Monday, August 19, 2013

Field Report #21 - We've Got To Go Deeper

I think this summer I have been working particularly much, but there has still been time for some gaming, and especially game buying (I need to do something with all that money). Last time I checked I had bought somewhere around twenty new games this year alone, and the year is only half gone! Well a little bit past half gone (I barely remember june and july tbh), but still. Most of the games are oldies but goldies, like Baldurs Gate or Serious Sam and I have no idea when I intend to play them, they're just games I've always wanted to try out (or in some cases have played and want to replay). There are way more new games coming in than I have time to finish them, especially since many of the games I buy are rpgs that tend to take 30ish hours to complete or even "worse", games that are basically neverending, like Skyrim. No matter, I have all life right? So this is what I've been up to lately.

Final Fantasy V
I decided it was time to finish the last couple of Final Fantasy games that I haven't actually played, that being FFIV, FFV and FFVI, especially since I have heard that they are actually very good. I also decided I wanted to play the GBA versions of them for two reasons; 1. better graphics, doesn't actually matter that much to me but it's a bonus and 2. they've fixed some of the worse gameplay issues I know the old SNES versions could have, things that an unpatient me probably wouldn't have much fun with.

I'm not a huge fan of the first three Final Fantasies, although I appreciate seeing how one of the best RPG series started out and how some of its core features developed. I always have great restecpah for the fact that game developers were still trying out new ideas and basically chiseling out how these things should work when the genre and whole industry was still fairly young. I was very pleasantly surprised by FFIV, feeling like it's one of the first final fantasy games where they actually do some work on the character development making it one of the first in the FF series with some personality to it. Although the story is pretty much the same old same old, good guys need to vanquish evil force (and that hasn't changed much throughout the series), the character interaction is greatly written, humurous and touching. I just love it when a handful of pixels can make me feel so much, actually laughing out loud at the dialogue and getting attached enough to care about their thoughts, actions or when something happens to them.

FFV is, for some reason, the only FF game I had no idea about. Eventhough I hadn't played FFIV and FFVI before, I still had a general idea about the story, main characters and main bad guys, mostly probably because of reading the odd thing here and there on the internet. FFV on the other hand, I didn't know any of these things and I don't know why this game isn't mentioned as much because so far it's actually really good. The only thing I can think of is that it wasn't originally released in western world (FFIV was released as FFII and FFVI was released as FFIII, basically skipping FFV) until years later, meaning most of us over here probably missed out on this game initially. According to the Wikipedia page, the game was intended to be released just as FFIV and FFVI but wasn't considered as accessible to the average gamer, something which if you ask me, is total bullshit. Unless something extremely weird and confusing happens in the second half of the game, it plays really well, is fun and involving just as most FF games. I'm loving what they've done with the job system, allowing you to combine different jobs, and without penalizing you too much for swapping as was the case in FFIII.

MtG 2014
After having played and thoroughly enjoyed MtG 2013, I was very glad to see there was a new game released, following the sports game formula of naming games after the year to come rather than the year it is being released. At first I wondered what could be so different about the games that it warranted me buying a whole new one, including possible DLC content that I tend to buy, but there are actually a couple of things. The campaign looks completely different, with challenges inbetween the duels rather than just a string of duels, and obviously some completely new decks of varying quality. Unlike MtG 2013 I haven't decided to unlock some decks for myself to start out with but thought I'd go as far as I could with the starter decks and unlock them card by card instead. One deck proved to particularly challenging, a white human mob deck, but the benefit is that as soon as you do manage to crush it (think I chose a red life burn deck, going directly to the player rather than through the creatures to win against this one) you get to play the deck yourself, and it has definitely proven to be one of the best. I think, except for a red life burn deck like I played against it, maybe a black sacrifice/pain deck would be a good counter, but other than that the white deck has proved to withstand many different combinations. I haven't gotten that far into the game yet, but am really liking it, especially just being able to jump in for a game or two when I have a couple of minutes to spare. I've also been invited via twitter to do some live stream multiplayer gaming, which I'd gladly try, so we'll see where that ends up.

