A Tale of Two Walking Simulators

I think it’s fair to say that Gone Home was a bit of a revelation for me. Just in terms of game design, it’s perhaps mostly responsible for a clear pivoting point in my taste in games. Similar to the way Rock Band introduced me to a new genre in rhythm gaming and started a years-long obsession, I feel like my interest in games these days seems the strongest when I’m experiencing a concise and very deliberate story. I think the fascination stems from the same place that my appreciation of short stories stems from. To me, there’s nothing more impressive than a creation in which every piece feels meaningful and deliberately placed. This is why Gone Home resonated so much with me, and why I now seek out similar experiences as this genre’s popularity continues to grow.

Recently I’ve played a couple of games--practically back to back--that show the same kind of passion and focused story telling that I’ve come to love. It’s a good time to be a fan of walking simulators! And just to be clear, I don’t use the term “walking simulator” derogatorily. I used to really dislike the term, and honestly I still kind of do, but I also find it to be funny. I figure I’ll just embrace it.

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A couple of weeks back I finally played a game I’d heard much praise for, but hadn’t seen much of personally. That game was What Remains of Edith Finch. Things start off pretty simply, with the protagonist, Edith, walking through a wooded area on her way to her childhood house, which is apparently on Orcas Island in Washington state. Hmm, returning to an empty home located in the Pacific Northwest? This seems immediately too familiar. Things get interesting very quickly though as you uncover more about Edith’s family history and learn that the entire family has an eerie tendency to, in one way or another, die young. In a series of vignettes that comprise the meat of the game, you learn a bit about each of the family members, and how they ended up passing away. The game’s premise is perhaps inherently a bit disturbing, though the way these vignettes play out is extremely creative in most cases, and they subvert any expectations one might have going into a game like this. It was all just done so well, and it was definitely one of the best surprises I’ve experienced from a game in quite a while. By the end I’d become so engrossed in the stories of the members of this family that I actually got pretty emotional as the final pieces of the story played out, and Edith’s motivations for visiting the house to begin with became clear. I was able to have this experience that felt so enormous and meaningful within the time span of two or three hours, and therein lies the beauty. It’s a pretty closely guided experience, sure, but everything existed for a reason, and every moment meant something. It just makes for such a beautiful experience.

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The other game I played, this even more recently, is Tacoma. Tacoma is of course Fullbright’s follow up to Gone Home, and that alone carries a lot of expectation. Thankfully I feel like Steve Gaynor and the team were able to create something worthy of the lofty expectations. Tacoma takes place on the “lunar transfer station Tacoma,” a place that’s perhaps not the desired final destination of someone going into space, but rather a stepping stone to something greater, perhaps. The station is run by a corporation called Venturis, and none of the staff on Tacoma seem very thrilled with their employer. In fact, it’s actually pretty humorous and maybe a tad depressing when you realize that in this amazing future where space travel is possible, people are still going to hate their jobs. Everything can be so amazing, and still no one is happy. Almost as if it were the best of times, and simultaneously the worst of times... Anyway. You just know it’s true, though. Everything about Tacoma’s story seems incredibly, disturbingly plausible. The writing and voice acting play a huge part in that. Every side bit of story and information is worth seeking out, and adds to the impact of the story by creating believable emotional links between characters. And seeking out those bits of story is especially easy and rewarding due to the primary innovation Fullbright has introduced to the genre, which is a mechanic that allows you to scrub through story scenes as if they were videos. Different interactions and bits of story play out simultaneously in different parts of the station, and the only way to absorb it all is to continuously rewind in very freeform nature and follow each character’s movements in whichever order you see fit. This really makes it feel like you’re a fly on the wall experiencing all of the key moments of a space station in crisis.

I really enjoyed Tacoma. I do think it being set in space takes away that grounded feel of something like Gone Home or Edith Finch, which is an aspect I tend to prefer. That said, space is at least different and interesting, so I can appreciate that. The game also just left me wanting a little more. When the credits hit I still had questions about characters, organizations, and some other aspects of the universe they’ve built. I honestly find a little ambiguity to be fun, though. Necessary, even, in any great story. Anyway, I’ll likely play through it again and see if I can pick up on any bits of information I may have missed the first time through.

Thanks for taking the time to absorb my semi-coherent thoughts. I’d love to hear what others think of Tacoma considering its relation to such a popular game in Gone Home, and after the years of build up to it. Surprisingly, there hasn’t been much discussion of it here on the forums so far!

