-menu). This is also where most of your money ends up, along with the Trophy Shop. The Trophy Shop is useful too, though only when you have a handful of randoms left and don't mind splurging.

The Multi-Man Smash mode is still as repetitively dull as ever, and has its own set of challenges to overcome. The Shadow the Hedgehog one, much like the character itself, is pure bullshit and is worth skipping over via a hammer post-haste.

  • Challenge #7: Bonkers Trophy - Hit 300m in the Home-Run Contest.
  • Challenge #18: Home-Run Bat Trophy - Play the Home-Run Contest for the first time.
  • Challenge #86: Sandbag Trophy - Hit 15,000m across all characters in the Home-Run Contest.

The Home-Run Contest is back and remains very much the same as it always has. Beat up that poor sandbag and launch him with the bat before the timer runs down. None of these three challenges are particularly tough, fortunately.

  • Challenge #35: Blast Box Trophy - Score over 100,000 points on Target Blast.
  • Challenge #43: King Bob-Omb Trophy - Have over 2,000,000 points across all characters on Target Blast.
  • Challenge #94: Dark Train Trophy (Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks) - Play Target Blast with all characters.

Target Blast is the game's new version of Smash the Target, and plays like a cross of that mode and Home-Run Contest. Well, it plays a lot more like a certain mobile game involving irascible avians if we're being honest with ourselves. Either way, it won't take long to play a single game with all the characters, and you can even unlock the occasional trophy and custom part while playing.

  • Challenge #61: Knuckle Joe Trophy - Play Smash mode for 10 collective hours.
  • Challenge #91: Color TV-Game 15 Trophy - Play Smash mode for 50 collective hours.

These are longevity challenges and are utterly imbalanced time-wise for single-player saddos like myself. 50 hours playing no-frills Smash over and over is a little beyond what I'm prepared to do for a Pong trophy. I skipped both of these and didn't regret it.

This one comprises a collect-a-thon quest almost on par with the trophies themselves. The various custom parts the player collects has a chance to be a new piece of headgear or outfit for the Miis, and there's around 50 of those all together. They also have a few challenges linked to them, including beating All-Star with all characters.

However, getting all eight custom special moves for the 48 non-Mii characters means another 384 collectibles to find. That's going to take a while. You can increase the chances of finding custom moves for any one character by playing as them, though that's still a hell of a lot of Smash Run and Classic to get through (custom parts occasionally appear in Trophy Rush too, but not nearly as often as you'd hope). The game's more than happy to give you useless customization parts instead, or doubles.

These are the kickers though. The part when you realise that collecting all 685 trophies may (may?) well be more trouble than they're worth:

  • Complete all 35 Challenges on Grid 1: Super Star Trophy
  • Complete all 35 Challenges on Grid 2: Tutorial Pig/Professor Chops Trophy (Donkey Kong Country Returns)
  • Complete all 35 Challenges on Grid 3: Gold Bone Trophy (Find Mii)

So yes, you do have to complete (or skip over with a Golden Hammer) every challenge in the game if you're going for all the trophies. Which leads to these beauties:

  • Hitting 1000m in the Home-Run Contest.
  • 110 KOs in 3-Minute Smash.
  • 100-Man Smash within 3 minutes.
  • 10-Man Smash within 20 seconds.
  • 200 KOs in Endless Smash.
  • Come first in Smash Run with every character.
  • Have the game on for more than 20 hours.
  • 4 or more KOs in Cruel Smash. (If you get one KO in Cruel Smash, you're doing spectacularly.)

Yikes-a-roonie.

Section 3: Random Trophies

This is where the other 547 trophies are. There's multiple ways to earn random trophies, but your best bets are the following (from most to least lucrative):

  1. Trophy Rush. If you pay the maximum amount for 2:30 minutes, you can earn around 20-40 trophies. There's no guarantee that they won't all be doubles, but this is the best means of building a giant hoard of trophies quickly. Best to earn money via Classic or Smash Run, as both tend to pay out. You earn money doing the silly credits mini-game too.
  2. Trophy Shop. If you don't feel like spending money on a slim chance for new trophies, you could always just buy trophies directly from the store. You can use StreetPass coins here too. It's a costly process though, and I wouldn't recommend it if you've still got hundreds left to get.
  3. Classic mode. Playing on higher intensities means more rewards, and this is a good way of getting dozens of trophies and custom parts. It's also challenging, if you still want the gameplay itself to keep you on your toes. In addition, they sometimes drop trophies right on the map.
  4. Smash Run. Trophies are rarer in Smash Run, but you have to play this mode a lot for challenges and other collectibles and you can get quite a bit of cash doing so. That cash can then go right back into Trophy Rush. If you play online, you get the trophies/custom parts everyone else found too.
  5. All-Star Mode. Gotta do it anyway if you're hunting for every trophy. The occasional one appears after a certain number of battles, and become more frequent the higher the difficulty. I've heard the more expensive trophies in the Trophy Shop appear here more frequently too, but you still don't get many this way.
  6. Trophy Blast. The new mini-game. As well as targets, there'll occasionally be a trophy or a custom part to smash as well. You won't know until you pause the game if there's something there or not, but it's another case of "you gotta do this anyway so why not look for stuff".
  7. Mew Hunting. If you intend to run out the clock on those Smash longevity challenges, you can always set Items to Master Ball only and try to find Mew. Mew's one of the few Legendary Pokemon in the game (the Master Ball almost always spits out one of the twenty or so Legendaries that are running around these days) and will drop a trophy or a custom part for you before flying off. Pick a stage with a solid foundation (no Omegas, no auto-scrollers, no stages with very little ground), make sure Master Balls are the only items appearing, add a very dumb CPU opponent to stand in a corner somewhere and prepare for crushing tedium as you wait for a little pink cat blob to show up for hours at a time. THIS IS HOW SMASH BROS IS MEANT TO BE PLAYED.

The Bit at the End

How do I feel about the new Smash Bros? I dunno, I was too busy looking for trophies to pay any attention.

I am so not ready for Super Smash Bros for Wii U. Please, let me rest. Let me rest!

All right, you all deserve more than that for making it this far. Honestly, it seems like Sakurai took the criticism for Brawl to heart and decided to cannibalize the older Smash games for a "best of all worlds" scenario. The Melee stuff is a little more pronounced than most though. I'm sad that there isn't a goofy plot-heavy adventure mode in this one, but the Smash Run and new Classic modes are still quite good. The packed roster is truly impressive too, and that's before you start considering all the customization options for moves and costume changes. I really like how Pac-Man, the Duck Hunt Duo and Dark Pit play, as someone who generally sticks with standard attacks and aerials, and wish I could be better with Little Mac and Mega Man (they take some getting used to). Possibly too many clone characters for the game's own good, but a solid group of fighters all the same.

The best part of this game, easily, is how the portable format works so well with Smash's general pick-up-and-play mindset. Very few modes in this game take more than a handful of minutes to complete, and you can bounce between the various modes to keep you from getting bored. The trophies and challenges, for as much of a love/hate relationship I have with them, give you lots of short- and long-term goals to chase after, and you can spend as little or as much with the game at a time as you want: it won't suddenly run out of stuff for you to do (like Animal Crossing) even if you accomplish the maddening, quixotic task of collecting everything.

Thanks for reading, and I hope this wasn't too much of a chilling portrayal of the dangers of collectibles addiction. If you or anyone you know suffers from this debilitating psychological disorder, there's a number you can call to get help. Unless they closed the Nintendo Hotline down, in which case you're on your own, bucko.

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Mento Gear Solid 2: React-sons of Incredulity (Part 2: Plant)

All right, so I appreciate this part will be something of a massive text dump, given that the Plant section of Metal Gear Solid 2 is considerably longer and more involved (even, dare I say, more convoluted) than the Tanker prologue. I'm also aware that I promised to hold future entries in this series back until Drew and Dan had reached the subsequent parts in their playthrough.

However! I recently beat the game a few nights ago. Having no idea when those videos will arrive and when certain milestones will be met, it's inevitable that I'm going to have to end up chopping this list into unwieldy pieces to accommodate however long each segment of the game takes Drew, and knowing how boss fights tend to go for him (and the amount of bullshit the boss fights in this game contain in general), I've decided I'm not going to wait around forever with a blog series burning a hole in my (metaphorical) pocket when I have other stuff to be writing about. Besides, Drew and I have similar senses of humor, and I want first dibs at all these joke opportunities. Selfish? Absolutely. But then the internet's had plenty of time to beat us both to any punchlines in the past thirteen years.

What follows is a colossal list of reactions from the second half (well, the latter three-quarters) of Konami's and Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. The list has been broken up into rough chapters and placed in spoiler blocks, which I will go back and reconfigure to match the actual video milestones once Drew and Dan reach the relevant parts of their playthrough. In so doing, I hope to both satisfy those who have played the game and know it well enough who might want to see the rest of my confusion in real-time after the dramatic first act, as well as those who are experiencing their first trip (almost certainly the most germane word in this case) through MGS2 with Metal Gear Scanlon: Sons of Drewberty and prefer to have Dan and Drew be their tour guides through the haze of military jargon, overwrought pathos and girlie pics that is Kojima's thoughts made manifest. Obviously, go watch those first (they have all the necessary context for one thing), and then return here and access the spoiler block they pertain to.

In case Drew finds this somehow: Look away, mister. You better experience this game the way Kojima always intended: Long after its release date, recorded for all the internet to see and with only the help of a half-insane Kansanian who writes even stranger military fiction than Kojima does.

Plant Part 1: Jack and the Fatman

Ideally, read this block after watching Metal Gear Scanlon 2: Part 04:

  • It's cute that the first part of the Big Shell is very similar to the intro of MGS 1, including the tutorials we should already know about from the Tanker chapter (though I suppose we could've skipped that).
  • Raiden is trying to do a growly voice. It's also cute. Does he think he's Snake? Is that a thing with this new character?
  • Oh, and instead of tactical rolling, he cartwheels. Idiot.
  • I have to activate a nerd now, if you'll excuse me.
  • Weird. I have to find a console in each new area in order to activate the radar, and I'm blind until then. This is going to get annoying, I can tell.
  • So they got Raiden's girlfriend to do all the saving? That's sweet. Does she know any proverbs? Why does she keep refusing to use my super cool awesome codename? Why can't Raiden remember their anniversary?
  • Raiden apparently took that VR tutorial that teaches you to repeat keywords back to your commanding officer for more information. That's an important one.
  • Oh boy, now I'm deep within the terrorists' Honeycomb Hideout. I actually dimly recall getting this far during my initial abandoned playthrough around a decade ago. I think I got confounded by all the hexagonal struts and exasperated by the stealth mechanics.
  • Aaaand I just slipped on bird poop. It's coming to me now. The ground, specifically.
  • "Quick, Colonel, how do I knock to distract enemies?" "Raiden, how's your mother? She doing okay after her surgery?" "Oh... yeah, she'll make a full recovery *knock, knock* knock on wood." "There you go." "Oh, Colonel!" *sitcom beat plays*
  • This time, it's teaching me to hang over a precipitous drop to get past some guards. Or I could just use this M9 I got by going the wrong way from the node room.
  • Ehh, I'd better learn how this hanging business works. There's a slowly dropping gauge that determines your grip strength, and you need to practice doing pull-ups for an hour before it gets stronger. Lesson #1 when hanging over a hundred foot drop into the ocean: Pressing X lets go of the ledge, so don't do that.
  • I think I found the Alpha SEAL team. They got iced by Sexy Dracula here. Did Anne Rice co-write this?
  • I don't think spinning in circles necessarily deflects bullets. I might have to check my ballistics manual to be sure.
  • "Iroquois Plisken?" Subtle, Snake. Though I guess it could be another Big Boss clone.
  • Dead Cell is the new FOXHOUND then. Any reason to get to get a pack of eccentrics together for a group of boss fights.
  • Speaking of which, we immediately meet Fortune too. So I guess these new guys are just straight up magic now? I suppose we had a psychic in the last game. She seems kinda moribund, or rather her energy weapon does.
  • After watching the first couple episodes of Metal Gear Scanlon and listening to Dan point out what can be interacted with, I'm going to try to be more attentive with finer details in the environment. Like how these bathrooms filled with ammo (Demolition Man told me that bathrooms of the future have shells in them, but I didn't know they meant this) also have hand-dryers that automatically go off when you go near them.
  • Met Peter Stillman, the disabled bomb guy who disables bombs, guy. Getting a lot more exposition here. It looks like the bad guys also have Otacon? Or maybe a relative? At any rate, my new mission is to freeze a bunch of bombs before these assholes set them off in retaliation for that SEAL team incursion.

