I guess I wrote a book?

I wasn't sure I was even going to write this blog. It feels vain, a bit like I'm patting myself on the back and looking for attention. If that title and the first sentence or two makes you feel that way, go ahead and move on. I sure can't blame you - I think I would too.

But the reality is that I don't want to write this for me. We've had a number of amazing bloggers and writers here on Giant Bomb, some of whose work has been recognized (like moderator @thatpinguino and his awesome work on his series of guest articles), some of whose work continues to be great (@mento, @gamer_152, and @zombiepie) without the professional recognition it sorely deserves, and some of whom we just haven't seen enough of lately (@dankempster, I'm looking at you, buddy).

The sad fact of the matter is that I think the efforts of a great many writers will remain unrecognized until there's a severe shift back to the great focus we used to have on blogging and the community here on Giant Bomb. Blogging here used to feel rewarding. It felt like we were reaching a readership, not pissing away our words in a sea of insularity and a vague promise of future site revamps. It's ironic that even as professional games journalism bemoans the death of the written word in favor of Youtube-style Let's Plays and short firebrand videos that they're not taking proactive steps to ensure the next generation of writers actually want to continue creating.

I say that in the vain hope that maybe I ruffle the right kind of feathers. We should and used to be a home for some of the Internet's best gaming bloggers. Now we've got a few old guard continuing to do good work without a bit of recognition apart from the ZombiePie cultivated Spotlight - and his name doesn't even appear on the byline. As great as his work is, it shouldn't be the only bit of recognition these writers get. And I know for most of them, they'll probably get a little pissy at me and say they're not doing it for the recognition, but they do deserve it.

Now, that's not the reason I decided to write a book. It wasn't even a factor. But in the months since I wrote it, it's made me realize that with just a couple of months worth of effort, I've been happier with the results of my writing than I have been in years of blogging. That's not to say I don't appreciate the hundreds if not thousands of comments from everyone who's read my hot garbage on here, but it makes me realize how empty those years of effort left me.

There's a golden rule among writing that I want to reiterate before I get any further, especially after that paragraph - if you're writing for any other reason than to satisfy yourself, you are almost certainly bound for disappointment. There was a stat a creative writing professor used to say at the beginning of her courses, that 99.9% of people who set out to write for a career will fail. And it's the hard truth - none of us are assured success as writers, no matter how much our vanity wants it to be otherwise. Cream does not always rise to the top and I'm realizing you have to be downright crafty to market a book. It's a lesson I want anyone who read those last few paragraphs to remember - even if I'm not pleased with Giant Bomb's continued lack of community support for its dying blogging enthusiasts, I also recognize none of us were entitled to jack shit.

So my recommendation to all those creative writers on here? Keep doing what you're doing. Keep blogging, if you like it. But maybe keep on reading and think about writing a book of your own. Here's how it went down for me.

The Start

First, I want to iterate that this is not me shilling my book. I have no intention of writing down its title here. This is solely about the process, a bit of cathartic bullshitting if you like.

Back in December or January, I popped in the shower, just doing my usual thing and preparing for bed. As is usually the case for me, I zoned out and started drumming up little bits of conversation in my mind between imaginary characters. It's sort of like the people-watching creative exercises your teachers might have had you do back in high school or college, wherein you invent stories and dialogue for random people you see. It's not something I do on purpose - it's not a meditation, just a way to amuse myself when I'm alone or lost in thought (which is pretty much always).

Anyways, I got to thinking to myself about a local bar and how it looked back in the early nineties. It was this wood-paneled, very Western bar complete with animal heads on the wall and cheap lights that sort of gave the place the feel of a low-rent apartment. I don't know how or why, but I lit upon the idea that the bar was frequented by ghosts (an idea that was later cut from the novel). Then my thoughts turned to what the ghosts would be like if they really were stuck here in the afterlife, because if they were stuck here, wouldn't that theoretically mean they were neither good nor bad, but kind of just assholes?

And there it was, my first line. "Ghosts are assholes."

I liked it. I latched on to that son of a bitch like a pug on a gopher carcass (something I'm now an expert on thanks to my Curious George of a dog and our local gopher problem). I couldn't quite figure out the specifics. I didn't really have a plot, or characters, or a good set of villains. But I had a good line, a great idea for an opening scene, and I had to get the idea down on paper.

Except I didn't. I sat on my ass for a month, played video games, and watched movies. I did nothing of importance, just like I've been doing for something like seven years now.

Things didn't need to change. There was no great lightning bolt from the sky, there was no health scare, there was nothing that would make this into a great romantic Hollywood story. But I was bitter, depressed (not in a clinical way, just bummed about my lack of forward movement as a thirty something), and anxious to do something, to feel better about myself. No one was going to help me with this and I couldn't do it for someone else anyways. If I was going to start to make changes, I needed to do it for me. I had to get in a healthier mindset.

The plan was and is two-fold. First and foremost was to get myself right physically. I am grossly obese - I was pushing nearly 380-390 pounds when I started all this, and I couldn't walk around a store without getting sweaty and exhausted. I hated waking up alone. I hated knowing I'd let myself go this far. I knew I had the willpower to change things, I just needed to focus and do it.

That part's still rough, but I'm happy to say I'm improving. I've dropped thirty some odd pounds, I'm walking a mile every day, and I've begun to really enjoy working out with dumbbells. I feel good, if not great. I'm not doing some crazy fad diet, just reducing the amount I eat, drinking more tea and less pop, and in general just trying to make smarter decisions about my day to day lifestyle. It feels good.

But while I'm pleased with how the physical stuff is going, I'm downright fucking astounded at how well the writing aspect is going. That brings me to the second part.

The Book

I still had that first scene. I knew how I wanted to write it backwards and forwards, but I was losing the specifics, the things that gave it heart. I had to put it down on paper and I obstinately refused until I started to get my shit together in February.

I'd written a draft for a novel before. It was a garbage horror novel, the sort of thing I pushed on and finished just to say I had written something of length in my lifetime. I wanted this to be different, but I knew it was going to be rough. I've written a few stories over the last few years, one of which was published in an anthology, but it had been half a decade since I attempted a novel. I wasn't sure if this was going to be the one or not.

Turns it, it was. I started slowly. I must have wrote and rewrote that first chapter five times, at least, and later again after the first draft of the novel was finished. I forced myself to finally move on, to develop the central two protagonists and see where they went, what they'd do. Turns out they like to fight criminals and act like a modern day Robin Hood, if that Robin Hood was slightly emotionally crippled and mildly homicidal.

About halfway through February, I had a chance to housesit for my folks, something I thought would clear my mind and help me get a better perspective on what I wanted from this novel. It was a great time - my folks have six dogs and together with my pug, I was surrounded each night by a sea of snoring pugs, Sschnauzers, and chaweenies. During the day, I hammered out pages feet away from a deck overlooking one of Montana's most beautiful mountain ranges, armed with a plethora of K-cup cappuccinos and a growing desire to do nothing but write. That sounds like hyperbole, but it's slowly becoming more and more truthful.

In that week, I must have written about thirty or forty thousand words, which is roughly about a third of what the novel wound up being. It wasn't great writing - hell, half of it ended up in the bin on the second draft - but it was forward motion the likes of which I hadn't made in years. I went home happy, exhausted, and completely ready to get up the coming days to return to a normal writing schedule of about a thousand words a day.

Turns out, I didn't want to just do the bare minimum anymore. While there are days that I do struggle to get out those thousand words, almost every day since then I've pounded out between 3-6k words a day. It's becoming easier to focus, to find myself lulled to that daydreaming state where my fingers do the work while my brain is a thousand miles away, not focused on anything but the work in front of me.

Within a month and a bit of change, I had the first draft finished. It was hilariously bad in spots - there was a occult-like undertone to a great deal of the book that I liked in theory but which read like a 70's horror acid trip. Some of it, though, I was really proud of and I realized I had something on my hands I wanted the world to see eventually. That was exciting. I hadn't had that feeling in years.

I've done a lot in my life I'm proud of but nothing stands remotely close to that first draft. It was shitty and hastily cobbled together, but on those pages was my heart. I am all the elements of my novels. I am the main characters, the villains, the decaying city, the lovemaking, the fighting, the fear. It was, all of it, me in a way nothing I'd ever written was.

And then I threw it all away and started over again.

The Second Draft

Writing is a lot like the human body. A heart and lungs are the very basis of your life, but without the ribcage, without structure, you're just not going to fit together very well. That first draft? It didn't fit together very well.

I had to start over, go smaller with the plot while going deeper on the details. The book badly needed fleshing out. Most of what I'd written was dialogue. Given that I have a history and deep love of the stage, that's not surprising, but it needed more action, more description.

I tried to rewrite the novel from the draft I had originally. That notion was stupid and I wound up pitching the whole thing about a week later. There were elements I really liked, and a great many scenes in rewrites are essentially the same, but in order to fix everything that was wrong, I needed to start over. It was very much the right decision.

What I learned mostly about myself is this - I'm okay at shooting from the hip, but I'm not great. Eventually the lack of structure starts to add up and the whole thing comes apart in the latter half. I stored that little nugget of new information away for my second novel (which wound up getting a thirty page chapter synopsis before I started writing it - great decision), but for this one I had the basics of where I needed the novel to go and just had to get the innards to all fit properly.

It took some doing, and it was a lot slower going than the first draft. I scrapped the idea of my villains altogether and started over with a fresh batch, ones that weren't so mustache-twirly. That draft wound up being about 30k longer than the first draft, eventually topping out at just over 120k words, which felt about right for the story I wanted to tell.

That draft took about another two months. By May, I was ready to edit my novel and get it out to my beta readers. Unfortunately, that's where I got impatient and started pushing things too hard, too soon.

Editing, or the Lack Thereof

Let me get this out in front now. I realize I make a shitload of errors in every blog I write. I try to edit the worst of them out, but I'm not great at catching my own typos unless I'm reading the work out loud. Imagine the number of typos I make in a blog and multiply that by about a hundred, maybe a hundred thirty.

Yeah, that's a lot of fucking typos.