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Does Buying a PS4 Pro Make Me a PlayStation Professional?

What's up, guys? I've recently decided to pick up a PS4 Pro, and it's been a neat experience so far, so I thought I'd share.

I started this console generation thinking I would be all PC all the time. Fast forward a couple years to 2015 when I decided to buy an Xbox One and was enveloped in that warm and fuzzy feeling of console comfort that I didn't know I was missing. Now, after another couple years, I've decided to finally dive into the PlayStation ecosystem once again. My most recent experience with Sony's machines has been with my Vita, and while Persona 4 Golden is great, I didn't find myself toting that thing around for very long. As mentioned, I've decided to go with the professional version of Sony's video game parallelepiped. I figure if I'm going to buy it at this point, why not get the new one. I'm really liking the experience a lot. It provides a good alternative to the Microsoft ecosystem, with plenty of different ideas and exclusive games. Speaking of which…

The very first game I started downloading once I got my system home was none other than Horizon: Zero Dawn. It seemed like the obvious choice given it's just come out and by all accounts seems to be amazing. I like this game a lot! Surprising, I know. I do have some problems with it, but the moment to moment action is satisfying, and the world that's been built is legitimately rewarding to explore. Horizon accomplishes the difficult feat of making the data and audio logs scattered around the world feel worth reading and listening to. The way they make modern day or near-future concepts seem like ancient history to these characters is fun and interesting. I guess the one aspect of the game that feels like it's holding this back from being super engrossing is just the open world nature of it; the way it just feels a little too much like any of the Assassin's Creed or Far Cry games. It's that same formula that's become all too ubiquitous by now. The formula is executed very well here, don't get me wrong, but at the end of the day it's still all the same stuff. It's really gotten me thinking about my taste in games, and whether or not I truly enjoy the current state of open world games. I mean, I can sit down and play Overwatch for several hours on a good day, no problem. Games like Horizon, though, just have a harder time keeping me engaged for those long stretches, despite a lot of quality work shining through at every turn. Makes me wonder how I'd feel about Zelda Breath of the Wild if I were to play it in the near future.

The only other game I've bought thus far has been the 2015 remake of Ratchet and Clank. Hey, that game's fun! It just feels like this frivolous, fun adventure that is the kind of silly and goofy I need when taking a break from something like Horizon. I've played some of the Ratchet and Clank games back in the day and liked them, but I never got too far into them, so this has been a nice game to dive into. Some other games I'm looking at potentially picking up soon:

  • Bloodborne
  • Nioh
  • Odin Sphere Leifthrasir
  • The Last Guardian
  • Yakuza 0
  • Night in the Woods
  • Uncharted 4

And…

Persona 5 of course! If I'm being real honest with myself, Persona 5 is what made me buy a PS4. I do own a PS3 (currently sitting in my parents' garage) and could have bought it for that, and at $10 cheaper, but I felt like the investment in new tech was the way to go. I'm already having a real good time with the PlayStation 4, and I'm sure once I get around to the rest of that list of games I'll be having an even better time. I really just can't wait to dive into Persona 5 come early April, though. I'd better finish Horizon before then to clear the way a bit.

Anyway, if any of you guys are on PSN and want another friend to compare trophies to or whatever, my name there is the same as it is here: JJWeatherman. I welcome any and all fellow duders.

And since I don't do too much writing here on Giant Bomb these days, I want to take this opportunity to make sure and wish Drew luck on his new endeavor, Cloth Map! It seems like the perfect thing for Drew to be doing, and as sad as I am thinking about not having him around the site, I know he'll love working on such an exciting and ambitious project. Drew, the way you've shared your many interests and passions with us over the years has seriously been an inspiration for me to go out and explore my own interests and find my own passions, so thank you for that. It was great to hear you on the last podcast, and I hope you'll keep crashing the studio on Tuesdays! Later, duder.

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A Highly Artistic Account of Video Games (for the Non-Artistic)

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Hi guys! I'm JJWeatherman and I (still) really like playing video games. Drawing, on the other hand, I haven't ever much cared for. Believe it or not I actually found a way to fail a freshman art class in high school. That said, anything's a lot more fun when there aren't letter grades and due dates attached to them. So I may not be a great artist, but deep down I truly believe that I am indeed "great." And an "artist." Here's what I've been up to lately!

