By Mento 14 Comments
Time for another helping of Mento Miscellany, "A Blog Mined from the Mind of Mento About Matters You're Meant to Mind". Most blogs don't need horrible punny taglines, but mine is not most blogs. Just a smattering of minor topics this week as people are either too busy gorging themselves on festive avians or have begun the long and painful process of regretting said gorging, and neither of those states really makes one particularly receptive to any deeply introspective video game talk. Time, tide and food comas wait for no blog, as they rarely say. So here it is already:
The Last "The Last Story" Fanboy: A Story
So a cute thing this site does if you're one to review/rate a lot of things is give you a special "award" if you happened to have an anomalous opinion on any given game; a special "fanboy" tag for rating a game higher than one's contemporaries and an equal but opposite "hater" tag for the reverse. Apparently I have one for rating Mistwalker's The Last Story "too highly" and I feel I ought to return back to the hazy past of six months ago and address why I felt I needed to rate it such. Or, at least, figure out why so many others seem to take issue with it. Without actually reading what they said because I'm a busy blogging guy and it's easier to make shit up.
By process of elimination I've deduced the combat is the true battleground. With such utterly redundant phrasing like that, you might be wondering where I'm coming from. Simply that the rest of Last Story is so inoffensively charming (or bland, I suppose) that it shouldn't make too much of an impact on the score either way, not to the deviation we're seeing here. Graphically it's more than one could feasibly expect the Wii to pull off, the music's Nobuotiful and the story's the same kind of derivative but likable goofiness that we've come to expect from the Gooch after so many of his fairytale Final Fantasy games. It's practically Disney-ian, which makes me wonder if Disney weren't a little bit annoyed that he left around the same time they signed on for that thing with all the key swords. Ah well. I'm sure they won't be purchasing any major franchises without the primary creative force behind them again any time soon.
So, the combat. I've heard the many complaints about it. How the AI is basically brainless, how the player character controls like a suicidal schizophrenic, how many battles will simply be won (or lost) without any input or maybe too much input? Question mark? The cover, the stealth and the first-person archery are all busted to some extent. Whether these are spurious excuses or valid concerns, the underlying point is that the person making them did not enjoy the combat and are articulating that distaste to varying degrees of success. Regardless of whether I might agree or not, it's hard to overlook that core tenet in their argument, besides huffily suggesting that they're "playing it wrong" and sulking elsewhere for a spell.
Which is what I'm going to do! See ya!
Quick Look Everything Initiative
So one of the most exciting developments in the grand, ongoing "what is Giant Bomb?" experiment* is Jeff's quixotic mission to Quick Look Everything. The precise details of which are entirely locked up within that wonderful crazy man's coconut, swirling around a massive maelstrom of ideas along with decades-old hip-hop lyrics, hopes of an inauspicious second coming of Game Room and funky alpacas. Currently, this QLE concept is integrated with another new site fixture, that of the Encyclopedia Bombastica. But that seems like a fancy new name for Jeff's long-planned "Giant Bomb Hall of Fame" feature, rather than having anything to do with actually Quick Looking everything. Mostly because, as we are all acutely aware, that an unfortunate ratio of video games are mediocre if not outright garbage. Nothing that deserves 30 minutes of prime Jeff webcam time, at least.
So I've been racking my brain to figure out how they could actually Quick Look Everything and still have time to do all the other stuff they're already too busy to do. Some bright (and opportunistic) sparks in our community hit upon the idea of leaving the crappier stuff to us nobodies to sort out, but with the amount of peer-review and sorting that'll require from whichever luckless mods they rope into it, I can't see it ever taking off. Also I don't believe anyone's made any yet, despite the fact the idea came up months ago. Instead, I've been wondering if we can't go smaller with it. That's always good advice; to go small.
The core purpose of a Quick Look, besides watching Vinny shove virtual Chinese people through windows for an hour, is to provide an elucidating appraisal of what a game is like. Most of this is done by simply watching the game be played. We're a canny bunch in that we can immediately pick up many of a game's finer details by watching its parts in motion for a few minutes, occasionally even catching systems and features that the otherwise erudite Bomb Crew either miss or neglect to mention. So I'm thinking what we really need is a small snippet, perhaps with several limitations to restrict crazy file sizes (video quality, resolution/window size, length, etc.), of someone playing the game with just the game audio. For every game. Put somewhere on their respective wiki pages, preferably.
I figure a video's worth a thousand screenshots, which in turn are worth a thousand words. But maybe that's just the messed up wiki points system talking. In short, a brief and perhaps peripherally-situated video will tell anyone browsing a game's wiki page much of what they went there to learn. And I'm sure Dave and Alexis are very open to site improvement suggestions right about now! Facetiousness!
* It's a video game website.