I'm still running around in Skyrim, pretty aimless at the moment. I think I like it that way, slowly making my way across the country side rather than aiming towards doing certain quests in a certain order. I just see where I end up, going for whatever is closest on the map, until I've cleared it all or bore, I guess. Although most of it is pretty same same - cave with some animals and crazy people that need killing for the meh treasure at the end - I do stumble across some really cool stuff every now and then and I think that's as it should be. Everything doesn't have to blow my mind away, sometimes the mere feeling of discovery is quite enough.

Just to give an example; I found this lighthouse, went in and found lots of dead people lying around. This was unusual, the normal way of things is that every building I find is either filled with bandits to kill or semi-friendly people that I don't need to kill, this was one of the few places I had found where everyone seemed dead already. Turns out I had the opportunity to figure out what had happened to the poor family living there, and the notes they had left talking about "sounds coming from the cellar" did not remove from the eeriness of the whole situation. The whole thing only took me maybe half an hour to get through, but it definitely felt like a game within the game, and I found myself curiously and carefully wandering around the lighthouse to figure out what had happened, coming up with different solutions in my head ranging from the regular bandits to undeads. It had a nice feel and immersiveness to it and I only hope I find more tidbits like that in the game, so far that is probably one of the top three experiences I have had.

The occasional kicking-my-ass boss/mob are also loads of fun, since overall the encounters are fairly simple in the game. I play as a warrior and only use spells scarcely, I can imagine however that relying more on spells probably would make things even easier as they seem to be very powerful. Some fights I run in, swords a-blazing only to get one shot by some skill. I load up and realize that this fight might actually require some tactic and careful choice of skills, those fights are always the most fun. It does remove some of the fun however when I finally manage to kill a hard boss only to find my companion Lydia dead somewhere in a corner. I sigh to myself and load up again, realizing I have to not only fight the encounter, but the stupidity of my companions AI as well. Overall it doesn't bother me too much fortunately, I think I have come to terms with the fact that my companion is about as clever as two thick planks and that half the challenge is to make sure she stays out of trouble.

I like Skyrim for the for the occasional quick exploring session, when I feel like doing nothing special but just run around and see where I end up. Occasionally I find something really interesting, so yeah I'm still having loads of fun with this game.

I've been wanting to give this game a go ever since I first saw it, so when I saw it on sale during the Steam Summer Sale I immediately went for it. I should've known to buy the 4 copy bundle, since it would soon turn out I was going to spread a Terraria fever. First a friend of mine, who had been playing Terraria a lot already when it was released, asked if he could check out what I was doing. He jumped into my world and it didn't take long for him to get hooked. We adventured some and my bf sitting next to me got curious, watching what we were doing over my shoulder and had bought his own copy of the game before long so that he could join us. The three of us spent a whole lot of time running around doing the things you do in Terraria - kill things, mine things, craft things. Another friend of mine saw that I was playing it and decided to check it out as well so that we're soon now four people playing on the same server at the same time. It really is a lot more fun playing it with other people than alone, even if they do take all your stuff.

Terraria is often compared to Minecraft, and I can definitely see why. The basics are the same, with the main difference being Minecraft is in 3d whereas Terraria is 2d. For some reason however, I never had any interest in playing Minecraft, finding the whole building and crafting business seem quite boring. Terraria on the other hand is leaning more toward the killing things, using the crafting and building as more of a tool to be able to kill more difficult enemies. In Minecraft the goal usually ends up to be inventing things to build and overcoming the practical obstacles of getting those things built - that never interested me. I know many people don't even play Minecraft with enemies, focusing only on the gathering of materials to be able to build things, and that's just not for me. Don't get me wrong, I loved playing with Legos when I was little (tbh, I still do), but I think I just don't have the patience of doing all that digging and building with no other goal than just that. I want all that time and work to lead to something concrete, like a better item for me to kill something with, rather than just a building to show for it. Even in Lego I built stuff so that I would have a spaceship or whatnot to be able to battle it out with my friends.

