Tuesday, September 30, 2014

And then poof, it was gone.

I received a message via Xbox Live last night asking if I was fine soling (in Destiny) or if I wanted some company. My reply was that of course I was fine soloing and that I was on the final story mission. Thirty minutes later I was done and I have no desire to play the game again.

This is shame because, with better story telling, the final mission would have been fucking epic. Your guardian steps out into a huge clearing, the dark heart of something beating in the center. Enemies come at you from all sides, growing in size and number, until the heart animates three giant statues who join the fray. It was finally a fight that lived up to things that Bungie had done in the past.

Only I didn't care because I did not understand what the heart was, why it was bad, why I was fighting in the first place, and why I should give a fuck.


Right up until the end I felt the game was entirely blase. The end upsets me because it is wasted. There is no story to build up to it and the only pay off is the game telling you to go and grind the old levels for better equipment. Yes, there are a few strike levels that I would have liked to try but I can no longer work up the desire to turn the game back on.

At least Forza Horizon 2 comes out this week.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Caution, fragile!

Destiny's servers, along with Call of Duty: Ghosts, were taken down last night by what I assume was a D-DDOS: douchebag distributed denial of service attack. The supposed culprits tweeted out their admission. Without any sort of manifesto or even list of demands I can only assume that did it because they are ass holes and didn't have anything else to do.

And I don't even like Destiny that much.

I am about a week behind everyone else in the levels and equipment areas. This means that multiplayer PvP is already impossible. I dropped into a few games over the weekend, dipped my toes in as it were, and was thrown out before I could even get used to things. The games ran fine, I was just killed so quickly and with such dominance that there was no reason to go back. Having success in muliplayer required much grinding in the single player and I am unwilling to dedicate time to the game beyond the story missions.

It is quite clear the Destiny is just not for me and that Bungie made precisely the game that they intended to. The made a game that they wanted to play, one that caters to groups of players who get together on a regular basis and alienates everyone else. Nothing here is by mistake. If you happen to be in the target demographic then you may never stop playing. I am playing the game wrong and the game makes no effort to please me. Honestly, I respect that.

Watering the game down with more single player content would have been pointless. I highly doubt anyone plays them through more than once. The strike areas are much more difficult, interesting and impossible without a few skilled friends. It does bother me that most of the content is in effect locked out for me but I will move on in a few days to a new game. The people for whom Destiny is intended will not and they will reap the benefits of their dedication in the form of bigger guns and better customization.

Do I like Destiny? No, as a single player shooter it is far below Bungie's Halo titles. But I can certainly see what will keep people coming back again and again as more content becomes available. I count myself lucky that there is any single player content at all. Remember Titanfall? Yeah, neither will anyone else once Destiny gets rolling.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Baby batman

I am going to make an effort to not talk about Destiny as I do not think that I have ingested enough of it to form ac actual opinion. It is as everyone else has already said: the actual shooting is just as good as anything else Bungie has done. Everything in between, and I mean everything, is an absolute bore. I should not have to spend close to five minutes between missions (if you include loading times) just getting loot identified.

Instead there are two things that I need to catch up on.

#1.

Since House ended I have been without a television show to call my own. There are a few specific criteria that a show must have to be considered. First, it needs to be on network television as I refuse to pay for cable. Second, each episode must stand on its own. If I wanted to watch a mini-series I would do so. An hour long drama should have enough self sustaining story in each episode that I can miss one or two and not be completely lost. Third, it needs to star Hugh Laurie.


The third criteria is not a joke.

Out of desperation, and because I like Batman just slightly less than I like Hugh, I gave Gotham a shot on Monday night. It was shit. Not pilot shit, actual, terrible show shit. Gotham has no idea who it is trying to please and by packing references to future villains into every nook and cranny it alienates them all. Even casual Batman fans will pick out Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Riddler and Penguin - and they will know that they are all too old, save Ivy, whose name they changed from Pamela Isley to something else for no good reason. New fans will have no idea who these people are and wonder why a story that is supposed to be about James Gordon has a teenager stealing milk and hiding behind gravestones.

