Save Point

Money can buy everything except “love”, “friendship” and “exp points”.

I’ve Heard Bad Things About the Moon December 29, 2009

Filed under: Homebrewed games,Specific games — haounomiko @ 6:50 pm
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I Wanna Be The Guy is an awesome homebrewed platformer that I have not yet finished, but demands blogging anyway because it is so good. It’s a nostalgic blend of 8-bit Nintendo memories and insane difficulty that will make your hands bleed. I’m told that when the original creator first heard that someone beat it on the hardest difficulty level (where there are no save points), his reaction was, “You’re kidding.”

The great thing about IWBTG is that it’s not hard for boring reasons like bad controls or barely-reachable jumps. It’s hard because it messes with every assumption players have learned to make. Anyone who’s ever picked up a controller has an instinct for what sort of thing is deadly in a video game– and that very instinct is what kills me most. I know I’m going to die, but I never quite know how; avoiding the obvious traps, I’m caught by unexpected ones. It usually takes me about an hour to get to the next screen, but I always feel like I’m making progress. I have to train myself to get through each obstacle, one at a time, until I can do it consistently enough to tackle the next. It’s hard, but I always feel like I will be able to do it if I try a little longer. My friends are on “R” duty, which means they sit next to the keyboard and press “R” to restart me whenever I die (usually every three to ten seconds).

My only real complaint is that it’s sexist. On the “medium” difficulty level (there is no “easy”), your character wears a pink bow. Right, because being bad at videogames makes you a girl.

 

Atelier Crack and Other Stories December 27, 2009

Well, I’ve been dead to the world lately!

As for games, I’ve mostly been playing Atelier Annie, a DS game known affectionately by my family as Atelier Crack because I play so much. It’s a resort development sim game with the Atelier alchemy engine as a major part of the development. I tried very hard to get the best ending without looking in any FAQs– and by “very hard”, I mean “thirty playthroughs hard”. Normally I’m not one to fast-forward through dialogue, but the game can be played in a few hours if you do. Unfortunately, it’s only possible to trigger the best ending, or even the normal ending, by coincidentally visiting a particular location in a particular month– the game gives no clue about this trigger point, and I had no reason to visit at that time, so I missed it every playthrough. It was easy enough to get the best ending once I gave in and looked it up, but I may never have stumbled across it otherwise. I think that’s bad game design. But not to worry; the game has seven different endings, so there’s plenty to figure out on one’s own. There’s also the addictive compulsion towards 100% data completion, from which I am one rare drop away.

A lament to Nintendo: I bought Super Mario World for the GBA because I was nostalgic for the original, which I learnt to play like a pro with my eyes closed when I was ten. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by the controls; on the DS I had to hold my hand at a wrist-spraining angle just to accelerate and jump. I suppose this isn’t anyone’s fault because the buttons were remapped for the GBA, which didn’t have as many buttons as a SNES; but it’s made a choppy, barely-playable mess of a game that played like warm butter in its original configuration. The result is an insult to the gorgeous playability of the original. I wish they would re-release it for the DS with its proper control configuration. At least, I am glad they added a few bonus coins– it’s just like the original but with some extra bits that make me think, “Aha, that wasn’t there before…”

I’ve also been playing N+ for the DS. It’s a great deal of fun, although the lack of background music is a small disappointment. The difficulty of the levels is highly variable: some are ludicrously easy, and some are rather hard; since it’s meant to be a time trial game, experienced gamers will probably enjoy alternating between the two.

You all know, dear readers, that I’m in love with Mana Khemia 1 and have played it four times so far, right? In case I haven’t mentioned it yet, I adore that game. The sequel, on the other hand, does not even deserve to exist.

 

Bad Order Of Operations August 25, 2009

Filed under: Specific games — haounomiko @ 2:05 am
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Mana Khemia 2 is supposed to be released here on Wednesday, and I have my pre-order filed; it’s particularly timely for me because I completed the first Mana Khemia only two weeks ago. The more I think about that game, the more I suspect that– unless I’ve missed something huge– the game was released without being fully completed (perhaps due to a looming deadline?)

Mild spoilers follow, but I’m going to be vague. Those who want to avoid spoilers regarding thematic and/or oblique references to late-game plot are advised not to read further. Due to the nature of the post, comments may contain more severe spoilers; read at your own risk.