Here's the thing about hiring professional editors - they're really expensive. For someone to have edited my book professionally, it would have taken $750 for someone with experience who I trusted. Nearly a fucking grand before I'd even released the thing. There was no way I could afford that, so I figured, hey, I'll do the work myself, get it out to beta readers, and let them find the rest.

Not a bad plan, except for one thing - I got impatient.

By the first of June, I hadn't heard back from my beta readers. I really wanted the thing out in time for E3 so I could focus on my moderation duties (and enjoy all the amazing nonsense here on Nuke dot com). Two of my close friends helped me with formatting the book for publication and making a cover, and too early, I punched that publish button on Amazon.

It was a mistake. I realize that now, but it was a minor one. I've only sold a marginal number of copies to date - online advertising will be my big draw and I won't be starting that until next month - but here's the thing about publishing ebooks on Amazon: your updates will only affect future copies of the book. You can request that they push out updates to older copies, but the process can take months and without substantial changes, you're not guaranteed that they'll do it. It's crazy, but when you consider all the possible copyright infringement stuff they must deal with, it makes a lot of sense.

Anyways, there are a lot of readers out there now stuck with copies of my novel with an absolutely stupid number of typos. With the help of more responsive readers, I've since fixed most of them and future readers will get a cleaner copy of the book, but damn, that was embarrassing. Lesson learned.

The Next Book

I'm about halfway through writing the first draft of the next book, which I started in late May, I think. It's going well, especially thanks to that chapter synopsis I mentioned earlier. If you decide to write your own novel, try writing one of those to go with it. It helps streamline the process and keeps you focused. I'm going through chapters like shit through a goose.

Will I be a popular writer? Fuck no. I'm not even all that mediocre. I just got my first review yesterday and I'm happy about that, but until they start coming in from the wild and not from people I babysat twenty years ago (true story), I won't really know how successful that first book will be. Probably won't sell much more copies than what I have now, but I'm okay with that. My family has copies. My closest friend does. My entire hometown, which has been hugely supportive of me throughout the years, has seen my name on an advertisement in a local paper. It's pretty cool and it's rewarding in a way that writing should be. Can be, if you're willing to take the chance and write something yourself. Discipline and focus, that's all it takes. Sit down, write out an idea, and you'll be surprised at how quickly it grabs hold of you.

As I write this, I don't know what my plans are for blogging here on Giant Bomb entail. I've played fuck-all for video games this year, limiting myself mostly to Rogue Galaxy and Fallout 4. If I do continue blogging here, it's likely to be on stranger stuff, more blogs like this and less about gaming. I was really proud of my Doctor Who series on here and I have a vague plan to continue that with other shows (maybe Battlestar Galacitca?). I have a personal blog for random, spur of the moment writing thoughts, but I'd like to continue to encourage the blogging atmosphere here as much as I can. i think the right solution is to work from within, try to get the people here who write so much quality stuff better recognition, and try not to get so moody about these things, but I can't honestly say what the future holds for me here as far as blogs go. I'd like to talk more about the advertising process once I've had some experience with it, and once I've finished up the planned trilogy of novels, I'd like to do up more tips for aspiring writers.

With that said, with all my earlier negativity, I want to encourage all of the great writers here on Giant Bomb past and present to keep working. I've been lax lately in supporting you folks by commenting on your blogs and I apologize for that. We gotta stick together, and we need to encourage newer writers to join our ranks.

For now, I'm going to end this monster of a blog. I don't know if this helped anyone besides me, but know if you're a writer out there struggling with the idea that the world is turning away from the written word, you're not alone and you shouldn't have to be. Keep being creative, not just for you but everyone who's going to follow in your footsteps.

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King's Quest - The Third Episode

I haven't blogged very much about games this year for two very good reasons. The first is that I've been working on a novel since February or so, which is incredibly, tantalizingly close to being done. It's at the formatter now, and once I've put it in the hands of my test readers, it should be ready to be sold on the Internet for all the monies. That's pretty crazy, but it's an experience I want to write about in a future blog once this thing is actually real - not that I am going to advertise it on here, but I think the process of actually getting a working draft to publication would be a good topic for some of the aspiring writers here on GB.

The second, more unfortunate reason is that I just haven't played all that much that's grabbed my attention. Ratchet and Clank was great, but it's very much Ratchet and Clank - there's no real need to blog or write about it at length. Go buy it if you want to have fun. That's pretty much it. Trackmania Turbo is a ton of fun in theory, but the multiplayer playlist execution is needlessly convoluted and Ubisoft's immediate "we don't want to fix it" attitude post launch made me pretty much give up on that game from a writing perspective.

Coming into the third episode of the modern version of King's Quest, I didn't expect much. I thought it would be like the previous two episodes - mostly pleasant and dull by-the-numbers adventuring. I was kind of shocked and surprised to find myself not just having fun with it, but kind of moved by the episode's heartfelt enthusiasm for the little story it told. It's not without its problems, but it was good enough I thought it deserved a quick blog. Let's jump in.

The Story Thus Far

Obviously, spoilers ahead.

The entirety of this King's Quest is essentially a series of flashbacks, told by an aging, apparently dying King Graham (voiced by Doc Brown in a bit of absolutely fantastic casting) to his granddaughter. Each story he tells jumps around in time, and makes mention of the various original games' events while telling original tales within King Graham's life. It's a fun way to move the series forward into a new age of adventuring while still rewarding those of us who played the originals with surprisingly smartly placed fan-service.

The first episode details how a young Graham came to be a knight, taking on and befriending a cast of weird side characters that never quite feel as fleshed out or as fun as Graham himself. It's mostly a way to set up the events and characters for the series to come. It was also the most problematic of the episodes to date, simply because the landscape was huge and required a ton of backtracking. That unnecessary padding got in the way of the story and puzzles, and dragged the whole thing down.

The second episode showed more promise. Now the freshly minted king, Graham and his townspeople are kidnapped by goblins and imprisoned. There's a fascinating cycle in this episode that sees Graham trying to free his people while keeping their hunger at bay. Each day you have to make hard decisions about who gets food, and it's terrifically hard to keep everyone alive unless you know the precise order of things. I didn't, and wound up accidentally starving everyone save Graham - which actually led to a fantastic third chapter in the series, because the various responses of NPCs throughout the third episode reflect how much you screw over the people in prison while also commending you on the good deeds you've done to that point.

Through it all, the series is setting up a larger plot wherein the elder King Graham is trying to teach his granddaughter all the life lessons he's learned while largely ignoring her cousin. It's not quite clear if this conflict is leading to something - I suspect it will for the fifth episode in particular, but given the brevity of these episodes, I'm not sure what kind of story they have the time to tell at this point.

As You Wish

More spoilers ahead, though I'll try to keep them as large and non-specific as possible.

The third episode finds my particular version of Graham buff and in need of a girlfriend, badly. He's sitting alone in an empty castle, which I assume would be full with the other townsfolk if I hadn't accidentally starved them into hating me. In any case, after a quick bit of puzzle solving and an annoying traversal bit, Graham winds up at the top of a tower, trapped with no one but two princesses and a bitter Baba Yaga-esque witch to keep him company. There, he tries to woo one of the two princesses to be his future bride while figuring out how to escape the tower.

By and large, it's a narrative driven episode, and again, it's wildly different than the previous two episodes, something I've come to really like about this series. You're really very limited to about six or seven screens, with a few other brief moments outside the tower thrown in for good measure. That's it. It's short, there's a minimal amount of puzzle solving, and it feels more like a long scene than an actual adventure game.

So why do I like it so much? Why did it stick with me?

By and large, the answer to that is relatively simple - this is a short, sweet love story. Games have love in them, to be sure, but how often do we get a solid two hours or so of courtship and bad jokes between couples and a little bit of harmless third-wheel sadness? It's not a great story - it's not even particularly good - but the individual moments of King Graham's assuredness faltering and turning into real affection for not just the princesses but the witch feel genuine and heartfelt in a way that the series desperately needed.

It doesn't hurt too that the larger picture stuff in this one takes a backseat to the queen's birthday, leading to a remarkably touching, understated scene between the three main family members. The conclusion to the past-Graham storyline feels a bit confused and rushed, leading me to wonder if there weren't more scenes and puzzles that ended up on the cutting room floor, but as it stands, the length is fine, if a little underwhelming given the price of this game.

Does that episode make up for the rest of the series' problems? No. Not really. But it does shift me from thinking this is just a mediocre entry to really getting my attention. I want to see where the series goes. I want to find out what the next project is from this team, if there is one. I'm invested again into a beloved Sierra franchise, something I haven't been able to say since Quest for Glory IV some twenty some odd years ago. That's bananas. That's awesome. Well done to the Odd Gentlemen. I really can't wait to see what you do next.

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Let's Talk Books - Jenny Lawson, Daniel Abraham

Books in 2016. Crazy talk, right? Well, I read 'em, and I've got opinions on 'em. So let's talk about books. I'll warn you right up front that while I'll keep major spoilers to a minimum, I'm not shy about spoiling books if it benefits a potential conversation about them. That includes discussing characters, some light plot points, and overarching ideas to books. If you already have plans to read these, you might want to do that. Otherwise, maybe I'll talk you into reading both of these novels. They're pretty good!

I started off 2016 pretty strong by finishing Daniel Abraham's The Dragon's Path, the first in the series The Dagger and Coin. You might know Daniel Abraham as one of the two creative minds behind The Expanse, a sci-fi series of novels adapted into a television show on Syfy. The book was recommended by Giant Bomb and Alpha Protocol's own Matt Rorie during a discussion of modern day fantasy novelists. Turns out, it's pretty good.

I'm also relatively close to finishing Jenny Lawson's latest book Furiously Happy, which deals with her fight with mental illness along with lots of anecdotes. It's relatively similar in structure as her last novel Let's Forget This Ever Happened, but it finds Lawson admirably exposing many of her fears and struggles with day-to-day life.

Let's start things off with...