Gordon is wooden and unintelligent. Alfred is a foul mouthed soccer hoodlum. Bullock is Bullock - he is actually not too bad. Penguin is thin. And little Brucey Wayne is little more than a rich goth kid.

It was bad. Because I am far too generous I will give it one more episode but I do not promise to watch the whole thing.

#2.

Velocity 2X is this close to being 'Splosion Man. This close. I can tell you precisely where it misses the mark - the teleporting. Teleportation is pretty much the crux of the gameplay, both on foot and it your ship. On foot it is okay but in the ship is completely derails the flow of the levels. Speed is of the essence, especially in longer levels with branching paths, so have to stop the ship and aim the teleport destination just kills it.

On foot you always teleport a set distance in front of the character. This allows you to keep moving, pulling the level together into one flowing action (like 'Splosion Man). The ship is not nearly as smooth. And you spend about twice as much time in the ship as not, so it is about half as much fun as it could be,

Points for being an indy game that eschews 16 bit retro nonsense for clean, bright art. I will finish it, then I will forget it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Yes, Mr. Burns works there

Somewhere deep in the halls of Activision head quarters...



Bungie: Boy, it sure is nice to be out on my own. Now I can put out my games on all platforms and finally open my cash haberdashery. And who better to help with that than my rich uncle Activision!

Rich Uncle Activision: I am all about the bottom line, my boy. Come into my office and we will discuss what game you are going to make.

Bungie: Excellent! I have a few ideas I would like to show you.

Activision: When I said discuss I meant tell. Make Halo.

Bungie: What?

Activision: Did I stutter? Make Halo.

Bungie: Evil uncle Microsoft still owns Halo. I am not allowed to play with that any more.

Activision: So call it something else, I don't care, that is what you are making. But it needs to keep people coming back with inconsistent loot drops and sections that are impossible to do alone and this needs to create a platform ripe for future micro transaction exploitation. Oh, and console MMOs are going to be a thing, so do that, too.

Bungie: But you already have WoW.

Activision: Damn straight, and I don't want to pay for the infrastructure required to do that again. MMO but not quite so big. And no humor! There is no place for humor in a game targeted at the 18 to 24 year old bro-gamers.

Bungie: Games like that already exist. Good games. Watermark games like Phantasy Star Online and Borderlands and Guild Wars.

Activision: I don't own those. Do I own those? Doesn't matter. Your name will sell it. From the creators of Halo comes not-Halo, the FPS MMO!

Bungie: Does it need to be any good?

Activision: No. but there has to be a new one every year.

Monday, September 22, 2014

What can I do with this...


The other ending

I just watched the bad, and more difficult to obtain, ending of Xillia 2.

Holy shit that is some grim stuff.

*grunt*

A good final boss in an RPG should kill you. Once.

Role playing games, especially the more traditional, linear style, have the unique ability of allowing the player to get to know the characters very, very well over a long period of real world time. I have been playing Xillia 2 for around a month, several hours a night, almost without interruption. In that time I have learned about their histories and motivations and all the down to boring details like what their favorite foods are. Seeing them taste defeat, get a real game over screen, is the gut punch that makes the final victory all the better.

Bisley, the head of a giant evil corporation who was obviously going to be your final opponent from the very beginning, does this and does it with style. It is a two stage boss fight - as the second begins he changes form, strolls up to Ludger and punches him for 25,000 damage. It should be noted that my Ludger only had around 5000 hit points so Bisley killed him five time with one hit. It was shocking and demoralizing, but when the game had the decency to restart the battle at the beginning of the second stage I was ready for more.

I am not going to discuss how the game plays or how it looks at any length. It is a Tales game, so the combat is fast and precise and the game looks like a refugee from the final days of the PS2. Good combat cover a multitude of sins but it is not why I stuck with the game for its duration. I liked the characters and the trials they were put through were interesting and heart breaking at the same time. This was true for all of the returning characters, at least. The new ones, specifically the main character, Ludger, was boring and lifeless and he didn't have to be.

Ludger was, by design, almost voiceless. His major dialogue choices were made by the player and not voice acted and most of his cut scene interactions were limited to guttural sounds. I mean this literally: bad things happened and he grunted in a vaguely pained way. I suppose this was done to try to inject the player into the story, to be playing as Ludger instead of observing him, but it didn't work. Long form RPGs usually put players into an omniscient role. The player sees the good guys and the bad guys and that is how the story progresses. In Xillia 2 the player was indeed all knowing and I what I knew from the outset was that Ludger was boring.

