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En-duhl-jer: The one who indulges

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2016-2017 Game Completion Breakdown

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It’s that time of year again. Time to chronicle and highlight all the video games I’ve completed (and due to a hacking incident on my website; a return to 2016 – as I was unable to recover that post and have been too lazy to get around to it until now; yeah…that happened…). This may be…sad. The last (and…only) “completed” game was in…August. Hmm.

This last year was, strangely, the year of the mobile game for me. Most mobile games are hard to “complete”, but I’ll spend some time mentioning them in their own category (I don’t really consider them “real games”).

I still put in a crap ton of hours into games this year, but I also started reading a lot more books and binge watched a lot of Netflix. I’m sorry. I’m disappointed in myself too. And well…I *started* a lot of games, but…oh shiny thing, what’s that! Ahem…sadly, it looks like 3DS got a big ‘ole donut in terms of playing time this year. That’s really disappointing. I’ll need to fix that this year. 

Finally, here was my post from 2015. Let’s start!

Completed games of 2017:

08/26/17: PERSONA 5 (PS4). Completion time: 152:42.

  • Whew! This was a tough year to pick a Game of the Year, but this is a very strong contender. Each Persona just keeps upping the ante and getting better and better (ehh…well, I wasn’t a big fan of 2…). Stellar voice acting, visuals, battle system, pacing, story, and well, what’s most important, it was just fun. And funny.
  • Did I mention the music? Shoji Meguro is probably my second favorite game composer; the whole soundtrack is just awesome. Some of my favorite tracks are The Day When My Mother Was TherePrice, and Blooming Villain. 
  • If you like traditional turn based RPGs you should love this game. If you have ever played Persona 3 and 4 and liked them, you will love this game (I thought 4 was amazing and this is even better).
  • The game is very long though. It’s not that grindy (it didn’t feel like it to me), it just has very, very long dungeons.
  • It took me 152 hours to get Platinum, but first run through was 112 hours for me. You have to play the game, basically, again to get Platinum (but you can skip a lot of content).
  • You do not have to play any previous Persona to understand the game.
  • I picked up the special edition because I had no doubt this game will be awesome, that said, nothing really that special with the special edition (although it is mega-rare now…). There is also a steel book edition.

Games that didn’t quite make the cut / in progress:

And…well…damnit…that’s it? That’s the only game I truly completed this year?! Unacceptable…well, I guess I’ll mention all the in-progress stuff and pray I finish them in 2018.

  • Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch) –  Essentially, this is “done”, but not by my anal standards. I’ve beaten the game, but I still haven’t beaten one of the dungeons (yeah…this game is pretty sandbox…). But, let’s be clear, this is very clearly a game of the year candidate. I hope to write up more about it when I actually beat it, but damn…this is the Zelda that I didn’t know I ever wanted. Many dynamics were changed that are more Monster Hunter-y / modern, including the weapon system (no more Master Sword or bust) and dungeon system (yeah, it’s…interesting…). I think the main gripe that people have with this is the dungeons. There…sort of…aren’t really any? That sounds strange, but, the world is ENORMOUS. It is incredibly fun just to traverse the overworld and complete shrine quests and find stuff. It’s that good. And…freaking beautiful. This game is stunning. Don’t miss this. It’s the reason to buy a Switch.
  • Nier: Automata (PS4) – Another game of the year candidate (well, I only really played game of the year candidates this year!). I honestly only picked it up because of all the critical acclaim. I had no idea what to expect as I have not played any other Nier. The best way I can describe it…Ikaruga (Galaga-esque) + Devil May Cry + Monster Hunter. That ends up meaning: sandbox action RPG w/ top down shooter elements (yeah, I know!). It’s very unique…and crazy fun. The combat alone is awesome and feels so fluid. I just haven’t played enough to truly judge it, but from what I’ve played so far…wow.
  • Super Mario Odyssey (Switch) – The only other Switch game I own. Seriously, there’s really only two good games for it at the moment, haha. Fantastic. It’s a combination of every Mario template: 64 (open world), World, Original (has 2D platformer sections). I’m just really excited that we got more of a 64-ish game than the bit-sized worlds of Galaxy. The “possession” system seemed gimmicky in trailers, but it’s fantastic. This is a great platformer and is really accessible by everyone. I’m pretty close to being “done” with it, but there’s a whole lot of content to get through post-game it looks like (I mean…there’s a lot of things to find…).

Mobile games:

Mobile games…I’m kind of a video game snob and look at mobile games like they’re red-headed step-children, but, Nintendo drew me in to three different things this year (their first effort into the mobile space). Mobile games are just a…different experience. They’re designed to play on your emotions to get you to spend money, which I hate (and never will). But to free-to-play them, you have to do all kinds of grindy activities, which, well, I’ll be honest, I like. It also helped that I got a new phone that’s actually capable of running games, it’s a brave new world…

  • Pokemon GO – I’ve covered this pretty extensively in some other posts, but I played this game a whole lot. I would have to wager, I spent 600-700 hours on this…easy. I played this pretty much every weekend for at least 4-5 hours a day. This was a big, big time sink. So what’s the verdict? Well, as someone that just hit level 40 recently (max level), I feel I can truly critique this in a way most can’t. Here goes. … This game kind of sucks. Whoa, whoa, whoahow can you not like a game that you’ve spent so much time on? Answer: hope. Hope that it will get better. Hope that all the sunk cost you’ve put into the game means something. I feel like I should explore this further, let’s do a pro / con list:
    • Pro:
      • It gets you to exercise. This is one of the big draws for me. It gives me an incentive to go outside…and still do what I love (umm, play games).
      • It gets you to “Go” and explore the world. I’ve found so many parks and interesting things around my town and surrounding areas that I literally never knew about.
      • I mean, it is Pokemon. I do like Pokemon. I do like “catching them all”. I like building up Mewtwo and Dragonite. I like being able to “control” an area.
      • The social aspects can be fun. If you can scrounge up some friends, you can dominate areas of a town (like a real gang!). Otherwise, it’s pretty boring to play solo. This is not a solo game by any means (but I made it one; it helps that I have a park right near me).
    •  Con:
      • This is made from a “developer” that’s…not a developer. They make AR tech. They’re an awful game company. They don’t communicate well with their base.
      • Bugs. Oh, the bugs. Part of it was my budget phone, but I have *never* seen a buggy / glitchy PRODUCTION game. It’s embarassing. It really is. It’s gotten a little better recently, but this is still nowhere near the quality that one would expect from a Nintendo / The Pokemon Company backed game. It’s infuriating.
      • The “game” itself is boring. There is really only two “modes”. Catching. Battling. Both are extremely shallow and offer really no major incentives. But to get any “money”, you have to battle. Otherwise, you need to pay. And I’m not paying. 
    • So what’s next? As mentioned, I’m sort of “done”. Until the level cap is released, there is no real “thing” left to do. Except the fact that, by default, the game has many years of content left due to the nature of the main series. More than half of the Pokemon haven’t even been released in the game yet. It’s something I will continue to play, but I will not hit nearly as hard as I have in the past. If you have any interest in Pokemon though, I do think “now” is a good time to check it out. Generation 3 content has just been released and it’s generally very easy to level up by “raiding” with people. You can get legendary Pokemon at very low levels with very little effort.
  • Pokemon Magikarp Jump – This is my first foray into the inane, mindless mobile game genre of “hit button, see numbers go up, repeat forever”. This is licensed game featuring Magikarp (the Pokemon) in a quest to…I don’t know exactly. I guess beat the Elite Four or something. Here’s how this game goes: fish a Magikarp, feed it, train it (once every 30 mins is best you can do), have it reach max level, “fight” (I use that very, very loosely – is your “power” bigger than your competitors? Yes? You win!). Win? Go to the next level. Lose? You “retire”. Repeat. 300 more times. 300 MORE TIMES. That’s the game. I kept expecting some sort of…advanced game play mechanic that never happened. You can get other “support Pokemon” and such, but it takes forever. You need to spend “diamonds” to “buy” Pokemon that cost 400-600. Realistically you can get like 5-20 diamonds a day after you’ve exhausted all the in-game unlocks (which run out very quickly…). The game then assumes you’ve become so invested that they want you to drop cash to continue. I HATE GAMES LIKE THIS. That said, it’s not as bad as some other evil “gacha” style games (I’ll get to in a minute). The most you should ever need to spend on this game, if you were so inclined, is $40. $40 will get you an item that gives you infinite diamonds. But, then it becomes pay to win, and again, what’s the point…? Sigh…
    • Other notes:
      • I’ve been playing it over a month, and I can’t really understand why. I guess it’s my OCD with wanting to “beat” it. I’m pretty close. There’s really only a few things you can do to “beat” it: Max Level at 100 (check), max out JP at 12 trillion (at 9 trillion now), 100% Events (not happening, you need to spend money for this).
      • OK, OK, maybe I’m a little too hard on this game, but you have to know what you’re getting in to. It’s mindless, boring, dopamine clicking. There is no level of achievement. There is no skill (the only “skill” is efficiently leveling up; i.e. double berry method, google it!). I’ve almost maxed out my JP (Jump points! the point is to “jump!”; did I fail to mention that?), and then I can try to pretend I didn’t waste weeks of my life playing this. At least I know now what to look out for in the future…
      • I mean, Magikarp still is the shit, so…I forgive you Magikarp. We cool.
  • Fire Emblem Heroes – Ahh, finally. The “just right” Goldilocks equivalent of the three mobile games I’ve played this year. This is actually a REAL GAME. A fully polished and supported REAL GAME. There are no bugs. There is actual real CONTENT that is updated daily. This is a FREE game. But…it’s a mobile game, so it has some evilness to it. This is a “gacha” style game and what that means is this: 99% of players can play this game without spending money or maybe a very small amount in very limited circumstances. The game is designed to draw “whales”, which drop thousands and tens of thousands of dollars in an effort to get “all” the content. If you play games like this, you must be happy that you will never “have the best stuff” or “have everything”. You can’t. Again, the game is designed that to “be the best” you have to spend thousands of dollars. I’ll go into that more in a moment. 
    • Other notes:
      • But, what about the game? Oh man! I love Fire Emblem. I love Intelligent Systems. This is a fantastic collection of the series many, many characters. Lots of fan service. Lots of content that take many hours to plow through. At it’s core, it’s a 4 vs 4 battle versus AI from teams you put together comprising of users of swords, axes, lances, mages, fliers, armors, cavalry, etc on a 2D grid (you know, Fire Emblem). The weapon triangle from the main series is here and you can equip units with various abilities that require you to “summon” other users to inherit skills and “promote” them through EXP and “feathers”. Ehh, you’ll get it once you try it.
      • The game is pretty liberal in letting you “play”. There is no “pay to win” in the fact that everyone can only “play” as much as the next guy. You have 100 “stamina points” to use on various things. 1 point regenerates every 5 minutes. So you can expect to get 200-300 points a day. An item can be used that restores 100 points, that are generally common, but uncommon enough you can’t blow a dozen a day. It’s a fun system where you have to efficiently balance certain things. You can’t BUY these points. Which is cool. Some events take 30 points, some take 5 or less. You need to be pretty confident you can “beat” the higher level events or you just blew a third of your day! I enjoy it.
      • All right, let’s get back to the dark side. How in the world can people drop thousands of dollars on this game? Well, it boils down to “summoning” heroes; which is essentially a lottery system (gacha). Most efficiently, you need 20 “orbs” to summon five heroes. 20 orbs is something like $13. You can expect to get 20 orbs in a few days through just playing the game. But, the rub is that there are limited “banner” events where you have very little time (a few days) to “summon” very rare and / or powerful units (for example, there was just a limited-time Christmas event). So, you literally have to spend money to get the best stuff or hope that you’ve stockpiled enough orbs to  have a chance at getting something good. And if that wasn’t bad enough, to make the best units even better you can boost them up TEN MORE TIMES by “summoning” the same unit and sacrificing them. For example, I really wanted a Christmas Tharja. I “spent” 400-ish orbs and didn’t get her. At the most efficient orb buying from the shop, that would be about $200 (again, I got all those orbs for free by playing the game). I’d say the odds of getting a Tharja are about 1 in 300 (I didn’t get lucky, but I did get other good stuff, so I’m pretty happy!). So what does an impatient person that just has never learned the word “no” or rejection do? They spend and spend and spend until they get what they want. It turns into a gambling addiction. That never ends. Because there’s always a new “banner” in a few days.
      • This problem is very cleverly and accurately addressed by the the South Park episode Freemium Isn’t Free. This Kotaku post explains it by referencing some clips from that episode. The ironic thing? There’s a South Park freemium game on mobile now. And you can’t watch the episode Freemium Isn’t Free on South Park Studios right now. Hmm…
      • Here’s an example of a normal guy that got addicted to one of these games and ended up dropping $16,000 over time on it. It pisses me off. This is not the future I want gaming to head and it’s getting there. Publishers are realizing that why would you take a lot of risk making a killer game that costs $40-60 when you can make a piece of crap that you can get lucky and get some fool to drop thousands on (not to say that this game is crap; I believe it won Mobile Game of the Year in several places – it’s a good game). It hurts the reputation of the industry. It hurts real people. Yes, people need to step up and realize dropping thousands on a game is ridiculous, but there’s a line. I have to imagine there will be legislation, at some point, banning these type of games or severely curtailing them. They are, for a lot of people, just gambling.
      • OK, done preaching. The point is: if you like Fire Emblem, take a look at this game. It’s pretty great.

