Now Playing February 2020

Beaten

My World, My Way – read about it here. I am still a little shocked about how much I enjoyed this game, and how much I miss the days when weird experimental games like this could be released.

Ongoing

Yakuza 3 – I got started with this and I am going to see it through. I was quickly reminded of what I loved about this game nearly a decade ago. The game does a great job of starting with something of a bait and switch. Instead of diving back into the world of crime from the first two games, and instead starts the player in a new area and tasks them with solving the problems with a gang of orphans. It starts with a couple of hours of Kiryu simply playing dad. I haven’t yet hit the part where it turns and becomes more of a classic Yakuza game.

Dragon Quest XI – More slow progress with this game. It is kind of my ideal of a modern jrpg, but I don’t have the time to sink into the extended play sessions that do this game the most justice. Still, I am going to keep making what progress I can with this game. I just did the mermaid quest and it was pretty heartbreaking. Just a tragedy of errors all around.

Double Dragon and Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Bundle – This is a pretty impressive package. Sixteen games, some of them with different versions. These are not games that most people have played a lot. The Double Dragon games were very popular back in the day, especially the first one. I have always been a huge fan of River City Ransom. Most of the rest of the games are lesser known or have never been released in the United States. I have been a big fan of the Kunio games since I first played River City Ransom and World Cup Soccer on the NES and I can’t wait to get into all of these different games. So far, I have played a ton of Double Dragon, which is much harder than I remembered. Or maybe I do remember it being this hard, because I made just about as far as my memories of the game go. I’ve also played some of the hockey game, which isn’t as enjoyable as I remember soccer being, but it is still pretty fun.

Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers – This game is a tough one to get back into after some time away. I am used to the more modern SMT games, and this game does not have some of the quality of life improvements of later games in the series. I don’t really know what I was doing or where I was going. I don’t know what I am doing with my roster of demons. I am not quite sure what I am doing with character progression or where I am in the story. I think I will push through. I do like a lot of this game, it is just a little unfriendly at times.

Upcoming

River King: A Wonderful Journey – This has been sitting on my shelf for years, and for some reason, likely related to the game below, I’ve been feeling some strange pull to put this in and give it a go. Maybe during Spring Break

Rune Factory 4 – Now that I’ve finished My World, My Way, I am moving on to other DS/3DS games that I have not yet finished. I’ve cleared a decent amount of Rune Factory 4 already, but I have trouble balancing the forward momentum of exploring the dungeons and doing the farming and community building stuff. But I’m in the mood for some of the low key pleasures of this sort of game.

Now Playing January 2020

Beaten

Judgment – read about it here.

Life is Strange – This game came highly recommended to me, but I was a little leery going into it. It presents as mostly an adventure game, a genre I’ve had a lot of problems with. While that is the correct classification, it plays more like a slow motion action game. I have long been disappointed that the only way most video games have to interact with through violence, so one thing I loved about Life is Strange is that it is largely free of that. Not that there aren’t violent things happening, this game gets pretty dark, but most of what you do is just have conversations. I don’t know that Life is Strange really breaks through any barriers that keep video games in their bubble, but it at least pushes the edges.

It also tells a pretty interesting story. I know there are several paths through the game, with differing eventual ends, but the one I got was pretty affecting. The two tracks of the plot are the mystery of the disappearance of Rachel Amber, which digs into the small town darkness of the setting, and of Max’s discovery of her power to rewind time and change the past. While Max has this power, it doesn’t really connect with the mystery. Mostly it serves to put Max in increasingly untenable situations. Every new chapter deepens what came before. Most of the characters at first appear black or white, only for the game to reveal depth and grays as it goes along. It never really diminishes some of the awful things that characters do, but it does explain them. The characters end up largely feeling like real people; it is an amazing achievement.

I didn’t love this game quite as much as some people I know, but damn if it wasn’t an excellent experience, one I might feel like revisiting in a few years.

Ongoing

Codename STEAM – A project I have this year is beating a bunch of DS and 3DS games I’ve started but not finished over the last decade or so. That means that a lot of games will be cycling through here. Codename STEAM is one of those games. It is so close to being such a good game; I really wish it had gotten a sequel that could iron out some of the kinks. Since I last played this game, I have changed from a regular 3DS to a New 3DS, and it makes a difference here. The game plays much faster. I’ve already written about Codename STEAM before, and I haven’t really changed my mind about it. I love everything about the game but playing it. I do like playing it, but it is often as much frustration as fun. There is a reliance on foreknowledge in this game, like the game expects you to lose a time or two before you find the correct path through each map. That is annoying when maps can take more than an hour to complete. This game is just so close to being exactly what I want.