The Dragon's Path

(a.k.a. Pretty Little Fantasy Liars)

OK, so the book really isn't subtitled that, but it might as well be. The whole of The Dragon's Path revolves around lies, deceit, political games, and the exposure of such. Every character, in their own way, lives a lie - some, in fact, even wind up making a pretty good living at it. As a universal theme, it's a fairly interesting one, particularly since everyone in the novel so far seems guilty of deceiving someone, save for a questionable protagonist who sets out to find the truth in all things. Unfortunately, that universal theme winds up translating to a lot of characters that feel roughly the same, albeit ones on very different roads.

Each character starts off with the facade of being a decent human being. By the end, some still are, some aren't, as is pretty typical in any story of length. Abraham makes a point of giving us the facade of archetypes we might like, and then putting them into very natural situations where their breeding, experience, or lack thereof. It's skillfully done, but it's also done across the board, so that by the time it happened with the third or fourth major character, the beat of the novel already felt a little too familiar. It was a remarkably intelligent move for a first time novelist, but the idea stretched thin by the conclusion of the novel.

Dragon's Path also suffers from a problem I've come to associate with bloated fantasy writers who grow too obsessed with their own worlds - it's plodding. While these characters seem to be going somewhere, by the end of the novel, Abraham has established little in terms of advancing or presenting an overarching threat or storyline. The whole thing feels a bit like Abraham's setting up a chess board, but not actually playing a game.

That said, there's a lot to like here. Abraham's world building is deftly done, giving hints as to the appearances of races without flat-out telling the reader what each character or race looks like. Instead, he uses the characters and their natural environments to drop hints and such about the various races and locations he's created. That takes a lot of skill.

I'm also really fond of the novel's morally tight-rope walking protagonist Geder. He's a phenomenal character. Without delving too much into spoilers, his moral ambiguity tends to be the most fascinating of the bunch, if just because his own search for answers finds him on an actual journey. I'm not entirely sure if his timeline syncs up with the rest of the characters - he takes a lengthy journey which seems to happen rather rapidly while other characters see months of breaks and progression off-page, but that might just be me not paying all that much attention, and frankly, it doesn't matter. Distance and time in fantasy novels has always been a kind of "close your eyes and go with it" experience, so it's not some deal-breaker.

It's a relatively tight read, too, although at first glance, I thought it was nearly double in size than it actually was, since the ebook version includes a copy of The Expanse,. I haven't yet read that, but fully intend to return to it once I've cleansed my palate a bit with some other novels on my to-be-read pile.

Overall, this shows promise. It drags its feet a little much, but it does a marvelous job of setting up an interesting world, if not necessarily an interesting plot. I'm going to read the second at some point or another, but with several major novels on the horizon for me, I've gotta put it down for now.

Furiously Happy

Here we delve into some curious, hilarious waters.

Jenny Lawson (also known as the Blogess) was recommended to me by a good friend of mine who shares a similar sense of humor as me. We tend towards insane rants only tangentially related to the last thing we spoke of, and our conversations with each other often read like crazy talk, but there's a cleverness behind it all that sates a part of my mind that often goes unfulfilled.

Jenny Lawson's writing is basically a literary version of that hyper, slapstick intelligence. She darts from topic to topic like a hummingbird, never staying with one thing overly long but often returning to themes or prior ideas in future chapters. While her previous novel was largely all about the comedy, here she leaves herself vulnerable, talking about her struggles with social anxiety and depression while spending interludes talking about nonsensical arguments with her long-suffering, good-hearted husband.

It's fascinating to read about, especially since I'm by and large an outsider looking in on this. I mean, sure, I've got a little bit of social anxiety, but it's nothing that really leads to crippling situations or anything like that. Even so, her determination to fight mental illness with a fuck-you grin when she's able to is motivating.

It's a fast read, the sort of thing you might knock out in a couple of sittings, and I cannot recommend it enough, both if you deal with social anxiety or depression or any sort of mental illness, or even if you don't. I'd recommend reading Let's Forget This Ever Happened first - it's not necessary, but it's just as intelligent and establishes a good baseline for you to understand who this Jenny Lawson is.

What are you reading? Got any upcoming books you're excited about? Any you're itching to get your hands on that are already out?

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Starting 2016 on a high and a low note

I decided a couple of days ago I wanted to have a little bit of fun this New Year's by replaying the entirety of one of my top two games of the year - Tales from the Borderlands. I finished the first episode on the thirtieth, probably a smart decision considering I'd both played it and watched @austin_walker's pleasant playthrough during Extra Life, a stream I'd definitely recommend watching if you get a chance. After having some fun downtown on New Year's Eve, I went home and started burning through the rest of the game in pretty rapid succession. Fueled by a wonderfully greasy burger and fries and cheered on by my snoring pug (who rides shotgun on all my console gaming excursions by laying across my shoulders on top of my recliner), I managed to get through the game far more rapidly than I did during my PC play through.

Knowing when the QTEs were coming was definitely a big help, but perhaps the best part of the experience was the bigger, more vivid UI that comes from the console's lower resolution and slightly poorer graphics. I know it's a bit weird to say that's a good thing, but certainly in the case of Tales and Game of Thrones, it was a definite boon to play the games on a much lower resolution and have bigger arrows and button keys.

It was just as fun as my first playthrough. I Kept most of my options the same, since if there's a sequel that tracks my progression, I'd like to maintain most of the mindset I had when I approached the game originally. That is to say, I played Rhys as generally friendly and drippingly sweet to Sasha while playing Fiona with a bit of bravado and swagger.

**Spoilers ahead for the end game**

I also deliberately made some good and boring choices in my ending selection of characters to help in the final boss battle. Since I warned Felix, I got his ten million but opted NOT to hire the experienced Vault Hunter - if you spoil who this is below, please put it in spoiler tags. I was mostly curious if it changed Sasha and Fiona's endings at all, but they stayed exactly the same.

My second playthrough confirmed to me what I suspected, that as a cohesive whole and on a second viewing, that game is pretty phenomenal and tentatively takes the spot of my new favorite adventure game of all time. High praise, considering how much I adore games like Quest for Glory, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, and the first season of Walking Dead, but I think this game truly deserves the crown.

There's a sense of purpose to the game on its second play that I didn't get in the months separating each episode individually. As a whole package, it's easier to see how the little bits fit into the machine as a whole better. It's also easier to nitpick the game's one weak plot point (first episode spoilers - Felix). In a weird way, though, having that one weak point early in the game makes the later episodes all the more impressive in the ways they improve by leaps and bounds. Even when the game is being gamey and dumping you in contrived situations to fill out weaker points in the plot, there's still a ton of great character development and interaction going on.

Going to bed at four in the morning (I took a few breaks in there now and again) was definitely one of the best ways I've spent a New Year's solo.

I figured I'd keep my recent game-ending streak going (I finished all of Fallout 4's endings on or around the 28th or so) by playing out the last mission of Just Cause 3 tonight. Unfortunately, this wasn't quite the high of Tales from the Borderlands. I guess I should probably tell you now there will be endgame spoilers, but honestly, the story for Just Cause 3 is such a non-existent thing that I don't think anyone would really care.

Again, the developers fail to play to the game's core strengths - a problem I had with side quests as a whole - and instead have this island hopping, madcap destructothon end with Rico fighting a helicopter in a volcano. Sounds potentially neat, but it's the most barren, ugly, boring landscape in the game, coupled with the most boring, lackluster boss fight I've seen in quite some time. You circle rocks and shoot a helicopter when its shields are down. The whole thing takes about ten minutes. That's it. Roll credits.

See what's wrong here? It emphasizes literally nothing about the game's high points. Having me bring down a mountain on top of the helicopter, or setting off a volcanic eruption with my mad C4ing skillz, that would have been something. Having me hang off a series of helicopters while trying to bring down the boss? That might have been something. But nope, the whole game devolves into a piss-poor cover shooter wherein I had to call for ammo a time or two. Yippee.

I don't know. Just Cause 3 is really fun when it works, but it obstinately doesn't try in so many different ways. I'm looking forward to jumping back into Tales of Zestiria tomorrow or the day after. The beginning of that game seemed promising, aside from the bizarre loot and skills stuff. Hey, it's a Tales game. I expect it to be somewhere between middling and good, and that'll be that.

What are you playing in the New Year?

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Twenty Fifteen - The Fifteeniest

I've been mulling over whether or not to write an awards blog this year, and the conclusion I keep coming to is that there's nothing I could write that hasn't been said about numerous games before, particularly by great bloggers on this very website. I would, however, like to put my own little stamp on what has to be one of the bigger years in gaming. I'm not sure what this blog will be about specifically. I want to ramble and think aloud, so bear with me if I'm a bit flighty throughout this one.

2014 left me exhausted and not a little disgusted by humanity. It was a hard fucking year to be a mod on Giant Bomb, but it was also a hard year personally for reasons I have no interest in going into here. When we left 2014, The Incident That Shall Not Be Named left me bitter and not a little salty. People can be dicks, let's put it that way. I came into 2015 determined to have a better year - in fact, that was my secret New Year's resolution, to come out of 2015 feeling better emotionally and physically than I did entering it.

You know what? I actually succeeded for once. Thanks to a diagnosis in January-ish of ankylosing spondylitis, I know now what was causing a lot of physical discomfort and outright pain for me. And thanks to twice-a-month treatments, I feel physically better than I have in years. I'm more energetic. I've actually lost some weight - only about ten pounds or so, but still, it's a start. I've gained quite a bit of muscle mass and I find myself enjoying lifting my dumbbells on a semi-regular basis. I'm up to walking about half a mile every day, which is half a mile more than I was walking at the beginning of the year.

Normally, I'd be reluctant to share personal details of my life like that here, but I think it's exactly the sort of thing I should be talking about. Feeling down? Just try doing a couple of little things every day to make yourself feel better about you. Screw what anyone else thinks. Don't do this for someone you care for, don't do it because it's trendy, do it because you want to wake up tomorrow with just a little bit more of a smile on your face. I really recommend the walking part in particular. Getting out in the summer and walking, even if it was just a quarter of a mile at the start, really gave me time to get out, say hi to people, get some sunshine and some air, and help myself feel better as I pushed myself little by little to walk more and more.