Game of the Year: Persona 5 – I mean there was very little choice. You honestly could take Zelda or Mario or Nier and I would agree with you. I just spent the most amount of time playing Persona this year and it was so much better than Persona 4 (which in itself was a fantastic game) that it deserves this nod! I’m really looking forward to finishing Nier though.

And you thought we were done!?

Eh, well, because I’m tired and this post has now grown enormous, I’ll be brief (ish). My original notes from 2016 in italics.

Completed games of 2016:

  • 12/5/16: POKEMON SUN (3DS). Completion time: 60:20. Very good game! Somewhat surprising. I’ve skipped 3 gens…was getting stale. Still lots more to do! Note: Ultra Sun / Moon were just recently released. Definitely pick those up versus the original release.
  • 07/25/16: ZERO TIME DILEMMA (3DS). Completion time: 20:35:51. All endings obtained. 100% on the series so far. Miss the sprites; still fun. Note: Looks like this is the last game in the series which is sad. A really great puzzle thriller (yep, that’s a thing).
  • 06/19/16: DOOM (PS4). Completion time: ~30-40 hours. Not a FPS fan, haven’t played series since DOOM 64, but I really enjoyed it. Note: Screw Bethesda. I really liked this game, but they are the worst when it comes to bugs. There is STILL a bug that exists that prevents getting Platinum. This pisses me off. They’re blacklisted (as are Ubisoft and EA). I refuse to ever buy one of their games again. They produce buggy garbage.
  • 06/12/16: SUPER MARIO 3D WORLD (Wii U). Completion time: 19:20. 220 lives, 149 deaths, All Green Stars/Flags, 80 stamps, Shiny 4 Star! Wow, what a game...
  • 06/11/16: STAR FOX ZERO (Wii U). Completion time: 13:57. 37/70 medals. All areas unlocked. Sound Test opened. Hmm, I have thoughts… Note: I can’t find my original thoughts! I think I was mad at the content. It just felt like it wasn’t finished.
  • 05/1/16: DARK SOULS 3 (PS4). Completion time: 86:42:57. Covenants done. Missing one gesture, one pyro. Time for NG+! Close to Platinum already. Note: I did get Platinum. Eventually new DLC was released. Fun fact: I have never played any DS DLC. It makes me sad, but I have my principles: I don’t pay for DLC.
  • 04/12/16: FIRE EMBLEM FATES: REVELATIONS (3DS). Completion time: 45:43. Wow, I really enjoyed that. Highly recommended. Very satisfying third chapter. Note: This was the third piece of FATES. Note above: I don’t buy DLC. But I will buy very expensive special editions if you make it special with the DLC already included! I’m weird…but maybe rich? This thing goes for a lot of money now.
  • 04/03/16: FIRE EMBLEM FATES: CONQUEST (3DS). Completion time: 31:48. Hard / Casual. Tough, tough final battle. Had to restart after getting annihilated.
  • 03/25/16: FIRE EMBLEM FATES: BIRTHRIGHT (3DS). Completion time: 45:49. Ending just kind of snuck up on me! Fantastic game, pretty “meh” story though TBH.
  • 02/10/16: DONKEY KONG COUNTRY: TROPICAL FREEZE (Wii U). Completion time: 20:47. 100% clear! Wow, that was pretty difficult! Recommended! 
  • 02/07/16: LUIGI’S MANSION: DARK MOON (3DS). Completion time: 16:13. Highly recommended. Extreme upgrade in content & “fun” from the first Gamecube game
  • 01/01/16: YOSHI’S WOOLY WORLD (Wii U). Completion time: 32:13. Completely complete! All Flowers, Stamps, Health, Bestiary, Yarn Yoshis, Badges, and Music obtained. Note: This was also on the 2015, but I finished all content on the first day of 2016.
     

Game of the Year 2016: DARK SOULS 3. I mean, FATES, was a good game (even though it went the Pokemon route of multiple versions of the same basic game), but the climax of the SOULS series? DS3 was an absolutely amazing game. Perfect amount of content, challenge, run-time, music, visuals. I have no complaints. And that’s hard for me to say.

Well, that’ll do it! Hmm, I really dropped the ball in 2017. Freaking mobile games, they corrupted me. I’ll do better next time. It was nice to look back at 2016, that was a pretty great year.

 
Filed under Reviews, Videogames
Jan 1, 2018

DARK SOULS 3 – Review and Gameplay Videos

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dragons

Hmm, this looks bad. But, it’s OK, there’s a bonfire 10 feet from me. No fear, let’s do this.

Let’s talk about DARK SOULS III for PS4. So…I’m 160 hours into DARK SOULS III, and have beat the game 12 times. … This game has pretty much taken over my life for the last few weeks.

In the interest of doing something productive, and to make myself feel better about how much time I’ve “wasted”, writing a review of the game sounds like a good thing to do. So that’s what I’m going to do. There may be minimal spoilers ahead, but…not really.

Background: I’m a SOULS veteran. I have received a Platinum trophy in DEMON’S SOULS, DARK SOULS, DARK SOULS II, BLOODBORNE, and DARK SOULS III. This analysis of the game will obviously be skewed toward some that likes the series and is “pretty good” at it, but I’ll do my best to explain it to someone that has never played an entry before.

Story: The series is not known for its story, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. It’s just that you have to go looking for it. You’re not going to be inundated with lengthy cutscenes (almost every cutscene is a boss introduction), but if you’re expecting something straight-forward and to the point, not gonna happen. Once you beat the game, your reaction will probably be…”OK…that’s it?”. This game is pretty much the same as every other game before it.

There is no lengthy explanation to anything, but there’s plenty of nuggets in interactions with NPCs, item descriptions, and just keen observation to the environment, where you can basically figure things out, if you desire. Again, the core gameplay is completely detached from the story, and that’s one of the main tenants of why a lot of people LOVE this series. This isn’t METAL GEAR SOLID. It’s an action RPG that harkens back to the NES days.

Without going too deep, the basic overall story here is that, well…you’re tasked with perpetuating a cycle of “linking the flame” to…I guess make sure the status quo keeps going. Otherwise, the world will turn to darkness and the Hollow will rule. Or something. Hell, to be honest, it’s not really that clear to me.

Here is a good video if you’re interested in learning what happened in the first two games (with the caveat being, the story is open to interpretation, but this video covers a lot of basic events):

One thing I’ll note: there is quite a bit of fan service throughout the game with subtle nods to previous SOULS games (including DEMON’S; which isn’t, apparently, in the same universe). There’s a certain hidden little area in Farron Swamp that made me smile…and then I was sad. These types of nostalgic encounters are all over the place, and that’s very cool! But, they’re so subtle…it’s not in your face at all. Very well done.

Gameplay: Here it is! The only reason you should be playing games, and DARK SOULS does not disappoint. Developer FROM SOFTWARE is essentially using the same basic mechanics of all the SOULS game beforehand. What you’ve got is a 3rd person action RPG. You control a nameless avatar, which you can customize prior to starting. You don’t speak. You’re not a “main character”. You have no name. Your goal is to take down the LORDS OF CINDER, and you do that by eliminating enemies and collecting SOULS. These souls continually accumulate and can be seen in the bottom right hand corner of your HUD. If you die, your souls go away. If you can find the place where you died, you can collect your souls again. If you die again before collecting said souls, your souls are gone forever.  Brutal? Unforgiving? Hours of gameplay wasted on two deaths? Perhaps. But, you’ll learn to be careful. The game really isn’t “cheap” (OK, there’s a few times where it is), so getting your souls back shouldn’t be “too much” of a problem.

So…how does one obtain SOULS? Well, you kill stuff. Little stuff, big stuff, boss stuff, all kinds of stuff. You have the opportunity to develop your character in several attributes by “leveling up” with your accumulated souls. You can spend them to increase HP, TP, defense, strength, dexterity, magic, and luck. Whatever “class” you pick at the beginning really doesn’t mean anything. It’s up to you to decide how you want to play. Want to play as a STRENGTH build…or…feel like changing it up and becoming a MAGIC build instead? OK!

And that’s one thing I think DARK SOUL III does a good job at, it feels like you can be pretty flexible in what build you want to play as. You get a lot of different weapons early on in the game, and leveling up your weapons “seems” a lot easier. You get unlimited access to “Titanite Shards” and “Large Shards” pretty early. Also: remember leveling up armor? That’s gone. Hooray!! I felt like in DSII, once you decided what you wanted to be, that was it. It was very difficult to farm materials or find good weapons and be flexible with armor. Also, I can’t remember if DSII was the game where enemies perma-disappeared after killing them too many times. Enemies definitely no longer perma-disappear in DSIII, Praise the Sun. I think all of these changes are for the better.

