RecSpec's Game of the Year 2014

This year was fun! I bought an Xbox One and a WiiU, the Vita and 3DS were strong, and there were a ton of great games. I am not one of those who would say that this year was a weak year for games, but maybe I'm just easily amused. Every time I figure out what my Game of the Year is, I'm happy. Remembering all of the good games I played and why I loved them is awesome. Japanese games that got released this year count if I didn't play them at Japanese launch.

10. Hyrule Warriors


I’m not really that big of a Zelda fan, but I do love Dynasty Warriors. This game was a brilliant combination of the two, fusing the Warriors gameplay everyone loves to hate with the Zelda universe. The best thing about the whole thing was the amount of detail in here. From the awesome character/boss intros to the chimera of a soundtrack that merges signature styles together, if you even have a small appreciation for Zelda, you will be highly entertained. But what cements it on this list for me is the Chain Chomp being a weapon. Link’s Awakening is my first and favorite Zelda game, and I’m happy to see it represented.

9. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

It is really hard to find pictures that don't spoil anything from this game.

“It’s Zero Escape meets Persona meets Ace Attorney!” That is all I heard about this game. Being hyped to death by people who only watched a let’s play instead of playing it. People had their favorite characters and couldn’t stop talking about it. No way it could live up to that hype when it finally came out here right? Well, it did. An amazing set of characters, a brilliant premise that makes ANY spoiler potentially devastating, and a gorgeous soundtrack from the mind that gave us No More Heroes’ awesome soundtrack. I met people, grew close to them, found them dead, found out they were murderers. What a cool game.

8. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

This is all dust.

I will never play World of Warcraft, or regular Warcraft for that matter, but turn it into a card game and I’m there. The best thing about Hearthstone is the way I got attached to my Shaman and the creatures in my deck. Once I finished the tutorial and unlocked all of the basic cards, I never touched another class unless it was to do a daily mission, and I eventually stopped that too. I was only playing as the Shaman, with my Mana Tides and Overloads and it was really engrossing for a while. Never did get the Golden Shaman, maybe one day.

7. Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

Slowing down an enemy and then eating it with the Chomper is extremely satisfying.

Two EA shooters tried to win my heart, this one succeeded. I never really played Plants vs Zombies (at this point I realize that this is a recurring theme of this list, and I apologize), but I love the classes and the costumes. There are a lot of different ways to play, and it’s a slower paced game, which is a nice change of pace from every other shooter in the history of games. The co-op is neat, but I spent most of my time in the competitive modes. Calling an airstrike on a base and then picking off the survivors with the Cactus is a blast, but so is kicking a bomb into a crowded area and then rushing in as the All Star. The colorful world and characters make this one a lot of fun to come back to.

6. Sunset Overdrive

The Fizzie boss battle looks amazing as you're playing it. Even better, it plays as good as it looks.

So imagine a game set in the world of Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 without skateboarding. One that replaces the Jackass humor with a constant barrage of smart self-aware jokes. It feels like it hits the balance of references and jokes that Borderlands never does. Getting around the world is exciting when you learn the right abilities and figure out how to tie them together. The combat is also pretty neat with the right combinations of powerups and weapons, but the traversal is the star here. The game has some of the best bosses of the year, using the mechanics in new and cool ways. All of this aside, it’s the writing that will make me remember this game. Fizzie, you’re the real asshole.

5. Freedom Planet

Hard to tell from a screenshot but the game looks gorgeous in motion. Some of the boss battles are stunning.

Freedom Planet is probably the best Sonic game to come out in a long time, and it’s not even a Sega game. What started as a Sonic fangame eventually turned into a love letter to platformers of the 90s. It pulls a lot of elements from some of the best games in the 90s, you have the speed of Sonic, the boss fights of Gunstar Heroes, and sometimes it’s a little like Ristar. Some of the boss battles and platforming are tough at first, but once you know what to do you can skillfully cruise through them extremely fast. I had fun replaying a lot of the stages in the game. There is even a story that is overall pretty well done, even if it’s a bit cheesy at times. The different characters played very differently, and it was fun finding new ways to go through stages. One of the best platformers of the year for sure.

4. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle

Come for the David Bowie look-alikes, stay for the music references (the thing in the back is Killer Queen)

I got into Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure this year. I watched all 52 episodes of the current anime run and read the entire manga series up to the current point. The manga started in 1986! The demo of this game was the main reason I got into it. I mean, I had the Capcom game, but never paid much attention. This game caused me to get into the whole series. It’s your typical anime fighter (Think Naruto and Dragonball Z anime fighters, not Guilty Gear and Persona). The gameplay isn’t Street Fighter, but the references and stuff for the fans of the series is top notch. The presentation is amazing, and has the proper respect for the source material. Even if you’re not into Jojo, the sheer spectacle of it all is enough to warrant a look. This was made by the team behind Asura's Wrath, and if anyone knows sheer spectacle it’s them. One character can use his super to cause you to fight in space, while another uses the American flag to teleport you to another dimension and cause a paradox with your alternate self. Even if you never plan to watch an episode or read a chapter of Jojo, the game stands up well enough on it’s own for a fun multiplayer session, even if the fighting isn’t the centerpiece

3. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair

Again, really hard to post screenshots of these games.

As much as I loved the first game, the second one completely blew it out of the water. The same similar scenario, people trapped on an island and being forced to kill each other to escape. In this game though, the characters are much better and some of the murders are absolutely brilliant. This game is always a step ahead of you, you may find something wrong or off about it, but trust me, that’s intentional. Like the first game, because of the premise, it’s hard to talk about much because of spoilers, but I have to say the 5th Trial/Investigation is one of my favorite things I have ever played. From the build up to the murder, to the actual murder and investigation to the trial, everything about it is nearly perfect. That alone would put this game on my list, but everything else surrounding it is great as well.

2. Destiny

In all seriousness, Destiny has been talked to death. It hooked me, what can I say? I have one character, my level 29 Hunter. I have only done one nightfall, and zero raids. I don’t like playing with people, and I just play solo. Mainly, I like playing to find new stuff and level up my Dead Orbit reputation, and I enjoy Destiny’s multiplayer more than Call of Duty and Titanfall. I’m not going to defend Destiny’s questionable choices, but I liked it a lot.

1. Puyo Puyo Tetris

Fuck Tetris. I never liked that game. Growing up, I’d always try to get back into it only to go back to my mindset. I even bought the absolutely brilliant Tetris DS, which I appreciate as a well put-together game, and until this year it was the best Tetris experience out there, but once again, yeah. I didn’t like the lines thing, I didn’t like how a missed block can block a perfectly good Tetris opportunity.

I begrudgingly learned concepts like Perfect Clear patterns and T-spin triples because of this game, despite my previous hatred towards Tetris.

What does this have to do with Puyo Puyo Tetris? The game is a crossover between Tetris and Puyo Puyo (popular puzzle game in Japan that most Americans only know as Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine). There is a story mode, and to get to the end you have to play through various stages and rulesets. Now, based on the name of the game, one would assume it’s half Tetris and half Puyopuyo right? So for one to finish the game you’re going to have to play Tetris. Now you see my problem. So I thought to myself, I’m going to just bullshit these Tetris stages and get to the good stuff, much to my chagrin, I had to learn how to play Tetris to advance. I should have just said goodbye and left, but I really, REALLY like Puyo Puyo, so I had to finish the game. So...I learned how to play Tetris. Even worse, I started to enjoy Tetris just a bit. I learned T-spins, learned the best way to clear a lot of lines at once, and so on. I’m 27 years old and have hated Tetris my whole life and Puyo Puyo Tetris finally got me to end my vendetta.

Try PuyoTetMix once and then run away before your brain melts.

Personal history aside, PPT is a beautiful puzzle game. The Puyo stuff is amazing as always, but adding Tetris allowed Sega to go crazy and make some insane modes. There is a swap mode that has you playing Tetris for awhile and then switching to Puyo, like a puzzle version of chessboxing. A mode that has powerups like Mario Kart which can cause your opponent to mess up. And I’m not even going to start talking about PuyoTetMix, which is something best locked away in a laboratory (It’s Puyopuyo and Tetris on the same board, and it’s crazy and indecipherable). Having Puyo Puyo vs Tetris matches actually work really well.

It’s import only and will probably stay that way because Ubisoft can’t stop mucking up the Tetris license over here, but if you like puzzle games, this is mandatory. This game single handedly caused my vita to get as much playtime as any of my consoles this year. This was my Game of the Year shortly after it came out in February, and nothing came close to dethroning it. Puyo Puyo Tetris is my game of the year.

Congratulations to Puyo Puyo Tetris, my Game of the Year!


FGC Tourist: Marvel on Da Beech and Playing Your Best.

