Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hayter! HAYYYYYTEEEERR!

Platinum's fingerprints are all over Metal Gear Rising. Leave out the weighty exposition and forced humor and it could pass for a sequel to Vanquish, and I mean that is the best possible way. The name 'Metal Gear' means something. It means sneaking around and nonsensical codec conversations. It means struggling with the controls and hiding in a cardboard box. It means that at some point David Hayter will need to be called for his services as you know who. I have a feeling that the last part is not going to happen. There is no bait and switch here like there was in Metal Gear Solid 2, but as of right now it doesn't feel like a Metal Gear game. It doesn't feel as good as Vanquish or Bayonetta, either, and that is where a few problems pop up.

Kojima's fingers are all over Rising as well. There are over the top cut scenes filled with angst. The one boss I have fought so far was equal parts sexy and menacing. Raiden is still a whiny bitch. For the most part this union between Konami and Platinum works well. What Kojima likes doesn't detract from what Platinum is good at: making fast paced action games with the notable exception of there not being a lock on button. Rising moves fast and without the ability to lock the view on a particular enemy things get lost. The camera tries to keep up but gets stuck on walls far to easily. For all I know there is a lock on button and I just cannot find it because the game does a terrible job of telling the player how to do things. I purchased several new moves and could figure out who to do them. Only at the end of the night when I backed out to the main menu did I stumble across a moves list. Too many cooks syndrome, just not to the same point of Aliens Colonial Marines, thankfully (a game that I cannot wait to play...).

It is more of a best of for both companies than a worst of. Getting around the lack of lock on can be done. Learning new moves by trial and error isn't much fun but it is possible. Still, Rising does not feel like a Metal Gear game. In the first ten minutes a metal gear ray shows up and Raiden kills it, on his own, with a sword. This both cheapens the eponymous metal gear but it sets an impossibly high bar for Raiden. Later in the same chapter when he has his arm chopped off by a boss that cannot be defeated the player is left wondering what the hell just happened to the guy who was leaping hundreds of feet in the air, slicing a giant robot to pieces with a weapon that was clearly not long enough to do so.

Rising looks good, plays well enough with a few annoyances, and is filled with Metal Gear fan service. But it isn't Metal Gear. This is Raiden Rising or Vanquish 1.5 or Bayonetta with a dude this time. I guess that I just miss Snake.



Upon further review, there is a lock on button. The game just never tells you. I am not the only one who couldn't find it.

I am not pleased.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wrath!

Chamberlain's #1 rule on how not to end a game:

Do not, ever, ever, end a game with a series of quick time events. It is never the right idea. What an over the top cinematic, knock the player's socks off finale? Fine, find a way to do it in engine. Can't find a way to do it engine and don't want to rethink the ending because most of the assets are already created?

No sympathy. Fuck you.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time was not a very good game anyway, but capping it off with a bad quick time event repeated three times guarantees it place among other disappointments. There were a few  moments of interesting platforming interspersed between poorly designed, visually crowded hub worlds, but now all I can think about was how I had to hit X to not die. Again.

Quick time events are a plague. I would blame God of War, but that isn't going back far enough. You know whose fault it is?


Dragon's Lair was good. Then we collectively realized it was about as much fun as skipping through chapters on a DVD with an over sized remote and it wasn't good anymore.

Then we forgot what we learned and some of us, not me thankfully, bought Sewer Shark and Night Trap.


Night Trap was bad back before there was an internet full of free porn. It hasn't gotten any better. And this is how Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time ends: following button prompts. Just replace the poorly paid models with a scantily clad anthropomorphic fox.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Expected defeat

I finished Ni No Kuni over a week ago and have yet to say anything about the ending. This is not meant to be a condemnation, I was just busy being disappointed in the new Sly Cooper and actually following through with registering for UFGT9. For better or for worse, it stays very true to its JRPG roots. There is a false ending after the big bad is defeated. The real big bad shows up, there is a multi-section fight with no save points, you die the first time, repeat until the real last boss falls or the player gets fed up and walks away.

A good RPG final boss should kill you once. It should have an attack so ridiculous that there is no avoiding defeat the first time it is used. There should be a fairly obvious way to not get hit with it, but dying once is it to be expected. I have a hard time thinking of a traditional RPG that didn't kill me once. This is a by product of how quickly I run through games and how little tolerance I have for grinding, but I almost always win in the end.