This block pertains to the (few non-fatal) events of Metal Gear Scanlon 2: Part 05, though keep in mind I took a different route to clear the bombs and some of these won't be in the Scanlon video:

  • Apparently the 1C Strut's bomb (there's one in each, or so we believe) was in the women's bathroom. Like that's not the first place I'd head to in a Metal Gear Solid game.
  • Aagh, there's no easy way to reload if you get spotted. You can't even access the options menu, unless you're checking the radar nodes. This is going to get far more frustrating the further I get.
  • There's a sediment pool in Strut D with three guards. It's kinda clever, this bit, because one of the guards is constantly making updates. If you take that guard out, a bunch of new guards show up to check in on them, and it can screw you over if you've left bodies everywhere. Fortunately, you can always chuck them into the pool. Took me a few tries, this room.
  • Oh cool, sentry posts on the roof. Good thing this bridge has a lower deck. Also, I got a super saccharine story about Raiden and Rose's first date when I tried to save. Can we just go back to proverbs? Hell, even Otacon's half-assed proverbs?
  • This conveyor belt parcel room in Strut E (I'm just randomly cycling through all these getting all the bombs) is kind of a neat place to have a shoot out. I also found a new box here, my first with Raiden: it's a Zone of the Enders box! I can sit in it and pretend I'm flying a mecha around! Whooosh! Pew pew!
  • Well, we met Olga again briefly. She told some mysterious fellow on the other line that she spotted someone using a box to hide himself as he crossed over to Shell 2. "Only one man I know would use the box trick." Only one man would think that was a good idea when crossing a bridge in broad daylight.
  • All right, we're getting more hints that a certain cyborg ninja is back after a "Mr. X" used the same disguised codec trick. Didn't he get mushed into goo by Rex? Either way, I need a mine detector to get to Strut F. I got paranoid that I'd have to head all the way back around to A or something, but it turns out the mine detector's in the same room as the moving boxes, down some stairs. That's handy? Maybe Mr X. planted that too. I just hope he doesn't have a bunch of robot masters for me to face, or tries to stalk me through Raccoon City.
  • You know, it's probably against the spirit of the game, but every time I trip an alert I find the quickest way to kill myself. There's no quick load, or really any way to restart that doesn't involve turning the game off and on again, and you go back to when you last saved if you do that. Dying simply puts you right back at the entrance to the room, with no fuss.
  • I found a new box and a SOCOM suppressor in F's Warehouse though, so it's not all bad. That makes three boxes now. I need all the boxes.

This block's for Metal Gear Scanlon 2: Part 06. Is it just me, or are there fewer bulletpoints with each video? It might be Spring before we're done here.

  • After removing the bomb in Strut A by playing Pipe Dream, Pete the Bomb Disposal Dude decided to spill the beans about his accident and "missing" leg. He's going to "defuse his own sins" by taking on Fatman with his actually quite okay lower limbs. I can't decide if it's the super serious parts or the super jokey parts that are the most amusing.
  • Oh yeah, and the bombs we've been freezing are small fry compared to what's packed into the bases of the struts. I still have to put the last firecracker on ice though. To B, and then after that probably not to B.
  • So yeah, the dummy bombs triggered the real ones, and Pete kinda bought it, as I suspected he might. Getting back to Strut A in 400 seconds was interesting, though not particularly difficult. I think if I spent less time going after these damn dogtags...
  • Whoa, holy shit. Used the two freaks' powers against them, deflecting a bullet off of Fortune's magic shield to hit Vamp in the head with a bullet he didn't think to dodge. Way to go Raiden. That totally made up for that unwinnable boss fight you just forced on me, game.
  • I'm starting to suspect that Fortune might be Vulcan Raven's daughter. Something about the accent and the mystique. Oh, and the giant-ass weapon she's swinging around like it was a toy.
  • Oh, and Dracula's back. Great. I guess he really is undead. Either that, or headshots don't do the trick like they used to.
  • Well, shit's popping off now. I've got to get to E from A (by way of F; it's a full circle) in another 400 seconds. I just have to hope that this Fatman fellow hasn't left too many claymores lying around.

This tiny block is for Metal Gear Scanlon 2: Part 07. It was a boss fight episode, so be thankful they made as much progress as they did:

  • And here's Fatman. He looks like a cross between Vivi Ornitier and an unmasked Darth Vader. And with him comes a very annoying boss fight where I have to defuse bombs while he inline skates around taunting me like a Jet Set Radio character's creepy uncle.
  • Well, I figured the "biggest final bomb" he left behind was inside his own body, and I was planning on throwing the rotund thing into the ocean, but no: he was just sitting on it.
  • I take ten paces and Gray Fox shows up. Sure is getting interesting around here. Giant expo dump followed our ninja friend. Including, shock horror, finding out a Metal Gear is somewhere inside Big Shell. The Metal Gear RAY from the Tanker, no less.
  • Solid Snake confirmed deceased by Rose. Doesn't really matter that there's several dozen clones of him (well, of Big Boss) wandering around. The lack of an arm was interesting information, I suppose there's some manner of arms race going down between the various Snakes at the moment.

Here are the events of Metal Gear Scanlon 2: Part 08, sans the usual Strut F issues:

  • The deal with the central Shell area is that it's full of guards, but you have a disguise to breeze past them undetected. Well, after you find yourself the necessary AK47. I'll save you the search, it's in the Warehouse in F. In fact, that place is so full of locked rooms I think I'll make it a habit to come back whenever I get a new cardkey.

Plant Part 2: Harried and Confused

  • These guys aren't attacking right now, but I imagine once I find this Secret Service guy, things are going to get busy for ol' Raiden.
  • Talking of which, the way to find this guy among the rest of the hostages is to use a directional microphone to check his heartbeat for a pacemaker. I better not accidentally throw any chaff grenades while I'm here, then.
  • The directional microphone (or D.Mic, who was one of the lesser G-Unit members) is in one of the basement levels of Shell 1, in the same room as Otacon's parrot. I know it was Otacon's parrot because: A) It kept saying "HAL", B) There was a Policenauts poster in the same room, and C) That I instinctively wanted to kill it.
  • All right, looking around these hostages for the guy with the weird heartbeat. One of them decided to trip me up as I walked past, which immediately removed my disguise somehow. Equally unlikely was how I put the disguise back on instantaneously before the guard spotted me. If only all hostage scenarios could be so slapstick.
  • The nuke activation switch is apparently triggered by the President's free will. Ames is very chatty about some extremely dumb stuff.
  • We get our first look at the terrorist leader "Solid Snake", a.k.a. Solidus Snake, a.k.a. how stupid does this game think I am?
  • "Hence Sons of Liberty, I suppose." "'Sons of Liberty'?" "Yes, it's the game's subtitle. I'm saying that's what Kojima meant when he named it that." "Ah."
  • Ames bought it (FOXDIE 2?), Ocelot figured out who I am and then Gray Fox had to bail me out. Also, Ocelot wasn't going to fall for the same dismemberment trick twice, it looks like. Whatever's going on, the Patriots are in it deep and I keep getting implicated in whatever they're doing. I guess it's better than having two deadly organizations on my case if one thinks I'm with them.
  • It's off to Shell 2 finally, since that's where the Prez is. The whole second half of this oil rig left to go. Well, excepting the parts that got blown to shit.

Now we have the events of Metal Gear Scanlon 2: Part 09, where the game starts amping up the stupid:

  • I got a new keycard, so I'm heading to Strut F for some new goodies. Found an RGB Grenade Launcher, which should make things more colorful, and two Sniper Rifles. One of them's the tranquilizer kind, which is what I've been using for most of this game so far. Raiden doesn't seem the type to kill people all willy-nilly anyway (which is to say he's a wuss. Well, until Revengeance anyway).
  • Here we are at the 1-2 Connecting Bridge. As predicted, it's full of BS. It's an extension of that three-bomb passage puzzle in the Tanker, only there's way more boxes to shoot and now there's seagulls in the way.
  • Actually, this part was a lot of fun. They hid some of those control units in some weird places, so it was satisfying to systematically remove them all. A certain airborne one gave me the most trouble.
  • Otacon is Pliskin's pal, surprise surprise. Well, it's good to see that goofy node again.
  • All right, big info dump this time. Solidus has introduced himself (and his Doc Ock suit) and then Snake decided his Solid Snake charade was worthy of a rocket or two. Didn't seem to mind that I was within range of the explosion either, thanks dude.
  • Solidus fell, landed on a harrier flown by Vamp (who probably should be taking it easy with that head wound) and I'm guessing I have to fight a Harrier in much the same way as the Hind D fight in the previous game? I mean, Snake just threw me a Stinger launcher, so it seems a little more than likely.
  • That boss fight felt like a remix of the Hind D fight. Lots of avoiding its firepower while picking my time to strike (and helped by Snake in the Russian chopper I forget the name of). I actually enjoyed it, in that they found multiple ways to make a jet seem far more dangerous. That RAY suddenly appeared afterwards to blow up the bridge kind of cut celebrations short.
  • Vamp is now running across water. And now he's running up the side of a strut. This character is ridiculous. This game is ridiculous, sure, but so far this guy's a big part of why that is.
  • So now the jig is up, and Plisken reveals himself as Snake. Sometime after the tanker, they stole Liquid's frozen body from the Patriots and planted it in the tanker's wreckage. Genius. And morbid.
  • Solidus and the rest have Otacon's sister, Otachan. This isn't going to turn into Resident Evil 4 is it? No painful escort missions or anything? You know, I suspect it's a foregone conclusion. Unless Otacon had the foresight to send out spare stealth camouflage suits as Christmas presents recently.
  • And now a save game prompt, the first automatic one since the tanker. Did this game originally come on multiple discs too?

The tenth episode, Metal Gear Scanlon 2: Part 10, actually got a lot accomplished. I'm impressed! It took me way longer to get over some of these sequences.

  • Well, before I go, I better just grab this ration on one of the broken staircases on this thing. I burned through a few while fighting the harrier. Wait, why is it swingi- ...oh.
  • Honestly, the awkward controls are leaving something to be desired with this broken walkway platforming sequence.
  • There's bird poop on the pipe dangling over a giant drop into the ocean. It's slippery. Ask me how I found that out.
  • There are also loose grates. The More You Know.
  • And now there's guards watching out for me as I try to cartwheel my way across crumbling gaps. I'm getting heartburn.
  • At least I can console myself by knowing that anything that is this annoying to me is going to be extra fun to watch when Drew reaches the same part.
  • On Strut L now, and this shit continues to be relentless. Guards, broken walkways, pain. I think I'm up to about 20 deaths since after the Harrier boss (which, I'll go on to state, I accomplished in one go).
  • No. I am not getting peed on. I have to draw the line somewhere. I don't care if his bladder is endless.
  • Right, one last obstacle: I gotta get past some cypher drone turret things by throwing a chaff grenade, moving past another broken walkway before it wears off. It was a close call, but at least nothing surprising happened. People really try for zero death runs?
  • Is Rose supposed to be a nightmare girlfriend, or is Kojima telling us something? Like are any of these questions about Raiden's inability to open up about his feelings really pertinent when I'm in the middle of stopping a Spider-Man villain, a giant amphibious death tank and a freakin' ghoul from taking over the world?
  • Another Olga chat to listen in on. Looks like I have some electricity floors to get around if I want to save the president. I remember (vividly) how to do this from the last game, I just need some Nikitas first.

Plant Part 3: The Olympic Champions of Synchronized Drowning

  • B1 is underwater, so I'm getting told the swimming controls again. This is how this Codec would occur in reality: "Raiden, what's your situation?" "Blub. Blub blub, blub. Blub?" "Use the circle button to dive, etc."
  • Really? We're going to have a jump scare with the waterlogged corpse of Peter Stillman (who is now very still, man)? Hasn't that poor man suffered enough? Though he's actually remarkably intact for someone who was standing right next to a huge pile of C4.
  • Also, why are there deep sea mines scattered around down here? The classic spiky ball kind. Maybe someone just had a locker full of these because they thought they looked neat and they all got loose when the area flooded. Considering the weird shit I've found in lockers so far, I wouldn't put it past the guys who used to work here.
  • Apparently the Peter Stillman jumpscare corridor was a dead end, at least for now. I suspect I'll be back down that way shortly, given that the door it leads to is a single security level above my own cardkey right now. President first, Poseidon Adventure later.
  • Grabbed the Nikita, now to fly it through to the President's room to take out the electrified floor. There is absolutely no reason why the vents to that room are as maze-like as this besides the fact that this is a video game and I need video game-y stuff to do.
  • Well, I managed to successfully murder the President. Eat your heart out, John Hinckley, Jr. Seriously, he just leapt out in front of that Nikita for no reason.
  • All right, I eventually figured out which of the consoles in a room full of consoles I was meant to destroy and now the grid is off. Didn't end up killing myself once. Killed others, though.
  • Did the President just cop a feel? What the hell? Irrespective of the sexual assault, the President doesn't seem like a nice guy. He wanted to take over the country without the Patriots using him as a puppet.
  • We're getting a lot of info about the Patriots. They control everything, sort of like how the Freemasons do in the real world. Solidus too: he was behind the Shadow Moses incident and... goddammit, why am I getting invested in all this conspiracy nonsense. I feel like there's a giant flowchart covered in push-pins in some nutcase's basement that explains all this. Kojima's basement, if I'm being precise.
  • There's another Metal Gear? And it's the underside of Big Shell? Arsenal Gear. And it has many Metal Gear RAYs to protect it (they would be The Gunners, then. Am I right, soccer fans?). This is starting to sound like a bit too much for me to deal with.
  • As I suspected, the Prez gives me the next keycard (he had it the whole time?) and sends us to go get Emma Emmerich, Otacon's sister. Oh yeah, and Ocelot popped in to shoot the President. He's been racking up quite the rap sheet lately.
  • Oh boy, and now Snake has a whole bunch of backstory to give us. He pretty much explains what happened on the Tanker, in case we hadn't figured it out yet. I can't even joke about this much dense exposition.
  • And now I'm getting a long cutscene with Rose about how much of a repressed weirdo I am when all I wanted to do was save the game. Goddamn, even basic game functions come with a novella-sized dialogue script.

