Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday Musings - 27th Feb, 2012

It's Monday, and summer is not yet over but it's making sure we know that. Ugh. Let us muse!

Chrono Trigger (DS)

Lavos has been defeated! As the Black Omen fights lead into the Lavos fights i plowed through most everything. Queen Zeal really annoyed me with her 'reduce party HP to 1' attack, but was overcome with minimal fuss. Lavos itself wasn't an issue till its final form, and then it was just a case of equipping the right accessories and attacking the right points.

For the ending i got a nice cut-scene with an odd ending for Lucca. This was after a rather ridiculous bit in the castle and on the fairgrounds. All in all i was pretty satisfied. There are 12 other endings apparently and even though i could most likely plow through new game+, there are so many games i wish to play that i'm moving on.

Well, moving back...

Borderlands (PC)

I felt the urge to play this again so re-downloaded it on steam (took me a day and a half. Stupid ADSL 2 with the house so far from the exchange). I started a new Siren character and as i type this, i have just defeated Moe and Marley, the annoying skag boss brothers. The visual style mixed with the loot drops really keep me coming back (i've sunk almost 60 hours into the game since buying it... and not only is that number sure to rise, but i imagine compared to some gamers, that's a rather low number).

I won't lie either that watching the trailer for Borderlands 2 last week put the first game on my mind again. I haven't played through any of the DLC. The first time i tried, i played the zombie one and got bored pretty quickly, but then i could just be mad that my awesome acid revolver had no effect on the undead.

Also on Saturday i bought myself a new monitor. My old one from 2006 only did 1400 x 1050 and was a 4:3, this new one is widescreen (24") and does 1920 x 1080. The colour is really nice too. Needless to say, this might also be why Borderlands is so engrossing once again. I'm feeling a lot more immersed with this huge screen in front of me.

Final Thoughts

Talking about new monitors, i have a story to tell. Back when i was lanning around 2000 or so, my monitor i owned for years. It was a 19" CRT from the early 90s. The back on this thing was huge! It was the hardest part of packing up to head to a lan as it was quite heavy. Also, the screen glowed when you turned it off. My friend James dubbed it the 'Radiation King'.

One day i was lanning next to a guy i hadn't met before. I turned off my monitor and it started its florescent hum. The guy looks at the monitor, looks at me, and exclaims, "You're in clan Atomic aren't you?".

Good times!

Anyhow, since this week's musings are rather light, here's the link to the Borderlands 2 trailer if you haven't seen it

And here's a preview of another game that i'm pretty excited for, Guild Wars 2. It's looking mighty fine!

Till next week, happy gaming all!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Monday Musings - 20th Feb, 2012

And now dear readers we begin year 2 of Monday Musings. How a-musing. Hur hur hur. *ahem* let us begin.

Chrono Trigger (DS)

I probably would have been done with the game by this time but i most likely will finish off the experience tonight. I went to Death Peak, swore at fighting three Lavos spawn, and got my party member back (sometimes it's harder than it looks to be intentionally vague when discussing story points of games without giving anything away, even old games that most likely everyone has played). So most of the week was side quest time (i like RPGs that tend to have their sidequests at the end of the experience). I got myself a sun stone, overcame Frog's guilt, made sure the Fiend generals would do no more harm, grew a forest in a desert (while helping Lucca overcome her past... literally), and saved Marle's father from an evil councillor. I'm now primed and ready to take on the Black Omen and finally defeat Lavos.

Wish me luck people!

Deadly Premonition (360)

Last time on Deadly Premonition: I thought our next play session would be our last. I was wrong! Now, the thrilling almost conclusion!

So yeah, turns out that boss fight in the clock tower led to a huge revelation, coupled by a really annoying elongated combat sequence, which was then punctuated by a boss battle with the real raincoat killer. In the battle, they went super saiyan. No joke. So after the fight, York collapses and we get more introspective dialogue in his mind, but oops, the game isn't over yet. I never trusted that character and now it looks like there's one loose end to wrap up in this case. I'm calling it now for reals, the next play session will see the completion of this game Kenneth and I have been playing off and on for over a year now.

It will be sad to see it go. If anything it made for some vague and entertaining tweets.

Final Thoughts

So like most people i don't get much play out of my Wii. Hilarious double entendre aside it's a shame cause i've enjoyed the system since buying it launch day and have enjoyed the majority of the games i've played on it (ok so Skyward Sword left me a little cold, but i might return to it someday). With that in mind, i find it interesting that out of the four games i'm fairly excited to buy in the first quarter of this year, two of them are on the Wii (the third being Journey on the PS3 which now drops early March, and the final being the long awaited PC release of Alan Wake).

