Friday, March 31, 2017

Blind spot

Three days in and Berseria is a Tales game through and through. I believe that is shares the same universe as the last game (Vesperia?) but there have been no direct references so far. Aside from Velvet's abhorrent fashion the game is pretty good.

It is difficult for me to be unbiased when talking about JRPGs. I have been living with their inherent failings for so long that they seem like bonuses. For example, in the first five hours I backtracked across the same area no less than three times. No worries, I thought, I will kill all the enemies again and farm for items. In any other game that much backtracking would drive me insane.

I have no excuse for this. Even Final Fantasy XV, a game that was without a doubt not very good, landed at least partially in my critical blind spot. I can admit that Berseria does not look especially impressive, and while it runs smoothly it is not visually dense so it should run well on the system capably of putting out games like Horizon.

Berseria is very dark for a tales game. Velvet and her motley crew are the bad guys. Velvet herself is a demon who devours other demons. She was not always this way, if fact she was transformed during the sacrifice of her brother to the planet itself. Think Cabin in the Woods but with less gore. She was betrayed, her brother murdered by the same man who murdered her older sister and then dumped in a deep, dark hole for three years.

So yeah, she is pissed off all the time and blatantly uses people to move towards her goal. When called out on this by another demon in her party she shrugs her shoulders and then burn down an entire fucking town while stealing a boat. Tragic bad ass? Perhaps, I just hope the character goes somewhere besides 'I WILL KILL THIS GUY GET OUT OF MY WAY BEFORE I KILL YOU, TOO.'

Of course this was the town whose residents kept asking her if she was cold. It is snowing outside and Velvet is walking around like a stygian lingerie model. There is an explanation in game: she's a demon, she doesn't get cold. For fuck's sake, give her a shirt. That much underboob is just not okay.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Fight Fight Fight

Nothing that bad. Rough language, vicious hyperbole, but no threats of actual violence.


Chamberlain and Chance - Round 1 Fight!

The worst

No, I am not talking about Gravity Rush 2 anymore.

Behold, the worst costume in a game since Ivy in the latter Soul Caliber titles:


What the fuck is that?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

At gunpoint, anyway

I will say one nice thing about Gravity Rush 2:

Playing through the ending, a final tour of the main city section, during the credits was a nice touch. It didn't have to be that way. Most games would have relegated this to a scripted in engine sequence. The ending was fine; interacting with it made it a little better.

That is the only nice thing I have to say.

...

It ended with the god damn whoville sing-along from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, if the the grinch was a giant pustule covered demon with elk horns. I think it gave me cavities.

5/10, would not play again.

Monday, March 27, 2017

If Gravity Rush 2 were a woman

You and your mates are at the bar. It's been a long evening and the lot of you are about to find a way home when someone new and quite unexpected walks in the front door. Her arrival turns heads in a ripple, and while conversation doesn't stop the volume drops to a murmur, a murmur about that dress. A few seconds later most have returned their attention to their drinks or apologizing to their dates but you, well, you got caught.

Your eyes meet. Instead of a disgusted look you get a cheerful, friendly, sincere hello. She actually waves at you from across the bar. Your friends, and you know they are your friends because of this, quickly leave and wish you good luck.

The girl in the red dress takes a step towards your table and immediately trips over her high heels. This sends her flailing into the row of occupied stools at the bar, each one knocking down the next, until over a dozen men are on the ground, covered in broken glass and spilled beer. The girl never catches herself, manages to slip on the beer and crash headlong at your feet, sending several chairs reeling back towards the bar, crushing the few who were still moving.

But that dress.

She picks herself up, somehow clean in spite of the fall, and sits at the table. You quickly forget her clumsy entrance as introductions are made. Being a gentleman you offer to buy her a drink and then tip the bartender handsomely as he had to put down the phone to help you. Later you would learn he was calling an ambulance.

The girl admits to not really being a drinker as she sips on her soda. That dress. Those eyes. That... burp?

'Excuse me,' she giggles. It was cute until the smell arrives, the smell of the Cheerios she had for breakfast mixed with Coke and digestive juices. You almost gag, cough unto your hand, then look back and she is back to being the most beautiful thing you have ever seen.

'Okay, everybody out, the paramedics need space to work and I need to mop up all this blood.'

The girl in the dress apologizes to those maimed by her fall. They seem to accept it in spite of compound fractures and blood loss. She offers you a ride home and being no fool your accept. Her car looks almost as good as she does and, in another moment of distraction, you forget to buckle up.

