Monday, August 29, 2011
Fallout: New Vegas (Steam)
I think my forward momentum of the game finally gave out around the time i hit level 20. I was exploring Vault 22, i put the game down, and haven't been back for the rest of the week. If i have grown weary of the gameplay, i think i'll just load up and finish the last mission. Perhaps i need a break.
Persona 4 (PS2)
I am in the middle of making my way through the Void Quest dungeon. I gotta say, i just love the music, and of course the old school RPG feel of the hallways (makes me think of 3D Dot Game Heroes). Storywise the game seems to be trying to telegraph that i'm approaching the final boss but looking at my level, the time of year it is, and how long i've been playing the game, it doesn't feel like the end. It could be a clever ruse. Years ago when i was playing Tron 2.0 (fantastic game btw), there were two points during play that i felt i was coming to the end of the game, and then it just kept going.
It would be a shame if the game were to wrap up here though. I want to max out all my social links and then fuse together everything. Ev-er-y-thing.
Hmm, it seems it's taking me a while to warm up to writing today. In the past when this has happened it's been ok since i usually played enough games that i could work myself up to discussing the later titles more in-depth. Well hopefully i'll blab on for a little while here. Destructoid has a community blog suggestion every week and this last week it was on social gaming. I thought i'd talk about that a bit.
I am not the biggest fan of online gaming. Now before you jump down my throat for that statement, let me explain myself. I actually like multiplayer gaming a great deal. I even enjoy multiplayer experiences on single player games (passing the controller around with friends for instance). To start i'll have to delve back into my multiplayer gaming history. I started gaming in the mid 80s. My neighbour and best friend at the time had an Atari 2600, we eventually both got NESs, i got a PC, and we both went to the arcades every chance we get. Now with the exception of the PC, most of the experiences on the Atari, NES, and of course in the arcades were multiplayer experiences... and even on the PC, i had Rampage and spent a lot of time playing adventure games with the aid of a friend, or my father.
The Snes was the same and when i got my N64 (the first console i saved up for myself), that 2 player fun extended to 4 players. By this time arcades were close to dying but modems and LAN PC gaming had come along. The first real experience i can remember is Duke Nukem 3D, but i do recall getting some fun out of Doom 2 with friends over a 56k as well. Then around the turn of the century and fresh out of highschool, i discovered LAN gaming as an event. There were two main ones where i live on the Gold Coast of Australia but for me Frags was the place to be. To lug your computer over to the local Youth Club and play some Counter-Strike, Quake 3, Unreal Tournament, and Worms with other gamers was a memory i'll always cherish, even if i did get my ass handed to me more often than not.
I moved to the US for a couple years and when i came back i had a Gamecube, 4 controllers, and Smash Bros Melee. My friend James would host LANs, and while PC games were played, the Gamecube stayed turned on for a couple years (eventually causing it to come up with an error message. Yes, we blue screened a Gamecube). Around this time though is when i noticed that online gaming was now the thing... and it's never really clicked with me.
I think the reason is that all my multiplayer gaming experiences have been with friends or around the people i was playing. One thing i've hated about online gaming is the conduct of many of the anonymous people you play with. There's too much mean spirited-ness and too many people are too obsessed with winning rather than having a good time. Back when i started lanning i used to play Counter-Strike and UT online as well (to keep in shape for when the monthly LAN came around). The online community at the time basically stopped me playing CS in the span of perhaps 6 months (though by then a new mod was getting popular and had only a small player base so i jumped on board. That game was Day of Defeat).
So since then i've become lukewarm on online gaming. I still prefer local multiplayer, and will enjoy Wii Tennis or Street Fighter: Third Strike more than a game of CoD against a bunch of people i don't know. I will play cooperative online multiplayer with friends and i enjoy that a lot, mainly because voice chat makes it close to being in the same room as them... but for the most part plug in a 2nd controller or leave me to the twists and turns of a single player experience.
Well that was a little rambling but be honest, that's part of the reason you read this column.
Til next week, happy gaming all!
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Persona 4 (PS2)
I only played one evening of this last week. To say that Fallout: NV has a hook on my game time is putting that sentiment lightly. Still i spent a couple hours dungeon crawling and fusing personas into better personas. I now have a spell that can exit from a dungeon if i need to go renew my SP (the mana of the game) so that's really handy.
