Eyes on The Witcher

The Witcher’s become kind of a big name in games.  One of the prime examples when you think of Western RPGs.  It’s a little weird, looking at the first game in the series, and realizing nobody expected that game to be successful.

It makes sense.  A game by a developer that had never done a project from the ground up before that goes deep into the lore of the obscure Polish novel series it’s based on that has never had any presence in the greater market?  Yeah.  That’s not going far.

Except it did!  The first Witcher game is a lot of fun!  And more than that, you can tell it’s made with a lot of love.  A lot of love by people who don’t know perfectly what they’re doing, sure, but that care for the material just oozes out.  The creators are obviously big Witcher nerds.  And more than anything else, they wanted to deliver the feeling of being the Witcher in the Witcher’s world to you.  And it makes for a good time doing so.

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So, to get this going, in this game, you are Geralt, the titular Witcher.  The game takes place shortly after the final novel in the series, in which Geralt, total badass that he is, got killed like a chump by some random farmer with a pitchfork.  Makes things a little awkward that he’s up and walking around here.  It’s awkward for the people in-universe too.  Geralt did, explicitly die there.  Then he came back to life, sans his memory.  This is a plot point.

And there, you come in.  Yeah, typical “amnesiac hero so we have an excuse to explain all the stuff to the newbies” thing, but it feels more natural here than it does in a lot of other properties.  I think the amnesia was better implemented throughout.  You are Geralt.  As a Witcher, your job is to find monsters and witch them.  Usually, there’s people who will pay you to witch specific monsters.  Sometimes, you have to witch people too, in pursuit of your goals, but never for pay.  Also, you get to carry three swords.  At the same time!

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The game’s definitely a lot more plot- and setting- based than it is combat based.  Not that there’s not plenty of combat, it’s just not where the focus is.  It wants you to feel the world of the Witcher.  Which isn’t a happy place to be.  I don’t think it goes full out dark fantasy, but man-eating monsters are a very common occurrence there, people are horrible to each other, and everyone’s survived several different wars in their lifetimes just to get to this point.  The most common enemies you face are either creatures that feed on the dead or are the risen dead themselves.  You spend more time in the grungy underbelly of the host city than any place nice, and even the nice places aren’t that great.   It’s largely typical medieval fantasy, but it’s really interesting to see it from a different perspective, filled to the brim with classic Polish folklore and beasties.  The novels originally were pretty significant for taking the classic fairy tales and giving them dark twists.  They’ve moved well beyond that, and you don’t see those elements directly in this game, but that’ll give you an idea of the level this is on.  I feel like the big strengths of the Witcher’s setting as a whole lie in its subtleties.  It’s not a big super-unique fantasy setting, but it does have some twists on it that show how much thought went into these things.  And it’s kind of neat how much of that world building got carted into this game without being super explicit about it.  I played this game before I ever read any of the books, and it never felt like I was missing out, but now that I’ve read a couple, it interesting to see the little bits they imported without ever bringing real attention to it.  Like, in the novels, the only women that ever wear their hair down are royalty, prostitutes, or sorceresses, all women who are in control of their own occupations and lives.  The game never calls direct attention to it, but they still bring that feature right over.

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The plot is… it’s interesting.  It has some depth to it, although it can be rather simple in points, but it does go in some interesting directions.  It only carries over a handful of characters and one major faction from the novels, but the style of tale it tells fits in with the original stories fairly well.  It is a bit stop and start, though.  Part of that is natural, coming from trying to carry an involved plotline in a somewhat sandbox world, while the rest is just from the plot and game structure not quite matching up.  The Act structure often brings things to a rather abrupt stop and shift, often when the transition is unexpected.  I lost out on both the best weapons in the game because the Act I was in ended without warning before I had all the sidequests I wanted to do done.  In any case, you’ll have long moments of moving slowly, before everything gets moving at a good clip once again.  I won’t call it persistent pacing problems, because it’s always at the player’s control, but you may not always elect to move through the lines as fast as you’d otherwise like.  In any case, it’s a decently ambitious plot, but the Witcher was obviously designed with gameplay progression in mind first, and story delivery second.  Still, it is multi-faceted enough to hold your interest when the plot does arise.  It plays really nicely with Geralt’s amnesia, in a way a lot of games ignore.  By that to mean, it actually addresses it more than twice.  Geralt has explicitly lost things in losing his memory, both becoming more gullible as he doesn’t have his experiences to draw back on, as well as losing track of who he is and his place in the world.  He has multiple conversations with old friends trying to figure out the role of witchers in this world that might be moving past them, and there’s some times where he has to recreate his personality and choose who he wants to be going forward.