There was a fighting game tournament this weekend. It would be easy to miss if you were watching speed runs or Fez II dissolve into the internet, but there was one. I’ve gotten real crazy for fighting games and have been trying to watch more tournaments. I still really don’t know much about everything FGC but that’s a blog for another time (I am but a tourist). The VideoxGames happened (aka Da Beech, not sure if that’s endearing or an insult), and there are a lot of things you can take from it. I personally was interested in how Triforce (yes, the power glove guy) was billing this as an Evo killer, then falling into the rabbit hole surrounding EMP and yeah, that’s also a blog for another time. I’m writing this today to try and make sense of the Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 finals, where (OH!) collusion occurred, and the fallout from that. Actually there was very little fallout, mainly things to think about.

The most exciting part of the match was ChrisG's Wright trying to land Bridge to the Turnabout.

The overlooked thing is that up until the end, the Marvel finals were actually pretty good. The 2013 Evolution champion EMP Flocker beat both Filipino Champ and NYChrisG (Last year’s Evo champion and this year’s Evo favorite, respectively) in great matches, proving that yes, Flocker can beat them. Things started to get weird in the Losers finals (match set up to determine 3rd place, winner goes on to grand finals) when Chris G used a team that he usually doesn’t use (Wesker, Ryu, Hawkeye). Now that alone isn’t enough for a red flag, but he did manage to come back from a 0-3 deficit to win 4 matches to 3. Especially since his opponent was FChamp using one of his best teams. All speculation of collusion ended at the grand finals. Flocker and ChrisG had a rematch, and we all went to "Da Beech". Just kidding, it was a complete joke match. From the start it was obvious that neither player was playing their best. It is figured that both ChrisG and Flocker (and maybe FChamp) decided that no matter who wins, they would split the prize money evenly. This is where this all stems from.

There was a lot of outrage from many different sources. Mad Catz was one of the big sponsors for the event, and Mad Catz’s Mark “MarkMan” Julio called them “a joke” and vowed that if any Mad Catz sponsored player ever threw a game in that fashion, they would be suspended. Despite this happening, Mad Catz will sponsor the VideoxGames again, but if another instance of this happens, they will pull their sponsorship. Capcom’s Niedal “Haunts” Crisan voiced his opinion on Twitter: “Honestly, as a streamer, when you bust your ass all weekend and thats the thanks you get from the players, its one of the worst feelings.” I can respect this point of view. The people behind the scenes of the even do their best to put on the best show possible, and if the people on stage brush that aside, it’s easy to feel disrespected.

You just hate to see this kind of thing remind you of the Black Sox

Aside from sponsors, there have been a lot of viewpoints from viewers, mostly outrage because the last match was garbage. That’s understandable, you spent the last two hours or so watching every match leading up to this, and for the finale to be a joke, an intentional joke no less, why wouldn’t you be pissed? The stranger conversation seemed to be on the topic of pot-splitting. From the chat on the stream to various forums and twitter, a good number of people seemed to be fine with pot-splitting as long as the players played their best. That makes no sense. How can you expect players to play their best if you take away one of the biggest incentives to do so. We can’t assume that everyone is playing for “the love of the game.” Now, I know that this isn’t something new to fighting game tournaments, but there are a lot of people fresh off Evo looking for more tournaments to watch, and to see something like that just hurts their interest. To get the best out of people, wouldn’t you enforce things to make sure people weren’t blatantly throwing matches? You can’t track if someone is playing their best as well as where money is going, so why not go that route?

That leads to the biggest thing I wondered about the whole thing. How do you measure that? How do you measure people “playing their best”? If someone picks a character they normally don’t use, does that mean they are throwing the match? Maybe they are picking a character an opponent has trouble with, or maybe it’s an ace up the sleeve for this specific situation, who knows? The VxG finals were blatantly obvious, but the match before it? I’m not too sure. People give ChrisG a lot of crap for playing the high tier Morrigan/Doom/Vergil team, but then they give him more crap for not playing it, thinking it's sandbagging. There's no winning. Again, all you can do is try to enforce it and make the punishment for being caught severe enough to try and keep people from turning out a shitty match.

While somewhat painful to listen to, Jessica Nigri and Gootecks on commentary wasn't a complete disaster.

Compared to the fine tuned machine that was Evo, of course the VideoxGames wouldn’t look as sharp by comparison. I personally have no interest in listening to Jessica Nigri reading the naturally stupid comments off the stream (kudos to Haunts for trying to avoid that trainwreck). But it seems like everyone had a good enough time, and a majority of the matches were fun to watch. Reminds me a lot of the Pro Bowl in the NFL, usually a garbage show, but maybe it’s not for us. Maybe the weirdest part is how this small tournament had better payouts than Evo. In the case of Arcade Edition, VxG paid approximately $6000 to the winner, Evo only paid $5500 according to EventHubs. This is a weird thing about fighting game tournaments, outside of Evo and the Majors, there are a ton of other tournaments. It’s actually quite neat, and only time will tell which of these or worth watching. I’m still just trying to make sense of it all.


My speculation on the 5th character.

The biggest news coming out of evo was the announcement of Ultra Street Fighter IV. They announced 5 new characters, and only revealed 4 (Rolento, Elena, Hugo, Poison). We know the four that are announced already are ports from SFxTekken, the fifth one is a character "never seen in Street Fighter before" (So it's not Alex, quit saying that). So who could the fifth person be? Here are some of my guesses.

Asura- Based on how lazy Capcom appears in this, bringing Asura to Street Fighter is another easy move for them. They could just use the work from the Asura's Wrath dlc to do it. I would love this because it would mean that Asura's Wrath 2 is coming. Why else would you just randomly throw Asura in there? (Aside from it being easy, of course).


Box Art Mega Man- Never seen in SF before? Check. (I don't think SFxT counts) Port. Check. Other reasons would be to hype Mega Man returning, and to be stupid.

Now for the above 2, Ono deconfirmed them on twitter. However, Ono loves to troll, so take that with a grain of salt. With those two ruled out, let's get a bit weirder.

A Darkstalker- As much as I love Darkstalkers, the series seems to be dead. Sales of Ressurection were a disappointment, and they've been teasing Darkstalkers for so long, it seems that ship has sailed. However, if they decided to bring it back, what better way to announce it than a new DS character. I would love this so much. As for the character itself, easy money would be Demitri or Morrigan. Imagine Midnight Bliss on the Street Fighter folks, it's been done.

Haggar- This has been speculated across chats and twitter, it would close the loop (He's the only hero from Final Fight not in a SF game so far). And since you're adding two Final Fight villains, why not?

Scorpion- Worked for Injustice. Even though I would find this hilarious, no chance. Moving on.

Somebody from SNK: All evidence out there so far suggests this being the right answer. Why? First, King of Fighters is probably bigger than it's been in a long time, XIII sold really well, and the huge showing at Evo 2012 (Not to mention this year) only exposed that to more people. Based on steam data, KoF13 is probably coming to Steam. King of Fighters celebrates its 20th anniversary next year, and what would be a better tribute from Capcom than putting an SNK character in there? Better yet, what better way to promote a new Capcom vs SNK game? This week they're putting CVS2 out on PSN, kinda out of the blue don't you think? It would be a safer bet for Capcom's new fighting game than Darkstalkers, and what better fighting game to kick off the next generations of consoles. Don't say Killer Instinct.

So, after all that speculation, I predict that the 5th character will be from SNK. Probably one of the main people (Kyo, Mai, Iori). It makes the most sense. Unfortunately, we're dealing with Capcom here. So if it ended up being a Resident Evil or other crazy character (Scorpion!), I wouldn't be surprised. But with all of the stuff mentioned above, someone from SNK seems like a pretty safe bet.

Imagine this guy being a secret boss in Ultra SF4

Am I crazy? Or is it going to be one of the others I mentioned above. Someone else maybe? What do you all think?


A Toast to the Host of Hosts.

I wasn't planning on writing anything about Ryan, I didn't have the experiences others did and I'm not as good of a writer as some of the other folks here. However, I remembered that no matter how horrible you think it's going to sound, as long as it's heartfelt and you're not trying to piss people off, whatever you say will be appreciated, and keeping that to yourself will only leave you regretful. That's something I learned the hard way after my grandfather passed away this February.

Back after 1up Yours or whatever they called it at the time was nearing the end (2008 or so), I was desperate to find something that could fill that void. I downloaded almost every somewhat known gaming podcast out there. And let me tell you, that is one fucking desolate wasteland. I don't listen to podcasts for information, I like listening to people say what's on their minds. Seems like a no brainer, but I didn't know that at the time. Every podcast dropped off my ipod except for this stupid-ass podcast where the host would talk about random drinks and spend an unnecessary time talking about the Wii Shop. I thought it was the best. The absolute best. I remember completely breaking down in public a couple times listening to 1up Yours, but the Bombcast did it almost every week. I remember the first time hearing them flesh out Lincoln Force and how it turned me into quivering mess because I was laughing so hard.

