Saturday Summaries 2019-01-12: Invisible Ascent Edition

It's fair to say I have a lot of fondness for RPGs, even if they tend to require the most time to complete out of everything else vying for attention in my backlog. I'm in the midst of two right now - Mass Effect Andromeda and Battle Chasers: Nightwar - and while there's no end in sight for either, I'm still in it for the long haul. I've tried to put into words before now what makes the appeal of the slow development crawl of a typical RPG so compelling, and I think it can be best summed up as "The Invisible Ascent": When your characters grow stronger so gradually that you don't even really notice until you're holding your own against dragons and gods, after which you can look back and see just how far you've come from bashing rats in a cellar somewhere.

Games often confer this spurious sense of accomplishment - probably a detriment, given how it alleviates the constant need for genuine accomplishment in our personal and professional lives - and none more so than RPGs once you've reached the top of the hill after a very long climb. It's intoxicating, and one of the major reasons I play so many; the other reason being that they split their focus between storytelling and deep game mechanics, which are my two biggest draws to any new game.

I continue to admire Nightwar for its perfectly calibrated difficulty curve, as I've never met an enemy party my own level that I didn't have some difficulty defeating (barring those rare times when only one guy showed up), but it is starting to get a little more tricky now that I have most of my party members and the proverbial training wheels have come off. For at least the first 25% of Nightwar, you simply have the three default characters to minimize the amount of... let's call it "feature sickness," where you have too many mechanics and variables to contend with and not enough experience with the game to navigate a good strategy with all those moving parts. Once you have a few dungeons under your belt and the game is reasonably assured that you know what you're doing, you quickly recruit two new characters - the ranged/support wizard character Knolan and the evasion-based damage-heavy rogue Red Monika - and a whole lot more in the way of synergistic party construction and combo strategies suddenly opens up.

In so many words, the game just got a bit more interesting for a while, so I'm inclined to keep pushing through and hopefully figure out how to withstand the amount of ludicrous damage enemies seem to do now. I'm poised to take on the fourth dungeon (of around eight, I believe) and make some serious progress during the weekend.

Link here: Indie Game of the Week 102: Battle Chasers: Nightwar

  • AGDQ 2019

It's on its final day, as of writing, but AGDQ has proven to be as fitfully entertaining as it has every year prior. I have a lot to catch up on - despite claims that I would watch them, I missed both the Celeste and The Messenger runs live, but the many VODs from the event should keep me in good company for the rest of January at least - but I've checked in on some very elucidating playthroughs here and there. Runs like the Super Mario Sunshine Lockout Bingo, in which two versatile players independently pursue a table of randomly selected objectives by devising routes that incorporated progress towards multiple goals simultaneously, which was fascinating to watch play out. Or the Free Enterprise FF4 mod, which turns the venerable RPG into an open-world game with a similar procedurally-generated format as the A Link to the Past randomizer ("make a beeline for areas with lots of chests" seems to be an enduring strategy for both). Or the elaborate fan game that is Super Mario Bros. 3mix with its many allusions to Mario games pre- and post-SMB3 (including a lot of props for Super Mario Land 2, which I feel is generally underrated).

I managed to complete my task of ensuring we have pages in decent shape for everything featured, though there were a few bonus games I didn't account for. Some were added last minute, but I feel if I studied the part of the GDQ site that included donation incentives I would have had a better idea of what this event would ultimately include. Food for thought for when summer rolls around and SGDQ '19 is ready to go.

Link here: Wiki Project: Awesome Games Wiki'd Quick 2019

It's on a little bit of a ME:A hiatus because of Nightwar, but I've been making steady progress with Andromeda and hope to be done with it soon. Its original purpose - a relatively mindless open-world game to stick on while I get caught up with GOTY podcasts - is now defunct, so I'm more inclined to push through the content I have left and move onto something more competent, like Marvel's Spider-Man or the Spyro Reignited Trilogy. That said, I still don't entirely dislike the game. It does falter in comparison to its predecessors of course, and it seems to have learned the wrong lessons about the amount of open-world busywork bloat that Dragon Age: Inquisition suffered, and the less said about its many glitches and bugs the better, but... well, it's the very acme of a three-star game all-told. Not something I'd recommend without strong caveats, but entirely playable. It's just unfortunate that it was the follow-up to some of the best RPGs of the previous generation and released in a year that had some of the best RPGs (Nier Automata, Divinity OS 2, Ys 8, Persona 5, Tales of Berseria, etc.) of this generation. It's definitely a game that would've been better served by another year of development at the very least, both for the polish it sorely needed and to get out of the way of all that competition.

Progress Report: I'm currently done with Kadara, the fourth of five "main" planets that you can transform into a viable habitat by scouring its overworld for side-quests and other objectives, but I also now have access to what feels like the conclusive mission arc of the main quest. If you're familiar with how Mass Effect 2 and 3 are structured, what I'm faced with now is the choice of either completing a lot of semi-important but optional objectives that will ensure a better ending, or to just jump to the end and have everyone die on me because I neglected their loyalty missions. I'm not so enervated with the game that I want to fast-forward to a bad ending, but I'm probably not going to tackle every little side-quest presently in my mission log either.

  • Parks and Recreation (Season 4)

I can't stop watching this superbly crafted show, even if Season 4 (and what I've seen of 5) isn't quite as strong as Season 3. A lot of this particular season involves protagonist Leslie Knope's bid for city councilwoman, and her friends in the titular parks and recreation department helping with her election campaign in their off-hours (which feels like it shouldn't be allowed, what with them being public servants, but whatever, it's a sitcom). While it can be a little dull having every episode further this one main plotline, it does mean a few fun guest roles like Paul Rudd as the privileged and moronic heir to the city of Pawnee's biggest industry and Leslie's chief rival for the seat, who was expected to sleepwalk the election due to his connections. It also had one of the most inspired bits of physical comedy I've seen in a while, where Leslie and her entourage were required to make it to a stage to deliver a speech, only the stage is on an ice rink and everyone has trouble staying up while Gloria Estefan's "Get On Your Feet" starts and stops at perfectly-timed intervals. I still love this show and its cast, even coming at it years after the fact, and I'm intending to watch it through to the very end.

In other TV news, I'm glad that The Good Place (from the same showrunner as Parks and Rec) is back from its little holiday, even with only a couple episodes of this season left. I might write that one up next week. Mob Psycho 100's second season just started (here's my impressions of the first season) and Thunderbolt Fantasy's second just ended (here's my impressions for that first season too), not to mention the second half of the final season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt airing at the end of the month, so there's plenty of good TV still to watch even during what is normally a winter drought. That is, once I run out of Parks and Rec of course.

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