The same can be said for Ludger's brother, Julious. Julious is introduced as an over protective know it all and he just gets worse as the story progresses. The player never has any empathy for him because his motivations are never explained or even hinted at. Without spoiling too much, Julious makes a tremendous sacrifice near the end of the game and it is not nearly as emotional as it could be because I didn't care about Julious and Ludger never said anything to convey that he cared, either. It was a wasted moment.

There was potential here to hit the same tear jerking levels as Lost Odyssey, Eternal Sonata or *sniff* Shadow Hearts: Covenant. Had one of the characters from the first game been affected I may have been a mess. Instead I focused on the continued tragic relationship between Jude and Milla and how Gaius had gone from homicidal despot to benevolent king who spends his free time drinking with his subjects. I didn't care about Ludger because he was an incomplete character.

It was an interesting idea. The good from the game far out weighs the bad but the jaded gamer in me has a hard time getting past things that I think could have been better. Arm chair game development, I am guilty of it constantly. All the best parts were in the fractured dimensions. Returning characters were put through impossible what if scenarios. Ludger met an evil version of himself and the evil version was more fleshed out in his hour of screen time because he had lines.

Enough bitching. Xillia 2 is the only traditional RPG I will get to play this year. Tales of Zesteria is now the only reason I still own a PS3, assuming it ever comes out. I need to enjoy every last second of this dying genre that I can.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The coming game-pocalypse

Let's look at the rest of the year. Then we will lament having to work for a living and having sleep at night.

Playing right now: Tales of Xillia 2. I am think that sixty or so hours will not be a stretch, and I am not even playing all of the side missions.

On Deck - Destiny. Chance said it was like Borderlands with better graphics and longer load times. If this means that I can have fun without ever having to take the game online, awesome.

9/30 - Forza Horizon 2, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, NAtURAL DOCtRINE. Horizon 2 is the clear winner here. The first Horizon is my favorite racing game since Project Gotham 2. Even though I doubt I will see more than half of the game I know that I will enjoy every second of it. Shadow of Mordor looks to be a good hack and slash game that just happens to be set in Middle Earth. I would play it without the license but I hope that it was not wasted. And fuck NAtURAL DOCtRINE for being difficult to type. My prediction is that it will be played for a few days, I will grow frustrated, and then send it back. But I need to use my PS4 for something other that free PSN titles, right?

10/7 - Alien: Isolation, DriveClub. DriveClub is too close to Horizon 2 for its own good. It will not be as good and will be written off early. This is not fair but that is how my attention span works. Alien: Isolation certainly looks good. The premise is excellent but I am understandably wary of anything with the Alien name. If it can stay a survival horror game and not resort to androids or robots or dozens of face huggers I will be happy.

10/14 - Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, The Evil Within. I do not expect anything new from the third Borderlands. Nor do I want anything new. I want it to sell a billion copies so the developers can get around to making a next-gen only sequel that isn't call Destiny. Scary games in October? Sold, though the odds of me actually playing The Evil Within in October are quite slim.

10/21 - Shadow Warrior, Fantasia: Music Evolved. I bought the launch Xbox One and I want to do something with my Kinect other than turn the system on and off and use Bing it search for things. And no, I will not play dancing games. Shadow Warrior looks like bubble gum and I am not expecting much. If it last for three evenings I will be satisfied.

10-28 - Sunset Overdrive, Lords of the Fallen. Both of these titles have me a little nervous, but for different reasons. Lords of the Fallen has no hype behind it and is from the same people who made Venetica, a game garnered worst of the year honors. Sunset Overdrive is a new IP, which is good, but I want a new Ratchet and Clank game and this is not it.

11-4 - Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Again? Didn't I just play this game?