LBX – Another on my quest to conquer my 3DS backlog. This Level-5 kids rpg is fine. It has that goofy anime storyline, where everything revolves around the series specific focus, in this case small battling robots. In the first third or so of this game, toy robots are involved in kidnappings, international conspiracies and attempted assassinations, as well as just school ground play. I don’t know how into it I am. There are a lot of pieces and parts to fiddle with on your toy robot, but I haven’t quite figured out how much it matters and what works. Someone will get a lot out of it, I’m sure. I am also not crazy about the battles themselves. They are fine, but mostly play like a kind of sloppy action rpg. Maybe I will have more intelligent things to say once I finish with this game.

My World, My Way – This decade old DS game is another I have started back up. I like it, but I got pretty sick of it when I first played it a long time ago. Maybe I will like it enough to finish it off this time.

Dragon Quest XI – Okay, I started this early last year, but some good time into it and then just sort of drifted away from it as I got busy. Getting back into it, I am reminded that I really like this series. The cast, which I have mostly assembled at the point I am at, is pretty interesting. Maybe not the most memorable in the series, at least not as of yet, but still really good. Sylvando, Jade and Rab are great, but I wish there was a little more going on, or at least apparently going on, with Erik and the sisters. I like the upgrade system, but I wish there was a little more clarity to it. I want to know a little more of what is ahead as I build. That is not a big deal, as there is a way to reset, though I don’t know the cost. This is just a classic, well made role playing game and I am here for it.

Upcoming

Shovel Knight – I’ve not got 3 campaigns to finish in this game and a hankering to replay the original. Maybe I should buy the game again on a new console; I almost feel like I’ve been stealing from Yacht Club games getting more and more on my minimal kickstarter buy in.

Final Fantasy XV – If I can finish Dragon Quest XI, and I am not sure I can before the end of February, I will move on from 2018’s Christmas present to 2017’s Christmas present. I really want to play the game, but I have not managed to get past the first few hours in more than two years. Thanks, law school.

Something Else – This will be a different 3DS/DS game, after I finish My World, My Way. Maybe I’ll finally finish off one of the Shin Megami Tensei games I’ve still got sitting half finished. Maybe I’ll put some serious effort into that DS Valkyrie Profile game or the various Harvest Moons I’ve got.

Judgment

Judgment is the new game from the studio behind the Yakuza series. I love the Yakuza games. With that series moving in a different direction, Judgment seemed to be an interesting experiment.

Judgment ends up trapped between the game it is and the game it wants to be. Built from the same framework as Yakuza 6, it ends up playing very similarly. But at every turn, it seems to want to be something different. Something maybe more thoughtful. It just can’t be that because it is still, at its core, a brawler.

Judgment simply does not work as well as the Yakuza games. The biggest reason for that is the change from playing as Kazuma Kiryu to Takayuki Yagami. Yagami is just orders of magnitude less interesting of a character than Kiryu is. He might have worked fine in a role like the various other playable characters from Yakuza 4 or 5, but he wouldn’t stand out amongst those guys either. He’s not even on the level of Akiyama or Saejima.

The biggest problem is that he just seems more knowing and worldly than Kiryu. Part of what makes Kiryu interesting is how he reacts to everything as if he’s never heard of it before. Part of that comes from him spending a decade in prison. He simply accepts everything new he finds and works it into his understanding of the world. Yagami is more cynical. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it changes the tone of some of the wackier moments. In the main story it is mostly fine.

As far as the gameplay, the attempts to graft some investigatory stuff onto a Yakuza game ends up with a game that feels unfortunately modal. It is a somewhat fractured experience. You going into investigation mode to look around, chase mode, follow mode, fight mode, explore mode. Each one operates a little differently than the others. The Yakuza games were once more like this, but lately they’ve felt more cohesive. This feels like a step back.

I am being way too negative. There is a whole lot to like here. The fighting is still fun. The game is still packed with things to do. There are a half dozen arcade games to play, the usual array of mini-games and the same Kamurocho to explore.

The mix of story between sidequest and main plot is not as good here as it is in Yakuza games, I really did enjoy this game as a 20 hour action movie. I like the idea of doing the investigative work, of exploring this fake section of a real city from another point of view. It feels kind of like what this studio was trying to do with Yakuza’s 4 & 5, when the game minimized Kiryu and brought in other characters. Judgment is at its best the further it gets away from that other series. It brushes up against the problem that video games mostly only understand how to interact through violence. That leads to the story getting full on preposterous as it goes, and calls for a final boss fight that makes less sense as an ending than the courtroom scene that preceded it.