OK, well, that’s fine and good. You’ve got a character with some weapons and magic and such. So, what’s the goal? I’m glad you asked. Basically, you venture to an “area”. In every “area” there is almost always a “boss”, once this boss is cleared, you normally venture into a “new area”. Sounds simple, don’t it? Generally speaking, each area links to the next, and there’s…I think really only two “branching” spots in the game…where you will need to travel to both forks to complete everything. There are some hidden areas as well (let me count…I believe there’s…5 optional bosses!). It’s not exactly linear, per se, but it’s pretty close. You’re not going to get DARK SOULS I’s fantastically tiered areas with multiple shortcuts (I mean I really loved the world structure in DSI, top notch).

satisfaction

This particular boss is a giant douche. This felt SO GOOD.

Combat: If you’re familiar with the series, nothing has changed, other than the fact that magic spells are no longer usage based, and now draw from a “magic bar”, which can be refilled with a new “magic Estus Flask”. You have the opportunity to assign whether or not you want “flask points” to go toward the HP healing or magic healing version. And eh…never been a magic user, so, not a big change for me. I’m still rocking one slot at level 300+!

Other than that, it’s the same basic stamina-based attack system. You have a green stamina bar, which you can level up via the ENDURANCE stat. The more stamina you have, the more you can attack. Once your stamina is exhausted, you need to wait until it fills up again (generally 3-4 seconds to completely refill) before you can do any actions. You can use a shield to block attacks, and this generally reduces stamina, once your stamina is exhausted you’ll enter in a staggered state and be criticaled (don’t do that; also a reason I don’t use shields).

The equipment percentage system returns with no real changes. The stronger armor you use, the heavier it is, and the harder it is for you to move. You can level up a stat called VITALITY to allow you to use heavier equipment. If you go past 70% “equip load”, you will no longer be able to have the most effective “roll” and are just generally slower at everything. Rolling is a defensive dodging technique which is completely critical to the entire game. Rolling has a second or so of “invincibility frames”, which means, if someone attacks while you’re rolling, you will take no damage. Rolling is important. Learn how to roll. Master rolling.

Same with armor, the “heavier” your weapon is, the more damage it can do, but the more “damage” it does to your equip load. Lighter, dexterity based characters will use lighter weapons like: katanas, daggers, short swords. Heavier weapons include: maces, axes, poleaxes, hammers, etc. And a lot in between. Combat is balancing armor, weapons, and equip load to maximize damage output, defense, and speed. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to get to level 40 for ENDURANCE, getting a decent HP level (I would say 40 is good), and then allocating other points toward STRENGTH, DEXTERITY, INTELLIGENCE, or FAITH, depending on what kind of weapons you want to use.

Each weapon has a “minimum level” you need to be at to use said weapon effectively as possible. For example, to use Washing Pole (the longest katana and my favorite weapon), you need to be level 18 in STRENGTH and 20 in DEXTERITY. Each weapon also “scales” its damage output with the amount of additional points you put into it. Again, using WASHING POLE, as an example, the more levels you put toward STRENGTH or DEXTERITY, the stronger it becomes.

There is also a generally complicated system of “infusions” that, for the most part, is the same as others in the series. You can infuse most weapons with different attributes such as fire, darkness, lightning, bleed, poison, etc. However, doing this normally makes the weapon weaker overall, in terms of total damage potential.

So…example encounter. Enemies, should (read: should), also have an unseen STAMINA bar as well. If they perform a strong attack (generally, the longer someone “winds up”, the more stamina it’s going to use), they are less likely to be able to attack again immediately. Most combat involves either striking first before an enemy can attack, or counter-attacking in a way you avoid an attack, either by backing up, rolling, blocking, or parrying, and then following up an attack with your own. Generally speaking, you want combat to be 1-v-1 battles, but certain situations will see you fighting multiples enemies at one time…and that’s bad. You never really want to be in a situation like this.

Using the WASHING POLE, one last time as an example, you can attack 6 times by “two-handing” the weapon, or 7 times by “one handing” it (at 40 ENDURANCE with Ring of Favor +2 equipped). The latter is a faster attack, but weaker, and subsequently takes less stamina.

If you watch videos, it may seem complicated, but every fight is using the same basic premise. I value STAMINA very highly and always look to max it out as early as I can. Most of the time I win PvP fights is by taking advantage of the difference between my high stamina and, most likely, the smaller stamina of my opponent. They will be out, when I’m not, and mine regenerates faster through rings and items. I never try to be the strongest player, I use weapons that are fast, but strong. That’s a good segway to…

Multiplayer: There’s a lot to cover here actually. There’s “cooperative” and “competitive” aspects. First, every player has the ability to use a messaging system to write “messages” on the ground that every player in the game has an opportunity of seeing. Is there an ambush around the corner? Well, you might find a message saying to be careful…or in game terms, “Be wary of left”. People can “rate” your messages and if someone gives you a positive, you’ll get a free HP heal…so, it’s good to write helpful messages! It’s also a good idea to read every message you see. Most of them are helpful..most of them…and if they’re not…downvote that sucker.

Other than that, there’s the combat aspect. You have the opportunity to help other players with the “White Soapstone” which will allow you to be “summoned” to play an area together. Alternatively, you can use a “Red Eye Orb” to “invade” another person’s world. Your goal is to eliminate the “host”. Doing so yields souls and covenant items.

multiplayer

Guys, I’m here to help! Honest!

Covenants are “guilds” that you can join that offer various items, weapons, and spells to the user. This involves giving the covenant master 10 to 30 items (example: Proof of Concord Kept). Turning in 30 of these will allow you to obtain all covenant rewards for that covenant. It’s a good idea to do these. You can view these as “sub-quests”, if that’s how you’d like to think of it. If you’re interested in getting Trophies, you’ll need to do them. All of them are involved with Player versus Player (PvP) encounters.

This game ups the ante a little bit, in that, I believe you can have…I want to say, 6 or 7 people in one host’s game at one time! It’s a lot of fun, but generally pretty rare to encounter that many people at once.

For the most part, other than the addition of new party limits, the game is basically the same in terms of multiplayer as previous titles. And that’s great! This system is one that is unique to the SOULS series and can make every invasion terrifying (“Son of a bitch…I’ve got 300k souls…I’m out of Estus, I’m in the middle of nowhere, and I just got invaded…how the hell am I going to get out of this one??”). If you’re invaded, you can summon help, or “get to the boss” to get invaders to leave. Or you…could just kill them. Invaders have 50% health and 50% Estus, so beating them isn’t impossible (I feel like this has changed since DSII, but I don’t remember…), and beating them gives you souls and covenant items.

Seed of a Giant Tree are back, and much easier to find (it’s in the beginning area). These can be used to turn enemies in your area hostile to invaders (by default, invaders and enemies are on the same side).

There are also certain areas where invasions occur at much higher rates. You’ll be invaded by members of special covenants. Again, similar to past games.

The multiplayer aspects of the SOULS series are what really makes the game shine. It’s not forced on you, but…you can’t avoid it. It’s integral to the enjoyment of the game to invade and be invaded, and really makes you a better player. It also helps that everything here, for the most part, feels more polished and works great…for the most part…I’ll talk about this later.

Graphics: Not something I care too much about, and I won’t speak too much about it. The graphics are basically just higher resolution versions of the previous games. It looks great, but nothing mindblowing. The background scenes though…wow, just beautiful. I can’t immediately think of a game that just blows me away in terms of scale. Maybe XENOBLADE, but that wasn’t exactly earth-shattering graphics-wise. In any event, it’s a nice looking game. Moving on.

Difficulty: Here’s where I struggle to rate this. I can’t tell if this game is easy because I’m a veteran or…if it really just is easier. It’s probably both. But, there are actually a lot of tweaks that make the game easier (which I’ll go into in a second). BLOODBORNE made DSIII game feel so much less stressful, if I’m being honest! BB was a lot harder to me than this game was. I certainly don’t feel like I needed to use shields in DSIII due to prior experience with BB (BB didn’t have shields). I am so much more confident in rolling…although, man, would it be nice if SOULS had the HP Recover gimmick that BB has…but, I digress…where were we? Hmm. Right, difficulty.

I don’t know. In every SOULS game, you’re going to get a: forest area, castle area, library, fire area, super secret hidden area, generally annoying poison swamp, and some others. Check, check, check, check ,check, check. Was it less difficult because I knew what to expect? Maybe. Was there any ORNSTEIN-level difficult boss fight?! Not to me (I joked in the image subtitle above, but even that boss wasn’t “that hard”…although it seems like most people consider it the hardest boss in the game).

Was there any really, really bad area? The pitch black cave? That laggy, god forsaken swamp? That place in DEMON’S SOULS where enemies give you no experience and you’re walking on planks a few feet across? No. And…honestly, thank heavens. I don’t think there’s any “cheap” areas in DSIII. But that does make things “easier”. Is this a complaint?! I DON’T KNOW! When you come into a SOULS game, you expect something wicked. Did FROM sell out and make it easier? I can’t say that…the game is still challenging, it’s just…I guess once you find the staged ambushes, you can just generally breeze through things. I just know that I never encountered, say in NG+, “Oh crap…I’ve got to go through THIS place again…”. Put it to you this way…I did not ONCE lose ANY of my souls in this game in the first playthrough. And I wasn’t really that conservative. That, well…look, I didn’t expect that; I expected more of a challenge. There were certain sections in previous games that handed my ass to me over and over and over again! I just never felt like there was that really hard thing in this game. I kept waiting for it…it just never happened.

This may be because BONFIRES are so ridiculously dense, they’re everywhere! There’s never really that sense of…”crap, I really need to find a bonfire”. … Or maybe it’s because you can have FIFTEEN Estus Flasks! And you can LEVEL UP their potency TEN TIMES (a swig of which feels like it heals you 60%!!). For comparison’s sake, the internet tells me the limit was 12 in DSII (with +5 bonus). For those that aren’t aware Estus is how you heal. Every time you reach a BONFIRE, these regenerate. When you get so many Estus and Bonfires are so close, and there’s no really difficult area…I mean….

OK, maybe there’s one thing more difficult. The poise system is broken. Poise is “supposed” to be a stat that you can alter through rings and armor that allow you not to be “staggered”. That is to say, if someone hits you with a dagger, or let’s say, a rat jumps at you, with high poise, you’re not supposed to flinch, as those are “weak” attacks. Well…apparently FROM SOFTWARE didn’t like that! They say “it’s working as designed“, but…it clearly isn’t. Now…what does this mean to the normal user? Don’t bother using the WOLF’S RING. Don’t bother wearing armor just for poise. The joke in this game is that you can be “stunlocked” (term meaning you can’t move after being hit) to death by several small enemies such as rats…even with the best armor in the game. So, actually…this small change makes the game HARDER in many respects.