She laughs, pulls forward, rear ending the ambulance. Her airbag goes off and somehow doesn't smudge her make up while you sail through the windshield, headlong into a tree, breaking your neck and rendering your paralyzed for the remainder or your days.

...

I hate this game. Loath it. I am going to finish it out of spite and say mean things about it for as long as I can manage. Having charm does not fix everything else. Kat has charm but she also handles like a semi falling off a bridge and fights like a blind woman who learned kung fu via braille instruction.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

You win this round

Gravity Rush 2 drove me almost to the point of quitting a few nights ago. I chose to vent at Chance because he had the audacity to enjoy this shit game.

Chamberlain - The bad parts of Gravity Rush 2 are are unforgivably bad. Teeth gratingly bad.

Chance - Nah. Gravity Rush 2 is a cheesy breezy pleasure.

Chamberlain - Fight me.

Chance - Do you even shift, bro?

...

There is no coming back from that. Now I have to finish the  game.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The end?!

Caladrius Blaze really was uncomfortable to play. Can I get a shmup without creepy navel gazing please?

Chamberlain and Chance - The end?!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Visual aids

For this evening's podcast:

Super Castlevania IV:




Einhander:



Shadow Hearts Covenant

A bill of goods

Gravity Rush 2 is a very mediocre game masquerading as a pretty good one.

It certainly looks like a good game. Each area is comprised of floating islands of varying sizes and look distinct. The market and harbor looks different from the wealthy areas which in turn make the slums look even worse. The player is free to wander between these areas with no loading (unless fast travel is used) and the frame rate does not take any hits as far as I can tell.

The main character animates like it is a good game. The idea of falling through the air instead of flying (which I will get to in a bit) is well portrayed: Kat does not always look graceful as she moves, sometime making a nice approach and sometimes hurtling ass first into the sky. It makes enough sense that the silliness is forgivable.

But games do not live by fidelity alone, a comment that I find difficult to swallow thanks to how much I love the upcoming 4K movement. Gravity Rush 2 does not play well. There are terrible, absolutely terrible, stealth sections. With no indication of when you can or cannot be seen they turn into repetitive guesswork. The combat, both ground and air based, is bad. Ground based because there is no lock on and air based because, in spite of there being a lock on, you will often find Kat missing and flinging herself off into the ether.

That flinging is also a problem: hitting a button to float then the same button to fall in a direction, then the same button to stop floating, then the same button to fall in a different direction is cumbersome and inaccurate. Small adjustments can be made to trajectory but to actually change direction you have to stop, turn, then start again. Watching Kat navigate tight confines in the air is like watching a very old who should have long ago lost his license make a left turn on a flashing yellow arrow: it takes fucking forever and he ends up hitting the curb in the process.

Three quarters of the side missions are stupid, either because they involve the terrible stealth or because all the entail is walking through a crowd, trying to find a person based on a picture. The sparse voice acting starts out cute but the repetitive barks and Kat's high pitches positivity become absolutely grating.

And, based on a quick check of GameFaqs, the game is roughly twice as long as it needs to be. If the game didn't me of Skies of Arcadia I don't know what I would do.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Rose colored reviews

Ok, well, Zelda ended. Or rather, I played enough of it that making a run at the final area was not a total fool's errand. Thing includes defeating all four divine beasts and obtaining the master sword. There were entire areas of the map that remained unexplored, but with there be no promise of anything more than more shrines there, I didn't feel a need to climb one more tower before trying to kill Calamity Ganon.

No real spoiler here, but Calamity Ganon was not the problem. Indeed, at the outset of the final part of his battle Zelda gives you the weapon that you need to beat him. Hint, it's not the master sword. The problems were two lionel fights that served as minibosses on the way to the throne room. Those bastards hurt, the second taking be from fourteen hearts to half a heart in one swing. It was brutal but it was a challenge borne of my own reluctance to wander around the world looking for more bits of junk to hand over to fairies (whose lairs I also had not found) so that they would upgrade my armor.

It was a problem of my own making and that, somehow, made it okay.

There is some genius to this design. The entire game, post the escape from the starting plateau, can be skipped. People are already doing it:



47 minutes. It took me 34ish hours. It has taken some people well over a hundred. The short person who lives in my house may never finish it. We are all playing the same game.

Yes, I bitched about Breath of the Wild, and I stand by all of my bitchiness, but I cannot deny that a game that can be so many different things to so many different people should be appreciated. Weapon damage sucks (for me), large areas of the world that offer no story reason for the exploration suck (for me) and the combat was mediocre at best (for me). Others, and there are more of them than there is of me, are not bothered by these things. Some even count them as strengths.

