All-New Saturday Summaries 2017-07-29

Presently, I am unwrapping an Amazon package containing a new third-party PlayStation 2 controller and a high-capacity memory card for same, realizing that (perhaps for the first time) I must be getting pretty serious about this The Top Shelf feature if I'm dropping actual cash on it. Its "second round" has been coasting along on a few cursory eliminations of late, which is far too low effort for me to tolerate, so I want to knuckle down and start completing a few of these games while my PS2 can still function. It's definitely true that some of these games have aged better than others, but I think specifically it's because the few genres that premiered on that generation of consoles - open-world games, character action games, FPS games with dual-analog control - have gone on to become the dominant games of every console generation since. There's definitely something edifying about seeing a lot of these genres in their primordial state, but there are modern iterations of these formulae that I'd probably prefer to be playing instead.

I did buy one game so far - the new Zeboyd 16-bit JRPG homage Cosmic Star Heroine, which I'm looking forward to - but I can sit on the rest of that wallet until the next sale at least. Surely. Surely?
I did buy one game so far - the new Zeboyd 16-bit JRPG homage Cosmic Star Heroine, which I'm looking forward to - but I can sit on the rest of that wallet until the next sale at least. Surely. Surely?

I will say that drinking deep of my PS2 library is causing my backlog to pile up elsewhere. I recently bought £42 worth of PSNbux for £25 (don't ask me why Amazon was selling it for that cheap; didn't seem like the time to ask questions) and was slightly concerned that with all that digital spending money I'd end up splurging it right away. My willpower takes a hit whenever I have a stack of highly conditional cash - be it vouchers or gift cards or storefront credit - because deep down I know I can't use it for anything else, unlike real money. I'll put off buying games if I need that cash to eat, for example, but with PSN money it's definitely, 100% going on Sony games regardless - it's just a matter of which games and when. The fact that I have a backlog at all right now is what stayed my hand from the "buy this, and this, and this" button. I can wait for sales and price drops because my playing calendar is stacked from now until Winter, easily.

Just a brief look at what I have waiting in the wings for Sony systems alone right now: Final Fantasy XV, World of Final Fantasy (a new acquisition - hey, it seemed cute), Watch_Dogs (which came free with the PS4 console when I bought it eighteen months ago), the second half of that Danganronpa compilation, my second Dishonored 2 playthrough (low-chaos Corvo, which I'm only somewhat motivated to complete), Mirror's Edge Catalyst, Trails of Cold Steel (PS3), Steins;Gate (PS3), Metal Gear Rising (PS3), Tales of Graces F (PS3), Yakuza 5 (PS3), Catherine (PS3) and, of course, the rest of Tales of Zestiria. I didn't include Indie games because I have the Indie Game of the Week feature that will force me to get around to those in due time, but between that and The Top Shelf I'm playing way fewer "full retail" games of late. Having an overwhelming backlog can create its own sort of low-key anxiety in a "first-world problems" sort of sense, but it's also liberating: there's no desperation to find new, highly acclaimed games to add to my collection, and thus the "beggars can't be choosers" adage does not apply. I can happily wait for everything I'm interested in this year and last to drop in price months from now because I have more than enough to be getting on with currently.

Anyway, while I'm not busy trying to delude myself that I won't snap sometime soon and go on a spending spree, I also write features. These features:

  • The Top Shelf briefly immersed itself in the world of gangsters and hoodlums with the archetypal Grand Theft Auto III. In my mind, there's a hard split between GTA 3 and its sequels and the original two GTAs (and those London spin-offs) that's more than simply a jump to 3D. The older GTA games felt more arcade-y, like Chase HQ or Crazy Taxi where there was a certain kind of purity to its chaotic vehicle action that didn't allow for much in the way of plot or other distractions. Now that I've finally played it, GTA 3 definitely feels like a bridge between that old straightforward arcade style and the nuanced, narrative-rich and setting-focused adventures of its successors. I feel like I understand the evolution of the series a little better now, even if the inchoate nature of GTA 3's approach to open-world made it a little challenging to play in this day and age (seriously? No in-game maps?). Deep down, I know I'd be better served just buying the version on Steam and finding a few mods to fix the issues I have with it.
  • The Indie Game of the Week this time was the OK graphic adventure game Yesterday from Pendulo Studios, which I reviewed the day before yesterday. I mean, I played Yesterday the same day I reviewed Yesterday, but all that happened the day before yesterday, unless you're reading this on Monday in which case this description of events was only relevant yesterday. Yesterday's far more dramatic and sinister than Pendulo's earlier comedic work, putting Satanic cults and torture at the forefront as it does, but they couldn't resist tossing in a few meta jokes and humorous interludes in spite of themselves. It results in a frankly jarring experience, from the tonal shifts to the sudden leaps through time as the amnesiac hero remembers events from his past leading to entire chapters that sit right in the middle of present-day scenes already in motion. It felt like a combination of Broken Sword and a certain Infinity Engine game (I suspect if I named this game outright it might give some of Yesterday's twists away, so mouseover/click the link at your peril) and I certainly admire Pendulo's ongoing trend of having fascinating ideas for stories. Though I was mostly lukewarm on the game on the whole, I still feel like I'll have to try its sequel Yesterday Origins sometime in the future.