It really screws over heavy builds…but…to be honest, I think this makes PvP more entertaining. You’re no longer going to get Full Havel’s running around that are unstoppable. So, that’s just great, that’s a welcome change, honestly. BUT, now you get get people with cheap spammy daggers and rapiers that will continually break your poise…because poise doesn’t work anymore! What’s better?! I don’t know. It’s both good and bad. I like PvP more with it broken if I had to choose though. But does this make Player versus Environment (PvE) more difficult? Probably. But it’s not that big of a deal honestly. There are ways to mitigate it.

Then there’s the completely pointless “repair” system. They made it useless. I don’t even know why they bother having it in the game at all now. Each piece of equipment can be “broken”. Normally high strength, but fragile things like WASHING POLE are vulnerable. There used to be players that took advantage of this and broke your equipment through spells and crippled you (raises hand, I did this; stupid Havel’s armor…). If you broke someone’s equipment, they were screwed. Now…? Everything is repaired, for free, by a bonfire. Or by spending 600 souls on a Repair Powder. One Repair Powder repairs everything. Whee! In past games, you needed to go to a blacksmith for this. Now…I’m not saying this is a bad change! I LOVE THIS CHANGE. But it makes the game easier, and kind of overpowers certain light equipment that used to have a fatal flaw (*cough*WASHING POLE*cough* Edit: FROM actually nerfed WASHING POLE’s damage slightly, but…pfff, I’m still using it).

But, maybe it’s this next point. Almost every, single, boss has an NPC phantom you can summon. Did I use them in NG/NG+? No. I did not. I fought every boss 1-on-1, and generally did not take more than a handful of deaths to do it, but the fact that you can tag team so many bosses, kind of cheapens the accomplishment. There’s also no “X-on-1” type bosses in this game. Everything is generally “fair”. Which…I don’t know…just seems, weird?!

Now when you beat the game for the first time, you get to start over with all stats and equipment, this is generally called NG+X. I’m on NG+12. Why? I don’t know…maybe it’s because FROM SOFTWARE screwed me over by making one of the alternate endings NOT trigger the last Ending Trophy, and I just said, “Screw it, I’m speed running this shit”, and then found out, “Wow, I can beat this game in less than 3 hours…let’s do it again and see how high a level I can get!”. That’s where I am. I’m now level 350 and I can’t find anyone to play with me anymore….sigh. The ONLY boss I have a lot of trouble with 1-on-1 is the Final Boss. Good LORD is it hard at max NG (NG+ difficulty seems to cap at 7 play-throughs…maybe…honestly, I can’t tell…).

One last point on difficulty: I don’t know if it’s just me, but…MAGIC does not seem to be that POWERFUL as it was in prior games. I mean, I remember getting eviscerated by PvP and bosses that had strong magic. Let me put it this way, I’m at Soul Level 350+ right now. My FAITH is at 8 and my INTELLIGENCE is at level 10. These are STARTING LEVELS. And I can generally take a hit from anything, and it not take more than 30% of my health. HUH?!? I swear, I remember having to level these up because I just couldn’t defend against strong magic (I’m a STR/DEX build, by the way). To that end, I very, very rarely see anyone use any forms of magic…if anyone does it’s usually the MAGIC SPEAR thing that is pitifully easy to roll out of or the LIGHTNING SPEAR thing…same deal. *shrugs*

That’s not to say, again, that the game is not challenging, it’s just…if you were expecting the challenge to ramp up, it’s the opposite, it’s gotten easier in several different areas. Am I complaining…? I mean sort of…winning just feels a little bit cheapened…one of the absolute best experiences of the SOULS games was doing something that took you several, if not dozens, of attempts; that feeling of accomplishment and the accompanying adrenaline rush was great! When you beat something, you really felt like you beat something. I didn’t get a lot of that this time. Oh well…

Summary:

  • Little changes to core gameplay; everything you know and love is more than likely back.
  • No, “Oh my God I hate this place”, areas. That’s a good thing or a bad thing based on your perspective.
  • Improvements to several systems including: no armor leveling, decent matchmaking (you’ll almost always find people to summon or people to invade), new magic bar system, L2 performs a new special attack for every weapon now; kind of cool.
  • Difficulty is easier for veterans of the series.
  • Fairly linear; only one real “branch” in the game.
  • Not covered above, but, the game is still ridiculously impossible to find everything (or even ‘basic’ small things) without a guide. I did buy this one at launch, and…I can recommend it for newbies, but for veterans, it’s pretty lacking. Doesn’t even come close to touching the awesomeness of the FUTURE PRESS guides, such as this. There are at least 3 Covenants that you WILL NOT FIND without help. And thankfully we live in the Internet Age where we have glorious wikis like this to help.
  • This is the first game that I’ve continued to play after getting a Platinum. I generally like the PvP in this game. There’s lots of cool covenants, a couple areas where people strictly play for PvP battles.
  • Certain covenants are broken…I explain this in one of the videos below. FROM has already “patched” this, but I don’t see how it’ll help without major additional changes. Basically, the game needs more people to use a certain, pointless, covenant so people can be summoned to assist. Right now, it’s impossible to be summoned, and thus impossible to get all covenants rewards (read: trophies).

Verdict: 9.5  / 10

I love this game. It has a few problems, but when the complaint is…it’s not as hard as I want it to be (but it’s still hard), come on, that’s a pretty weak fault. I urge anyone that likes a challenge to play this game. You will be challenged, and you will get better. Completing a SOULS game should be a rite of passage for any video game fan. There is no “difficulty” setting. The game is the game, and what a game it is. This is, apparently, the last game in the series. That makes me a little sad, a lot of sad, actually. Here’s hoping that the wonderful development house FROM SOFTWARE makes something even better in the future!

BONUS CONTENT: I live streamed quite a bunch of content. If you’re interested in seeing some game play videos, I recommend checking out my Youtube channel.

Early gameplay (NG):

First Lord of Cinder boss fight (NG):

Speedrun (NG+5):

Proof of Concord Kept farming (NG):

Speed leveling in Forest (NG+12):

Filed under Reviews, Videogames
May 28, 2016

2015 Game Completion Breakdown

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Here is a list of games I completed in 2015 (in descending order). Yes, I catalog this. Mock me if you’d like.

Entries will only appear here if I have “beaten” the game. Many, many of these games are spread out over the course of several years (the record being TC:NB; took me EIGHT years to beat!!). I went on kind of a, “Dammit, I’m tired of having all these unfinished games in my backlog” rage in the middle of the year (sad thing is that it barely dents the dozens and dozens of unopened games I still have…).

Anyway, let’s get to it.

12/29/15: YOSHI’S WOOLY WORLD (Wii U). Completion time: 25:25.

  • Loved this game. Highly recommended; especially for co-op. Great game to play with your spouse or best friend.
  • Super huge nostalgia; brought significant gameplay elements and characters from original YOSHI’S ISLAND, but while being something completely fresh. That is damn hard to do.
  • Significant replay value. Every level has tons to find. Every world has a bonus stage (like the first game) which opens when you’ve found all the Flowers from the stages in that world. And, yes, if you find all the Flowers in the bonus stages, you get one final level. These stages are pretty challenging (like the first game). Good mix of difficulty depending on how far you want to go.
  • You can’t find a much better platforming experience.

10/29/15: NEW SUPER MARIO BROS 2 (3DS). Completion time: 6:29.

  • Fun game. It’s a 2D Mario platformer.
  • I don’t know though…something about this game just feels “weird”. The level design is very chaotic and…strange.
  • Not to mention the game is very short! Definitely the fastest I’ve ever beaten a Mario platformer. Not a lot of replay value.

9/19/15: XENOBLADE CHRONCILES (Wii). Completion time: 80:20.

  • This is game that took several years to complete (it came out in 2012 in US).
  • This game is breathtaking. Such scale, such detail. Does about as much as the Wii is capable of (it originally came out in 2010!!).
  • Fun battle system, fun English (UK) dub, “It’s a Krabble!”. Just a fun game. It’s one of those games where you can just wander around and be happy (I liked to do this in the ocean of Zelda: Windwaker, but this game is a whole ‘nother level).
  • I can’t bring myself to rebuy this for 3DS though. Playing Xenoblade X now. Seems nothing like this game, but I’m only very early into it.
  • This is by far the jewel of the Wii. If you like JRPGs this is the best the Wii has to offer.
  • Xenoblade was the reason I wrote this “open letter” to Nintendo in 2011. I’m glad it was finally released. It was worth the wait (and the 3 years it took me to beat).

8/21/15: TRIPLE TRIAD (Android). Completion time: Unknown.

  • I umm, I uhh…was kind of obsessed with this game. See my review here.
  • I have no idea how many hours I spent on this, but it had to be close to 100. I would wake up in the middle of the night to play it. It was the first thing I played when I got home. You could only play it 15-20 minutes at a time, but that normally happened, at least, 3-4 times a day.
  • Square then made “crystal regeneration” double speed, and…I sort of lost interest. Before that online became crippled with no variation in strategy and everyone left. It’s a shame, this game could have had legs, but once I found most of the cards, I was done. Coupled with inability to find games…well…what’s the point?
  • I think Square is still making updates to it, and adding new content, but, ehh…I haven’t bothered to try and transfer this over to my new phone. It’s probably for the best, this was like crack for awhile, I’m glad to be over it.

8/5/15: TRAUMA TEAM (Wii). Completion time: 14:59.

  • This was a straight-up speed run. I beat this as fast as I could.
  • Very, very different than the 3…4 (?) other games in this series, which I have all beaten. Reminds me of what “Sonic Adventure” did to the Sonic games. 5-6 different characters with different abilities / scenarios…not all of them very fun.
  • I enjoyed it, but much preferred the predecessors. The sad thing is…this series is in a coma.  I was really hoping a Wii U version would be made for this, as it would make GREAT use of the game pad.
  • I still listen to this song, over and over and over and over…

8/1/15: KIRBY: RAINBOW CURSE (Wii U). Completion time: 9:44.

  • Pretty much a straight rip of Canvas Curse (which was an excellent DS game).
  • Liked the game, just felt like it was a shell of what it could be. No real bonus modes. Not much replay value…stopped at 94% complete (some of the “bonus” modes are ridiculously hard…I gave up).
  • Good, solid platformer though. It’s definitely unique, and is one of the best games to use the Wii U Gamepad.

7/27/15: TRAUMA CENTER: NEW BLOOD (Wii). Completion time: 73:53:51.

  • Oh man…what a game! First and only game in the series that had online leaderboards…you do NOT want to do that to me Atlus! I would spend hours and hours and hours on one level getting into the top 10! This was a worldwide top 10 too! Before the servers went down I still owned several #1 world records and a lot of top 10s on several levels. It’s on my TODO list to post these pictures / videos somewhere…
  • Such a crazy amount of content and clearing to do in this game… Two characters, three difficulties, co-op mode, four possible ranks. That means you need to beat every stage 12 times and get the best rank. My OCD attempted this (I had XS’d every stage in the series up to this point afterall…). I spent time over eight years trying…I just couldn’t do it. I finally just decided to “beat it”.
  • Good memories of this one. Was probably the last game where I actually played local co-op with a friend. End of an era…

7/21/15ZELDA: SPIRIT TRACKS. Completion time: ~20-30 hours.