Drew hasn't gotten this far yet. Open with caution:

  • I have to get Emma out of the flooded zone because she's hydrophobic. Great. Also I think the game implied that Otacon was masturbating in his bedroom while she was nearly drowning in the family pool. None of this surprises me. It would only surprise me if her drowning was the thing he was whacking it to.
  • Vamp cutscene. Starting to suspect this guy might be a demon. Or Neo from the Matrix. Vampire Neo, let's go with that.
  • Boss fight time. Vamp explains that the water in this room is deadly, which is why he can swim through it just fine. He does have his own O2 gauge though, which suggests his lungs still work. Mysterious guy. Anyway, this feels more like Ocelot's fight from the first game, in that you're kind of pacing around a small circle with little cover trying to evade speedy attacks and picking one's moment to counterattack. More so than that Fatman fight, at least.
  • Ah, you can hit him while he's underwater. It causes him to get back to the surface, where you can hit him again. He's invincible when he has this red aura (I imagine it's a Dracula thing) but there's lots of opportunities to shoot him if I'm patient enough.
  • Oh wow, the second half of this fight gets pretty serious. He no longer lets you shoot him in the pool, doesn't hang around long when he's vulnerable and now actively runs after you to slice you to ribbons if you get past his little paralysis trick. Ugh, this fight just got a lot grimmer.
  • Every death so far in this fight has been due to cartwheeling away from an attack and accidentally dropping into the instant death pool. It's tiresome.
  • "What the hell happened? Raiden?!" Well, Colonel, let me tell you: I died again. He stopped beating around the bush and just kept throwing hella knives at me, including a whole bunch of paralysis ones. I died because I couldn't move. There's your answer, fishbulb.
  • Oh god that was the least fun boss fight I've had yet, in either game. I just know he'll be back again too. Fucking vampires. Fuck everything about that character. Like someone gave Sephiroth fangs.
  • More underwater mine-dodging shenanigans. Do I really have to escort Emma through all this? I really hope there's another exit to her room that she didn't think to open. On the plus side, I did find some body armor. One boss fight too late, perhaps, but that'll come in useful.
  • Oh man, she also peed herself. Definitely an Emmerich.
  • "Do you have nanos?" "Yes. Everyone on this project has nanomachines" *goes into Codec mode* "Wow, so you aren't on this project." "Yes! ...Wait, the logical half of my brain just threw up."
  • Boy, I wish I had that mask that lets me breathe underwater now. Emma has the lung capacity of a dormouse. The temperament, too.
  • "Let's catch a breath in the room where I last saw a brutal and insane killer who I'm not entirely sure is dead." "Yeah, good call. Here's a long story about my bro, Otacon. A really gross one with incestuous overtones." Weeeell, they are step-siblings.
  • Otachan's pretty darn smart with the AI stuff, turns out. Couldn't invent herself an oxygen tank though.
  • Oh wow, this just got super nuts. This GW AI inside Arsenal Gear can apparently rewrite Wikipedia (sorta) and the Patriots hid world-domination codes in the Y2K fix. This is duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu-
  • -uuuuuuplicitous of the Patriots, to say the least.
  • Oh, and the parrot belongs to Emma. Good thing I didn't shoot it. Wait, is it a good thing?
  • Rose, stop getting jealous about Emma and just save my game already. She's like 14.
  • She's scared of bugs too, and I guess an egg sac burst somewhere because the path to the elevator is full of them. Give me strength. Fortunately, I remembered I had coolant before I decided to start sniping the little guys.
  • For the number of times I've died on a section that seemed perfectly harmless, like getting across a broken bridge, it's remarkable that I managed that BS sequence where you have to get Emma past the amazing respawning guards of Shell 2's Floor 1. I think there were at least five or six, and many were not there on the initial sweep. Fortunate I managed to stash Emma in that gun turret room (so glad cameras and turrets stay broken in this game too, btw).
  • Across the bridge, into Strut L (Emma had a level 5 keycard, naturally. It's not like they wanted to limit her access or anything) and now we're having fun ladder time. This isn't the game with the super long ladder, right? That's the next one?
  • Sniper escort mission. Figures. The first time went disastrously, as I remembered way too late that I had those Pentazemin pills to steady my aim. Second try was a little better, in that she actually survived. Well, until Vamp showed up again and decided to choke her out.
  • So at this point I'd run out of pills and many of those sniper darts ended up in Emma's neck too. This is going to be fun. Thanks Vamp, for yet another wonderful memorable boss fight. Oh, and for stabbing the girl I just spent over an hour protecting. You really are the gift that keeps on giving.
  • Oooh, another broken bridge to cross with cyphers and a big time limit to worry about in addition. At least Strut E didn't give me any trouble. Another guy listening to headphones!
  • Emma's death scene would be a lot more heartbreaking if I hadn't watched her die over and over due to my incompetence and some truly awful escort sequences. It feels like I'm watching a Crash Test Dummy pass away.
  • It's not like I don't end up getting all of Otacon's love interests murdered anyway. He's a nerd! They don't deserve girlfriends! Kojima is very clear on this!
  • Though it sounds like he was getting some from his stepmom. This is a weird family.
  • Jeez, Otacon, don't cry all over the parrot. They don't like that. They like seeds, mostly.
  • Snake and Otacon have their own special high-five/handshake that ends with a hug. I'm going to throw up. I'm going to aim the emesis at the PS3 when I do.
  • Snake double-crossed me! With Gray Fox! Who was Olga this whole time! And everything's blowing up!
  • And Rose contacted my unconscious body to ask if I wanted to save! Sure, okay!

Sounds like we're building up to a big finale here. If I wake up, I'll undoubtedly be on the Arsenal Gear along with Snake, Olga, Ocelot, Solidus and two dozen Metal Gear RAYs and probably that Vamp guy too. So, you know, among friends at least. See you then.

Plant Part 4: La-li-lu-le-whuh?

  • Oh, I'm Jack the Ripper, according to Doctor Solidopus. The historical one? No, Solidus' godson. I guess. One of his many child soldiers anyway. This is messed up.
  • "Small boy unit". Pfffffffft. Talking of which, why am I naked? Is this like pantsless Officer Barbrady in the Marsh's basement?
  • Olga's... on my side? Well, the Patriots' side. I think it's a little too likely that I'm unknowingly with the Patriots, given every NPC I've met so far has said as much. I suspect the Colonel isn't who he says he is either.
  • Dammit Rose. I want to save. This... all this sentimental nonsense can wait for never.
  • For as heartbreaking as that conversation with Rose was, it's a little tonally undermined by the fact I'm buck naked. And that she's all regular chirpy voice again when I call her back to save for real this time.
  • Oh god, why did I try to cartwheel when the camera was directly overhead? I think I can see Raiden's kidneys...
  • You can lean up against the table you were on, and the camera obscures Raiden's weenus with a close up of a fast food soda's straw. Big Gulps, huh?
  • Found a radar node outside my room and downloaded the data. I almost asked "to what?", but I guess I still have my nanomachines somewhere.
  • Colonel is acting pretty darn weird. Like a robot, even. A faulty robot.
  • Also, I entered an area and it said "New York 52nd Street". I figured NYC would look a little less... metallic? And above ground?
  • Ditto "Aoyama Ni-Chome". (Fun and possibly relevant fact: Shinjuku Ni-Chome is the biggest gay district in Tokyo.) Also, what's with this Discworld emblem on the pause screen? Maybe I jostled my nanomachines when I got knocked out, and now they're messing with me.
  • Colonel wants me to turn the game off. You know, Fake Colonel... don't give me any ideas. And now he's being pissy like Rose. I'm wondering what the game's up to now. MGS2 does have a reputation for weirdness.
  • What the shit was that? The MSX game? Oh, I see, we've gone full Eternal Darkness (which I believe MGS2 pre-dates). Gotcha. Well, I'll be sure to take all incoming transmissions with the utmost seriousness.
  • A string of Japanese names, a scene from a crazy VR mission where you save Meryl from sumo wrestling guards, another insult about my total game runtime, gardening advice, Colonel's otherkin stories, some random home movie instead of the radar and... gossip about people Rose is sleeping with? "I need scissors! 61!"
  • I'm just going to sit here and watch all these. These are nuts. This part of the game is sort of reminding me of D2 a bit. The way that game just completely goes off the rails towards the end.
  • Rosemary's with the Patriots. Figures. At least she's not completely crazy like the Colonel. Maybe this will end all the schmaltzy post-saving pillow talk. Actually, looks like she's gone for good. Can still save though! Best of both worlds!
  • Oh hell yeah, Solid Snake is back in his iconic Sneaking Suit. And he gave me back all my stuff! And there's 25 Metal Gear RAYs ahead to fight. Awesome? But at least I have a ninja sword now. I'll blast right through them all with this thing, no doubt.
  • Snake just admitted he still has his infinite ammo headband, if I needed to borrow some. I sure don't remember unlocking that in the last game...
  • Another fun shooting gallery. Apparently I let Snake die? As in Solid Snake? Can't he take care of himself? He just runs in front of the last group without defending himself or taking cover. He's completely useless.
  • Also there's thousands of these goons. Why? Is this what I reap for using knock out darts all the time?
  • Otacon told us that the Colonel is a figment of my imagination, spurred on by the GW AI messing with my nanos. Hence all the madness, as the virus slowly takes it over. But that doesn't really fit with the plot point that GW isn't Patriots technology, but rather Dead Cell's and Solidus's. Why would it be so glowing about the Patriots if that were the case? Unless the Patriots have been tampering with... my head hurts. Back to shooting.
  • The Colonel said that they captured Rose, somehow, but Snake told me not to trust illusions like the Colonel. Believing in a legendary hero with an infinite ammo headband is far more rational. Get it together, Raiden.
  • And there it is. Fission Mailed. Right in the middle of this swordfight with more endless goons. Do I want to Emit or Continent?
  • Fortune's here! She's the daughter of the Commandant from the Tanker, rather than Vulcan Raven. I figured it out when she said Snake killed her dad two years ago, not four. (She also has a "US Navy" wetsuit, funny how I missed that the first time.) Well, that's that mystery solved. And that's one boss fight we're leaving to Snake, I guess.
  • Oh but I'm not spared my own. It's a showdown with Doc Solidopus, But not after a super long dialogue cutscene first, because this is a damn Metal Gear Solid game.
  • Did I say a Solidus boss fight? I meant one with three Metal Gear RAYs. Good thing I have some Stinger missiles left...
  • I also have to wonder what this giant room is supposed to be. I checked the pause screen: "Arsenal Gear-Rectum". Sorry I asked...
  • Heatseeking missiles... say, I wonder if the old chaff grenade trick still works? ...it totally does!
  • Did I say three Metal Gear RAYs? I meant way more than that. I destroyed five or six before I finally ran out of rations. Really? Do I honestly have to destroy all twenty five? That's their idea of a fun boss fight?
  • Seven. Seven was the lucky number I had to blow up. Seven enormous bipedal battle tanks with nuclear capability. Jeez, what a mess. Fortunately, Olga aka Gray Fox 2 is going to fight them off while I escape. Considering what happened to a cyborg ninja last time it faced a Metal Gear...
  • ...well, she got killed by Solidus instead. That's two switcheroos now. What is this, a tag team match? And is every major female character going to die in this? We're going to run out of fridges to put them in eventually.
  • GW and the RAYs just went nuts. I guess that virus took control. Now I've got Solidus taking down the rest for me. Saves me a job, have at it old man.
  • Well, I was all right with how things were going right up until the point he broke my neck. That's gonna cost me. But I get to save?
  • Oh, I got knocked out. With my eyes open. Fine, whatever. It's another interrogation scene with button mashing, glad those are back.
  • Oh jeez, now Ocelot, Solidus and Fortune are all standing in a circle explaining their plans and double-crossing each other. This is all a little too much info. I'll unpack it later.
  • Essentially, Ocelot's plan was to recreate Shadow Moses via a series of coincidences to make Raiden into a second Snake? It's all an elaborate ploy to create the perfect training simulation for Raiden? I'm using question marks because this is all ridiculous?
  • Ocelot has Fortune's number all right though. Right in the not-heart too. That's another heroine down, any left?
  • Ocelot, deciding that he's not quite filled his quota of major character deaths, hops into a RAY and decides to just missile swarm what's left. But Fortune's innate psychic powers are... you know what? Forget it. Watch it on YouTube. I don't even know.
  • After a dramatic stand against Ocelot, I think Fortune, sorry, Helena has bought it for real this time. And Liquid's taken over Ocelot, which is bound to end well as he's still inside a Metal Gear RAY. Does Liquid know how to drive one of those? What am I saying, of course he does. He's Liquid.
  • Well, Liquid and Snake both took off. So, uh... how's things, Solidus? Still keeping busy?
  • Heh, there was a big Emmerich (Roland, this time) cutscene as the Arsenal Gear headed towards a NYC bridge with the big dramatic music swelling up and everything. But then kinda went... underneath it. Safely.
  • Well, we found out what April 30th is. It's the 200th anniversary of Washington coming to power. Rose would be happy we finally figured it out. Were she real. Is she real? I mean, she's a video game character, so what am I even asking?
  • The Colonel, or whatever it is, is looking kinda... gaunt. He and Rose decide to give me a ten minute lecture about the internet and how Wikipedia is destroying civilization or something. I'm this close to completely checking out.
  • They're also calling Raiden a soulless puppet. Well, we knew this much.
  • Selection for Societal Sanity? Mission Failed within Fission Mailed? This is the last fifteen minutes of End of Evangelion. I've run out of things to say. There's no jokes, here. Just endless question marks. I think these AIs want to take over and needed more practice screwing with our heads?
  • Well, here's something I can understand: I'm fighting Solidus to the death because he's a giant asshole. Apparently it's swords only, so it's a good thing I got in some practice.
  • Did I mention that swordfighting controls suck balls? Because they do. This is like trying to play Die by the Sword, only without the ironic enjoyment.
  • Remember the fistfight on Metal Gear in the last game? Remember Drew's reaction to it? This is twice as bad. There's no time limit, at least. The only thing that's running out is my ability to feel joy ever again.
  • He stayed on that last sliver of health for a pretty long time, but I finally beat him. I even used the blunt edge so that he wouldn't die and I wouldn't become a tool for the... oh, never mind. I guess I just sliced his spine in half and let him fall to his death. Well, I did have a grudge against the guy, I'll allow it.
  • So... the ending. I... hrm. This game is immune to MST3k-ing at this point. No number of trenchant puns about Wisconsin is going to make this labyrinthine plot a chucklefest.
  • Life goes on in NYC, I guess, despite the fact I left the corpse of the former president near the Federal Building and an enormous aquatic fortress tank crashed into the side of Manhattan. Hey, if there's one thing I know about New Yorkers it's that they've seen it all before and to forget about it.
  • Oh, I did get to see my name during the end cutscenes, on Raiden's dogtags. The one I put into the computer at the start. That they managed to integrate it into the cutscene was impressive (even though it's all in-engine). We also see the real Rose, Otachan's parrot and... VAMP?! Fuck you, game. Fuck this. Fuck everything.