I said last week that the dungeon crawling is my least favourite aspect of the game so this is another factor to my lack of playing the game. I do find it amusing though that the two main games i am playing at the moment happen to be an Eastern RPG and a Western RPG. Good examples of both genres too in my humble opinion.
Fallout: New Vegas (Steam)
I hit the 20 hour mark last night. I'm up to the final mission, so since i'm loving the world so much, i've decided to travel and see all the other quests i can do. I had a lengthy discussion with my friend Andrew (our gaming podcast is returning soon by the way) last night about it, as the game didn't click for him, especially after Fallout 3 and i'm the opposite. His main criticism is that there seemed to be no reason for people to trust you and main story aside (until you get to New Vegas) he felt like he was wandering a desert wasteland.
Now last week i said part of the appeal of the game was this cowboy atmosphere, and that has continued, but now that i've played so much of the game and started clearing off all the side quests, the reason for my enjoyment is becoming more apparent. Those who have played a Fallout game know part of the charm of the series has been the multiple ways to finish quests and solve people's problems. This can also come at a cost. Sometimes you don't have the skill points to finish a quest the way you want to and things end sub-optimally. Other times you finish a quest and get the feeling you've missed out on a large chunk of the story. Part of this i put on the back of the faction system (although my plans for the White Glove Society were ruined by a glitch in the quest chain i believe).
There are a few factions i am hostile with, and a couple of those are by choice, but what's funny is that even with the White Glove Society glitching out (which caused me to slaughter them), i'm sticking by my decisions. Sure it makes things annoying having to deal with groups of enemies ambushing me whenever i travel the Mojave, but it makes things interesting.
I've kind of sidetracked off my point though. By exploring and side-questing, i'm filling in the blanks of all the story. I'm finding areas that other groups talked about. I was questing for the Van Graffs and picked up a companion called Cass. In the end this made me turn on the Van Graffs and i felt bad for having to do so until more of the story unveiled itself. I think what it's teaching me is make no assumptions about any of the groups, play things out to the end, and deal with the consequences.
Also funnily enough, in New Vegas i'm enjoying levelling up and becoming a badass. I dunno if it's cause i stuck to the main story and was always looking for better weapons (i love my hunting rifle) or that it's just cause i'm enjoying the game that much more. I'm level 19 now, and can't wait to max out. Heck, i'm even wondering if i'll still be enamoured with the game enough to purchase some DLC. We shall see. We shall see.
The past couple weeks have seen domination of this column by pretty much one game. Before New Vegas it was Persona 4. Now i've talked about having trouble sticking to one title (and i think this column benefits from that trouble as talking about one game a week might be kind of boring), but perhaps it's a sign of my attention span growing more focused. I have a form of Attention Deficit Disorder. It's a mild form, and i've never taken anything for it, but the signs are there, especially when it comes to focusing on things.
In the past i have put the blame of this on the games themselves. If they don't hold my interest, it's not meant to be. Then again, if a game holds my interest to the end, i have cherished it. I think it's a gamer thing though to always be lured by the new. I bought New Vegas in a steam sale last week and i wanted to give it a try so i put down Persona 4 and did so. If NV was a bad game, i would have returned to Persona, but the opposite happened. I've been hooked and almost exclusively playing New Vegas for over a week now. This also makes me feel really bad about leaving Persona 4 alone because i want to finish that game (and even have made plans to max out all my social links and create perfect fusions of every persona). Perhaps once i'm done with New Vegas i'll return to Persona and there will be no issue, but in the past leaving a game for a new game has meant that the game left gets put on the back burner.
I guess i'll have to let this ride out and see what comes. I try and make sense out of all my gaming habits but most of the time they're just confusing. Still, playing one game exclusively is a nice change of pace. It changes my normal game time from "Do i want to play a game, and if so, which one?" to "Ok, game time! Loading up New Vegas!".
Till next time, happy gaming all!
Monday, August 15, 2011
Persona 4 (PS2)
When i write these, i try and give as little spoilers as possible as there are probably many readers who a) haven't played the game but might, or b) are playing the game and might not be where i'm talking about. So to work around that problem, i try and make broad references to characters and plot points so that people who have played the game should know where i'm coming from without giving much away to other readers.
