The Backlogbook - Week One

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Hey there folks, and welcome to a new blog initiative I'm starting up here on Giant Bomb. Apparently one roughly-weekly serial blogging project isn't taxing enough for my diminished writing schedule, and in a positively @Mento-esque maneouvre, I've taken on a second regular write-up that I've decided to dub 'the Backlogbook'. It's intended to be a fairly short weekly breakdown of what's been going on in my life games-wise. I'll be trying to put these up on Saturdays from now on (so consider this a delayed entry that should have gone up on the 7th). There are two main planned sections for the Backlogbook:

  • A 'What I've Been Playing This Week' section, focusing on (you guessed it) what I've been playing in the preceding week. These won't be lengthy review-style editorials, just some progress updates and scattered thoughts about the games in question.
  • A 'Cutting My Ties' section, highlighting two games that I've accepted I will never play, and decided to scratch off my backlog. Again, these won't be protracted entries, just some brief reasonings for why I'm parting ways with these games.

There are two main reasons for me starting the Backlogbook. First and foremost, I have an unhealthily large Pile of Shame at this point. So large in fact, that it's outgrown its old home here on Giant Bomb's list feature, and has had to be re-homed over at the Backloggery. As of this writing, it's reached a towering 344 games across 25 platforms. I think we can all agree that figure is simply too damn high, and it needs to come down a lot before I can even think about considering it manageable.

I have a rough plan for 2017 as far as gaming goes. I'd like to try and beat an average of three games per calendar month. Achieving this would put my total number of games beaten for the year at thirty-six, making 2017 my most successful year on record for actually completing games. On top of this, shedding two games a week by just accepting I'll never play them and taking them off my backlog would further reduce the total figure by a whopping 104 titles by the end of the year. Put those figures together, and you're looking at 140 games removed from my Pile of Shame by the end of this year. That figure won't be a net loss, as I expect I will continue to acquire games over the course of 2017, albeit at a reduced rate, as I've imposed a limit on the number of games I'm allowed to buy this year. Even so, that's set to be a huge dent in the backlog, and one that I can hopefully build upon going into 2018 and beyond.

Since I want to try and keep these things reasonably short, I think that's enough preamble. Let's get stuck into the first main section.

What I've Been Playing This Week

...I'll try and come up with some slightly pithier titles for these sections before the next instalment, I promise.

Since 2017 I've been splitting my game time across three titles. The first of these, as you'll no doubt be aware, is Pokémon Sun, in which I'm currently attempting a blind Nuzlocke run accompanied by a blog series chronicling my progress. Since that endeavour has its own dedicated blogs, I won't be giving it any airtime in the Backlogbook. Instead, I'll be focusing on the other two games that have been holding my attention this past week - the 90s JRPG Grandia, and the colourful collect-a-thon that is LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga.

Grandia

Time to tick another classic PS1 JRPG off my list
Time to tick another classic PS1 JRPG off my list

I've put about twelve hours into Grandia since starting it on New Year's Day, and I'm still not entirely sure whether I like it or not. In that respect (as well as in some others) it's comparable to the time I spent with Wild ARMs last year. Much like its Western-themed counterpart, Grandia is proving to be a very slow burn, with occasional flickers of greatness punctuating what has thus far been an enjoyable but largely unremarkable experience.

Where Grandia's early hours really shine is in its combat system, which is handy because that's where I seem to be spending a lot of my game time. The battles themselves are pretty standard turn-based affairs on the surface, but there's a lot of depth to the combat mechanics. By timing attacks effectively, for example, you can push back the enemies' turns such that they seldom (or perhaps even never) get a chance to attack you. Or by hitting a 'charging' enemy with a critical attack, it's possible to cancel their queued actions altogether. There's a really satisfying flow to the combat, particularly when things are going in your favour, that makes the system a joy to mess around with. The fact that character development is linked to skill usage also encourages experimentation in battle - since skills and magic spells level up with use, you'll want to make sure you're making even use of all the abilities open to you. My only reservation is the fact that SP (the currency for using non-magical battle skills) doesn't recharge quite as quickly as I'd like it to, but so far that hasn't stopped me from V-Slashing my way through every slime, bat or spider that crosses my path.

Maybe it's the PSP, but this screenshot looks a lot cleaner than the game has been in motion for me
Maybe it's the PSP, but this screenshot looks a lot cleaner than the game has been in motion for me

It's a shame I can't heap that same praise upon any other aspect of it yet. My biggest gripe with the game is its exploration portions, which utilise 2D sprites on ugly 3D backdrops that I'm finding rather difficult to navigate and orientate myself within. This issue is most pronounced in towns and the more 'open-plan' dungeon areas like mountains and fields, where the environments aren't quite as defined or linear as the more conventional ruins-type dungeons. Even the (probably pioneering for its time) compass in the top-right corner hasn't been much help, since it vaguely points in the direction of your objective without actually telling you how to get there. Beyond that major problem, the list of quibbles boils down to standard generic JRPG fare. It isn't much to write home about visually (although it may look better when not restricted to the small PSP screen I'm playing it on), the story and characters are pretty cookie-cutter and haven't hooked me yet, and the English voicework is painful (though blessedly infrequent).