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In light of a recent realization that 2 gigs of VRAM is simply NOT ENOUGH, I finally decided to upgrade my humble 2013-built PC's graphics card from a GTX 770 to a GTX 1070. It's great, guys. It even came with a voucher for Gears 4, which also redeems to my Xbox One as part of Play Anywhere, which was a cool bonus, especially because I received the voucher before the 1070, making my Xbox the Gears 4 preview machine. Holy lord, though. Popping that card into my PC and booting up Gears for the first time and seeing it run at twice the frame rate whilst looking noticeably better than the Xbox version almost brought a tear to my eye. Turns out 8 gigs of VRAM works a lot better with today's texture-heavy graphics. Makes sense that games would be going that way given the specs of the Xbox One and PS4, but it was kind of a bummer to see VRAM single-handedly cut the life span of my 770 a little short.

The rest of my 2013-built PC specs:

MB: Asus Maximus VI Hero

CPU: i5 4670k (OC to 4.1Ghz I believe)

RAM: 8 gigs (G Skill Sniper Series)

(256 gig Samsung SSD, Seasonic 650W PSU, Corsair H100 liquid cooler)

Throwing a 1070 into this machine, even being three years old, has absolutely breathed new life into my aging mechanical child. Highly recommended if y'all are like me and haven't upgraded in a bit.

A new PC under my command, I was on the lookout for another game that would allow me to test my computational might. Jeff's review for Titanfall 2 hit, and despite not necessarily being the most pumped to jump into something like that right at release, the urge to throw a bunch of pixels at my new card proved too strong.

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So Titanfall 2. I never played more than about an hour or so of the first, and I don't even remember the context in which I played that little bit. Was there a demo of it? Some kind of beta? Anyway, I always loved the concept, but the limited scope of the original really kept me from embracing it and really jumping in. The addition of a story mode to the sequel really had me excited, as that's more my scene. Jeff's review also gave me hope that the single player portion was not only present, but also maybe pretty good. It totally is. I've admittedly avoided most shooter campaigns over the last few years, as I just burned out on them several years ago. This one though did a good job to keep my interest throughout. Your robo-buddy BT is a legit best new character candidate come the end of the year. The overall story arch was a little hit or miss, but the characters they were able to build here, and the relationships they form throughout, really make it all worthwhile.

There are a few mechanics introduced that throw everything for a loop, which I really appreciated. I'll leave it ambiguous for anyone who hasn't played this yet, but I'll just say that the talk about the individual moments and reveals is all warranted. Be ready to see and do some things you may not expect.

I haven't played a ton of the multiplayer yet. What I have played seems pretty good though. Maybe the coolest part of it is the way they set up the communities and allow you to group up with players so easily. Listing available community members right up front and prompting to automatically invite them whenever you start a match means you're always playing with awesome members of your chosen community. The Giant Bomb community, for example! This has been talked about on the Bombcast, but it's just so smart and I hope other developers take this idea and run with it like it was third-person Batman combat all over again.

What else have I been playing? Certainly there's been something else I've been using to run my new GPU through the wringer. Oh right.

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Owlboy! Okay, this clearly isn't at all a test for my graphics card, but dang is it fun. From the moment I started hearing rumblings about this game, I was interested. The graphical style sucked me right in. I'm always a sucker for games which pay homage to the likes of Metroid and Castlevania, too. It took me a while to decide I needed it, but I eventually caved and played it for like four or five straight hours. I really liked what I played, but I actually haven't gotten back to it yet on account of some Real Life that needed tending to. I really look forward to diving back in, though! The art truly is gorgeous. The controls take some getting used to, but once that happens everything just starts to feel really good, too.

The writing and characters are really well done. They each have nice little backstories and motivations, and there are questions about the world right now that I'm eager to have answered. It's a game I want to sit back down with when I have a large chunk of time and maybe just play through to the end, depending on how long it ends up being. It's a good game to get lost in for a while, though, which is something I feel like I need in my life every now and again.

That's about all I have time for tonight, guys! Thanks for reading. I'm sorry for the creepy gif.

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Paul George has two first names. Also NBA 2K17 is here.

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Well guys, it’s that time of year again. The new NBA 2K game is out(ish), and as one of the game franchises I tend to enjoy the most and put significant amounts of time into, I want to talk about it.