  • I played this game on two different consoles, so I don’t have a definitive time (read: too lazy to go and figure it out).
  • I hate this game. I HATE THIS GAME. It was beyond frustrating. I tabled the final “dungeon” for years because it pissed me off. I hate the controls. The game would be fine if it let me use buttons. No. You have the stylus…that’s it. So much anger. I just wanted to beat this and never think about it again…

7/5/15MAJORA’S MASK (3DS). Completion time: 37:52.

  • Man, oh man do I love this game. It’s my favorite Zelda. Fifteen years later, it’s still my favorite Zelda. It takes everything that made OoT amazing, and enhanced it, except the story (which is not a big deal to me).
  • This game is challenging. This game is beautiful. This game is just a lot of damn run. Rolling around as a Goron with great speed is up there as one of my favorite videogame memories.
  • The 3DS version doesn’t really add much, but that’s OK. This game is near perfect.
  • This run was a complete run with Fierce Deity link mask obtained.

6/28/15THE LAST OF US (PS3). Completion time: 17:40.

  • I’m not a big fan of western based game companies. Is it because of the emphasis on graphics, story, voice acting? I don’t know. But I normally find some critical flaw with them where I just can’t play it. However, ever since the E3 demo of this game, I knew it was something I would pick up. Naughty Dog has a good track record, I like their stuff.
  • This game is amazing and disappointing at the same time. It’s just…missing something. I can’t pin it down. It has amazing graphics, amazing voice acting. I don’t know…it just wasn’t really…that…fun? Does that make sense? I guess it’s just way too linear for my tastes. You get the illusion of choice, but it’s on rails. I just don’t find these types of games to be fulfilling.
  • I urge everyone to play this game because it defines the PS3 though. There are a lot of interesting combat and puzzle ideas in here. Fighting “bad guys” by sneaking around and throwing bricks and bottles for the 100th time just gets old after awhile… I had zero desire to play the multiplayer for this, I just didn’t like the combat.

6/6/15RADIANT HISTORIA (DS). Completion time: 39:21.

  • As part of my review comments elsewhere, I called this, “the best turn-based RPG I’ve played in 15 years”. Is that because since the new century we haven’t had a lot of entries in this genre or is this just a really good game? Both.
  • It’s hard to describe this game. It’s a JRPG that follows two timelines (and offshoots)…simultaneously. Very well executed too. You can “jump” to the other scenarios at certain junctures and doing things in one timeline will affect the others and open new paths. Like if you learn a new skill or find an item in one, you can advance in another.
  • I liked the story, I liked the music, the graphics, the combat (which involves a 3×3 grid where you can use your skills to take advantage of enemy placement), and just the overall the uniqueness of this game. It feels kind of “rough” in some ways, but it gives it some charm.
  • It has a lot of things to do post completion if you so desire and the difficulty can get challenging. The game length is just right. Highly recommended.

5/24/15SUPER MARIO LAND 2: SIX GOLDEN COINS (3DS -> Gameboy). Completion time: 1:39.

  • This was a pure speed run. I don’t normally do this, but this game sort of called for it.
  • I have heard many, many things about the “Land” series, and I was impressed after finally getting to play this as a digital download on 3DS. You have to note that this is for the freakin’ Game Boy, so some things aren’t as “top-notch” as you would normally expect from a Mario platformer.
  • That said, some of the level design is “weird”. I mean, really…weird.
  • Bunny Mario is the freakin’ shit.

5/24/15ULTIMATE NES REMIX (3DS). Completion time: 13:15.

  • I don’t even remember where I got this. I think it was the final Club Nintendo digital download, perhaps?
  • In any event, this is a fun little game. I think it leaves some things on the table, but maybe the point is to introduce these in future games, maybe? I can’t find much in terms of sales data though, so…I don’t know if this did so well…
  • Basically, the game gives you a “series” to play and the levels are either snippets of famous parts from the game, or “remixes” mashed up with other games (like a Link sprite is in a Mario game).
  • Like I said, there are tons of things to work with that can be expounded upon, that I hope to see!
  • Their online ranking system is pretty shady though…I’m not sure I trust the leaderboards. Here’s a video of me playing the final battle in Metroid. It says I’m top 3. But, I think these “change” over time. Eww. What the hell Nintendo?

5/15/15: BLOODBORNE (PS4). Completion time: 65:57:25.

  • This is my Game of the Year for 2015. This is the best exclusive game that PS4 has. Unquestionably. This is DARK SOULS + Guns. And werewolves. And a heavy emphasis on blood. Don’t ask me what the stories about, I have no idea. All I know is that…damn this game is fun. And damn can this game be hard!
  • What’s new versus just the normal SOULS series? They added randomly generated dungeons that can be created via loot that is found through normal gameplay.
  • Lots of updates from FROM SOFTWARE slightly tweaking mechanics. I stopped playing when I hear they finally allowed CHUNKS to be bought from shops! *grumble grumble*.
  • I think this has DLC, but I’m not a DLC guy. I just don’t DLC unless I can get it free somehow, or buy a version with all DLC already on it. I have principles.
  • If you liked the SOULS series and have a PS4, dear God buy this game. It’s beautiful. It’s creepy. It’s hard as hell. However, I did platinum it…along with the other 3 games in the series!

The first four months of the year, I apparently did nothing.

Game of the year:

  • Bloodborne (PS4)

Games that didn’t quite make the cut / in progress:

  • Super Smash Bros Wii U – I don’t know how to classify this. I’ve beaten the 3DS version, but not exactly “beat” this one? What constitutes “beating” a fighting game anyway? I don’t know. But since my buddies who normally play this with me don’t appear to have any desire to play this…I guess this will sit in limbo. And I’ll instead go waste my money on amiibos.
  • Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon – Oh man, so close to being done with this. My wife actually “stole” this from me…and…gasp…she beat it before I did! I was shocked. I was really hoping to beat this by the end of the year, I’m only a few hours away, but since there’s only a few hours remaining in this year, well…hopefully I can cross this one of soon.
  • Zelda: Skyward Sword – Guys, I really want to like this game. I just…really don’t like this game. It’s ugly. And I hate the waggle combat. I just don’t know if I can push through…I’m only one dungeon down, but I’m very bored. And my hand hurts just thinking about holding that stupid controller for hours.
  • Witcher 3 – Just started. It’s unclear how far I’ll even get in this game. I like the open-world, I just don’t dig the small text. I don’t do small text games. I have a history of starting a game after an hour and never playing it again…I fear this is one of those games.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles X – Another small text game. But at least I can play it on the gamepad! Just started. This could take years, as did Xenoblade Chronicles.

Games on my backlog I’d really like to play in 2016:

  • Final Fantasy X/X-2, Silent Hill 3. If I don’t play anything else next year, I want it to be these games (well, maybe I’ll avoid X-2).

Until next time! Happy New Year and happy gaming!

Filed under Info, Reviews, Videogames
Dec 31, 2015

Final Fantasy Portal: Triple Triad Review

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triple-triad-crystals-final-fantasy-portal

I am not what you would consider…a mobile gamer. I’m about as hardcore as you can get when it comes to playing console video games, but mobile? Not so much. To put it mildly, I would never seriously consider playing anything on a phone. I do enjoy a game of Spider Solitaire or Angry Birds from time-to-time on my phone when I’m stuck getting an oil change or waiting in line, but that’s about it. That doesn’t happen too frequently. I’m not a very patient person and avoid lines like the plague…

However, a little over a month ago now, I stumbled up on this Kotaku article, and my mouth hit the floor. Triple Triad. Triple-holy-balls-I-can’t-believe-this-is-real-Triad. Yes, that’s right, the game introduced 16 years ago in Final Fantasy VIII (oh dear lord, I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence…that makes the length of time that has passed greater than I was old at the time…how utterly depressing…). The game within a game that I was obsessed with so absolutely back in the day. I can vividly recall hunting for the card of Rinoa’s dog, finding that kid who ran around in circles in Balamb Garden to get Mini Mog, refining the Laguna card to make 100 Heroes (so you could beat the ridiculous Omega Weapon), and battling with some elder dude in some town that had a crap ton of rare cards, losing to him, and then spending hours trying to get them back. Ah, memories…

I’m in! Let’s do this!

Downloading the game

So with a great amount of nostalgic excitement, I downloaded that sucker like it’s nobody’s business. I mean, what’s the big deal? It’s free after all? Side note: I ended up watching the wonderfully timed South Park episode, Freemium Isn’t Free, a mere few days later; everything in this episode is so spot on, it’s hilarious.

First thing to note, the game is not a standalone app. It’s an embedded game within something called “Final Fantasy Portal”. Read: It’s an advertisement hub with internal apps that you can purchase; just another tricky revenue stream that Square-Enix is pushing. To get to the game itself, you need to touch the upper left corner, and a drop down of games will appear, it is currently the first on the list.

Setting up and starting the game

I believe you need to actually go through a pretty lengthy update process, so grab some popcorn or come back in a few minutes. Once the game has updated, you’ll be presented its story. I have never seen a game attempt to tie-in a story so pathetically in my life. It is literally, literally one pop-up ripping off the recent Dissidia/Theatrhtyhm (I hate that word) games: a struggle between Cosmos and Chaos. O…Kaay. Once that’s over, you move onto the tutorial phase, and the digital crack begins…

Tutorial and initial gameplay

Triple Triad itself is a very simple game with a few wrinkles. Let me see if I can explain it in a sentence…ahem…two players take turn playing from their hand, comprised of 5 cards each, that have north-south-east-west numerals ranging from 1->9->A to a 3×3 grid, each successive card will attempt to “flip” ones on the field to “their color” by “beating it” if the numeral adjacent to it is greater than the one on the field (with “A” being trump”), the players keep doing this until the 3×3 grid is full of cards; whoever has the most cards on their side, wins. Feels like a run-on sentence, but that’s the gist of it.

There are additional “rules” that can be tweaked to change the core gameplay, such as forcing specific card ordering (Chaos), adding bonus flip potential with simple match (Plus, Same), or altering the whole numbering system; 1 is trump, A is weakest (Reverse). If that sounds confusing, it’s not. It’s a very simple game. You beat an opponent? You get to pick one of their five cards to keep as your own (your opponent does not lose their card; like in FFVIII, however).

The tutorial phase explains all of this in great detail and takes about 5 minutes to go through. You are given 5 initial cards (very important, I’ll explain later), and you play through an unloseable first match (trust me, I’ve tried), and then one more match before you can be free to do what you want. Then the not so fun begins.

Freemium…isn’t free?!

You are informed that to replenish whatever nonsense the story said, it takes 30 minutes to recharge a crystal. You get five crystals, and you need one of them to play a round. Lame. Super lame. But, you are given an additional five crystals to attempt to get you addicted. Want more? Too bad. You need to wait 30 minutes, buuuut if you feel like money is not needed for  food, shelter, clothes, dog food, or other important things, you could just dump your money into Square-Enix’ digital bank. Shame on you Square. I have not once made an in-app purchase, nor do I ever intend to, nor should anyone, ever. This nonsense alone significantly cripples the game. I hope this angle dies a horrible death, but alas, it is what it is.