With that being said, i saved Rise this week, and i have played past the point of time you had to save her. Not only was the boss fight in her dungeon absolutely crazy (for reasons i will not go into), but the story progression after the foggy day just blew my mind. It centers around Teddie, and i think raises even more questions about that crazy bear.
Now that my social links are coming along pretty well (with now two links maxed out and most others at least halfway along), the benefits are really showing themselves. I have been spending probably too much time fusing personas because all the extra exp you get more often than not will max out their abilities, giving you... well i hesitate to call them perfect versions of the personas as you could probably fuse a version with some really nice abilities from other personas, but having all their abilities unlocked gives you more to work with. Also there's a social link that has opened for fusing personas with certain abilities, so this furthers the time i'm spending on this sub-section of the game.
I must say though that the dungeon crawling aspect has become my least favourite part of the game. It's really hard to get a player advantage opening on a monster, and maybe it's just me sucking, but the depth of field seems a little off, and i often miss hitting the monster with my weapon to initiate combat (which in turn allows the enemy to get an advantage over me). Don't get me wrong, i think the combat is great (well perhaps it is too easy for certain enemies to exploit weaknesses), and the persona fusing has risen to the level of enjoyment i have with improving social links and experiencing the story, but this past week especially, it seems the dungeon crawling has become a necessary evil to put up with to enjoy everything else the game has to offer.
Mega Mall Story (Iphone)
I am often reluctant to talk about the games i play for review purposes, as then this column would be a lot of moaning and groaning, plus i'd essentially be reviewing most of these titles twice. I think though that if i am playing a game past writing the review, it deserves to get a mention here.
Mega Mall Story is by Kairosoft, the guys who made the wildly popular Game Dev Story. It's a sim game where you have 15 years to create a 5 star mall. You create shops and utilities, research new ones, invest your money, and upgrade your stores. based on how good you're doing, customers will spend more cash and send you on your way to build a better mall.
If you've played any sim game like Theme Park or Simcity, it runs off a similar idea, though a little simplified for iphone. Still, this thing is mightily addictive, and funnily enough, talking about the Sim genre has gotten me itching to install and play my favourite sim game again, Simgolf. God that thing eats away the hours. Perhaps i'd best let it be.
Hmm, this kind of sounded like a review again, but quickly detoured into scary nostalgia. Some may say that's the best kind.
Fallout: New Vegas (Steam)
A couple weeks ago i went back to Fallout 3 and decided the game was no longer doing anything for me. On Monday i discovered that New Vegas (shortened to NV from now on) was on sale for $20... so i grabbed it, and installed it over a couple evenings. On Friday my resolve gave way and i booted it up. I'm now 7 hours in and have just dealt with Benny.
See part of my issue in F3 was that i think i dicked around with side quests too much, and so not only did the storyline lose steam, well i didn't feel any challenge when i entered DC. So with NV i made the decision to keep to the main questline and dick around with sidequests afterwards if i still felt like playing the game.
First off i'd like to comment that i like the feel of the wasteland a little more out in the Mojave desert. It gives the game more of a cowboy feel rather than the post-apocalyptic feel F3 had. I kind of dig that. Also the slow mo death animations even on non-VATS kills give the combat a little more punch. It makes things that much more visceral and also is a nice signal for the end of combat. The highway network is interesting too. It gives definitive routes through the wasteland, complete with groups ambushing merchants and lone wanderers. I've had to reload an ambush fight many times to come out ahead and i've quite enjoyed it.
Seeing that i've ran through the main storyline, i really haven't seen too much of the faction system except for little bits and pieces, but now that i've got a quest to rule over the area, i will definitely start exploring that system more, and making some choices about who i want to align myself with.
I'm keeping a little weary though as the first 8 - 10 hours of F3 i was having a blast too. Let's see how things run their course.
What is it about videogames that has gamers always chasing the new? I don't mean specifically the new releases, but just new experiences. I am thoroughly enjoying Persona 4, yet i jump on board a new experience (Fallout New Vegas) without a second notion. If another game were to come along that engaged me, no matter what time period the game was from, i'd probably hop onto that one too.