No Knights of the Round. No maxed out characters. Just three under-leveled characters and the stubborn ability to die after thirty minutes of fighting and try again.


Ultimecia took 2 hours. I am not joking.

There is only one game I can remember getting to the very end and not finishing.


It was so awful that I tried maybe twice and gave up. That game wasn't very good anyway.

/sour grapes

Back to Ni No Kuni, the White Witch had an attack that killed off my whole team in one use if they weren't at full health. It got me once, I gave the game a nod, then dove into my back stock of healing items and succeeded on the second attempt. It was not the most memorable fight, that one goes to fighting the goddamn sun at the end of Digital Devil Saga 2, but it was better than fighting Fate at the end of Final Fantasy 9.

I should really stop name dropping and say something worthwhile.

Ni No Kuni never deviated from its saccharine take on the JRPG trope. I refuse to complain more than that because so few JRPGs come out anymore. It is a dying breed that I still enjoy, one that I doubt will make the leap to the new generation of systems. I may own a WiiU yet.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Going all in

Registering for UFGT9 tonight. Going to take my weak ass AE and SFxT games on the road.

Going to play some Divekick. Going to get too little sleep and pretend to not be an old, crotchety bastard for a few days. Not going to drink too much because I want to remember it.

...going to practice and try to not embarrass myself in casuals. Probably going to drop Blanka in SFxT because he just isn't very good. Team big hair, Guile - Paul, all the way.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Demo Friday: This is not my Sam

Demo Friday. On time. Seriously.

I have no idea what is going on.

Serious Sam: BFE's release on XBLA was a wonderful moment for me. Even though it was the second time I had purchased the game it was the first time I actually got to play it. The game was everything that I wanted it to be: juvenile, difficult, shoot-y. There is at least one episode of DLC available for it that I have not yet played, but that is being saved for an especially rainy day. Serious Sam Double D XXL took me by surprise because I did not know what it was. A new Sam game? I'm game.

Wait a minute, this isn't Serious Sam, this is a 2D platformer in the same vein as Contra. This is of course not a bad thing, there are not enough quality side scrolling shooter. Taking an existing character and dropping him into a new genre is not unheard of. The problem here is that they actually kept too much from the serious first person shooters. To be specific: enemies appearing out of nowhere. Monster closets are used to great effect in the shooters. There are almost required for the sheer number of enemies that are regularly thrown at the player. This usually happens far enough away that their spontaneous popping into existence give the player plenty of time to react.

The range of vision in a 2D platformer is much, much shorter. This means that enemies appearing out of nowhere are usually in your lap before you know what to do. Remember the headless bombers?


They work because there is just barely enough time to kill them. In the new game there isn't. They appear, you walk into them, and this is supposed to be fun. Add to that floaty controls and not getting hit constantly is almost impossible. I am not disappointed because this is not a Serious Sam FPS, I am disappointed because it is not a very good platformer. The only thing that does work is the gun mechanic: stick guns on to other guns. It looks ridiculous, which is to be expected, and when you get the right combination enemies blow up real good. That is not enough to save Double D XXL. The game exists as a reminder that I never did finish Hard Corp: Uprising and really should get around to downloading that again.

I don't play minecraft

nor will I ever, but this:



Oh. My. God.

So awesome.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

And so it begins

Watching the Sony PS4 announcement live was not possible so I had to be content with reading live blogs after the fact and fighting YouTube for the game videos. There was good news - not blocking out used games. There was bad news - no backwards compatibility. Most notably, and what bothered me greatly, was the no news - no date, no price, no picture of the hardware.

Internet rumor has the price coming in between $400 and $500 and logic dictates it will be in November or December. The enthusiast part of me, the part whose is ready for new hardware and desperately wants to get its hands on it, needs to see what the thing is going to look like. It will add a concrete anchor for my enthusiasm. Instead of 'Sony is putting something out this year' it becomes 'Sony is putting this out this year.' That is when it stops being an idea and becomes an item that I want to spend money on, put in my basement, and start plugging things into.

...