Gameplay

The fun to be had is a mixture of nostalgia, card collecting (there are almost 400 cards in this game from Final Fantasy I to XIV and various offshoots like Type 0, Dissidia, and Tactics [!!]), deck building (nothing beats spending time building a killer deck!), and just the joy of owning fools online with superior strategy.

Triple Triad has two modes: offline and online / local bluetooth. There is no ranking system per se, but for both modes you are given stats on: Wins, Draws, and Streak, and these are displayed to your opponent on every match.

Current stats as of this writing:

Ndolger: Offline – Wins: 497, Draws: 58, Streak: 6 | Online – Wins: 436, Draws: 142, Streak: 1

XeNJ     : Offline – Wins: 304, Draws: 33, Streak: 0 | Online – Wins:  86, Draws:  47, Streak: 3

OK, first off, my main account is artificially bloated…sorry, I’ll explain why below, but it’s about 150-200 wins padded. I know…I hate myself. XeNJ is real though, I promise!

Oh, hold on…my crystals replenished, be right back…

… … …

Eh, a Draw. Where was I? Oh…let’s talk about game progression next.

Game Progression

So, you can’t just waltz into the online components, or you’ll pretty much get destroyed. Your initial deck sucks. It will be composed of two 1* cards, two 2* cards, and one 3* card. The best cards are 5* cards, and the best of the best cards have corner “A-9” placements. Unfortunately, without these, you stand little to no chance of actually winning on the default game mode online. I’ll go into the online aspects in a bit, but first…

You end up needing to play the Solo mode to get some salvageable cards. The offline component (I use that loosely, as the game requires an online connection..at all times…which absolutely sucks for my junky 3G phone…), is broken down into three difficulties: Easy, Normal, and Hard. You unlock each by beating the protagonists in each of the first 14 numbered Final Fantasies. Why not the antagonists? I have no idea. Don’t ask me. The story slide was only one pop-up, remember? Not much details to go off of.

Depending on how good you are at math and not sucking at games in general, this process takes, at minimum, 42 crystals (14 * 3). You get, I believe, 11 crystals to start off with. 5 crystals replenish every 2:30 hours. So, you can reasonably expect to play 20-25 times a day. After you’ve actually unlocked all the difficulties, you basically have a 1% chance of encountering a “rare card” (Hard mode only). Note: Drop rates were significantly boosted at launch; I’d say it was in more of 3-5% range, but it’s hard to know.

In any event, you’ll probably need at least 1 or 2 rare cards before you venture online. The whole goal of this game is to really play with other people. Offline is sort of fun…? I guess. The CPU is either intentionally retarded, or the game modes just aren’t fun. Online is where it’s at!

Starting online

OK! So it’s probably been a few days, you’ve probably got 50+ cards, let’s do this! What should you expect? Well, first off, you’re probably going to lose. A lot. Why? Anyone who is playing online basically needs to win 4-5 times to have a manageable deck. But once you’ve won a few times, you can then have a reasonable chance of beating other players. Make sense? So…newbies get screwed. To make matters worse, you do not get the option of toggling the game mode…until you win one game! What does this mean? I’ll tell you. It means you have to beat “A-9” 5 card deck juggernauts. This basically needs to involve having a dumb opponent. Or fighting someone who is in your boat, but with only a few good rare cards (cough Lightning). This process sucks. It’s dumb, and it shouldn’t be this broken. If you can get past this phase (at least one win), the game is pretty fun.

You’re then free to enjoy all of the other modes at your disposal (alter settings before finding a match). Matchmaking is very basic and you just sit in a queue until another player is found. You get the name of your opponent, but that’s pretty much it. I see no way to follow-up and find out who they are. Which kind of sucks.

Tips, tricks, and hacks

Do you have gotta catch ’em all obsessive compulsive behavior? Do you have a physical longing to complete ridiculous digital collections, for no apparent reason that would benefit you, save perhaps, the stroking of your own ego? Why…I can help! Because I’m like this! There are 383 cards (as of 9/29/15, based on Japanese version, there will be more) available to find, and there are various ways to obtain each:

  • Restricted cards: Need to “achieve” something. Win X number of times. Win X number of times in a row. Unlock all cards from one of the games, etc.
  • Cards found through gameplay: There are “commons”, “uncommons”, and “rares”; just like any card game. You can take one card for each win you earn.
  • Special cards: Triple Triad is part of Final Fantasy Portal. Final Fantasy Portal wants you to sign up for a Square Enix account. Play every day, click on articles, and get points. Redeem points for 5 special cards. Ugh..
  • Tutorial cards: Remember the tutorial section? And the 5 cards you get? Yeaaahhh…about that… Well, all of those cards are unique. And…there’s about 60-70 of them. Yeah. That’s right. So what does this mean? I suspect this is an attempt to force people to “play with their friends” to find all the cards. But the odds of you having enough friends to obtain all of these cards are impossible. There are only two ways I know of how to do this:
    • Get a second phone/tablet to play against yourself (keep deleting/redownloading the app until you get them all), or find the subreddit for this game and play with people online. I chose the former. Because I’m antisocial, and I’d rather do it myself. I don’t ask for help.
  • Sephiroth: Because Square-Enix wants to be a complete douchebag, they decided to make one very special card almost impossible to obtain without cheating: Sephiroth. It’s not even that great of a card, but…to get it, you need to win…100 matches…in a row. Online. If anyone can achieve this feat, I applaud you. But this is akin to winning the lottery, so good luck. The only way this can be done is fighting against yourself or a friend 100 times in a row, and hoping you don’t get a dropped game. Yes, I did this. Yes, I’m obsessed.

Well, if you’re not obsessed with the collection aspect (I have a problem), here are some general tips on how to win:

  • Stop making boring decks. Guys, seriously, every deck online has 3-4 of the same cards in them. Why? Because they’re overpowered. What does this mean? You know exactly what people are going to use. I’ve found decks that have right heavy “A” power mixed with some trickery can beat most anything…because everyone uses left heavy “A”, and I know, in general, what cards are going to be used, so I can account for the weaknesses. It also helps that I have every card, and there are so very few cards that have specific combinations.
  • Why do people make boring decks? Well, there is one card, specifically, that is completely broken. It is a double “A” west-south. Lightning. Everyone uses it. In every deck. It’s the ONLY card that has two “A”s in it, and can be used as a defensive shield or brutal offensive weapon. I’ve seen one person not use it…ever. That means, every deck you’re going to see is only going to have 4 unique cards. You need to account for this card at all times, it is almost always the card that causes you to lose.
  • I use a spider approach: Bait people into a sequence of events until they screw up and leave one of their cards unprotected. This usually involves a trap with the Lightning card. It works 75% of the time for me. I have 3-4 variations of this same deck. Most people play the “four corners” approach with “A-9” and hope you screw up; usually followed up by a north or south “A” finisher. Seriously, that’s it. Everybody does this. My approach beats these decks 80% of the time.
  • Play “Roulette”. If you really want to have the most fun and vary up your experience, this is really the only mode to do that, and it’s the only mode where you might generally find a game (all the other combinations are ghost-towns). Although this isn’t exactly booming with activity either.

Final tips:

  • Look, I don’t do this, as I don’t see the point, the game is supposed to be fun, but if you’re having trouble, here’s a way to get past the “first phase” of online: background the app when you start a game. This will drop the session, but the game will remain. Your opponent will be replaced by a CPU, and the CPU is stupid. You have a much better chance of winning. A lot of people do this on purpose, just to get more wins/streaks. I don’t get it, but, to each his own.
  • Want a comprehensive list of all cards? Check this page out. It’s still being worked on, and it should take quite awhile to find them all.

Final thoughts

I really want to like this game more than I do. It has several problems though. Online is broken. One card has broken the game. I really wish Square-Enix would patch it or get rid of it completely. The game has a lot more potential, but it’s not a full fledged game…yay for freemium. It makes me upset at the potential here. I still enjoy it, but it’s depressing to consider how much more fun it could be.

Also, I didn’t mention this, but once you obtain “10” of the same card, you can “alchemy it” into a different version of the same numbers. This aspect is really the only reason I’m still playing. Not everybody has unlocked these yet! And that’s fun to me. I like being the first people to do stuff, so…I’ll continue playing.

I’m at 378/383 cards, and 3 of the remaining that I need involve creating up to two hundred new cards. That means I need to play (win) at least 2000 times. It’s going to take awhile…

I’m obsessed with this damn thing, but I’m going to see it through the end. I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes to play, my wife hates it, but…I just can’t stop. South Park says it best:

  • “YOU’VE COLLECTED TEN CANADIAN COINS! CONGRATULATIONS! HEY YOU’RE REALLY GOOD AT THIS, GUY!”
  • “No, see If something’s addictive because it’s FUN, that’s one thing, but this is just blatant Skinner Box manipulation.”

Score

+ Oh, the nostalgia!

+ The core gameplay is actually very fun and simple

+ Card collecting and deck building is enjoyable

– Boring initial phase

– Ridiculous freemium replenishment

– Broken online…damn you Lightning!

– With the launch window over and supreme difficulty of new players being able to break through; the community isn’t very robust. Seems doubtful that the online aspects are going to be healthy for long; at least on Android…I can’t imagine this is much better on iOS though.

7.5 – But yet I continue…recommended for fans

Filed under Reviews, Videogames
Sep 29, 2015

DARK SOULS Review

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Ahhhh DARK SOULS! The follow-up game to 2009’s cult hit DEMON’S SOULS. Having LOVED the first game, DARK SOULS was far and away my #1 most hyped videogame of 2011. Unless something drastic happened, this game was going to consume my life. I knew it would. I told my girlfriend it would. It did.

Over the last few weeks I’ve averaged more time playing this game than I’ve spent at work! On one occasion I believe I stayed up until 7AM playing, took a three hour nap, and then played the entire next day! All told so far, I’ve beaten the game twice, gotten my Platinum trophy (PS3), and started a new character. I’ve played the game for over 150 hours. This is one of the most addicting games I’ve ever played. I cannot believe my girlfriend puts up with me!

If you’re unfamiliar with the “SOULS” games, then…what’s wrong with you?! But, I’ll briefly run down the game nonetheless. It is an action RPG within an MMORPG-lite world. That may sound confusing, let me explain. You will go do things you would normally do in an action RPG. You kill enemies and take their “souls”. You find armor, weapons, and treasure. You level up. You beat the area boss. You go to the next area until the game is over. But what makes this game so different than just a normal hack-and-slash action game? The multiplayer system and the notoriously brutal difficulty.

Here’s how it works: throughout the game you have the opportunity to be either “undead” or “human”. If you’re human you have the ability to summon other players to your world to help you fight, however other people have the opportunity to “invade” your game and fight you. Whoever wins gets humanity and souls.