...fuck weapon damage though, seriously.

The current metacritc review score of 97 is a joke, bolstered by rose colored reviews of Nintendo products, fueled by lost childhoods and the legions of grown ass men and women seeking to reclaim them. I am one of those men. Hell, it's why I bought a Switch, but I am not willing to cast aside 30 plus years of accumulated gaming knowledge, experience and jadedness and pretend that this is the greatest fucking game that I have ever played. It isn't even the best game that I have played in the last twelve months.

Breath of the Wild is good. Good. Good enough, anyway.

Now what am I going to use my Switch for?

Friday, March 17, 2017

Getting close

It was with some trepidation that I stepped into Hyrule Castle last night. I am most assuredly light on hearts and armor: armor because I can't be assed to wander around looking for more fairy fountains and then farm the bits of junk they want to upgrade my equipment and light on hearts because there are large portions of the map that I have not had a reason to go to. 'Because it's there' does not work as motivation for me to explore when I have no guarantee that there will be anything interesting to do when I get wherever there is.

Breath of the Wild relies too heavily on the journey or the wandering being its own reward. Yes, it is a good feeling when you crest a hill and there is shrine there. That good feeling dissipates when you explore the shrine and it is only slightly different than the dozens before it. I need a reason to wander out into the wild. The Witcher 3 did it with interesting characters and compelling side quests. Final Fantasy XV at least attempted to make it interesting with hunting missions and witty boy band banter, Breath of the Wild throws it all out there without paying attention to how it lands.

'There is stuff to do out there, I promise,' it says. When pressed for details it shrugs, offers no hints, and then pats itself on the back for being mysterious and old school. Maybe a two line quest will point in the general direction of an unexplored area but the payoff is just more rupies or a weapon that will end up breaking later. Narrative rewards would be welcome and are entirely absent.

I will say that Hyrule Castle is an honest dungeon. It is a place unto itself, with its own music and mood, a sense of desperation of despair. The surrounding area resembles the no man's land between World War I trenches, littered with guardian parts and the craters left by their attacks. Link approaches a giant gate, there is a short cut scene, after which I expected the gate to open.

It did not. I was forced to find my way around it. This worked because, almost for the first time, it was not what I expected. So far this last section of the game is easily the highlight. Tonight it will be finished and I will move on to other things.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The finer things

Chance is not an inhuman monster who kills with a magic notepad and then laughs about it.


Chamberlain and Chance - Schadenfreude?
...there is not notepad, anyway.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

What is fun changes

Sorry for no post yesterday - mid March snowstorm means all I did was drive to work, fight to get caught up, then go home early and snowblow the driveway. Fourteen inches of lake effect snow is not a good time.

...

I almost threw in towel on Breath of the Wild on Friday night. The only thing that saved me was that I had heard somewhere that the camel divine creature (I have no idea what the thing's actual name is) is the worst/most difficult of the four. It took me an hour of fucking around, not trial and error or educated guesses, just fucking around, to get it done and my reward was a boss that belonged in a From Software game.

The whole purpose of obtaining a Switch and playing the new Zelda was to recapture some of the wonder of playing games as a child. I still remember wandering around in the first Zelda, attempting to burn every bush and blow up every rock, looking for heart containers or rupies. That kind of brute force experimentation was a good time when I was a kid and nothing else to do. Now, though, it just gets on my nerves.

While I am not ready to call the camel divine beast a poorly designed dungeon I will say that it is more obtuse than it needs to be. The inside of the camel is divided into three rings, each of which can be rotated individually. Getting them into the correct positions opens up doors but there is also an electrical conduit running down the bottom that will not work if all of the pieces are not lined up. On top of that there is a vicious red herring that takes Link down the beast's throat from the inside and leads to nothing but a chest and disappointment.

That level drained me so much that I was ready to put Breath of the Wild aside and play the next game on the pile with all intentions of coming back to it (which would never actually happen). After Gravity Rush 2 is the new Tales game and after that is Yakuzo 0 and maybe then I would get back to Zelda. Those missing weeks would make me forget everything I had learned about the game and it would be more frustrating than ever so I sucked it up and pressed on.

It got better.

I still hate weapon deterioration and I still think that most enemies do about twice as much damage as they should but when I am making progress instead of just fucking around the game is fun. Last night I finished the third beast and found the master sword. I can't actually pick up the sword yet but at least I know where it is and there are a few side quests to do.

