Sunday, April 10, 2016

Unfinished Look At Ys Origin - Lost Momentum

Considering RPGs are one of my favorite video game genres, there are frightingly many I haven't played. And I'm not even talking about individual games, but entire game series where I haven't played through a single game - eventhough I might have played a bit of a game here or there. Series like Dragon Quest, Secret of Mana, Shin Megami Tensei and Breath of Fire to name a few. A small reason for this is that I didn't play video games at all when a lot of these games were released, and so I've either had to play emulators or buy expensive copies (RPGs always tend to get really expensive over time). Another reason is that eventhough I love RPGs, I rarely have the patience to sit through the 40-some hours they want from me. I guess in the end I am actually quite picky and I've started up countless RPGs just to quit halfway because I got stuck on something lame. FFVI is one such game. And unfortunately so is Ys Origin.

The Ys series is yet another of many that I had never played a game of, until recently when I decided to get a bundle of them on and see if they were any fun. I had in fact not even heard of the Ys series at all until a couple of years ago, somehow it's a series that just went under my radar. I asked around about which game to start with, since I had both Ys Origin and Ys I to choose from, but got the recommendation of going with Ys Origin. So I did.

And I liked it at first. I often do. Some RPGs suffer from a really dull opening hour or two of the game, like Suikoden V and Star Ocean 3. But Ys Origin got into the action fairly quickly and I liked the fast paced combat system. The story is dumb as two thick planks, something about some spirits or angels getting lost in a tower and your village goes in to investigate. As far as I understood it the entire game takes place in said tower, because for the 9 hours I played it I never got anywhere else. It looks good enough, but it's hardly thrilling. You get to choose between two different characters to play, a melee and a caster. I chose the caster, Hugo Fact, simply because I had had a streak of playing melee characters in other games up until this point and felt like I wanted to try something else. Apparently that might've been a bad choice since a friend told me Hugo Fact is the less fun of the two. I can't say anything to that since I never tried the melee character, but I thought playing Hugo was alright.

So as mentioned the story was completely uninspiring, the surroundings alright and the combat fairly fun. The game eased you in quite nicely and had some spikes of difficulty here and there that kept you on your toes. The bosses were generally fun and required a bit of tactic in the style of the Zelda games to beat. I remember I died over and over to one boss before I found out that you can actually run (I like being stupid like that) - making that particular fight a walk in the park. So I had a moderate amount of fun with Ys Origin, but as with many other RPGs I have tried to get through it was balancing on the scale, still leaning in on the "fun" side but could so easily slip into the "tedious" side. And then it happened.

I'm guessing I was about half way through the game (but I don't actually have a clue), when I came across a type of enemies that regenerated after you had killed them. You needed a special item to kill them dead - no problem. I found the item and continued on my merry way. Or so I thought. Suddenly I come across the same enemy, but as door guardians. Regular enemies but in a stronger iteration of which you have to kill a certain few to unlock a door, again it reminded me of the Zelda games. In this case it was three. So what was the problem?

I did 1 damage to these enemies. At first I sort of giggled at it. I've come across these kind of enemies in other games before - Castlevania is a good example. Often they're designed either to have a shit ton of health and you require a certain item to deal more damage to them, or they really only have a little health but maybe a dangerous skill or attack that you need to be vary of. These enemies however seemed to have both. They both had a shit-ton of health and they dealt a shit-ton of damage. I easily dealt a hundred damage (that is, a hundred attacks) to one of them without it dying, whereas he killed me in two or three strokes. Now I had to kill three of these guys consecutively, without saving inbetween, or they would just reset and I had to start over. It didn't matter really that I didn't have to take them on all at the same time. The fact that it took several minutes just to deal with one, only to possibly have all that time wasted after a few blows to my character was frustrating beyond words. It was frustrating way beyond fun. (I only found the above video while researching for this post, but I hate having to do cheap tactics to deal with enemies. That is bad design).

All I could think was - "why would you design an enemy like this or an event like this?". As an optional side-quest/kill to get a special item, sure. As a way to progress the story? Hell no.

My mind when I realized what I had to do -

At first I was certain I was doing it wrong. Surely there must be some item I needed to make it easier? But if there is, I never figured it out. So I assumed I had to resort to good old grinding. Now, I am not a huge fan of grinding levels in games, but I will definitely get my hands down and dirty with it if I need to. Or rather, if I feel like it's worth it. I have done it in many, many other games and I had already done it a couple of times in Ys Origin before this point in the game. I did try to get another couple of levels, realizing that each level only made the fight against these monsters marginally easier, making the 15-20 minuted I had spent with mindless grinding so not worth it. I decided that enough was enough. The game had its strong points, or at least one strong point in the combat, but nothing else to make me want to put in that level of effort. And even if the combat is fun, if you have no reason to see what happens at the end of a game there is only so far the combat can take you. I had already done 9 hours of combat, it definitely wasn't enough of a motivating factor to make me want to go through this tedious part of the game when I felt like there was no reward to it.

It's unfortunate, because for all its flaws Ys Origin at least had momentum enough to keep me interested on very little for a whole 9 hours. Being able to basically spam your way through enemies was rewarding enough (as any good hack'n'slash will tell you), but that all came crumbling down when the momentum was brought to a literal stop. I don't mind doing a couple of tries on a boss or a tricky area, in fact without a bit of challenge a game is no fun either. But I just felt like this was a cheap trick at wasting my time, and I didn't want any of it.