Their personalities stood out more than the rest of the podcasts, and that's why it stood above the rest. You could tell that the bombcrew were genuine friends, and more than that, each one seemed like the nicest person in the world. But it takes a special kind of person to take charge of that crazy ship and keep it afloat, and that was Ryan. Except for a few weeks, his booming "HEY EVERYBODY IT'S TUUUUESDAY." (sometimes Monday, never Wednesday outside of special bombcasts.) was usually the first thing you heard after the various iterations of the Bombcast theme. On a side note, here's hoping someone can get Jeff a copy of the current theme, please?

I was down on writing about video games at the time, I figured the only way to do it was to be a completely biased fanboy or be a robot that shows no emotion in what you put out. Giant Bomb showed me that you didn't have to do either of those. And from wearing rainbow suspenders to not giving a fuck at Disneyland, Ryan showed us that you can be yourself and still be happy and successful. Who cares if you MIGHT look dumb, the only way you'll do that is if you show it. Ryan never showed it, he took everything in stride, always being himself, and I envied that so much.

I never did get to meet Ryan, and outside of a couple retweets, the only communication we had was a quick email back and forth about shirts I ordered but never received. It was quite a bit of money, about a $100 or so dollar order (few shirts and a sweatshirt). I knew it was the holiday season so I waited about a month or so after the order. Not only did I eventually get my shirts, Ryan also gave me the money back. The last email he sent was professional to the utmost extent.


My apologies for the inconvenience. I've sent you a refund for the full amount of your order ($104.29) via PayPal.

Cheers, Ryan

That was more than I expected, I was just expecting the shirts I ordered, but the best thing about the whole thing was the notes he left on the Paypal Transaction. They were totally him.

"Dude never got his shirts! What the hell!"

"Charged for a shirt he never received! How fucked-up is that!"

Every big tragedy in my life I have been able to see coming before it hit. From crumbling relationships to family members passing away after being ill. This is the first major one that has felt so close yet came out of fucking nowhere. It still doesn't feel completely real, and I'm just some guy through the internet, I can't imagine how it must feel for the rest of the Bombcrew, and his friends and family. Things will never be the same, but I know he would rather have us laugh about how great of a guy he was than be sad over his passing. Thanks for introducing me to Bing Bong, and thanks for clearing up the situation with China. I wear a button up shirt and tie to work every day, but underneath it today I wore my "Fuck Ryan Davis" shirt, because I knew you wouldn't have it any other way. And I KNOW somewhere that asshole Professor Oak is rocking his too.

Thanks for everything Ryan. We'll miss you.


Friends, "Friends," and Toro's Friend Network

This is how all good friendships start right?

In Toro’s Friend Network, the new app/free-to-play game from Sony, Toro Inoue has a simple goal, to make 100 friends. If he can make 100 friends, he may be able to become human. Parallels to Eddie McDowd aside, this seems like a noble goal. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Toro’s Friend Network is a sinister experiment in the value of friendship. How much are your friends really worth to you? Are you willing to sever old friendships for the sake of progress? Can you make 100 new friends? This blog will explain the basics of Toro’s Friend Network and more importantly, how Toro has changed the way I see my virtual friends.

Toro’s Friend Network is relies on you trading cards with strangers to be friends. There are many ways to do so. Each day you receive ten cards to be traded in the friend lobby, you can buy more if you want but you get ten for free each day. You are represented by your id card which has your level, number of friends, and a message. You can also freely trade cards with enemies you defeat in dungeon, which is sort of like Find Mii. You take friends and fight random enemies, minus the color nonsense. More on that later.

Trading cards with strangers to become friends is interesting enough, until you realize what this actually means. When you trade a card with someone, you are sending them a friend invite on PSN. Your ten friend cards allow you to send ten random friend invites on PSN. For those of you with full friend lists, sorry, your game is over.

Representing Giant Bomb with my dapper hat and shiny ID.

What does friendship through Toro’s Friend Network get you? Aside from the warm feeling of digital friendship, the number of friends you have determines the number of areas you have unlocked. At this point, the last area requires 33 confirmed friends to unlock. So after trading cards, they have to accept your friend invite. Friends you have already on PSN don’t count, they have to be friends made through this. The maximum number of friends you can have on PSN is 100, meaning you have to dedicate a third of your list if you want to unlock all of the areas. Not to mention the extra space you’ll need for pending invites, which count towards the 100.

What happens in these areas? Well, you can assign your friends to to jobs in these areas. Each job gets you experience and MP (in-game currency) which is different from COIN (real money). It’s one of those micromanagement style games where a task takes a certain amount of real time to complete. The tasks vary, some take longer based either on type (artist, brain, muscle) or level. Higher levels complete jobs faster. Each area has four jobs, the more friends you have, the easier it is to select the best fit. Once you have a few areas unlocked, keeping each position filled becomes more difficult until you have a good pool of friends.

Ghost hunting, key to a successful economy

The money is used to buy things to help you prepare for the dungeon I mentioned above. You have an outfit that determines your defense, and an ID card that not only serves as your calling card, but also determines your attack power. You can get decent stuff with MP, but the best items will require you to spend real money. You can get a top set for $5 that will blow away all of the free stuff. If you’re not interested in stats, the cards you can get with MP are neat looking, although the outfits are pretty bland. You can also buy from a small selection of healing items.

The bosses are Toro's friends. Outside of Japan, probably unknown to most.

Now on to the dungeon. For each floor you will take two of your friends to fight an enemy. It’s simple turn based combat, you can attack, use items, or flee. There is one enemy per floor, and clearing a floor gets you an item, ranging from MP to a rare ID card. There are bosses for each set of floors, and there’s even a story. Toro’s friend Kuro has been possessed by a demon, and it’s up to you and Toro to free him. The only limit here is that after you take a friend to the dungeon, you have to wait 24 hours before you can use them again. More friends means more dungeon trips per day. Sounds easy enough.

The harsh reality is progress in this game requires a lot of friends. Friends to do jobs for you, friends to go with you to the dungeon, friends to unlock areas. It’s a loose definition of “friends”, but is it really wrong? For a lot of people, you may have friends on your PSN/360 lists that you have little to no contact with. Maybe you played a couple of Call of Duty games together, maybe you posted on a message board for an upcoming game, maybe you just visit the same website. There was a point where I had to stop adding friends on Toro’s Friend Network because I hit my 100 friend limit. Granted, 10 of those spots were pending PSN invites, but I just spent 50 cents to get more name cards, and I was going to use them. So I decided to look through my list and start cutting.

Every 10 friends you get will cut to this line-up scene. Which is good if you're like me and don't remember any of them.

I have a solid group of friends that I know and actually communicate with on occasion, and a small group that I know from Metal Gear Online, we don’t really keep in touch, but I know once the next one shows up everyone’s back on board. That’s about 20 friends. Not only does that make me unable to turn Toro into a human, but that leaves everyone else. People I don’t know, or haven’t talked to in a year or more. I started cutting people that were inactive for months. Then moved on to people that I had on my list, but have no idea why. In my mind, at least the friends I had on Toro’s Friend Network had some purpose compared to random guy I don’t know who watches Netflix only. It moved on to people who I remember the reason I added them, but it never played out. I added a lot of people when Dynasty Warriors 7 came out and only played with them once, if at all. After the spree, I had narrowed down my list to about 30 or so non-Toro’s Friend Network people. In Toro’s Friend Network I currently have 51 friends, with about 10 pending.

As expected from a Japanese mascot, Toro has the tendency to get a little weird.

Now, I have the space for all of these friends, I can make a lot of dungeon trips a day, and they are constantly working to earn more money and experience. But I found out that even that wasn’t enough. To maximize trips to the dungeon, I would pair a weak friend with a strong friend, because things would only get harder and harder, and me and another strong character could handle it on our own. Sure, I would need healing items, but that’s okay. It would give the weaker character a bigger EXP boost, and I wouldn’t have to worry about carrying a team solo.

This ran into problems later on. You can buy the smallest healing item in the store with in-game currency, but you are limited to using ten of those a day. Earlier it wasn’t a problem because I ran out of people before I hit that limit. Now, my generous dungeon strategy was hurting me. I had to take the rest of my people on previous floors I cleared, because I couldn’t afford to heal unless I used real money. My weaker friends are now a liability, and now they are the next to be cut. I wonder if I’ll make it to the bottom of this 100 floor dungeon. When this is all said and done. I will delete all of my Toro’s Friend Network Friends (unless we actually communicate). That seems cold, but I was never in it to make friends, I’m in it to make it to the end. There was this weird Journey like moment where I was in a dungeon with a guy named budds_a_tokin (something like that) without thinking anything of it. If people have twitter linked to their character, sometimes their tweets would show up in my game. Slight reminders that these are actual people instead of NPCs.

The story and scenes that happen occasionally are quite endearing.