For those who are “undead”, if you’re summoned and help the player kill the area boss, you will get humanity to help you become alive again. It’s the cycle of life. An important note is that only people +-10% of your level can invade or be summoned to help you. So if you’re level 10, only players level 8-12 can join your game. This makes sure the game isn’t overpowering or easy, you can only play with people on your level.

Most likely you will need to take advantage of the multiplayer system to stay alive. The game is tough. The developers, FROM SOFTWARE, set out to make it more difficult than the original. In some ways it is, but in others they’ve added things that can assist you greatly. You are still able to write comments on the ground to warn users and it’s still as useful as it was in the first game. If there’s trouble ahead expect to see a note to tell you of impending danger. The game can be as tough or as easy as the community deems it!

You will continually be tasked on leveling up your character based on different stats such as: VITALITY, ENDURANCE, STRENGTH, DEXTERITY, INTELLIGNECE, etc. The choice is yours how you wish to allocate your souls. You “spend” souls to increase these parameters; slowly increasing in the amount needed as you keep advancing. This in essence is the simplest way to explain the game. How you decide to level these stats directly influences what your character can use. For example, I like using Katanas, and they require lots of DEXTERITY to wield effectively. Others may like to use magic, so they will focus on INTELLIGENCE. Heavy weapons users will want lots of STRENGTH.

Regardless of your path, you will need to keep advancing, clear areas, take down bosses, and eventually beat the game. Conservative estimate to beat the game once takes about 60-80 hours.

None of this is particularly new from what DEMON’S SOULS introduced. If you’re a veteran of the first game, you’re probably more interested to know what’s changed. Here is a quick breakdown of things I’ve noticed:

Differences from DEMON’S SOULS:
– No longer have an HP penalty while “undead”; previously HP was halved. This is a welcomed change. You will only have a ½ HP penalty while “cursed” (new status ailment) in this game.

– World is no longer hub based leading to different areas. Instead there is one giant overworld that connects fairly seamlessly as you progress. Shortcuts will open that connect to early areas of the game. I rather enjoy the new world!

– Amazingly, the emphasis on characters and story is even “less” than it was in DEMON’s! DEMON’S SOULS was known for its NES-like story and that hasn’t changed (this is good!!). However, there is no longer a MAIDEN IN BLACK type character! 🙁 All of your leveling will be done at Bonfires; which are basically checkpoints throughout the game.

– Inventory management is a lot better! There is no “item limit” any longer. You seem to be able to hold an infinite amount of weapons, items, armor, etc on your person. You also have the ability to dump said things into a “Bottomless Box” that you can purchase. Huge improvement.

– Covenant system introduces a limited “quest” type system. There are around 10 different groups you can join that give you bonuses in different ways. Some may want you to invade others games, some may want you to smite evil people who invade other’s games (you’ll invade invaders’ games :)), others allow you to find other players easier. Another gives you the task of protecting the forest from invaders (my favorite). It gives a fresh spin on the invading infrastructure that made DEMON’S so much fun.

Performing these tasks allow you to collect items that you can “donate” to the covenant and allow you to “level up” your covenant rank. Doing this gives you exclusive weapons and spells. It’s completely optional, but it’s rewarding and can be quite fun.

– Many boss battles let you summon NPC characters to help (only if you’re human). I don’t recall DEMON’S SOULS allowing you to do this outside of one battle.

So with that said, let’s go to a detailed review:

MUSIC
90% of the game there is none, and it’s beautiful. It makes the world seem more alive. However, you will be treated to epic orchestral music as part of the games many boss battles. This music is superb and is composed by one of my all-time favorite videogame musicians Motoi Sakuraba. Not disappointed by one track in this game.

SOUND
With no music for most of the game, if the sound effects aren’t good, it will make for quite a boring aural experience. Thankfully, that’s not an issue. The enemy sounds, the ambient noise, weapon and spell casting all sound great. No complaints here. Well, I take that back, male main character noises sound terrible! Every time you get hit they make an unnatural yelp. Maybe it’s just the class I chose…

DIALOGUE
Impressed here as well. Heavy British emphasis, but this goes with the medieval type feel of the game. All in all, the sound of the game immerses the user into the world.

GRAPHICS
Not changed too greatly from what was seen in DEMON’S SOULS. But, the backgrounds and character designs can be simply breathtaking. For the most part the game runs at a very fluid framerate, however in a few areas (mainly Blighttown) it can get pretty choppy. It’s one of the few problems with the game, but it’s not game crippling.

There are many instances you will just be amazed and say “wow that’s pretty”. Indeed, you even have the opportunity to write “Breathtaking view ahead” of which you’ll probably see a lot from other users.

There are most definitely better looking games out there, but this game is a work of art.

GAMEPLAY
In essence this is a throwback game to an era long past. It is difficult. There is nothing to hold your hand. You are given a set of starting equipment and told to go. You will die. You’re expected to die. You must learn from your mistakes. You must continue to get stronger and overcome obstacles. I must stress that, again much like DEMON’S SOULS, nothing is cheap! That is to say you aren’t going to get killed because of the game being unfair. You’re going to get killed because you’re not prepared, you’re impatient, or just stupid. 🙂

The feeling of accomplishment that comes from beating a certain difficult section that you never thought you would overcome is just amazing. Soon you will become masterful at beating enemies or areas which you would never thought you’d get past.

PROBLEMS
Other than the framerate of a few areas, I don’t have much to complain about. I could mention that NAMCO BANDAI didn’t do a great job in publishing this game, but it’s so minor it doesn’t really matter.

The collector’s edition left much to be desired, but it was free. They charged nothing extra over the regular edition for people who pre-ordered. I would have gladly paid $30 more for a better strategy guide (well I did…), and any other cool features. This is really just a missed opportunity by NAMCO BANDAI, but…that doesn’t do anything to impact my enjoyment of this game.

I would highly, highly recommend picking up the excellent strategy guide made for DARK SOULS by FUTURE PRESS. It’s $25 MSRP, and I gladly paid it. This game is a game you want a guide for. It’s begging for it.

The last semi-major complaint is the matchmaking system for multiplayer. It is no longer server-based. It will randomly pair you up with people all over the world. That doesn’t sound so bad…? Well, the problem is that it is almost impossible to link with someone you want to play with. In about a half dozen attempts, I was able to play with my buddy once! ONE TIME! And that was with carefully timed phone calls to ensure we were at the right level, right area, right covenant, and in a random place nobody would find us so we could drop a Soul Sign without anybody else summoning us.

The bottomline is that you’re not going to be able to run through a game with a friend. The infrastructure is completely different than that of DEMON’S SOULS. This is disappointing, but it is what it is though, I suppose.

FINAL WORD
The fact that I can play this game for dozens of hours at a time has to tell you something. I’m getting on with my age, and I can’t dedicate that much time to gaming like I used to. But I DID for this game. There is NEVER a dull moment. There is always something to do, something to strive for, or something to conquer. Just one. More. Thing. To do. I love when a game brings that out of the player, it doesn’t happen all that often.

DARK SOULS is a quintessential example of a fantastic modern action RPG. It gives you beautiful graphics, wonderful sound, an unprecedented style of multiplayer, brutal difficulty, and combines them to produce a unique experience that nothing else has created before. It surpasses or enhances everything that made the original game great.

SCORE
10/10 – Buy it! We must continue to support originality and good game play!

LINKS
Dark Souls (PS3)

Filed under Reviews, Videogames
Oct 29, 2011

Star Fox 64 3D Review

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Star Fox 64 evokes some of my greatest childhood memories; vivid memories that I carry with me fondly to this day. I remember where I was when I got this game, and just how incredible of a launch experience it was. I was in Florida at the time, over my grandparents’ house for the summer. I remember going to Barnes & Noble reading the latest Nintendo Power about all the levels that were in the game and marveling over the graphics. I knew I had to have this game.

Excitement kept building over the impending launch, the waiting began…when you’re a kid waiting days can seem like an eternity. But alas, the day arrived! I distinctly remember purchasing it at Target because it came with a booklet with Star Fox 64 trading cards as a bonus (which I still have!). I rushed home to play it…well, as fast as my grandma could drive.

I had rented the original SNES Star Fox, and it was OK…but this game, this game was something else. I’m not sure how you knew Star Fox 64 was going to be an amazing game, but you did. Nintendo in those days never let you down. In an era without internet or 24/7 news coverage, you just knew it was going to be something special. And it was.

This game was groundbreaking in a few ways at the time. It was the first console game (that I know of!) that featured full voice acting. This was the first game EVER to include support for what we now love or hate…force feedback. The game package itself was double sized to fit the RUMBLE PAK. A gimmick? Maybe, but it sure was cool.

The levels, the voice acting (with ultra-memorable cheesy dialogue, “Do a barrel roll!”), the sound effects, the crazy enemies, the chaos going on screen, the 3 different types of vehicles, the varied stages, the branching difficulty paths, the Medals, Expert mode, Slippy (err…wait), sound test, 4-player multiplayer, the combo system, the secret areas, Star Wolf…Andross…General Pepper saying “Whaaaaaat?!” when you get a high score at the end…! What a game.

I still consider it to be the best pure on-rails space shooter ever made. Pretty sad considering it’s 14 years old! So that said, how does the newly released Nintendo 3DS version stand up? In a word…OK. Like Ocarina of Time released before it, the core gameplay is left unchanged, and that’s great because these are both masterpieces from Nintendo. But…the entire game feels like a missed opportunity. So what was changed?

VOICE ACTORS
To sum up the new VAs, they’re sound-alikes of the original actors, that…sound like they’re trying too hard. Peppy’s southern drawl is upped (ugg….), Slippy now sounds like a little boy instead of a little girl, Falco sounds…not as good as before, and Fox is pretty stale. Star Wolf…wow, they really messed with Leon and Wolf. Pigma actually sounds exactly the same! And…nobody cares about the other one, so no comment.

That’s fine…but it is worse than that. Most notably in the first stage, and throughout the game, the lines just feel…flat. It’s like someone is reading for a scene rehearsal. No emotion, no inflection…I’m sorry, it may sound stupid, but it really takes away from the atmosphere. Even if you didn’t grow up with the original, the voice acting just sucks…

OK, I do like the BEAR that trains you in the beginning. He’s pretty badass. =E

DIALOGUE
The dialogue is left unchanged…for the most part. Instead of the boss in Sector Y saying “Cocky little freaks! … Cocky little freaks!” He’ll now say “Cocky little freaks! … You’re making me mad!”. Falco now says, “Hey genius, I’m on your side!” instead of “Hey Einstein, I’m on your side!”. Why? I don’t know. Does Nintendo not expect people to know who Einstein was? (Yes, I noticed these things…).

Other than that, everything is exactly the same.

GRAPHICS
Very pretty, but I’m of the opinion the original still holds up pretty well after all these years! That said, one of the best looking 3DS games so far, without question. But that’s hardly a feat considering the software library….