And in the winter, improvise. If you're like me and living in the firigd ass end of nowhere, walking outside might not be an option. I've been keeping myself entertained by bumping up my dog's playtime, and making it a priority. We play fetch until he gets exhausted, then I sit and work out with my dumbbells for about fifteen to twenty minutes. At first, this was a little hard to do. Prioritizing it over playing a game or watching TV is still something I struggle with, but it's becoming easier and easier with every passing day.

And I can't stress enough how much cooking for one's own self makes all the difference in the world. I'm a bad cook, but I've got a handful of recipes I really like and I try to make those frequently as a supplement to the usual crap food I keep around the house. Taking the time to make chicken and a rice side makes me feel much more sated and happy at the end of a day rather than just nuking a frozen whatever and calling it quits. I've also been eating tons more fruits and vegetables as opposed to snack foods. It's hard to break from them, and I'm still not entirely successful, but I've made progress.

So yeah... that's my personal goal again for 2016. Feel better. It's simple, but it works.

Outside of games, entertainment wise, I can't recall a single book from 2015 I read. I mean, I read plenty in the year, just nothing from the year itself. I've got Jenny Lawson and David Wong's in the pipeline, but there just wasn't much else that really interested me this year. I spend a good portion of the year having to read very slowly, since my glasses were crapping out on me and replacing them isn't as easy as going to an ophthalmologist. New glasses for me run upwards of $500. I did get some reading done, just not as much as I'd like. I kept it mostly to some personal not-so-guilty pleasures like early John Sandford. On a recommendation from Matt Rorie from either a blog or some conversation or another, I also checked out Ancillary Justice and the first in the Dagger and Coin series. Both were solid recommendations. If you have anything fun you've read this year, please feel free to drop a comment below and we'll talk books until the cows come home to roost.

TV-wise, I've had some really fun moments this year with X-Files, Z Nation, Dark Matter, and some British shows like Broadchurch and Black Mirror. I think Black Mirror takes the cake for the best overall quality show I watched this year. It's a really great, dark variant on the old Twilight Zone shows, with more of a nod towards technology and modern fears. It is superbly acted, and each episode is pretty terrific. I'm also fond of Jessica Jones and Daredevil, though I think the second seasons of both should deliver more on the promises of what those characters can be when they're not embroiled in origin story filler.

Z Nation and Dark Matter are my b-show shlock favorites from this year. Z Nation is dumb, silly, poorly acted, poorly directed, and has zombies on Viagra. I cannot stress that enough - zombies on fucking Viagra. Dark Matter is a poor man's Firefly, but unlike that show, it wasn't canceled and there aren't a billion twerpy little shits crying about it a decade later. Therefore, it wins. Seriously, Serenity fans, stay the fuck away from my Dark Matter. Don't ruin this for me. Go watch Star Wars or something I don't really care about. It's basically about a ship crewed by pirate-types who've lost their memories and try to band together despite their violent, untrustworthy tendencies. It has the television budget equivalent of a Banquet dinner, except in this case, you get home, unwrap the dinner, and realize you've bought solid gold covered in terrible gravy. Except that the gold in this case is Canadian and probably actually silver or maybe brass and... you know what? Just go watch it. Unless you're a Firefly fan, in which case go put back on your brown coat and cry in the corner of your shower for another decade. Let. It. Go. Firefly is dead. You hear me? Dead.

Movie-wise, I've seen nothing at all significant from this year. I watched some good stuff, like Kingsman, but none of it really stands out in my mind. Maybe 500 MPH Storm, with Casper Van Diem. I dunno. That was all right.

So let's talk games.

2015 was full of 'em, am I right? I've never had a GOTY list as big as this year's. There were honestly twelve or thirteen good candidates for my list, and a couple of games I saw that I knew would probably make it on there had I time to play or see more of them. Of particular note in that regard are Splatoon and Xenoblade Chronicles X. Xenoblade looks like a world I really want to sink my teeth into, just not on a damn Wii U, because screw that console. It leaves me really curious what the NX will be, but I've talked about that at length elsewhere. Suffice it to say I think Nintendo will be the most interesting game maker to watch this coming year.

I continue to be happy with my PS4 purchase. Games like Forza and Halo make me real curious about what Xbone prices will do this coming year, but I might wait to see if the Xnext winds up having backwards compatibility and just go for that. As it stands, I'm perfectly fine with one modern console. With all the titles hitting PSn every week and better sales this generation, I have lots to play and little reason to diversify my systems.

And while a gaming PC is always enticing, seeing the difficult font sizes on a beast of a rig owned by @upperdecker leaves me perfectly content with being a console guy. For now. That doesn't mean I'm not going to drop some money in the bank for an eventual PC purchase, but I'm totally fine with that being a few years down the line. And for those of you who are chomping at the bit to say, "Build your own," there's taxi money on the night stand. Don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out. Some people don't want to build PCs. I'm very much one of them. Screw that.

In terms of individual games, I've listed my highlights in my Top Whatever list, but my favorite two were Tales from the Borderlands and Witcher 3. I had a few let-downs this year, most notably Arkham Knight, which I thought was a gasoline-soaked jacuzzi full of piss and fire. That game sucked the life out of me and I wound up actively hating it more than any other title this year - and this is a year in which I played a godawful Quest for Glory clone with rampant gay and sexist jokes. It was that bad. Damn, I hate Arkham Knight and I feel Batmanned out, utterly and completely. "Let's take great gameplay and crap all over it with forced driving sequences and a shitty Pac-Man knockoff... and then we'll make people run stupid obstacle courses and have them fight more tanks - in the fog!" And they all clapped each other on the backs and declared it to be the finest video game ideas ever in the history of mankind.

Stop making shitty game design decisions and sticking to them. Stop it. You can change your game. We'll allow you the time. Just make something good and ask yourself, "Is this fun?" If the answer's no, then chuck the idea out the window into your dumpster of bad game babies.

Overall though, what a year for games. Yeah, modern consoles are getting lots of ports and what not, but the quality of the selection on these consoles is undeniably good. I've had more satisfactory shoot-and-loot experiences this year than in any year before hand. There was a solid month of weekly RPG releases on the PS4 (see: October). If there's a genre out there you want to play, some game company or another has you covered on an indie front. Games have never been more diverse and awesome as they have been this year. It's the trend I want to see continue the most going forward.

I don't know. I'm content in a way I wasn't at the end of 2014, both personally and game-wise. I hope this finds all of you either feeling the same way or working towards it. Let's have fun and be cool duders this coming year.

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2016 Predictions

Hey there, folks, and welcome to my undoubtedly laughably wrong predictions for the New Year. I plan on examining each of the Big Three, taking a look at what the last year brought for us and what I think is in store for the future. I'll also throw down a few random game predictions. Please feel free to poke holes in any of my predictions or tell me what clues I've missed. And feel free to play along in the comments or your own blog.

I'm not quite ready to call 2015 closed in terms of my GOTY lists and blogs. There are still a couple of games on the PS4 I might yet have a chance to sink my teeth into, and it's still far too early in the month to entirely rule either one of them out. I'll tell you this much, though - my mental GOTY list is pretty nutty and still in flux. The last couple of months have seen some great games, albeit maybe with less of a stellar showing than I expected. Whatever the list ends up being, it'll be quite a bit stranger than I anticipated it to be at the beginning of the year.

What a close of the year, though. Sony knocked it out of the park at PSX with some genuinely exciting showings for their VR tech and Final Fantasy. I'm also immensely pleased that we'll be getting a rerelease of Full Throttle, though I'm a bit worried about how the Road Rage-esque portion of that game will hold up in 2015, since it was pretty much garbage twenty years ago. Oh, and I'll finally get a chance to play Day of the Tentacle - I know it was announced previously, but whatever, I'm still excited about it.

I think VR looks neater and neater, though it's definitely not a thing I want to opt into right away. @marino has talked to me a bit about it on Twitter, and it seems like the Sony goggles should be able to fit around my thick glasses, but it's one of those things I'd actually like to try for myself before dropping a stupid amount of money on it - or whatever headset I end up going with. I think the smart move is to wait and see which ones do well and maybe buy into the second generation. We'll see, though I'm definitely excited to see where the tech goes and what it leads to down the line.

Let's get things started by going back and taking a look at my predictions from last year.

I Suck at Predicting Things, 2014 Edition

The Exclusives War is Stoked

I was only slightly off on this one. Microsoft and Sony continued their 2014 trend of supporting third party developers with "our console first" philosophies, particularly with the announcements of Final Fantasy VII and Shenmue 3. Sony in particular has really been beating this drum, though Microsoft really delivered one hell of a Christmas surprise in Tomb Raider, which I'm really looking forward to playing... some day.

Nintendo, unsurprisingly, continued its pie-in-the-sky first party development, I was way off base by assuming they would make 3DS announcements and games their focus this year, as this was clearly the year of the Wii U in their stable. I'm definitely glad to see them put more and more focus on becoming a brand unto themselves. If they can continue to push out quality games in a timely fashion, whatever the NX ends up being will do just fine, particularly once you factor in their massive back catalog.

I Predicted Some Games Were Coming Too

I screwed up with my Nintendo predictions. As mentioned, I genuinely thought we'd see a large focus by Nintendo and third-parties on the 3DS, which... just didn't happen. Obviously, I didn't gauge the handheld market with any degree of accuracy and that prediction was completely wrong. I guess we did see a new Fire Emblem get announced, so.. yay?

On Microsoft's side, I predicted that they'd push for Overwatch on consoles, which is half right - it will be released on both consoles as well as the PC. I was also half right in predicting some big Minecraft news - but that was more to do with the cool-looking tech associated with their Minecraft showing at E3 than anything related to the game itself. Oh well. I was also right about Rare coming back in a big way - their E3 showing was brief, but pretty neat. Really looking forward to that new IP.