Don’t get me wrong, Toro’s Friend Network is charming as hell. Toro’s a neat cat, and probably the best mascot Sony has going for it except maybe Sackboy. The boss battles with Toro’s friends are neat and get you some nice loot (holographic id cards!). The music is catchy, and will drill itself into your head. Once you unlock a ton of areas, you can spend a lot of time raising your exp through assigning your friends to jobs. This never hits the “pay more to keep playing” limit which hamper other mobile games. Just be warned that to get far, you might have to make some sacrifices on your friends list. If you have a low number, you’ll be fine. Maybe it isn’t such a nightmare after all. At least I can hold off on buying Animal Crossing for a while.


The Pile: Mass Effect 3

Giant Bomb relaunch EXTENDED CUT: Because of the launch downtime, I got to sit on this blog for an extra couple days. In this spirit of this blog being a well, pile of thoughts, I didn't edit anything, but I felt that I should add a few things. First, I redid the ending to get a "proper" one, chose Destroy. I still stand by my thought that the ending is "irrelevant" as far as my feelings toward the series. Second, multiplayer is still pretty fun. I got my Quarian Infiltrator to level 20 and I'm probably going to buy the PS3 version of ME3 just to play with my brother and sister, it's quick fun. Third, I feel this game (series, dammit, have to stop grouping all three of them as one game) is special. It's on the level of Gitaroo Man, TWEWY, and Heavy Rain as far as "games (series) that mean a lot to me." I thought that I would have to wait for a few weeks/months for that distinction, but...I don't think I have to. I wish more games (series) could make me feel the way Mass Effect did, and I'm glad the first blog I do on the new Giant Bomb is a big sappy tribute to the third game. Now, on to your regularly scheduled blog, I wrote the rest of this on Sunday afternoon, so apologies in advance if it gets a bit weird.

I wasn’t going to write about Mass Effect 3 this week. I finished Persona earlier this week, and I had planned to write about that. Something weird happened though. After I finished Persona, I realized that I could finally get back to Mass Effect 3, and ended up putting a couple hours in each night. Saturday morning, I woke up at around 9am, and I decided I was going to give the day to Mass Effect 3, get as far as I could. I probably started playing at around 10:30am and didn’t stop until I finished the game at 4:30am Sunday morning. Now I mean I took breaks now and then to get food, get some fresh air, and catch up on the daily news, but yeah, for a good portion of 18 hours I played through the entire last arc of Mass Effect 3. I wanted to write this now while my playthrough was still fresh in my head, before I went and looked at all of the different ways things could have played out. Warning: This will have full spoilers from the whole Mass Effect Trilogy.

My dreams have dialogue wheels, and I don't care!

I should preface this. I played the first two games with all of the available DLC from the start, did the same with three. Leviathan, Extended Cut, Rise From the Ashes, all included. So already, I am playing a different game than a lot of people did when it first came out. To add to this, I am playing the game differently than a lot of you did. I started Mass Effect right before New Years Eve. I finished Mass Effect 3 approximately six weeks later. No two year grace period between each game, no anticipation building. Just a long 120 journey through three different games. I don’t think that takes anything away from the series, I’ll have to give it some time, but I think this will stay with me as one of my favorite trilogies. I was just lucky to play it all in one concentrated burst.

That being said, let’s get this out of the way. The ending is irrelevant to me. The game ended when I shot the Illusive Man and opened the Citadel. I didn’t avoid any spoilers on the Bombcast, so I knew full well about the four choices. A funny parallel to Mass Effect, I knew about the Ashley/Kaidan choice from the beginning, didn’t make it any easier. Same deal with the ending. Knowing everything didn’t make it any less dumbfounding. I wasn’t waiting years for it, so it wasn’t as disappointing as MGS4’s ending (specifically the post-credits scene), but still, to go out on that note is a shame. Enough has been said about it, and to dwell on the ending would be a huge disservice to the rest of this game. For the record: Rejection. I told the Crucible to shove it, failing to end the cycle. Which I had a hard time accepting last night, I wanted to redo it. But in the end, Shepard was losing his grip, so for him to not be able to end the cycle works for my story.

I'll forgive a lot about the ending because the encounter with the Illusive Man is great.

I didn’t even know there was a post-credits scene for that. The first time I watched it, got the ending, watched the credits, then a black screen. The game bugged out, and I thought it was just a Final Fantasy-style end, where you had to reset. That was another fitting part of my story. I don’t like to dwell on technical issues, but Mass Effect 3 just felt cheaply put together at times. The list is long, but things like combining the Codex and the missions so you can put a giant controller diagram on one of the options? Stupid. Combining all of your missions? Stupid, especially given the amount of random missions they give you. They couldn’t even be bothered to put objectives for a lot of those fetch missions. While having 15 or so active, it would be nice to know which of them you could turn in.

To add to the technical nightmares. My game froze three times, and it would hang quite a bit at times where I thought it was freezing again. I appreciate what they did in the Citadel, trying to make it a busier place,but it was very rough at times. Even in the Normandy, there was this specific spot on the ship where I would always freeze in place while the game loaded. That along with the frame rate drops on a lot of the big set pieces, those were the most tragic of all. I remember the game stuttering quite a bit when the thresher maw attacked the reaper on Tuchanka.

Dodging the reaper on Tuchanka was one thing, facing one down and painting a target on it was on another level.

It’s a shame too, because there are some gorgeous moments in the game. Seeing the reapers in the sky on Palaven, watching the invasion on Earth, and horrible framerate aside, the thresher maw destroying the reaper. Some of those moments were just jaw-dropping. My personal favorite would probably be the escape from Rannoch after the reaper rises up. Even if the game had trouble keeping it smooth, those moments were amazing.

The story, like in Mass Effect 2, took awhile for me to get hooked. Wasn’t really into the whole “I should be on Earth!” mindset at the start of the game, and don’t get me started on the kid. Shepard didn’t need that extra push, for him to feel bad about that one kid more than everything else (RIP Legion and Normandy crew from ME2) was bad. If you pull an MGS 3 and have the ghosts of everyone who died haunt you, fine. I don’t count the voices. The rest of the story was actually alright, I enjoyed a lot of the story beats. The Tuchanka arc is fantastic, and so is the Quarian/Geth arc. Shepard as galactic fix-it man is fine. Even if those fetch quests are dumb.

How Cerberus got involved was also done well. While the reapers were a terrifying enough force as it was, fighting them for the whole game would have gotten old, so it’s good that Cerberus was there being Cerberus. And by that I mean even worse than the goddamn reapers. Even Kai Lang, who is straight out of Metal Gear Rising, fit in quite well. It’s only natural that the Illusive Man would have his right hand assassin after all. It’s good to have Cerberus back as the radical force on the outside of this war. So satisfying to shoot the Illusive Man in the end too, I enjoyed that quite a bit.

The Legion replacement constantly reminding me that "(They) are not Legion" was a nice, yet knife-wrenching touch.

Now then, let’s really talk about Mass Effect 3, and by that I mean the characters. In Mass Effect 2, one of my favorite moments was accessing the Shadow Broker’s terminal, and reading about your crew. I couldn’t handle it the first time, it was just so damn awesome. It was like a teenage girl seeing her favorite boy band live, couldn’t handle it, just too awesome. There were multiple moments like that in Mass Effect 3, and not even because main people showed up. Honestly, it was mostly obvious most of the time when people were going to show up. But the certain callbacks and things they said, those were the moments where I would lose it. Garrus showing up was great and all, but when he joked about calibrating the guns on the ship, that pushed it over the edge. Seeing Jack was great, but one of her students yelling “I will destroy you!” like she did in 2 just made that moment so much better. So many little things.

Another reason why that works so well is the ship is alive this time. I’ll admit, I was bummed out at first that they changed the characters to be more like Zaeed and Kasumi in ME2, where they would just say “We’ll talk later” most of the time, but the random interactions throughout the game more than made up for it. The random conversations you walk into are great, and even better is the special ones where people will end up in random places on the ship such as Kaidan and James playing cards and Garrus on the bridge. Talking with people is still the best part of Mass Effect, but listening is great too. Same goes with the Citadel, I mentioned earlier how it’s more alive with the citizens and refugees, but the character moments are some really great moments too.

Now, about Tali. If you’ve been following along with my various adventures in Mass Effect land, you may remember that Tali is my favorite character, and oh man, Mass Effect 3 did not disappoint. I romanced Tali in Mass Effect 2, and I was surprised how much they run with that in Mass Effect 3. I was expecting a scene here and there, a couple of lines too, but they go all out with it, it’s actually really cool. Lots of warm and fuzzy feelings during the conversation about building a house on Rannoch. Her picture was also a really nice touch, I honestly didn’t expect they would show her face (I know, stock picture, but they tried). Oh right, I almost forgot, drunk Tali. The conversation after the Horizion mission is easily my favorite part of that game, every bit about that conversation is great, from Tali saying Shepard sounded like a vorcha to the emerrrrgency induction port, to the relationship tie in, it was the best. Also, the conversation between her (still drunk) and Javik afterwards, amazing. Yeah, Tali will always be my favorite. Maybe one of my favorite characters of all time.