Judgment_20190610083916

I don’t want to spoil things, but Judgment starts with Yagami being hired to investigate for his former law firm. They are defending a Yakuza boss accused of murder. Yagami’s investigation turns up evidence that it was impossible the guy did it, but also evidence that he knew more than he was letting on. So Yagami keeps looking. Looking into the Yakuza family, looking into an encroaching family, looking into a medical research organization with high connections and shady dealings. Soon, more bodies show up, and Yagami is pulling on the thread of a giant conspiracy. One that reaches deeper than even he knows. It is pretty good stuff; ridiculous but in a fun way.

Judgment might not have ended up being exactly what I wanted, but it confirmed that I want more of what Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios is putting out. And I am very interested to see what they do with the Yakuza series now that they have moved on from Kazuma Kiryu.

My World, My Way

During the height of the Nintendo DS’s life, certain niche publishers loaded the system up with niche titles. Even at the time, it was obviously a golden age for middle of the road jrpgs and weird experiments. In 2009 Atlus published My World, My Way; a title that disappeared pretty quickly into that sea of titles and was quickly forgotten. It was kind of sad; the game is a quirky little game that deserves at least a little attention.

The set up for My World, My Way is that spoiled fantasy princess Elise gets annoyed that the cute boy she meets has no interest in her because she is just a spoiled princess. To show him what’s up, she decides to go on an adventure to show him that she could be an adventurer. To make sure she comes home safe, her father sends Nero to arrange for suitably safe adventures for her. As things go, she slowly grows into a true adventurer.

Other than the set up, there really isn’t anything all that novel to the game. The player has a two person party with Elise and her little pink slime Pinky. Elise is a traditional jrpg character. She levels up, she gets new equipment, she learns new skills. There are some wrinkles. Elise can get stat increases by eating meals at inns. Those are expensive, but they make a big difference the closer to the end you get. She can also learn spells by being hit with them. Well, actually not Elise; her pet parrot who learns magic spells for her. Pinky is an old monster archetype character; it grows by copying the body parts of enemies you defeat, with stronger monsters giving stronger stats and abilities. This sort of growth has existed since as far back as Final Fantasy Legend on the Gameboy. While having two different kinds of growth gives the player something, having only two characters makes it feels ultimately limited. The exploration is also pretty typical. You fight monsters with physical attacks and magic, beating monsters to complete quests.

Where the game is interesting is in Elise’s Pouting powers. As a spoiled princess, Elise is able to pout and get her way. Her pouting is so powerful it can change the nature of the world. These powers are vast. Elise can make enemies give more money, items or experience. She can simply demand a quest be counted as finished, even if it is not. She can force the the actual landscape of the world to change. If she needs to find flowers, she can turn forests into flower gardens. If she needs show, she can turn swamps into tundra. She can even invoke these powers in battle. Before battle, she can demand to go first or just decide the battle is not worth it and make the enemies go away. During the fight, she can give the enemies various status effects and hindrances.

That makes the game at least somewhat interesting. The pouting powers have their own points system to go with HP and MP, so you have balance which of your powers you use when. The whole game is about making a fairly unfriendly game work for you. It also makes the gameplay dovetail quite nicely with the story.

There really isn’t a lot of story here; I spoiled most of it with the set up. What makes it work is that Elise just really doesn’t care about the details of her adventure. She is as impatient as the player to get through the bullshit. Like the player, she is here to make her numbers get bigger; Elise couldn’t care less whether she collects 15 doodads to give the mayor of whatever town. She’s got on blinders, which makes the other part of the story work. Running just ahead of Elise is Nero, her mentor. He is setting up many of the quests she is completing, trying to make sure her goals are within her abilities. She ends up consistently doing better than he expects though.

It is genuinely enjoyable to see Elise just consistently blast through all the usual jrpg bullshit. There is a wise old owl that shows up to give advice, but Elise has absolutely no time for him. She cuts him off and tells him to get to the point.

I bought this game when it was new. I had some money and was spending way too much time playing 3DS games. I got about halfway through it before giving up. The game is only about twenty hours long and that is about all the time the game can support. For some reason I picked it back up a decade later. There wasn’t a lot of story to forget, so it was easy to get back into and push through to the end. This is the kind of hidden gem that is all over the DS library. There is no reason for anyone to go search out this game today, but if you stumble upon it, it is worth giving a shot.