I'll definitely be sticking with Grandia through this week, and probably through the rest of this month, if the pacing of the game up to this point and its projected fifty-hour play time are anything to go by. Hopefully by Saturday things will have started to pick up, and I'll have some more favourable things to say about the characters and story.

LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga

If the Pokémon games reignited my love of collecting stuff, then LEGO Star Wars has continued to fan the flames
If the Pokémon games reignited my love of collecting stuff, then LEGO Star Wars has continued to fan the flames

By all accounts, LEGO Star Wars probably shouldn't be featured in this blog. I beat it last year, wrapping up its final Story Mode levels in early December. The reason I haven't yet shelved this game in favour of something new and unbeaten lies in its ability to unlock a compulsion in me that I haven't felt in a very long time. I am, of course, talking about that coveted gaming milestone of 100% completion. It's something that used to be a bigger deal when I was a kid, when games were scarcer and I was much more determined to wring every conceivable piece of content out of a title. These days I have more games to play than I know what to do with (hence the existence of this feature), making it difficult to justify investing the amount of time required to reach 100%.

But there's just something about LEGO Star Wars that's perfectly geared towards satisfying my inner nine-year-old, something I can't quite put my finger on. I don't think it's the Star Wars tie-in, nor do I reckon it's the broader LEGO game formula - I have previous experience in the form of LEGO The Lord of the Rings, a franchise I'm much more invested in than Star Wars, and nothing about that game compelled me to keep the percentage counter ticking up quite like this one does. Maybe it's simply because there's so damn much to do. Between Story Mode, Free Play, Super Story, earning True Jedi status, finding the elusive Red Bricks and all the white and blue mini-kits, you have to traverse each of LEGO Star Wars' thirty-six levels at least four times each to collect everything. That's a metric fuck-ton of replayability right there. And that's before you even take a look at the Achievement list, many of which have you taking on the series' boss battles in more interesting (and often paradoxical) circumstances. As a kid, this level of content in a single game would have been a dream come true.

One lesson I've learned from LEGO Star Wars - if all else fails, Thermal Detonators are your friend
One lesson I've learned from LEGO Star Wars - if all else fails, Thermal Detonators are your friend

Whatever it is that keeps me coming back to LEGO Star Wars, there's comparatively not a whole lot left of it. After a weekend run on white mini-kits and Red Bricks in the prequel trilogy levels, my total completion percentage currently stands at 80.4%. I've amassed 134 of the 160 Gold Bricks available, most of which are tied to the aforementioned mini-kits. I also have the vast majority of levels to complete in Challenge Mode, easily my least favourite game mode since it strips out all the fun experimentation and forces you to hunt for hidden objects against a time limit. Since I can currently only play at weekends, my plan is to try and crank up that percentage by six or seven percent each weekend. This should bring me to 100% completion towards the end of this month, allowing me to finally lay LEGO Star Wars to rest and move on to something else, like... I don't know... LEGO Harry Potter, maybe?

Cutting My Ties

Now for the second part of this new blog initiative - the bit where I regrettably part ways with a pair of games on my Pile of Shame that, deep down, I know I'll never find the time or the energy to play. This is something that historically I've always had trouble doing, I think primarily because it's natural to have a sense of attachment to an item you've paid money for, even if that item is a middling indie game that came with a Steam bundle, or that money is less than the cost of a McDonald's Happy Meal. I'm not sure if I'll approach this thematically in future, treading along genre or platform lines. For this inaugural instalment, I presented my girlfriend Alice with a shortlist and asked her to pick two titles. The results are below, starting with:

Gish

No Caption Provided

I've owned Gish on Steam since November 2010, when I picked it up as part of one of those aforementioned indie bundles that are the bane of every backlogger's existence. Since then I've installed it a bunch of times, dabbled with it, and uninstalled it again. I even featured it almost exactly three years ago in a short-lived feature titled 'Letting Off Some Steam', where I spent around half an hour with it and wasn't very taken with its unique approach to puzzle platforming and character control. It seems like an interesting little game, but one I'm not going to lose sleep over by missing out on it. Good night, Gish.

Populous: The Beginning

No Caption Provided

The second game to go this week is Populous: The Beginning, a god-sim-meets-strategy game from Bullfrog (the developers behind Theme Park and Theme Hospital). This quirky title has been in my collection in various forms since the late nineties, first as a physical disc for the original PlayStation, then as a PSone Classic for PS3 and PSP through the PlayStation Store. I found it fascinating as a nine-year-old kid, but I doubt it's aged well enough for a strategy game novice like me to properly get to grips with it in 2017. Sorry Shaman.

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That's going to do it for this first week of the Backlogbook. Join me on Saturday for some further thoughts on Grandia, an update on my quest for 100% in Lego Star Wars, and two more never-to-be-played games will be given the chop. Thanks very much for reading duders. Take it easy, and I'll see you around.

Daniel

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Currently playing - Grandia (PS1C)

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