Outside of wandering around and talking your way through situations, most of the gameplay comes through combat.  The combat engine here is really interesting to me.  It’s similar to the Dragon Age games, where all the action you’re seeing on screen are really just visual representations of a bunch of dice rolls going on behind the scenes, and a visual representation that doesn’t always match what’s actually going on.  You’ll see Geralt making some total acrobatic moves on his enemies, completely stun-locking them so they can’t even move, and his HP will still be chipping down bit by bit.

So yeah, the combat engine is interesting, here.  There’s not a lot of performance-based stuff you can do.  Essentially, once you’re in combat, there’s not a lot of choices you can make, and your skills won’t make much of a difference.  You get up to a five-hit combo with proper timing, but the timing is very easy to pull off, to the point that when you’re far enough into the game that enemies start presenting a challenge, you can get the full combo almost by rote.  You can switch styles at a whim, but in almost every situation, there’s a clear ‘best’ style to use, so you don’t get much utility out of that.  You do have some status-inducing bombs you can use to really change the tide of battle and a few spells you can mix up in combat, but other than that and your choices of target prioritization, all the other things you ‘could’ do to affect the outcome of battle take too long to have a meaningful effect. The core of the combat gameplay is going to play out as it plays out once you start the fight, and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.

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That’s because the big meat of the combat engine is in preparation.  You may not be able to do much to change the result of a combat encounter after you start the fight, but you’ve got a huge amount of things you can do before it.  From the start, you carry at least two swords, one steel for humans and one silver for monsters (both are for monsters), each of which can be forged and reforged with a variety of buffs and effects.  Each of those swords has three styles, one for heavily armored enemies, one for evasive enemies, and one for groups, that get different moves and effects depending on the choices you make as you level up.  And then you get a huge array of potions and blade oils to add additional temporary effects to you and your weapons.  You can’t just take an unlimited amount of potions, those things are somewhat toxic, and as you take more than a handful Geralt starts feeling the sting from them, so figuring out the most effective combination of the limited amount of potions you can take is vital for success.  The game is really big on having you do the in-universe research on the monsters and situations you’ll encounter and figuring out what you’ll need to counter them.  You have to find books.  Knowing about the monsters clues you into what they’re weak to, what swords and styles are best for them, and gives you extra ingredients for making your concoctions.  Books also contain the recipes for your potions, blade oils, and bombs which prove so vital, and enable you to gather alchemical ingredients in the wild.  The in-combat gameplay is very simple, but the mental work before it is anything but, which lends to a really interesting take on the typical RPG sword and claw business.

I guess I should also talk about one of the more famous/infamous parts of this game.  So, there’s porn in it.  Not like, hardcore porn or anything, but, well, Geralt has a lot of sex.  It’s pretty integral to the lore, a chaste Geralt would be like a virgin James Bond.  In this game, when you have sex with someone, you’re treated to a really tame kissy kissy fade out like you’d see most every other time something like this pops up.  And then you get a beautifully hand-drawn picture popping up that shows you what the character looks like naked.  It’s not an omnipresent thing or anything, and, with a few notable exceptions, you can ignore the sex scenes without missing out on plot or in-game rewards, but this is before the age of bathtub Geralt, so the sexual appeal is pretty one sided.  I’m a pretty sexually open person, so getting to know what a bunch of fictional people’s breasts look like doesn’t bother me at all, but if it’s not to your taste, I can’t fault you at all for not wanting it in your video games.

Overall, the Witcher does show a lot of signs of being a freshman game.  Designed pursuing the ideal over execution, the untempered ambition of the piece, and a fair bit of jankiness that experience probably ironed out of the later ones.  For all it’s flaws, it’s a really good game.  It delivers a unique experience, and it’s totally accessible yet becomes even deeper on repeat playthroughs and after having read the books.  It’s grown a little dated, but the game was solid enough to launch a very well regarded franchise and position its company well enough to put together the closest thing Steam has to a competitor.  I enjoyed my time with it, and I look forward to jumping into future games in the series.