This is, without a doubt, a symptom of getting older. I am no longer satisfied when spinning my wheels. If progress is not being made towards a goal, usually finishing the game, then I am not enjoying myself. In non-game related terms, I am too old to fuck around. There is too much to get done and roughly half of my life is already behind me.

...

Remember to thank God for Jim Sterling and that beautiful 7/10. If you get his site to load. God damnit Jim, if I throw money at your patreon will you get better web hosting? Please?

Friday, March 10, 2017

I didn't want to grow up

I have run into two significant problems with the Switch and Breath of the Wild.

First, regarding the Switch itself, I am unable to use it in its portable form thanks to how the right joycon fits in my hand. It does not matter if it is attached to the Switch, in free form relax mode or plugged into the dog face controller, my thumb just doesn't work that way. Evidence, you say? Behold, photographic proof!

This hurts and it is difficult to get back to the buttons to, you know, attack.


This doesn't hurt but the analog stick being under the knuckles offers little in the way of range of motion or accuracy.


My only real choice for playing on the go (read: slacking off at work) would be to bring the pro controller along. This defeats the entire purpose of the system being portable. It may be less of an issue for game that do not use the right analog stick as much as Breath of the Wild does, like Shovel Knight, but my wallet has not recovered enough to support any further purchases yet,

Speaking of Breath of the Wild...

I find the game more fun to think about playing than it is to actually play. Right now I know that when I get started again I need to fast travel back to a town and purchase some warmer armor, then check the with fairy queen to see if it can be upgraded, then go back into the desert and take on the second mythical beast. I also know that I need to do some hunting because I am almost out of food and that I need to figure out how to make a flame resistance elixir so poor link is no immolated upon his approach to the volcano.

None of this sounds terrible but once I get started I know that it will quickly descend into tedium. Almost all of that is just prep work to allow me to do what I want to do: fight the second mythical beast. The elixir bit is also just to prepare for the approach to the next beast. I spend much more time preparing than doing in this game. Maybe that is the point, that the player is forced to deal with all aspects of the adventure, not just the exciting parts, but I cannot help but get bored when I am harvesting mushrooms or killing wild hogs instead of doing something new.

The balance between surviving and having fun are off. I know that I am in a god damn desert at the moment but that doesn't excuse tedium. Maybe I am just too old for this shit.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Too much of a good thing

The backlog list is getting out of hand. Time to trim the fat.

Hmmm.

Damn. The only game that I don't actually want to play is Berserk. Everything else looks, if not good, at least reasonable, to say nothing of the tempting idies that are going to start sneaking out on the Switch. Apparently Metal Slug 3 is going to be available later today. I have purchased that game several times and have yet to regret.

So how long is Breath of the Wild, anyway?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Not amazed but satisfied

My my, where does the time go? I need to post reactions to my new toy.

Scratch that, the Switch is not a toy. The hardware in no way feels cheap or flimsy. Out of the box the tablet portion has a surprising heft to it, a satisfying weightiness that helps alleviate the sting of having spent $300 on something so small. The joycons themselves are tiny but not necessarily difficult to use. My experience is limited to the Snipper Clips demo (a game that everyone in the world is in love with but me) but a shorter member of my household has taken to setting the tablet flat on a couch and playing with a joycon in each hand.

The hardware is designed to be flexible, to provide a, if not identical, at least similar experience to the player regardless of how it is played. It is not the system's fault that the way I play games is not the best way it performs. The Switch is, at the moment at least, a handheld system that can be connected to a television, not the other way around. The only game I have at the moment is Breath of the Wild and it looks and performs noticeably better on the small screen than a large one. Even the  user interface looks fuzzy on a 4K set. There are probably reasons for this, something about upscaling that I do not understand, but the end result is that the system performs best in a way that I will never use.

I knew this going in. To be frank, the Switch was little more than a way to play a Zelda game, something that I have not done since Wind Waker on the Gamecube. I am in no way a Zelda connoisseur, in fact most of its titles I have either not played at all or never completed. Yes, this means that I did not finish Ocarina of Time and never played Majora's Mask, Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword to say nothing of the many handheld, and reportedly excellent, hand held releases. It had been fifteen years and I was ready for a Zelda game.