As of Friday, anyone who decided to preorder the game has had access to it before this Tuesday’s official release date. The whole play before everyone else for preordering thing has always seemed a little weird to me, but here I am playing this game I was pretty sure I’d really enjoy several days early, so I guess I can’t complain.

Let’s just get right into it. The MyCareer mode. This is the main attraction for myself and I’d imagine most players. MyCareer is the scene of the crime of last year’s dumpster fire of a story presented by Mr. Spike Lee. That was the worst thing to happen to the mode in… well, ever. Thankfully that particular brand of garbage is left behind for a story with a bit more sanity and some legitimate acting and storytelling. I’m not going to say this is some riveting masterpiece of a story, but it’s leaps and bounds ahead of last year’s attempt. Michael B. Jordan, recently of Creed fame, stars alongside your created player as another player on whichever team you’re drafted to. Apparently one of the writers of Creed contributed to writing this year’s story, and I feel like that pedigree shows. Converging the on and off the court action by creating story characters that you end up running pick and rolls with and dishing assists to is a really good idea it turns out.

The day-to-day grind of the career mode is something I’m enjoying for the most part. I feel like one of the biggest changes is the emphasis on building your player’s skills. Practice is now more prominent than ever. Every day on the calendar now has multiple time slots in which you can take part in different activities, such as hang out with players, go to promotional events, practice, etc. On game days you’re now able to hit the gym pre-game to develop skills. Off days are even more intense, as you seem to always have four different time slots, all with different things to occupy your off-day should you choose to partake. I started off an absolute gym rat, electing to hit the court for some optional practice at every opportunity. It’s made clear early on that this is important for the long term, as it’s the way to earn additional attribute upgrade points, which you will eventually need down the line in order to build a truly elite baller. It can be so time consuming though to jump into the gym at every opportunity, and so now I’m skipping some of that and just making sure to hit the mandatory practices. Coach seems to be satisfied with that.

You’re still managing endorsements, earning a signature shoe line, demanding trades, all that good stuff. A new text messaging feature has also been added in, making conversations with your agent and other story characters lightly interactive, and actually pretty funny. You’ll often get a couple different ways to reply to someone, and it’s kinda great to get a text from your mom criticizing your turnovers last game and simply reply with a nervous face emoji. I haven’t played a whole ton of MyCareer, but it seems heaps better than last year, thankfully. Looking forward to spending some more time livin’ da dream(!) on my way to multiple championships.

I should mention that in terms of gameplay and how things feel this year, I’m happy with the changes. Defense feels a lot more physical for sure, which I’m pretty sure is something the devs were really going for. Steals feel a lot more dynamic. Swiping at the ball can cause it to squirt out in any direction now, and it can turn things into a mad scramble when you poke the ball loose, as opposed to past years when the ball always just poked free of the offensive player’s hands and fell roughly to their feet directly in front of them every time.

The shot meter is probably the other most obvious and meaningful change. It’s now a half circle around the shooter’s feet, and it makes it pretty clear what release timing you’re going for. Though I’m slightly confused about how the shot button (X on Xbox) differs from the pro stick, which is the right analog stick shooting method. When you pull pack the stick to shoot, it not only gives you release timing feedback, but also angle of the stick pull. You can either pull the stick back or push it forward to shoot, but if you push it to the side at all, it gives you an off-angle penalty to the shot and could cause it to miss in the horizontal direction you accidentally pushed. The confusing part is that by using the button there is no feedback on angle, leading me to believe it’s always perfect, but I guess I’m not sure. It’s certainly possible that the button randomizes angle to a degree and the only way to guarantee the best timing and angle is to use the stick. Perhaps someone else knows and can fill me in here.

Overall I’m really enjoying this year’s game. The menus are cleaned up a bit, the action is tighter than ever, and all of the modes seem to have come together the way you’d want them to. Online play has been fine so far, too, which has been far from a guarantee during the launch period of past NBA 2K entries. I guess we’ll see how the servers hold up when everyone else gets access on Tuesday.

So yeah, two thumbs up from me so far. Anyone else preorder and start playing? Eagerly awaiting Tuesday? Either way let's talk about it!