"If you cannot fight, do not let them capture you. Death is abetter outcome." Never meet your heroes.

Speaking of Javik, a really great character. I have to tip my hat to Bioware, the new characters they added were great. Mainly Javik, James, and Traynor. I brought Javik on pretty much every important mission mainly because of the responses, again, the small moments being the most memorable. Kirrahe thinking he was genetically engineered was funny, and the hanar losing his mind over meeting an enkindler was also great. I was wary about James at first, but he turned out to be a decent character, which looking back, is actually quite amazing. Last but not least, Traynor, who takes over Kelly’s spot if she meets an unfortunate end in ME2. I wasn’t expecting her to be as fleshed-out as she was. To be perfectly honest, I liked her so much, I would let Kelly die again in ME2 just to make sure she would be on my ship in Mass Effect 3 (I know, Traynor’s still on the ship either way). I almost forgot about Cortez, he was a great character with his story arc too. Amazing for them to add so many new characters to a series where you’re already attached to people. To have them fit in as well, it’s great. Also, good on Bioware to have the option for a same sex relationship and having it seem as natural as the other relationships.

It was neat in Mass Effect 2 to get emails from side characters in the first game. But three steps it up and has you running into side characters quite a bit. As I mentioned earlier, running into Mr. “Hold the line” Kirrhae was a pleasant surprise. Another shock was running into Balak, the batarian leader from Bring Down the Sky. I left him for dead and did not expect him at all, I did get him to join the cause, which was another victory by itself. I feel bad about Zaeed though, because his mission leads up to you running into Din Korlack, the Volus ambassador. I think I mentioned it in the Mass Effect one, but I enjoyed talking to the side characters and the game won me over when I ended up wandering into the Volus/Elcor embassy and ended up talking to Din and the Elcor ambassador. It was great seeing him again. Too many side characters to mention, and yeah, I remembered 99 percent of them. Little to no downtime between games helped quite a bit.

Now then, it is a war, and death happens, but a couple hit hard. Thane’s disease already cut his life short, so I thought he was going to just live his life happily on the presidium. Then the attack happened, he gets stabbed, etc. Now, the part that made me get all choked up was when Thane tried to say the prayer but couldn’t get through it, so his son (and Shepard) finished it. After he died, the line where Kolyat says the prayer wasn’t for him, it was for you, yeah...that got me.

This picture of Mordin collecting seashells makes me extremely happy and bummed out at the same time.

Mordin’s whole arc was on a completely different level of crushing you, with him getting back to help cure the genophage. The elevator scene, jeez. I stopped Maelon’s research, and sided with Mordin every step of the way regarding the genophage, and if he was willing to cure it, I would help him. The line about him studying seashells was...bad. And that was allowing him to cure it! I couldn’t even imagine how it would work the other way. It really caught me off guard. After Grunt survived the rachni attack, I thought that they wouldn’t kill anyone off, that there was a specific math to it like the suicide mission in Mass Effect 2. I remembered the words to his song, when the explosion happened, completely took me by surprised, and I was waiting for him to come back. He didn’t. A fitting yet horribly tragic ending for that character. Someone else might’ve gotten it wrong after all.

Yep, still terrifying.

The gameplay is fine, I’m glad they had more weapon types and abilities. Not why I come to Mass Effect, but it was fine. Except in the case of Omega, which was pretty much ALL combat. Same with the beginning of the last act and the swarms of reaper enemies. Speaking of those reaper enemies, fantastic. Seeing the horrifying reaper versions of the enemies for the first time was always an event. The banshees though, jeez, legitimately terrifying every time they showed up. Hell, even the couple of hours I put into the multiplayer was fine. The collection system is evil, yet I can see myself becoming hooked onto it. As I said, the combat is fine, but yeah, nothing compares to the story, dialogue, and events of Mass Effect. No matter how good the combat gets, it will always be second fiddle.

I probably played about 120 hours of Mass Effect over 6 weeks, averaging about 20 hours a week. I just don’t do that anymore. I’m 25, I have a full time job. I don’t dive into games like that. Haven’t done it in such a long time, probably 7 or 8 years. That is the power of Mass Effect’s story and characters. Honestly, I didn’t think I could get drawn into a world like I did here. I loved every bit of it. I’m sad that it’s all over now. At the end of Mass Effect, I thought “I can’t wait to play this over again and do everything differently.” Now...I don’t know. The playthrough of all three games was just so magical. Replaying it as Femshep seemed like something I could do at the end of the first game, not anymore. Replaying it as a paragon seemed like something I could still do at the end of Mass Effect 2. Not anymore. If by some chance I end up playing this again, I’ll be John Shepard, Sole Survivor. Renegade to everyone in the galaxy, except for my crew, friends. I might do a few things differently, but I just couldn’t imagine playing it any other way.


Normand Corbeil and the soundtrack of Heavy Rain

When I learned last night that Normand Corbeil, the composer of Heavy Rain, passed away after a five month battle with pancreatic cancer at the age of 56. I was crushed. It’s weird, it’s not like I knew much about the guy. I thought I should write something, but hell, what do I know? I can’t write about all of his music, he did quite a bit of film scores before his work in Heavy Rain, but I don’t know much about those. Here’s what I do know,I know that Heavy Rain’s soundtrack was fantastic. And it’s a shame that Corbeil passed away so soon. He was working on the score for Beyond: Two Souls as well. This isn’t an obituary, I'm nowhere near qualified to do such a thing. This is a tribute to the Heavy Rain soundtrack, which was brought to us because of Corbeil.Before I continue, I should get a few misconceptions out of the way. Normand Corbeil did the score for Heavy Rain, but that doesn’t mean all of the music. A lot of the music is from Audio Network, a place that sells music you can use for productions etc. Remember the song from the trailer? It’s a great song, but it wasn’t by Corbeil. That song is called Mars, and it’s on Audio Network. Any radio music, club music, etc. That wasn’t Corbeil’s work. I get how people would make that mistake, but I just wanted to get that out of the way, to dodge the inevitable “Why didn’t you talk about Mars?” comments.

One more side note. Between me and my brother and sister, Heavy Rain is pretty much OUR game. We have a lot of different opinions about games, but our love for Heavy Rain is the same for each of us. And you know what? Maybe it doesn’t deserve that much love. Looking at it today, it doesn’t look so hot. It has it’s flaws, but at the time it came out, such a goddamn fantastic ride. While The Walking Dead was making people go “Oh wow, the choices matter.” All I kept thinking was how much it reminded me of how Heavy Rain blew me away. We’ve had a lot of fun adding lyrics to some of Corbeil’s songs. (“Ethan’s sad, really sad” for Ethan’s theme. “Jayden. Is Dead. Jayden. Is Dead” for Jayden’s theme.) And there is the constant running joke between us that if you listen to Ethan’s theme long enough, it’ll turn into Aerith’s theme. Cloudy memory is possible, but I don’t think I can remember the last time someone in the industry’s death hit so hard as Corbeil’s did. A major part of this me, my brother, and sister’s love for Heavy Rain. Here are some of the songs from heavy rain that still stick with me, almost three years later.

Warning: There may be spoilers for Heavy Rain after this point.

Ethan Mars’ Main Theme

Corbeil’s song is the perfect introduction to the dark depressing world of Heavy Rain.

If you don’t remember, Heavy Rain doesn’t start with any rain at all, you’re waking up on a bright sunny day. Even if you haven’t played it, you’re fully aware of “Jason!” and him getting hit by the car. After that is the opening credits, and one of the first time’s you’ll hear a version of “Ethan Mars’ Main Theme.” It’s a very slow yet powerful song. The song is used throughout the game in both an orchestra version and a piano version, the intro has a combination of both. It’s a great song, even if it is a complete downer.

Scott Shelby’s Main Theme

The theme that accompanies Shelby is quiet, and barely there. That’s not an insult to the song, just a comment on how well it fits. Scott Shelby is barely there in the story, he starts off seemingly competent, then does a lot to make him look like a bumbling fool. Of course, it all turns around in probably the most memorable moment in the game. When Shelby is revealed as the killer, everything makes sense. Watching him dispose of the evidence one piece at a time, looking at all the people you thought you were helping. That’s a sharp turn, and it’s a great scene. Corbeil’s music takes a shift from unassuming to ominous, and playing the game a second time, knowing that Shelby is the killer, that theme helps make each scene more unsettling than it already is.

