Now Playing June 2018

Beaten

Pokemon Crystal – I did beat it. I really don’t like Gen 2 Pokemon, as I said last month. The level curve is all over the place. The last few gyms are all really close together, with little difference in the levels needed to beat them, before the Elite 4 makes a big jump. The available Pokemon, especially early, are underwhelming. I admit that complaint is mostly about personal preference. In Gen 1 you can find something interesting to complement your starter pretty early, like a Mankey or Nidoran. Here, I was stuck using useless cruft for about four towns. THat has something to do with the games day night cycle, an excellent idea that doesn’t work when the only chance you have to play is for 30 minutes before going to bed.

Despite all of my complaints, there is still something magical about the end of this game, of getting to what appears to be the end, only to have the map of the first game open up to the player and a whole new set of gyms to conquer. No Pokemon game since has managed that, and I can’t quite figure out why not. Pokemon Crystal is a worthy piece of the series history that I am glad I played and am glad to no longer be playing.

Ongoing

Pokemon Ultra Sun – Beating a somewhat unsatisfying Pokemon game convinced me, for some reason, to buy a different Pokemon game. I forgot how chatty these latest Pokemon games are, but in every other way it is just such an improvement over what has come before. There have been so many quality of life improvement since Gen 2, like reusable TMs of getting rid of HMs. I do kind of miss the usual gym structure and I think I may have made the smart choice skipping this after having played Moon when it was released, but this is a good game.

Suikoden V – I haven’t really pushed much further than the opening, but I am still really enjoying the time I get to spend with this game. It is an underrated classic. I really miss this sort of mid grade JRPG.

Upcoming

Super Mario Galaxy and New Super Mario Bros U – If I ever have time, I am going to get back to my replay of the series.

SNES Classic – I also hope to get some time to play with Christmas gift at some point.

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Suikoden V: Opening

I am replaying Suikoden V; it seems impossible to me that this game is more than a decade old. I’ve recently been looking back on the PS2 era very fondly as I find myself increasingly out of sync with modern video games. It seems more and more that the games I like are on the margins of the gaming landscape and are slowly but surely disappearing. This feels odd to say with games I love, like Breath of the Wild and Monster Hunter World selling tons of copies, but those are more the exception than the rule. Over the last decade or so my interests have slowly but surely faded from prominence. Alternatively, maybe the stuff I liked was never really that popular. The Suikoden series, and Suikoden V in particular, are perfect examples of that. I consider Suikoden II to be on of the greatest games ever made, and while it is well regarded, it was always rare enough that many people haven’t even heard of it, let alone played it. The series seemed on the verge of breaking out in the PS2 era, but by the time Suikoden V was released in 2006 the PS3 was coming fast and a backwards looking game like it was almost perfectly designed to be ignored by the zeitgeist. Which it was; the game is more of a footnote for the series and the genre than anything else and I have long found that to be a great injustice.

Suikoden V is an awkward game that doesn’t get a lot of love. It tries to turn back to what people loved about Suikoden II after the largely disliked fourth entry in the series, but managed to feel cheap, untested, and unfinished. Still, there is a lot about the game that I genuinely love. I plan to write a lot about it; I have at least three posts planned as I work my way leisurely through the game and am likely to expand that to five or so. This post is going to be about probably the most maligned part of the game; its long, slow opening. Suikoden V does start slowly; depending on how one counts it, the game doesn’t really start for about 5 hours. On this playthrough it took me nearly 7 hours to get past the coup that serves as the game’s inciting incident. However, I think that becomes one of the game’s strengths as it goes along.

I have never been an opponent of games with slow openings. I will get into arguments with people who judge Zelda’s based on how long the games takes to give the player a sword. (Skyward Sword is mad underrated) Especially in the context of story heavy JRPGs, I think games that take few hours to set the table for a 70 hour game are usually using the player’s time wisely. I will point to the Persona series for games that do this well. A lot of Persona 4 happens before the player gets to the dungeon crawling. I don’t think any game does it much better than Suikoden V though. Yes, it takes more than half a dozen hours before the game puts the player in control of the usual Suikoden stuff like planning big battles and recruiting the members for the army. But those first few hours are not without their fair share of interesting gameplay and all of the story and character stuff it sets up makes the rest of the game all the more interesting.

There are essentially three parts to Suikoden V’s opening; a trip to survey the demolished town of Lordlake, the Sacred Games to choose the princess’s spouse and the trip to the sacred springs for a pre-marriage ritual. Each of these impart important knowledge on the player. The first shows how powerful the protagonist’s mother, Queen Arshtat, is with her Sun Rune. It shows the power she wields, or how that power wields her. It also lets the player know that something is wrong. Then there are the Sacred games, which more fully flesh out the political situation in the Queendom of Falena. It shows how the systems are corrupt and backwards, as well as how effective the eventual villains, the Godwins, are at manipulating things. Then there is the trip to the baths that is more character focused. It shows how much many people around the royal family have sacrificed to effect even a small change on the status quo, a change that is currently on the verge of disappearing. And after that, the game kicks into high gear.

These hours of set up are necessary to make the game work. If the game doesn’t give the player the opportunity to see the protagonist’s family and how they relate, then the loss of that family would have no sting. It is vital that players see how the Prince interacts with his sister the heir, with his mother and father, with the various members of the Queen’s Guards, including his ever present bodyguard Lyon. You meet the womanizing Kyle, the playful Miakis, the cold Zahhak and the nakedly ambitious Alenia. The core cast really makes it all work. There is the protagonist the Prince. He is always joined by Lyon, his young bodyguard who is soon revealed to have a mysterious past that Ferid, the Queen’s husband and father of the protagonist, saved her from. Then there is newcomer and all around badass Georg Prime, who’s amazing skills and lack of familiarity with the country each serve a purpose. And lastly is the Prince’s aunt, Sialeeds, who alternates between carefree playfulness and sardonic bitterness. Knowing what Sialeeds (more on her in a later post) has given up makes events that happen 30 or so hours down the line feel all the more tragic and inevitable.

It is not like the player is not playing the game at the time. Yes, the game gives the player no control over the party or any real access to the word map, but there are three or so dungeons in those first few hours and the protagonist should end it around level 20. It also introduces players to close to a quarter of the game’s extensive cast. (This is Suikoden, with its 108 Stars of Destiny) What makes it feel not a lot like really playing is that this is the largest portion of the game that gives the player access to Georg, one of the stars of the game and a brokenly badass fighter. He is unfairly good in combat, and seeing him make short work of every enemy you come across does a lot to sell him as the ultimate badass that he is, but it also means the fights don’t have a lot punch, as he can make short work of anything.

The game could have artlessly told the player these things; that is essentially how Suikoden I operated. That game got by on brevity; it can be completed in little more than a dozen hours. Suikoden V is attempting (I would say succeeding) in telling a story with more depth and nuance. It achieves that depth by slowly introducing the player to the world and the important characters in the drama to come. I can see how it could be off putting for new players, but anyone who sticks with the game through it is in for a treat.

Now Playing May 2018

Beaten

None, I had finals.

Ongoing

Suikoden V – I’ve played through the big opening segment, which I have a post about going up soon, and I have to say the technical flaws are dragging the experience down for me more than I expected. There are just too many instances of characters joining the party, with a blurb, only for them to leave two rooms later, with another blurb. The menus are a mess. It is in a lot of respects a really badly put together game. I still love it anyway.

Pokemon Crystal – I’ve been playing this. If I manage to finish it, it will be the first time I’ve finished a Gen 2 Pokemon game. I’ve failed several times with Silver and HeartGold and the like. Mostly because Gen 2 are the worst set of Pokemon games. Getting to go back to Kanto is great, but the level curve is messed up, the map sucks and the Pokemon distribution is terrible. Still, there is something overall just great about the Pokemon series that makes them compulsively playable.

The Alliance Alive – I am really starting to lose interest in this. I love the art and graphics and the SNES vibe to the story. Let’s be honest, though, SaGa style leveling is terrible, it has been terrible since FF2 and it is still terrible today. It adds another level of randomness that leveling didn’t need. I get the idea behind it, but it has never worked. I’ve got other games to play, but the positives about this game might draw me back despite that.

Upcoming

Yakuza 0 – Eventually I am going to take my PS4 back from my brother, and then I will play this. Eventually…

Super Mario Galaxy – I am trying to get back to this, but my summer schedule is somehow more full than my schedule during the semester.

What I Watched April 2018

Movies

Logan Lucky – I think I appreciated this heist movie even more after seeing it again. It isn’t doing anything that special, but it is perfectly entertaining. ****

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – This is the best comedy. It was available for free on Amazon Prime (or maybe Hulu) and I needed to relax for 90 minutes. Steve Martin and Michael Caine are both great and Glenne Headly is perfect as the glue that makes it all work. Really, just a completely excellent movie. *****

The Godfather 2 – It’s real good, I don’t have anything to add. *****

Captain America Civil War – This movie doesn’t really work for me. The villain’s plan is ludicrous and it mostly is just working to get the heroes split on either side. Iron Man comes out looking terrible and while the big airport fight is fun in a lot of ways, the fighting is actually kind of dull. It isn’t bad, I just don’t love it. ***

Thor Ragnarok – I decided to go back to this before Avengers Infinity War hit. I think I like it even more on a rewatch than I did the first go round. The culmination of the Thor/Loki relationship alone made the movie worthwhile. I’ve got brothers, though admittedly none who have transformed into snakes before stabbing me, and seeing the developments in that relationship were relatable. Also, it is really funny. *****

TV

Black Lightning – It is rare for a show to come out as fully formed as this one. From the minute it started, Black Lightning knew what show it was and it was fully that show. There was no flailing about with any of its characters or its concepts; it just told its story. There were some minor missteps, but for the most part it was just one of the most assured and well considered TV shows around. I don’t mean good like I say the other CW superhero shows are good, that they are fun bits of pulp that are just solidly entertaining evening fare. This is legit one of the best shows on TV.

Legends of Tomorrow S3 – Legends took a leap from S1 to S2 by jettisoning a handful of characters that weren’t working (and one of their best in Captain Cold) and bringing in better replacements. It also just solidified the kind of show it wanted to be. I didn’t expect a similar leap in S3, but I still got it. The show has really settled into a solid niche as the big goofy superhero show while also doing a great job of exploring its cast. While the show keeps rotating members of the cast, the core just keep getting better. This is the most fun superhero show around.

The Office – I finished up. Even the bad stuff is good stuff.

Monk – There is something admirable about the purity of Monk to me. There aren’t enough straight up detective shows these days. Even Psych, which I loved, kind of dropped that angle in the last couple of seasons, to the show detriment. Monk was never anything but a mystery of the week show and it was great for that. Not quite Colombo great, but still great.

Superhero Shows – Other than the two the finished up, Flash and Supergirl are back. The Flash somehow keeps getting worse at season long villains, but most of the rest of the show is going just fine. Supergirl is still solidly good. Also, I watched the first episode of Krypton and liked it fine, I’ll get to the rest of it soon.

Now Playing April 2018

Beaten

Radiant Historia Perfect Chronology – review coming soon. This is a good ass game.

Ongoing

The Alliance Alive – I’ve played a few hours of this. I love how it looks, I like the story that is starting up. I hate it’s level up system. This uses the SaGa random stats up/new abilities as you play. It doesn’t work. It never works. It just adds a layer of tedium and randomness to the game. Unlike this game’s predecessor, Legend of Legacy, at least there is something else here besides the broken character development system, hopefully that black mark isn’t enough to drag the rest of the game down.

Suikoden V – Saying I played this is kind of exaggerating things. I played about 30 minutes of the opening, which is fairly long and light on gameplay. I don’t care, I still love it. It does a great job of setting up the plot and all of the characters in its expansive story. The brevity of Suikoden 2’s opening is one of the reasons that it is the better game than V, but I appreciate the care that went into telling this story. Plus, it has some all-time great characters in Sialeeds, Lyon and Miakis. I will write up something big about this game once I finish it.

Super Mario Galaxy – I played the first few stages. I still absolutely love this game. I hope that continues as I power through the rest of it. I have already noticed some annoyances with the camera that I don’t remember having before, but I expect I’ll get used to it as I keep playing

New Super Mario Bros U – I am still playing this, but I barely touched it for the month.

Upcoming

Pokemon Crystal – I bought this on a whim for my 3DS. I skipped the most recent Pokemon release, so I think I am ready to play some Pokemon. Plus, I’m not sure if I want to stick with The Alliance Alive.

Now Playing March

Beaten/Abandoned

Monster Hunter Stories – I didn’t make it far in this. The ponderousness that works in regular Monster Hunter games really doesn’t serve an RPG well. Every fight takes too long and so far they haven’t been exactly challenging. The paper/rock/scissors set up works, but it is also really simple. The rest of the game is also low impact. It just felt slow and pointless. Maybe it is just I want to be playing Monster Hunter World, but I loaned it to my brother. I’ll give it another try sometime.

Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight –

First of all, this game is gorgeous. It has big, lush sprites and an engaging art style. I also love the general play style of the game; it is a compact Metroidvania. It is short, but that is more of a good thing, I think. It is short because the game cuts out all the fat, leaving only the meat. At about 4-5 hours, I think Momodora is closer to the perfect length than being too short. My big problem with the game is that the difficulty is uneven. The bosses in this game are mostly pretty impressive, but they work as substantial roadblocks in the experience. Maybe that flaw is on me for not being especially good at the game, if that is so I’m fine with it, but it significantly hampered my enjoyment of the game. That is the only real flaw, though. Everything else is great. This is a really good game.

Ongoing

Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology – When this first came out for DS years ago, I called it one of the best original games on the system. Then I promptly forgot about it. Now, playing this enhanced version, I reminded how great this game is. The story is mature and thoughtful, though it doesn’t completely avoid cliche. It sets up a time travel mechanic and really lets the player use it. It is more in-depth than Chrono Trigger’s millenia spanning adventure, keeping the time travel mostly confined to a small length of time. The battle system, which I have complaints about, encourages thoughtful uses of its mechanics. This is just a really great game.

New Super Mario Bros U – I’ve cleared the first two worlds of this game. It is still great.

Terranigma – It is slow going, but I’m still working on it. I am really liking this game.

Upcoming

The Alliance Alive – Despite not really having any patience for this game’s predecessor, Legend of Legacy, I let people talk me into going in on this one too. When I finish with Radiant Historia, I’ll get on this. I have some hopes, it sounds like they changed a lot of the things I hated about Legend of Legacy.

Super Mario Galaxy – I have misplaced my Wii nunchuk, so I went with NSMBU while I searched it out. Once I locate it or a replacement, I’ll likely get started with this game.

Suikoden V – I’ve had a hankering to play this PS2 hidden gem for the last few weeks, so I might put it in and give it a spin. Don’t expect much, though, since I’m still in law school.

Mario & Luigi Partners in Time

I missed this game when it first came out. Actually, I missed the first two Mario & Luigi games when they first came about. I eventually picked up a used copy of Superstar Saga, but by the time I’d finished with that, Partners in Time was hard to come by and Bowser’s Inside Story was coming soon. Plus, the word of mouth of on Partners In Time was that is wasn’t very good. So I passed it by, letting it be a hole on the series while I busied myself with the wealth of other games available on the 3DS. As the years went by, the game’s reputation was cemented as the bad one. When the game came to the WiiU Virtual Console, I picked it up to be a completionist, but I didn’t have high hopes. I have never been happier to be wrong. I don’t know that I like this game more than Superstar Saga, but Partners in Time is an excellent evolution the series.

The big change to Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time was to add Baby Mario and Baby Luigi, making the pair a foursome. To be completely honest, it doesn’t quite work. It adds a layer of complexity, but the control in M&L was already complex enough. Now, special attacks require tracking four different characters, each represented by a button, rather than just two. It is hard to do. Adding two more buttons to combat made, for me at least, some of the attack items all but useless. That being said, the game doesn’t require the player to master all of its tools. All you have to do is find one or two that work for you and exploit them. It does work when the game forces the two pairs of brothers to split up. Those too infrequent bits are great, with the babies on the top screen and the regular bros on the bottom, moving them in tandem trying to solve puzzles. It is the absolute peak of the what this series offers. The only problems I had were likely caused by playing it on the WiiU rather than on a real DS.

The game also lacks a truly memorable villain, something that Bowser’s Inside Story and Superstar Saga have. In the first game there was Fawful, with his nonsense metaphors and showboating. In the third, we got the humorous take on Bowser. Partners in Time has … personality free evil mushrooms. There really isn’t anything to them, they are just a vague evil. That is one reason that Partners In Time is frequently considered lesser than other games in the series. But while that flaw is there, there are still a lot of great moments among the other characters. You get a lot of fun with a pair of Toadsworths as they attempt to keep the Baby Peach happy. There are a few, but impactful, scenes with Bowser and Baby Bowser. Then there is Kylie Koopa, who shows up throughout the game as some sort of Koopa Lois Lane. She is a delight. Not quite on the level of Fawful, but she is a character that should have had more staying power in the series.

The other “problem” the game supposedly has is that it doesn’t really take advantage of its time travel premise. That is true, I guess. It really doesn’t do a lot with the time travel. Essentially, the current day Mushroom Kingdom, really just Peach’s Castle, is the hub for a game that takes place almost entirely in the past. Nothing you do as a player in the past really affects anything in the future, it is just another place to go to have adventures. It is a missed opportunity, but I don’t see the point in faulting the game for not doing something it never tried to do. It wanted the big bros running around with the babies, it really wasn’t interested in the mechanics of time travel.

The story has a lot of great moments that I don’t want to spoil, but one worth noting is near the end, when the brothers reach a Star Gate. The gate won’t let them pass because, it says, that Luigi isn’t pure enough. So there is a quest to prove his purity, at the end of which the Gate admits that he was just messing with Luigi and the brothers in general. It is pretty great.

Nintendo recently announced that they are putting out a remake of Bowser’s Inside Story, following up on the remake of Superstar Saga and skipping over Partners In Time. I get it, because BiS is the better remembered game and that is one that will sell more copies, but it feels like a missed opportunity to me. Partners in Time is a great game and with the kind of small tweaks and improvements that would come with a remake would go a long way to helping other people realize how good the game is.

Super Mario Replay: New Super Mario Bros 2

I thought I had written about this game back when it was released, but apparently I didn’t. That is a shame. New Super Mario Bros 2 was released amongst a uncharacteristic deluge of true Mario games. From 2009-2013, there were 6 full Mario games released, not including Super Luigi U, a full-sized DLC add-on. NSMB2 was released right in the middle of that, and it got overshadowed by the games around it. That really isn’t unfair; most of those games are straight up masterpieces. NSMB2 is not quite on that level, but it is also a decided step up from its immediate predecessor New Super Mario Bros. Unfortunately for this game, excellence is overshadowed by brilliance.

The first New Super Mario Bros game was a phenomenon, but it is actually pretty pedestrian compared to the rest of the series. As you play it, you can almost feel Nintendo working through the rust of not having made a 2D Mario game in more than a decade. That time gap also allowed people to give it a lot more leeway. It had been a long time since there had been a 2D Mario game, the sheer newness of it covered a lot of the games lesser moments. Plus, its not like NSMB was bad, it just wasn’t on the level of the first four games. After that, Nintendo followed up with the multiplayer focused New Super Mario Bros Wii, (my copy of which unfortunately won’t play, so I can’t revisit it at this time) which was its own thing. NSMB2 feels much more assured than the first game; by the time of its release the developers knew how to make Mario games. But it also adds little to the formula.

NSMB2 is not helped by its gimmick, which is based around collecting coins. It is a good thought; coins were a long time part of the series that had little to no mechanical import. Sure in Mario 64 they acted as health, but for the most part they seemed to be there because they always had been there. Without changing anything, NSMB2 emphasizes collecting coins. It almost feels like it should have been a Wario game, since he is the one that loves treasure. It adds almost nothing to the game.

That said, I still think NSMB2 has been unfairly dismissed. While it lacks that spark that makes a lot of the Mario series so great, the game is still excellent. Now that Mario games have again slowed to a trickle, the routine excellence of NSMB2 is more easily appreciated. Not all games can be Super Mario 3D World or Super Mario Galaxy 2. Sometimes just doing everything right can be enough. Sometimes you just want to play more Mario levels. That might be all that New Super Mario Bros 2 brings, but it brings it so well that it is hard to hold it against the game. At least, it is now that it is not coming less than a year after Super Mario 3D Land and a few months before New Super Mario Bros U. Those are the more essential games, but once one has finished with the essential, there is more than a little to recommend in the excellent.

Super Mario Replay: Super Mario 3D Land

I’ve already reviewed this game here, and I mostly stand by what I wrote about this game more than a half decade ago (dear god). Now as then I find it to be a near perfect execution of the Mario formula. Now, though, I am a little more forgiving about how much of a formula the series uses, and how much of a departure this game is from that formula.

Playing it all again, the tight design of this game shines. It starts off probably too easy. That is a common complaint with this game, though an over blown one. It is easy, but Mario games are for everybody. It eases players into things to give new players a chance to learn the ropes. That is a good thing. The counterargument is that many people grew up loving Mario games started with games that are much harder than this one. That is true, but it also misses some crucial points. One is the greater degree of competition for young players attention. Super Mario Brothers might not have been the only game in town, but it was one of only a few when it came out. Super Mario 3D Land faces a lot more competition, with children more likely to turn the game off forever if it is too frustrating. Also, 3D games are more complex than 2D games, and it would naturally take a new player longer to learn to play those than of the original Super Mario Bros. So 3D Land walks a fine line, and maybe errs by being a little too easy, by making a game playable for new players but with enough bite for veterans. It definitely does have that bite at the end; the last few of the special worlds are pretty devilish. So yes, the game makes you wait a little too long before getting to the good stuff, but that stuff is good enough to be worth the wait.

Super Mario 3D Land continues the trajectory from Super Mario Galaxy of bringing the 3D games more in line with the 2D games, with smaller, more inventive levels. Super Mario 64 turned the levels into open playgrounds, and Super Mario Sunshine continued that. The series retrenched after that. In many ways, SM3DL is as much like Super Mario Bros 3 as possible. That is clear in how much emphasis it places on SMB3’s signature power up, the racoon tail. While it doesn’t work quite the same way here as it did there, it is an excellent power up as balanced. It gives an inexperienced player a cushion for ill-advised jumps. But it also gives expert players a lot of tools. The only problem with it is that its ability to break blocks is kind of necessary at some points.

Super Mario 3D Land is one of my favorite games in the Mario series. It is the game that sold me on the 3DS and remains maybe the best game on the system. It is only an incremental movement from the Galaxy games, but it is a meaningful evolution.

Now Playing February 2018

Beaten

Monster Hunter World – I’m not really done with this, but I have essentially beaten it. I will likely have a good, long post coming in a few days/weeks about it. It does a great job of updating the series without losing its appeal. Removing the transition sections from the maps and letting the monsters wander wherever they want makes the world feel more real, and the only thing it loses is the exploit of ducking to the other side of the load screen to heal up. It also has a pretty interesting roster of mostly new monsters. I do hope they bring back some classic monsters through DLC, but it is an early frontrunner for game of the year.

Mario & Luigi Partners in Time – Post coming soon. This is a real good game.

Ongoing

Monster Hunter Stories – I’ve only just started this, but I like it so far. It is fun to get another perspective on a Monster Hunter setting that what is usually there in the games. It is a bit simplistic so far, but hopefully it will develop some as it goes.

Upcoming

Radiant Historia Perfect Chronology – I loved the original release of this game, and I am eager to revisit it and see what new has been added.

Terranigma – I’ve got a Raspberry Pi and I’ve got all my ROMs on it. I plan to play this first to test it out before moving on to some PS1 games or something. I know I’ve had this in the ongoing before, but I think I’m going to have to start over, so I’ve got it here.