Friday, February 28, 2014

In is finished!

It is indeed finished. Lightning Returns managed to avoid one of the standard pitfalls of JRPGs: the end game did not suck and the final boss was difficult but not completely unfair. Before I get to that, though, I need to mention the secret dungeon. If you finish forty or more side quests (which is not difficult because what else is there to do with all of the extra time) an extra day is added and the secret dungeon unlocks. This dungeon is just a bosh rush gauntlet filled with omega versions of each of the enemies. Here is the catch: time continues to burn while in battle, something that is completely new. The task is to get to the bottom before the day is done.

I didn't make it. In fact I wasted a good chunk of the day fighting a single monster, but it was fun because there was no penalty for losing. I did earn a good chunk of money and got a new weapon or two so it was worth it. Difficult, optional, but possible.

That trend continued through the final confrontation. Before fighting God there are four side areas to go through. Again, optional, but why not? It is a good thing I did because the reward for completing them was a kick ass weapon and shield which I credit for making the final part of the three stage, fifteen minute boss battle possible. I am not going to spoil anything, suffice to say that it goes from 'oh my god this is never going to end' to 'oh shit, do all the damage right now!' very quickly. Almost died, used most of my items. It was exactly what a final boss should be.

And there was the tear jerker ending filled with undecipherable mysticism and teary goodbyes. Everyone comes back, kills god, and are then reincarnated. If nothing else it means that there is not going to be a Final Fantasy XIII-4. No one is left.

Correction, Caius is still there.


Caius is cool. He is basically Satan now. And since god is dead, he should get his own game.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

One of us is paid...

It looks Yahtzee had the same exact initial experience with Lightning Returns as I did.



...only since he is paid to be snarky and talk fast and I am not paid at all (for this) he made his living and I tried a little harder to meet the game halfway. I think I got the better deal on this one. There is a difference between hating something organically and hating something on purpose. I did not hate the first few hours of Lightning Returns because I knew that I had to complain about something at length in a week. I hated it because I played it wrong. The difference is that I had enough residual affection for the series that I did not want to hate it and gave it another try. Yahtzee played for two hours and took the rest of the week off to come up with bad puns and references that no one outside of the UK gets.

Though if anyone wants to pay me to be snarky and talk fast I am quite willing to enter negotiations.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

When's it going to end?

Each night, after everything else is done and before I need to go to bed because I have not won the lottery yet, I have around three hours to devote to games. It's a nice round number and easy enough to split into pieces if I am in a Street Fighter mood and am working on something else at the same time. Near the end of the game I will put everything else aside and knock it out, especially when there are other games waiting in line. I thought I was going to finish up Lightning Returns last night because I thought that, once the last main quest was complete, I would be given the option to skip forwards to the end of the world.

Nope. That last quest was done in thirty minutes. Then nothing happened for the next two and a half hours and I still have five days of in game time to wait through. I suppose I could just sleep at the in but each day new quests unlock, some of which I already have the items for, and it would be foolish to pass up the free buffs. When I did not quite understand how to manage the clock there was a sense of urgency to every activity. Now that everything is done I am just getting bored.

This is dead time is a godsend for anyone who wants to find each and every little thing on a single play through. I couldn't care less about killing every last one of this monster or collecting a dozen of this other monsters eyeballs. That have no impact on the story or the characters and as ludicrous as it sounds that is why I play these games. Once the story ends my investment ends as well. Lightning Returns will be finished but I would have cared much more about the story ends if I didn't have so many hours of nothing happening to wade through to get there.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Toss them!

The final fetch quest is upon me and I feel that Lightning Returns will be wrapped up in the next two or three days. There are so many days left before the apocalypse that I may run around and clean up missed side quests or I may get bored and Lightning sleep away her final hours at an inn. Many of the remaining tasks are nothing more than 'kill a dozen of this' or better yet 'kill all of every kind of enemy.' No thanks.

Last night proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that Lightning deserves to be mentioned right alongside other major Final Fantasy characters. The moogles finally showed up. Moogles suck, this is a simple fact. Lightning knows this and agrees to go on a moogle fetch quest anyway. When she finds each lost, frightened moogle she does not just them how to get home. No, she grasps them firmly by the head and throws them as hard as she can into the distance.



How can you not have just a little crush on this character.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Good in spite of itself

Lightning Returns, at first blush, takes chances with its combat. Only having one character and having to swap the traditional roles in the middle of combat certainly sounds interesting. With greater enemy variety it might have been but in practice most encounters play out the same way. Lead outfit debuffs, second outfit stuns (hopefully) and third does damage. Repeat until dead. This would be easier to stomach if there was any sort of character or ability progressing, but there isn't.