Now Playing December 2019

Beaten

SteamWorld Dig 2 – I think I legitimately forgot this game was released until I found it on a Christmas eshop sale. I really wanted to play it on WiiU, which it was never released on. I don’t think it was originally released on 3DS either. I loved the first SteamWorld Dig game and I loved SteamWorld Heist. This game turns the fairly simple “dig straight down, bring stuff back up” of the first game into a full blown metroidvania. I loved it. The game really isn’t doing anything new or innovative, like Heist did, but it executes its formula incredibly well. There is something incredibly soothing about the rhythm of the game. Making a trip to dig up some gems and kill some monsters, going back up to sell what you find, buying some new equipment and power ups, lather, rinse, repeat. It is just kind of a perfect video game. No matter how many indie-ish metroidvania games we get, every time I play a good one I remember why these are so great. This is just a very good exercise in the genre.

Ongoing

Stella Glow – The same eShop sale that brought me SteamWorld Dig 2 also got me this game. I’m roughly a third of the way into it and it is fine. I don’t really have more to say about it than that. The battles are decent; there are some balance problems as it relates to character speed, but it mostly works fine. I recall some similar problems with this developer’s Luminous Arc games on the DS. The stuff around the story and characters is just above the most risible stuff that frequently appears in JRPGs. It keeps looking like it is going to be just kind of gross, but keeps itself from falling into the abyss.

Life is Strange – I cleared the first chapter of this game. It is really good. It is doing something I have not seen many games do, telling a kind of story that few games do. The game does so with a very obvious video game mechanic. Prince of Persia did this games rewind time thing in an action game 15 years ago. Here, it is put into a, so far, pretty mundane and thoughtful story. This is the kind of thing I want more of; games that push video games into places other than just violence.

Fire Emblem Warriors (3DS) – I was shopping for Christmas presents and bought this on amazon for next to nothing to give to my brother. It was only later that I recalled that he does not have a New 3DS to play it on. So I kept it. I’ve played five or six missions. The mix of Dynasty Warriors and Fire Emblem works surprisingly well. The menus are dense and not particularly well laid out. I will probably get through the story mode in January and basically call this game done. It is fun enough, worth the $10 I spent on it.

Judgment – I keep making a little progress in this game, loving it while I am playing it and then forgetting about it for weeks at a time after I turn it off. I think if I just let the game take me I would have the time of my life, but I have been too busy lately to really sit and enjoy it. Maybe in the new year. I did finally get to the drone races, which are simple and fun and I spent way too long with them.

Upcoming

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – I have a hankering to play this some more.

Code Name: STEAM – I got about halfway through this game a couple of years ago and I really just want to go back and finish it off.

Dragon Quest XI, Final Fantasy XV, Horizon: Zero Dawn – A trio of PS4 games I have started and just sort of lost track of. I really want to beat them, maybe not in January, but some time in 2020. In early 2020, because I am going to have a busy second half of the year. But I really want to beat some of these.

Persona Q2 and a Goodbye to the Nintendo 3DS

I knew that Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth was going to be one of the last new games to be released for the Nintendo 3DS. I thought it would make a wonderful send off not only for that system, but for the entire Nintendo DS family of systems. There was no series that was more consistent across the more than fifteen years of DS and 3DS existence than Atlus’s Etrian Odyssey. The games only appeared on DS, with the first appearing in 2007 and the last proper game in the series, Nexus, hitting early this year. The Persona Q games, functioned as spin-offs of Etrian Odyssey, as well as spin offs of the Persona series. Persona wasn’t ubiquitous on the DS or the 3DS, but the greater Shin Megami Tensei series had more than a few releases. The last important game for the system being a mix of both seemed fitting.

That is why it pains me to say that Persona Q2 is an all around disappointment. It doesn’t really do anything as well as games in either of its parent series do. Some of it is baked into the concept; combining the casts of 3 Persona games into one meant that the game was always going to feel crowded. Some are seemingly self-inflicted, like changed to the map making interface. Overall, the feeling is a game that is constantly less fun to play than it should be.

I had a problem making sense of the bloated cast in the first Persona Q game, and that one was only combining the characters from Personas 3 and 4, this one adds the cast of Persona 5 to the mix and has an even bigger problem. The game does its best to lessen this, but it does so in the most disappointing way. You start with just the cast of Persona 5. At the start of the second, of five, dungeons you unlock the cast of Persona 4. Then in the third dungeon you finally get the cast of Persona 3. You are nearly halfway through the game before you even get to the Persona 3 crew. By that time you likely will have a pretty established party. The game gives you ways of getting underused party members up to speed in a hurry, but trying to sort through this many characters and find defined roles for them in the game’s battle system is a chore, especially because this is a game that is not afraid to punish the player. It is hard to experiment when any battle can go south in a hurry and a party wipe probably means a significant loss in progress. The game ends up kind of pushing the player to use the Persona 5 cast and they are the least interesting.

