New Name, Same Old Blog

Hey there folks. It's been a while, hasn't it? I hope you're all keeping well, and have been playing tons of those awesome video game things. In case you hadn't worked it out yet, it's me, The Artist Formerly Known As 'dankempster', back from the dead and ready to blog once more. The name change is a minor one and it doesn't signify a change of style or approach, it's more an attempt to breathe some fresh life into this account, as well as unifying my online presence with some of my other accounts. Time will tell whether it works, but for now at least, it's a joy to be returning to the Giant Bomb blogosphere. It's been a long time since my last post (over seven months, to be precise), a lot has happened, and I have a lot to talk about. I also have a ridiculous amount of content to catch up on, from staff and users alike (apparently @zombiepie played Final Fantasy VII? I've got to get in on that).

So what's new with me? Thanks for asking, reader! There have been a few personal developments away from the controller for me this year, some good and some not so good. Definitely the hardest has been coming to terms with the loss of both my grandfathers - my mum's father passed away back in February, and my grandad on my dad's side left us in August. I've always been close with my grandparents, so it's been tough adjusting to life without them, particularly on my mum's side as we try to support my surviving grandmother in his absence.

Giant Bomb, meet Alice
Giant Bomb, meet Alice

The other big development in my life is a much happier one. Back in February I met a woman named Alice through a mutual friend. We hit it off straight away thanks to our shared interests in music and creative passions. In April, we agreed to give things a shot and now, six months later, we're still together and couldn't be happier. In fact, Monday marked our six-month-iversary. It's an incredibly big deal for me to be in this situation, as after the tumultuous breakdown of my last relationship almost five years ago, I'd all but given up hope on finding love again. She's an amazing woman and I can't believe how lucky I am to know her and be with her.

Beyond those developments, my life is much the same as it was before. I'm still working in the health service at a local doctors' practice, doing pretty crippling hours due to staff shortages and extra responsibilities. When I'm not there I'm splitting my time between my family, Alice, and my big passions of writing and music. On the writing front, I'm close to finishing work on the first draft of my first novel, The Hawker. It's been slow going these last few months, finding the time and the motivation to write, but I'm hoping that I'll have a finished first draft completed by the end of the year. Music-wise I'm wrapping up work on the music and lyrics for my second album, Midnight Son, and I'm hoping to get the first bits of recording done when I have a week off work next month. In addition to this, I've also taken over the captaincy of my local darts team, which brings even more responsibilities to worry about.

Things have been so hectic in my personal life that I've had very little time to devote to the passion that keeps us all coming back to Giant Bomb - video games. It's just been difficult to find the time to sit down with anything in between all my other commitments and pursuits. So far this year I've only managed to beat a paltry eight games, at an embarrassing rate of less than one title a month. It's definitely been my least active year for gaming since joining Giant Bomb way back in 2008, but that's not to say it's been completely devoid of action... or adventure... or role playing. Join me as I dig a little deeper into what I've been playing over the last six months.

The Pile of Shame

Them's a lot of games right there
Them's a lot of games right there

Regular readers of my blog posts will be familiar with my Pile of Shame, the name given to the metaphorical mountain of unfinished games that inhabit my collection. For several years, that Pile has been documented in list form here on Giant Bomb. However, a couple of months ago I made the very difficult decision to migrate my list over to the Backloggery. Giant Bomb's list feature just isn't flexible enough to suit my needs these days, unfortunately. It was a pretty laborious process rebuilding the Pile essentially from scratch, and the result is a list that's almost twice as long as my old one. It's going to require a lot of whittling down, but I feel like the end result will ultimately be worth it, as it'll give me a list that's eminently more searchable and customisable in the long run. Will it help me finish more games? I guess time will tell. Sadly I'm not embarking on a 'Backlogtober' effort this year due to everything else being so on top of me, but I think there's definitely plenty of scope to get that Unbeaten number down below 300 before the year is out.