New abilities are dropped by enemies and they are dropped often but most of them are useless. Unless the spell or attack has a passive ability it is not worth equipping and those are few and far between. I have been using the same attack on my melee Lightning for most of the game and there has been no reason to change it. I almost wish that, twenty some hours of gameplay ago, I didn't start over on easy but started over on Normal instead, though I know that the final boss fight will be all sorts of nonsense. This is still a Final Fantasy game, after all.

Outside of the so so combat I have been enjoying the game. I am a sucker for goodbyes and this game is full of them. Old characters are trotted out, Lightning comes to some sort of epiphany with them after saving their soul and there is either a plot explanation that I do not understand or a twist that I do no understand, either. Lightning herself has yet to go through any development; she started out as a female Solid Snake with a big sword and armor that was missing key pieces and will probably finish the game that way. That's okay, it works for her. One old friend that I will not name actually pokes fun at her for this, saying that if Lightning would have jumped into her arms when they were reunited she wouldn't have believed that it was her.

She is the center of the story, right in the center of the middling combat, ridiculous plot, fetch quests and unwelcome time mechanic, and she manages to hold it all together. Without Lightning this would be an average RPG at best. With her it is proof that the character is sound and that she deserves a better game for her send off.

An action game not by Square. Like Bayonetta, just without Bayonetta. Now we are on to something.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Saving too much time

On my first attempt at Lightning Returns I allowed time to move by far too quickly. An entire in game day was wasted because I did not think to leave the current area and search for more things to do instead of waiting around. My current attempt is trending in the opposite direction: I have three of the main quests done and have just under two days of in game time. At this rate Lightning will finish the main quest and be able to find a spa to chill out in while waiting for the end of the world.

This finality is driven home over and over. Lightning has to check in with god every day at 6:00 AM to see how much time is left. Everyday people know that the end is nigh as well, they just don't act like it. Being alive for 500 years and not aging must take the edge off of just about everything, up to and including the end of all things. The world ends in a week and stores are still open. Anarchy has not taken hold. Each days passes much like the one before it regardless of its distance to the last one.

It is both unbelievable and quite depressing. These are people so tired of living that any change is welcome, even if that change is the end of the world. The only one not tired of living is Lightning, but that is only because she has been asleep for the last five hundred years. She may be an emotionless hard ass but she still has some fight left in her.

I will talk about the combat and its limitations another time. The drop in difficulty from Normal to Easy was significant but there are still odd difficulty spikes. Three different outfits being available feels like it is not enough. Right now I am running balanced (with the default outfit because it looks awesome) all melee and all magic. If I had one more that I could load with nothing but status effects I would be much happier.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

An army of one

I am probably the only Xbox One owner who is not wetting him or herself out of anticipation for Titanfall. I never even bothered to download the beta. This is not some holier than thou quest to not play popular things nor is it some hipster fetish that prevents me from playing anything that looks great and features giant robots. Looking great and giant robots are right in my wheelhouse. Relying on the random people playing with you for the game to be enjoyable is not.

It's that multiplayer aversion sickness again. But Chamberlain, you say, Killer Instinct and Street Fighter are multiplayer! Very true, but those are one on one affairs and it is quite difficult for the other player to completely ruin the experience. At worst they disconnect. Slightly less worse would be post match grand standing which I really should get over. Past those it is either a good match that I win, a good match that I lose, or a total beatdown. The odds of the experience being acceptable are pretty good and if it isn't the whole thing is done in less than a minute and then I can try again.

Shooters are different. The combination of jamming more players together and handing them a virtual gun brings out the asshole in even the most mild mannered virtual combatant. It only takes one person to kill the fun for the rest of the team and there is always going to be that one person present. Modern shooters also reward time invested just as much as skill. For example, when I used to play Unreal Tournament I loved low gravity insta-gib maps. Everyone has the same weapon, everyone dies in one hit, may the best man (and fastest internet connection) win. In Call of Duty having skill is good. Having invested the time to earn the weapon that can smoke dudes from across the map is better.

Having neither of those means you just aren't going to have any fun.

The plan is still to play Titanfall, though the total lack of single player content will probably kill my interest quickly. I am worried that this generation will be the final one in which single player comes first and the multiplayer is tacked on. The (more) cynical side of me can see the switch happening because it is easier to attach micro-transactions to a multiplayer game. Appealing to people competitive nature is a gold mine. The less cynical side knows that I am nearly alone is this aversion to playing with others, a basement dwelling relic of an age when video games weren't cool.