Perler friendly -

I started out playing on Mediumcore, thinking that Softcore was for lamers. After a couple of deaths, and too much time (and more deaths) spent trying to get my hard earned stuff back I realized it just felt too punishing to play Mediumcore, I deeply regretted my choice. Especially once you started getting down to the lava areas where your gear, and other things, can actually incinerate and be gone forever if you're unlucky. Nuhuh, I won't have any of that. Unfortunately to me, seeing all my stuff disappear in front of my eyes, things that probably took hours and hours to get, doesn't entice me to want to get it all back, it makes me want to quit the game altogether. I realized that if I didn't want myself to nerdrage uninstall Terraria in the close future, I needed to reroll into Softcore to save at least the worst of the frustration. Said and done, that's where I am at now. Not that there isn't any frustration left in the game, it's still quite annoying when you spend several minutes to get to a certain place only to get killed and then repeat that process a couple of times. But at least that is just frustrating enough to make me want to overcome it, rather than just give up. Yeah, I admit I'm not a fighter when it comes to games, not much anyway.

The Others
There are still a couple of other games lying around on my desktop that I play every now and then. Black Mesa is still loads of fun, I've just got a bit stuck at a massive shoot out and I need to gather the nerve to burn it through. This just after I got stuck at a pretty annoying avoid-the-lasers platforming part. The funny thing is, if I get stuck at some part in a game I often remember it as being a lot more troublesome than it is, and when I eventually return to it, be it after a couple of days or weeks, I often find that I one shot it and can move on with ease. I'm hoping this is the case with the Black Mesa fight as well, once I go back to try it again.

HoMM2 and HoMM3 will probably never leave my dekstop, simply because they're awesome games that I will always feel like playing every now and then. And when I do... wait let me restart that sentence. I don't always play HoMM3, but when I do, I spend 6 hours at a time. They will just never bore me.

I still have Krater installed, although it's probably months since I last played it. I definitely want to continue that game though, it's simplistic but fun in its style. I just wish it had done a bit more with all that potential, but I'm still curious to see how it continues, I'll get around to that eventually.

The Goners
And now a couple of games I've decided I'm done with for now;
Kotor 2 - I'm sorry to say the bugs got the best of me. I knew I wouldn't have the patience to replay all that I needed to get back to where I was only to maybe, potentially get passed that bug, especially while knowing that there would be more coming up further ahead. I loved the story, I loved the gameplay, but that games was just too broken to be played, at least by me.
HoMM6 - It just can't compete with HoMM2 and HoMM3, so whenever I want some HoMM fun I'll turn to those games instead leaving HoMM6 in the dust. After months of just lying around I decided it was time to uninstall it. It's not bad, it's just not good enough.

Red Rogue -

On The Horizon
In the meantime, the list of games I want to play just keeps growing. Recent additions include;
Red Rogue - Free side-scrolling roguelike
Strife - RPG in the Doom engine, do I need to say more?
Bioshock Infinite - You probably know what this is, third installment in the Bioshock series.

All in all the list is longer than I'd like to think about, on the other hand it is good to know there is always some game around the corner I'd really like to try out, keeping me busy. And as always, I'd love to hear about what games you're endulging in at the moment. I hear both Hearthstone and FFXIVRR is supposed to be really good.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Review on Pokémon Mystery Dungeon - Gates to Infinity

I've come to realize that I am a pretty big fan of the whole "roguelike" game genre, and the reason why is spelled "Pokémon Mystery Dungeon". Until a couple of weeks ago I had never even heard of the term roguelikes, and I was thrilled to realize that although not a big game genre, there are loads of games out there for me to discover that will hopefully entertain me as much as Pokémon Mystery Dungeon has. I'll give you a quick explanation as to what a roguelike game means, before I need to take you a couple years back and some steps away from Pokémon Mystery Dungeon to give you the whole picture of my relationship with these kind of games;

"The roguelike is a sub-genre of role-playing video games, characterized by level randomization, permanent death, and turn-based movement. (...)  Games are typically dungeon crawls, with many monsters, items, and environmental features." -

When I first played a Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game I was struck by how similar it was in style to one of my old time favorites - Azure Dreams to the PS. I'm not sure how well known or popular Azure Dreams ever was (or is), but I put in so many hours into that game, without ever even finishing it. As with most roguelikes, the gameplay to Azure Dreams is fairly simple, and contains a whole lot of dungeon crawling in randomized levels that get increasingly harder. The penalty of dying is different from game to game, but normally you end up losing everything. In Azure Dreams the challenge is reaching the top floor of a tower, each floor being filled with treasures to find and monsters to fight. The trick to Azure Dreams is that everytime you leave the tower, you lose all your levels meaning you have to start from scratch each time. With you however you can have an amount of pets that fight for you, pets that will keep their level and thus be your main weapon against the monsters in the tower and towards reaching the ultimate goal of the top floor. It might sound confusing but is simple, in the end it means going in and out of the tower a whole lot of times, leveling up your pets to always be able to reach a bit further. The biggest critique against roguelikes has probably always been its repetiveness, it is basically designed around redoing the same thing over and over until you get it right.