The combination of the casts of the three games also highlights their similarities. To me the differences were more apparent when it was just two, but now that all three of them are together you can see how the games have roles for characters to fill and while some details around the sides may change, the central conceits of these characters doesn’t.

There is a story. The somewhat parodic movies that the dungeons are structured after kind of work, I guess. The main plot, though, never even came close to catching my attention.

I was most disappointed in the map making. The game takes the stylish menus and such designs from Persona 5 and tries to transplant them on to the 3DS. It doesn’t really work, and it takes up more of the screen. The game adds a bunch of neat new elements to the map, like gates that toggle on and off, but zooms the screen in on the drawing part to make it something of a chore to actually use. Also, the drawing just doesn’t seem as responsive as it has been in the past. Overall, it just feels like a step back.

I did have fun with Persona Q2. I guess I liked it, it was just something of a disappointment. I wanted a fond farewell and I got a game that did its best to be unlikeable despite its many good qualities. There are other aspects of the game I could go into, like the demon fusing and the battles, but I don’t really have it in me. The baseline is that it was good, but everything it does has been done better somewhere else. I don’t really want just tear into the game forever.

Instead, I think this is a good time to eulogize the Nintendo 3DS. Persona Q2 is almost certainly the last significant 3DS release. It’s run was, if anything, a little longer than that of the original DS. Still, I get the feeling that the 3DS was written off years ago as a failure because it wasn’t the sales juggernaut that the original DS was and never really reexamined. I think it deserves to be remembered well, because the 3DS is a great little system. I’ve had a 3DS since only a few months after it was released, and I feel like I’ve played most of the major releases for the system. In the last couple of years I’ve skipped a bunch of Nintendo first party titles, but they have mostly been remakes and ports of games I have already played. Since 2011, the Nintendo 3DS has easily been my most played video game system.

It is home to lots of great JRPGs, like the Bravely Default games and a sizable chunk of Atlus output. There are tons of great platformers, including several Mario games and some really underrated Kirby games. There are adventures like all the Professor Layton and Ace Attorney and Zero Escape games. There are three excellent Fire Emblem games, several great Legend of Zeldas. A bunch of oddities, like Rhythm Thief, BoxBoy, and Attack of the Friday Monsters. There are three Monster Hunters. There are just so many good games. The 3D gimmick was kind of a miss, though it still looks really neat.

Nintendo combining their development for the console/handheld hybrid Switch is almost certainly the smart move. I will likely get a Switch sooner rather than later. The Switch is great, and Nintendo not splitting their resources across two different platforms is a good thing. But I am going to miss the little clamshell 3DS. I’ve been taking one of those with me everywhere for more than a decade and likely will continue to do so until I completely exhaust the DS/3DS games I can get my hands on. The dedicated handheld system appears to be dead, unless you count the Switch Lite, and I am sad to see it go. But I am thankful for all the fun I’ve had with my 3DS over the last eight years. Good night, sweet prince …

Now Playing November 2019

Beaten

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse –

I bought this game a few years ago, but never really got around to until recently. It is a pretty typical Kirby game in a lot of ways. It colorful and pleasant and not particularly challenging. It plays much like the DS game Canvas Curse, with the player using the touchscreen to draw paths for Kirby to follow through the stage. Knowing how to draw lines to both direct Kirby and to deflect obstacles is intuitive. I don’t know that it is quite as satisfying as a normal platformer, but it still works really well. There is a multiplayer component, but I didn’t have the chance to play it, so I don’t know how well that works. The most striking element of the game is the graphics. Nintendo has long been the master of aesthetics, and Rainbow Curse is another high mark. There was Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which Nintendo took to the next level with Yoshi’s Woolly World. There was The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, with its impressionist looking backgrounds that resolved into solid shapes when you got close. Rainbow Curse turns everything to clay. It looks amazing; Kirby rolls and squishes. Everything really looks like someone shaped them and get realistically deformed by various kinds of contact. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is like a lot of the Kirby series; somehow forgetably excellent.

Battlefield 1 – read about it here.

Persona Q2 – post coming soon.

Streets of Rage 2 – At Thanksgiving, me and my brother powered through this classic beat-em-up. I don’t have a lot to say about it; Streets of Rage 2 is really good. I had the first back in the day, and my brothers and I would beat it repeatedly. The sequel has some more complexity and gets pretty tough as it goes, but it delivers some classic brawler fun. There is just something mindlessly enjoyable about moving to the right and punching out hundreds of dudes. The brawler has always been my preferred arcade style game. This deserves its reputation as one of the best.