I don't want competition or even companionship in most of the games I play. I am looking for story and immersion and I don't think a multiplayer exclusive game can deliver that. And yes I know that statement is wildly discredited by World of Warcraft and other MMOs, I just don't care.

Monday, February 17, 2014

All better

After my little rant on Saturday night I did enough research on Lightning Returns to realize that I was playing it wrong. I will not go so far as to take full blame for my initial experience being terrible as a few words of explanation would have save me from wasting most of my weekends progress, but then again this is a Final Fantasy game. They haven't made sense for years.

Here were my two mistakes: Easy is Normal and Normal is Hard and should be reserved for the first New Game+. Check. It's dumb, but fine. Second, I assumed that the game wanted to be played in the same linear fashion as almost all other Final Fantasy games. Arrive at town, do all quests in town, finish main quest segment, watch dramatic cut scene, repeat. This is completely wrong and that mistake along with mismanaging the clock led to me being in places that I wasn't ready for. When I realized that grinding monsters doesn't really get you anything and that all quests that did benefit me were locking because it was 2:00 in the morning and oh my God I am getting wrecked by random encounters and the world is going to end in five days my brain broke.

'Stop. Breath. Do something you hate because you really do want to play this game - start over.'

I made more progress in three and a half hours last night than I did in six over the previous two nights. A good chunk of that is skipping over Hope's boring expositions. I really want him to shut up. But I also figured out how to abuse the stop time ability. Instead of wandering around the first town waiting for an event to open up I took the train over to the next one and started on the main quest there. If I do it right I should be able to finish it before I need to head back to the first one.

Why didn't I do this the first time? Simple: the game never told me I could. This is the same problem that Beyond: Two Souls ran into: it makes some effort to fight boring gaming tropes but never gives you a hint about what it has done. In Beyond: Two Souls I never crossed the street because I assumed it was not possible. In Lightning Returns I did not leave the town that hosted Chapter 1 because Chapter 1 was not finished and I assumed I could not leave until it was. Foiled by previous experiences.

Lightning Returns is fun, now. I have a better idea of what not to do and the plot is surprisingly depressing and interesting. I have no doubt there will be a twist that ruins it but for now the basic idea is thought provoking: people stop aging and the world is going to end. What do they do to pass the time? Throw in a protagonist who has been asleep for the last five hundred years and is on a literal mission from God and you have a game as potentially depressing as Neir.

And I thought that couldn't be done.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

So angry

Oh my god, am I pissed. I just spent the better part of two hours getting crushed by random encounters in Lightning Returns and I don't understand why. Killing enemies does not grant experience. Lightning improves by completing side quests but the whole game runs on a timer and many of the quests need to be completed at a certain time of day. I got to a point in the first area where the main quest required me to be in the right place at the right time so I couldn't let another day pass to complete side quests but the enemies in the quest area are fucking ridiculous.

I am talking fucking dragons that take off half of your health, and that is when you block their goddamn attacks. For about an hour I thought this stupid thing was a boss. When I finally beat one at the expense of all of my shit another one appeared right behind it and my controller hit the wall. I can't grind for levels because there is no grind. I can't go out and buy better weapons because they are too expensive and if I farm easier mobs for money I will miss the timed plot event.

I have no idea what to fucking do and am seriously pissed off. It's as if I skipped several sections and am not in the right area but the quest is labeled 1-3 so I know that isn't the problem.

Just. So. Angry.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Worked as intended

The Lego Movie Videogame ended on a whimper with a boss fight that both looked and sounded incomplete. It was either missing sound effects completely or someone decided that a giant robot arm being torn off should make a slight 'piff' sound. Ignorance or incompetence, take your pick.

I don't think I can let this go. This is excellent:


This is just underwhelming:


In the end the game served at least part of its purpose: I do want to see the movie now. It looks like it will be fun for the same reason the Wreck It Ralph was fun. There were in jokes and easter eggs around every corner of the game, I can only assume that the movie will be similar. There was also an odd detour into the real world, ala Toy Story (confession: I have not seen any of the Toy Story movies in their entirety) and I can't decide if it was a good twist or if it destroyed the world they were trying to create. I am certainly not going to play the game again so the movie is my only choice.

I am sure it will be on Netflix eventually.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Too many pieces?