Perhaps it's because there's so many games out there to play. I dunno though. My movie queue is stupidly long, and the amount of books i want to read is even longer, but i let those forms of entertainment run their course. I don't start a new one till i've finished the one i'm on.
Perhaps it's the length of games then? I mean i'm 25 hours into Persona and i dunno if i'm even halfway. True most games these days are 6 - 10 hours, but not in the RPG genre, which is where i find myself mostly these days. Hell i haven't gone back to Vanquish in a few weeks, and that game is supposedly really short.
Is it cause games constantly improve upon themselves? Well possibly, but this improvement is mostly in aesthetic areas. A good story and good game mechanics were just as important back in the nes days as they are now, but what is acceptable in game design has indeed come a long way since then.
Perhaps it is the players just not satisfied in experiencing one small planet when an entire universe is out there (ok lame metaphor but i think you get the idea).
Perhaps it's just me, and this is why i hardly ever finish games.
Till next time, happy gaming all!
Monday, August 8, 2011
Persona 4 (PS2)
So after last week, i went and attacked the optional boss, then fought the bathhouse boss. It was a very long battle but in the end i was victorious. Since that time i have been back to the bathhouse to fight that optional boss and am just at the start of the next dungeon (with lots of amazing story and character development in between).
The funny thing about the bathhouse optional boss is that in order to fly through the levels of the dungeon again (once you defeat a dungeon, you have to fight through it again to reach the optional boss), i stuck all my teammates on AI mode. This is of course an option to allow the computer to choose all the attacks of your party members leaving you with control over only your character. From a design and story standpoint it's an interesting idea. You're not actually controlling your friends, you're only controlling yourself, but they are confident enough in your leadership to allow you to order them around if you so wish. It's nice to run through dungeon levels, but it might not be the best option to leave the decisions in their hands when it comes boss time.
Funnily enough, i forgot to take them off AI mode for the optional boss. I instantly thought of restarting the game, but a voice in my head said, "Hey just hold on a minute, let's see how this plays out. You can always reload if the boss kicks your ass". So i did. Actually the fight went pretty well. The boss was weak to lightning so having Kanji in the group automatically hitting it each round allowed the team to follow up with an all out attack. All the boss spent the fight doing was using a strong ice spell on Yukiko as that's her weakness. Equipping a persona with Diarama (a medium level healing spell), i could heal her, have all my teammates wail on the boss with magic and the fight was over without too much hassle. Now i'm sure i could have beaten the boss sooner if perhaps i had played things a little more strategically, but the AI did a pretty decent job covering my ass in a fight. I'm almost tempted to leave the AI on for the next boss.
Oh and one final note, i maxed out my social link with Yousuke, and his persona evolved. If there was ever any doubt that the persona system was partially based off pokemon, it's been eradicated. After maxing out his link, i went to the velvet room and fused the highest level Magician persona i could, taking full advantage of all the extra exp the social link provides. I was able to create a persona that levelled up through all its ability unlocks. I can for see a lot of time spent at the end of the game with maxed social links creating perfect versions of each persona and then fusing them. This could be dangerous.
Ms. Splosion Man (XBLA)
This week was pretty much just Persona on the table, but i did head over to my buddy Andrew's house on Saturday night, and we passed the controller around with his roommate Josh level by level of Ms. Splosion Man. I love my platformers, and this game certainly does not disappoint.
It's based around one mechanic really. You can splode three times in a row, each splosion having a certain arc to it. The game is heavily based around timing and minimal puzzle solving. The checkpoints are generous (although some are far enough apart to create a gnashing of teeth while playing), but what i really want to talk about is the character of Ms. Splosion Man and the atmosphere Twisted Pixel have created.
I have never played a game with such a happy-go-lucky, ADHD riddled, exuberant protagonist in all my time as a gamer. Ms. Splosion Man exerts such joy and frivolity as she twiddles her toes around a level, exploding into a cartwheel, making references from some 90s pop song, and somehow never losing her charm (at least in our playthrough of 10 or so levels). Then you have the world itself. Populated by oddball scientists who explode into chunks of meat and who create machines that shoot lasers, and machines that create lifeless inhabitable female husks. Also the whole world is powered by Beard.