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Doing the Bad Ending Well: Red Dead Redemption

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The second game to fall before the might of The Quest happens to be Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar’s 2010 mix of Grand Theft Auto gameplay and the Western genre.  This game’s pretty well known, so if you’re looking for an opinion piece on it, that ground’s already covered.  If you want the Aether take in particular, I didn’t like it that much.  Even when I was in the mood for a good rooty tooty point and shooty, I found this wide open sandbox to be full of things to do but very little that was worth doing.  But that’s not why I’m here today.  I want to talk about one of the parts of the game that I did like, the ending.  And I want to talk about why I like it.  Because that’s a weird space for me.  The ending to Red Dead Redemption does a few things that I normally absolutely despise when video game endings do it, but they work for me here.  Let’s explore why that is.

Suffice to say, I am going to spoil the hell out of Red Dead Redemption’s ending.  If you haven’t beaten the game yet and you’d still like to, I wouldn’t click that ‘Read More’ button.

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Demon’s Souls

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Moving into the next stage of my quest to defeat all the games I own, I knew the first game I conquered had to be a statement piece. Something that would make all the other games of this generation, who had been previously watching from the sidelines, quake in fear knowing the unstoppable domination that was coming for them. It was very purposeful that the first game of this generation I chose to target was perhaps the harbinger of a wave of pointedly very difficult games, Demon’s Souls.

I did a bit of research online before diving into this game. From what I understood, the goal of this game was to ‘git gud’. Every single challenge everyone brought up was met with the command from other players to simply git more gud. So by my understanding, as you defeat the challenges throughout the game, you collect more and more gud, and once you collect enough of this ‘gud’, the magic governing this world then transforms your player character into an amazing asshole that posts on the internet without providing anything of value.

Hmm… maybe I’m halfway there already.

Luckily, playing the game, I found that the internet has a very different understanding of the game than what it actually has to offer.

Demon’s Souls is Dark Souls’ somewhat less cool older brother. I love the Souls series’ design philosophy, the idea of building a huge challenge, but having it all centered around the idea that no matter how skilled a player they are, with enough preparation, practice, and patience, anyone can beat any challenge therein. That’s absolutely interesting to me. Things are absolutely tough in Demon’s Souls. At no point is success a given, and there are always true threats available. But everything is made to be overcome. Things are hard, but never overwhelming.

Demon’s Souls also carries with it a very interesting variation in combat design too, one that did carry over to later games. In nearly every combat oriented game out there, offense is key. In most games, your main advantage over AI characters is not that you’re better equipped or innately stronger than they are, although that is often true. It’s that you’re more aggressive than they are. You will launch more attacks per unit of time as one person than they will as a whole horde. You will attack while dodging. You will attack while navigating obstacles. You will attack while maneuvering between cover. You will attack when you wake up, when you eat your breakfast, when you brush your teeth, when you go to work, and every single moment throughout your day, your attacks are key.

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Now Playing: Mission Complete

If I’m going to do this, I need to commit to just doing this.  While I’ve got the time here, let’s get at least one real post down.  One thing that happened over my little hiatus here, I have successfully conquered the next stage in my little quest here. For those who don’t remember, I have been on a quest to beat all the games I own, grouped by console generation. For more than half a decade, I’ve been working my way through the PS2/Xbox OG/Gamecube era. Lots of games in my collection. Many of which take 40 hours plus to conquer. And I have finally, after a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, done it. This is a big moment for me. And in celebration of it, let’s take a look back at the games I have conquered since my last check in on the topic.

X-Men Legends

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I said last time that I hadn’t played this long enough to have a solid opinion of it. I’ve beaten the game now, and that’s still true. I remember having a mostly enjoyable if occasionally frustrating time with it, but it really doesn’t leave much of an impression. Back when it was new, I remember hearing a lot of word of mouth about this game, but I guess it just hasn’t really aged well.

It does have what I’m now recognizing as a level of jank that was common with a lot of multi-platform releases of its day. Graphics a little muddy and unclear, controls a little simplified and sloppy in a very familiar way, loading a harsh and sudden stop to gameplay. It’s like these game have to take all the minor flaws of every console they’re on and port them to the others to make a game that works on all three. That one of the things I’m most glad the industry overcame in the following generation.