What makes this funnier is that these two games are PAL localizations of games from previous years. I'm talking of course about The Last Story and Bit.Trip Complete. Living in the PAL market and owning a console that is region specific (with the Wii actually being the only main console of this gen that is), waiting for localization can be a chore, and it always makes for some interesting best of year lists due to the wait. In 2007 Pheonix Wright was on my top list of the year because of a late PAL release, and the same was true of Persona 4 in 2009.

Now with The Last Story, there is a bit of hubris involved as the PAL region is getting this game and Xenoblade before a North American release (which almost never happens)... though the wait for NA gamers to play this game makes even less sense. At least for PAL they usually have to include the majority of European languages on the disc. For NA, there's English (And if you wanted to include Spanish as well, the PAL disc would already have that translation ripe for the taking). It shouldn't take that long to change the video signal either, but then that could be my ignorance of the matter talking. I imagine that business across global markets also has some part to play. It just never makes sense to little ol gamer me.

Ah well, these two games are finally getting their PAL release. If Bit.Trip Complete didn't appear in PAL territory this year, i would have had to import it from the US like i did with Excitebots. Yes, i jailbroke my Wii to play Excitebots. I regret nothing!

Till next time, happy gaming all!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Monday Musings - 13th Feb, 2012

Wow, can you believe it readers? This update marks one whole year of Monday Musings. While other writings have come and gone, the musings remain. Let's get to it!

Chrono Trigger (DS)

Man i underestimated the hold this game would have on me. One week of playing, i'm twelve hours in and still having a blast. Perhaps the idea with gaming everyday is that a game worthy of that attention needs to be played. Anyways, i have saved just after the whole Mountain of Woe debacle. This game was truly a marvel of design. To start with, let's discuss the pacing.

The game moves at an unbelievably fast pace. There's always something happening, usually the dungeons themselves are not bogged down in exploration and mazes (there may be one or two areas off the beaten path, but that's it). You flow through, fighting enough enemies to level up significantly (the mountain of woe area was throwing new levels at me), and then the pacing is punctuated by a boss fight, usually followed by a story segment before sending you off to do everything all over again. Sometimes there is more than one boss fight in a row but one thing i have noticed is the boss fights come along consistently. I think it's because bosses are when you really get to let all these powerful techs and magic you've been accumulating fly. I dunno about the rest of you, but with the normal fights, unless there's a large group of enemies or an enemy that requires a certain magic to defeat, i just spam attack and leave my techs alone.

The only real downtime you get is in-between story and dungeon segments, and really until you get your ship, there's not much to do (which is interesting considering that the intro in the fair was full of diversions). For instance the only real side quests i've encountered have been farming barter items in prehistory to buy upgrades at the shop, and then once you get the special pendant, opening those locked chests. About the chests, i love how the game plays with time. If a chest is in the same area in the past and future, the future chest will have an upgraded version of the past chest... and then you can go back and open the past chest anyway. Little touches like that create memorable moments that make me smile.

How about how easy it is to swap out party members, and how they're always within a couple levels of your main party? One thing that would always annoy me in RPGs of the SNES and PS1 era was not using a character, having them lag behind and then being forced to use them because of the plot. It means you have to go grinding with a character that's essentially made of glass (as at that point, any random encounter will probably destroy them). Chrono Trigger has a lot of character specific moments, and the ability to just pop them in and out at a whim in the menu, and know that they're good to go (the one exception being having not farmed tech points, they might not have the awesome techs you'd like them to) is a relief.

And the organic revealing of the story? You meet characters that turn out to have greater meaning as you travel to different time periods, new time periods open up after learning about events. And all this is window dressing to a very simple main plot that boils down to 'Horrific evil creature will destroy the world. Stop it'. And even that point isn't revealed until a few hours in (up to that point it's a question of doing the right thing and then survival). Then of course there's the war and ill will between two races, a personal vendetta, rulers being corrupted... it's all a rich tapestry.

Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar (PC)

When i was growing up, somehow the Ultima series passed me by. My first RPG was Final Fantasy on the NES so i think the PC RPG didn't really interest me till Fallout (although i do remember playing a couple of the TSR D&D games). The first Ultima i ever played was Ultima 8: Pagan, and while i found it interesting at the time, it didn't stick with me, and there's a good reason for that; it's a pretty bad game.