One thing about Ms. Splosion Man is that there was so much colour and so much going on visually (especially in the Jetsons hover car segments), that my eyes couldn't actually follow what was going on some of the time. To kill some time on Sunday i briefly loaded up Deathspank on my PS3 to play around with for a few minutes and found that again, too much small detail, and i couldn't focus or follow the action. Both of these games were played on practically the same TV, an LCD 32 inch flat screen.
Now i wear glasses for a lazy eye. A very lazy eye. A "yo right eye, can you handle vision cause i'm gonna take a nap" kind of lazy eye. I have to wonder if this is part of the issue or is it that games of this nature require a larger TV (or at least require one to sit closer).
At my PC i'm right up close and personal. I've never had a problem with game detail, just an over saturation of information (i'm looking at you Beat Hazard). When i play my console, i sit at least 8 - 10 feet away from the TV. Mind you most games i've not had this issue with. Persona 4 is fine, so was Metal Gear Solid 4, and most of my game library (i admit i would prefer a larger screen for Vanquish).
As for preference, i do enjoy the close intimacy of being right next to a monitor... it's just my PC chair is very uncomfortable so prefer the cushy couches console gaming is known for. That's a topic for another Monday however.
Till next time, happy gaming all!
Monday, August 1, 2011
Fallout 3 (Steam)
I had another session of this on Monday night. I got myself to the museum of technology, found the satellite dish, climbed to the top of the Washington monument and returned to 3-dog. I'm just not feeling it. I mean i loved saving Megaton and having that as my home (returning there always gives a sense of familiarity), and the story has some interesting hooks (ie. the relationship with my dad), but i think it's the mechanics that are letting me down.
I remember that when i stopped playing the first time, at level 7 or 8 i had already felt a halt of progression. I had all the weapons i needed and most encounters were a breeze. This has been confirmed as levelling up in my current playthrough really didn't feel like a step forward. It's odd because as i've stated before, one of my favourite things about RPGs is growing in power, but in Fallout 3, i had the most fun when i was underlevelled and had to be sneaky and scrounge for weapons and ammo. Back then, Super Mutants were actually a threat. They're just another enemy to kill in a gruesome way now.
I wonder if New Vegas has the same pitfalls. I definitely want to give it a shot, but i think i'm done with Fallout 3.
Persona 4 (PS2)
I've been toying with returning to this game ever since i put it down in 2009. I decided to bite the bullet this week and i am certainly glad i did. This game is just what i needed. A game i have to rationalize to myself to stop playing. A game that i want to pick back up again and play every day. A game where most of the time i have a huge smile on my face. These games are rare for me to come across and it seems the older i get, the more rare they are becoming. So let's explore just what makes this such a game.
First off is the story. It's part mystery, part supernatural thriller, and part high school drama. The most amazing thing though is how all the story and high school aspects tie directly into the gameplay. It does seem that in most RPGs the story and the game mechanics are separate entities. You level up and defeat a boss, you get some more story, then you're exploring and levelling again. Now this is the same in Persona 4. The battle system is in an entirely separate world, and the only real thing that happens in this realm is a dungeon crawl, levelling up, defeating bosses, and then continuing on with the story. What melds the story to the game however is all the social links.
Most of the game you have to live the life of an ordinary teenager. You go to school, hang out with friends, join clubs, and acquire part time jobs. The thing is many of these actions directly impact your skill in battle. Most of your friends are party members in the battle section of the game, so by spending time with them, you not only uncover more character development, but you strengthen the social link associated with them. This link pertains to a card of the tarot, and levelling up these links not only grants your party members special abilities but it gives bonuses to the creation of personas of that type.
Yeah, one other aspect of the battle system is crafting personas. They're the mythical creatures you battle with, and they level up along with your characters. All your party members are locked into one persona, but you as the main character have the ability to collect personas, switch between them in battle and fuse them together to unlock new ones. At certain level milestones the persona you have equipped will learn new abilities, and when fused, some of these will transfer over to the new persona. The main bonus levelling up your social links will have on fusion is the free exp that fused personas acquire upon being created if you have levelled up the social link of that arcana.