11-11 - Assassins Creed: Rogue, Assassins Creed: Unity, LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, The Crew. Rogue is one of the few reasons outside of Street Fighter and my Rock Back collection that have forced me to keep my Xbox 360. It is more pirates, more sea battles, less multiplayer focused hooplah. I am looking for to it more than I am Unity. Yes, Unity will look amazing, but is it even Assassins Creed anymore? The Crew may be dropped, depending on how much it looks like Need for Speed or Midnight Club. My racing game tastes are specific and indefensible. LEGO games always get plays. Always.

11-18 - Dragon Age: Inquisition, Far Cry 4, Little Big Planet 3, Escape Dead Island, Project CARS. Dragon Age and Far Cry coming out on the same day is a god damned crime. The other three are negligible. Little Big Plant 3 I am playing because I know I will hate it. Escape Dead Island is filler before Dead Island 2 and Project CARS will be a poor substitute for a new Gran Turismo. Dragon Age and Far Cry will be, hopefully, contenders for game of the year. They are games that will deserve more time than they will receive and they come out a week after two Assassins Creed games. There is only so much money that can be spent in the month of November, spread that shit out people!

This list disregards digital titles which makes it terribly incomplete. Digital titles have become just as impressive retail releases, at least when they aren't putting all their effort into looking old. Velocity 2X needs to be finished, thought the game feels clunkier than I have heard any one else describe it. I am curious about D4, It is weird and (I think) episodic which may be enough to hold me interest. And I don't even know what else is coming before the end of the year.

20 games between now and the end of the year, assuming none are pushed back. The drought is over, my friends, time to drown.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Substance?

I suppose I should post something of substance.

Nah, here is the same thing, live, and proof that the director is one of the coolest men alive.


Secret time: my degree is in music education. By the end of college I found that I did not like children and lacked the work ethic required, but god damn does this make me miss leading a band.

Raising them right



My day has been made.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

At least there was no mess

Ahhhh, drama. Sweet, sweet inter-party conflict. Their angst fuels my soul.

I am not going to go into great detail on this most recent bit of tragedy to befall our hero and his band of sidekicks, all of whom are more interesting than he is. Suffice it to say that one of them died, sort of, and most of the party was okay with that. Only Ludger and the child, Elle, seemed to have a problem with one of their own being tossed into a bottomless pit. I have a feeling that she will be back some how, that there will be two Milla's floating around at the end of the game, but that is only because they went through the trouble of creating two distinct models.

Ludger is almost a silent protagonist. Very little of his lines are voiced and many of his important reactions are under the control of the player. They usually break down into asshole, not an asshole choices but at least there is the illusion of agency. The choice that led to the above mentioned tragedy, though...

So I will go into some detail, after all. Milla Maxwell, the lord of the spirits, had left the prime dimension in search of something. This allowed Ludger and Elle to drag back a replacement Milla from a splinter dimension. The two Millas could not exist in the same dimension at the same time and the prime Milla was needed to save the world so replacement Milla realized that she had to, at some point, die. She grew more and more reckless but was save on several occasions, first my Jude and later by Ludger. And just as she was about to change her mind of having to die:

do Do DOOOOO

The plot twist.

The good guys are attacked and nearly killed by someone who we thought might have been on their side. He sets up an elaborate ritual designed to pull back prime Milla by sacrificing the replacement one via bottomless pit. Ludger, being a nice guy, tries to save her.  The bad guy, whose name I will not try to spell, attempts to force Ludger's hand by killing Elle. The choice:

Drop Milla or Don't Drop Milla.

I know that there is no choice here, that if had chosen to hang on she would have forced me to drop her because what game is going to feature a child being run through with a giant sword. But having to press the button on 'Drop Milla' was difficult. It was like forcing Clem to shoot Lee or killing Zeke in inFamous 2. It had to be done and I didn't want to do it.

And I am still playing because I need to know how it turns out.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Almost like Big Brother

I may not have had time to talk about it but progress has been made almost daily on Xillia 2. There are odd difficulty jumps, usually with optional bosses, but other than that it has been smooth sailing for the last ten to fifteen hours. Side quests outnumber main quests by three or four to one, not including money missions needed to pay off Ludger's impossibly large debt.