SOUND
Sound effects are perfect. There are no changes that I can see, and that’s a wonderful thing. Each bomb launch, bomb explosion, item pickup, boost, laser blast, asteroid crunch, charge shot, etc, all sound wonderful. Really great sound effects in this game.

MUSIC
As a huge fan of videogame music, and Star Fox 64 music, I’m kind of torn here. The original music does sound dated, and here was an opportunity to make it sound better, but the score here leaves something to be desired.

I’ve heard remixes in Nintendo’s OWN GAMES that sound better (go play Brawl) let alone amateur mixes that sound better than this game. The boss battle songs were really tampered with, but areas like ZONESS sound pretty nice. So there were a few stages that sound great, but…in the end, I wasn’t impressed with the changes.

GAMEPLAY
OK, this is the problem. There is almost nothing added. In a game like OoT, that’s OK…that game is perfect. But Star Fox 64 could have used some really cool, really obvious tweaks! Most notable is…ONLINE PLAY! The fact that this isn’t in here is absolutely pathetic. PATHETIC! There is NO excuse.

And it’s a real shame because 4P split-screen is still *really* fun! I played this to death as a kid. I have really great memories of playing multiplayer over friends’ houses and we’d take turns passing up the controller (loser out!), and this remains, but…we don’t live in the same world anymore Nintendo! And *finding* three or more people with a 3DS is quite a feat. A real, real letdown.

So was anything good added?
A save function which lets you keep one “campaign” going which you can return to at any time. If you want to start over, you lose your save file though (not sure why exactly, but that’s how it is).

A SCORE ATTACK mode was added as well. This, as the name implies, lets you play any stage and aim for a high score. The “play any stage” part should make fans of the game happy. Honestly, this is the biggest selling point for me.

The fatal flaw with the original game is that there was no continue or password system, so this is a big improvement. You’d have to beat it in one sitting. Considering the game takes about an hour, that’s OK, but if you really, really wanted to play Area 6, Macbeth, Venom…or whatever, you had to start from the beginning.

This sucked. Everyone agrees it sucked, so I’m glad the limited save system and SCORE ATTACK were added to address this.

OK, what else sucked, I know you’re holding something back.
There are two modes: 3DS and N64. In 3DS mode you have the option of moving the system around like you’re flying a plane around the room. You can also go “vroooomm” and “pew pew pew” if you’d like, that’s your call. Worthless. I found no enjoyment out of playing it this way, although admittedly I only tried it for 20 seconds. With the 3D on, this is impossible though so…

Yes, the 3D. I think I’m starting to grow weary of 3D to be honest, but there was nothing “great” about the 3D here to me. I used it for about 15 minutes before turning it off.

The aforementioned 3DS / N64 modes are identical. I found absolutely no difference in gameplay. None. Yet, you need to earn medals on both modes to open up…well, nothing! That is the next major omission. There are no extras. NOTHING! You have a new SCORE ATTACK mode that gives you gold medals for completing. If you beat all of them…what do you get? The enjoyment of getting gold medals.

You open up sound test for beating the game once. You open Expert mode for getting all medals on either N64 / 3DS mode. You know what you get for getting all medals on N64, 3DS, AND Expert? A title screen change. Not cool Nintendo.

If this is a non-issue for you, that’s great. I’m happy for you, but as a gamer, I usually like some incentive, something to look forward to for doing something challenging. You won’t find it here.

WRAPPING UP
OK well, words are nice, but these two comparison movies are all you need. It shows the opening level, Corneria, in both the N64 and the 3DS release. Most notable changes are the graphics and the dialogue:

ORIGINAL

NEW

SUMMARY
* This is Star Fox 64. It’s one of the finest games ever made. A great on-rails space shooter.
* Left unchanged for the most part, but this is both good and bad.
* New changes to music and voice acting don’t enhance the original versions.
* Graphics look very nice, 3D is what it is.
* Very minimal extras; the same extras in the N64 version.
* New 3DS mode joins N64 mode. Strangely, the N64 mode doesn’t let you listen to the original music or voice actors. *scratches head*
* New Score Attack mode and you can save your game and resume later.
* No online play, only local wireless. Multiplayer is still fun, now you can play with the CPU.
* No rumble pak support. Kind of ironic, seeing how this game created the concept.

FINAL WORD
A remake of a fantastic game. Lacking in many areas, it does little to propel the game past the original experience, and instead detracts from it in many areas. Those who fondly remember the original, you may want to avoid this. Those who have never played it before should enjoy it. There’s just not enough here to warrant a $40 purchase.

SCORE
7.5/10

Filed under Reviews, Videogames
Sep 17, 2011

Catherine

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All I can say after beating Catherine and having it consume two weeks of my life is, well…I really wish I had bought the special edition now. Those boxers would have been great…

What is Catherine? It’s a puzzle/RPG/dating sim with a romantical (crazy!?)/horror/mystery plot. Does that sound like any game you’ve ever played before?! No, I don’t think so. The originality of it alone draws me to it. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the talent behind this game is astounding:

1) Catherine is created by the Shin Megami Tensei /Persona team; so the chances of this game being bad (well unless you don’t like those games…) was non-existent. It’s kind of hard to believe that this is this team’s first ever “next-gen” game. This is a very well-made piece of work. Excellent animation, fantastic dub (even the snootiest sub-only fans have to agree that this is outstanding), great music, crazy plot, huge replay value, co-op, and brutal difficulty make this one of the best games I’ve played in years.

This game is harder than Demon’s Souls. By far. This is the kind of game that proves if you’re a real gamer or not. But like Demon’s Souls, there is nothing cheap here (well, for the most part), and you can really feel yourself getting better at it simply by practicing and learning from your mistakes (I’ll talk about the puzzles in a little bit).

Although it is nothing like they’ve ever made before, you can see a *lot* of elements from the SMT/Persona games, but at the end of the day, this is a puzzle game. It’s not an RPG. It’s at its core a puzzle game. This is where you lose some people. People buying this game need to realize this…because knowing who’s making it can bias your expectations!

2) Shoji Meguro does the music. That alone is normally worth the purchase if you’re a lover of videogame music (I am!). Although I feel the music was subpar compared to his past work (he’s done some amazing stuff), it’s still very good. He’s a master of mixing great rock and catchy pop tunes in a wonderfully blended existence. Big fan of his work. He does some interesting stuff here, mostly remixing classical pieces with some light rock. It’s an interesting experiment, it’s just that nothing is overwhelmingly “wow”.

Although this is a nice song, it’s a song that plays in “Babel” mode. Also known as one of the hardest things ever made by anyone:

3) It’s published by Atlus! Atlus is by far the best publisher in videogames right now. It’s not even a contest. They put love into their games. The voice-acting, the translation, the packaging, are all amazing! It’s really the only the company I respect anymore. Square lost their magic when they merged with Enix and have never recovered to their past glory. Capcom is doing some very odd things right now and trying to squeeze every last dime out of their customers. Nintendo is building their business model on the past, not taking any chances, and hoping no-one notices. American developers are boring (for the most part…). Yes, Atlus is the company I can say, “I KNOW this is going to be a good game”. They have NEVER let me down.

Anyway, let’s talk about the puzzles. The game can be described as a bottom-up 3D block puzzle game where you need to push / pull blocks in a fashion that will allow you to “climb up” to higher levels without subsequently destroying foundations to be able to reach the next level. That’s pretty much the game in a sentence. Throw in obstacles such as spike hazards, wandering enemies who will block your path (or attack you), and “bosses” and you’ve got yourself a pretty difficult endeavor ahead of you.

Here is the best example I can find that displays: what the game is like, how hard it is, how crazy it is. In this movie, you are fighting a “boss”. You are being attacked by a large butt with eyes on it and a tongue coming out of…well…let’s not think about that. This particular boss attacks you with hearts that you have to dodge, otherwise you’ll be confused and run in the opposite direction (this guy is good, that doesn’t happen). Stage 3-3 best exemplifies the entire game:

Now try doing what is done here 27 times (27 levels in the game). In the end you are climbing up a wall, being attacked by monsters, all while trying to keep a combo alive, and not falling prey to trap blocks (ice, spikes, bombs, monsters, black holes)…yeah, it can get pretty hard. Oh, did I mention that if you’re not fast enough the floor will crumble and you’ll fall to your doom?

Oh, I guess I should have probably mentioned that first. Normal mode at least let’s you undo your actions, gives you a break with items, checkpoints, and slower combo loss and floor degradation. Try switching to hard mode and you lose most of that. This is easily one of the hardest games to Platinum trophy (or achievements or whatever…), and I love it!

Finally, here’s a “trailer” for the story. If you’re not convinced to play the game already, I guess you can watch this, not really many spoilers here, but…I’m not a big fan of trailers. I detest even minor spoilers…so I will leave that up to the reader.

When you’re done with the main game, you are treated to an especially brutal aforementioned “Babel” mode, where your objective is to climb seemingly endless levels of blocks to reach glory. There is also an arcade game called Rapunzel which is made up of 128 levels of pure strategic wall climbing. There is no time limit, but instead “move” limits (can’t make but a certain number of actions to reach the top). All are very difficult. All are very fun (well, calling Babel fun is a bit of a stretch; let’s just say it’s challenging).

Once you beat the game, you also unlock a co-op mode where you play stages based on the main story with a friend in a competitive fashion. Your objective is to kill your partner or get to the top first (it always ends up in someone dying 90% of the time though =E). This mode is fun, but very short-lived, there’s not a lot of meat to it. The lack of an ability to play with random people online kind of make this mode feel tacked on. Finally, you can play “Babel” with a friend and post your scores to online leaderboards. So there is still some decent co-op modes in this game; although it will need to be with a local friend.

So, if you’re knowledgable on your puzzle games, you will see that Catherine has quietly masked a “traditional puzzle game experience” into a story-driven animated adventure.

* Arcade mode = Main story; climb to the top without dying or running out of time
* Puzzle mode = Rapunzel; climb to the top in a limited number of moves
* Challenge mode = Endless random block falling; climb to the top with no items, help, or any reasonable expectation you will be able to beat the last two challenges. I think only 200+ people in the entire world have been the last level.
* Versus mode = Play with a friend in either “Arcade mode” or “Challenge mode”

Seriously, the puzzle genre hasn’t involved too much in its core. Every great puzzle game has the modes I’ve described above. The cool thing is that Catherine does it in such a way that you hardly even notice! It’s a nice spin on your traditional puzzle game.

Since this somehow turned into a review, let’s give it a grade:

Final score: 8.5 / 10
Atlus and weird Japanese puzzle game lovers: 9.5 / 10

The difficulty is far too brutal for any possibility of a casual gamer beating this; that’s why I’ve given it an 8.5. My own personal opinion is much, much higher of course. There is a “very easy” mode that can be used, if you are just interested in the story, but where’s the fun in that…

In the end, it’s fun, it’s hard, it’s beautiful, it’s long. And that’s all everybody wants right?

Edit: Beat the game and got a Platinum trophy. Brutal! But a fantastic experience, highly recommended.

Filed under Reviews, Videogames
Aug 6, 2011

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