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is not good. Case in point: a quick time event featuring a pick hippo in drag that goes on far, far too long. It wasn't funny to begin with. By the time he starts fluttering his eyelashes and shaking what the good lord gave him it was more than not funny. It was uncomfortable. I know that this is not representative of the past games, but this has been my only exposure, and it makes the copy of Metal Gear Rising sitting next to it all the more tempting.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Me and the new boxes

Over the weekend I stopped by a GameStop on the off chance they would be willing to take my money in exchange for a guarantee of one of the new systems coming out later this year. They would not, but the manager recognized me immediately and struck up a conversation. It has been at least five years since I left that company and I still cannot walk into any of the stores in my area without someone knowing who I am. Hell, if the store happens to have a been an EB odds are I opened it and ran it for a time. I don't miss it, as I enjoy not working nights, weekends and holidays, but running a game store was something that I was good at. Had they compensated me fairly I might have never left.

This particular manager was sticking around until the next batch of consoles was done and then moving on. I can't blame him, though I almost told him the story of how I passed on my launch day Xbox 360 to cover shortages and didn't get it for a few weeks. It would have crushed him. He had the same excitement that I have, though, and we shared a brief giddy moment in which rumors were rebuffed, bank account shortages lamented, and not wanting to wait in line outside, overnight in November, assuming that is when they come out. GameStops are still good for something: if you catch the right one and the right people are working and the district manager isn't there you can have a good conversation about games.

Console releases have been hit or miss for me. I bought a PlayStation several months after release, and only then because I got a job at Blockbuster and could rent games for free. That job paid for an N64 at launch, but that was a pretty big bust: I bought the console with no games and it stayed that way until Doom 64 came out. By the time the PlayStation 2 came out I was working as an assistant manager for EB. My manager was a bit loose with the rules so I got to take mine home several days before the street date, but don't tell anyone.

Wait, I skipped one: Dreamcast. 9/9/99. My birthday. Was working at Blockbuster still, so I had a reserve at my local Babbage's. There was still a line, but it was a great line to be in. No stress, no worrying about getting a console. Just a bunch of nerds in a line, talking about what launch titles they were going to get. My people.

The Gamecube was the last Nintendo system that I took seriously. By then I was back at EB and had to deal with the near simultaneous launch of that and the Xbox. Being young and naive, I dismissed Microsoft's intrusion into Sony and Nintendo's world. Six months later, when the Dreamcast died, I traded in my re-cased, black DC and N64 to pay for one. It was a betrayal that it took quite a while to forgive myself for. But that is where the games were. It was change it how I treated the hobby that has followed me since. Go where the games I want to play are. Discard previous allegiances.

Moving from company loyalist to platform agnostic explains my falling out with Nintendo and embrace of Microsoft. My first 360 (there have been four) came home a few weeks after launch. The 60 gig launch PS3 that still graces my entertainment center made it home the same way. I have never owned a Wii, nor will I ever own a WiiU, though Monolift Soft's refusal to port their JRPG's to grown up systems is putting a strain on that decision. Having those two systems and a mediocre PC allows  me to play the vast majority of games that I want to play.

This year is a little different. While I am very much looking for to PlayStation 4 and neXtBox I am terrified by what they may represent. If this generation does kill the used and rental market they way I play games will once again be changed. There is no way I could afford to purchase all of the games that I want to play. GameFly is my only option. Should GameFly cease to function, what then? Before GameFly I purchased and traded back games at a frightening rate. This made me one of my own best customers but made zero fiscal sense. This, too, may no longer work. I don't trust either company to compensate for taking something as important as being able to resell a game with lowering prices. This means that a lot of good and most of the bad games will just not be played, and that breaks my heart.

But this won't happen, right? Sony will announce things tomorrow, the system will be a single sku release priced at $400, Microsoft will follow suit, and all will be right with the world.

Sure, and while I am wishing for things that won't happen, both systems will feature perfect backwards compatibility, my arcade still will still work, my Rock Band DLC will transfer over, and 4K televisions will drop in price fast enough for me to buy one. Hope springs eternal.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The long and the short of it

I have much to talk about and none of it involves making up last week's Demo Friday. That discussion will shift quickly from being about the game to being about the general merits of one CCG over another, a discussion that I am not particularly well equipped to handle. As it stands, the electronic version of Magic: The Gathering is far superior in both presentation and handling, but I will reserve my excitement for the electronic version of Legend of the Five Rings, which will never happen.

Bitches can't handle Junzo, can you?