Each chapter unlocks three or four character specific events, some of which end up in splinter dimensions with a change the affects the character personally. These are interesting little 'what if' moments that really hit home if you played the first game. My favorite so far dealt with Leia and her nemesis from Xillia. Agria. Agria was one of the few actual villains in the first game: homicidal, sociopathic, just plain evil. Leia did her best to try to reason with her right up until end. Agria was dangling over a cliff after losing to the 'good' guys and Leia was holding on to her. Instead of accepting the embarrassment of being saved by her enemy Agria let go, pretty much flipping Leia off as she plummeted to her death.

In Leia's splinter dimension Agria came to her senses, allowed herself to be saved, and turned into an almost nicer person. She still kicks Leia in the shins every time they meet but that is the limit of her psychotic tendencies. Leia doesn't quite know what to do, but it is clear that destroying the splinter dimension kills every living being in it, including the new and improved Agria, Leia isn't happy about it.

Another bit ripe for drama in conflict: the original Milla is gone, replaced by a refugee from the first splinter dimension that Ludger destroyed. In the first game Milla had a bit of a thing for Jude, but this one like Ludger instead and Jude knows it. If this sounds a bit like high school drama bull shit, it is, but it puts known characters in difficult and awkward situations, and is therefore interesting.

In truth I am ready for the game to start winding down so I can play Destiny (like everyone else in the whole world) but Xillia 2 is not an RPG that will share time with anything else. I am in this for the long haul so every bit of nonsense drama is welcome.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

You belong in a museum!

Chicago and I do not get along. Specifically, I do not understand how traffic there works. My travels yesterday took me as far as Gary, Indiana. With my mission accomplished I plugged Galloping Ghost's address into my GPS and the trip should have taken about an hour.

It took three. I was not happy when I finally arrived, even less so when I found that the large piece of Sinistar art behind the counter was not for sale. I put down my seventeen dollars for admissions and a Coke explored. The arcade was overwhelming, at least initially. Row upon row of vintage arcade machines, grouped by genre and then by title. There was a row of Mortal Kombat games going all the way back to the original, three or four Street Fighter machines, even Primal Rage 2, which I did not think actually existed.

A few rows down were four or five Neo Geo kiosks in a row, each with multiple titles to choose from. All the Metal Slugs, Art of Fighting, Samurai Showdown and King of Fighter games were represented. There was the original Haunted Castle, the forerunner to Castlevania, which was impossible difficult. Castlevania Vs, which was just the NES version, only somehow more difficult. Every corner I turned revealed something I remembered (Rolling Thunder!)  and something I had never seen before (Rolling Thunder 2?!).

There was a niche dedicated to shmups, most of which I had never heard of before, but there was a vertical Ikaruga cabinet, and it was beautiful. It would have been better if there was someone there who knew how to play it. As it was most customers pulled up a stool their favorite game and played it much as they would at home. Even the fighting games had very little actual competition happening. When I strolled up to the Xbox One Killer Instinct I discovered why.

When the spectacle wore off and I started to play the games instead of gawk at them it was a bittersweet experience. The arcades of my youth were marred by games in disrepair, joysticks that did not respond or monitors that were difficult to see. This was exactly as I remembered but due to my advanced age my patience for fighting bad hardware quickly ran thin. Down right on the movement stick of Smash TC didn't work. Buttons were sticking on the Neo Geo cabinets. The aim on what few light guns games they had was significantly off. Non-functional cabinets were everywhere and there were a lot of parts just lying around on the floor. The enter back of the shump section was filled with pieces of games. It just looked messy.

Even the new games were not immune. The diagonals on the one player side of Killer Instinct didn't work rendering it unplayable. The one and two player sides of the Ultra Street Fighter 4 machine were switched. The dead zone for the Super Turbo stick was so large I could barely do fireballs. Hardware problems quickly sucked the fun out of the evening.

Galloping Ghost was a museum, a memorial, but it was not maintained well enough to be a great arcade. There was a donation box at the register, something about a renovation, so I am inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt that the current state of disarray was due to other circumstances. It is clear that the owner loves the games but I am not sold on his ability to actually run the arcade. It survives on nostalgia and the fact that there really are no other arcades around anymore.

If I happen to be in Chicago again, something that I will try to avoid, I will stop by a second time, I really hope that I caught them in an off period, when time or money or lack of help kept the place from running as well as it should. Old arcade game deserve a home, but it should be patterned after how arcades were run in there heyday, not a place for the old machines to go and die.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Story time. How do your gums feel?