My Sony predictions were largely okay. I was wrong about Jak and Daxter and even more wrong about the oversaturation of Ratchet and Clank (still think that's the wrong move, but whatever, R&C are quality little gems). Most of my other predictions were too bland here to be far from wrong. Of course a new Gran Turismo was announced. Of course PS2 games are now available via PSN. Other than that, eh. It was always going to be a mostly predictable year for Sony.

I was right about Fallout 4, sorta right about XCOM 2 (how is that not on consoles? How?), and mostly off-base about the rest of my hopes and predictions. Overall, I'll give myself a pat on the back for getting some things mostly right and a kick to my own shin for thinking anyone would want to develop for the 3DS, including Nintendo.

The Coming Year

Nintendo

Either Nintendo has figured out its problems or it hasn't. That and the state of VR at the end of 2016 are the two largest questions I have right now about gaming. I think Nintendo's learned a lot about the direction it should take in this last year with the success of Splatoon and Mario Maker. But will it have enough time to implement what those lessons imparted by the time the NX hits? I honestly don't know - but I'm sure willing to speculate on it!

A year ago, I'd have said that there's no way Nintendo has its shit together for a new console launch. No 3rd party in its right mind is going to develop for the thing, which leaves the ball entirely in Nintendo's court. A year ago, that would have spelled unmitigated disaster had the NX launched in 2015. But now, with two of the year's raddest games under its belt, Nintendo seems to have finally - finally! - grounded itself in reality by acknowledging its core strengths and shearing a lot of its weaknesses.

I think that leaves Nintendo in its strongest position since the launch of the Wii. We've seen little of note in terms of big new announced projects. The House of N has something cooking, and baby, I'm liking what I'm smelling. I'm not sure entirely what Nintendo will consider sure bets for a new platform's release, but we'll almost assuredly see a gigantic new 3D Mario, something in an original line akin to Galaxy.

We'll also see a dual launch of the new Zelda game, which will undoubtedly annoy some but should be a smart financial move on their part. I'm going to go out on a limb and say a new 2D Metroid will also be shown. Although the games aren't popular in Japan as they are in the West, it might be just the sort of thing Nintendo puts out to appeal to the world.

Will we see a new F-Zero? Sure. Think about it - it's been dormant for a long time, and it'd make a hell of a pretty showcase for whatever the NX ends up being. I think too Nintendo knows it has to rely on nostalgia a bit to bolster sales. This should certainly help.

What I'm really hoping for are new IPs from Nintendo. I don't even know what I want, but I think Splatoon's success has freed them creatively to start pursuing some new ideas. That is maybe the most exciting thing in store for us from Big N. Let's hope it's true.

As to what the NX will be, I'm not sure. I think the idea that it's a dual handheld/TV console is neat. I hope it's that, with a hopefully more ergonomic handheld portion. Whatever it winds up being, I'm excited to see it.

Sony

Good on Sony for delivering on a lot of nostalgic bullshit this last year. They clearly see what people want, and are willing to either go out and help push it or secure it themselves. That's a great philosophy to have, and it's one I hope continues in 2016. Sure, it's a bit of marketing devilry, but those games were popular for reasons, and people deserve to have games that cater to their desires.

I will freely predict that my GOTY for 2016 winds up being Ni no Kuni 2 if it launches this coming year. I loved the original, and the brief footage we saw of 2 looks so damned good. I'm hoping we see Dark Cloud 2 available on PSn sooner rather than later, though that'd be a pretty great title to drop on fans shortly before a PAX or E3.

As for new announcements... hm. Some kind of chintzy DLC exclusivity with Square for FFXV seems like a no brainer. With Kingdom Hearts 3 and Star Ocean both coming out supposedly next year too, that seems like Square's RPG lineup is locked.

I want Sony to bring it at E3 with first party exclusives, but I'm just not sure what exactly I want them to bring. There aren't any first party games from their prior years that really stand out to me as must haves for this console generation beyond Uncharted and Gran Turismo, and those have already been announced. I hope they jump on some new IPs. I want to see them continue their indie push, and bring even more PC games over to the console. The more places you can play games, the better.

I guess I'd better come up with something substantive here, shouldn't I? OK, let's see. I'll guess that Sony's big E3 stuff will be VR related - with the biggest GB pleaser being a Windjammers-esque game not entirely dissimilar to what we saw at PSX. That seems like a cool VR thing that could easily happen. For the PS4, I'll say that Sony announces a big first-party open world game, something along the lines of a Grand Theft Auto, though maybe a big more PG-13. I have no reason to suspect that, except that open world games keep getting bigger and bigger and I'm sure that would make an awesome new IP for them.

All in all, it'll be another year of staying the course for Sony, but that's a good thing in their case. I hope they continue to expand upon ideas like their accessibility options and continue to be a cool little console.

Microsoft

Fuzion Frenzy 3.

OK, I kid. I do think we're likely to see Microsoft eyeballing the family friendly market, something I think they've been missing with some of their recent showings. We're likely to see some kind of push towards a party game - or possibly a party game hub, with optional buy-in games not entirely dissimilar to the Jackbox. That seems right up MS's alley and would be a smart, play-it-safe move for box Live and Gold.

I'm also guessing we see Microsoft hit first-party development hard this year. With Halo Wars 2 already being announced, we've got some room for weird in their world, so why not a big, first-person RPG in a new IP exclusive to Microsoft? Really get in there and try hitting that RPG heavy bag again. We've seen some cool tech demos of RPGs supposedly for this generation that haven't led anywhere in particular, and Microsoft has to prove its system is still for the gamer, so why not a big new RPG to show off?

And hey... how about a Lost Odyssey 2 teaser, possibly for a 2017 release? Maybe?

Let's see, what else? Something explodey and kablooey for the Christmas sales... hmmm. How's about a timed exclusive deal on a new Sleeping Dogs? Sure! Let's predict that! It's one in the morning and I'm feeling a little crazy, so let's go there.

Oh, Fable Legends finally comes out to a collective sound of fart noises. Fuck that game. Build Fable 4.

The Rest

Watch Dogs 2 - This seems like a good year for Ubi to announce Watch Dogs 2, then quickly delay it to 2017 and possibly beyond. If it can live up to Watch Dogs potential (it can't), they might have a bonafide every-other-year sequel on their hands. Like Ubi needed another. Ugh.

XCOM 2 announced for consoles by the end of the year. Duh. Because it should be.

Hideo Kojima announces a new partnership, studio, et cetera. Won't announce any actual games until 2017.

Rockstar announces a new IP. I think this makes the most sense for them, though I like the rumors of a Bully 2 or Red Dead spinoff.

Borderlands 3 is announced at E3. Gearbox's Mooter (MOBA-shooter, get it?) is swept quietly under the rug by year's end and abandoned because that game looks like garbage and they keep shitting all over it by comparing it to Borderlands, which is far and away the better game.

Persona 5 ends up launching somewhere in 2016 and is stupid amounts of fun. Atlus announces another IP to be brought to consoles, probably something Persona-esque.

Along similar lines, Japan finally wakes up and starts making games for the PS4 rather than the PS3. Seriously, how the hell do you release Yakuza 5 on the PS3 and not the PS4? Oh wait... because it's Japan.

A new Suikoden and Wild ARMs are announced and pigs begin to fly.

Shadows of Mordor 2 is announced, probably for 2017.

Portal 3 is announced.

Mass Effect Whatever is totally okay.

A new Assassin's Creed is announced, this one in eastern Europe/Russia.

Some kind of Civilization-esque game is announced for consoles and PC, though curiously, it's not made by Firaxis.

Several big RPG projects will be announced from relatively fresh developers, projects we've seen tech demos for but nothing substantial. This should be a good year for mid-tier developers to come out in droves.

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Let's Compare Game of Thrones to Game of Thrones to Game of Thrones

Fair warning - I'm going to be liberal in my use of spoilers in discussing all things Game of Thrones. I haven't watched the latest season or read the latest book, but please feel free to go nuts in the comments below (preferably with spoiler tags for the rest of the readers, but whatever, they've been warned). OK, on with it, then.

I love a great deal of fantasy literature. It's not all I read - there's not a genre I don't like to dip my toes into now and again - but it definitely consumes the bulk of the novels I pick and choose from my enormous pile of shame. When people admit the horrors of their Steam pile of unplayed games, I'm usually quietly thinking about the sheer number of unread books on my Kindle. Unlike my gaming pile of shame, however, I don't feel any real particular guilt about the number of books I own. It's nice to be able to have my own personal library to pick and choose from at will.

Usually when I consider a new book to read, I'm wondering if there isn't a new Joe Abercrombie or Scott Lynch novel lurking out there I haven't picked through. We're in the middle of a great big golden era of fantasy literature. Patrick Rothfuss. Tad Williams. Brandon Sanderson (although he's kind of hit and miss for me - loved his work on the RJ novels, didn't much care for Mistborn, kind of on the fence about Stormlight Archive). The aforementioned Abercrombie and Lynch. Any subgenre of fantasy you like, you can undoubtedly find a new book by a great established author or some up and comer releasing something amazing. It's an utterly fantastic time to be a lover of books of all sorts, but particularly the fantasy genre.

I don't particularly have a favorite sub-genre or particular style of fantasy I like or dislike. I don't read a lot of urban fantasy, but there are a few from authors like Diana Francis (full disclosure - I'm a former student of hers, but even so, she's a fantastic fantasy/urban fantasy writer) and Charlie Huston I greatly enjoy. I tend towards shifts - one year, I'll favor some sweeping, majestic fantasy work like Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, and the next I'll want to read darker fantasy like Richard Morgan's Steel Remains.

My history with some of fantasy's biggest names hasn't always been really so cut and dried. I loved Narnia as a child, but I didn't come around to Tolkien until I was a freshman in college, just a year or two shy of the films coming out. I read an absolute metric ton of the usual sword-and-sorcery nerdery by Eddings and Brooks, but I grew tired really quickly of the fluffy nature of their novels and the way they endlessly seemed to repeat themselves thematically and in regards to character development.

Perhaps one of my more complicated histories with fantasy novelists comes from none other than George Arrr Arrrrr Martin. First, though, some music. DJ, queue up something with a bit of fantasy flare, will you? Hit it!