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There's Something About Consoles

There’s just something about video game consoles. I’ve primarily been a PC gamer for the past several years now. Ever since the era of the 360 and PS3 began to die down and the new, current era approached. PC gaming has been great for all of the obvious reasons including, but not limited to, Steam sales, extra graphics settings, higher frame rates, and a bevy of control options. Though there are also the lesser spoken of cons to PC gaming: Screen tearing, occasional random crashing, hit-or-miss controller support, and the like. To be honest, I wasn’t exceptionally bothered by any of the PC-related annoyances or hardships. I think I’d forgotten just how easy consoles can be—until I bought one several days ago. I now own an Xbox One. I’m a console gamer again, at least part-time, and it honestly feels like a breath of fresh air.

Making the leap to the current console generation was, not too long ago, something I imagined possibly never happening. I was content with my PC and, broadly, people on the internet have given the impression that these current consoles are a bit of a downer. I guess it was this year’s E3 that changed my mind. Rock Band 4 only being on consoles gave me good reason to really stop and think. With that game’s DLC transferring over (amazing, by the way), but only to the same platform (PS3 to PS4/360 to One), it made the decision to buy an Xbox One over a PS4 a little easier, given that I have hundreds of songs purchased through my 360. Rock Band was a huge motivator, and the game I’m most looking forward to later this year. That said, there are a whole host of other things I’m now looking forward to as well. Forza 6, Halo 5, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and even the new Gears seems interesting, which isn’t something I thought I’d ever really care about. The upcoming dashboard redesign seems really slick and like a major improvement. Backwards compatibility stuff seems real cool as well. I really hope the library expands at a reasonable pace and lives up to what Microsoft is pitching there.

God this minigame is great.
God this minigame is great.

But aside from the things to look forward to, what’s really surprised and impressed me, and what’s made me want to write this and share, is just how enjoyable the whole experience of a console is after a long break from them. Everything is easy. You turn the system on and it’s all right there. My Gamerscore is now increasing again from right where I left it, and it feels strangely good to be earning achievements. My gamer picture, one earned by completing the “Klungo Saves the World” mini game within Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, was there to greet me—I love that gamer picture. Aside from the long download/install times, games simply boot up and work. They look great. Forza Horizon 2 is beautiful, and I’m having a ton of fun in that world. Turn 10 and Playground Games have crafted the best Need for Speed game in years. No messing with graphics settings, no screen tearing, no frame rate fluctuation. Playing my Xbox One feels much more free of distraction than my PC ever has.

It’s been nice to see some of the people on my friends list still active on Xbox Live too. @thegreatguero, for one, coincidentally acquired an Xbox One recently as well, which is neat. If any of you guys would like to add me as a friend on XBL, my gamertag remains JJWeatherman, same as my username here. I especially welcome any potential future Rock Band 4 bandmates. Active/friend leaderboards are always fun too, so definitely send me a friend request if you'd like, and make sure to mention that you're from Giant Bomb so that I know you're one of the Cool Kids.

That’s it. I hope you guys are enjoying these new consoles. I sure am, despite being a couple years late to the party.

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Demystifying Monster Hunter: My First 20 Hours

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You never forget your first
You never forget your first

I used to be one of those people who didn’t understand the appeal of Monster Hunter. I tried playing the game for the first time a handful of years ago with Monster Hunter Freedom on my PSP. I bought it thinking it seemed like a cool concept. The cover art looked awesome with a big, intimidating dragon squaring off against a knight wielding a sword that is almost comically oversized. I’m sure I went and looked up coverage of the game via Gamespot and IGN, as I was wont to do at this time in my life. I ended up purchasing the game and giving it a legitimate shot, though it just never came together for me. I remember my first weapon being the sword and shield, and I struggled with the animation priority, as it seems a lot of people do. I tried the great sword, which I now know requires even more patience and strategy, and of course that simply magnified my issues. I played Freedom for probably a dozen or so hours if I had to guess, but I left it with only a minute understanding of what the game was trying to accomplish, and little desire to ever come back.

Fast forward to 2015 and here I am enjoying a Monster Hunter game. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, specifically. I bought a “New” 3DS just last Wednesday with the initial intention of playing the Majora’s Mask remake, which I have done, but puzzle dungeons and time travel have largely fallen by the wayside in favor of hunting an endless string of ferocious beasts. Several fellow Giant Bomb users coming together in hopes of hunting together was a big part of my willingness to come back to the series. Though I haven’t yet played with that group, I very much intend to soon. I just didn’t want to jump in with a bunch of seasoned pros and flail around like a beached pin tuna, contributing nothing. After 20 hours of flailing in the privacy of solo quests, I feel I’ve learned a lot and gained an appreciation for this series I’d once written off. Knowing I’ve just scratched the surface of what Monster Hunter offers, I’m looking forward to a scary amount of hours exploring the plethora of content this game seems to offer.