I have a story that I need to get out of my head so that it will leave me alone. It has nothing to do with video games and everything to do with dentists. If that is a phobia of yours then I will see you tomorrow after I get back from Galloping Ghost Arcade.

My teeth are bad to an almost amusing degree. It would be more amusing if the total dollars spent on my mouth didn't add up to more than my car and motorcycle cost, combined, and that does not include the braces I had as an adolescent. Having spent that much time on my back with strange men and women poking around my gums it is safe to see that I have almost seen it all. I have had a tooth completely knocked out of my face, the bone around the socket crushed, and the tooth placed back in said socket. I have had multiple root canals, more crowns that I can count, something new called an inlay that is like an inverse crown, and cavities in each and every tooth. My dental resolve broke in my mid-thirties and I stopped going. Conscious sedation brought me back - it shifted all of my problems onto the poor soul who had to drag me back to the car, but it got the job done.

I have only screamed once. Like most people I did not go to the dentist while I was in college. I was invincible and drunk most of the time, what did I care if my teeth were rotting away. Post college, when I started getting work done again, I heard the one think you never want to hear a dentist say when he or she has a drill in your mouth.

*whiiirrrrr*crunch* "hm. Oh my."

A gum line cavity had literally hollowed out the tooth. As the dentist drilled in from the side to fill the cavity the tooth collapsed on itself. It was root canal time, right then, right there. Root canals hurt no matter how many shots you get, but what choice did I have? The initial task of scouring the swollen nerve from the tooth was bad but bearable. Once it was clean the dentist went about measuring the depth hole left behind. This was done with a sharp metal spike that was clamped to the side of the effected tooth.

The nerves in your teeth run down through the bottom of the root into a bundle that takes them down your jaw towards your neck. This bundle isn't that far away from the bottom of the root and remember, the root canal hollows out the area of the tooth where the nerve was. That nerve may be gone but all of the other ones are still there.

That metal spike the dentist was using to measure the depth? It was much longer than I thought it was. The clamp holding it in place slipped and I moved my jaw to warn the dentist. The spike hit the top of my mouth and was driven down through the root into the healthy bundle of nerves below.

No one even asked me if it was safe.


The point of that, besides it being a good story, is that I know what pain sounds like. At least I know what sound I make. A few days ago I was back at the dentist getting a crown reattached that I had swallowed a few days prior and an inlay. These were of course on opposite corners of my mouth so I was numb from ear to ear.

There is a lot of dead time when getting a crown put in. It allows the dentist to work on other patients and me to sit up and breath for a bit. During one of these breaks I noticed that the office muzak was a bit louder than usual. Just over the muzak, over a truly offensive Free Fallin' cover, I could hear a whining. It started out low, just occasional, like a child who was being made to clean her room and didn't want to.

Then it got worse.

The child was frantic. No words, just guttural sounds, almost feral.  It went on and on and on. At one point one of the dental assistants left the room, in tears, to try and compose herself. This all happened behind me and around a corner so I couldn't see anything, just hear the child making the same noises I made when my nerves were introduced to sharp surgical steel.

Then it got worse.

I heard the heavy steps of my dentist move past behind me and a door close. The screams stopped for a moment, calmed by reassuring lies that what was going to happen next wouldn't hurt or that they were almost done. There was a drill and the child screamed again, muffled this time. I knew that her mouth was being held open, that a drill was inside. I knew how it felt, at least I thought I did. The difference, and what hurt me the most, was that I understood why the pain was there, why it was necessary and that it would eventually pass. To a child every moment is forever. At that moment the whole world was pain.

When the dentist returned to finish my procedure he could see I was shaken. 'She's okay now' was the best he could come up with. I asked what she was having done. Three root canals in baby teeth, several abscessed. Baby teeth don't drill like permanent teeth, they shatter. And swollen gums don't respond to numbing agents as well as healthy ones. The child was under the same conscious sedation that I had in the past so my only solace is that she might not remember any of it.