The Lego 'insert movie or franchise name here' series has long outperformed other licensed games by lampooning its source instead of emulating it. Travelers Tales was not bound by the standard movie game shackles of having to follow the plot and not change anything so they could make excellent games that were funny on top of being fun to play and they did it for quite a while without any spoken dialogue. This has worked for around thirteen or fourteen game. So what went wrong with The Lego Movie Videogame?

Simple - this is the first title that actually had to follow the movie it was based on. Part of the fun of all the other games was seeing something real turned into Lego, Lego Mola Ram still being my favorite. Look at this smug bastard:


Genius.

The Lego Movie already was *gasp* made of Legos so step one of the parody is already taken away. Add to that the standard movie game restrictions of having to follow to plot without adding too much to it and cannibalizing sequel material and you get a standard movie game: it's boring. When compared to the exceptional Lego Marvel, it's just no very good at all.

Characters have less interesting powers and yet you drag along six or seven at a time in later levels. Hub worlds make little sense as they don't fit into the plot. This is fine because they are much smaller than in previous games, anyway, so you don't spend much time in them. Story levels are less interesting because, I assume, they are saddled with movie events. Truth be told, I haven't seen the movie, but it is either blame the source material or Traveler's Tales is losing its touch. I would like to believe the former.

From a next gen box perspective it just doesn't look very good. Lego Marvel had moments that reminded me that I was playing the game on my new shiny hardware. Lego Movie does nothing of the sort. Even the cutscenes, cribbed right from the movie, are not as clean and smooth as from the last game. It pains me to say it but this game is just not worth playing. If you need a Lego fix, and who doesn't, wait for Lego The Hobbit. Lego Gollum will be quite sad if you don't.

  



Monday, February 10, 2014

It's just a small complaint, really

Spoiler curfew is up, time to talk about Outlast.

I really don't want to rip into Outlast. It's a good game, especially since it appears to be the first title that Red Barrels has produced. Being scary is not easy, especially when you take into account that different things scare different people, and this is precisely where Outlast and I have a bit of a falling out. Jump scares annoy me, they don't frighten me. They are a cheap way to get a reaction and the early parts of Outlast lean on them a bit too much. Once I could predict them with reasonable accuracy it lost most of its punch.

Secondly the game's setting and theme never really resonated with me. Crazy guys in dark hallways aren't scary because you know exactly what they want to do: kill you. There is no unknown and the unknown is what I find most frightening. Ghosts and the supernatural will always get more of a reaction out of me for reasons that I myself do not understand. I know that there isn't going to be a giant inmate who has peeled off his own lips waiting around the corner when I go up the stairs at the end of the night. I know that there isn't a ghost there, either, but somehow the ghost feels more plausible. This is why Fatal Frame left me a mess and Outlast did not, it just never pressed the right buttons.

Up until the last hour I was still enjoying Outlast. It was definitely a moody, intense game that kept playing a wimpy protagonist from getting old. The first time I saw the Walrider I did get the shivers because the game didn't explain what it was. Then in the last hour the game explains exactly what the Walrider was in far too much detail. No ghosts, no spooks, no monsters or demons, just World War 2 era Nazi experiments with nanomachines.

Fucking nanomachines. The last level abandoned the dark hallways of the asylum for brightly lit corridors that would have been right at home in Resident Evil or FEAR. Only Resident Evil stopped trying to be frightening years ago and FEAR was nice and scary because of Alma (at least the first one was, anyway). I have talked about the third act collapse before. This is right up there with the worst of them in that is lessens the effect of everything that comes before on subsequent playthroughs.

Here's how you fix this: as soon as the Father immolates himself on the cross turn the game off. Just turn it off. There is nothing worth seeing after that. Some sense of mystery will be maintained. If you need more closure pretend that the two naked guys who stopped chasing you long enough to hold the door to the crucifiction room open cut out your spleen when it was done.

Anything is better that nanomachines and a set piece right out of Minority Report. Ugh.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Is that all you got?

I am going to be intentionally vague in my reactions to Outlast, at least for the moment. It is still new enough that I would feel guilty spoiling the ending. It is not very long, some people will find it scary, I hated the last hour with the same passion usually reserved for the midichlorian explanation of the force in the Star Wars prequels.

And I may already have said too much.

What I did enjoy was picking out references to other horror games, intentional or otherwise. The prison sections reminded me very much of The Suffering and I do not mean that as a slight. I liked The Suffering. Running away and hiding with no hope of surviving combat reminded me of Clock Tower, and that was before the direct homage to scissorman.