So how did I get to this point? How did I make the transition from cautiously curious to feeling confident and craving more? It’s tough to say for sure, but I think at a base level the key was simply accepting the game for what it is.

Immediately the game starts with an exciting set piece involving defending the vehicle you’re a passenger on from a gigantic sand creature. It definitely did well getting me excited to jump into some real hunting. I feel like this game does a lot better job of giving your hunting some context this time around. From what I can remember about Freedom, it felt more like a shallow MMO in regards to the way you’d pick up quests, and in some other areas as well. 4U feels like it has a legitimate throughline, which I really appreciate. It’s kind of a stupid story in all honesty, but it serves to give me some sort of context for why I’m going on hunts, and having a loose plot to follow, to me, makes a big difference.

Having heard a couple of anecdotal claims before starting the game that the new Insect Glaive weapon is an exciting one in addition to being good for beginners, I chose it right out of the gate to be my main weapon of monster destruction. Some people seem to recommend against only playing with one weapon and instead branching out to weapons best suitable to the monster you’re currently hunting, but for me, I’m glad to be sticking to just one weapon right now. It’s tough enough learning the ins and outs of one weapon alongside trying to learn the entire general game. I couldn’t imagine being able to effectively learn multiple weapons so soon into my monster hunting tenure. I’d personally recommend any newcomers stick to one weapon until you feel like your grasp of the rest of the game is to a point where you feel comfortable branching out.

The Insect Glaive is so much fun. For maybe the first five or so hours I only half understood how to properly use it, and I found myself avoiding its intricacies (namely the insect part) and simply whacking away at monsters. This was fine, but it’s when I finally became comfortable enough with the controls that I started using the essence system to power myself up. This involves shooting a bug creature that you have attached to your arm out at the opposing monster, and based on where you hit the monster you’ll acquire one of several different types of essence. Bonuses are achieved for combining two, but combining three different types (white, red, and orange) is the real goal. If you can successfully do that, you become faster, are more durable, and attacks actually lace in additional animations, making them more devastating. A lot of the fun of the Insect Glaive comes from its ability to be used as a pole vault, making it easy to get on top of a monster, mount it, and bring it down. Mounting is apparently new to MH4, and I’m glad they incorporated it, because I love doing it.

A lot of what’s difficult about MH, even still for myself, is knowing how, when, and why to upgrade armor and weapons. The Insect Glaive is particularly difficult because it involves feeding your little bug buddy a sufficient amount before you can even touch the glaive itself for a traditional upgrade. There are a seemingly endless number of different armor sets that all provide slightly different benefits, though commonly are only granted when you acquire an entire set. It’s just tough to know what you should even be aiming for a lot of the time, and with the time-consuming gathering of materials required to craft them, you want to be sure. The internet comes in handy here, which isn’t ideal, but it’ll get you going. I quickly found some recommendations to aim for a set of Jaggi armor as a first upgrade, and so I did that. From there I read that there was an armor set called Tetsucabra, which is apparently pretty good, and so I hunted Tetsucabras until I had the materials necessary to acquire it. The Jaggi armor, while fairly effective, left some to be desired in the looks department. The Tetsucabra armor on the other hand, I think looks pretty dang cool. Here’s my character currently:

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As you can see, I’m also accompanied on my monster hunts by none other than Mario himself! Or at least a kitty cat dressed to resemble him. Apparently there is going to be a DLC quest at some point that will give you Link’s outfit, as well as his hylian shield and master sword. That’s pretty cool. This game’s so weird, and I fully support it.

The story has really been moving along now that I’m a little bit in and past all of the introductory quests. It’s been really enjoyable seeing the different environments and learning the details of each map. Once you know which zones of a map are filled with nasty spider webs, for example, it’s easy to guess which zones you should check first when hunting down the terrifyingly arachnid-esque Nerscylla. (I have a spider phobia, if you can’t tell.) Some environments are even starting to introduce extreme weather conditions now, which means yet another aspect to manage and overcome. Luckily a single hot drink will keep your body warm for a good while in the frozen tundra, but if you find yourself without the necessary equipment, it seems like something that could turn real ugly for you.