But I will. Brush your teeth, boys and girls, brush your teeth.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The tough questions

I believe that I have made a fatal error in leveling the main character, one that it may very well be too late to fix. Kill garner elemental points (or something like that) and experience points. Elemental points are fed into you leveling orb and then focused into one of six elements, depending on what crystal you had assigned. Translation: leveling is boring and the player has very little control over what happens out side of assigned the crystal.

Here is where it broke for me: you are only shown the next few things that a given crystal will unlock. Sometimes it is a new skill or arte, other times it just levels up an existing arte. What kills me that is that there is no way to know if a character has learned everything that they can from a given category. I want to make one out before I move on to the next, meaning that my main character is still learned water based skills. He has been since I started and I do not know if I can stop. Ever.

The gaming taking control away, even superficial control, is not necessarily a bad thing. Diablo III does this but it tells you what is coming and when you are going to get it. Xillia 2 keeps me in the dark, so for all I know my Ludger is a giant pansy because all of his good abilities are in the fire category and I have put all of my points into water.

How close most of the boss battles have been is a good indication that I have been systematically screwing myself. I'm not proud, there is a safety net called Easy difficulty waiting and I will not hesitate to use it. Combat is still fun, it's a Tales game after all, so crushing under powered enemies would still be enjoyable.

The plot, as convoluted as it is, does bring up some interesting ethical questions. Ludger and company are tasked with destroying splinter dimensions, little copies of the prime dimension that siphon off its limited magical powers. Ludger's elder brother was the first to be able to do this but he has gone rogue. The two of them share a specific power required for the splinter dimensions' destruction (only Ludger doesn't have it, the NPC little girl does). The giant evil company that previously employed the elder brother is forcing Ludger to carry on the family business via a gigantic debt, to the tune of  ten million gald, that he was saddled with at the beginning of the game. The end game is reaching Canaan which is supposed to grant a wish to the first human to set foot on it, and it just gets stranger from there.

That was not me having a stroke, that is, in a nutshell, what has happened so far. The ethical quandary is as follows: is it every acceptable to destroy another world to save your own? The splinter dimensions are living places, exact copies of the prime dimension, filled with millions of being who have no idea that they are just copies. To make it even more complicated, one being from the first dimension you destroy escapes with Ludger, a copy of Maxwell, the lord of spirits, and she is not exactly pleased with the explanation.

I do wish that Ludger had lines beyond 'pained grunt' but even with him being mute it is a difficult question. I predict the end will be a lot like the first game, with no one really being evil, just different ideas of how best to solve a problem. Instead of talking it out they try to kill each other because diplomacy is boring.

Friday, September 5, 2014

In which Chamberlain plans a field trip

I am going to be in the Chicago area next week Friday for business reasons. Trust me, it is not nearly as interesting as you or I hope it would be. The important part is that it will eventually end and it will leave me about an hour from this place:



Thank you Max for bringing the Galloping Ghost arcade to my attention. I am very much looking forward to regressing in age by a few (quite a few) years when I walk through the doors. There was an arcade within biking distance of one of my childhood homes. When I had money, which wasn't often, some of it was always turned into tokens. This was the heyday of arcade fighting games - it was no unusual to see ten or more quarters up on MKII or Street Fighter II Turbo.

My arcade, Aladdin's Castle, died just like all the other arcades did: via slow and painful financial asphyxiation. If I was a rich man this is how I would spend my money. Buy a building, buy up all the arcade games and them pay someone to run it for me so I could spend my days sharing my electronic play ground.

...

Xillia 2 feels quite thin. There is not much happening yet and what little there is is separated by grinding jobs for money. Not money for weapons, money to pay off my tremendous debt, What has kept me interested so far is the return of almost all of the characters from the first game, One year has passed and the player gets to see what all of the heroes and some of the villains have done since then. My fear is that Xillia 2 is little more than an epilogue stretched out to forty hours of pointless quests and five hours of story.

Tales of Graces f did this but the epilogue was just that, an add on the full game. It worked very well as a good bye to characters that I had grown quite fond of. Don't get me wrong, Jude is just as likable as he was before but I have forgotten so much about him and everyone else from the last game that I feel like I am always missing something.