And on that high note, we leave Metal Gear Solid 2 behind, as Raiden and Rose reconnect while we watch a lot of red-tinted stock footage of New York City. Raiden whispered something to Rose, but I guess we'll have to listen to the Lost in Translation commentary track to find out what. After the last cutscenes played out, I got my rank: Elephant. I was about as effective as one during the stealth sections, so that checks out.

Thanks for sticking with me through this game, everyone! I kinda hated it. Sorry. Well, it's not all bad, but holy moley does it balance its good moments with a lot of terrible choices for set-pieces (escorting, protracted sniping, underwater controls, incongruous platforming, sword controls), some really bad boss fights, the over-seriousness was less fun this time around, a less over-the-top villain (though he was technically here too), far too many timed sections and a milquetoast protagonist who, fittingly, won't really find his spark until he's made out of machinery. I could only understand every other cutscene too, though I'm sure with enough time I can decompress it all. I can see why many consider this the black sheep.

But hey, I'm not totally against the idea of a Snake Eater playthrough. Especially if Drew and Dan decide to tackle it someday. Until then, I'll leave you with a reminder to keep watching those Metal Gear Scanlon vids, and if your commanding officer ever turns into a skeleton, probably best to take his subsequent orders with a grain of salt. See ya.

(La-li-lu-le-lo.)

And now, the VR missions:

You must be joking. I'm so done with all this. Bye!

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Mento Gear Solid 2: React-sons of Incredulity (Part 1: Tanker)

When I'm not committing atrocities with the English language with titles like the above, I like to play video games. Until recently, I used to mentally put an asterisk at the end of that statement with the footnote "*except Metal Gear Solid". Whether it's the relentless weirdness, the complex continuity or the unintuitive stealth/shooting mechanics, I couldn't say, but it was over a decade ago when I tried Metal Gear Solid 2 for a few hours and decided the series just wasn't for me.

Flash forward until a few months ago. Dan and Drew had decided to partake on a quasi-Endurance Run series in which Drew tackles the missions of one Solid Snake under the keen tutelage (and gentle mocking) of Dan, a series expert. My pattern with every Endurance Run on the site is to play the games first, so I can experience them on my own terms before watching the crew struggle endlessly with them. Something to do with my gamer psychology, I suppose: I get agitated if I *think* the guy I'm watching is doing something wrong, or if I *think* a particular strategy is a far better plan of action than whatever they might be doing. When I actually *know* these things, gleaned after a playthrough of the game myself, the videos become far more tolerable and actually a lot more fun. It's getting all that backseat driving out of the way with, perhaps. (Of course, that didn't stop every Souls expert in the known universe from weighing in on Vinny's and Brad's playthroughs, but then those games are a special case.)

Anyway, I rushed to beat Metal Gear Solid 1 once they began their series, and I'm doing the same thing with MGS2 now they've resumed this quixotic campaign of cardboard boxes and Kojima craziness. With it comes a whole new reactions blog from yours truly, jotting down my thoughts and exasperations as they happen for later publishing. As before, this is really meant for those already familiar with Metal Gear Solid 2, largely because I skip over a lot of the necessary exposition. There are spoilers (for a 13 year old game), so be warned. I dunno why, but these games are starting to grow on me now.

Instead of one big text dump of bulletpoints like last time, I'm going to split these up a bit. For now, this is just the opening prologue chapter with Solid Snake on the USS Discovery tanker. I'll throw in additional "chapters" whenever I complete them.

Tankers For Nothing

  • Shoot, choke, you all remember. Stealth box back again, yes, forever.
  • So Snake joined some anti-Metal Gear PMC/charity thing? Presumably Meryl went on to produce some exercise videos instead: "Rookie Eyes, Great Butt: Squat Thrust Your Way to a New You".
  • Also, the menu on the HD collection straight up says what happens at the end of the prologue. I guess I could just skip it, then?
  • Starting the game up proper, got all psyched up by the fancy chemical formulae-slash-action filled intro movie. Immediately hit the main menu, saw "Transfarring" and now I'm back to anticipating stupid shit. Those tonal shifts are still here, then.
  • Also, there's some information about the previous game. Apparently Nastasha wrote a tell-all expos√© that has been roundly dismissed as wild conspiracy theories. I can only guess how she knew most of this info, given that I rarely called her about anything.
  • And after that, a super flowery 128 page account from some journalist named Gary McGolden who went to Shadow Moses (possibly) and discovered everything. Given that he actually starts the piece by discussing his alien abduction as a child and then just becomes weirder from there, I'm starting to wonder if there's anyone in Kojima's world that isn't crazy.
  • Oh god, he infiltrated Shadow Moses in a hollowed out tuna filled with balloons. Who wrote this? Why? This is amazing.
  • "Solid Snake vs. The Army of Darkness". This document is the game now. Screw all that tanker nonsense I'm supposed to be doing.
  • "Peanut butter is my Waterloo. When I was a kid, I was a wuss who couldn't eat peanut butter like other red-blooded children. One day, I decided to confront this weakness of mine, and put myself on a peanut butter overload: anything I put in my mouth had to have peanut butter on it. I piled the stuff on everything from chilidogs without onions -- my favorite dish -- to spearmint gum to my first girlfriend's lips."
  • Gary's last published piece of nonfiction? "The Telekinetic Powers of the Loch Ness Monster - The True Energy Source of UFOs".
  • After that, a 324 page book from Nastasha shows up. Naw, I'm done. I gotta start playing this thing while it's still light outside.
  • New game menu gives you the choice of "tanker", "plant" or "tanker-plant". I'm starting to wonder how much of this HD edition was geared towards people who had already played the original years ago. Presumably, as a first-time player, I want both?
"Remember Snake, we sent you back in time to find Sarah Connor."
  • Nice "Ghost in the Shell" infiltration cutscene. I guess Otacon finally found a spare stealth camouflage dealie to give to Snake. It immediately breaks of course, because the game's not that generous.
  • Ocelot's here too. I guess we aren't done with our Western-loving chum. I am dimly aware of the stupidity concerning his new hand, but not the finer details as of yet.
  • First new Codec! "You know how [story exposition Snake must already know]?" "Yes, but let's explain it all for the audience." One day, video games are going to find a better way to get around that. Maybe a cassette tape player someone left on the ground?
  • I missed all the tutorial button descriptions because I was too busy focusing on what they were talking about. Whatever, I'm sure I'll figure it out.
  • You need eighteen people to take over a ship run by a computer, apparently. Sure. I'd love to know where Otacon pulled that number from. Are there many Japanese animes about terrorists taking over a military ship? Did they adapt Under Siege as magical girl shoujo? And, most importantly, if Casey Ryback is now an anime lady, would that make her a terrible cook?
  • Otacon created a different Codec frequency for saving the game. It's still him, but he'll only save the game on that frequency instead of talking about the mission. And, of course, Snake is the one who asks how he might be able to save his game. Otacon even bothered to memorize a bunch of proverbs and idioms in case we were missing Mei Ling (we were not, for the record).
  • Found some hidden Pentazemin. "An anti-depressant". What? Are these for when I start to feel sad? Or is this to do with the heart rate bar, like last time?
  • Sneaking around this tanker hasn't been too tough so far, though I am getting hopelessly lost. I managed to do a full circuit of the upper decks.
  • I, uh, might've tripped some Semtex. Obviously these ship invaders don't actually care that much about the cargo, if they're willing to blow it up just to get rid of little old me.
  • I found a "The Orange" box to hide in, but this joyous citrusy discovery soon turned sour in my mouth when I realized how ineffective it is. I'm getting spotted left and right up here, and these guards are way more persistent than last time. Attentive too, but for checking underneath things.
  • This guy figured out where I was and chucked a grenade under. Wonderful. What was I supposed to be doing about a fire extinguisher, again?
  • All right, so I shot the fire extinguisher, passed through the now-visible infra-red lasers that would've tripped the explosives and then hid around the corner from the nearby patrolling terrorist. And then Snake sneezed. Goddammit Snake, are you allergic to silence now?
  • Well, we made it to the control room. I'm meant to go down to the lower decks to find the Metal Gear, but Snake got distracted by another woman. Classic Snake.
  • So this is Olga. The game sure is emphasizing her underarm hair. That's... an interesting fetish you have there, Kojima.
  • I liked some of the neat tricks she pulled. Putting up that tarp, using the spotlights, flushing me out of hiding spots with grenades. If I knew how to shoot from waist-high cover or make some kind of reticle appear in first-person mode, I don't think I would've needed a single ration.
"Grabbed by the Spetsnaz, eh James?"
  • Anyway, I got her gun now, a USP. It needs ammo, which are presumably called USP Sticks, but I've already encountered so many ammo boxes for the thing that I wasn't allowed to pick up that I was getting paranoid that I'd missed it.
  • Just picked up a... wet box? Oh good lord. I already have a dry one, why do I need this?
  • They've definitely beefed up security. Getting back down to the lower levels is considerably harder, with more guards and cameras to deal with. Fortunately, I remembered where the tripwire explosives were, and acrobatically tumbled directly through them because apparently the crouch button becomes the roll button when you're moving.
  • Snake is momentarily surprised by what appears to be Vulcan Raven's shadow being cast on a wall. Turns it out it's one of those comical mistaken identity shadows: it's actually a small figurine of Raven highlighted by a flashlight that somebod- why is there a figurine of Raven here? Who made it and why?
  • Why is there a poster of a girl with "Mooch!" on her blouse? And why is it when I open the locker door it's on, there's another poster of the back of the girl? Actually, strike that, I feel like I'm falling right into Kojima's hands by remarking on this.
  • So, okay, there's more to these explosives than shooting the green glowy sensor thing. Either that or there's a second sensor I'm missing.
  • Ah, spotted it. It's on the top of the instruments. There's also a bomb in the way, and apparently I'm not quite as accurate with the first-person view as I thought I was (though I did figure out how to line-up shots down a gun barrel, finally. I ought to pay more attention to the tutorials: what am I, a YouTube LPer?).
  • One of the guards was listening to music on his headphones. So these guys are as highly trained as the Genome soldiers, then?
  • Well, I guess I was forced to kill a bunch of soldiers in a shooting gallery section. I tried stunning them, but the bodies all vanished regardless. The game just became Lethal Enforcers for a hot minute there.
  • Talking of killing Russians unexpectedly, it appears Ocelot's planning something malevolent. What are you up to, you ornery old rascal?
  • So I have to sneak past a whole room full of marines? (Scratch that, three whole rooms.) This'll be fun. Glad I had the foresight to sneak under the projector.
  • Also, I have to get past the marines, find the new Metal Gear and then take four pictures from various sexy angles and get back to a specific console to upload them all within seven minutes as the Commandant gives his speech. Because this is a video game.
  • Man, if you get spotted by one of the marines, they all spot you and play the alert sound several dozen times at once. Nice. Of course, it means doing all this shit again.
  • Oh god, this whole dual-screen switching and the speech's sudden swerve into aerobics. So stupid. Also dumb is that all the off-topic stuff (including the Commandant just straight up repeating himself) was accounted for in Otacon's time limit.
  • "Metal Gear?!" Welcome back, everyone.
  • The game is nice enough to save any photos you make even if you mess up and have to restart. Sure made getting the four shots of RAY I needed easier.
  • This little 8-bit Otacon sprite reviewing all my photos is... goofy. Well, everything's goofy. I feel like he should be saying "wonderful!" after each good shot.
  • Ocelot's made his grand entrance. And there's far fewer marines around now for some reason.
  • The enigmatic Patriots from the epilogue of MGS are still around. La-le-lu-le-lo? Are they Teletubbies?
  • Liquid Snake is Ocelot's arm. I mean, I knew this, but still... it's super dumb. Couldn't he have a found a better prosthetic with a more agreeable soul within? Like maybe the wife arm from Bionic Commando?
  • Oh c'mon, why wouldn't they securely bolt down their billion dollar walking tank-sub? This is Bush League, US Marines.
  • That's the end of the tanker, and presumably the Tanker chapter. Ol' Shalashiskabob seems a little too badass compared to that first boss fight in MGS. A Liquid Snake arm must do wonders for your accuracy.
Metal Gear RAY is loose and Solid Snake is MIA. Surely he can't be dead? Well, I mean, obviously he's not.