Anyways over the past year i have been watching Spoony's Ultima Retrospectives and browsing games at one day i noticed Ultima IV was free, so of course i grabbed it. This week i decided to give it a try. I spent about an hour with the game and these are my impressions.

First off the intro lays a really nice groundwork. Not only does it tell you to read the manual (which i found hilarious), but then you get to answer a series of morally ambiguous questions to determine what class you start the game off as, and in which city. This is where things got more difficult.

Now the graphics i don't have a problem with. It was 1985, and everything is clearly defined. Rudimentary yes, but clearly defined. What became an issue (which the manual failed to mention) was the interface and how to play the game. Every letter of the alphabet corresponds to an action, and it took me about five minutes to go through them all and work out what does what (for example you have to press G on top of a chest to grab its contents. G stands for 'get chest'). Truth be told i found this pretty awesome. It reminded me of old space combat games i used to play like Privater where most of the keyboard would have some purpose, and once mastery of the interface was acquired, you felt quite accomplished.

Really i'd say my main problem with the title was the open-ended nature of the game with a lack of guidance as to what to do. You really are just plonked down in this game world with no idea. I didn't even reach Lord British and find out the goal of the game until i died from being poisoned (Lord British will resurrect you upon death which is a nice touch for the time). So you need to become the avatar, the embodiment of the eight virtues of Lord British's new philosophy. A noble goal. How do i actually accomplish this? Ok, i need to find the eight runes in the eight towns and then raise these virtue stats. Can you tell me how a stat gets raised? No? Ok then.

Even a walkthrough i consulted wasn't that helpful just because getting around is such a pain. The map that comes with the game isn't helpful at all, and learning to use the moongates in nightmarish. Still, i am quite happy with my time in the game and i have had the desire to give things another go, to try and conquer the initial teething period of this game and quest forth. We'll see if that happens or not.

Sol: Exodus

I love me some space combat games but haven't really played a good one since Wing Commander IV (although plenty of friends have recommended the Freelancer series). Watching the Angry Joe Show, i see this review for a new space combat game on steam that's only $10. Why the hell not?

Now i've only played the first mission but the important thing, the combat felt right. Some of the features include missile lock, guns overheating, matching enemy craft speed, and a neat ability called sliding where you continue to drift in your current direction but can turn around and start firing behind you. It felt like returning to an old friend (and the game doesn't look too shabby either).

One minor complaint is that i had to go into options to reverse the Y axis. Now i'm used to having to do this in FPS games, but space shooters and flight sims are what ingrained this in me in the first place. It's the whole throttle method, you pull back to move up and push forward to go down (after years of playing this games, the movement felt natural once i started using a mouse in FPS'). To have the default for a space combat game be the opposite really boggles the mind.

I would have played more but Chrono Trigger was calling. Maybe in coming weeks.

League of Legends (PC)

Two things to say about the game this week. 1) I had a game over the weekend where i got to play Annie and her teddy bear Ruffles. There were two occasions when i successfully defended a point by myself against 2 - 3 attackers. Man i was just on fire that game.

2) I think the main reason i'm playing the game less and less each week is that the wait times for games are becoming longer and longer. I'm averaging five minutes or more a game when i used to not wait more than a minute. Is it perhaps being level eight and there's less people to choose from, or does it have to do with my win/loss record? I know five minutes doesn't sound like much, but when i want to play a multiplayer game, i'm used to just finding a server and jumping in, not waiting around.

Final Thoughts

So in my search for more information to aid me in playing Ultima IV, i came across this article from The Brainy Gamer a couple years ago.

In it he talks about how as an exercise for his students he gets them to play Ultima IV and then report back on their findings. Most find the game unplayable, especially by today's standards. I think it's a neat idea and offer the same challenge to those that read this column.

Go to the above link and grab the game. It's free! Then play the game. I recommend downloading the manuals and map as they will help, but go ahead, try the game. Go in cold. If you're smacking your head against the wall, have a look online for some help. There's a newbie guide that can help get you started, but i'd like to see if anyone finds working out the ui for themselves enjoyable like i did.

Please leave your experience in the comments.

Till next week, happy gaming all!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Monday Musings - 6th Feb, 2012

Phew, what a corker of a hot day it's been today. I did get to wake up earlier to watch the Superbowl however. The team i was cheering for eked out an awesome victory in the 4th quarter. Anyways, let us muse.