Jak II HD

From one PS2-era platforming mascot duo...
From one PS2-era platforming mascot duo...

While waiting for this year's Ratchet & Clank remake to launch (more on that in a bit), I decided to prepare myself for a bit of old-school PS2-era character action by revisiting Jak II: Renegade, this time via the slightly shinier and slicker HD version released as part of the Jak & Daxter HD trilogy on PS3. I loved Jak II way back when it originally came out in 2003... Wait, did this really come out half my life ago? Dang, I'm gettin' old. Anywho, the point I'm trying to get at is, I don't think time has been as kind to Jak II as it's been to its purer platforming predecessor, or its mechanically refined sequel. Viewed with more cynical eyes, Jak II clearly borrows more from the trend-setting PS2-era Grand Theft Auto games than it ever really needed to, and with the exception of some tedious treasure hunting and street races, it does very little to justify its shoehorned-in open-world trappings. It's also incredibly difficult, reducing this usually calm player to bouts of controller-endangering frustration on more than one occasion. Having said that, it's still mechanically sound and the core platforming and combat are fun to engage with. It's also gorgeous, especially in high definition, and when it isn't trying painfully hard to be dark and edgy, it's still pretty damn funny and charming. In retrospect it's a tough one to recommend to others who don't have history with the franchise, but I'm glad I returned to Jak II.

Ratchet & Clank

...to another
...to another

I managed to beat Jak II just in time for Ratchet & Clank's release and immediately swapped one of Sony's early-noughties mascots for the other. As someone who has a special degree of affection for the original Ratchet & Clank, I was very impressed to see just how faithful Insomniac managed to remain to that game while still succeeding in turning this re-imagining into its own thing. It hits a lot of the source material's most memorable beats in its first half, then backs those up with a whole lot of awesome new content through its back end. The arsenal of weaponry draws on the best parts of the entire franchise, which is an inspired move, although long-time fans of the series will no doubt have their own individual disappointments by omission (mine being the Suck Cannon). Furthermore, the game is abso-Blargin'-lutely gorgeous in a way that I don't think any other game has ever pulled off. Seriously, I expect to see this thing mentioned in some graphical categories come Game of the Year time. If I had to list one disappointment, it would be the game's length, which runs to about half the time of its PS2 inspiration. I didn't have a whole heap of time to devote to Ratchet & Clank, but I was still able to beat the game, dive back in for Challenge Mode, and walk away with all but a handful of its Trophies in just over two weeks. Even with this major shortcoming though, if this is what the future holds for the Lombax and robot, then sign me up for their next adventure now.

...oh, and on a side note, I also saw the film. It's solid, but nothing special. Fans of the games will find a lot to like in there, but there are a ton of other much better kids' films to see over this one.

Dragon Quest

It's simple, but I enjoyed it nonetheless
It's simple, but I enjoyed it nonetheless

After Ratchet & Clank was done with, I hit a bit of a gaming drought. A combination of lack of time and lack of motivation left me unable to devote any great length of time to sitting at a screen for a good couple of months. I dipped in and out of Pokémon Omega Ruby to train up some more critters and further expand my Pokédex, and I started a very on-and-off relationship with Wild ARMs (more on that later), Ultimately though, it was Dragon Quest that brought the rains and ended my dry spell. Back in July I got a new phone with an Android operating system, and was pleasantly surprised to find almost the entire Dragon Quest franchise up for sale on the Google Play store. I picked up DQs I through VI at the start of August, and within a few days was taking my first tentative steps through the very first game in the series. It took a few weeks, but I eventually made it to the Dragonlord's lair, took him down, and restored peace to the kingdom.