Norman Jayden’s Main Theme

This is a fine song, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I was putting this on here for the first minute or so. The song starts off quietly, then slowly but surely builds up, then those horns! That stinger is the most memorable part of the whole thing for me. It has been my email tone for a couple of years now. And those piano notes that follow it are fantastic. Also, Jayden has the most chances to die in this game, and every time he does, those horns and the piano. This show’s the most in his Smoking Mirror ending. While it doesn’t have the piano, it still has that slow, foreboding buildup to the stinger. Such a great intro.

Action Sequences

I couldn’t really choose a single song from one of the many action sequences Corbeil did the music for, so I chose the video of the credits, which has most of the song’s in it. (In order, the songs are The Bulldozer, The Hold Up, The Chase, Countdown, and Looking for Shaun. The main reason I can’t pick one is that each song fits extremely well with the scene. Now, people could see that as a fault with the game, because each character seems to have a similar theme to their action sequence, but the music in each one is pretty good. Mad Jack and Jayden’s fight (The Bulldozer) is a brutal fight, and the song matches that, with hard swings and the feeling that someone is about to die. The Chase has a sense of urgency and panic, which goes well with a lot of Madison’s scenes. She seems to be running away or escaping something most of the time. To be honest, most of these have a strong sense of unease. It can be easy for the voice acting to pull you out of the scene (especially if you use the thought button), but the music does a great job of keeping the pressure on.

I’m looking forward to Beyond: Two Souls. It’s sad that it will be Normand Corbeil’s last work. If the score is even half as integral as the soundtrack from Heavy Rain, then it will be fantastic. Heavy Rain isn’t the best game on the PS3, not even close, but it is my favorite game, and one game I will remember for a long time. Corbeil’s work not only added to that experience, it was an important element. Without his score, I would not revere it as much as I do. Thank you Normand Corbeil, you will be missed.


The Pile: Mass Effect 2

In 2012 I bought more games than I had any previous year. From cheap steam games to old PS2 games at the used bookstore to holiday shopping deals, I ended up with a ton of games I didn’t have enough time playing. So for the first part of 2013 I’m trying to get my money’s worth out of these games. So yes, The Pile is a backlog blog. Also, a metaphorical pile, I have shelves. This week I’ll be talking about Bioware’s Mass Effect 2. There will be spoilers ahead, so be careful.

Why do I have to reload again?

The first thing that stood out to me was the difference in the combat. Okay, that’s a lie, the first thing was the Normandy getting blown up. For all of the stuff I knew about Mass Effect 2 going in, I forgot about most of it. I remembered that Mordin is probably awesome (he was), and that there’s a suicide mission at the end (which they beat you over the head with repeatedly). The intro is insane stuff, with Shepard dying and being rebuilt. 

Back to the gameplay, I appreciate them making the combat less clunky with the power wheel, but I was used to letting my teammates use their powers at will, so I didn’t feel the need to change it. Reloading was a weird weird shift, and because of my wanton firing, I was running out of ammo quite a bit. It became less of an issue later on, when I powered up my sniper shots, but the first section of the game was a weird transition.

I’m not sure if I wrote this back when I did my Mass Effect piece, but I accidentally skipped most of the character creation process. I know I wanted to use a default John Shepard, so just kept hitting the button, accidentally doing the background information and class. I played Mass Effect as a Sole Survivor Soldier. For Mass Effect 2 I decided to go with Infiltrator, part tech. In my head I figured, well, I hung out with Tali so much Shepard had to have learned some tech, right? Also, just in case they didn’t change the hacking/decrypting, I wanted to make sure I could do all of that. It ended up being irrelevant. I did enjoy hacking robots and shooting fire.

As far as the rest of it goes, mining was okay, did not miss the Mako sections one bit. I was also a bit bummed out that they made the presidium one room in this game. A really small number of weapons and armor, simplified stat system, and just more streamlining in general made this a tighter game, but I don’t know. I really liked the RPG stuff in Mass Effect, I was sad to see a lot of it go.

A new look on the same galaxy.

Talking to people was great as expected, but  some of the renegade options were really harsh. I don’t even mean the trigger options. Well, all right, punching the reporter was pretty shocking, I cringed at that one. I tried to play this as Renegade as possible, but it got really tricky in the Citadel. Threatening people with a gun is one thing, but standing in front of a store yelling “This store discriminates against poor people!” was insane. I was hoping one of my teammates would drag me off. That’s enough Shepard. 
Playing through Mass Effect, I remember my encounters with Cerberus. I was confused throughout the game, thinking “the Cerberus network is something that you use in ME2, but these guys are pretty bad.” So working for Cerberus (and the goddamn Illusive Man) was pretty crazy. I know, they rebuilt me and my ship, but still. They represent humanity, and the thing I hate about humanity in Mass Effect, the whole “HUMANITY #1, WE’RE THE BEST.” mentality. I took every opportunity to badmouth Cerberus throughout the game, despite not knowing whether or not I’d be able to live up to what I was saying. At the end, when you can turn your back on Cerberus definitively (destroying the base and turning on the Illusive Man) was really satisfying. 

Where Mass Effect was all about the galaxy and how awesome it is, you get kind of numb to it in two. The new races you see are neat, Omega is a crazy place, but it’s all pretty restrained. You go from feeling like a small fish in a big pond to being the big fish. It’s actually pretty disappointing. Not a slight against the game, you can only discover this galaxy once, and nothing can recreate that.

I’m building a team of really awesome people

Tali was my favorite non-Shepard character in the first one, and I didn’t expect her to be in my party in the second one until I got spoiled by the back of the box (my fault, but that was a bummer). So I was extremely elated when we ran into her in the first mission, only...for us to go our separate ways. I actually looked it up just to make sure I couldn’t miss recruiting her. So yeah, pretty obvious which romance route I went down. I loved that I got to visit the Migrant Fleet, and the whole name thing was also great. And yes, I had a real panicky “what do I do” moment regarding Legion. Yeah, Tali’Zorah vas Normandy is still my favorite. 

Now that I got my beaming for Tali out of the way, there are a lot of characters in Mass Effect 2 that come in all shapes and sizes. I liked everyone a lot in Mass Effect, and I was somewhat disappointed that I couldn’t connect to everyone in this one. Most of the people in general. Zaeed wasn’t anything special. Jack, meh. Jacob was the usual soldier, but not as interesting as Kaidan was. Miranda is...there. I liked Kasumi’s character, but unfortunately because she’s DLC you don’t really get much out of her outside of her quips here and there. Those quips are great, but still, actual dialogue would’ve been better. 

Grunt is no Wrex, but he was a reasonably intelligent Krogan, so he was alright. Thane was neat, I loved his memory trips. The first time one of those happened, really cool, and frightening. Samara was okay, even if her code mader her seem way out of place on my ship (didn’t know you could replace her with Morinth, even if I did... fuck no). I was glad to see Garrus back, but he stayed in the background a lot it seemed, like he wasn’t there a lot of the time. 

EDI and Legion were both interesting characters. Both representing groups that have come off as nothing but evil in the first one. EDI turned out to be a great character as the game went on (thanks to her interactions with Joker, Joker’s still awesome). Legion was also pretty cool, and probably the character that made me feel the most guilt throughout the whole series, mainly because of previously mentioned relationship with Tali. Sorry Legion, another time, another place, and we would have been best friends.

Now, onto Mordin Solus. Throughout the first game I was hoping to get a Salarian squad member so bad, and was crushed that it never happened. The Salarians and the Krogans are probably the most entertaining groups. I was excited to finally get a Salarian on my team when I went to recruit Mordin, but I did not expect this outcome. Mordin was eccentric even for the already eccentric Salarians. The way he talked, his actions, he was intense. Added on that he worked on the Genophage and was a task force agent to boot, jeez. I feel that Mordin is the only new squadmate that was as fleshed out as the characters in the first one on his own. Plus that song, so cool.

Now, I feel like I’ve badmouthed a lot of these characters, but they are all pretty interesting in their own right, it’s just that it feels like everything interesting about them is saved for their loyalty mission. If they could have put a little bit of that dialogue on the ship, then it would’ve been an easier transition, and made them a lot more than side characters. Instead it feels like a tv show, and this loyalty mission is a Garrus episode, etc. I don’t think there are any bad characters, and I know you learn a bit about them here and there. I don’t know, maybe it’s because it’s a bigger group, but I didn’t connect with a lot of the characters in 2 like I did with one. The loyalty missions are great, I just wish it didn’t feel like a giant infodump. 

There is a lot of DLC

I bought all of the Mass Effect 2 dlc before I started the game. Probably shouldn’t have, because there’s too much! I didn’t really use the guns or the costumes. I think the costumes will be neat when/if I replay as a Paragon, alternate universe and what not. 

Zaeed and Kasumi’s missions were solid, fitting right in with the rest of the loyalty missions. Complete with weapons and upgrades. Firewalker wasn’t all that great, didn’t like the vehicle and there wasn’t really anything interesting compared to the other random missions you find, same with the Normandy crash site. The only thing I got out of that was the old navigator got over his space racism, which was great. 