The Books

I'll be honest, I have no damn clue when I started reading A Song of Ice and Fire. I know it was sometime late in the 90s. All I can remember is being on a Robert Jordan kick and reading anything in fantasy literature that used up roughly half the Amazon forest to print.

I was never quite blown away by Game of Thrones. I respected the first novel for its bleak tone - a rarity in those days, at least in that genre - and the sometimes rich writing, but it dragged its feet on a great many plot points. Even then, I wasn't a fan of child protagonists, and everything involving Bran just irritated me (it still does).

It did a great many interesting things. I read a great deal of Tom Clancy and Forsythe back then, so I wasn't exactly new to political intrigue working its way into books I liked, but the amount of depth in Martin's works outmatched anything else being written back then, including the equally verbose Jordan. The execution of Ned Stark was wildly fascinating and led me to wonder just what the future of the series might hold, giving me just enough of a dangling thread to keep reading for a couple more installments.

Unfortunately, "dangling threads" seems to be Martin's middle names.

My early suspicious about Martin's works were that he was a shock-and-awe writer, someone who relied on a bit of murder in lieu of actual plot development and closure. You see it a lot with mystery writers, who often confuse adding a body for a little intrigue and don't actually end up progressing the plot. At times, it's fine - sometimes a little murder and mayhem is just what a book needs to kick things into a higher gear and forge new and interesting paths for existing characters to take.

Unfortunately in Martin's case, death quickly loses its meaning. I'm paraphrasing here, but if you've read Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, there's an early scene where Arthur Dent tries to understand the scope of what's happened to Earth and just can't. It's too big. So Ford Prefect advises him to think of it on a smaller and smaller scale until he can finally process it. It's a funny bit, but it's also reflective of human nature. We can sympathize with tragedies on a large scale, but a huge body count doesn't connect with us in the same way a personal, singular death can.

Those important deaths were something Martin was great at in the beginning, particularly with Ned Stark, a character to whom he'd devoted much of that first book's narrative. Unfortunately for later characters like Oberyn, Catelyn, and Robb Stark, their deaths seem less meaningful and more in line with a general "keep the reader interested" philosophy. While the fall of Robb Stark is without a doubt one of modern literature's most fascinating scenes, it's largely useless in terms of plot movement and furthering any sort of characterization of the other protagonists aside from reducing the number of players at the theoretical endgame of the novels.

And that's really the sticking point - there's no endgame in sight for anyone or anything in the novels. We all have our suspicions as to who will make it and who won't - it seems obvious we're leading up to a dragon vs. undead showdown of some sort, but who knows? Given the amount of time it takes in between novels, not to mention the slog of unnecessary bullshit that the reader must wade through in order to reach that fabled ending, it just doesn't seem worth it to me. Martin will either finish his novels or he won't, and either way, I just really don't much care. Martin's writing in its early days deserves a lot of respect for the writers it inspired, but by and large, everything past Game of Thrones is largely inconsequential.

The Telltale Video Game

I'm jumping ahead of the TV show a bit here because I want to hammer home that same last point. Inconsequential is the very name of the Telltale episodic game, which serves only to shine a fascinating light on the faults of both the Telltale model and cheap cash-ins of existing franchises.

Having just finished Tales from the Borderlands a few weeks ago, I can safely say that given the right writers at the helm, Telltale is wonderfully capable of making a side story to a larger universe feel compelling, even if it doesn't wind up that way (time will tell with regards to Tales). Those characters in that particular series don't actually matter much to the whole of the Borderlands universe, yet they play out a story that hooked me almost like no other this year.

Unfortunately, Game of Thrones never once hits the high notes of Tales from the Borderlands. Far from it. It's plagued through and through by a refusal to matter, both in terms of its own plot and in regards to the larger universe. Main characters are slaughtered in droves. While it's shocking at first - the death of the teenage child by the wonderfully played Bolton is well done after a period of heightening suspense - it also largely loses its meaning quickly, much like the novels. If everyone dies, there's no one left for the character to attach themselves to.

That's not to say everyone does die in the Telltale game, but they come pretty damn close. House Forrester is whittled down (get it?) to a fraction of its starting numbers, all is yawningly lost, and no darling, the kids are most definitely not all right. All that might be forgiven if the series wraps up things in any sort of fashion, but it doesn't. It feels like there should be maybe one or two more episodes, but frankly, I'm glad there aren't. Game of Thrones tends to drag through its middle parts, throwing in deaths aplenty but little meat in terms of forward progression.

The series' highlight comes from a brutal choice at the end of its penultimate chapter, when the player must choose to sacrifice one vanilla brother or the other at the hands of an ambush everyone and anyone involved should have seen coming. It leaves me mildly curious as to what Telltale does with a theoretical second season, but only in terms of a technical nature. The split between the players' choices between the two brothers seemed relatively equal enough that they'd have to plan some contingency for both, but all this is assuming Telltale won't just cut and run.

My guess? The second season will focus on other characters, tangentially involved with the fate of the Forresters, with those survivors that the player base chose making a pittance of an appearance at the beginning. After a while, having so many possible choices for survivors will take its toll on the programmers, made all the more problematic by the distinct aging of the Telltale engine.

Speaking of, the series is almost nothing but QTEs, annoyingly so. Whereas Tales from the Borderlands manages to keep its QTEs relatively limited in favor of exposition (a smart choice), Game of Thrones devolves mostly into a series of QTEs followed by a couple of boring choices and a few bits of subpar storytelling in a universe that's seen too much exploitation already.

I get that the Telltale model of choice choice choice, QTE QTE QTE works for them, but it needs an evolution and fast. With regards to Tales from the Borderlands, I suggested elsewhere that they keep the QTEs but make them unfailable and reward the player for better, faster responses, either via storytelling elements or in-game cash rewards. In regards to Game of Thrones, I have no clue how to fix their problems. The story isn't good enough to rely upon it instead of QTEs, and the QTEs suck in general, so either route, we're kind of screwed as players. I'd suggest an old fashioned point and click adventure that actually let me explore the Seven Kingdoms and beyond, but who are we kidding here? Telltale is going to ride the guided train tour all the way down.

The TV Show

Surprisingly, I'm not all that down on the TV show. The format requires that a large amount of the fat from the novels be trimmed, leaving a rich world with a faster paced narrative. I'm down with that. That's not to say I'm opposed to big, bloaty stories - I love The Stand, for example - but they need to be consistently movign forward in interesting ways. The TV version of Game of Thrones does precisely that.

It wouldn't work without the marvelously steady and groudned approach of most of HBO's programming. Sure, Syfy had Battlestar Galactica, but even that had its share of standalone bullshit episodes that left me rolling my eyes. Game of Thrones needed a channel that demanded lean storytelling and HBO is just such a place.

I'm fond of the casting, too. I'll watch Sean Bean in damn near anything. If you can find them, watch the Sharpe's Rifles TV movies, or even better, read the books. It's easy to knock Dinklage for his lackluster performance in Destiny, but he's murdering it as Tyrion Lannister in absolutely every scene he's in. They even got Brienne and the Onion Knight just right, who are my favorite characters from the novels.

The effects are what they are. They're gorgeous, of course, but I can't help feeling like the world feels somewhat uninspired at times. Or rather, it feels a bit too inspired by our own. I don't want Dune levels of outlandishness, but certainly it could stand to have a dose of originality thrown into the drab Middle Eastern-meets-every-medieval-age-look-ever.

I think the changes that the show makes are smart, though played a little safe for television viewers. Some elements like Lady Stoneheart's absence makes sense, although I found her to be one of the very few promising new threads to come out of the later novels. An undead Stark, by all appearances a variation of the White Walkers, seeking vengeance for her fallen? Now that's a storyline I can get behind, even if it adds more bloat to the novels.

I want to get caught up on the show soon, but there's a lot of other good TV out there I'm trying to watch too. It's high on my list, though, so I hope it'll be sooner rather than later.

I think that about wraps things up. Have a happy Thanksgiving if you're from teh States, and even if you aren't, have a happy Thanksgiving anyways. Hey, it's an awesome holiday. You think about all the things you're grateful for and then promptly forget them as you expand your waistline several thousand inches. It's amazing! Thanks for reading.

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MGSV, Disgaea 5, and Tales from the Borderlands (spoilers!)

Heya folks! Here at the end of October, I've finished three fantastic games, and felt the need to blog about them. I think a lot of what I have to say about each requires that I discuss the story, so be warned - I will thoroughly discuss lots of content that won't shy away from endings or twists. You have been warned!

But first, let's get a little music going, shall we?

Disgaea 5

Stay! Please! Shit, there goes half my readership skipping ahead to MGSV. Fine. Fine!

I'm not here to sell you on Disgaea 5. It's a batshit crazy series for batshit crazy people with diminishing returns in every entry. That said though, I don't think the market has ever been stronger for this type of game, particularly as more and more people fall in love with big numbers games like Adventure Capitalist or the like.

Disgaea 5 boils down to two parts. The first is a pretty straightforward story, told in 15 "episodes" of five or so levels apiece. This is far and away Disgaea 5s weakest point. The Disgaea stories have always been about crazy anime demons fighting with each other and celestial beings for a chance at happiness and power. That doesn't change here. It's almost yawningly dull in comparison to the insanity of every Disgaea game to date, and fails to interest me in pretty much any way. There are two great wrestling themed characters modeled after Hulk Hogan and the Rock, but unfortunately only one of those has much to do with the story. Of course, given the way Hulk Hogan has completely let down the entire universe, it's probably not a bad thing that the character modeled on him only figures prominently in one tiny mission.

The big problem here is that the basic premise of demons and angels has become the writing equivalent of a dog vomiting, eating said vomit, vomiting again, and repeating the cycle for six games (including Disgaea D2). It's time to ditch the cliche of a powerful, aloof hero, the vapid female love interest, and the same old same old companion characters. It doesn't help much that the post-game characters, usually the most interesting parts of a Disgaea game, wind up being just as boring, with many of the best characters from prior games locked behind a steep $35 season pass. You read that right - $35 for characters from past games. It's nuts.