Time will tell, and the game will claim much of it. Somewhere in here I need to sneak a free PSN game in. Velocity 2X looks like my cup of tea. It has to be better than Super Time Force, the free Xbox One game this month, which was balls.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hey Chance


Heh.

Time for new contacts

I am constantly rubbing my eyes will playing Tales of Xillia 2.

The first game was played before the launch of the current generation so looking like an above average PS2 game (or average Wii game) was almost forgivable. Lightning Returns came out after and looked leagues better but Xillia was the better game. All was forgiven and I rolled around in my favorite JRPG tropes for about forty hours. Now, having spent the better part of a year playing games either designed for the new hardware or slightly upgraded by it, Xilla 2 actually hurts. This was not an artistic choice, this was 'we have an engine that works and a bunch of assets to reuse, go for it!'

The game itself has changed, but not all for the better. Combat takes much less time to ramp up than the first game; links and multi-link attacks are available in the first hour meaning enemies get interesting just as quickly. On the flip side leveling is both inscrutable and mostly out of the player's control. Jude, the first of of what I assume will be a parade of returning characters, attempts to explain it to the new, mostly mute, hero. He doesn't get it. The tutorial tried to explain it to me and I didn't get it, either. It obscures how simple it is with big words and run on sentences. Realistically it is dropping an item on another item and killing things until a progress bar fills. Bleh.

There are also staples of the genre that may have at one time been about hardware restrictions that just don't fly anymore, the worst of which is that characters do not change visually based on their equipment, save for weapons. Part of the fun of trying out new armor is getting to stroll around in your shiny new greaves of strutting +2. It's not as if other JRPGs don't do this, it is just that Tales doesn't, and after playing through Diablo 3 (again) it is difficult to give up.

What the game does have is cats. Lots of cats, one of which follows you around, offering cat commentary of current events.


They say more than the protagonist, whose lines are relegated to surprised grunts and pointless dialogue choices.

Xilla 2 is still a shining example of its sub-genre but I am ready for said genre to evolve. There is still a place for mostly linear, overly dramatic, stat heavy RPGs, they just need to not look and play like they are ten years old.



Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The undead corner

The fifth act of Diablo 3 was far and away better than everything that came before it. The foray into pandemonium was especially interesting. It looked incredibly foreign, and that is saying something for a game that takes the player to heaven and hell, directly. As I feared the final fight with death was a little underwhelming but I can safely attribute that to my hesitance to bump the game up beyond normal, in spite of one shot killing columns of demons who were foolish enough to line up in front of me.

I liked feeling or being powerful. Knowing that I would not be playing the game again, I let the badassery ride.

There was a rather blatant tease at either the next game of a second expansion, something akin to 'the hero has bested the most powerful angels and demons; what will we do if he every turns from the path of goodness and decides to kill everyone?' Diablo never has featured the same moral choices as games like Fable or inFamous. The player is the good guy and they will like it. I think Blizzard could pull it off but it would take two games to do it. They don't skimp on much so moral choices with no consequences would not be a problem.

Speaking of moral choices with no consequences, I finished The Walked Dead Season 2 on Saturday.

Rimshot.

Season 2 never achieved the same level of emotional investment as the first chapter because no one, and I mean no one, is likable. The returning characters, Kenny and Clementine, have become caricatures of how the started. Kenny has been driven mad with grief, swinging wildly between beating the shit out of a child and apologizing for it, and Clem is far to mature for her size and age. Neither feel real anymore. The new characters are just as bad, though I must admit that they are not two dimensional. Each and every one changes, always for the worse, and by the end of the game they are all dead.

The writers must have seen the corner the wrote themselves into. Not on of these fuckers is going to pull any heart strings, now what do we do? A baby? No one can hate a baby. Sorry guys, it's been done, and better than you could do it.


It's not even a fair comparison. That damn video. Someone is cutting onions in here, I swear.

There was a moment in the final chapter that approaches some of what happened in Season 1. Kenny, in one of his quiet moments, talks about Duck. I just miss him all the time, he says, and I believed him. I did not believe him when he, well, I can't spoil it yet. The zombie apocalypse can certainly break a man, which was the point of the entire chapter, but what it does to Kenny and Clem is about as believable as the zombies that caused it.