Dust: An Elysian
Tale Tail No, I'll Go With Tale, Thanks
Destitute as I am, I elected to wait until I received some bonus XBLA points from a recent birthday of mine (I still have those, yes) before finally deciding to buy Dean Dodrill's one-man project of a furry anime Metroidvania. As I'm sure everyone else is aware of at this point, the game is excellent.
Dost thou eyes deceive you? Approbations for what is assuredly some kind of DeviantArt animal-human-on-animal-human filth? No. And yes, but no. I was never one of those people for whom the ugly character design was a dealbreaker. Heck, I hear "Metroidvania" and I'm there like a flash. That the game around it is so competently made and infectiously fun to play is something of a bonus. Though on a smaller scale than other games like it in some ways, mostly due to a mere smattering of the exploration-enhancing accouterments that tend to be front and center in any game like this, it's an impressive and expansive project even before you start factoring in the whole "one dude did everything" aspect.
Dastardly as the combat might be early on, it's easy to get into the groove of having your floaty bat thing disperse magical glowy thingies and then redirecting them with your twirly sword doohickey. If that's hard to follow - I am using very technical terms here, after all - I recall Brad's Quick Look showed off this technique adroitly. Despite becoming the de facto method of dealing with pretty much every enemy encounter in the game, it's still way more fun than most combat systems in these 2D action games have been in the past. Specifically those like BloodRayne: Betrayal and its other Indie 2D throwback ilk. It seems it's all too easy to fall back to the simpler times of 2D brawlers/slash-em-ups without actually doing something about that rather nagging "oh yeah, everyone stopped playing this sort of game years ago for a reason" issue.
Distasteful of its graphics you may be (the stuff that isn't the characters - that is, the environments and the animation - are absolutely top-notch by the way) the game is absurdly good for what it appears to be on the surface. It's fine and dandy to say to someone, "Hey, you should support this guy, he heroically made an entire game all on his lonesome. Throw some coins into his guitar case why don't you?" like some sort of charity case, but in Dust's case it's very much worth your time and money on the basis of the game alone. Like the similarly low-scale yet somehow gorgeous and fascinating Fez and Bastion, there's enough going on here beyond its curious backstory to captivate you.
Dust: An Elysian Tail. It's a video game? And you should buy it. Preferably if you haven't already. And even more preferably if you've got some GOTY decisions to ponder next month, because another dark horse entry can't hurt.
Oh OK, The Last Story Then
Talking of eccentric combat systems, I suppose I'd best back-pedal and talk about this Wii RPG some more. If there's something Giant Bomb as a collective entity cares about more than anything, it's Japanese RPGs and the Nintendo Wii.
In The Last Story, the player controls Zael who receives early on a power called "The Gathering". The moment you activate this power, Zael becomes a lot stronger, can start resurrecting people and, oh yeah, draw the attention of every enemy on the map like a big ol' flashing beacon that says "kill me, this guy here, the one that can bring his friends back to life". Being that one hated enemy in every JRPG (and Doom 2) is an interesting role reversal in itself, but the Gathering is what elevates the game beyond its Gears of War-esque hack-and-slasher superficial appearances.
Because at this point it becomes less crazy oh-my-god-what-is-going-on-oh-god-what action (though some element of that still exists, granted) and resembles more of a real-time strategic set-up where the player's resourcefulness and situational awareness are at the forefront. The reason your compatriots are idiots? Well, that's because this game straddles the line between something like Gears - in which everyone wisely hides and takes occasional potshots and are entirely incidental, because the player should be doing all the work consarnit; and Lemmings - in which your unique, almost godlike powers are needed to keep all your dumb followers from marching into the nearest lava pool. It's a hard balance to strike; being supernaturally gifted is pointless if your entirely competent mercenary team can just steamroll enemies efficiently enough already, but it also stretches the limits of plausibility if said crack mercenary team is routinely being bested by the strategic genius of "some guy with a stick".
If you're running around like a headless chicken in that game, it won't hesitate to turn you into McNuggets. Likewise, if you ignore the rest of your team to showboat too much, you're going to get Pearl Harbored. It's an acutely engineered system that, admittedly, can either demand too much or too little from the player in equal measure, but there's a lot of deviation and nuance in each of the encounters you face. It's not as well crafted a battle system as it perhaps ought to be, but I guess I was enamored by how different and interesting it felt. It's kind of odd that I perhaps overrated it because of its combat, when others are underrating it for the same reason. Hey, opinions, eh? Check your mileage with that one, folks.
And with that, I'm going to end what I ironically called a short blog. A little too much food for thought to go with the little too much food for stomach that you're presumably all in the process of digesting. Happy Thanksgiving/random Thursday everyone!
The Last Story
Dust: An Elysian Tale