Valkyrie Profile 2

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I have to confess, I didn’t beat this one. This game beat me. 20-30 hours in, after getting through the slow parts of the game and reaching the point where it really kicks things into high gear again, Valkyrie Profile 2 goes through a pretty serious difficulty spike, and I ran into a boss fight I just couldn’t overcome. With the right moves, the bosses were one-shotting me. After too long of trying, I had to put this back on the shelf. Which is a pretty similar story to what I faced with the first Valkyrie Profile earlier on in this quest, come to think of it.

I feel the game’s combat system is a little too ambitious for its own good. It’s definitely unique, planting you on a 3d field where enemies only move when you do, you can see their areas of attacks in advance, and your goal is to get close enough to make a strike of your own while weaving through their danger zones. But there were too many parts working against each other for this to come through. Stages were a bit overcomplicated, which made navigating this system a pain, and the fact that your companions could both trigger attacks and weren’t entirely controllable by you was absolutely ridiculous. So many times, someone on my party wouldn’t follow through on my dash, start walking towards the rest of the group, and get every caught in an AOE attack they triggered. The system ended up being more frustrating than deep.

Psychonauts

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It’s a creative game, I’ll give it that. But I’ve noticed that if a game doesn’t control well, I’m not going to enjoy it. And Psychonauts is a pain to navigate.

It was worth going through to see all the interesting ideas they crammed in there. Their design really had a lot behind it. The worlds were absolutely interesting, and they threw some really off the wall ideas in that I delighted in experiencing. I can’t say I was really having fun with it, though. The game never felt quite comfortable to move around in, and there were several times where I tried something to get past an obstacle, failed horribly and decided that wasn’t the solution, only to look at a walkthrough later and find out that was the correct thing to do, it just didn’t work for reasons that weren’t really apparent to me. Wasn’t a fun way to get through the game.

Metroid Prime 2 Echoes

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Used to be, I didn’t like this game. I know, they named the planet after me, but flattery only gets you so far. It’s funny how much just changing my playstyle with it made a difference.

It’s an odd problem you’ll find every now and then, where the optimal way of playing a game is the most boring way of playing. If you follow along with that, the pace of the game completely grinds to a halt when you reach Dark Aether, where the best play is to avoid the damaging environmental areas and spend big chunks of time in the healing safe zones. That’s how I played last time, and ended up with a miserable time for it. This time around, I decided to be a bit more aggressive, not play it so safe, and the pacing ended up a lot better off for it.

It’s still probably my least favorite Metroid Prime game, but that’s because the series is just really, really good. Played right, it’s a pretty good game on its own. I learned from Red Metal that this game was rushed through in a crazy short amount of time. It’s miraculous how little you seem to see of that; it feels as complete an experience as anything else you’ll find.

Beyond Good and Evil

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Beyond Good and Evil is a really interesting game to me. A frequent complaint about it is how short it is. I think it’s as good as it is because it’s so short. Stretching the game out further would make it worse.

Beyond Good and Evil is a very creative game, but you can tell it didn’t have the budget it needed to fully realize those ideas it was bringing. It’s full of gameplay that isn’t exactly well executed, but comes alongside features to help mitigate it. The combat isn’t exactly well developed, so they keep it up front early on when things are simple, then move it more and more to the background as things get more complicated. Piloting and hovercraft combat aren’t super precise, so they keep the world concise, give you lock-on features so you don’t need that precision, and have several upgrades shake up the system so you don’t stick with the same frustrations long enough for them to burn. The plot is really bad, so they just ignore it for most of the… ok, never mind that last one. In any case, if it were any longer, the flaws of their limited gameplay would shine through, and it’d feel worse. As is, they always presenting new and fresh ideas, there’s a lot of variety in what you’re coming across, and you’re always have to think in new ways. I’ll take a short game that always feels fresh well over a long one that just drags on.

Level design is really top notch here. The stealth system works pretty well, too, once you get used to how it functions. The game is really at it’s best when it’s having you sneak into hostile territory, navigating your way safely through complex obstacles and avoiding detection from enemy forces. It actually loses intensity and excitement when it gets you into the fight scenes.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake Eaaaaateeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

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I was shocked to look back over my save files, and find that I only played this game once, over ten years ago. This game made such an impact on me. I clearly remembered the order of events, quotes, plot happenings, characters, so much of it has a strong hold on my memory. I can remember it so clearly that I would never have guessed I’ve only been through it once. I guess it’s a testament to how well-presented it is, that it’s gained so much adamance.

Anyways, you know this game already. It has gained a lot of market share in the gaming sphere, and it’s well-deserved. This is one of those momentous games, one of the ones that hits it right on nearly every cylinder.

