Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Anachronox #6 - Sender Station Station

I was wrong again. I wasn't going to a planet named Saunder, I was going to a station named Sender Station (Station) and then I am going to a planet named Sunder. But first, I needed to retrieve my old buddy PAL-18.

Doesn't exactly come off as inviting.

When you start the game you see him lying around in your office, but his battery is busted. I didn't think much more of it, but as I was about to leave Anachronox Fatima reminds me that I would be an asshat to leave my old pal PAL-18 to rust back at Rowdy's (that's the bar where I have my HQ). Ok then? So we head back to where it all began, where some people are still laughing about the fact that I was thrown out a window (I still haven't seen a doctor about that). Oh but first I need a new battery for PAL-18 of course. Fortunately for me, I remembered that there was a guy with a broken robot just around the corner of where I was and I bought the battery of him for a high price. Maybe there were other places to get a battery, but this was good enough.

He hits hard too.

So then I go back to Rowdy's and start up PAL-18 and take him with me to Sender Station Station. Before I can get my tickets however there is a guy is in the way and refusing to move. Time to test out Grumpos skill "Yammer". Every character has a skill, Boots can lockpick, PAL-18 can hack computers (obviously) and Grumpos being a cranky old man can nag people to death. Well ok maybe not death, but he can nag them into submission. Every skill has its own little mini game that you need to succeed in if you want the skill to succeed. Grumpos "Yammer" skill requires you to fill his lungs appropriately... This game guys. It has to be experienced. But then at least we're finally on our way to Sender Station Station.

Some people will show you their ugly drawings.

I wished for some greenery and open air and I got.. none of that. Sender Station Station is a lot more well lit however, so at least I can see where I am going now.

There is always room for meta-humour.

I come across Officer Rukh again, he's the really cool looking police guy I mentioned in a previous post. He'll give you a task to help him out with and if you do he'll give you some cool gear. This time he required me to find some presumably dead guy in some pump station tunnels that led to the Red Light District of Sender Station Station, a place where Boots apparently has spent a lot of time. The enemies down there were probably the toughest I have fought so far (not counting the very first enemy I fought) but still not much trouble.

I love that fountain though.

On Sender Station Station are also a lot of little robots who will sell you random stuff at different rates. If you figure out which one sells what for a higher price you can literally just run back and forth and line your pockets with their apparently endless money. It won't make you a quick buck, but it's definitely a very easy one, and also pretty much the only way to make money here.

There are some other little side quests to do here, one involves hooking up a lonely doctor with some random woman. Otherwise there are a lot of people to talk to and most of them seem to be on different kinds of conferences. Listening in on what they have to say is exactly as hilariously boring and incomprehensible as you'd expect.

Pretty sterile.

Sender Station Station doesn't offer as much as Anachronox, but then it's also just a pit stop on our way to our next destination. I miss Anachronox a little bit but I am sure we're going back there later. Now maybe Sunder can offer some greenery at last?

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Anachronox #5 - The Stinky Sock

The regular entrance to the Mystech tunnels are of course inaccessible so me and Grumpos need to find another way to get in there. Word on the street is that "Eddie knows", you'll get to hear this a lot in fact. There are some quests that need to be done to figure out where Eddie is and then you find out Eddie won't talk to you unless you give him an offering of something that is "stinky and chewy". He needs it to think. What follows will definitely be unforgettable in my mind at least.

We read on the interwebs that some guy severely hurt his foot in an industrial accident. Anachronox medical systems being what they are the guy hasn't gotten any help with it so the foot has been left to fester. Not only that, but he's been wearing the same sock the entire time. Great, a sock full of pus! Chewy and stinky! Don't read any further if you're easy queasy.

Fatima is quite helpful when she wants to be

The game is modern day levels of lenient and helpful when it comes to giving you suggestions and hints as to where to go next. Except for being an idiot at the beginning of the game I have yet to feel evenly remotely confused as to where to go and what to do next. The game is almost too helpful, but I think I prefer that over the option so I am not going to complain about it, yet.

We find the guy with the stinky sock and ask him if we can have it. Without a word he hands it to us, as we probably come off as rambling lunatics and he fears for his life. Poor guy. Off to the junkyard we go to talk to Eddie.

We could've at least given him a new sock.

There is apparently a procedure that needs to be followed when it comes to talking to Eddie, he's a very popular guy. But as soon as Eddie sees, and presumably smells, our sock he agrees to let us cut the line and bureaucratic bullsh*t. The image of Eddie munching on that horrid sock will never leave my mind. But we get our answer, the guy guarding the door to the Mystech tunnels has a family secret we can use to blackmail our way inside.