The other half of the game (I say half, but honestly, it's more like 90%) is the post-game content and Item World exploration. While the game's story ends with that fifteenth episode, there are a lot of smaller post-game missions to wrap up. These usually involve exploring some unfinished storylines or further expand upon characters who really didn't have a moment to shine, though in Disgaea 5 these seem to primarily involve villains from the story. It's a fascinating idea, but unfortunately, the villains' stories really aren't given enough time to be of much interest.

The Item World exploration though is as fantastic as it's ever been. They've tweaked the difficulty to make it much easier to do deep item exploration while throwing in some nasty surprises for people in the Mystery Rooms, which are areas that can help the player or lure them into a trap. Back to is Item Pirating, which doesn't have as much of an impact this time around. It's sort of disappointing to see some of the features from D2 disappear like that, including the beast riding. it's a small sacrifice to make though for what amounts to the best meta-game content in terms of gameplay the series has seen.

The game is easily accessible, about as equally so as D2 was. The game is generous about giving the player opportunities to increase stats from an earlier point in the game by breaking down captured enemies and turning them into permanent stat-boosting items that can, thankfully, be used anywhere, not just in combat like certain prior Disgaea games. The Cheat Shop, a cool feature added in Disgaea D2 that allows for easy tinkering with the game's difficulty and experience/money bonuses, makes a very early return.

Easily the best new adjustments to the game come from the Chara World and the Senate. The Chara World in Disgaea up until now has been a bit of a convoluted mess, with unclear goals. This game completely reworks that from the ground up, turning the Chara World into a board game not entirely dissimilar to something like Life. A single character has a certain number of turns to reach a goal line, and must roll the dice and move throughout a maze of sorts to reach that end. Along the way, each square the character lands on either benefits them or harms them, factoring in the amount of leveling and equipment. It's a great way to break up the sometime monotony of the Item World and the story, and I hope like hell it's a theme they expand upon in the future.

The Senate is a way for players to unlock special levels and other goodies in the game. Prior to D2 and the Cheat Shop, it was also the way to adjust the difficulty, leading to a lot of annoying time wasting. Thankfully, all of that is still relegated to the Cheat Shop, leaving the Senate for fun, fringe stuff not really necessary to the game but still fun to dick around with. Of particular note are the sub-classes, which allow powerful characters to quickly unlock all the various classes in the game without having to power level an entire party of characters. These also teach characters new evilties (permanent bonus-granting skills that can be swapped out), but I haven't really figured out how to do that yet. I'm not sure it's possible to do it with story-based characters, only created characters. Someone will correct me if I'm wrong, I'm sure.

Introduced too is a quest system, which gives some neat items and gold for completing goals ranging from the banal (bringing a very basic healing item to the quest store) to the grindy (up a character's attributes to 20,000, for example). It's a neat system and adds a bit of fun and flavor to the game. I'm curious how much more there is to it, though. Right now I'm at level 1300 with my main character and I'm not seeing a lot of new variety to the quests. More post-game quests would be a great addition, though this could also just be that I haven't reached the prerequisite levels to unlock some of the quests. I hope that's the case.

Anyways, yeah, I think Disgaea 5 could have been a great entry in the series. As it is, I think the gameplay is as strong as it's ever been, but the story and characters need to be reexamined and rebuilt from the ground up. Interestingly enough, that same sentiment applies to...

Metal Gear Solid V

Let's get this out of the way first - yes, MGSV is a pretty amazing game. You should definitely play it, even if you haven't liked prior games in the series or don't like stealth games at all. I don't, and I had a blast with it. The gameplay is solid, going full lethal is stupidly fun and do-able in most cases, and the few parts of the game where stealth is pretty much a necessity can usually be cheesed by smart players.

Now, let's get to what doesn't work. MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD.

Hideo Kojima leaving is the best thing that could've happened to Metal Gear, creatively speaking.

Yeah, you heard me right. Metal Gear's weakest points have always come from the dire need for someone to edit and hammer out Kojima's bizarre, dumb story excesses and constant retconning. Ocelot's triple-quadruple-super-double-secret backstabbing, Liquid Snake being revived via a fucking arm transplant, and the wildly unnecessary moments with women in the series are matched and then some in the lackluster story of MGSV.

The most egregious part of MGSV's story comes from the double Big Bosses bit. It's stupid and unnecessarily convoluted. All that needed to be done to portray Big Boss as a sympathetic villain was to expand upon the idea that he's a man doing what needs to be done for the sake of his organization and his men. Say, perhaps, by expanding upon the game's most horrifying moment when the Boss is force to walk through his quarantine zone, killing member after member of his crew simply because they were at risk of being infected. It's a terrific scene, the sort of thing that would clearly break just about anyone's mind, and could have easily been expanded upon to make Boss into the villain he needed to be for the events of the original Metal Gear.

Instead, the villainy of Big Boss is explained away by the convenient, poorly told excuse that there are actually two Big Bosses, created flawlessly from the doctor in the Ground Zeroes helicopter explosion. This isnever hinted at. It's never called into question whether or not this is THE Big Boss. The loyalties of Kaz or Ocelot are never called into question until after the tapes are played, giving them both dubious reasons to betray either Boss for the sons. It's convoluted storytelling at its absolute, most unnecessary worst.

It doesn't help matters much that the best elements of the game are reserved for fucking Bioshock style audio tapes. If you're a creative writer and you've ever been told "show, don't tell," stay the holy fuck away from those tapes and pretend the story of MGSV doesn't even exist, because it will piss you off to no end how much good crap is locked up behind a cavalcade of telling and not showing. Half this shit could have easily been done with conversations between the characters involved on trips to Mother Base, even without cutscenes. Just have the character sidle up and talk to Big Boss. Go ahead. No? OK, fuck it, let's dump it all on endless numbers of poorly organized tapes and let the player try to find time in between doing immportant tank fultoning to listen to them. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck that.

And fuck any game decision that yanks a companion character like Quiet out of the game and forever leaves her out. That's dumb fucking game design. If it's post-game, who gives a shit if it doesn't make any sense that she's dead? Give me some Kojima-ass reason she's back. A clone. He certainly seems to love those.

Anyways. MGSV is a great game regardless. It doesn't beat out Witcher 3 in my opinion, because Witcher 3 managed good gameplay and an astounding leap forward in video game storytelling. MGSV manages near flawless gameplay but good grief, that story rankles me.

Oh, hey, at least there's...

Tales from the Borderlands

Holy shit. Hoooooooooooly shit.

Yeah, I'm a little crazy about the music choices in this series. I'm a little crazy about everything in Tales from the Borderlands.

Along with the afore-mentioned advances posed by the Witcher 3, Tales from the Borderlands does wonders for the overall quality of video game storytelling. Every episode is chock full of great characters, interesting stakes, and moments that had me laughing one minute and subdued the next. Say what you will about Anthony Burch's writing in Borderlands 2 - this knocks it out of the park and I salute him and the rest of the writing crew for it. Gone are the stupid memes and references. In their place is a heartfelt story of greed and camaraderie.

The new characters are the highlight of the show. Aspiring Hyperion executive Rhys is played well by voice actor de jour Troy Baker, and makes for a fine bumbling companion to the more straight-faced con woman Fiona. Fiona in particular is written terrifically well. She's given a strong character arc, going from a fresh-faced con artist to budding Vault Hunter in training. I really hope she's made a permanent part of the Borderlands universe, along with Rhys (either as an NPC or as a fellow Vault Hunter with Fiona). Sasha plays a bit of a tough but sweet love interest, and makes a great companion to both Fiona and Rhys.

The biggest negative is the amount of Borderlands fan service. It's fitting, I guess, but it doesn't make it any less irritating when character shows up for five minutes to help out, then doesn't make another appearance until the very end. That said, though, some of the characters are given a bit more flesh, particularly Janey Springs, Scooter, and Athena, all of whom have mildly deeper character arcs than any of the other returning characters.

And in a shocking twist I hope is canon, Scooter is actually killed off in a suitably heroic fashion. The serious, dark turn was wildly unexpected and made for the series' biggest "holy shit" moment. There's no denying it was a smart move, even if his inclusion in the series was a bit of fan service.

The story, while great, also wound up ending with a fairly stupid moment involving a largely unnecessary deus ex machina. Sasha is gravely wounded, and lies apparently dying in her sister's and Rhys's arms in a touching, tender scene. It's well written, both funny and immensely sad (I was really attached to Fiona and Sasha by this point as I love a good sibling story). And then it's entirely shit upon when a gift from their mentor turns out to have magic healing powers and revives Sasha. It's a stupid turn of affairs that goes to show you that no matter how well written the game might be in comparison to other games, we still have a ways to go before game stories reach the level of movies, let alone novels.

But you know what? I'm not sure I wanted it to end badly. I wanted Sasha to live, just not with a watch hovering above her chest and magically fixing broken bones and internal bleeding. I wanted Tales to end happily, as it did. I wanted it to end with questions and hopes for the future. It did. I know Gearbox's attention is fully on Battleborn at the moment and that Telltale is committed to whatever three hundred projects they have going on, but I sure hope it isn't too long before we see a return of Tales from the Borderlands' characters, either in Borderlands 3 or more Tales from the Borderlands.

And that does it for me, folks. Have a great Halloween.

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Backlogtoberganza has defeated me

Heya folks! Just a quick blog entry today. I think it's time to admit maybe this month wasn't the best time of the year to attempt a backlog clearing blog series. I've been doing nothing but playing Disgaea 5 and MGS this past week, aside from a few more hours in Dragon Quest V, and I just don't see that changing much. I'd like to be able to devote the time each game in the backlog deserves (or doesn't deserve), and I feel like with stuff like The Unfinished Swan, my desire tosee the game through is ruining what entertainment the game has to offer.

So I'm going to shelve the idea for now. If I'm hit by the bug later this month, I might play through an adventure game or two, but we'll see.

Good luck to fellow blogger Dan Kempster, who got me started on this, as well as anyone else out there trying to clear out their backlog.