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean

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This used to be my favorite game. I’ve beat it a bunch already, although the last time was a few years ago. Coming back to it this time around did give me a different perspective on it, though, which is really why I’m doing this whole quest in the first place.

Frankly, the game hasn’t aged well. Or maybe I’ve aged beyond it. The normal gameplay is still great. The deck-building, card-based combos, getting things to the point you can reliably double or beyond your damage by stringing the right numbers together, it feels so, so satisfying. But the slow-paced, turnbased system really drug it out of me. And I used to be enamored by the plot, and the characters. While they still definitely have their moments, I feel the years since have raised the storytelling standards of videogames, and Baten Kaitos is merely average, now.

Still, though, I enjoyed this a lot more than I did many of the other JRPGs of the time. Which is really saying something. Time has revealed a few more flaws, but it really is a gem.

Shadow of the Colossus

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The player sphere speaks of this game as if it’s a masterpiece. And make no mistake, it is. That may give you the impression that this is a flawless game. It’s not. Far from it. But that’s not the point. This is a game that, flaws and all, is still an utterly amazing experience.

You see this game pop up all the time when people talk about games to introduce non-players to the medium. Which is a big mistake to me. I mean, walk before you run. If you’re looking for an example of ludic storytelling, of a game that uses the unique features of being a game to bring you into a story and to explore it from all facets, there are none better than this. And it doesn’t require the twitch reflexes many others do that often serve as a barrier to completing a story. But it does require a level of coordination and at times, an understanding of video game logic that I don’t think someone unfamiliar with the medium will be able to muster.

I imagine it’s a very different experience after your first time through. More of the challenge of the game was in figuring out how to damage the colossi, which often relied on rather inconsistent mechanics, than it was in actually doing the deed. Playing the game already knowing how to do that with all of them, that would change things quite a bit.

Now Playing: One Small Step for Man

Yeah, let’s come round back on this.

For the summary, years, years ago, I set myself on a quest to beat, or come as close as I’m capable of doing, all my games. Every single games that’s part of my collection. Group them by console generation, tackle them sequentially, don’t stop until either they’re beat or I am.

At first it went smoothly. Although I still have some older games either I forgot about at the time (basically my whole Game Boy library) or picked up after the fact, the first several console generations fell quickly. Then I’ve been stuck in the seventh console generation for what feels like ages. But I am near the end of it. In an attempt to keep myself honest moving forward, I’m making it public. Potentially opening up myself to shame but not really because I am magnificent and so don’t have to worry about that.

Last time, I moaned about not making nearly as much progress as I thought. Since then, I’ve changed the way I play games. Got more of a solid schedule to it, less just playing whatever I feel like. Also, I don’t have as much games going at once, and for the time being at least, I’m not working classic games outside of the project series I’m picking up into the rotation. I think it’s had success in moving me forwards. I’ve knocked off several titles in the short month-plus since the last time we’ve done this. Makes me hopeful I might actually get through this generation of the quest in less time than even I predicted this year. Yep, quite a turnaround from the last time we checked in. Let’s get into that.

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Now Playing: Status Update

You know, I think it’s about time for another check in on this one.  Making this all public as a way of motivating myself.  Accountability an all that.

For those of you who weren’t around last time, or aren’t in the habit of of remembering random minutia from incredibly sexy internet stranger’s lives, I’m on a quest.  A long, long time ago, I decided that I was going to beat, or come as close to it as I was able to, every single game I owned, grouped together by console generation.  Seriously, I want to emphasize that.  A long time.  I’ve been playing games for a long time, and have amassed a huge collection.  Doesn’t help that I usually have some side game I’m working on outside of this quest, or that new games do get added into it.  It took me a few months each to cross the NES and SNES generations.  PS/64 took me about a year.  I’ve been working my way through the PlayCubeBox era for an embarrassingly large amount of years.  But I’m nearing the end.  I was hoping to have finished up that generation by the end of this year.

But I’m probably going to have to pick up the pace.  It’s been months since we checked on this last, and I’m disappointed that my list has not changed as much as I thought.  But let’s get into that.

