By mento 0 Comments
Welcome, all, to my 100th episode of Saturday Summaries! Technically, it's only the 100th if you add together this year's Saturday Summaries and 2017's Sunday Summaries, which I am doing because they're the same feature that I just shifted a day. The big one-double-oh is a significant number for me in 2018: The Indie Game of the Week series is about to celebrate its own 100th episode, I'm on track for completing 100 games this year (and I have a special contigency plan in place if Dec 31st is looming and I'm not quite there), and watching all the eSports segments on The Game Awards last Thursday night made me feel 100 years old.
Since I'm out here blowing smoke up my own ass with various milestones, I remembered that I composed a GOTY list for 2008 - ten years ago - and never posted it anywhere. I have a few "GOTY (Adjusted)" lists elsewhere on the site, but the earliest is still something like 2013 and, really, it gets harder to review most of those games in clear detail with the gulf of time between now and when I last played them. Here's the top thirty:
- Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4
- Saints Row 2
- Tales of Vesperia
- Yakuza 2
- Lost Odyssey
- Disaster: Day of Crisis
- Valkyria Chronicles
- Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
- Dead Space
- No More Heroes
- Super Smash Bros. Brawl
- Fallout 3
- The Last Remnant
- Mirror's Edge
- Condemned 2: Bloodshot
- Burnout Paradise
- Barkley Shut Up & Jam Gaiden
- Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
- Mount & Blade
- Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts
- Professor Layton and the Curious Village
- Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis
- Infinite Undiscovery
- Grand Theft Auto IV
- Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors
- Tomb Raider: Underworld
- Viking: Battle for Asgard
- Mercenaries 2: World in Flames
Some notable tidbits about this list:
- Tales of Vesperia, The Last Remnant, and Burnout Paradise all received remasters recently after hitting their 10 year anniversaries. Happily recommend them all.
- Super Smash Bros., Fallout, Tomb Raider, and Valkyria Chronicles all saw new entries this year, proving you can't keep a good franchise down (unless you're EA and you decide to kill Dead Space just because).
- Persona 4's long-awaited sequel Persona 5 only came out last year. Similarly Mirror's Edge Catalyst was a 2016 release, eight years after its predecessor. Better late than never I suppose (though Catalyst's reviews might disagree).
- We're also getting sequels to Mount & Blade and No More Heroes in the very near future. Final Fantasy VII still has that upcoming remake too, which may or may not incorporate some Zack stuff, but I'll believe that game's out when I see it.
- Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia was the last "real" Castlevania game, though I have renewed hope for the future of the franchise thanks to Warren Ellis/Adi Shankar's decent Netflix anime adaptation.
- Yo, we're still waiting on that Barkley Shut Up & Jam Gaiden sequel. Kinda wonder what happened to it.
- How stoked was I that Raymond Bryce popped up in the new Smash as a spirit? That is, according to the QL that Giant Bomb put up. (How did none of the staff recognize him? Oh right, because Disaster: Day of Crisis never came out in the US. Womp-womp.)
- Finally, there's a few 2008 games I'm still meaning to play even ten years after the fact. The World Ends With You, for example, which also had a tenth anniversary remaster this year. Also some Japan-only games where I'm still holding out for localized rereleases: Yakuza Kenzan, Aquanaut's Holiday: Hidden Memories, Fatal Frame IV, and Captain Rainbow.
Anyway, enough living in the past. We still have this year to see out, and that means a few blogs about the hottest (?) 2018 games:
- The Indie Game of the Week this time was Minit, as I feverishly play enough games from this year to put a top ten together. Minit has one hook to hang its modest game length on - a Majora's Mask/Half-Minute Hero style time-looping gimmick, where you have exactly one minute before you die and respawn at your last checkpoint with some progress saved - and its aesthetic has fully embraced its status as a little game with a big idea: it's graphically minimalist with a sharp monotone look, and its small world doesn't take too long to explore but is filled with little puzzles and quirky NPCs and secrets. Might take a while to find all those collectibles, but even with the ever-present strict time-limit it doesn't feel like a game that ought to be hurried. Take your time, slowly make a mental map of where you can go and where you'll need to come later with the right items, and poke around this cute little world Vlambeer has made.
- The alternate Tuesday slot means another double-bill of Jazztronauts fun. I'm going to wrap this feature up once 2018 is done, I suspect, but for the time being I can't get enough of exploring the wild and wacky frontier of Gmod custom maps in the best context imaginable: as part of an inter-dimensional crew of cat thieves who Time Bandits their way into new maps to steal anything of value before am-scraying on their magical trolley. Part Four and Part Five, which contain six "heists" and one "interlude" apiece, have a new bulletpoint format that I'll be sustaining for the rest of this feature. It cuts to the chase info-wise, while still leaving me space to crack jokes at these maps' expense. I'm hoping to get a few more of the cat-specific side-quests done before the year is out, but it really all depends on what the game's map randomizer throws my way.
Movie: Yes, Madam (1985)
It's been a hot minute since I enjoyed some well-choreographed if cheesily-scripted Hong Kong action cinema, having exhausted almost the entire oeuvres of Jackie Chan and Jet Li in my younger, DVD-impulse-buying days. This type of movie doesn't seem to show up on streaming services much - I suppose it might be an awkward thing to negotiate the licenses for - but I did manage to find Yes, Madam (known over here as Police Assassins, curiously) somewhere. The starring debuts of both the inimitable Michelle Yeoh and the formidable Cynthia Rothrock, Yes, Madam is a classic Jackie Chan crime caper movie (albeit without Chan himself, though his frequent collaborator Sammo Hung briefly appears) with sympathetic characters on both sides of the law and a ridiculous concluding fight and an equally strange bathetic finale. Highly entertaining, in other words.