Conclusion: This game is already stupid. Thanks for stopping by and I'll see you next time for Raiden's infiltration of the Big Shell.

Actual Conclusion: Why, that's directly over here. Let's see what ol' Raiden's up to, why don't we?

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Wizardry 8: An Around the World Tour of Dominus

For the past six weeks, among other pursuits, I've been playing Sir-Tech's Wizardry 8: The very last game in a venerable series of dungeon crawlers that more or less begat the entire Japanese RPG industry, as well as much of western RPG development. Wiz 8 is fairly unrecognizable compared to its ancient forebear, however; though many of the series' trademark mechanics survived, the game had evolved quite a bit both mechanically and conceptually in its many years of existence. That's partly due to the imagination of the series' director for the past few iterations, David W. Bradley, who reinvented the franchise to pertain to a planet-hopping sci-fi quest for galactic domination, rather than chasing some evil wizard who lived in a hole somewhere. Bradley had actually departed Sir-Tech prior to this game to pursue other projects, and Sir-Tech had gone under in the interim between the previous game and this one (a massive nine year gap, which saw a couple of unsuccessful Wizardry spin-offs); Wizardry 8, which no-one thought would see the light of day, was completed by Sir-Tech's Canadian subsidiary and only saw a limited release initially. Though I realize I'm starting to sound like a broken record here, I'd implore anyone to read more about the series and Wizardry 8 in particular by checking out the very detailed articles over on Hardcore Gaming 101. It's been a long road (sup Rorie) from that 1981 pioneer to this 2001 swansong.

I'm going to make it a habit to screencap any time a game says "giant bomb".

Personally, Wizardry 8 was a game I wanted to try because it came very highly recommended by fellow CRPG nut @arbitrarywater who, in his peregrinations into the backwoods of CRPGs from the misty past of DOS and CD-ROMs, had emerged with a handful of unequivocal classics. Many of these classics I had already played (and even recommended to him, like Descent to Undermountain (that's a joke (the game and the recommendation))), but Wizardry 8 was one I had not, partially due to it flying in under everyone's collective radars. Though the game is slow as molasses and not particularly transparent about a lot of its deeper mechanics (I think Sir-Tech Canada assumed that only fans of the series would be interested in the game, given how long it had been after its previous entry), I enjoyed my time with it immensely. The combat's thoughtful, in that the game prioritizes taking one's time to strategize, taking into account one's location, the party's skills and stock of consumable items. The story's sufficiently out there to not seem like another generic fantasy slog: the planet merges medieval with spacefaring technology, with the advanced human-like Higardi living alongside primitive races like the Trynnies and Rapax, and the goal of the game is to work alongside other spacefaring races to be the first to procure a trio of McGuffins that would allow the party to become the new omnipotent Cosmic Lords, and in the process stopping the evil Dark Savant and his legion of android servants from achieving the same goal.

Anyway, I'm getting a little ahead of myself. In order to explain what this game is, some of its cleverer mechanics and features and my time with it in particular, I'm framing the game as a guided tour of the world of Dominus (the setting of the game). This will be somewhat akin to my similarly geographically-minded blog on Tales of the Abyss, and probably just as long, so consider thyselves warned, dear readers.

Monastery of the Brotherhood

Something remarkable about Wizardry 8 is that it still supports importing characters from previous games, a Wizardry staple. The previous game, 1992's Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant, is a comparatively ancient dungeon crawler that sat among contemporaries such as Eye of the Beholder II and Might and Magic IV: Clouds of Xeen. Though hardly a technical marvel to read the code of a 250kb save file to generate the player's party just as they remembered them, it's such a minor but appreciated attention to detail for long time series fans. The player's status in the last game determines their starting position in this one, putting the player in the headquarters of either of the two alien factions they might have aligned with, or setting them in a remote abandoned monastery that acts as the game's tutorial dungeon. New players, like myself, are brought to the planet via an NPC who immediately dies once the player's ship is shot down by the game's villain, the Dark Savant. It's an inauspicious start, but does a fine job of presenting a mystery and an antagonist in one fell swoop (as it were).

As for the Monastery of the Brotherhood itself, it's a tutorial dungeon in the same sense as those found in The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall or Baldur's Gate II, in that its purpose is twofold: it's an expansive introduction that acclimatizes the player to the game's many quirks and features, and it also acts as a trial by fire to ensure that the party the player has constructed is a sound one that is likely to survive the first few rough hours. The ground floor has lots of little rooms to check out, squads of weak enemies roaming around and enough items, ammunition and consumables to prevent any catastrophe. There's a large bug named Gregor that sits between the exit to the upper levels and the rest of the dungeon, and the player is expected (and required) to level up several times while exploring the rest of the dungeon before they can hope to beat him.

The monastery's actually one of the more interesting regions of the game, an example of a game starting on the right foot. As well as the usual key/lock puzzles and a few powerful items stashed away for smarter players to find, there's one instance where the player will keep passing items locked behind various glass barriers: a strong (for a low-level party) set of Samurai armor in a display case, for instance, or a glass wall separating the player's party from an enclosed panic room. Towards the end, the player finds a key to the monastery's belfry and can set the power of the belfry's bells, increasing it to the point that it shatters every piece of glass in the entire building. Those various items are now rife for the taking, if the player remembers where they all were. There's also an anti-magic library (it's cleverly demonstrating how the silence status effect works, magically rendering the studious environment sound-free), a vendor NPC that is secretly there to rob the place but will happily give you directions to nearby locations and trade with you if you're running out of inventory space, and there's plenty of books left behind by the monks that provide as much exposition as you're willing to read. It's a well thought out introduction to the rest of the game, and it's a minor shame that the rest of the game's dungeons aren't quite as clever.

Arnika Road

Though I stated that the monastery is sort of the testing grounds for new players, it's Arnika Road -- the path through the wilderness that links the monastery to the Higardi town of Arnika -- that really throws them for a loop. You see, the game has an interesting mechanic when it comes to scaling monster encounters. Monsters level up as the party does, and whenever the party enters a new area the game generates a number of enemy encounters relative to the level of the party. It does this even with areas the party has already passed through (though if the player took the time to empty out a region, it'll be a while before it's completely filled with enemies again). These monsters roam the countryside, so a particularly stealthy player might be able to hide or outrun any encounter they don't want to meet, but generally speaking it's necessary to fight monsters when they're on narrow paths like Arnika Road.

The problem here is that Arnika Road is a commonly revisited location, as it links several areas together: Mt. Gigas to the north, the monastery to the east and Arnika to the south. It's likely the player will pass through a number of times, and at different experience point levels. As such, Arnika Road has a variety of encounters likely to contain some very strong enemies for a group just emerging from the monastery, and as such it is highly recommended to put off leveling up the party until they have safely made it to Arnika. It's very counter-intuitive -- the whole point of levelling up is to make enemies less challenging and the game easier -- but due to a quirk of how the game generates encounters, it's imperative to stay around level 5 until safely at the next location. Any higher, and the enemy encounter levels all jump up a notch and become quite insurmountable.

As for the region itself, Arnika is sadly one of many cases in Wizardry 8 of an oversized outdoors region with very little going on. There's a few items hidden here and there, but for the most part you're simply marching to the next location of interest fighting monsters. The Elder Scrolls games (including Morrowind, which was released the following year) is a similar case; usually players are just hunting for the nearest dungeon/landmark on the radar. Still, many of the "wilderness" regions that separate the various towns and dungeons of Dominus usually have something noteworthy. Arnika Road only presents one mystery: a building locked with a metal door that sits on the crossroads between the three exits.

Aravella Ynni the Elven Bishop

I'll break up the tour with some profiles on the six characters I used to beat the game. They perhaps aren't ideal race/class combinations, but it took a restart of the game to come to grips with how characters in this game work and how certain classes start strong and end up relatively weak and vice versa. Obviously, you want a somewhat even mix of those so your party can stay a formidable team throughout the early, mid and late game. Aravella was my physically weak magical powerhouse.

Aravella's class is Bishop, which isn't so much a healer type as a versatile mage. Think Final Fantasy's Red Mage. The Bishop can specialize in all four schools of magic casting: Wizardry, which focuses on destructive magic; Psionics, which focuses on debuffs and divination; Alchemy, which also focuses on debuffs, potion creation and some destructive magic; and Divinity, which is mostly healing, buffs and anti-undead spells. In addition, there are six realms that govern spells in the four schools: Fire, Water, Air, Earth, Mental and Divine. The player has to raise their aptitude (either by spending building points when leveling or through practicing the spell over and over) in both a school of magic and one or more of the six realms in order to learn stronger spells. For instance, a Wizardry-focused character will learn Energy Blast in the Fire realm initially, and can eventually learn the AoE Fireball spell, the damage-over-time Firestorm and the group spell Lightning. A Psionic-inclined character will learn useful buff spells like Haste from the Fire realm instead.

However, as the player only has so many magic points to allot to each character per level, it's possible to end up with a Bishop that's stretched quite thin over her many magic proficiencies. The player's options are to focus on two schools and neglect the rest, or expand to three and four by spending most of the player's treasury on acquiring new spellbooks for the Bishop: each spellbook not only teaches a new spell, but increases total mana and expertise for that element, which ensures that a late-game Bishop isn't too underlevelled in too many disciplines. Aravella became very powerful in Wizardry and Psionics spells, and I made sure to practice casting spells in all six realms to ensure I had a wide suite of options to choose from, depending on the elemental resistances of the foes I was facing. It never got to the point where I was casting utility spells in a safe area over and over to boost them up, fortunately.

As an aside, it's remarkable how many great fantasy names you can get from the Bomb Squad just by removing the first letter of their surnames. Aravella's a perfect elf name. Erstmann recalls a sturdy dwarven fighter. Lepek sounds like a lizardman name if I ever heard one. Yckert could be a bard (alas, poor Yckert?). Canlon would be good for a wizard or cleric. Hoemaker... well, maybe that one has some problems. Whatever occupation "Hoemaker" follows probably wouldn't fit a wholesome RPG too well.

Arnika

Arnika itself isn't quite the safe haven you might have been expecting after the rigors of the monastery and Arnika Road. For one, it's crawling with the footsoldiers of the Dark Savant, who has set up shop with a particularly ominous tower just adjacent to the city walls. There's also roving bands of rogues as well, as much of the population has fled with the arrival of the Dark Savant, leaving most of the empty houses targets for looting. Unfortunately, despite the occasional useful item, most of these buildings have been ransacked well before you arrived. There's plenty to do here in Arnika though, and the usual CRPG trick of getting some easy early XP by completing non-combat errands in town still applies here too. Importantly, there are four vendors here from which to buy useful gear: He'Li is the local bar owner and the place to go for general goods (she also ties in with a lot of early sidequests); Lord Braffit is the leader of the remaining Brotherhood, whose monastery you just trashed, and is also a locus for sidequests and the guy to go to for healing items and spellbooks; Anna is the salty harbormaster who has an absurd amount of ammunition and ranged weaponry for sale; and Antone the Rapax blacksmith is an imposing figure who sells the best armor and weapons for the early- to mid-game.