Let me trim that for you.

Later it devolves into the campiest bits of the middle Resident Evil games with a dash of the Russian Sleep Experiment short story with Nazis instead of Commies. More specific complaints will be levied at a later date.

Outlast succeeds at being an enjoyable first person adventure game in spite of repetitive puzzles and chase sequences. It tells a pretty good, if cliched story both visually and through journals. There are even characters that are more than 'big bad guy who wants to kill you.' Father Martin provided a narrative center (until his demise) and the two naked guys arguing over who would get the player's eyeballs and spleen were more disturbing than anything else the game had to offer. I would have liked to see more of them.

Not literally, mind you, having seen all there is to see.

The problem is that this is not the product I was promised. Outlast isn't scary. I will go as far as calling it unnerving in the same way Dead Space was unnerving but that it all I can give it on the horror-o-meter. Jump scares get old. Running for your life gets old when it is the third time going down the same path and you don't know quite where to go. Homicidal maniacs are much less threatening once you learn that they can be outsmarted by a room with two exits.

Good game, especially for a studio's first effort? Yes, absolutely. What I was hoping for? No.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

You don't scare me. Yet.

I was unable to actually play Outlast last night because the Playstation store decided that the upper midwest was not a support region. Cheap shot warning: there may be nothing worth buying in the Xbox One store at the moment but at least I have never been unable to get to it. Connection issues with Xbox Live are few and far between. The Playstation Network cannot boast the same reliability, at least not yet. I never complained before because I wasn't paying for it, something that has just recently changed.

It has been a while since a game has actually frightened me.

Silent Hill was scary because I did not know what I was getting into. Silent Hill 2 was scary enough to give me nightmares. Silent Hill 3, not so much apart from the bathroom scene, and not a single one since has done more than give me momentary chills.



Fatal Frame and, even more so, Fatal Frame 2, were mind numbing. Then there was a big gap, and then there was Amnesia. Amnesia was really, really scary. A Machine for Pigs was decidedly not.

Suffice to say, I am ready, but I am also dubious of Outlast. Reviews mentioned that after the first few hours the game falls into a pattern: if it looks like something might jump out at you, something will jump out at you. Constant jump scares quickly lose their power. Amnesia and Silent Hill 2 worked because there were long periods of time in which nothing happened. The games built tension, not reflexes.

Regardless, it will be nice to use my PS4 again.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Don't touch it!

Clearly, I have been remiss in posting, but for good reason. I haven't played anything new in about two weeks. I would not go as far as saying it was depressing but sitting down for my evening and not knowing how I was going to spend it is not exactly a great time. Out of desperation I returned to Forza 5 and found that I can only play it for an hour at a time, which is about how long the game takes to start repeating tracks. There are rumblings that the next Forza is a follow up to Horizon. This would be the best news, perhaps ever.

Then there is Killer Instinct.

Deep breath.

I still like KI, a lot, but the last update has had the opposite effect of what was intended. Online ranked play, like just about every other online fighting game, is plagued by rage quitters. Street Fighter is a notable exception to this and I attribute that to the game's age. The only people still playing are those who really enjoy the game and are willing to a lose. KI does not benefit from this. It actually attracts much of the opposite crowd, people new(er) to fighting games who do not understand that getting your ass kicked is, if not a right of passage, then at least part of the learning process.

It probably does not help that I play Thunder exclusively and he has some pretty cheap stuff.

To combat this a jail system was introduced. On paper it sounds like a great idea and I was excited to see what it would do. It says that the first disconnected that puts you above 15% puts you in jail. While in jail you are only matched up against other people in jail. After 24 hours you are let out. Future jailings last longer. If that is actually what it did, I would have no complaints.

Instead, on the first night of the new patch the game freezes to a black screen after joining a match. This has never happened before and my general lack of faith in people leads me to believe that it was somehow intentionally causes by my opponent. All I could do was force the game to quit. No big deal, it was my first disconnect, right? Nope, in jail.

Once in jail there is no penalty for disconnected mid-match, so you can guess how that went. 24 hours later I was let out, played a few games, ran into someone who disconnected before the round even began, and boom, back in jail. Hey Double Helix! This shit doesn't work, and it's infuriating! You have made a great game here and avoided the temptation of early balance patches. *cough*Injustice*cough*

Don't screw it up!

...

Paid for PS+ yesterday in advance of Outlast. I may play it tonight. I may go to the gym. Such a difficult choice.