In the future I might give it another go with the melee character instead, eventhough I really don't think this particular part of the game will be any more easy or fun. For now however, Ys Origin is just another game on my list of "almost fun"-games that I could never bother to get through.

(Ps. There won't be any posts for two weeks, because I am travelling. See you in May!)

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Review of Tribloos 2 - Time Management Optional

I've got an ambigious relationship to puzzle games. On the one hand I think they can be an awesome way to spend those tidbits of time you find yourself with here and there, on the other hand I am easily frustrated and pretty much require a simplistic gameplay to stick around. This means I pass over more intricate puzzle games like Braid, Myst and Safecracker immediately whereas I'll play Bejeweled or Tetris as much as the next person. I think where I get frustrated is whether I have to figure what needs to be done to move on or not. Games like Bejeweled or Tetris are extremely straightforward as to what the goal is, doing it as good as possible is the challenge. Games that require logical and/or out of the box thinking are just not for me. It's funny then that eventhough I do enjoy the simplistic puzzlers, I spend exactly zero amount of time on Facebook and smartphone games. I think the cash-grabbiness that haunts 95% of those games has just sucked the fun out of it for me... but that's a topic for another post!

Didn't even hear about the first game...

Then you've got the puzzle games that are a little bit inbetween, like Tribloos 2. And I think in a way they might be the best ones. Because as a time-management game, Tribloos 2 gives you the incentive for careful planning and logical thinking, but the gameplay is designed so that it's not necessary. Getting a good time score is just a bonus to your points, not a requisite to advance in the game. That suits me perfectly.

Funnily enough, my very first thought when starting up Tribloos 2 (I've got it on Steam) was that it looked exactly like a Facebook game. I mean this in the same sense you can recognize a 16-bit or 64-bit game by their aesthetics, you can pretty much spot a Facebook/Ios game by the way they look as well. I had never heard of Tribloos nor Tribloos 2 and I have no idea how it ended up in my Steam library. Probably the same way a lot of other games have, through some bundle or other (I've found surprisingly many good games through bundles).

The story of Tribloos 2 is simple enough and obviously just an excuse to get the puzzling going. You're basically controlling a bunch of Tribloos that need to rebuild various buildings throughout the 75 stages that the game apparently holds (I've currently reached stage 50 or so). At first it reminded me a bit of Lemmings in that you need to manage where to go and what to do with the Tribloos. Different buildings allow you to harvest recourses (there are also resources scattered around the stages) that allow you to build further buildings - in this it reminded me a bit of games like Settlers or Warcraft (without any of the fighting). The challenge lies in managing your recources and Tribloos (technically also a resource), so that they're put to the most effective use throughout the stage.

Tribloos can't breathe underwater, silly buggers

The stages vary from forest, to air, to sea, to underground (at least as far as I've come) and the game throws in new recources and challenges to manage all along. As mentioned, graphically and aesthetically it does what it needs to do without any wow-factor. It gives you information about the stage and is definitely more practical than eye pleasing, but the Tribloos themselves are pretty charming. I find it hilarous that the game actually loads graphics when you start it up, because there can hardly be anything to load.

The game eases you into the concept nice and slow, and personally I don't feel like it ever forces any real challenge on you. This is both its strength and its weakness. If you want to, and don't give a damn about the time score, you can play this game without giving it much thought at all. If you just keep some rule of thumb in mind, like always making sure to build the lumber mill that allows for unlimited planks first, the game rarely throws you any curve balls or tricks you into wasting your resources in the wrong places.

Work work - (

If you do care about the time score however, you'll probably need to scout out the level ahead and plan every step of the way. Some levels throw in an aspect of timing, where you need to deploy your Tribloos at the right time to not waste time. Some levels are basically designed like bonus stages and play a bit with the concept, I definitely prefer the standard levels however. Overall, Tribloos 2 reminds me a bit of Yoshi's Story, or the Hard Modes (not heroic modes) in World of Warcraft. The way you play the game basically decides whether it's going to be any challenge or not. Whether you're going to beat the stage or not is never the issue, whether you're going to do it good and get the extra rewards is however.

I like Tribloos 2, as a game to play for a bit here and there it's alright. It really feels like it's perfectly designed to be played on the go. It's great in the sense that it doesn't matter whether you want a challenge or just something to waste a bit of time with, you decide how the level plays out and this just further emphasises the Facebook-game feel. I wouldn't say it's worth the 9 euro Steam wants for it normally (when posting this it's actually 90% off), because unfortunately the gameplay doesn't feel well enough worked out. Eventhough I enjoy the fact that the game is simple at its core, it's almost too simple, removing a lot of the feeling of satisfaction of completing a stage (a problem I find most Facebook games seem to have). The time score alone doesn't make up for this, personally I would've prefered a more complicated stage layout that required more planning to manage your resources, and not just your time. I am torn between liking that it's not just designed for puzzle nerds, and thinking that that in turn makes it too simple to be worth 9 euro. But if you're into puzzles and have a euro lying around, this might well be worth checking out.