Overlord wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t really that interesting to me either. The traveling to stations (on that goddamn vehicle) was a drag. The story had some nice beats to it, probably the best part about the whole thing. I guess I could see it being more enjoyable to someone coming back to the game months after finishing it, but in the mix of my playthrough, just another side mission. Although, it could set up some interesting things for Mass Effect 3.

Shadow Broker was easily the best. Mainly because of that terminal at the end. Okay, the whole thing is fantastic, from the Illium chase to the ship, I enjoyed the whole gameplay, even if the ship dragged a little bit. The Shadow Broker being this huge monster was also great, but seriously. That terminal is worth the price of admission. I had to set down my controller and walk away because I couldn’t handle it. So much fantastic information on that terminal, and they found a way to tie Ernest Hemingway into Mass Effect. Just, gah, that terminal is amazing.

Suicide Mission

The finale of that game is one of my favorite missions ever, I didn’t think they’d be able to pull off the end of that game, but wow. From the song to the intense introduction flying through the Omega 4 relay, everything about the ending of that game is great.

First things first, I called their bluff when they said “We need to hurry and rescue the crew.” They weren’t bluffing. Everyone got turned into goo! Also Chakwas ended up dying because I became terrified of sending anyone to protect her. I regressed to the same mentality I had when I played Heavy Rain, no risks, everyone has to live! I felt bad about Kelly too, she was the only human in the game that summed up the case for humanity without sounding insane. Paraphrasing but the whole “I can run a cat shelter but that doesn’t mean I hate dogs.” statement is fantastic, and it’s a shame that it took a full game to get someone to make a good case.

Everyone survived except Legion, and I feel bad, but I’m fine with that. I was confused why that happened, but of course it came down to the confrontation between Legion and Tali. Guess which side I was on, guess why Legion died? I do feel bad though, because I spent a long time after that game trying to justify what happened. Throughout my playthroughs, I am taking a hard stance against replaying anything, but man...I almost went back to save Legion. Also he died in the worst way! He was so close!

Also, I didn’t mind Terminator at the end. I thought it was an awesome twist. It makes barely enough sense to not bring me out of the story, and that thing is fueled by my crew that was ground to mush! That thing was terrifying, and stupidly, I didn’t expect it to rise back up and fight you. I was expecting a reaper, but goddamn. As I said earlier, hell yeah I destroyed that thing. Fucking terrifying monster as it was, and I wasn’t letting the Illusive Man have it. Blowing it up at the end was so damn satisfying, just so I could finally turn my back on Cerberus and be fully justified by it.


After I finished Mass Effect, I was dying to jump into Mass Effect 2. After Mass Effect 2, I feel like I need to take some time away from the series. Just to let everything sit. Also the ominous cloud surrounding Mass Effect 3 is making me take some time to appreciate two. I’m interested to see the whole thing through. I’ve played a couple hours so far, and I feel like I can take a break. I’ll have the dlc installed so I’ll get the “best” Mass Effect 3 possible, but as I said earlier, I just want to appreciate Mass Effect 2, if only for a little bit.

The Pile: Ever17: The Out of Infinity

In 2012 I bought more games than I had any previous year. From cheap steam games to old PS2 games at the used bookstore to holiday shopping deals, I ended up with a ton of games I didn’t have enough time playing. So for the first part of 2013 I’m trying to get my money’s worth out of these games. So yes, The Pile is a backlog blog. Also, a metaphorical pile, I have shelves. This week I’ll be talking about Ever17 ~the out of infinity~ from KID. (Note: I changed the title back to what it was originally going to be, because opinions).

I learned about KID and the Infinity series after finishing Virtue’s Last Reward. Well, not so much about the Infinity series, just that they were games like this. Not completely sure about the whole series, but I know that Kotaro Uchikoshi (writer behind Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Virtue’s Last Reward) was involved with this one. Given how much I loved 999 and VLR, I decided to give the Infinity series a try, and Ever17 is the one that came up the most, so I figured why not. 

It turned out to be a fantastic game, and I’d highly recommend it to people that liked VLR and 999, it’s pure visual novel, no puzzles here (well, there’s one really simple one). Everything boils down to choosing dialogue options. If you haven’t played those and want to start with this one, just know that the game requires you to play it multiple times to get the most out of it. It has the benefit of starting a certain sections of the story (broken up by days) and the fast forward function, so play through it a couple times, then use a faq to figure out the right choices for the best ending. One wrong choice can lead to a bad ending, which should be familiar for fans of 999.

The reason I started with the recommendation is that I’m going to go more in depth from here on out. There will be full spoilers from Ever17 of course, and some spoilers from 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward. 

On the Surface

Ever17 takes place in the  underwater theme park based on the fictional ancient continent Lemuria. Something happens, and a group of characters ends up trapped underwater in this theme park. It’s less malicious than the premise of the Nonary game, they aren’t forced to fight each other. Over the course of the next few days they work together to survive and try to escape.
 Sweet sweet fanservice.

What makes Ever17 so neat compared to 999 and VLR is that there are two protagonists, Takeshi and Kid (who is called that because he has amnesia). It’s the same scenario for both, you’re just playing from a different point of view, which affects the relationships you have with characters. Thankfully, it didn’t become one of those games where you be really nice to someone just to see them in a swimsuit. More on these two in a bit.

There are five girls in the game. Tsugumi, who is cold hearted and hates everyone. You (short for a much longer name) who works at the theme park, bright upbeat personality. Sara, computer genius visiting the park for school. Sora, the more mature park’s guide. And Coco, the peppy kid who is there to visit her father. 

“Only you are in the infinite loop.”

Now playing the game the first couple of times, I was thinking that it was interesting enough. The characters were fine, the dialogue was fine. Nothing about this is really jumping out though. Of course I’m used to VLR and 999’s bleak and hateful atmosphere between characters. In this game, everyone is friendly enough to each other, and they are just trying to survive. There are minor moments, but for the most part, it’s routine. 

When things start getting weird, that game gets really interesting. The first thing is that there is always someone (out of the main characters) that does not get trapped with you. Coco isn’t trapped with you in Kid’s story, but you’ll see her at times. She’ll talk to you and of course you’re the only one that can see her. It doesn’t really make much sense throughout. I mean, you saw her in the intro, she didn’t die 20 years ago or something like that. But after every ending it shows the computer in the control room, which scans the facility for life readings. After every ending, there is always one person left behind. Every. Single. Time. Since I played Kid’s story, I thought “Oh shit, Coco was actually down there!” That was the extent of a downer moment in that first playthrough.
 Oh shit, that dog's a robot.

Takeshi’s story, things get messed up pretty bad. Tsugumi’s leg gets impaled by a falling piece of metal. Then near the end Coco comes down with symptoms from the nefarious Tief Blau virus. That leads to everyone coming down with it and in my first ending everyone dying a bloody miserable death. (Tief Blau causes severe internal bleeding, which leads to people coughing up insane amounts of blood. If you get the good ending, it still sucks! Takeshi ends up dead either by drowning or...drowning. Poor guy can’t catch a break. 

Bad endings are all fine and dandy, but that’s not why I played this game. I wanted the complete mind games that I’ve come to expect from these games, and Ever17 did not disappoint. You have to go through the the other four paths first before you unlock Coco’s path, but man, through and through that path is insane. And is every bit as good as the biggest twists in VLR and 999.

You’ll pick between Takeshi and Kid early on, and you’ll stay as that respective character until the end. In Coco’s path, you’ll play as both characters, going back and forth. There are plenty of hints along the way, so I was able to figure out that the two scenarios were taking place in different times. The biggest one was You’s name, or names. Yubiseiakikana and Yubiseiharukana. I didn’t remember her full name the first time, but when the other name was mentioned, I immediately jumped on the fact that it wasn’t the same. There is also the fact that cure for Tief Blau is the, wait for it, Cure Virus. A side effect of Cure is that you don’t age, which would explain why Tsugumi and Takeshi would look the same. It also explains why Sara and Coco aren’t in both stories.

I am You.

At two different timelines, I was set to call it a day, but no. Things get crazier. Takeshi’s story takes place 17 years before Kid’s. Everyone gets infected with Tief Blau, but thanks to Tsugumi carrying the Cure virus, everyone manages to get out alive, the surface contacts the lab you end up in, and they send rescuers to get everyone out. Because of emotions, Tsugumi and Takeshi end up back in the theme park (the lab is underneath the park) and when they get back, everyone is seemingly rescued. What’s missed is that Coco didn’t get rescued, and when Takeshi and Tsugumi took the convenient submarine out of there, Coco was left behind. She was the 1 reading.