Ni No Kuni has steadily improved for the last thirty or so hours, to the point where, pint sized protagonist aside, it has turned into a pretty good JRPG. Oliver is still grating but I will cut him some slack, as his mother dies in the first half hour of the game and he just found out that the main bad guy is his soul mate, then killed him anyway. The game has an odd balance of mechanics: for everything is gets wrong it gets something totally unrelated right. For example:

Combat (bad) vs Quest System (good)

I compared Ni No Kuni's combat to both Pokemon and Nocturne. It truth, it is not as good as either because it lacks variety in both tactics and party members. For combat based on swapping out and leveling up monsters there needs to be a compelling reason to use new ones. I have been using the same few summons for the last fifteen hours and will probably never stop. I keep finding new creatures that have the same abilities as ones I already have, not to mention that when push comes to shove Oliver is still better at dealing damage than anyone or anything else. Every single boss fight is Oliver and his two meat shields vs a giant monster.

Oliver being the go to guy for important combat wouldn't be bad if powerful spells didn't all cost too much to cast and MP regaining items were prohibitively expensive. If the boss isn't dead before Oliver runs out of MP it becomes a battle of attrition. The other two characters might be able to help if their AI was pants on head retarded about using spells. If left to their own devices the AI characters will cast giant area of effect spells on single mobs and then use terrible melee attacks on bosses. Controlling them manually might work if the menu system was impossible to navigate quickly. There are settings for them but they are not nearly granular enough to be useful. What is needed is the gambit system from Final Fantasy (hold on, counting Final Fantasies in my head) 12(?). They were pain to set up, but once they were done the game almost played itself.

On the other side of this are quests that, while simple, give very tangible benefits. Completed quests and bounties fill stamp cards. Stamp cards are exchanged for in game bonuses, good bonuses, like being able to walk faster, enemies dropping more health when they die, and my favorite, a one hundred HP and MP bonus for Oliver. Most of them are fetch quests or simple 'kill x of x' missions but when the prize for completion is that good it is worth it. These quests can have you running all over the world, which would be bad, if not for...

The best fast travel system ever (good) vs a small game world (bad)

At around the ten hour mark Oliver gets a wonderful spell called 'travel' that allows him to return to any location previously visited for 1 MP. Have a quest that requires items from two different cities on different continents? No problem. The journey to a new area is important and interesting, but retreading the same ground for the tenth time is boring even when enemies that you out level run away.

What is surprising is how small the world is. If I didn't have the travel spell I could still fly around on a dragon and make pretty good time from one end of things to the other. Oliver is out to save the world; the world just doesn't feel very big. There are only four main cities and not much in between. It feels like I am saving my neighborhood from a bully, not saving the known world from the big, scary dark djinn.

Check my dreads, yo.
I hit the false ending last night. It would be less obvious if the tag line he game wasn't 'Wrath of the White Witch' and the white witch hadn't shown up yet, but I am looking forward to the ground falling out from under Oliver. Again.

...I may be a horrible person.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Still alive

Been a busy few days at work full of nothing but work, more work, and Ni No Kuni.

I did play the new Yu Gi Oh game for demo Friday. At least I think I played it. There is gap in me memory of last night about fifteen minutes long and that is the only thing that might fill it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I stole it, now take it back

Two PS3 exclusives being played simultaneously? Is such a thing even possible? This is exactly the time I would expect my loyal launch system to finally five up the ghost. Assuming the PS4 will play PS3 games, it just has to make it about ten more months. You can do it, big guy, you can do it.

The Sly Cooper series is my favorite license from the previous generation that I never actually played. There is a good reason for this: I worked in gaming retail for the entirety of the PS2's reign. Being one of those rare managers who both knew what he was doing, was not a thief and liked to make recommendations, Sly was a great back pocket game to whip out when parents were looking for something more involving than your general licensed dreck but the kids were not quite ready to make the jump to Ratchet and Clank or Jak and Daxter. That and I really dug Sly's design. The raccoon was a thief who wore a mask. What more could I ask for?

I know that Thieves in Time is not by the same studio that made the first three so its quality should not reflect on the original, whether that be for good or ill. There was only about an hour of free time last night, not nearly enough for Ni No Kuni, so I started up Thieves in Time and played through the first level. Forty five minutes later I saved my progress, put down my controller and that to myself, 'That was it?'

It's not really a stealth game, which is good, but it isn't really an action platformer, either. Plus who are these other characters: a physically handicapped turtle and mentally handicapped hippo? Sly was so cool and together that he had to be saddled with sidekicks to babysit, I guess. Either that or they are the worst attempt at political correctness in a game ever. A quick look up shows that they were always there. That's what I get for never actually playing the old games.