Inspiration for Pokémon? Some of the Azure Dreams pets -

But then again, many, many games have this kind of gameplay as their core idea, games that usually end up being insanely popular. Tetris, Mario, even a game like World of Warcraft can be said to have this as their main selling point. And eventhough the main goal of most roguelikes is to grind through dungeons, there are often surrounding goals that can be achieved through all that dungeon crawling. In Azure Dreams and the current Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game I am playing, Gates to Infinity, a secondary goal is to build up a society outside of the dungeons where you can further increase your effectiviness inside the dungeons. Both Azure Dreams and PMD require you to gather a strong team of fighters to be able to counter all the kinds of mobs inside the dungeons. To me, roguelike is a game genre I can play for hours and hours on end, and simply not get bored of.

This strong and new found love for roguelikes in general and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon in particular has made me think that the PMD franchise is seriously underrated and unjustly frowned upon. Admittedly I've only played two games so far, but I know they are fairly similar in style and that I would probably enjoy all of them about equally much (ie a lot). Overall the PMD games are probably considered very simple roguelikes but to me that is probably the only really bad thing to say about it. When I read that the DS games had received an average of 6.5 score from I wondered if the reviewer disliked the games compared to other roguelikes or compared to completely different games. I for instance had loads of fun with a game like PMD: Explorers of Time, which was the first PMD I played. Now I realize that there is individual taste and that a 6.5 doesn't mean everyone will think it's just an "okay" game, but it insinuates that it's not a well designed game which I just don't agree with. Again, compared to what? To me it feels like at least this reviewer is hammering down on things that normally are at the core of a roguelike - dungeons that feel the same, and overall repetiveness. Interestingly enough these PMDs have received a much higher overall score from players than from "pro" reviewers. When I saw that the game I'm currently playing, PMD: Gates to Infinity, had received the low score of 4.5, I felt like I needed to give my PoV on this game series, a PoV from someone who actually likes the repetiveness and embraces it.

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon - Gates to Infinity Review

If you like Pokémon and you like roguelikes, you've definitely come to the right place with the PMD-series - offering a whole lot of both. In fact I'd start out right away by saying, if you don't find Pokémon absolutely awesome, you might consider PMD GoI (and pretty much all the other PMD games) a bit heavy on the Pokémon. In GoI you get to start out as one of 5 different Pokémon and also choose one of the remaining ones as your partner Pkmn who will be with you pretty much throughout the game. Depending on your choice you will get different types of skills, but GoI is a fairly easy game overall making the choice more one of taste than one of tactics.

In GoI the main story is about a human being pulled into the pkmn world to save it from "some big threat", and while the story progresses you can do the usual quests which in GoI means taking on jobs to go into dungeons and solve different issues - be it to subdue a boss of sorts, finding and item or rescue some stray pkmn. The story is far from boring although not very deep, but there is a lot of it. I've had cut scenes taking what must've been 15 minutes, and the story progresses fairly quickly meaning that you can have really long cutscenes between every other dungeon that you complete. Because of this I can definitely feel like GoI is a bit heavy on the dialogue side, which fortunately is saved by some really well written and funny characters in the game. The two main characters, namely yourself and your sidekick are probably the least interesting, but your surroundings, both the starting city and the society you build up throughout your playing contains some characters that had me laugh out loud and really feel for them. As a big fan of the whole pkmn franchise I simply love seeing pkmn in this personal and character driven way, considering how plain and comparatively insipid the pkmn are in the main game series. This is something I've mentioned before, but sometimes I really wish they'd borrow the idea from Digimon with pkmn that actually have personalities. Some of the interaction between the socially hateful Scraggy and the aloof Quagsire are simply hilarious and the way the loudmouthed Rampardos is trying to get the Cinccino to notice him is charming. This isn't a game just filled with pkmn that are simplistic and overly good, but with some really well written characters that really add to the overall feel.