The game is brilliant in its use of animals and AI to throw off your thoughts about the reading after the first playthrough. Tsugumi has a pet hamster which she loses partway through the story, Coco has a pet dog, and Sora isn’t really a person, just an AI which wouldn’t show up. I didn’t think much of the ONE PERSON LEFT after the first playthrough, but when the reveal happens, that’s pretty good. It’s similar to 999’s main story. Everything in the second timeline happens to save a girl. 

Everyone else’s story is just as good. You having a clone of herself made because of her impending death, Tsugumi and the Cure virus, Sara and Kid being related, Sora being an AI and learning humanity. All of them were good, and seemed as integral as the main Coco storyline.

 "Why am I so handsome!?"
The best moments of that game is when you discover the identity of the characters you are playing as. They are still Takeshi and Kid, but different than you perceive them as. When you’re playing as Takeshi, you’re Takeshi and Kid is Kaburaki, some kid who ended up there. When you are kid, you’re not Kaburaki, you’re Hokuto, Sara’s brother. In a great twist, Takeshi in Hokuto’s story is really Kaburaki from the first timeline. Confusing stuff to write out, but it’s all executed well. The first time Hokuto looks in the mirror is fantastic. And even though I kinda saw it coming, I still said “OH SHIT” out loud.   

The Cure virus is weird though, Tsugumi ended up having kids that didn’t have effects of the Cure, so her kids look the same age as Takeshi and her, even though they are really in their 30s. Also, more to do with character design than the plot, but even though look-wise everyone’s age is within five years or so, the looks of people range from 12 years old to their 30s. Less of a clever plot device than in VLR.  

Blick Winkel 

Last but not least, there is a last entity that is the real character the player is controlling, Blick Winkel. Blick Winkel is the higher presence that can jump between timelines and see both sides. Blick Winkel actually has lines, talking to characters directly, so it’s more than breaking the fourth wall, which is a weird choice. I played Virtue’s Last Reward first after all, in the end of that game they acknowledge that there is a transcendent presence, but there is no specific mention. I really liked that Virtue’s Last Reward has you, the player, as a piece of the game. With Ever17’s take as it being another character, that’s kinda weird. Especially since Blick Winkel and Coco end up having a relationship. I think that’s par for the course for Japan, but yikes. 

I should mention that Ever17 handles the time paradox magnificently. When you find out that Coco is trapped, initially you just go save her. Everything is fine, and all of the misery the characters went through in the 17 years between timelines didn’t have to happen. In the back of my mind, I was thinking, “You can’t do that Snake (Blick), you’ll create a time paradox!” Right after, the scene gets really bad, people disappear, vanish, etc. Takeshi rots and falls apart, and the game describes that in excruciating detail. I actually had a flashback to when I read a Fear Street book and yuck. So brutal. Again, this leads to Blick making a weird plan to trick himself that in 17 years these events would repeat but he wouldn’t know it. Did I mention I wasn’t a fan of how Blick Winkel was used?  
 Curtain call. Best not to think about the fact about which of these people are parents to some of the other ones.

Ever17, 999, and VLR

I feel like I should play VLR again just to see how they tie together. A weird exchange between Phi and Sigma about boosting her on his shoulders becomes a clever callback to Ever17. I can’t help but wonder what else is lying underneath the surface. Same with 999, the motives are somewhat similar, so there’s probably some references there to be found.   

We can’t play games in a vacuum, so I couldn’t help but play Ever17 with 999 and VLR’s story in mind, but Ever17 manages to have a great story, tackling some subjects that seems to be avoided a lot in games. The twists are great, and while it’s not as tight of a story (fucking Blick Winkel bothers me so much), overall it’s pretty good. It has the same elements as the two aforementioned games (viruses, being trapped, different timelines), but manages to make it it’s own story. Which gives me a lot of hope for the follow up to Virtue’s Last Reward. Also, like 999 and the number nine and Virtue’s Last Reward with AB, Ever17 has a fixation on the number 17. The bar is set high. I can’t wait.

Pile of Games: Mass Effect

In 2012 I bought more games than I had any previous year. From cheap steam games to old PS2 games at the used bookstore to holiday shopping deals, I ended up with a ton of games I didn’t have enough time playing. So for the first part of 2013 I’m trying to get my money’s worth out of these games. This is the Pile of Games. Also, it's a metaphorical pile, I have shelves. Yes, there will be spoilers. This week I’ll be talking about Bioware’s Mass Effect

I started Mass Effect knowing a little bit. I knew the names of a lot of characters, so it wasn’t a surprised when they joined. I knew that at one point I would have to choose between Kaidan and Ashley. And I also knew that there was a chance that Wrex could die. The story was pretty good, although I was surprised at how short it was. I was able to complete everything (including Pinnacle Station and Bring Down the Sky) just short of 35 hours. It seems like you could cruise through that game in about 10-15 if you just stuck to the story missions. 

The best thing about that game is the world it has created. I’ve never thought much about space travel and meeting other life. Just wasn’t something that interested me. But Mass Effect got me interested in learning about these other races that inhabited their interpretation of space. I remember the first time I got to the citadel, it was so damn cool listening to the Volus and Elcor in the embassy just talking about themselves, their races, and their planets. Each time I started a session, I would stop and read all of the unread codecs I had. Kinda wish I could turn off the auto-reading though, I always read faster than that guy could talk. I liked reading the planet descriptions too. Just a fantastic job of fleshing out this story.

I played as a male renegade Shepard mostly. I had a tendency to speak nice to my team (except for Garrus and Wrex, because the renegade options fit more with them) and was a complete prick to everyone else. I was wavering on it at first because with the team I had it was weird. I felt like I was in sharp contrast to everyone else on the ship, and not in a good way. Then I recruited Garrus and Wrex, and felt a lot better about it. I tried to play renegade no matter what unless there were people I was working with. I did free the Rachni queen, because I didn’t want extinction on my hands and the only time I felt bad about the renegade path was when I killed everyone in Zhu’s Hope. 

Exploring the planets were cool enough, even though things got repetitive near the end. I appreciated that Thresher Maws were always a threat to be worried about, but fuck those things. Combined with the weird checkpoint system (dying anywhere on a non-story planet resets everything unless you save it), Thresher Maws were a goddamn bummer. I guess I should mention the combat at some point. Pretty average, I set it up so my comrades would use their own powers, because that power wheel is a drag. Unfortunately everyone either used a pistol or assault rifle, early on snipers and shotguns failed, and later in the game I didn’t feel the need to change it. 

Of course, the one thing they nail down is humanity and the potential for us to fuck up space relations. From the Terra Firma party to the asshole general that keeps saying “I know you’re a Spectre, but think of humanity” every time. Space racism abound, I really enjoyed telling my crew that we were working with other races. It’s not that they are completely wrong, I mean, it’s good to worry about your race first at times. That’s why we eat meat for crying out loud, you can’t protect everything. But nobody in the first Mass Effect makes a good case in their “Humanity first!” argument. Of course, at the end of the game I let the council die and humanity ended up taking over. We had to kill Sovereign, and it’s not like they had my back. Also, that’s probably why I chose Kaidan over Ashley.

Yeah, I knew about the choice from the start, so it was weird thinking “one of these two people will die.” And I had no idea which one to choose early on. Luckily for me, Ashley is a space racist. I know, I know, not really. She had her reasons. Also, she was totally getting the wrong idea. I was being nice! I have no interest romantically! Just had flashbacks to FFVII and how I was somewhat relieved that Aerith died because Cloud is an idiot, Tifa is the better choice for you. Speaking of party characters dying, who the hell shoots Wrex? Seriously. What could possess you to do something like that? To it’s credit, even though I knew it was coming, the actual choice was hard as hell to make. I thought the choice was when you picked which member was going with the Salarian squad, so that stressed me out. Then when the real choice came, damn. Even though I had it in my head for awhile that Ashley was going to be the one that died, I still took a few minutes to actually make the choice. It was brutal. 

I may have mentioned this before, but the best part of Mass Effect is just running around the ship and talking to your team. I liked talking to the various people around the galaxy, but talking to the people in your ship is on another level. The six characters you have (Joker was pretty good too) were all great, even Space Racist Ashley (trying to feel better about my choice, back off). Tali is my favorite character, not by much (Garrus and Wrex are pretty great), but still a clear favorite. That was the only time I reloaded a save to try something different. I made sure Tali was in my party when we found the Geth data that she was going to use for her pilgrimage. I had Kaidan and Wrex the first time I think, I always tried to rotate. Tali was really cool, heck, Quarians in general are pretty cool.

I really liked Mass Effect, and I’ve put a few hours into 2 so far (So please, no spoilers for the other two games, I've heard enough at this point). I could continue talking about this for days, but that’s a good place to stop.I just hope that 2 and 3 can keep it up. It seems like a better game technically, and the combat shift is pretty weird, mainly worrying about ammo. But hey, even if I end up hating the other two games, Mass Effect was goddamn fantastic, nothing can take that away from me.