This game’s loot grind takes more patience than the likes of Diablo or Borderlands, but if you have that patience, it’s one of the more satisfying gather-and-craft experiences out there. You’re constantly taking down these big, ridiculous monsters, and when you’re successful you bring the skin or other various pieces of it back to a fellow known as “The Man,” and he often delightfully surprises you by offering to turn those monster pieces into an awesome set of armor vaguely resembling that monster’s style. The whole process is just cool, and I think the progression of hunting these amazing monsters as a direct means of bettering yourself is directly responsible for a lot of the game’s appeal. It just takes so damn long for all of the pieces to come together and for this satisfying loop to begin proper. Maybe a step they could take to further ease players in when MH5 comes along would be to make the initial armor and weapon progression more immediate, obvious, and impactful. They just need to get the hooks in earlier, and I think a lot more people could potentially be willing to spend the time required to really get into this series.

Monster Hunter is a series not quite like anything else. It simply can’t be held to expectations we’ve perhaps come to demand in third person action games, because its goal is simply quite different. I feel like once I realized that, things took off and I was really able to start learning the game. And with that has come some serious enjoyment.

With that, I’m off to say hello to—and quickly dismantle—some menacing monsters. Hopefully I’ll be able to craft some more sweet lookin’ armor soon! If anyone else is just getting into this series, I’d love to hear about how you’re liking it.

—JJ

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Final Fantasy X Escapades: Part 01: Blitzballin' Outta Control

Final Fantasy is a series that I've never had much luck getting into. It's not that I don't like games of the particular ilk, either. I've played and enjoyed things such as Legend of Dragoon, Golden Sun, Lost Odyssey, Wild Arms, and more. I've never played more than a few minutes of any Final Fantasy, however, so I figured I'd finally give one of the most unanimously adored entries a proper go. I thought it'd be fun to record my various thoughts as I traipse along.

Just to be up front, no I'm not playing the original PS2 version, but rather the "remastered" version on Vita. I have to assume the experience is largely identical apart from the Vita version being widescreen and conveniently portable.

As alluded to above, I don't have a ton of Final Fantasy knowledge, though I feel I've absorbed quite a bit over the years via osmosis. So far I've seen Chocobos, copious spiky hair, phoenix downs, giant summoned monsters, and a ridiculous amount of cut scenes. This is going pretty much as expected.

Oh for the love of god
Oh for the love of god

The one part that snuck up on me is Blitzball. Now, I did know of the existence of Blitzball beforehand, but I didn't realize the extent to which the story seems to revolve around this imaginary sport. Blitzball is the first thing you're introduced to, and it's only proceeded to become more prominent as I've advanced nearly six hours into the game now. The protagonist (whom I've renamed TyyDyy) has at this point been transported a thousand years into the future, is fighting monsters constantly, has no idea what's going on, but oh hey, I just competed in the first big Blitzball tournament of the season, which has comprised the bulk of the story thus far. Baffling.

It's actually been especially interesting learning more about this fake, dumb sport and its apparent importance in this world, as one of my friends when I was in school actually claimed Blitzball to be his favorite sport. Keep in mind he was being asked about real life sports when he provided this answer. Of course I was completely dismissive at the time. Actually, I still am if I'm honest. But after all the buildup and finally getting to play a quick match of proper Blitzball, I can see the appeal. It's all very numbers-based and lacking in actual dexterous maneuvers, but for a playable sport existing within an RPG, it could be worse. I was legitimately pumping my fist a little bit and calling the AI team unrepeatable names as I scored goals and claimed victory.

Thankfully, Wakka, the character I was helping win the Blitzball tournament, is now supposedly retiring from the sport forever. I'd say I hope the focus will now shift more firmly to the evil-whale-monster-that-might-be-my-reincarnated-father-destroying-the-world part of the plot, but with all of the ridiculously in-depth tutorials I went though before playing my Blitzball matches, I'd bet I'm not nearly through with this crazy sport.

Despite the stilted and awkward dialog, silly story, and sometimes tiringly frequent cutscenes, I've found myself strangely engaged. I know these games typically take a while to really get started proper, so hopefully things will pick up as I march forward. I'll be sure to report back regardless.

I can't go before stating that the protagonist dresses like an absolute idiot. God, it's unbelievable.

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Monument Valley: In Which JJ Enjoys a Unique Experience

When I learned yesterday that Monument Valley had finally been released on Android, I switched on my Nexus 7 and bought it immediately. It's a game that was able to capture my imagination through its gorgeous aesthetic alone, and had me considering buying an iPad to experience it, along with a handful of other games exclusive to Apple's ecosystem, of course.