The Recently Conquered

Planescape: Torment

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My thoughts on that are up here.  This is a game I went through a roller coaster with.  I started out really hating it.  Then I enjoyed it.  Then I progressed to a point where I couldn’t do all the stuff I was enjoying anymore, and I started hating it again.  Then that stopped, and I enjoyed that more, then the end game started, and, well, you get the idea.  ‘Twas unfortunate.  When it’s good it’s really good, but when it’s bad it’s awful.

King of Fighters 2002

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Yeah, this wasn’t part of the original list.  But GOG had it for free, so I had to pick it up.  I’ve been treating PC games like how I have this one a little bit differently, on this quest.  I do have to get them done, and I usually work with at least one classic game alongside whatever I’m doing for this mission at any given time, but I’m not going to hold myself back from moving on to the next console generation for these.

In any case, I suck at fighting games, but I really have a lot of fun with them.  And I love crossovers.  So King of Fighters is in the top of the field at a lot of things I really appreciate in games.  2002 is a Neo Geo port, and doesn’t have a lot of the features we take for granted in modern fighting games, so took me on a bit of a learning curve getting into it, but once I got there,  well, there aren’t many 2d fighting games better than most entries in the King of Fighters series, and 2002 really does deliver the quality.

I’m really not a fan of the ol’ SNK boss syndrome this that is so constant in fighting games and that King of Fighters exemplifies, where the final boss is so much more crazy hard than any of the other fights leading up to it.  I play games one player, so the deliberately broken final bosses are always going to be my cap of any given fighting game experience.  It always leads to me having to make a choice of whether to choose to play at a difficulty level where I’m appropriately challenged by all the normal fights, but I’ll be blown up by the final boss, or to choose a difficulty level where I won’t have as good a time leading up to it, but I’ll at least be able to draw some satisfaction from the conclusion.  It’s not a good choice to be making.  2002 does mitigate it somewhat by presenting you some additional options when you lose, but it wasn’t enough for me.

Soul Calibur II

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King of Fighters did instill a fighting game mood in me, and Soul Calibur II was what I picked up next.  It came out at a bit of a strange age for fighters, when most every big name in the genre wasn’t prepared to brave the market as it was then, and the ones that did didn’t get the attention they would in years before or after.  I usually credit the Mortal Kombat series with keeping fighting games alive in this generation, even if their games somehow had that really weird inconsistency in quality even though they were all using the same engine, but Soul Calibur II did its part in that, too.  A legitimately great game that had some very solid sales numbers, this was another sound leg for the genre to stand on.

I didn’t keep up with the series much after this, but if they’ve been able to keep building on top of what they did here, they’ve got something worthwhile indeed.

Also, again, I love crossovers, and being able to play as Link in a game like this hits a very warm and fuzzy spot.  I don’t care if it doesn’t make sense.

Now Playing

Final Fantasy XII

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I mentioned last time that I had been surprising myself with how much I’ve been enjoying this game.  Well, the honeymoon period is over.  And now I’m starting to see it for the shrewd partner it is.

Final Fantasy XII famously had a lot of production difficulties behind it.  Lots of games do.  Some of them rise above that, and still deliver a great time even with all the behind the scenes drama.  Others never quite overcome the challenges presented by the difficult environments they’re birthed from.  Final Fantasy XII seems to have been largely defined by the compensations they’ve had to make for what was going on with the development team.  The production difficulties feel like they’ve been woven into the game’s very DNA.

I’ve hit a point in the game where it feels like everything has been built to stretch, to offer as much playtime with as little development effort as possible with no regard to the quality therein.  Everything feels like a grind with no payoff.  I get through one area after another, and nothing seems to actually be happening because of it.  It’s been so long between cutscenes that I’ve forgotten what half of my characters sound like, and story is so sparse that I’ve got very little idea of most of my teams’ motivations and personalities.  And there’s a huge amount of grind in a literal sense.  Nearly everything, from weapons to abilities to magic, you have to unlock the ability to use it by grinding points and you have to buy the thing itself with money.  And there’s not enough money going around, unless you go back and scour areas over and over again, to keep all six members of your party up to date.

I’m over 50 hours into the game, and it’s currently what I’m pouring most of my playtime into.  I’m hoping the end is within sight and that things will pick up then, but with how little substance the game has behind it, it’s difficult to get a sense of where the momentum is leading.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles

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Yeah, I’ve just been in a Final Fantasy mood.