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Backlogtoberganza - Unfinished Swan, Super Meat Boy, Disgaea 5, Costume Quest 2

Heya folks, and welcome once again to another award-winning Backlogtoberganza, wherein I play a lot of the games in my back catalog and pretend like I'm not trying desperately to get back to Disgaea 5 or Metal Gear Solid 5.

We've got an interesting batch of games this week to cover, running the gamut from RPG-for-babies to storybook snoozer to hardcore masochistic platforming. And then there's Disgaea 5, glorious Disgaea 5, which deserves a blog entry of its own. Or ten. Hm. Foreshadowing, people!

I should also mention I've been playing a little bit more of Elder Scrolls Online with buddies and a fair bit of Metal Gear Solid V, which continues to be a blast. I did have to finally use the chicken hat, due to some checkpoint tomfoolery that left me protecting assets in the middle of a firefight waiting to happen. To be honest, I don't particularly care, as I knew it would probably happen eventually. I've already been liberal with calling in my helicopter for air support, because raining death upon my enemies is nothing short of badass.

I do have some very minor niggling issues with that game, but man, is it good. I'm simply not a good enough gamer to 100% it, but I do plan on going back through every mission and trying to complete as many goals as possible along with a few S-Ranks. We'll see how that goes.

Ok, let's get on with the recapping. DJ, play my jam!

Super Meat Boy

Hard games aren't my thing. Next.

Oh, you want details of my misery? Fine. Fine!

Look, I'm kind of terrible at video games. I play a lot of them, but honestly, if it doesn't have some sort of awesome leveling system or ways I can just brute force myself past hard parts, I'm pretty well done. Sure, I like hardcore games like Disgaea 5, but those are simply dense games, not hard. Even Metal Gear Solid usually affords me enough opportunities to cheese the systems in play to work to my particular ineptness.

I shouldn't have even bothered with Super Meat Boy. I didn't buy it on the 360 because of the steep difficulty, and only picked it up on PS4 because it was free with PSN. It was one of the bigger gaps of my indie game collection, and I thought I'd give it a go. Like I suspected, this game isn't for me.

Let me be clear - my problems with Super Meat Boy are my own faults, not those of the developers. The game controls pretty well, as has been said by roughly 90% of the gaming population before. The soundtrack - while not the original - has some awesome tracks. The whole thing is blazing fast, with instantaneous restarts and the like. It's a very solid game.

That said, I reached my limit very early with Super Meat Boy. There's a difference between a game offering relief and joy. For me, SMB only offered the former and none of the latter. Every map I beat led to me dreading the start of the next even more. The game doesn't hate players, it just hates bad ones. And I'm a bad one.

Completed? No. Not even through the first forest area. I barely scratched this one's surface.

Time Spent - An hour, maybe a little more than that.

Percentage finished - Enough.

Play Again? Unfortunately, no. I do plan on looking up some later levels on Youtube out of morbid curiosity.

Unfinished Swan

I'm not sure I feel anything but mild irritation with the Unfinished Swan. It's not a bad little idea - a boy makes his way through a nearly abandoned world, learning of its king and his obsession with monochrome aesthetics. As the boy travels, he finds his path by throwing out globs of paint, highlighting the world in stark contrasts (and sometimes shades) of colors. Neat premise, right?

The only problem is, it lacks the sort of story-telling depth or charm that a game like this needs. Much like the other walkie talkie I played this year - Everybody's Gone to the Rapture - there are tons of neat ideas lined up but the execution is lacking. The story swings wildly in tone, sometimes aiming for a dreamy storybook quality while then dipping down to talk about sewers. In something like Fable 2, this mostly works because of the scope of the game world. Here, the switches in tone and storytelling quality happen so rapidly that it leaves me wondering what the storyboarding process must have looked like, if there was one.

The gameplay is definitely far more intriguing than something as straightforward as Rapture or Dear Esther, though not by much. The painting mechanic is clearly the game's highlight, but there aren't enough variations on the idea to keep me interested for long and some of it gets very tiresome. I never want to grow vines with paint again.

Overall, this is a tough one to recommend, but it's certainly quirky enough to say that a purchase might not be a bad thing. It approaches beautiful, gives it a few furtive looks, and then runs away to make implied poop jokes with its buddies. It's a weird one.

Completed? Almost. I think I just started the last area.

Time Spent - About two hours.

Percentage Finished - 75% or so.

Play Again? Yeah. I'll probably finish this one off in the next week or so. I've blown through the rest of the game and I'm just curious enough to finish it, though I doubt I'll bother with some of the trophies.

Costume Quest 2

I've talked before about my disappointment with the gameplay of most every Double Fine games on this site before. It's a common theme for me - I love the heart and charm of their projects, but I've always found the gameplay to be shallower than a mud puddle. It seems like they're constantly held down by a design philosophy of making games targeted at people new to genres or games in general, which is a shame because anyone following the Tim Schafer name is going to be aware of games on a much more intimate level. Broken Age is a diet adventure game. Massive Chalice was turn-based tactical gaming missing almost all the guts and longevity that would attract any sort of gamer interested in the genre. Trenched is tower defense, which in itself is a pretty basic genre.

Costume Quest was problematic for me for all those reasons, not to mention that the fonts were fucking ridiculously small, to the point where I thought I'd set up something the wrong way. Thankfully, with the PS4's zoom feature, this became a non-issue and I picked up the sequel when it came up on sale.

Unfortunately, the zoom feature can't fix the boring combat mechanics and the non-existent RPG backbone. Apart from picking costumes to wear for each character, there's absolutely no depth to any of it. Fights are extremely protracted and tedious affairs, even after you learn the combo ability, and there's a dire lack of depth to literally everything in the game. At no point in this series do I think anyone on board actually said out loud, "Are these the mechanics that draw in RPG fans?" Combat is a button timing mini-game. Sounds great, until you get stuck in a snore-inducing five minute battle with basic creatures that you've seen a dozen times before with almost no options as to how to differentiate up your moves or attacks.

It doesn't help that the story lacks the charm of the original. It's still a cute game, but having been released four years after the original, it's hard to see where, if any, improvements were made. I can't recommend it to anyone. With the glut of RPGs we're seeing on new consoles, there's just not much point to playing something as spineless as this.

Completed? No.

Time Spent - About three hours, almost an hour and a half of which was needlessly boring combat.

Percentage Finished - No idea. Feels like I've got infinity left and infinity behind me.

Play Again - No. There are just too many better options out there.

Disgaea 5 and the State of RPGs on the PS4

Disgaea 5 marks the beginning of a fascinating month for RPGs on the PS4. Take a look at this list:

Disgaea 5 - Oct. 5th

Wasteland 2 - Oct. 11th

Tales of Zestiria - Oct. 18th

Divinity: Original Sin - Oct. 25th

Fallout 4 - Nov. 10th

Apart from the short gap between the 25th and the 10th, that's a solid month of RPG releases each and every week. And we're not talking bizarre little mini-RPGs like Citizens of Earth (which, by the way, you should definitely play if you liked Suikoden). It's also ignoring the release of the PS1 version of Final Fantasy VII, which is in itself certainly one of the greats.

I cannot remember a month more loaded for RPGs on one particular console. Maybe RPGs on the PC have had a similar month, but I've been thinking about this for weeks now and I can't come up with a period of time quite like it. True, Wasteland 2 and Divinity are rereleases, but they're still new to consoles and that's an amazing feat considering the complete lack of PC-ass RPGs on the last batch of consoles.

Between the stellar MGSV, the great Disgaea, and the upcoming Fallout, there's simply no way I can get to all those RPGs anytime in the foreseeable future. But all of those seem like no-brainer purchases unless something goes completely wrong with the launches. I look forward to some sales and seeing what the PC RPGs look like on the PS4. Can't wait.

Tales of Zestiria looks like a bit of a wild card at the moment. I'm not sure I like the art style - ok, so I'm very sure I don't like the art style after having loved Xillia and Vesperia's (and to a certain extent that rerelease of Abyss on the 3DS). But the gameplay looks solid and with the eception of Abyss, I can't recall a single Tales game I've actively disliked. Even Graces f, with all its flaws, was at its core a very good RPG. I hope Zestiria falls firmly in the league of its brethren Symphony, Xillia, and Vesperia, but time will tell.

As for Disgaea 5, I figure I'm about halfway through the story. To people unfamiliar with the depth of the gameplay, this means - and I kid you not - that I'm only about two percent of the way done with the whole game. Maybe even less than that. So far, the characters haven't grabbed me like 4, but there's a ton of smart gameplay additions that more than make up for the lack of personality. This still hasn't seen the updated roster graphics I'd like (you're still essentially seeing tiny variations on character models dating back as far as the original), but they've upgraded a lot of the menus and general appearances of the game. The menus are delightfully streamlined and understandable this go around. They've ditched the bizarre two bag system in favor of just one, character portraits and skills are now in a bigger, more legible font and neatly laid out, and there's a general sense that everything is just cleaner and easier to navigate. Thankfully, they've expanded upon the ease of use introduced in Disgaea D2 with its cheat shop by reusing that idea along with a few other minor tweaks to help get the player into the meta-game.

It helps too that they've made a lot of that meta-game much more accessible and rewarding. Almost right off the bat, you can start assigning characters to squads with easily understandable roles and bonuses, which was a friggin' chore in Disgaea 3 and 4. Capturing enemies and interrogating them actually serves a suitable purpose now, as you can boost your squads' powers with the essences of captured troops, or distill them into permanent stat-boosting items, super handy for getting new characters up and rolling even faster.

It's the least tooth-gnashingly obtuse game of the series, but that's not to say it isn't still very much Disgaea. If you can tolerate batshit crazy storylines and severe cases of Japanese-ness, and you love watching numbers tick upward or really, really deep tactical RPG combat with loads of depth, this might be the game for you. But if you're sane and recognize that all of those things are for crazy people, steer clear at all costs.

I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that this will suck another two hundred hours of my life. Yay?

Thanks for reading, folks. What are the big holiday season releases you're looking forward to the most?

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