Ongoing

Judgment – Progress is slow, but I am liking this game. Despite its similarities with the Yakuza series, I can feel the developers attempting to give this game a different flavor. A lot of the detective specific stuff works. Examining a crime scene is fun. But some stuff feels like a step back. Like the modal running/walking switch. Instead of holding a button to run, and smoothly transitioning in and out of different speeds, you push a button to run and keep running until you stop. It is a small change, but just slightly more awkward than it was before. Still, this is really good. I hope with some time I can really dig into it.

Sega Genesis Mini – While I beat Streets of Rage 2 with my brother, we sampled almost all of the multiplayer games. When I am around my brothers, I will probably give them some more time. Some Golden Axe or Gunstar Heroes. I also played through about half of World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck with my three year old nephew. He’s not quite old enough to grasp the game past the opening stage, but we had fun. When I’m playing solo, I really want to get to some time with the more complex games; like Shining Force, Beyond Oasis and Phantasy Star IV. I am really liking the Genesis Mini.

Sonic Mania – I played two more stages. I think I might be done with this for now. I don’t have anything bad to say about it, I’m just not feeling it right now and I don’t want to force myself to play a game I’m not enjoying.

Upcoming

Life is Strange – There was a PSN sale, I picked up a few things. Like Battlefield 1. And this, as well as Cosmic Star Heroine and Dragon Age Inquisition. I am going to play this next, and with a month between semesters I should have time to finish it.

SteamWorld Dig 2 – I got some game for my 3DS during the Black Friday sale. This is the first one I am looking to get started with. I kind of forgot this game came out. I loved the first SteamWorld Dig game and SteamWorld Heist.

Shovel Knight: King of Cards – I’ve never actually finished any of the extra campaigns for Shovel Knight. I played about half of Plague of Shadows and a couple stages of Spectre of Torment. I really want to correct that oversight, and the release of the fourth campaign feels like the ideal time to do that.

Battlefield 1

I bought Battlefield 1 during the recent PSN sale. That is likely a surprise to people who know me. I have long had little regard for first person shooters, and have never had much of an interest at all in multiplayer shooters. I was drawn to this particular game for its World War 1 setting. That was enough to get me to fork over the $10 it cost to give it a try.

My take on this game is going to be completely unfair. I feel I have to acknowledge that upfront. The Battlefield series is popular for its multiplayer; the single player campaigns exist and that is about it. So going into Battlefield to play the single player is pretty much by definition missing the point. I am not much of a multiplayer guy. I’ll play some fighting games and party games, but playing with other people is not something I really do. Even Monster Hunter, a favorite of mine, is usually a solo experience for me. I will play it online, but it makes it feel like a chore sometimes. I mostly just enjoy to play by myself and at my own pace. That is what I wanted out of Battlefield 1; to play through some WWI battles by myself. Technically, it delivered.

Battlefield 1 also did a good job of showing the breadth of the First World War. Its splintered single player campaigns range from France to Italy to Arabia. You experience early tank fighting, biplane dogfights, pitched battles on seafronts and mountainsides. It gives the player a little bit of everything. The problem is that almost none of it is any fun. Take the thing I was most excited for: the airplanes. The initial control scheme for the planes is insane. Or at least, it felt insane for someone who does not primarily play first person shooters. After thinking about it for a while, I think the control scheme does make sense when thinking about it through the lens of a shooter. For someone used to controlling an on screen character or vehicle through any other lens it is awkward at best. Luckily, the controls are remappable. Once you find something that works, it becomes tolerable. Frustrating, but tolerable. The game gives essentially two missions in the plane; one big assault defending bombers attacking a base, other defending London from a German bombing raid. Once they get going, they can be fun, but the game does not really explain the parameters.

The game also loves to put the player into situations that, in the story of the campaign, call for stealth. However, the game does not really give the player the tools to play stealthily. I am not sure the game really intends for the player to be stealthy. The most interesting one is the Arabian set section of the campaign. The player has to send three messages from three separate bases. The game hints at sneaking in, but the game gives few sneaking tools. In set up, it feels like a mission out of Metal Gear Solid 5. In execution, it shows how great a game Metal Gear Solid 5 was. Part of the problem is on me: I am not a huge fan of shooting. If the game gives me a peaceful option, I will take that option. Battlefield 1 suggests such options, then pushes the player to go in guns blazing.

Maybe that is why the Italian campaign was the most satisfying. The Italian campaign is the most straightforward of the bunch. It puts the player in a pitched battle, shooting his way up a mountain. Eventually, you are searching for your lost brother, but it is mostly just a series of stages for shooting everything that moves. It works. It is fun to go from bunker to bunker, tearing through enemy troops. Any time the games tries something more complex with its single player missions, it stumbles, but those straightforward shooting missions were solid.