What's more is that the player is free to go into the backrooms of these establishments to steal various goods belonging to the vendors, including safety deposit slips which then allows them to ransack the local bank. If the player's survived this far, they can give themselves a major boost by exploring the town thoroughly, selling everything they find and equipping themselves with some powerful gear from the offset. It's at this point that the game's difficulty relaxes a bit, at least until you accidentally wander into an area that's far too high level for you: despite the scaling, there's plenty of monsters that are too powerful for an entry level party even at their weakest incarnation. For instance, even the weakest of the enormous quadruped Hogar enemies still hit very hard and will likely wipe out a low-level party, which is why many of them are not hostile unless the party gets too close.

Arnika also gives you your first look at what the Dark Savant is capable of, beyond the dick move of shooting down your spacecraft at the start of the game. The tower's creepy enough, but the soulless automatons prowling the streets for people to beat up are downright menacing. This is also where you find the plot-significant Vi Domina, however; one of the game's many "RPCs", or Recruitable PCs, that can join the party in one of two slots left specially vacant for guest characters. Unlike how many guest characters work in other games, the player can change an RPC's equipment and direct them in battle as if they were one of their own. Each RPC will also talk about a region once you've entered it for the first time, giving you their impressions and tips and helping to keep the player on track. The other RPC in this area, Myles, is a worthy rogue if you neglected to bring someone who can open locks and deactivate chest traps. He also talks like Terry-Thomas, which can be amusing.

Arnika-Trynton Road

At this point the player can either head back north to Mt. Gigas or continue down Arnika road to Trynton, the home of the rodent Trynnie folk. However, the game hints several times that the Trynnies need your help and that there's a lot of useful magical back-up they can provide us. They can also enlighten us with the location of Marten: an apostate from the Brotherhood who once, a hundred years prior to the game, stole one of the three major artifacts the player needs to complete the game. Chasing down Marten becomes one of the longest running quest chains in the game, and takes the player through half of the world's locations in that pursuit. Given that the player has no reason to visit Mt. Gigas yet, unless they want to meet the rhinoceros-like Umpani Federation, it's off to Trynton they go.

The Arnika-Trynton Road is essentially the same as the Arnika Road, just longer. It's a little more open too, which means the player can more easily avoid trickier encounters if need be. It's never a good plan to wander around under-leveled, so fighting everything is generally recommended, but it's still possible to bump into an enemy encounter you aren't prepared for, especially if you have the misfortune of bumping into one or more roaming monster groups simultaneously and have to fight them all together. Also in this area is another mysterious metal door building, and the Trynton graveyard. Unless the player can remove the malevolent force that is raising ghosts from their graves, the player may meet roving bands of phantoms in addition to everything else. Having a Bishop in the party makes it a little easier to take on spectral foes, but their immunity to many status effects makes ghost-fighting something of a challenge.

Pookie the Mook Fighter

My tank. Fighters are one of those classes that starts strong and remains strong throughout, though eventually gets outclassed by other warrior classes. That's because the Fighter is an uncomplicated class that does the job of standing at the front and hitting things hard very adroitly. They have the most HP, can wear the best armor and wield many of the strongest and heaviest weapons. They also have a berserk command, which makes them hit even harder with the downside of not being able to direct their ire if there are multiple targets within reach. It also uses up more stamina, which slowly drains whenever a character uses their skills or takes damage, and running out of stamina puts the character in the rather strategically disadvantageous state of being unconscious until they catch their breath a bit.

Pookie has gone all in with the mace and double wielding skills, as I read somewhere that an off-hand mace is far easier to come across than an off-hand sword. Most off-hand weapons are daggers, which require an entirely separate skill, so with the mace/dual-wield build you have one less skill to focus on building up. Her lack of a shield doesn't hinder her too much, as Mooks tend to be particularly sturdy.

Mooks are Wizardry's Wookiee equivalent: a spacefaring race of explorers and scholars who all the same resemble giant furry beasts. They make good fighters due to their burly constitutions, but are also very intelligent and can make equally excellent mages. The downside to the race is their lack of speed and piety, the latter of which governs the strength of Divine magic and the total number of spell points they receive. A slow Fighter isn't exactly the end of the world though, especially as it gives enemies enough time to wander into melee range before Pookie strikes them down.

Trynton

Trynton's one of the more interesting locations in the game: it begins as a relatively small area of wilderness around the base of a giant tree. Once the player finds the entrance to the tree, they can climb up its insides to the various Ewok treehouse village boughs above. It's a surprisingly large area all told, and filled with rooms to ransack and wandering wasps and other buglike enemies. The player is ostensibly here to help the Trynnies with their rat infestation: though the Trynnies themselves resemble rodents, the Rattkin are a different manner of being all together.

The Rattkin are actually from the previous game, which was set on the planet of Guardia. They're stereotypical Mafiosi, who use violence, extortion and underhanded means to get what they want. Fortunately for the player, their leader has a bone to pick with the Dark Savant, and actually offers to steal back the second of the three magical McGuffins the player needs, which the Dark Savant took from the party at the end of Wizardry VII. It'll cost the player a pretty penny, but the nature of the three McGuffin quests means the player can return far later in the game when they have the resources to throw around and buy it off the Rattkin. This arrangement also doesn't interfere with the player's current quest to eradicate the Rattkin "breeders", which turn out to be much larger Rattkin women who are built like ogres and swing around gigantic axes. While here, the player can also meet with the enigmatic shaman of the Trynnie people and learn more about Marten and where he might've gone. There's a questline here that takes the player through the next couple regions and back to collect the Helm of Serenity, which was bequeathed to the Trynnie by Marten with instructions to pass it down through the generations of Trynnie shamans so they can one day give it to the player's party. (The game explains Marten's accurate prognostications eventually, don't worry.)

After clearing out the Rattkin, the Trynnie are in your debt and send you on your way to the Swamp, which lies between Trynton and Marten's Bluff; thought to be the final resting place of Marten.

Swamp

The swamp is a huge open area which leads off to five discrete locations and is a pretty inhospitable place to hang out. Also, like Arnika Road, its status as a hub of sorts that links low- and high-level areas means that it can be filled with a lot of dangerous creatures, ranging from weak swamp frogs to powerful alligators and enormous amorphous blobs. There's a few interesting locations to check out in the swamp, but generally speaking you only ever want to be quickly passing through this region to one of its many exits. The player also meets Crock here, an ornery merchant who talks in a thick Louisianan accent and has a lot of powerful gear and spellbooks to sell to the party. His advanced age makes him a good source of regional information too, though he really doesn't care for the nearby T'Rang who have set up shop in Marten's Bluff. The T'Rang, like the Umpani and Mook, are one of the aliens races who have come to Dominus for the same reason the player and the Dark Savant have: to collect the three treasures that would allow them to ascend to the Cosmic Circle. Of the three races, the T'Rang are perhaps the most intimidating: an expansionist empire of insectoid psionic-users. Kind of a mix between the Klendathu bugs of Starship Troopers and Cthulhu-esque Elder Beings from the deepest regions of the cosmos.

The Swamp also leads off to Bayjin, an aquatic region filled with powerful though primitive sentient fish people named the Rynjin. Bayjin has such a fearful reputation on Dominus that most of the game's RPCs, Vi Domina and Myles included, refuse to step foot in there. It's certainly far too high level for a party this early on in the game, and the game makes sure to let you know by putting a powerful group of Rynjin at the entrance to Bayjin to guard it. They're around 5-10 levels higher than anything else in the swamp right now, so it's best to leave them be. The other options are the Old Mines, which is a small sub-area that leads to Marten's Bluff in a circuitous manner, and the Southeast Wilderness, which leads nowhere the player needs to go just yet. Another quirk of how this game's randomization algorithms operate is that it fills every random chest in a new area using a similar process for populating areas with monsters: any given chest's contents are always of moderate value to whatever level the party happens to be at. It's generally recommended therefore (though the game never states this anywhere) to avoid entering new areas for a quick look around, as it means that when a much higher level party eventually comes back that way for the next story mission, the chests remain filled with low-level junk generated after the first visit.

Ladywolfe the Rawulf Bard

Ladywolfe is a rawulf, which are the game's canine-like race. Both rawulf and their feline equivalent the felpurr exhibit a certain boost in some stats over humans, though usually taking a hit to intelligence in the process. Rawulf aren't actually all that quick, strangely enough, and boast high vitality and some resistances instead. They also have high piety (presumably because dogs are faithful?) and can make for good priests.

Instead, Ladyhawke is the party's bard, and her high vitality makes it easier for her to use her musical instruments every turn. Instruments operate like free spells: they don't use up mana, and instead take a chunk of stamina instead, which is far easier and faster to replenish and is boosted by the character's vitality stat. Because the Bard needs to find instruments before she can use them, Bards start off somewhat underpowered. Fortunately, her high vitality also means a large HP pool, so she makes do as a secondary fighter before finding enough instruments to be relocated to the rearguard of the group.

Late-game bards, conversely, are some of the most insanely powerful party members you can find. Each new instrument brings with it a useful spell that can be cast an infinite number of times with little cost. Initially, the bard just has instruments that can sometimes send groups of enemies to sleep or hit them with a moderately strong wave of sonic energy. Eventually, she can make groups of enemies insane (stops them attacking, makes them occasionally attack each other), paralyse them (freezes them in place, preventing them from attacking and amplifying any damage done to them), hex them (reduces all their stats, making them sitting ducks), haste the whole party, heal the whole party, greatly increase the whole party's resistance to magic or set off local nuclear blasts which hit every enemy in sight. Towards the end-game, Lady was throwing around high level buffs and devastation spells with abandon, and it didn't cost a thing. Of course, I had to painstakingly find every single one of those instruments by exploring each new dungeon, so it's more that you're getting rewarded for all your thorough exploration with an OP harbinger of doom, singing the song that will end the world. Seems fair to me.

Marten's Bluff

Marten's Bluff has two sides. The facade, which looks like a moderately sturdy fort surrounded by a moat, takes a little effort to break into. Once inside, there's a lot of traps lying around, and an elevator that very clearly looks like it shouldn't belong to a medieval keep. Underneath Marten's Bluff is an entirely different story: it more closely resembles a subterranean laboratory or the USCSS Nostromo at this point, with eerie metallic corridors filled with cobwebs, moisture and weird bug aliens. The T'Rang are here too, of course, and many of them stalk the corridors. It is here that you can converse with their leader, Z'Ant, and receive quests that are tied to currying favor with the T'Rang faction. Many of these quests involve the T'Rang's rivals the Umpani in some way, such as the party's first mission to bring back proof that the Umpani have set up shop on Mt. Gigas (thus finally giving you a reason to head there). Of course, if the party were to visit Mt. Gigas first and ally with the Umpani, they'd eventually get a quest to find proof of the T'Rang's settlement here.

The T'Rang are actually quite friendly, despite appearances. They have a vendor here too, and a little out of the way is a T'Rang RPC you can recruit. The vendor sells "stun rods", which many of the T'Rang appear to be wielding, and these are spears that have a huge chance to stun or paralyse an opponent, making them very useful weapons. Status effects are greatly overpowered in this game, far outclassing spells that deal direct damage, and paralysis is one of the more devastating status effects due to how any attack made against a paralysed opponent is automatically maximized. It's very possible to bring down a far more powerful enemy if you manage to paralyse them first.

Marten's Bluff also contains a secret area filled with powerful ghosts and Marten's bunker. As well as supplies to help him live out his days in seclusion, there's also a journal that gives you the hint that Marten moved onto the Sea Caves as soon as the Brotherhood stopped looking for him. The player's best guess at this point is that the Sea Caves is where Marten eventually ended up. Unfortunately this leads to a minor issue: the Sea Caves are on the other side of Bayjin, and the player must pass through that deadly region to get to Marten. Fortunately, the game has already thought of this, and most of the mid-game is spent walking to and from the T'Rang and Umpani camps achieving faction quests and earning huge amounts of easy XP. The player can also take this time moving back and forth to recover the artifact that they need to trade to collect the Helm of Serenity from the Trynnie shaman, which is apparently essential if they intend to pick up the Destiny Dominae: the McGuffin that Marten holds. However, grabbing the artifact leads to a booby trap during which a player's party member goes missing. The culprit is revealed to be Crock, who originally set the trap to catch T'Rang, and demands you kill a giant frog in the swamp before handing your party member back. That jerk.

Northern Wilderness

The Northern Wilderness separates Arnika Road from Mt. Gigas, and is another unremarkable expanse of wilderness. Instead, I'll take this opportunity to talk more about how monster encounters and combat works.

Monsters are divided into species and ranks. The species corresponds to the type of creature it is: a crocodile, a slime, a Higardi rogue, a ghost, etc. etc. As the player gets stronger, they fight higher ranked versions of those same monsters; these higher ranks usually don't look too different, but maybe they'll get a palette swamp or some more elaborate frills or armor. Instead, they are simply more powerful versions with more HP and sometimes additional attacks and status effects. They might also be immune to more status effects than their weaker brethren, possibly forcing the player to change tactics. Each species has a number of different ranks and, as I explained earlier, even the weakest rank of one species can still be a powerful foe. Even bats, the weakest enemies from the monastery, have enough ranks to remain threats right up until the late-game, moving from regular bats to dusk bats, twilight bats, shrieker bats, giant bats, vampire bats and bat vampires (who, unlike vampire bats, are regular bats turned vampiric).