The original Dragon Quest is an oddity to play thirty years on from its original release. Even by the series' conservative standards, it's incredibly basic - fights are never more than one-on-one, there are only a handful of skills and spells, and the gameworld is small and sparsely populated. But, in spite of all this, I got a real buzz from playing it. Right from the start there's a distinct lack of direction, something that usually puts me off in games like this, but in Dragon Quest it just felt right. It brought a real sense of exploration and discovery to my time with the game, as I gradually grew stronger and was able to safely wander further and further from the starting town. It made every new discovery that much more meaningful, and every new conquest that much more satisfying. I'm not saying Dragon Quest is a great game, because to be honest I'm not even sure it's a good one. It's very grind-heavy, very simplistic, and often very obtuse. But for all these flaws, it was the right game for me, the game I needed at this point in time to remind me why I fell in love with this medium in the first place. I know Dragon Quest II and its other sequels won't be like this, and to be honest that makes me feel reluctant to dive into another DQ game right now. I just know that I'll be savouring this experience for a while to come.

Gone Home

You never know what's around the next corner, but there's a pretty good chance you can pick it up, move it around, and read everything wtitten on it
You never know what's around the next corner, but there's a pretty good chance you can pick it up, move it around, and read everything wtitten on it

From a game that took me a few weeks of short-burst play sessions to complete, to a game I finished in a single sitting one afternoon. Gone Home was one of the free games with PlayStation Plus recently, and I decided to fire it up one rainy weekend and check out what it had to offer. My experience with interactive narratives like this is pretty limited, with Dear Esther being the only other one I'd played before this, but I found a lot to like in Gone Home's approach to storytelling. Much like Dragon Quest, it fulfilled a need for exploration and discovery, encouraging the player to pick up and manipulate objects to reveal new clues, and rewarding them with morsels of story in the form of BioShock-style audio logs. The old mansion is a perfect environment for exploration, with its secret panels and hidden passages. It took me a while to see where the story was going, but I found the conclusion satisfying without being too neat and clean-cut. Gone Home ended up being the perfect game for a rainy afternoon. If interactive narratives are your thing then you've probably already played this, but if for some reason you haven't then I recommend it without reservation.

Wild ARMs

It's hardly genre-defining, but Wild ARMs is still pretty fun
It's hardly genre-defining, but Wild ARMs is still pretty fun

Wild ARMs took me almost four months of on-and-off gameplay to beat. That's not an indictment of its quality as a game, more just a by-product of the circumstances I found myself in as I played it. Much like Dragon Quest, it's a traditional Japanese RPG that encourages exploration and revels in turn-based combat mechanics. It also has a pretty damn cool pseudo-Western aesthetic that sets it apart from the rest of the crowd in a way that, unfortunately, its mechanics never really do. I wasn't even sure if I liked Wild ARMs until I was about halfway through my thirty-hour adventure on the planet of Filgaia, purely because so much of its structure is so unremarkable. Thankfully the game really opens up in its second half, forcing the player to explore the gameworld and speak with its inhabitants in order to deduce where the story is heading next. It's not particularly challenging (I came up against two Game Over screens in all of the time I spent with it), and there's not a great deal of depth to the combat, but the solid mechanics and charming aesthetic were enough to persuade me to see it through to the end. I'm not sure if I'd be willing to make a return trip to Filgaia for a sequel (although Wild ARMs 3 is now available on the PlayStation Store as a PS2 Classic for PS4), but I'm glad to finally tick this one off my embarrassingly long list of popular JRPGs I really should have played by now. Next up? Geez, I don't know... Suikoden, maybe?

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I think that covers just about everything, game-related and otherwise. Right now I'm not really playing anything seriously. I'm kind of biding my time waiting for Pokémon Sun and Moon to launch next month, and keeping myself occupied with low-intensity games like Animal Crossing: New Leaf in the meantime. That being said, I'm always open to recommendations, so if you see anything listed on my Backloggery that you think I should proritise, just hit me up with a comment below or a direct message. It's been really cathartic getting back into the blogging mindset, and I promise it won't be seven months before I get around to writing another one of these. Thanks very much for reading guys, Take care, and I'll see you around.

Daniel

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Currently playing - Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS)

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