The only real criticism i have so far is that the actual battle system can be quite brutal. Your characters and the enemies all have weaknesses (well most of them do). If they are hit with a weakness, they are knocked down and the attacker gets another turn. If hit by the weakness twice in a row, they become dizzy and lose turns. When you exploit enemy weaknesses and can engage in an all out attack (when all enemies are down), it's great, but just as easily, a combination of enemies can wreck utter havoc on your team.
I'm currently in the 2nd dungeon of the game and the whole climb through (i saved before the boss) i felt completely underpowered, and this was after fighting every battle i came across. I constantly had to heal up after battles, and that took my precious mana which costs a lot of money to replenish. It feels like the game expected me to put in a few more hours grinding in the first dungeon (and i am tempted to go back and try to fight the optional boss that is there now just to try and get back on the levelling curve). Readers will remember from my FFXIII playthrough that i really dislike grinding, but if that's what it takes to continue, i shall acquiesce. I'm too invested in the story and characters to give up now.
Heh, i remember reviewing this game for the iphone a couple years back. It's a fun little sliding puzzle game based around cogs and pipes. I bought it in this year's humble indie bundle. Go purchase it. There's some great titles, you can set your own price, and you're supporting independent developers and charity. Follow the link here.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)
Another gaming session with Mr. Mario and my friend Barrett. We hit the credits today. Normally that would mean we've completed the game, but that just opened up the special world. Plus there's all these prankster comets, comet coins, hidden stars, and extra stars to obtain. I can for see a lot more time being put into this game. The developers really had some fun in World 6 and beyond too. Some of those stars were brutal to acquire, but the sense of accomplishment was high when the level was finally defeated.
Does anyone out there actually seriously enjoy using Luigi? We both played through one level with the lanky green plumber and ever since, every time we see him at the start of a level, we get angry, even though using him is a choice and we would never willingly make that choice. He just controls too loosely.
I want to talk about story versus gameplay today. This is going to be a topic that i can probably turn to again and again but my gaming this week has two interesting examples of this.
Let's start with Mario Galaxy 2. Both at the start and end of the game, i couldn't mash the A button fast enough to skip passed the story they had thrown in. I just didn't care. To me, Mario games have never had anything to do with the story. You play them for excellent platforming and design. The story is superfluous and in my opinion it gets in the way. Mind you this attitude of mine doesn't only apply to games like Mario where the story takes a backseat, but there have been action games, and even RPGs where i've wanted the intro to just end so i could get to the gameplay.
Perhaps this has to do with knowing what you're getting into. I recently completed Metal Gear Solid 4. I love that series but one of the main criticisms of it, especially the 4th game is the overly long length of the cutscenes. Personally i didn't mind them one bit, but i think that had a lot to do with my expectations. I had played and completed the three previous titles and knew what to expect. I actually enjoyed the overly drawn out dialogue sequences, and the drawn out action sequences played out entirely without the player's input.
Then we have Persona 4. I have previously stated that i really like how they've tied in the story and character development to meld with the battle system (which is the meat of the gameplay), but still, if i had an option to just fly through those battle sequences and continue on with the plot and character development, i would take it.
Here we come to a paradox with this attitude. As much as i enjoy experiencing the stories of these games (even though the gameplay might be a necessary evil sometimes), i actually have tried to watch a Let's Play of certain titles and found myself turning off immediately. Funny huh? Even though a lot of these games i find myself wanting to speed through the gameplay, if i'm not actually playing through the game, the experience doesn't seem worthwhile. I'll have to mull on this a little more and see if i can't come up with an explanation for it.
Balance is probably the key here. I mean not every title needs motivation for its play, but quite a lot do, or feel they do. Most titles either tip the scales too much towards story or too much towards gameplay. If the game leans on the story side, players will bore easily if they cannot emotionally connect to the characters or their plight. If a game leans on the gameplay side, but still interjects story, the story will feel like an intrusion (especially if it's not told well).
I'll leave the resolution of this hanging in the air for now, but i'll mention a game that i think approached this in an interesting way; Borderlands. Aside from the unskippable intro, all the game's narrative was told through audio or video in the top right of the screen while you were still playing the game. I wasn't particularly attached to the story, but there were a couple neat hooks, and it was appreciated that my gameplay was not interrupted for the development of this tale.
As always i'd love to hear what all my readers out there have to think on these issues. Leave a comment and let's have a discussion.
Till next week, Happy Gaming all!