This is an odd game for me.  It feels like it’s on the verge of being a great game, and in multiplayer, I bet it’s a blast.  But the whole game is built around multiplayer, yet multiplayer requires extra peripherals and hand-helds, and for someone like me who doesn’t have friends in the first place, much less friends with the right combat simulator equipment, that is absolutely never going to happen.

And that causes some pains to the single player.  The inventory management, the bosses, many enemies, there so much in this game that was obviously intended to be handled with a group, and there’s no analogue to be had in single player.  Even basic combat suffers from this, as it’s obvious various combat techniques are meant to fit into roles and leave gaps that can’t be covered when you’re all by yourself.

All in all, I’m still having fun with it.  But as the challenges get steeper the gaps between how I’m able to play and how the game is meant to be played are showing more and more.

In any case, it shouldn’t be long before this game joins the conquered list.  I’m near the end, and at the point where I could start getting what I need to make it to the final level, but I’m wanting to revisit some locations and get my character as strong as possible first.

The Soon to Fall

Valkyrie Profile 2

Shadow of the Colossus

Psychonauts

Beyond Good and Evil

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snaaaaaaaaaaake Eateeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrr

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Mortal Kombat Armageddon

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean

X-Men Legends

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes

Only two more JRPGs on that list.  That’s been one of the biggest things taking up so much time.  There’s a few other ones there that are also going to take a commitment to get through, but I don’t think many other than the JRPGs are going to be crossing the 40 hour mark.  Definitely possible to have it all done before the end of the year, I think, but it might be tighter than I’m hoping.  Especially as I’ve always got other projects going.  It will take some focus.  Eyes on the prize.

Now Playing: The Return

It feels like time for another one of these. Life’s crashing down, but it’s still good to keep in mind how much I’m moving forward. So for those of you who are new here, or aren’t given to remember random minutia about internet stranger’s lives, I’m on a quest. An embarrassingly long time ago, I made the decision to beat, or come as close as I’m capable of, all the games I own, progressing through them grouped roughly by their console generation. Because this was the generation I started being able to make my own purchasing decisions, and the console generation I most filled out in the years following when more powerful consoles came along, I have been stuck in the PS2/GameCube/Xbox on…uh… Original for ages. Like, family members have been born and grown to the point that they can now have weird rambling conversations about cookies with me since I started this era. I have been stuck for far longer than I expected on this console generation. But I am in sight of the end. In fact, it’s my New Year’s Resolution to have this generation conquered by the end of this year. So, let’s take a look at how far I’ve come since our last update.

The Recently Conquered

Star Ocean: Till the End of Time

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Last time I covered this, I had positive things to say about it. I’m going to have to walk that back now. Urrrrrrrrrrrrgh did this game outlast my patience for it. Multiple times, I tried to convince myself to quit this game. Maybe I should have. That was a good 50 hours of my life I wasn’t really enjoying. I wouldn’t have bothered, if I hadn’t made it my quest to beat all my games. But can you put a price on overcoming a challenge? Is there any value worth it to you to be less than you actually are? No, I dominated this game like I dominate all things. And I feel good about that.

This is one of the worst games I’ve played as part of this quest. And given that that’s a list that includes Fur Fighters, you know that’s saying something. I appreciate creativity, I appreciate going outside the box, I appreciate the unusual. But there needs to be some direction to it. The combat system in Star Ocean is a bunch of bad ideas thrown at a wall that don’t really mesh together. The plot devolves until it’s the same thing. Everything about Star Ocean is bad, and the plot is handled so badly that it’s twist, which could be something really interesting handled by someone more competent, ends up making the whole series less worthwhile. I didn’t like it.

Looking at opinion bits online, you run into a lot of people who love this game, and you run into a lot of people like me who thought it was absolute dreck. You don’t run into many people in the middle. And you know, it occurs to me that there’s some things that are designed like that. They appeal to the niche. I don’t know who the niche for this is, people who like complicated combat systems full of features but with simple controls and don’t mind a random happenings plot that has troubles paying off? In any case, the more something is designed for a narrow niche, in general, the less it’s going to appeal to people outside of that. This one doesn’t just target the JRPG fans, it targets JRPG fans with a specific itch. I didn’t have that, but the people who do seem to appreciate it.

Simpsons Hit and Run

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This is a game that should be bad, designed in a way that it could be good, but ends up falling somewhere in between. It’s a lot better than you’d expect a random licensed game to be. Still not great. The engine is solid. Could be great. Definitely competent designers behind it. But they didn’t manage a lot of flaws that really dragged the experience down. Limited load zones, bad pathfindings, reuse of linear designs, artificial difficulty, and really poor final challenges were about the worst of it.