Combat is your standard turn-based affair, which should come as no surprise given that Wizardry is the precursor to Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy and every JRPG that followed those trailblazers, though the player can switch to a continuous mode which simply keeps the player characters in a holding pattern without asking the player to input new commands (unless they switch back to the standard phased combat setting) until combat ends, similar to how Baldur's Gate handles its combat. The phased setting sticks to the usual Wizardry format of setting everyone on the default attack setting unless the player gives them something else to do, like use a spell or an item. They also default to the nearest target within range, or in the case of multiple melee targets, whichever one moved into melee range first. As such, it's a combat system that is as slow and cautious as the player wishes it to be, with the option to simply automate a full round of regular attacks if the player bumped into a weak group of creatures that require no elaborate strategy to defeat. As characters grow stronger, they acquire both additional attack rounds and additional swings. Additional swings occur more rapidly with faster warriors, such as the unarmed monks or the lightning fast ninjas and samurais. Additional attacks, however, tend to only appear once the character has levelled up a lot. In the case of my RPC monk, he was able to attack eight or nine times per combat round. This is the often the key to having stronger end-game characters, as they start to really pile the damage on with their multiple attacks.

"The Bride" the Human Samurai

My samurai perhaps best exemplifies what a fast if under-powered melee character can become in the end game. Samurais are crippled several times over initially: their armor choices are limited, they have very low HP totals for a fighter class and while they can eventually learn Wizardry spells, it requires them to reach level 5 first and having to hybridize between spell casting and melee combat means they'll never truly be the master of either. Additionally, my Samurai started as a dual-wielder, wearing both a katana and a smaller wakizashi, which meant even less defense with which to keep her alive. However, as well as combat magic, the samurai has two other talents going for them in comparison to the standard fighter: the first is the Lightning Speed skill, which occasionally boosts the Samurai's attack to four, five or even six or seven swings per round. The other is the Critical Strike skill, shared by monks and ninjas, which very occasionally produces an instant kill affect.

I'll let all that sink in for a moment. Imagine what a samurai can do with two weapons, each of which can occasionally be swung five or six times, and each of which has a small chance of causing an instant kill. I know, right? It takes a little while for a samurai to proc any of those abilities at a reliable rate however, so it's a case of a fixer-upper. It's also unusual to come across samurai-specific weapons and armor (all of which has Japanese-sounding names), though samurais tend to be fine with most (but not all) the weapons and armor that a Fighter, Lord or Valkyrie can use.

Given that the portrait I used for my female human samurai was a blonde, I figured this name was more fitting than any other. I also gave my samurai a Southern Belle accent for reasons I'm not entirely sure about. She was a constant delight throughout, whether she was calling some NPC "Darlin'" or making late-game enemies explode with alarming regularity. Needless to say that, once the game was over, she had the highest body count of any PC.

Mt. Gigas

Mt. Gigas is the temporary home of the militaristic Umpani, a bunch of rhinoceros aliens that all talk like drill sergeants. Their quest chain is remarkably similar to the T'Rang's, in that they first put you through the ropes with a few softballs and then start finding ways to undermine their rivals using the player's party for their dirty work. What's perhaps more telling, and this ties into some late-game missions, is that neither the T'Rang or the Umpani actually hate each other all that much. The quests they give you regarding the other faction largely involve reconnaissance and shoring up defenses from a theoretical attack. While the player can choose to ally with one and oppose the other, there's actually nothing stopping the players from joining both sides and getting double the XP. In fact, I dare say it's required to reach a necessary experience level to make that first trip to Bayjin. Additionally, if one were to follow the Umpani and T'Rang quest chains far enough, they each have a quest that forces you to head to Bayjin regardless. It's an ideal opportunity to go there, since you need to anyway.

As for Mt. Gigas itself, it begins with the Umpani Camp just outside the mountain before the player goes into the labyrinthine tunnels of the mountain itself. At all points inside Mt. Gigas, with the exception of a network of abandoned tunnels, there are Umpani patrols wandering back and forth. The player can actually draw enemies within range of the Umpani patrols to give themselves a helping hand, which is something that can be done with some areas of Marten's Bluff and the T'Rang as well: there's no harm in doing this, as getting allies into combat doesn't diminish your reputation with them (unless you accidentally kill one), and sometimes the monsters will kill them which leaves their spoils for you to collect after the battle is over.

Mt. Gigas and Marten's Bluff also have another thing in common: a teleporter. The Umpani teleporter actually takes you to that mysterious house with the metal door I mentioned earlier when describing Arnika Road, which cuts out a few areas between Mt. Gigas and Arnika if the player needs to head back in that direction. The T'Rang teleporter in Marten's Bluff is harder to reach, but also provides more options: It can take the player's party to the exterior of Marten's Bluff; to the metal gate house on the Arnika-Trynton road; to the entrance to Mt. Gigas; and to the entrance to the Rapax Rift. The Rift is a little too extreme for the party at this juncture and, like Bayjin, many RPCs simply refuse to follow you in there and risk tangling with the Rapax. I'll be describing those bad boys in due time.

Bayjin

Eventually, inevitably, the player must make their way to Bayjin. The best course is to take the underwater Mt. Gigas route, unlocked after agreeing to the Umpani's rescue mission, which actually takes you to Bayjin Shallows (below) first. Bayjin is the island itself, a tropical paradise were it not for all the extremely dangerous psychic Rynjin and enormous crabs prowling the beach. The player needs to come here for two reasons (or just one, if they have decided to only ally with either the T'Rang or Umpani): the black box from another crashed ship, shot down the same manner that you were, which the T'Rang needs to track the Dark Savant's starship; and the Umpani prisoners of war taken by the Rynjin after the Umpani tried investigating the area. It's possible to avoid a lot of the enemies in this area and try to get in and out after accomplishing the quest objectives (the quest givers recommend as much, knowing full well how problematic the Rynjin can be). Of course, a slightly tougher party can find some very nice gear in Bayjin and the surrounding locations. It all depends on how foolhardy you intend to be (or how overpowered you became by playing both sides against the middle).

Gerty "Talli" Talliweather the Hobbit Gadgeteer

My gadgeteer, Talli (I know, shut up), takes a similar role as the bard and is equally disadvantaged early on. A new class invented for this game, the gadgeteer is a modern weapons expert (it has its own skill to upgrade, alongside other ranged weapons like "bow" and "thrown/sling") that comes with her own "Omnigun". The gadgeteer makes incremental upgrades to the Omnigun as they level up, ensuring that it remains the only weapon they ever need. Unfortunately, early on, all it can fire is musket balls (which are understandably rare early on) and pebbles usually reserved for the sling. Pebbles can be damaging, but they're also heavy and lack any sort of accuracy that arrows and quarrels enjoy. In addition, the gadgeteer must assemble the gadgets she can use, which work similarly to the bard's instruments in that they're essentially infinite-use magical spells that only require a small stamina drain, and assembling gadgets means finding two components that may well be on the opposite sides of Dominus. In addition to all that, the gadgeteer lacks the HP and melee prowess that a bard can always fall back on.

The gadgeteer is a hard sell for the early game, then, but she's not entirely useless: her weapon becomes fairly effective in short order, eventually allowing the player to use throwing knives and darts as ammunition as well, and providing status effects like a chance to blind and poison. It'll only become more devastating too, as it becomes tweaked further to provide an instant kill proc and will can be fired several times per round at higher levels. The gadgets, too, are as overpowered as the bard's instruments, including: an early one that can instill fear into a group of enemies causing them to run away; give the entire party Armorplate, which greatly boosts physical defense; one that reveals the location of every monster on the map/radar making avoidance that much easier; the ignoble Port-a-Potty, which replicates the Noxious Fumes spell that remains a very serviceable AoE spell that can sometimes nauseate an opponent, which makes them lose turns as they start gagging uncontrollably. Late game gadgets include a heal-all, a powerful water cannon (very useful against the fire-based creatures in the Rapax Rift and nearby locations) and an earth-shattering jackhammer that devastates every enemy on screen. The gadgeteer is not lacking for firepower come the late game, though once again you need a lot of prep work to get there.

As for Talli herself, she's a hobbit. Hobbits are suitable for almost any role besides Priests/Valkyries, as they take a hit to piety. Their good dexterity and senses make them excellent with ranged classes, like the gadgeteer with their Omnigun, and they don't suffer from a lack of vitality, which means their stamina is easy to keep up. The game lets you input a character's full name and their shorthand nickname for some reason, possibly immersion; the nickname is how the game refers to them at all times anyway, so the full name might as well be dressing. Talli has a typical Hobbity name which just so happens to abbreviate to resemble that of a certain masked alien engineer from an entirely different sci-fi RPG franchise...

Bayjin Shallows

The Bayjin Shallows are remarkable due to the fact that they're entirely underwater. An unprepared party will quickly drown, but the game provides a boon in the case of scuba gear. Unlike the scuba gear in Might and Magic VII, which requires that each character remove all armor and weapons, the scuba gear of Wizardry 8 only demands a single accessory slot. It does put you at a small disadvantage, but fortunately the Shallows is a very small area relatively speaking (though if you're heading there through Mt. Gigas, that's another bunch of underwater caves to get through first). The Shallows is what links Bayjin to the Sea Caves (and Mt. Gigas), so it's necessary to take a dip if you want to head to Marten's resting place.

There is one small snafu when passing through this location. The crossroads that connects between the three locations is a large pool occupied by one Nessie. Nessie is a level 26 plesiosaur with around 800 HP and enough group spells to make attacking at a distance very unpleasant. Even less pleasant is trying to face her in melee range, as she has a not-inconsiderable chance to swallow a character whole, removing them from the fight. It's generally an encounter you want to avoid this early on, though given Nessie's size it's not always easy to do so. There's quite a bit a bit of sunken pirate treasure in the area too, so the designers definitely went all-in with the Caribbean theme.

Sea Caves

The Sea Caves are a welcome return to the type of puzzle dungeon that began the whole game back with the monastery. Though a relatively compact series of tunnels and beaches, the Sea Caves requires a lot of investigation and backtracking as players keep finding items that unlock new areas of the cave elsewhere. It's a bit confusing, and the crab/ghost enemies are relentless, but there's some nuance to this dungeon that I appreciated. Given it was conceived by an omniscient madman with a lot of time on his hands, it seems fairly explicable that it's a bit of a brainteaser.

Talking of whom, the party finally meets Marten here (or rather, his spirit) and acquires the Destiny Dominae, the first (or possibly third) relic they sought to acquire. However, the player needs to have found the Helm of Serenity and equipped it, or else all the universe's knowledge contained within the Dominae will drive the entire party mad for as long as they carry it. A permanently insane party will not get far, especially as the insanity effect frequently turns allies against each other. I've already explained the case with the Astral Dominae, which is the relic that you can pay the Rattkin to steal from the Dark Savant, and if you haven't done so yet, you're probably rocking enough small change that such a purchase is now feasible. The Chaos Moliri, which is the third and final relic, is carried by the Mook. The player can visit the Mook as soon as they have progressed the T'Rang or Umpani quest chains far enough that they've been given the task of delivering a message of truce to the Mook compound in Arnika, which had until this point been inaccessible. The player can then either kill the Mook and steal the Chaos Moliri or swap it, Indiana Jones style, with the fake Astral Dominae that the Dark Savant angrily throws at you once the Rattkin have stolen the real one from him. Given the amount of trouble it takes to recover the Destiny Dominae, the ease with which you take the other two almost feels like cheating.

Hrist the Human Valkyrie

Valkyries were introduced as far back as Wizardry VI: Bane of the Cosmic Forge, and are a female-exclusive fighter/priest hybrid class. They also begin with a heavy skill bonus in polearms, making that their preferred weapon. If the player doesn't have a Valkyrie, they can easily hire one by finding Vi Domina in Arnika. In addition to the polearm proficiency and Divinity spells, the Valkyries have a surprisingly common chance at surviving death, coming back from the brink with a random number of hit points. This power can even activate several times in a row, making Valkyries almost unkillable. The long reach on polearms make them ideal for protecting flanks too, as larger groups of enemies love to surround the player's party. While their damage output eventually gets outclassed by Fighters and the other hybrids, they're a very dependable class and a good choice if you want a healer for your group.

Hrist is probably the one valkyrie in Tri-Ace's Valkyrie Profile series who won't be seeing her own game any time soon (she's usually a minor antagonist in any VP she appears in), so I gave her a chance to stretch her wings in this one instead. The voice actor I selected for her speaks in very portentous intonations about destiny and the fate of the world, which seems fitting enough for a Wagnerian refugee. Throughout the whole game, while other characters slowly came into their own and started being the big power players in the group, she was near the back, quietly kicking ass and keeping everyone alive as needed.

Southeast Wilderness

Another wilderness area, though with an ominous cathedral right in the center. This cathedral contains one of the toughest fights in the game for a mid-level party (and is downright impossible if you wandered here from the Swamp without completing all the T'Rang/Umpani/Bayjin missions first). The fight is against six cultists, a Sorceress Queen and two Dread Lords. Dread Lords are eight feet tall skeleton knights who hit the party constantly with status effects, while the other seven are all powerful magic-users. The trick is to find a way to get them in melee range, and can be done by hiding around corners. Even so, it's one hell of a tussle, and something of a shock to any under-leveled party passing through the region. It's also entirely optional, which makes it a fair enough party-killer if they're foolish enough to go where they don't need to. Of course, the many rewards from beating this battle makes the painful affair worth it.

