Coming around on Castlevania: LoS

I've gone back and forth on the new 'Vania game. I'm not the type of person who's upset because it's not a 2D game, or that it was made by a Western team. I love SotN, but that formula has worn a little thin. I'd pick up a new HD side scrolling 'Vania if one came out, but I'm in no hurry to pick up the iterative DS sequels that Konami keeps shitting out. That said, I wasn't a huge fan of Lords of Shadow when I first started playing it. It's pretty and it has some good ideas, but it just didn't click. The game doesn't do a great job of showing you how it wants you to use their combat mechanics, which is especially frustrating in the early game when you haven't found many collectibles and your life bar is tiny. Plus, the game sometimes chugs, which does not help at all when you're struggling with a boss. 
But then the game started to click for me. The land of the vampires is far, far more interesting than that of the lycans. There's absolutely gorgeous gothic castles that you're shown in these sweeping establishing shots, and run down, Germanic looking villages that you creep through in the middle of a blizzard. It's beautiful and subtly creepy, and it just feels right. Castlevania isn't a series about jungle ruins. It's about exploring dark and dusty castles with grotesque monsters around every corner. 
Once I bought more combos, the combat clicked as well. It reminds me more of Devil May Cry or something similar than God of War. At the default difficulty in GoW, you can button mash and generally do okay. Here, there's a constant back and forth with you balancing your damage (shadow magic) with healing (light magic), while trying to mix up your moves so as to get focus to keep your magic up. It can be punishing, especially in the early game when you don't have many moves and it's hard to keep focus. Now that I've got a handle on what's going on though, I'm feeling much better about it. 
So the game is flawed, but I'd still recommend it. It's a shame that it's such a slow burn, because I have a feeling that it's going to turn a lot of people off initially. It's a long game, almost shockingly so, and it seems like they reward people who stick with it with the best of their art. It's absolutely stunning, and should have been in the beginning of the game. 
Also, fuck those platforming sections. Seriously, what the hell. I just finished the clockwork tower, which is great for it's 'Vania flavor, but jesus christ guys. Your character has a fair amount of inertia and weight when he moves, but you're going to make me jump from tiny moving platform to tiny moving platform with garbage camera angles? Ugh.  
What a weirdly inconsistent game.


Some thoughts, ten hours into FFXIII...

So I originally wasn't planning to buy FFXIII. I haven't found a JRPG that I've really enjoyed since the PS2 with the notable exception of Lost Odyssey, although I didn't finish that even. I had kind of come to the conclusion that I was tired of that type of gameplay, that it hadn't aged well. But then I started thinking about my history with the series overall, and how back in middle and high school how crazy awesome those games seemed, especially VII and VIII. They tried to tell a story and present it in a compelling way, something few other games on consoles even attempted, much less had any success with. But for me at least, the formula and tropes grew stale, which is perhaps why I enjoyed the portions of XII that I played. So if nothing else, I decided that I should buy FFXIII if only to reward their attempts to do something different. 
That said, while I clearly am finding something rewarding about the experience or I would have stopped long ago, I have some major issues with the game thus far. 
1. The Opening 
Like pretty much everyone else, I had heard that the beginning of the game is incredibly linear and boring. And holy hell, is it. There is probably about two hours where you do nothing but run forward until you run into an enemy, who you easily dispatch by hitting the autobattle button over and over again, without getting any experience or rewards at all. If you're lucky, you'll run into a cutscene instead, although this is only marginally more compelling than that tutorial combat. Which brings me to point two... 
2. The Writing 
I was into anime in a big way in middle school, hand in hand with my interest in the FF games. In hindsight, however, the writing in most anime and in the FF games are complete and utter trash. The dialog is stilted, and for the most part I find the characters completely unrelatable. Some people have suggested that perhaps this is due to cultural differences, that it was originally written with Japanese idioms and speech patterns, and as such I kind of choke on it. But I compare it to the writings of someone like Haruki Murakami, an author whose works I enjoy immensely despite any cultural differences, and I find it sorely lacking. In real life, people don't earnestly say things like "Commencing operation NORA" to no one in particular, or drone on incessently about how they're going to be a hero. This is a cheap, dumb way attempting to let the audience get to know the characters by telling and not showing. 
3. Vanille in General 
This girl is seriously almost ruining Australian accents for me. I didn't even know this was possible. It's so terrible, I volunteered to use headphones so as not to subject my roommate to her VO or the terrible writing that comes with it. Ugh.  
4. The Port Job 
I am playing on a 360. We have a PS3 in the house, but it's my roommates I'd rather have a copy that I know I'll be able to play after we move on without me having to buy a PS3 (which I'll get around to eventually). While the in game stuff looks fine and I probably wouldn't be able to really tell the resolution difference, the compression is uglier than hell. It's really bumming me out, because the artifacting is horrible. Every time there's a unified texture, like on a cliff wall, and it moves.... I can almost hear SE cackling right after Microsoft's check cashed. 
That said, there are a few things that I'm really enjoying about the game, also in convenient list form. 
1. Sazh 
While he's occasionally written just as awkwardly as everyone else and his battle animations are... silly, I feel like the VO in particular brings alot of personality to him. Thus far, he's the only person in the game who I find has any real believability as a real person, and he has a fucking baby bird living in his afro. That is how good of a job that voice actor is doing. 
2. The Battle System (Minus Training Wheels) 
Once they game finally decides to stop treating you like a cross eyed idiot who can barely wipe their own ass and expands your tactical options, the game suddenly becomes interesting. I was a huge, huge fan of FFXII's system because I felt like I only needed to micromanage when I felt like I wanted to and during boss battles, and FFXIII definitely continues that, so if you hated the last game because it didn't scratch the control freak/ocd pleasure center of your brain by letting you pick every action for every character, stay the hell away. Air juggling a staggered boss, however, is intensely badass in a way that no other FF game has been able to pull off in its actual gameplay. 
3. Skippable Summon Cutscenes 
Holy fuck yes! YES AND FUCKING YES! Tedium be gone! If I never have to sit through another summon after the first time I see it, I will die a happy man. Those things are so fucking long, jesus. 
4. HP/MP Tweaks 
Most abilities don't use up MP? Awesome. You're going to refill my HP after every fight? Awesomer. I like that this allows them to make some ordinary mobs a threat, and I love that it minimizes my menu navigation and the tedium of item/MP management. Love, love, love. It really highlights the new combat system's new quirks and the strategies available and keeps you moving from fight to fight at a ridiculous clip. While the game is incredibly linear, I think alot of people are noticing it alot more than in, say FFX, because you move at an incredible speed. Aside popping into your menu every couple fights to level your guys, you're not going to be in the menu screen often at all. Now and then you might look at some equipment or something, but there's no more "Shit, I need to heal before the next fight" to bog you down. 
Jesus this ran long, and there's alot more I could talk about. I'm only ten hours in, so the game could definitely change dramatically... and from what I've heard it does. It should prove interesting.