The gorgeous aesthetic didn't disappoint. The Escher-esque worlds are vibrant and beautiful. I couldn't help but imagine how the imagery might shine through on a retina iPad's display, but even at 1280x800, this game is an absolute pleasure to look at. There is even built-in screenshot functionality that makes it easy to capture images of the game's worlds at any point.

Playing the game is simple, and consists of tapping a space to move the protagonist, Ida, as well as manipulating the world to create perspectives that line up paths for her to continue. The concept is very similar to Echochrome, though a bit more casual. I enjoyed the difficulty (or lack thereof) and pacing of Monument Valley; it's tough to get too stuck.

One of many gorgeous levels
One of many gorgeous levels

The story is a bit esoteric, but I can appreciate that. It's told through level introductions and a few short sections of dialog. Other than that, it's the actions of Ida that you'll have to interpret as you will. Ida finds a yellow totem friend who helps her to navigate the worlds, and her goal seems to be to deliver a particular geometric shape to a point in these worlds before moving on to the next. You're told that the geometry of the worlds you're traversing is sacred, and also that something has been stolen. Perhaps Ida is returning the stolen parts of the world? It's something I feel like I'll have a better grasp on if I were to play through the game a second time knowing what I do now, and filling in the blanks.

Replaying the game isn't so much of an issue, either, as it took me only about an hour the first time. Length of games, or the value of a game, has always been a fairly contentious issue. I fall on the side of hour counts not meaning much. It should be enjoyment rather than time that's weighed against cost. Monument Valley is $4 on the Google Play Store right now. For an hour long game, some people may say that's about right; others will undoubtedly say it's way too much. To me, I enjoyed that hour quite a bit. I appreciated the sense of wonder the developer, Ustwo, was able to encapsulate into that time span. For me, that's more than enough to warrant $4.

Monument Valley is a small yet artistically brilliant game with subtly captivating bits of storytelling. If it sounds at all interesting to you, I'd recommend you give it a try. Games like this seem to be where my interests lie these days. Kentucky Route Zero is another game in a similar vein, which I enjoy quite a bit. With the third episode of KRZ finally having been released a bit ago, I'll be playing through that in the near future. I may even write about it!

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I bought a motorcycle. Any other Giant Bomb riders out there?

After years of driving vehicles that didn't belong to me, I've finally purchased my own—and it's a motorcycle. A Honda 919, to be exact.

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I decided I wanted a motorcycle a while back, and it took a while to make it a reality. I had to sign up for a motorcycle safety and training course that would provide me with a completion card, which bypasses the skills test for a motorcycle endorsement at the DMV. The class also saves me money on insurance, so I figured it was the best route to take. There was a wait list for the class, but I eventually made it through that three day extravaganza. After I paid some fees and obtained my new license, I went out looking for a bike. Craigslist was my best friend. After scouring it for quite some time, I found the bike you see above, sent out a hopeful text message to the owner offering slightly less than the asking price, and the rest is history.

I haven't been on it a ton yet, but thus far it's been astoundingly fun to ride. I'm doing my best to ride as safely as possible, especially as I'm still a beginner learning a new bike. That said, it's easy to quickly find myself ten miles per hour over the speed limit.

I've been acquiring gear piecemeal, and I almost have everything I feel I should. I'm waiting on a jacket to arrive, which should be Wednesday. Living in Oregon, I also am going to need some rain pants that I can throw on over whatever I'm regularly wearing. But I have a nice helmet, comfy gloves, and even a backpack with some nice motorcycle-friendly features.

Right now my biggest concern is having the thing stolen, so I'm looking into some disc locks and things of that nature. I actually spent way too long reading a Reddit forum where people asked questions to an ex motorcycle thief. The takeaway was that if someone wants to steal your bike, they're going to. The best you can do is to make the process as long and painful as possible for them, and hope that after assessing the risk, they choose to move on. Luckily my 919 doesn't fit the description of the most valued bikes to steal. My bike is both old and basic enough to hopefully not draw too much attention. It's no Ninja or CBR.

Anyway, I'm pretty excited about owning a motorcycle. I look forward to improving my riding skills and enjoying many years of blissful riding.

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As the title suggests, I'd love to hear about any fellow Giant Bomb riders' experiences! What kinds of bikes do you guys ride?

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