It is my own fault for expecting more. This was a game that I used to recommend to children and it looks like I was right. I have also been spoiled by the quality of this generations Ratchet and Clank games. The PS3 is nearing the end of it's life cycle. This is when all the kinks of the hardware have been smoothed out and it can be pushed to the edge of its capabilities. Thieves of Time looks and plays like a launch title.

Maybe is Cole had a Sly costume in inFamous 2...

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Mill

I love console rumors. Even when they infuriate me, like the no used games rumor, I still want to hear them. If even a portion of these are true we have a lot to look forward to. The most recent batch comes from Kotaku, courtesy the dude who tried to sell a next generation dev kit on ebay and was surprised when Microsoft blocked it and sent a squad of attack lawyers to his house. While not as juicy as the complete removal of a large portion of the market, theses new rumors are still pretty good.

Always on, required Kinect - I never bought a Kinect because there were no games that required it that I wanted to play and the ceiling of my basement is too low, anyway. The new Kinect packs in with every box and is no longer optional. If Microsoft really wants me to navigate the dashboard by waving my arms around I suppose I will deal with it. I have seen hysterical reactions by people who think this is just a way for the power that be to watch what they are doing, when they are doing it, and what kind of tin foil their hat is made out of. Maybe so, but we already know exactly what they would see if they peek out of the Kinect and it ain't pretty. My reaction: meh.

Required installs - Who doesn't already install their games? There is a better part to this rumor, that there will be only one sku for the new Xbox and it will come with a 500 GB hard drive. The install process also changes, running as the game itself is played, thus eliminating the ten minutes spin up to the first time a game is played. This is all good news, but it may also be part of locking a game to a specific system, thereby killing the rental and resale markets. I still think they won't do this. My reaction: a tempered sweet.

Running multiple games or applications simultaneously - This has one potential use for me: running IE at the same time a game is running. If the game is bad, to surf for other things. If the game is good, to tell you about it. If the game is hard, to cheat. My reaction - I may have to cover up my Kintect camera. You know, just in case.

New Controller - A new system should come with a new controller. I just hope that the old ones, and my extension my Qanba arcade stick, still work. My reaction: as long as there is not a return to The Duke things will be okay.

Because Microsoft hates people with small hands.
Specs - Don't really understand all of this. It's a little techy, even for me. Other rumors have the PS4 as more powerful. This would not surprise me as it is also true for this generation. Console exclusive will be the deciding factor. Uncharted 4 will undoubtedly blow out collective minds but I will not miss out of Gears of War: Once more, for the last time. My reaction: so? I will own both.

Even if, if, Microsoft makes the anti-used games move I will still own one. It will just end up being my secondary console, assuming that Sony takes the high road, for once, and lets me rent games. So this is not a decision on what I will buy, just what I will use more.

God damn am I excited.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Demo Friday: why does this exist?

Um, it's Friday?

Totally not Team Fortress. Really.
Thirty seconds ago I went to look up the name of the above game and I have already forgotten it, it was that unremarkable. Give me a few minutes, let me see if I can find it again and remember it long enough to record my reactions.

'Special Forces Team X'

Oh god. I didn't forget the name, my brain purged it on account of it being dumb as hell.

STX, as it would like you to call it, is an online only team based shooter, just like Counterstrike or Team Fortress or a dozen other games. On the plus side the demo is actually whole game with a forty five minute time limit on it. I actually applaud this approach. It gives the player plenty of time to know what he is getting into and decide if it is worth spending money on. It does not even segregate demo players from paid players. This causes a problem, thought, because people who actually bought the game and have spent time on it will destroy demo players with their better equipment.

This is not a problem unique to STX. I summarily pass on the online portion of Call of Duty to avoid this exact kind of abuse but enjoy the campaign. So what does STX have to offer? All of the bad of the big budget shooters and none of the good. If you must play it you will see all there is to see in the demo forty five minutes. I was done after five, but my patience for being shot in the back is not especially high.

Two sides of different coins

I spent quite a while yesterday writing and deleting things about Ni No Kuni in an effort to explain why I am still playing it and will play it to completion in spite of my various complaints. It feels like the last of a dying breed and that it must be experienced, warts and all. A good chunk of my Playstation and Playstation 2 years were spent playing nothing but Japanese RPGs. The genre was still new to me, my first real RPG was Final Fantasy 7, so I played every single one I could get a hold of. These games have gone from the forefront to a niche and I predict that the traditional,. linear JRPG will soon be unrecognizable. Ni No Kuni is a dinosaur, but it is a fuzzy dinosaur. Or maybe a pick, furry dragon.