This is not the game I expected. It is absolutely not just an updated version of Link to the Past. Breath of the Wild is, and this is a cheap way of describing it, what a Japanese developer came up with after playing a modern Elder Scrolls games and attempting to slap their own license on it. It is still a Zelda game: the story is a simple as it has always been, Link is there, he doesn't say anything and he explores a world before fighting Ganon. But it is also very much not a Zelda game: all weapons will break with use, cooking and crafting are important to survival, all all abilities are handed out in the first area of the game. Even the flow of the game is much for Skyrim than Skyward Sword. And the voice acting is equally bad.

Mild spoilers incoming.

There are no traditional dungeons in Breath of the Wild, at least not that I have come across yet. Instead there are small temples scattered liberally around the map, each of which is based on a puzzle or two. Short, sweet things to do but also very similar to one another. Contrast that with random caves in Skyrim or Oblivion that are all different and can lead to bigger, better and often more dangerous things. Yes, the landscape is filled with things to do but as soon as Link leaves the overworld it all begins to look the same. Finishing the temples rewards you with one hero medal, four of which can be traded in for a heart or stamina upgrade.

No more blowing open a boulder and finding a piece of a heart. The sense of discovery and accomplishment is still there, it's just not as random. A sensible change but not quite equal to what it was emulating.

On the other hand, solutions to puzzles and even more generic problems feels much more real, less 'video gamey,' than in Bethesda games. This natural approach is so at odds with other games that its very simplicity can prove difficult to grasp. For example: early in the first area Link comes across a lit fire with a pan on top of it in which he can cook with materials he has found in the wilderness. Later he comes across another cooking station but the fire is not lit and he probably doesn't have fire arrows yet.

'What the hell do I do?' comes the cry of the player who expects a button press or quick time even to solve the problem. The solution is to do exactly what one would do in real life: take a torch to a nearby fire and light it (by attacking the fire) and then light the wood under the pan (again, by attacking it). Raining? Drop a piece of flint next to the pile of wood and hit it with a metal weapon. Cold and need a fire? Attack a tree to chop up some wood. Or cook a meal with spicy peppers in it - if only that worked in real life.

None of these are over explained or thrust upon the player with oversize button prompts. They work because they should work. It took me a while to come around to this way of thinking but once I did everything became much simpler. No if only it would stop raining all of the time. Raining kills the framerate.

Breath of the Wild was originally a Wii-U title and it shows. I believe that the Switch can and will do more once titles specifically designed for it start coming out (which could be years from now). As it sits the game runs pretty good most of the time when docked. Last night I finished the Zora's domain and it was raining the entire fucking time. Not a slideshow but on one of the big boy systems I would, and have, bitched much louder.

The Switch is never going to compete graphically with the other traditional consoles. Breath of the Wild coming out opposite Horizon Zero Dawn both proves this to be true and proves that, when a game is made well, it doesn't matter. Breath of the Wild is not a masterpiece. I am not yet convinced that it is any better than 'pretty good' but it is the right game at the right time on a new piece of hardware. There is a reason that it outsold every other launch title in Nintendo's history and it is not just that there is almost nothing else available.

Breath of the Wild is the game people wanted to play, with a modern twist, on a system that allows them to play it where that want to. Just like lighting a fire with a torch, it feels right.

Friday, March 3, 2017

A happy and mad episode.

Sometimes I wish that I only played good games. But then what would I complain about?


Chamberlain and Chance - Work and Play

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

It is done

I finished Final Fantasy XV in just under 35 hours. Based on an informal poll that was pretty damn quick, but I was at the same or better level than most when they gone on the boat to the end game. How, you ask? Either I am quite the efficient gamer (which I am) or I touched the fishing minigame once and then dropped it like it was hot.

There was one good boss fight. One. It was the second to last fight in the game, a multi-stage battle with Ifrit. Scale had already been used several times to make an enemy intimidating. It worked right up to the point where the camera didn't know what to do with itself. There is only so long that I can stare at a behemoth's armpit before I get annoyed. The Ifrit fight managed to keep everything visible. This is not to say that it was interesting or challenging, none of the combat in the game managed that, but at least it looked good and was exciting.

I cannot explain this game's 80 on metacritic. Numbers are not an exact way to codify opinions but my internal number is rarely this far off of the mean. I do have a theory: most of the game's flaws are not readily apparent until after twenty or so hours, some waiting until the final sections to reveal themselves. How many of these professional reviewers, men and women who are paid for their opinions but have strict deadlines to meet, actually played the whole thing? How many were wowed by the best looking game in the series finally coming out after so many years and working, more or less?

This is baseless supposition but it makes me feel a little better about calling Final Fantasy XV the Resident Evil 6 of Final Fantasies.