I haven’t said much about the stories, because there is nothing much to say. They range from bland to forgettable, with the one interesting one being the biplane story. It is interesting because it tries to bring in some unreliable narrator stuff that only really shows up there and only serves to undercut the most fun story they put together. There isn’t much to say.

Honestly, I am a little disappointed in myself for buying this game. I have pretty much stopped playing games that are mostly about killing other people. That is something I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with as I’ve grown older. It is not that I begrudge anyone else their enjoyment of shooters or anything similar, but I personally don’t really enjoy them. It is kind of arbitrary; I love the Yakuza games and they are incredibly violent. But most of the fights in the Yakuza series ostensibly leave the losers alive. Even something like Metal Gear Solid, which features a lot of killing, at least mostly leaves it up to the player on whether to kill people or not. Shooter, on the other hand, don’t really have options. You shoot things. I bought Battlefield 1 for its novel setting. I thought that maybe that would be enough to get me into a shooter. It didn’t. I am ready to take another decade long break from the genre.

Now Playing October 2019

Beaten

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne — This was a lot of fun. I still have more to do; some armor I want to make, some endemic life to capture, Zinogre to beat, etc. But I saw the credits roll and I am ready to put this away for a while. I really like a lot about Monster Hunter, but I am not a huge fan of fighting the elder dragons. I don’t mind failing a hunt because I, or my partners, got KOed. What I don’t like is hammering away (literally, the hammer is my tool of choice) at a monster for 50 minutes only to lose because he didn’t die in time. Sure, part of the problem is I need better tactics, but with the really frustrating monsters, like Kushala Daora, the problem is that there just aren’t a lot of opportunities to do damage. I realize this is post-game DLC, but a lot of the content here is elder dragon nonsense that just is not that much fun. That is the one part of this huge expansion that I didn’t like. I liked the snow area. I really like most of the monsters here. Nargacuga and Barioth are fun returning monsters. Banbaro is pretty great. There is a lot to love here. Just the very end annoyed me.

Final Fantasy VIII — I wrote about it here.

Ongoing

Persona Q2 — Yeah, I am really trucking on this now. It is still a game that is prone to throwing sudden, unavoidable deaths at me, but they are growing less frequent. Still, I cleared a stratum and a half in fairly short order. The bosses have been pretty uniformly a chore. I have been told that this is actually a pretty easy part of the Etrian and Shin Megami Tensei series. As someone who has beaten all of the Etrian games and most of the SMT games to reach the West, I disagree. This game is hard, and not in a fun or interesting way. I have never felt less interested in the demon fusion system; it feels like I am always full up on demons that are too high leveled to fuse in a helpful way. As I’ve said before, the map making tools are more stylish but wholly less useful. While I have begun to enjoy this game, it is still a disappointment. That is mostly on me; I don’t think this game was ever intended to operate as a farewell to beloved series and system on its own.

Sonic Mania — I only beat a couple of stages of this game last month. It is an excellent recreation of the Genesis Sonic the Hedgehog games. It captures that feeling perfectly. I was just never any good at those games past the first couple of Areas. I am trying to push through the back half of this game and I neither am good enough to do so, nor do I care enough to get better. It is definitely on me, not the game, but I am going to wait until I get a real itch to play this again before finishing it instead of trying to force it.

Upcoming

Judgment — This game keeps falling off the ongoing list, but I am going to clear it before too long. It’s fun. (Yes, I did mostly copy and paste this from last month)

Sega Genesis Games — I’ve got the mini, I am going to play some of the games that came with it. I already started with Alisia Dragoon, a game I do not understand at all.

Elliot Quest — I feel a need to go back and finish up some leftover WiiU games, or maybe some Wii games. Elliot Quest is one that I got most of the way through, and really enjoyed, but never got around to finishing. Another one high on my list is Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. Or maybe either of the Shovel Knight alternate paths, neither of which I’ve finished.

Okami HD — I’ve got this on my PS3 and I played the first chunk of it a year or so ago. I’ve been feeling the itch to get back to it.

Final Fantasy VIII Remastered

I haven’t played Final Fantasy VIII since soon after it was released. Or at least, soon after it was released on PC. That said, it is still a game that means a whole lot to me. FF8, along with Pokemon Gold and Silver, was on of the first games that I closely followed prior to release.