The gameplay is pretty standard roguelike and if you've played any of the other PMD games you know what to expect. Every now and then a wild pkmn defeated in a dungeon will ask to join your team, and there are many different pkmn to catch. Just as in the main series, these come with different types that are stronger or weaker against other types. This is something I wish the game would make more of a tactical choice, and although there are certain game elements that reward you for giving some planning to your group composition, overall they really don't make much of a difference in the main story game mode since just about everything you can encounter can be overcome with relative ease. This is the only big problem I have with this game - it's a bit too simple and the big challenges are far apart and not even they are really that difficult. The game will shower you in useful items, meaning you very rarely run out of healing items or other things needed to be able to progress. You need Elixirs to up your PP, otherwise you eventually run out of usable moves. In the beginning I made sure to use the Elixirs as little as possible, assuming they'd be a rare commodity. After some gaming I have more than 60 lying around in my bank and I end up vendoring the ones I gather because the dungeons will provide you with more than you'll ever end up needing. After more than 30 hours of gaming I've only died once in the main story (after hours of easy gaming I was surprised by a pkmn that actually two shot me), and that is not because of my leet skills or cautious game style. It's unfortunate because there are many features in PMD GoI that could be used to force the player to do some real planning and thinking, like how certain types of pkmn get stronger certain days, but the easy difficulty level renders most of them pretty obsolete.

You can't control the rest of your team more than giving them general directions, such as staying together or wandering off on your own. As far as I know this is common for roguelike games and it works well. Because of the easy level of the game I almost always have my entire team walk off on their own, and I very rarely have to worry about them. The AI is nothing special, you can tell your team which skills to use so that they don't get stuck using Tail Whip five times in a row against a mob. Although not clever, the game play is simple enough to make sure the AI won't annoy you either. There are two things that keep me really interested and going in this game - finding the "hard parts" in the dungeons and advancing the village. Most dungeons will have one or several levels where you can find rooms filled with monsters or secret, harder to get to areas where the mobs are a lot tougher than the rest of the dungeon. When you enter these areas the difficulty level rises by a lot, and although far from as challenging as some of the harder roguelikes, they still require tactical thinking and good usage of items to be able to survive.

If you end up feeling like the storymode is either too simple or too much story, GoI offers two other modes for those who just want to get into some dungeon crawling action. The first one, Companion Mode, allows you to suspend your story mode and set out into a dungeon with a second team - simply allowing you to do some dungeon crawling without all the dialogue and storymode interrupting your gaming. The second one is called the Magnagates, a feature I quite like since this is where the game offers some real challenge. By using the camera and looking for round objects in your surroundings you can open up a "magnagate" (walking around your home looking for them is actually more fun than it sounds), a dungeon in which you play a preset team of pkmn and encounter a bit more difficult enemies. You start each dungeon without any items, further increasing the difficulty, although your team keeps any levels you might've gotten previously. The big surprise to me was that if you lose a team member he is gone forever. I haven't even figured out how to fill out your team again, although I assume it is by having wild pkmn join, which means you need to be a lot more careful not to die in the Magnagate dungeons than the storymode and companion mode ones. My preset team started out with three pkmn and I accidentally lost one meaning that every Magnagate I do now is with only two pkmn on the team. Everything gathered in either mode will be sent to the main story mode.

Eventhough I'd love for GoI to be more challenging than it is, it still gets the overall gameplay right. I still find myself drawn in and wanting to do just that one more dungeon all the time. There are many things to do, many pkmn to love, and wanting to explore yet another dungeon just doesn't get boring. Without spoiling too much I can say that the storyline turned out to be more interesting for this kind of game than I initially thought, and although still not comparable to proper story driven games it at least offers some tiny surprises. If you enjoy the roguelike game style and happen to also be a pkmn fan, I don't see any reason not to play this game - not for the challenge, but for the experience. And maybe hopefully in the future, a PMD will be released with some increased difficulty - to me everything else about this game is just about perfect.