Gray Matter (PC)

Finished this off mid last week. The final couple of chapters (and the puzzle rooms of the final chapter) were very inventive, both visually and with what had to be done. Overall i have a positive impression of the game. It's funny, if i were to judge each area of the game individually, it would get a rather good score, yet when i think of my overall experience with the game, it's more of an average impression.. and yet i cannot exactly pinpoint why.

The ending did leave me a little flat. I guess perhaps the lead up to the reveal wasn't what it should have been, and the climax was pretty abrupt (and the teaser after the credits just downright confused me). It also didn't help that the reveal included one of my favourite side characters. That being said, i would love to revisit this world and would buy a sequel with little to no coaxing... well as long as it doesn't take like five years to be released this time too.

Catherine (PS3)

So i loaded Catherine up and played an hour into it. I was very intrigued with the block puzzles, the awesome cel shaded art style, and the characters (how often do you play a guy in his early 30s with relationship trouble?). The game oozes style and mystery. I thought to myself that this is gonna be a fun ride... and then something happened.

Chrono Trigger (DS)

My DS was sitting there with Chrono Trigger inside it (from when a buddy of mine borrowed the handheld to buy and play through the game). Now i've never completed this game but i had tried on more than one occasion (even reaching Lavos once), but i was gonna wait till i had exhausted my must play titles from last year to give this classic RPG a bash. Something happened and on a random whim Saturday, i started playing. 5 hours later i put the DS down and realise Catherine is going to be put on hold for a while.

The way they've changed the game to suit the DS is brilliant; especially in battle. It's so easy to hold a character in reserve or wait to perform a double or triple tech as the bottom screen has these huge buttons for each character's actions that grey out when their turn meter is filling. And while you can travel to the menu screen and conduct your business with the d-pad and A button, you could also just tap what you need on the bottom screen (which holds the area map surrounded by all the menu buttons).

Now most gamers out there have played Chrono Trigger so i'll be telling you things you already know but man a lot of creativity and care went into this game. I've just added Robo to my party, learned magic and fought my way through the fiend town in the present day. The whole fairground having ramifications at the trial. The hints of how the past affects the future, the ways you can break out of prison. It's incredible that such little things were put into this game that round out the experience (like saving the merchant's son from the guillotine in the jail). I'm only a few hours into the game, but am well aware of the 13 endings available and what that must entail. I guess there's a reason there's a new game plus mode right? There's also a reason this game is regarded as one of, if not the best RPGs of all time.

I can't wait to continue my journey.

League of Legends (PC)

I am unsure of whether to keep discussing LoL week after week, I mean i play a new character, i get a little better at the game each week but the mechanics don't really open themselves up to me. I think i might save talking about LoL till i got something worth saying.

Final Thoughts

So in my final thoughts segment last week i mentioned the idea of a section of a game making you not want to replay the game itself. To me the epitome of this in recent years has been that every time i think of replaying Arkham Asylum, i think of the Killer Croc fight and how tense that was, and how i have no desire to play that again, and i have not returned to the game.

Usually this idea is linked to a scary or tense moment (like never wanting to replay Metroid Fusion because of the X segments), which i guess makes a lot of sense. I've talked before about how horror games affect me more than they should and that goes for suspenseful segments in other games as well. Frustrating segments don't have that affect which i find kind of strange. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time has combat i find absolutely terrible, but its narrative and platforming segments are so beautiful that i have put up with the frustrations of the combat system no less than five times to enjoy that game. Heck, even after learning many of the combat shortcuts the second and third time through i still hated those spots with a fiery passion.

Of course some games just have time as an issue. I would love to replay Xenogears but the thought of an eighty hour gaming experience stops me in my tracks. It's why when i talked about returning to Persona 4 to get the true ending one day i said it with a heavy heart knowing that will probably not be the case because of the time it would take to replay that game. In this instance though, it's probably not good to dwell on the timeframe a game takes and rather just enjoy the journey. I've been reading a lot of classic literature the last year and the size of some of these books is daunting, but i read every night before bed and even though it takes months sometimes, i do get through these tomes. I think with gaming as well, the experience is more important than completion (i mean that is the basis behind the MMO genre is it not?).

I'm very interested if there are any games from your past that you would love to replay... but something stops you. Why not mention the game and reasoning in the comments? :D

Till next week, happy gaming all!