I didn’t actually see the ending on this one. I got to the final mission and struggled through all it’s stupid bullhonky over and over again until the game froze up. I didn’t overpower it, but I did endure longer than it did. That’s a victory on its own.

Devil May Cry

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I deliberately did poorly enough to unlock the easy mode, and played it on that. The internet says that means I was playing it wrong. The internet takes that very personally. Because if I play the game wrong that completely invalidates everyone else’s experience. Well, screw everyone else, I had a much better time playing it on easy than I ever did on normal difficulty. Look. I play my fair share of hard games. I’ve beat Dark Souls, Zelda 2, classic Shin Megami Tensei, the original run of Trauma Center, all sorts of things. Sometimes I play games on hard. Sometimes I play them on easy. It really depends on the game. Some games, I just have a better time going up against something on a lower level, and that ended up being Devil May Cry. Sure, maybe my experience was less ‘pure’ but I had a better time with the easier control scheme and weaker enemies. Some games I like to push me to the edge. Some games, I appreciate being the big man.

I was inspired to pick this up at the time I did by a discussion I came across, referring to this game specifically and questioning how much of your enjoyment of a game comes from playing it in its prime. That had me thinking. Because of this quest, I think I’m almost as immersed in games of this era as it’s possible to be, but even so, I don’t get the full context of this being so different from everything else available at the time. It’s like John Carter of Mars, a lot of what it developed was absorbed into the rest of the medium to the point that what was once original about it became kind of standard, so by the time it comes around again the audience just yawns. It always has felt a bit less than spectacular to me, but I’ve been playing this after I’ve already played games like Bayonetta that take the formula so much farther. Players who played it back in it’s prime enjoy it because they’ve got those good memories of it. But is a game that relies on those memories still a good game? Is it impossible to enjoy some games without those memories?

Evolution Worlds

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This is one of the most disappointing games I’ve played in recent memory. I used to really enjoy it! When I was however old I was when this was new, I played it through several times. This is one of the few games I’ve had where I’ve started a new run as soon as I was done with my first. This time around, though, it just became a clear picture of why people turned against JRPGs so hard at the end of this generation. It felt like I basically just pressed ‘A’ for twenty hours, then called it done. Turn-based combat, without much complexity to it, and a plot I had a hard time caring about, just wasn’t good times.

Bonus Round: Super Mario World 2-Yoshi’s Island

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I love how you can re-buy virtual copies of old games now. I stupidly sold my SNES and games when I left for college, and hadn’t been able to get a new version of this one until I got my Wii U and could access a virtual console it was actually on.

I got my original copy of this game as a gift a couple of days after a major turning point in my life. I played this so much as a kid. As a child, it never reminded me of that point, but coming back to it now reminds me so much of that singular moment. Memory’s a weird thing.

Now Playing

Final Fantasy XII

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Here’s a counterpoint to the Devil May Cry question. I played this when it was new, and didn’t like it. I’ve never gotten far into it before, just really didn’t like the mechanics. It’s a 3d system, but to fight I just select an option and wait? Wasn’t for me.

Now though, years after its original release, now that I’ve played more games that use a similar battle system like Dragon Age, Knights of the Old Republic, etc., I’m enjoying this game a lot more. I’m enjoying it a lot more out of its original context than I did within it.

Planescape: Torment – Still

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I’ve progressed on this since our last check-in, but still don’t think I’m close to beating it. It’s not grabbing me yet. It’s getting close, but I think I’m still just barely out of the rough beginning, so I only find myself playing it every once in a while. I hate everything about the Baldur’s Gate engine. It’s a pain to move around and it’s a pain to fight. I think I’m coming to the end of the rough parts. It’s been a while since the game’s forced me into combat, and I no longer have to walk through every single area to get to where I’m going. The plot and well-written sidequests are moving at a faster pace, and you know, I’m seeing signs of the brilliance everyone else says is there. I still need it to sell me on it, but I’m finding I’m looking forward to when it does.

The Soon to Fall

Valkyrie Profile 2

Shadow of the Colossus

Psychonauts

Beyond Good and Evil

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snaaaaaaaaaaake Eaterrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Mortal Kombat Armageddon

Soul Calibur II

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean

X-Men Legends

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes