Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Death is No Escape: Demon's Souls

There's a long-standing tradition in games that you only get a certain number of chances to fulfill your objective before having to either use a continue (and lose much progress) or start over entirely if you run out of those, too. While this conceit has fallen to the wayside in recent years, games up to and including the PS2-era followed the construct of only allowing a player a certain number of lives, and when the counter hit zero that was it, you had to start the game from the beginning. The advent of automatic save points in every game pushed this aside, to the relief of many a long-time gamer tired of losing all their progress to one super-difficult point. If there was one boon to this system, it was that as your remaining lives ticked lower, you became increasingly cautious and careful, and maybe played the game a little better than you would have otherwise.

When they made Demon's Souls, Atlus decided they'd had quite enough of that bullshit. From now on, if you die, the game gets harder.

"What is that, happiness? That won't do."

Demon's Souls is a game that punishes you for being bad at it. It punishes you for being mediocre at it. If you're good enough to actually make it to a boss, it punishes you for that, too. I've played games that were hard. I've played games where the designers clearly wanted to push you and make you a better player. It's not accurate to say Demon's Souls has a steep learning curve. Demon's Souls is the Chinese-facing side of K2. This game straight up does not want you to win and will do what it has to so as to ensure you lose.

That's not even getting into New Game+.

As you might imagine, this one has been on my Backlog for awhile, and not because I bought it and forgot about it. It's because in any one sitting, I can only take so much humiliating death before the hope is ground out of me and distilled into the fine humors from which Demon's Souls extracts its nutrients. The makers of this game looked at the average number of deaths in Aztec rituals honoring Quetzacoatl and said, "Well there's our baseline." The people who thought up Demon's Souls have less remorse than John Wayne Gacy on mescaline, and are exactly as excited about killing you.

So over the last couple years since its release, I've made several serious efforts at Atlus's opus to difficulty, and each time I've made it just a little bit further, yet have been unable to reach the final boss. As it stands right now, I'm at a point where I've got three stages left uncleared, and if I can conquer them I'll finally have a shot at beating the whole game. Unfortunately, I've hit another bump as I keep dying at the exact same spot over and over again every time. While I deal with that, I figured now would be a pretty good time to examine how I got this far to begin with.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

And now, for something completely different.

While I'm in between clearing the massive backlog of RPGs I have, I sometimes engage in bouts of Ultimate Marvel Versus Capcom 3 with Nick, who was kind enough to buy me the game as a Christmas present.

I'm pretty crappy at most fighting games, but getting slightly better at them.  But, this isn't a post about how Nick stomped the ever-living hell out of me during our first match-up, how I've gotten slightly better, or even how much I've come to loathe Hulk.

It's about grooving with a friend:  Specifically the one your best friend nearly beats you with.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Alright, so maybe I haven't given up all hope.

Well, that happened.

But you know what?  I finally get it.

I finally get why fans of the Kingdom Hearts franchise keep gobbling up spin off, after spin off, after spin off, even when they're dreadfully dull.

No, I haven't hit my head.  No, I'm not suddenly back on the train of ardent support of Kingdom Hearts (I suspect the Enabler would hit me until I wasn't, as she should).  However, after recently finishing Kingdom Hearts II, I'm finally understanding why fans get excited with each new entry into the series that is produced. What I don't understand, however, is that given the frequent teasers and glacial progress in moving the story forward, what I don't understand is why fans haven't crucified Tetsuya Nomura by this point.

Kingdom Hearts II isn't a perfect game by any means.  Furthermore, after hearing a lot of negativity around the game, I went in with low expectations, especially after playing two of the last three spin-offs.  However, my experience was more enjoyable than I anticipated:  Due in part to actually being able to make sense of the convoluted story (playing the aforementioned spin offs helped), but also because, by comparison, the cast was a lot more likeable.

This isn't a post that's about me reviewing the gameplay aspects of Kingdom Hearts II.  Instead, I'd like to first talk about what connected me more to the second game than any of the spin-offs.  Following that, we'll be examining the game through the perspective of someone who's played the prequels and spin-offs, as well as surfacing a few of the questions that would have inevitably arisen if you played the game when it first came out (i.e. before most of the spin-offs came out), or just decided to play it out of chronological order.  Be warned:  Spoilers lie ahead.

But along with those, a whole lot of confusion.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hyperdimension Neptunia: I came, I saw, I turned my PS3 off.

"Virtually everything a JRPG should not be"

"Powerful premise, regrettable result"

"A case study in how not to design videogames, Hyperdimension Neptunia aspires to be a parody of the console war and instead winds up an unfunny joke"

If you peruse the reviews at GameFAQs, the above denotes the lower rated ones of the PS3 game Hyperdimension Neptunia.  To be fair, I tend to ignore any reviews that are radically in favor of a game or radically against, often finding the middle of the ground reviews to be the most honest.

But you know, in the case of Neptunia, they might not be that far off. . .

If you're expecting a long post where I bemoan all the flaws of Neptunia and tell you how every moment from start to the game's ending was an excruciating journey, you're not going to get that.  I played Neptunia for about 25 minutes:  Long enough to see the introduction sequence, long enough to play through the first dungeon.  Long enough to get acquainted with a few of the characters, and long enough to get a feel for the battle system.  Have a look at it yourself:

While gameplay trailers can only do a game so much justice (or injustice), I'm wondering if you all picked up on some of the same things I did:  The horrendously slow feel of the combat.  The dull music.  The bland, uninspired background.  I was treated to a lesser version of this in the tutorial stage and quite frankly, couldn't bring myself to play the game much longer.

..In the end, yeah, that's all I really have for this post.  A poster at BlueGartr who loves JRPGs as much (if not more) than I did convinced me to give the game another shot, but that will likely happen far, far into the future.  The sad reality is that while the story of Neptunia might have kept me interested enough to play years ago, today it has to contend with numerous other games with much more engaging gameplay for my attention.

..And even if  it didn't, at this point, I'd rather go through another play of Unlimited SaGa.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Motion Comic the Video Game: inFAMOUS

I don't know if you can put a price on having your credit card information potentially hacked, but Sony seems to think that if you could, it would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 digital games. The great data breach of '11 may have been a hell of an inconvenience for a lot of people, but for me it meant getting a new debit card and enjoying a bunch of free stuff from a conciliatory company. In days of yore, the ancestors of the Sony executives would commit ritual seppuku to restore their honor. In this modern age, we settle for a free download of inFAMOUS.

Though if they still want to disembowel themselves, we'll understand.

I initially began playing the game almost as soon as it was installed on my PS3, but a little more than halfway through, a higher calling beckoned. I had right around that time put out my intention to play through my Almost Got 'Em list. I was having a lot of fun with it, but I wanted to get a jump on Breath of Fire III to get myself going. So I let inFAMOUS rest, unfinished, while I played through other games for the blog.

That's right. I backlogged inFAMOUS because of The Backlog.

So, time passed, I made a pretty major life change which involved moving, and when I got settled in I spent most of game-playing energy on Breath of Fire III. While in the process of beating it, I made a decision that would directly impact my decision to go finish inFAMOUS.

I started playing Final Fantasy XI again.

And quickly discovered nothing makes me want to go back to single-player games faster than some good ol' FFXI.

The story there is that Ayn and I had been discussing the game a lot, which has undergone some fairly drastic changes in the couple years since I had last seen Vana'diel. All that talk combined with a great Steam deal and a little bit of free time led me to wonder what it would be like to team up with Ayn and have a series of hilarious buddy-cop adventures together. Unfortunately, right around the time I first logged back in was right when Ayn decided he was too old for this shit.

And after I saved him from that toilet bomb.

So while the new iteration of Final Fantasy XI might be a vast improvement in some ways, it's not really all that fun if you don't have a dedicated group of friends to play with. Finding nothing of note in the land of MMOs, I decided to pick up where I'd left off with Cole McGrath and the twisted, ruined, blighted landscape he roams, known as Empire City.