To condense the plot, a detective from Scotland Yard is assassinated in his hotel room by a hitman employed by the tycoon Mr. Tin. The detective had proof of Tin's shady business dealings by way of a microfilm, which becomes the movie's elusive McGuffin after it is stolen by a buffoonish gang of thieves named after painkiller medication just moments before the hitman could find it. The movie becomes this cat and mouse and cat game between the bad guys, the thieves (who are only sorta bad, since they're stealing to support their elderly mentor), and the cops played by Yeoh and Rothrock, the latter flying in as a second agent of Scotland Yard. It then follows all these little plot-lines - Yeoh and Rothrock don't initially get along but learn to mutually respect one another's methods, the thieves keep disagreeing with each other over money and the extent of the danger they're in, there's a pool hustler involved at some point for whatever reason - before it all culminates in a big melee at Mr. Tin's mansion with someone who resembles Che Guevara by way of Groucho Marx. Lots of ostentatious yet sharp glass furniture, very painful-looking stuff.
I'll admit to only checking out this movie because of a recent viral tweet (the account has since got private, sadly) that juxtaposed, with a surprising degree of synchronization, that aforementioned final fight with a typically earwormy track from one Carly Rae Jepsen. Jepsen's been producing a lot of music that wouldn't feel out of place in the 1980s, when Yes, Madam was made, though that's hardly meant as a pejorative; more that she's managed to tap into the infectious fun of pop from that era without the concomitant fashion disasters.
Yes, Madam feels so much like the Chan movies from that time that it wouldn't surprise me that all these movies followed some similar blueprints handed down by the studio. It was directed and choreographed by Corey Yuen, who also worked on a huge number of 70s and 80s Hong Kong action movies along with most of Jet Li's American output (and, uh, the similarly distaff DOA movie, which is probably one of the few to do right by its source material at least). Yes, Madam was one of his earliest directorial affairs, but it turned out well enough to spawn a number of sequels, only the first of which involved Yeoh. Honestly, the whole genre is so huge and so variable in quality it's a miracle I made any headway into it at all back then, though it helps that the UK DVD companies had a lot of smart minds curating the best from that particular part of the world's busy movie industry.
Game: Valkyria Chronicles 4 (2018)
Oh boy, I was excited about jumping back into Anime World War II after ten years since playing the first (I didn't much care to try a weaker portable version with VCII, and Sega chose not to localize the third). However, because this is the fourth game in the series and you're now playing as the elite Ranger Corps Squad E, the game doesn't pull any punches right from the jump. I managed to get a few A-ranks early on without much trouble, as the game was still reintroducing the gameplay and new units like grenadiers (which I hate, but only because the enemy is so effective with them) and APCs. About a few chapters in, though, it started getting ridiculously tough keeping everyone alive and hitting the mission objective within the number of turns required for the best grade.
You really need to make full use of the game's new systems, like using leaders to take small groups into battle with them via a special command point currency, but more so than that knowing the actual battles and their maps back to front: so much can change in the middle of a skirmish, and you have no initial clue as to the enemy's numbers and where they've been deployed and who might show up after a certain number of turns, so you do tend to run into a lot of trial and error situations where you can be easily mowed down by the unexpected. Fortunately, the game still keeps its "save anywhere and anywhen" mentality, letting you happily save-scum after every unit's move if that's your desire. I'm trying not to abuse it too much, but I do frequently take "safety" saves at the start of my side's turn. Even if you're constantly making saves though, depending on the progress you're making each turn you might still have to start over if you want that elusive A-Rank (the XP and cash rewards are better for one thing, which can make a real difference in the tougher maps to come).
Despite the challenge level I'm still enjoying the game a lot. Though I'm usually pretty bad at strategy games for the most part - I'm not one for "plans" and "tactics" or any of that kind of fancy business - VC4 is really pushing me to take advantage of every tool at my disposal and consider carefully the soldiers I want to bring with me and those I want to hold back as reinforcements. As you take enemy bases you can deploy new soldiers to those locations: this is crucial for units like snipers and grenadiers who can't move far, but need to be in specific locations to be useful. You only need lancers if there are tanks around, but they're invaluable if tanks are present because of their specialization. Engineers are weaker combatants but are necessary for keeping both vehicles and units alive, and can prove to be vital in very specific circumstances like when bridges need to be fixed or there are mines everywhere. I mostly rely on scouts because of their movement range and decent damage, but they'll fall almost immediately to a heavy enemy encampment without shocktroopers to back them up. It's a much more sophisticated situational affair than the simple rock-paper-scissors troop management of, say, Fire Emblem or last month's Ni no Kuni II, and while you can never be fully prepared for what's to come without a few "practice" runs and reloads, when everything clicks likes it's supposed to it can be very satisfying.
I'm around chapter 5 right now, so I have no idea how far in I am. Considering the lengthy research trees for my gear and armaments, I'd say I'm barely a third the way through, and that makes me a little apprehensive about how much tougher the game is about to get (there is an Easy mode and optional skirmishes if I really need the boost, and I only just upgraded my scouts to scout elites - if I do the same with other classes, I'll give myself a substantial advantage). At the same time, I'm excited to see what other precarious scenarios the game has to offer. (Oh, and I guess the story's fun too. Mostly.)