I was a Final Fantasy fan before FF8. I had read about Final Fantasy 2 (4) in Nintendo Power and searched it out, but instead found the original Final Fantasy for NES in a Wal-Mart bargain bin. I played and loved that, but I didn’t have a SNES and did end up upgrading for some time. Still, I managed to experience Final Fantasy 3 on the SNES before that by playing it at a friends house. I ended up being obsessed with the game for several years, paying an exorbitant amount to get a used copy from Funcoland once I finally did get an SNES. That same friend also showed me the PC port of FF7, which gave me a chance to experience some of that game long before I got a Playstation.

It is a time that is hard to imagine now, but in 1998 my family did not have a computer. Not one capable of accessing the internet, at least. My ability to follow the pre-release hype of Final Fantasy VIII was limited to biking up to the public library for 1 hour of dial up internet access a day or for a few minutes at the school computer lab after school got out, as well as whatever I could find in EGM or Game Informer.

I followed it obsessively anyway. The scattered updates of grainy shots from E3 and the like. Text descriptions of cutscenes. Releases of character art that let me imagine who those characters might be. Then it was released to solid reviews, though with undercurrents of disappointment about how different it was from Final Fantasy VII.

I got it when it was released for P.C. My family had a modern (1999-era modern) that was not quite up to the task, but it worked well enough. I never truly grasped the junction system, appear to have straight up missed swathes of the story and gave up on the game not too far before the final dungeon. I still liked it well enough, but I was put off by the technical problems enough that I never reinstalled the game when my family upgraded our computer and when I finally got a Playstation, I moved on to games like Suikoden 2, Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy 9.

Something about the remastered release drew me, though. For some reason I really wanted to play the game again. I am glad I did. I understand how the game works much better now and I am still a fan of the look of the world.

The junction system has always been strange, but it is a flexible and interesting character building system. It kind of turns the characters into blank slates for the player to completely remake into whatever image desired. The only combat function that you have to have available is attack. Whatever other skills you want to use are up to you. It lets you summon your guardian forces whenever you want, but it turns out that they are much more situational in usefulness that I thought years ago. The big change is turning magic into a consumable resource and letting the player junction magic to stats, attaching the magic to that stat and increasing it by a not particularly obvious formula. One part that is clear is that the more of the magic you have, the greater the effect on your stats.

So casting magic is not generally a great idea, but instead conserving to make your stats better. Junctioning a strong magic to Squall’s strength is generally enough to handle most of the game, as it makes him so much stronger than everyone else.

I don’t know that I want to get into all the other changes: drawing magic, triple triad, enemy levels, guardian forces in general, how the game handles weapons. The game is strange, but all of its strangeness kind of works when put together.

I do want to comment on the story. For one big complaint, the back half of the story seems rushed and maybe unfinished. It spends a lot of time really building up the characters and the party, then as it seems to shift into high gear the end appears. When I gave up on the game way back when, I had no idea how close I was to the end of the game, I was thinking I was closer to the three quarter mark.

When I first played this game, I thought the cast was cool. I still think that about the designs are cool, but these characters as a bunch of dorks. I don’t mean that as a criticism; I think they work exactly as intended. When I was a teenager, I saw cool teenagers. As an adult, I see a bunch of stupid kids. I think I was right both times. Squall worked really well for me this time. His friends see a taciturn badass, but his being closed off is out of fear, not for any other reason. Irvine and Zell are projecting different kinds of cool, but it is clear how much they are faking it. Quistis attempts some maturity, but that is as much a projection as the boy’s attempted coolness. What all of them want is to know that other people like them, but none of them really think that is the case. The only one that seems to avoid that is Rinoa, and she has her own problems. Selphie seems to have come up with a genuine way of dealing with her emotions, with her happiness seeming to be less of a front than the others.

It contrasts nicely with the more adult Laguna, who still has his own problems. I feel like the game could have done a better job of fleshing that part of the game out, but it mostly works. I don’t know that the Edea and Cid stuff does; I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around what is going on there.

The big tragedy of the game is Seifer, but in the intended story and the execution. He is just like the other party members, but he ends up on the other side of the conflict, sticking with the Sorceress that they have a childhood connections with. He is delinquent and a jerk, but he wants to be loved as much as the others. He thinks he is the hero of this story, but it is hard to tell exactly what he is doing because the game doesn’t give the player enough information about what Seifer knows. It is still touching at the end when his cronies finally convince him to abandon his quest.

Final Fantasy VIII is not my favorite Final Fantasy game. In fact, I would probably put it in the lower half. But playing a game like this, that I don’t exactly love, reminds me of why I was and am such a big Final Fantasy fan. Games like FF8, or 10 or 13 or 4 , game that I like but I think are flawed, may outnumber the ones that I do absolutely love. But they are all so interesting and generally enjoyable that I can’t help but want to play them. I guess that means I should get back to Final Fantasy XV.