I believe that the game may have been conceived to have multiple endings, and that the studio only completed the less complicated “bad ending”, possibly due to a time crunch. My first thought on this was simply that the ending felt rushed and unsophisticated, and admittedly I did not like the protagonist’s choice nor the game’s portrayal of it as a satisfactory conclusion. I find its easy dismissal unrealistic, a quick shortcut to a happy ending. Moreover, though, there were several story elements that seem unresolved.

The biggest thing missing is that Isolde’s revelation about the history of alchemy seems too large for its plot role– disclosure of a shocking and highly forbidden secret that changes the entire face of alchemist-Mana relations, a tremendously complex element used simply in order to provoke Vayne. I understand that the studio is given to complex background world-building, but they are not given to throwing in enormously weighty pieces of information to play trivial roles. And what of the boss in that scene? I find it strange that the game never returned to any of this, and I imagine that if Vayne had not made the choice he did in the ending, there would be plenty of reason to return to it.

There are small things too: the ending itself seemed too simple and too soon after the revelation, and the final choice– though treated as the ideal fix for everything– felt like a snap decision made without a good night’s sleep on the matter. Several of the party members seemed to know the urgency of rushing through the final dungeon, despite not having any clues that they should be in any hurry (unless, I suppose, they were concerned with getting home in time to study for final exams); it felt uncharacteristically forced. Zeppel’s reaction to the campus-wide rumour about Vayne, after his three years of support, was surprising and disappointing as well as thin, but remained unaddressed. There is an extra week on the schedule between the final boss and graduation, which violates everything that has been established about pacing in the game. And God’s Scar has suspiciously epic, unique, final-dungeon-esque music for an unusually simplistic map that is never officially used, in contrast with the real final dungeon, which has an insufficiently epic feel in music as well as in everything else.

An ending that tied up all of the story’s emotional threads would have required more setup and elaboration, and it may be that the studio only had time to finish a quicker, lesser ending. But I wince at the way everyone treats Vayne’s choice as the perfect solution to the problem; as I see it, the choice that was made raises a good many new problems, it pretends there will be no side-effects for Vayne, and it fails to solve the problem that caused the story’s core conflict to begin with when a perfect solution was available at no cost and was even suggested by one of the characters. None of this makes me particularly happy, although I am proud of the characters for graduating in the midst of such personal turmoil.

For what it’s worth, I do think that the game’s primary revelation was handled extremely well; like a good murder mystery, all the evidence is present, but the player is led astray from a truth that is in plain sight. Admittedly, I am very fond of cats. (Judging from the detail and realism in Sulpher’s many animations, I suspect someone on the development team is too.)

 

Good Idea, Bad Execution August 23, 2009

Filed under: Specific games — haounomiko @ 5:51 am
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I know it’s been ages since I’ve posted in this blog, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still have things to say about video games. So I’m going to defy the irrational little voice in my head saying, “No! It’s been too long, so you shouldn’t post in here!” and do it anyway.

I’ve been playing Steal Princess, which is cute until the gameplay starts. It’s a puzzle game with a fun premise and a promising beginning, as well as an anime intro that visually resembles the love child of Cowboy Bebop’s and Utena’s but has bland music. Unfortunately, after coasting along for a bit, the fun stopped on a dime.

The game is about a female thief who has to become a hero and rescue a kidnapped prince, which is refreshing; and although the title makes no sense in context, I can imagine wanting to use “princess” instead of “prince” to attract little girls who might enjoy a game with a glamorous female protagonist. It’s silly and fourth-wall-breaky, and that was fun at first– but once I got into the puzzle levels, the incessant banter of the characters started to drive me nuts. It interrupted my gameplay for many dialogue boxes of predictable, repetitious wisecracks that are meant to lighten up exposition about the game controls but don’t actually explain them very well. The same joke is only funny so many times. Still, I could have put up with that if the gameplay had been good– which it was, but only for a little while.

It was fun for the first few levels, and then it abruptly became not fun for the sole reason that the controls are awful. If I used the buttons I couldn’t choose where to retarget my whip, and if I used the stylus it didn’t always register my tap even when I think I hit the target dead-on (which is why I hate stylus-based reflex challenges to begin with). My stylus tap wouldn’t register half the time, and then I’d fall into the water and have to start the level over again. To begin with, I’m not thrilled with puzzle games being so dependent on reflex tasks– but when the controls aren’t registering input on a time-sensitive task, that just instantly kills the fun.

Well, that was that. Steal Princess: how to convince little girls that games aren’t fun and they’re no good at them.

 

The 108 Calvinists of Destiny March 24, 2009

Filed under: New releases,Retro games,Specific games — haounomiko @ 11:03 pm
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I’ve spent most of my gaming time in Second Life recently, so I haven’t had much to blog about, but I did try the SNES game Castlevania IV for the first time. Are this game and Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts completely ripped off from each other? I’m not sure how two games that seem to have come out at approximately the same time can be so similar. Granted, I don’t know how much of this was set up by their respective precursors, as these are the earliest ones of their type I’ve played– but little things like the level advancement screen and even the rotating level are, no pun intended, eerily alike.

I also picked up Suikoden Tierkreis for the DS last week. So far, I’ve been unhappy with the clumsy way that it’s handled predestination; I expected better out of a Suikoden game. The game seems to want to blame every social ill upon the ruling society’s abstract philosophy instead of the corrupt rulers themselves, and that strikes me as being unlikely as well as out of line with the rest of the series. I don’t like the idea of fate any more than the next person, but historical societies that have believed in predestination were aware that it doesn’t work like that. Even if it turns out that the young naive heroes were all wrong, it’s still a strawman.

Well, we’ll see how it goes– hopefully it’ll improve. I do have high standards for the series that cause me to complain whenever it drops the ball, but in fact, the game is fun so far.

Last but not least, a friend and I are slugging through Donkey Kong Country 2 (SNES) bit by bit. Giant hives of bees, oh my.

 

The Finish Line February 12, 2009

So, I finished Ar tonelico 2 last week (Cloche’s path, third Reyvateil’s ending). It was a good follow-up to the first and a good bridge for the trilogy, but in my opinion it doesn’t stand well alone.

Initially, I had thought that it had promise to be greater than the first game, but that plateaued around the end of the first phase and it kept up a steady level of similar dramatic tension throughout. Even when the stakes were raised, the emotional investment was not. It was good for world- and character-building, and it probably helped establish some important things in preparation for the third game, but it did not snowball into the high climax that vindicates a 30-hour-minimum work of fiction. I would not recommend it to anyone who had not already finished the first game with the best ending, but it is a worthwhile experience for those who have.

After finishing Ar tonelico 2, I putzed around in the world for a while getting some of the optional things I hadn’t done. Ideally this game needs at least two more playthroughs, three if I want to see every ending, but I need a break before I play it again. Normally I’d even take a break before getting into another RPG, but I had stopped partway through Mother 3, and was eager to get back to it; I’m in chapter 8 closing in on the ending. Since I have a long weekend coming up, I might be able to finish it soon.

I was sick for a while last week, and I couldn’t sleep last night, so I found the rest of the puzzles in Professor Layton and the Curious Village, and unlocked the Riddle Master’s door to get at the last three. Now there’s only one final puzzle behind that door for me to finish and 100% the game– and it’s another sliding block puzzle. Nooooooo! I’ll probably just mess with it until I get the red block out, which is an unsatisfying method of solving puzzles, but I don’t know how to solve this kind (with the differently-shaped blocks) other than brute force or aimless fiddling.

 

If You Die In A Cut Scene, You Die In Real Life January 23, 2009

Filed under: Game tropes,Genres,Specific games — haounomiko @ 10:34 am
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One of my favourite things about the Ar tonelico series is that you can’t dodge the consequences of your actions simply by being the protagonist. You are held accountable to the same moral standards as the enemy, and you can’t just get away with the end justifying the means. Sometimes both sides look like the bad guy, and the game doesn’t try to excuse your side just because you’re on it.

The first game has a little of this, but it was downplayed because the story doesn’t revolve around political factions as much as the second game’s does. AT1 hints at it in the beginning, but you don’t see it really blossom until the end of the game. I think in AT2, the story’s genuine acceptance that both sides have a sincere point, and neither is pure evil but neither is perfect, has finally come into the spotlight.

I’m a big fan of that approach. When I was a kid I didn’t really notice, but nowadays I can’t help being critical of games that oversimplify and let the heroes get away with being as callously destructive as the enemy. Most RPGs tend to let that fly (other than the Suikoden series, which as far as I’m concerned is in a class of its own w.r.t. understanding of politics, morals, and the human heart), and I’m used to putting up with it, but it’s truly refreshing to see a game that applies a consistent set of standards to everyone in the story.