Being that big and antiquated it is going to have the occasional accident. When Falcor up there takes a shit on your rug you forgot how nice and fuzzy he is because goddamn that is a big pile of shit. Ni No Kuni is not exactly house trained, either, but its failings the same failings that I have been putting up with from its peers since I started playing them. Difficulty spikes and grinding are par for the course. The game has yet go get obnoxiously hard, it is just forcing me to flee back to town more often than I'd like because I am out of magic points and I'll be damned if I waste consumables on non-boss monsters.

Once the offending area has been cleaned and sterilized the game is back to being pink and fuzzy. There are little touches all over that bring the world to life. Things that are taken for granted in real life, like Oliver have a separate walking animation for going down stairs or Drippy messing around during cut scenes in the real world because no on can see him. Ni No Kuni is great when it is not busy being not great, and the parts that are not great are simply it sticking to established tropes and conventions.

I just to get a bigger pooper scooper and I will make it to the end just find.

...

What better compliment to a refined example of a flawed but beloved genre than a flawed example of a ubiquitous and refined genre. It is bad shooter time and today's example is 007 Legends. From the outset 007 Legends gets it all wrong: Daniel Craig is cool as Bond, but Sean Connery was significantly cooler. Legends recasts Craig, voice and all, into the character's previous watershed moments. Seeing Craig in Goldfinger just isn't right. I bet Connery was too expensive to license.

Apart from being Bond sacrilege it includes an RPG element that feels like it was added in at the last minute because the box art had one too many bullet points on it. The environments look good enough and run at a stable enough frame rate to keep from causing motion sickness but the characters are refugees from Goldeneye. The N64 Goldeneye, not the remake. This is the perfect example of a cheap cash in: new Bond movie is coming out but there isn't a game to go with it. Take the new Bond and put him an old looking game and, tada, you have the kind of game that grandparents buy their grandchildren because Call of Duty is rated M and they heard it turns children into murderers. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

No used games?

No used titles on the neXtBox?

Edge-online thinks so.

Hmm. Seems a bit out there. They are just looking for page visits, right? Sony thought about this on the PS3 but never went through with it, surely Microsoft wouldn't...

Wait, they really mean it.

I give this three to one odds against. Locking out used games doesn't just alienate Gamestop. Best Buy and some Walmarts have begun selling used games as well, to say nothing of the effort Gamestop has put into selling cards for downloadable content and points to spend online. This is a game of chicken between Sony and Microsoft right now. One of them just might pull the trigger and then the other will immediately get to say 'can you believe what they did to you?'

However, if this does actually happen, the PS4 will become my primary console. I play far to many games that are just not worth owning. Locking out the used market locks out the rental market as well, and that is something that I cannot live without.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Possessed by pokemon

Ni No Kuni made the jump to Pokemon last night. I was already feeding treats to my familiars to boost their stats. Now I am leveling them up to evolve them and capturing them wild on the field of battle. It is a tried and true formula that has worked in dozens of proper Pokemon games (none of which I have ever played) all the way up to Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, a personal favorite. Ni No Kuni does not stray far from the norm, but the way familiars evolve makes the decision of when to do it much more important.

Familiars are able to evolve once they have learned all of their skills. There is also the matter of feeding them the appropriate food to trigger the evolution, but the game has been throwing them at me constantly since this the ability to use them unlocked. In order to learn more skills you have to evolve them, but doing so resets their level to 1, regardless of what Oliver's level is at the time. At about seven hours I am level eighteen. The difference between Oliver and a freshly evolved level one familiar is large enough that they cannot be used in combat. I can only imagine how bad it will get in another forty hours.

This level gap along with Oliver's own combat capacity being entirely dependent on how many magic points you can shovel at an enemy force you to keep a higher level, lower evolved familiar around as a backup. It also forces you to grind after evolving, something that I really do not enjoy. I can think of two ways to fix this. First and best, give Oliver better combat abilities aside from magic. With magic points Oliver is a powerhouse. Boss fights all play out the same way: circle strafe with Oliver while casting his most powerful spell. He just runs through the points so quickly that this will not work for random encounters. Remember the demifiend?

I dare you to say something about my shoes.

He could take care of business on his own when the situation called for it. He could also learn abilities from the other demons on his team. This could lead to incredibly broken combinations, none of which I was smart enough to figure out.