Tales of Zestiria

No Caption Provided

I've already talked about combat and exploration in previous editions of Saturday Summaries, so let's hit the third big pillar of JRPGs: character development. Tales of Zestiria once again bucks the trend of other Tales games here, removing the traditional smattering of improved stats with level-ups. Instead of gaining more HP, more stamina, more strength, etc., you don't actually earn anything from levelling up besides a single "AP": the points you use to activate certain useful skills like cheaper Mystic Artes or mid-air recoveries. Instead, the player has to increase their stats elsewhere.

To gain more health, for instance, the player needs to defeat bosses: story bosses reward "Blessed Orbs", which increase the HP of everything in the game, party members and enemies alike; and "Anomalous Orbs", which exclusively increase the party's HP but are only dropped by optional bosses, such as a handful of unique overpowered field monsters (think Dragon Quest VIII or the FOEs of Etrian Odyssey) and bosses at the end of side-quests. Combat stats like defense and attack come entirely from equipment and herbs (herbs being the series-wide permanent stat boost items, though they're far more plentiful in this game). I've discussed before that Zestiria is far more loot-focused than previous Tales games, with enemies dropping lots of level-specific weapons and armor with a randomized set of buffs that the player can customize further through the game's semi-elaborate crafting system. There's some wild stuff you can do with this feature, from using the Lord of the Land (a system where you install a guardian spirit for a region and can use the "Grade" you earn through battles and through donating equipment to increase the number of boons they offer while you're within their domain) to increase item drop rates and install "Normin" - the game's thankfully dialled-back cute mascots - with specific skills to increase the odds of finding equipment with that skill. For instance, a Normin named Atakk will cause more equipment with the "Atakk" skill to show up: Atakk being a flat bonus percentage to physical attack power. A character that has equipment with multiple skills of the same name can earn a stack bonus, and multiple skills of the same basic type or element will also provide combo bonuses. This is where the game gets kind of nutty on a level akin to Shin Megami Tensei's monster-fusing, and I'll admit that I haven't really started tinkering with creating/finding equipment with specific skills to take advantage of all these combo bonuses; the game's fortunately been easy enough so far that I haven't had to go on a min-maxing equipment-farming tear to compensate for frequent ass-beatings.

But you know what? I love games that offer this level of complexity while never making it compulsory. If you were to ramp up the battle difficulty, it'd certainly be more of a consideration, but I'm currently rocking "moderate" (the middle difficulty, though it's one above "normal") and just about surviving some of the trickier bosses with the equipment I come across normally. Tales is definitely at its best when you aren't just shredding through enemy encounters no problem, and are required to take seriously tactics like interrupting/avoiding powerful charged enemy attacks and exploiting elemental weaknesses in order to survive, but knowing there is more I can do for my equipment loadouts if enemies ever become more than I can handle is reassuring, even if it might mean spending a few more hours in a region or dungeon than I would prefer.

From what I heard about Zestiria, that it was supposed to be this Tales equivalent of Final Fantasy IX where it was more about celebrating the history of the series and how far it's come on its 20th anniversary (Tales of Phantasia, the first Tales, was a 1995 Super Famicom release), I figured it'd be a more run-of-the-mill iteration in the series. Tales doesn't always go all out as far as new features and big shake-ups to the status quo are concerned at the best of times, so it's a bit of a shock that the "throwback" Zestiria is actually one of the more innovative and strange titles in the series. For a game that's meant to venerate and hearken back to 20 years and fourteen previous core entries in the Tales franchise, it's a little odd that it feels so different to those earlier games. Well, not any that I'm familiar with at least. (Really starting to think I should've played Graces F first...)

Start the Conversation