The Southeast Wilderness doesn't have much else going on. It links three locations: the swamp, the Mountain Wilderness and a small wilderness clearing to the east. After a certain point in the game's story, this wilderness clearing becomes something completely different...

Rapax Away Camp

I stumbled into the Rapax Away Camp quite by mistake, though I discovered later on that this is where I wanted to be to complete a very important objective pertaining to the T'Rang and Umpani faction quests. After finding two of the three relics, the Dark Savant suddenly decides to get his ass in gear and allies with the Rapax: the Rapax are the fourth indigenous sentient species on Dominus, after the Higardi, Trynnie and Rynjin. They're both fiercely intelligent and fiercely, well, fierce. A warlike race of reptilians with demonic horns, they were exiled to a volcanic region of Dominus after a war with the advanced Higardi went poorly for them, and have found themselves a sponsor of sorts with the demoness Al-Sedexus, who has granted many of them demonic powers in addition to their extant martial prowess. Understandably, the Rapax are the last creatures you want to fight. As such, the Rift and Castle regions they reside in comprise the final areas of the game the player must visit before heading up Ascension Peak to complete the game.

The Rapax Away Camp is situated some distance away from the Rapax homeland, and is the staging ground for a full invasion (and genocide) of every other species on Dominus. The nature of their alliance with the Dark Savant is that they prohibit anyone else from reaching Ascension Peak, giving the Dark Savant exclusive access, and after he ascends the fate of the planet is left in the Rapax's malevolent claws. It's a match made in Hell, which is why its important for the player party to throw a spanner into the works. It's also important to note that the Rapax have fully invested in the "stop anyone ascending" idea by closing off Ascension Peak with a landslide, which forces the players to find the only other entrance to the peak in the Rapax Castle.

Anyway, the camp is where a lot of high level Rapax are milling around, and it was here that I fought over 20 very powerful Rapax Templars and Archers to a standstill, using a tent to keep my sides from being flanked as I funneled each Rapax through the entrance. Even though I was greatly outmanned and overpowered, using the Rapax's AI against them I was able to empty the camp entirely and free the two prisoners that the Rapax had abducted: A T'Rang and an Umpani, both scouts for their respective factions. The two had become friends despite their races' history, and thus begins an entirely optional quest chain to unite the Umpani and T'Rang against their common enemy: The Dark Savant. The chain actually ends with blowing up the Dark Savant's spaceship in an act of payback, so it's a very rewarding (in more ways than one) arc to follow.

RPCs: Vi Domina, Myles, RFS-81, Rodan, Drazic, Glumph

I've run out of player generated characters, so here's a few of the RPCs I found in the game. RPCs, as stated, are recruitable story PCs that join the party and can be controlled in battle like any of the regular player characters. The few detriments to taking RPCs with you is that they generally refuse to go anywhere near Bayjin or Rapax territory, as the entire planet is terrified of the Rynjin and Rapax (with good reason). Myles is the first you meet, as he stands outside of Arnika as a welcoming party. His real goal is to get the player's party invested in a few lucrative missions he's heard about that he can't handle alone, one of which is to rescue Vi Domina from her predicament.

Vi is actually close to another crashed starship in the center of town. She's currently trapped in a wrecked building by some of the Dark Savant's androids, and the player can rescue her for a few rewards from He'Li and Braffit. (Of course, if you bump into He'Li with Myles in tow, you're forced to pay for his meager bar tab too.) Vi's a very dependable RPC for a lot of the game, due to being of the tough Valkyrie class, and is a font of wisdom about Dominus as well. She also has plot significance, being a character introduced in Wizardry VII who has ties with the Dark Savant, so its worth keeping her around for narrative reasons too.

RFS-81 is my favorite RPC, however. A savant drone that was in disrepair and abandoned near Marten's Bluff, he requires a certain chemical found near the Dark Savant's tower in Arnika to become functional again. Once repaired, he confuses the player's party with the Dark Savant and joins them. He's a capable monk, though he's prohibited from using the Psionic spells of the monk class due to his soulless nature, but best of all he is completely willing to go anywhere with you, lacking the fear that prohibits other RPCs from entering extremely dangerous areas. The only place he won't go is the Rapax Away Camp, and that's for mechanical reasons: the player ideally emerges from the Rapax Away Camp with both the Umpani and T'Rang scouts, and they won't go anywhere without the other, so for that reason you cannot take any RPCs with you into the camp.

As for those two scouts, who are actually Rodan the Umpani Lord and Drazic the T'Rang Ninja, they're also very capable RPCs who, for whatever reason, don't suffer any ill effects if you take them to regions they don't want to go. I actually went and did the Rapax Away Camp before going into Bayjin for the second time, because they're the only two RPCs besides RFS-81 and Glumph willing to go in there. Lords are essentially like Valkyries in that they're a fighter/healer hybrid (not unlike Paladins, really) while ninjas are a physically weaker version of samurai that excel at range and can cast Alchemy spells. The ninja's Critical Strike skill, the one that occasionally instantly kills an opponent, will activate even with ranged weapons, making them deadly at any distance. Unfortunately, once the player has completed the T'Rang-Umpani alliance quest chain and destroyed the Dark Savant's ship, they both permanently leave the party and cannot be recruited again. Glumph, who I just mentioned, is the impetuous Umpani warrior who you are required to rescue from the Rynjin to complete that particular quest. He's a solid enough fighter that can help make the Bayjin sections easier but, like Rodan and Drazic, permanently leaves the party for good once his quest is over.

Mountain Wilderness

The third and final of the "wilderness areas", the large expanses of land with very little in them that sit between locations of more importance (and fun), the Mountain Wilderness links the Northern Wilderness, the Southeast Wilderness, the Rapax Rift and Ascension Peak together. The area is somewhat volcanic in nature, so most of the enemies are lava-, fire- or rock-based, like the nightmarish scorchers that breathe fire on the party or the enormous golems that clomp around the region in an intimidating manner. The party can also find the lost group of Brotherhood monks who set out to stop the Dark Savant from the beginning monastery. They give you information about the Rapax after you save them from a Rapax patrol, but don't really lend much help otherwise. You also meet Bela here, a bipedal dragon from the prior Wizardry game who has been pursuing the Dark Savant for decades. Though he looks like a winged demon, he's actually quite friendly and asks that you assist him to stop the Dark Savant once you reach Ascension Peak.

I'll use this space to talk about the game's status effects instead, since they're far more dependable for spellcasters than direct damage spells like the fireball. There's Irritation, which drops a character's attack and defense skills, and Hex, which is a much more powerful version of the same effect that also lowers every other stat. Nausea will occasionally prohibit a character from moving, while stuff like Blind, Fear, Paralyse, Stun, Poison and Sleep are fairly self-explanatory. What's interesting is how enemies will react to these status effects: Fear and Blind will always make an enemy run away, while Stun, Paralyse and Sleep will completely halt their idle animations which is a handy visual cue (along with the various symbols above their heads which denote which status effects they have) for running up and beating the crap out of their prone forms. Given how easy it is to inflict fear and blindness (there are consumable items that hit enemies with those effects), it's worth keeping them in mind when you're surrounded and need to make several enemies back off for a while.

Rapax Rift

The Rapax Rift is a foreboding place, filled with lava, evil sculptures and Rapax banners everywhere. One of the first things you witness when entering the area is a giant Lava Lord elemental march across the screen to kill a Rapax prisoner. The pact that the Rapax have signed with Al-Sedexus, the local demoness, isn't quite so beneficial to everyone. Anyone who disagrees with Al-Sedexus or the ruling class of Templars that serve her are summarily dispatched with. You can save one prisoner by recovering a Staff of Ash elsewhere in the level, but it's kind of a nuisance to reach (and requires you killing that aforementioned Lava Lord).

The Rapax Rift requires a bit of guesswork too, with a few interesting puzzles to solve before you can make further progress and reach the path to the Rapax Castle beyond. What complicates things are all the Rapax patrols, and they don't make it easy for you even with a high level party. Oddly, however, none of the Rapax here are anything like as strong as those found in the Rapax Away Camp. If you went there first, as I did, you might be a little underwhelmed by the Rapax who resist you here.

The Rapax Rift is also home to Al-Sedexus, though you can't fight her yet for story reasons. She points you in the direction of the Rapax Castle and a certain quest chain you can complete there.

Rapax Castle

The Rapax Castle is a very large multi-layered structure that comprises the technical final dungeon of the game. There's many more Rapax prowling the corridors here, though there's also a friendly one in the form of Ferro. Ferro, like his brother Antone in Arnika, is a blacksmith who is willing to sell you some of the most powerful gear in the game. Like Antone, he will also create custom pieces for you if you fetch him certain items, which are usually (but not always) found after defeating enemies. These ingredient side-quests can be worth your time if you want some specialized equipment, though fetching the giant amount of silver ore he requests can be hell on your encumbrance limits.

The Rapax Castle contains a zoo filled with tough creatures, many secret areas, the Rapax Prince (who you also meet at the Away Camp and, like he does there, will run away and abandon his concubines to fight you alone) and two portals: one that takes you back to Arnika, one-way, and one that will take you to Ascension Peak and is necessary to continue the game. Unfortunately, that particular teleporter is behind the altar of Al-Sedexus, and you're required to complete the Templar quest chain in order to have access to it.

The Templar quest chain is a suitably disquieting ritual where you fight elementals and pledge your heart, mind and body to Al-Sedexus. After this process, one of your party is "Chosen" by her (it involves a lot of Succubus antics, if you catch my drift) and then whenever you leave the Rapax Rift, that party member becomes permanently hexed. The only way to remove it is to kill Al-Sedexus, which isn't too easy a battle and involves making all the Rapax your enemy again. Still, you could always ascend Ascension Peak while hexed but, uh... I wouldn't recommend it.

Ascension Peak

The end game is somewhat anti-climactic, though maybe that's just due to where I was at mentally some hundred hours into this game and eager for it to conclude already. The player must place the three relics they have recovered into the three temples, solving riddles from the Cosmic Lords' pet android Aletheides to prove your worth. Each of these temples requires walking down a long road filled with tough enemies, and then fighting a particularly high level encounter just outside the temple's doors. These fights are, explicably, the toughest in the entire game, and involve demons (the "Chaos" that the Chaos Moliri represents), dryads (the "Life" that the Astral Dominae represents) and some transparent crystalline unicorns (I have no idea what part of the knowledge-based Destiny Dominae they represent, besides maybe the home decor of a spinster librarian). There's also the small matter of a Rapax army, led by the cowardly Rapax Prince and, horrifically, the demonic child of Al-Sedexus and the player character who slept with her to seal the Templar pact. It's a tough fight, but at this point in the game the player characters are such a high level that you mostly cleave through the Rapax horde. The Rapax Prince in particular took two arrows before getting gibbed by the gadgeteer's Omnigun's instant kill chance.

After that, the path to the Cosmic Circle opens up, though not before you witness the Dark Savant jumping in ahead of you. If you haven't disarmed the bomb in his tower in Arnika (the way to get in there is through another teleporter in the Rapax Castle), he'll set it off, destroying the entire planet and you along with it. It's worth noting that the only RPCs willing to follow you to Ascension Peak are Vi Domina (who requires some clever portal placement magic to get her past all the Rapax she refuses to mess with), RFS-81 and those quest RPCs you should've dropped off back home by this point.

Cosmic Circle

And this metaphysical realm is where the game concludes. The Dark Savant and the player's party meet face to face at the home of the Cosmic Lords and at the altar of the Cosmic Forge: a book and pen that comprise the most powerful tool of creation and are able to bring into being anything that is written within, and a major plot obstacle in the prior two games (Wizardry VI is even named after it). There's multiple choices available to the player, each leading to a decidedly different conclusion. But any more than that would be saying too much.

What it does do is entirely conclude the Wizardry saga that began in Wizardry VI, and perhaps that's the game's crowning achievement in the end: that it bothered to tie up a three part story arc that had been left dangling for almost a decade, for the benefit of the many fans who never thought they would see a denouement to the Dark Savant/Cosmic Force trilogy.

That concludes our tour of Dominus, and this blog. Thanks for putting up with yet another incredibly verbose trip through a particularly dense RPG. I hope I've given you enough of an impression of my admiration and appreciation for this game, but if you haven't you can always pick it up on Steam or GOG and try it for yourselves. It's a very long game, and by no means should you head into it without that in mind, but quite worth the time all the same. Roll up a party, find out that party sucks a few hours in, roll up another one and have your own adventures through Dominus. Just don't be stingy with those paralyse spells and make sure to turn up the speed settings for combat; both those things will make the whole affair far less painful.

You're supposed to fear this guy, but he doesn't half come off like Cobra Commander sometimes. Dark Savant more like Idiot Savant, am I right? G'night folks.

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