The other way to fix this would be to simply not reset the familiar's level. Resetting your best familiar right before a boss fight would be very, very bad, and I cannot think of a way to recover from it other than walking back out of the dungeon, killing everything along the way, which brings us right back to the grind.

This is the second post in a row that has been pretty down about Ni No Kuni. I don't mean to sound so negative, the game is very good, but drawing comparisons to classics makes it harder to enjoy.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A stretch

Making a long term commitment to an RPG requires being able to identify with one of, if not the main, character. This is easy with open ended games like Oblivion and Skyrim but the main character is a man of my own creation. I have yet to play the Dragonborn DLC but when I do it will be refreshing to revisit that world with my character. If I had to create a new one it wouldn't be the same. The same is true for Mass Effect and Dragon Age: the main character was mine and it was the ownership that made playing the same game for forty plus hours enjoyable.

JRPGs, by their very nature, do not allow this same kind of customization. They have a story to tell and they are going to tell it their own way and take their time doing it. The good ones still have at least one character to latch onto. For a classic example, take Cloud. I may not have spikey hair and wield a sword wider than my arms but the feeling of not knowing who you are is universal. The character's journey of discovery becomes the player's, creating almost the same kind of buy in that open ended games do. It can be a stretch, but given enough time and clever translation, it will work.

There are limits, and Ni No Kuni bumps into one right from the outset. The player character is an eight year old child, and from what I understand it will remain this way for the duration of the game. I cannot identify with an eight year old child, I am a cranky old man who yells at passing children to cut their hair and get a job. Oliver's purpose is to help the player look at the world through the innocent eyes a child. Yes, the over world is one of the more beautiful things I have seen in a game in a long, long time, but my wonderment is tempered by questions like 'how did they do that?' and 'why is this combat so boring?' It just doesn't work for me.

One wonders what this boy would taste like.

I am still going to play the game because it is an incredibly polished experience and JRPGs come around so rarely these days that I cannot afford to be choosey. Hopefully the combat will flesh out as I gain party members and more pokemon familiars. It will not be the same kind of emotional experience as the last Tales game, though. I am not living it, just watching it, almost passively. In a conversation with Chance, he called it 'gentle'. I am leaning towards 'saccharine,' but again, I am only six hours in. He has put in a solid forty and hasn't gotten tired of it yet.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Demo Friday: I tried it two of three ways

Shut up, I know that it is Sunday.

I tried to awaken. It never happened.

Skulls of the Shogun came out for every platform Microsoft could throw it at simultaneously. The obvious one is XBLA, but it squeaked out for Windows and Windows Phone as well. This would be meaningful if saves moved across from one version to the other or if buying one game gave you access to all three. Instead  it is just a game that was designed for one platform and then show horned into the other two.

But which came first?

I tried it on the 360 first because that is where my biggest screen is and it has the most comfortable place to sit. I honestly didn't know what kind of game it was when I started. The art style, which I do like, looked like a good fit for an action RPG. In spite of just finishing Torchlight 2 I was ready for another one. Nope, this is turn based strategy, reminiscent of the last (I think?) Arc the Lad game that came out for the PS2. You do manually control the basic movement of the characters, just within a restricted range. It was so by the numbers that I got bored very quickly: choose a unit, move, attack, back off. I literally fell asleep before I finished the demo level.

Writing off the game that quickly because I am not a fan of the genre is not fair. Plus, there was another version to try. My swiftly aging desktop has Windows 8 shoehorned on to it and proved, thankfully, up to the task of running Skulls of the Shogun. It looked a little better thanks to a higher resolution. The sound took a restart to get working, but I can hardly blame the game for that. Moving units with the mouse worked slightly better than using a controller thanks to its accuracy, but there were a few telling UI quirks that proved more irritating the longer I played. I could not advance dialogue or end a turn without manually clicking on an icon on the screen. These icons were on opposite corners to keep them from obscuring the action, but this also made clicking them a chore. It sounds petty, because it is, but it was the clue I needed to figure out which version came first.

Skulls of the Shogun is a tablet game. I wish I had one to try it on and I may yet give it a shot on my phone just to see how it runs. The desktop and Xbox versions were afterthoughts and it shows. The problems don't really effect how enjoyable the game is. It is, in my opinion, a very vanilla turn based strategy. In other words: boring. I just hope this 'reverse' design direction is not the norm.