And so, we're finally here. I am curious how Deannamo made it in here considering all the trouble we had to go through, but never mind. Now I am actually more concerned about what kind of creatures dwell down here and how much they are going to hurt me. Turns out all that leveling in the junkyard has been really helpful, most enemies in the tunnels aren't much of a threat anymore.

Looks confusing, but really isn't.

It also helps that I've found
new weapons for both Boots and Grumpos. It really pays off to closely inspect your surroundings, because both weapons we're just lying around on the ground like any old rock. In these graphics items stand out a bit fortunately so they weren't too difficult to find. They actually doubled my damage output on both characters and I think without them the tunnels would've actually proven to be quite a challenge.

At first I thought the game was a bit mean to leave weapons lying around like that. What if I had missed them?! But fortunately I find out later that the weapons are now also available in the gun shop, so if I had missed them I would've been none the wiser and not much worse off.

It's surprisingly easy to control.

The Mystech tunnels are straight forward. Literally. No worries about getting lost here. There is even a little mini game on a speeder in the middle, that some kind person has left lying around for us. How considerate. At first I didn't realize you were supposed to hit some of the boxes, so I actually replayed the section a few times to get it right. If you die you get the option to skip the section entirely, I guess that's pretty nice of them?

Honestly, I wish more games had this option...

As soon as I set my foot in the tunnels my first thought of the possibility of there being some boss in this game popped into my head. And as it turns out yes, at the end of the tunnel we have to fight a huge Stone Sentinel in a fight that is not particularly difficult. The Sentinel has a schtick that he sign posts well in advance, and as long as you just play along with the tactic you won't even take a hit (which might be the idea since it looks like he could one-shot you).

Big but stupid.

Unfortunately our Mystech
find at the end of the tunnels gets robbed from us immediately. It's been hinted in the game that you'll be able to visit other planets too and it seems that's where were at now. I am going to a planet called "Saunder" (maybe?) to talk to some guy about something. It'll be cool to see if this planet looks completely different from Anachronox. As much as I genuinely enjoy the aesthetics of this place, I am looking forward to maybe some greenery or open space.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Anachronox #4 - Paparazzi

This game gives the term "noir" a new meaning

"Ask and ye shall be answered" is not a saying that exists, but it should because that is pretty much exactly what happened to me. In my previous post I was still wondering what the heck the camera was used for but it took about ten minutes into my next play session and I had my answer. People around Anachronox will give you missions, and so far all those missions have been to take pictures of one or several items/persons and return. These quests are quite lucrative so of course they're something you want to do, because there are some really nice looking equipment at Zordo's that I want to buy...

The casino area, aptly named "Casinox"

On the other hand it means you might need to take part in things that you don't really agree with, like the police man who asks you to take pictures of a certain alien so that he can round them up and beat them just because they look suspicious. Let me just say, that one was actually a difficult one for me to even consider accepting. I had to really remind myself that it's only a game and I am not that kind of person really. In a way I am glad to be confronted with these situations in games because they allow me to reflect on my own behaviour. 

Some people share a bit more about themselves than necessary.

While the menu is pretty good at helping you keep track of quests I have still not come across any map. You really need to remember where everything is so I've taken to write down little notes. I do find my way around pretty well now and everything is sign posted, but to remember exactly where some quest giver was standing you'd better not rely entirely on your memory.

This dude is way cooler than me! I want to be this guy!

I haven't mentioned the music yet and that's because it's pretty unassuming, at least so far. I wouldn't call it ambient, like something out of Metroid, but it's definitely not you're regular type of soundtrack. I'm guessing they're trying to go for something that you can listen to quite a lot without it becoming annoying and I think they succeed though there definitely haven't been any stand out tracks either. For better or worse they fade from your memory as soon as you turn off the game.

These guys just wants to mess you up for some reason

Me and Grumpos (because that's is his real name, and not whatever I said in the last post) haven't ventured down into the catacombs for Mystech yet and that might be just as well because I am not in any hurry to have limbs torn from my body. Instead I found a junkyard area which was littered with goons and some other little critters. Grumpos hits really hard with his stick and I've been able to get some well needed levels here. When you level up it makes a huge difference, you get loads more hp and hit way harder. I am suspecting I am going to need all of that extra power when I go down into the catacombs.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Anachronox #3 - Made a New Friend

I felt quite stuck in Anachronox and had to shame myself by looking at a walkthrough. It was even more shameful when I realized that the only reason I was stuck wasn't because of some impossible-to-figure-out set of events that I hadn't managed to complete, but that I had simply forgotten that I could lock pick. Although the game literally told me just an hour earlier. Oh well, that little reminder quickly set me on the right path, so let's hope I won't have any more horrible short term memory and can now go on my merry way. You can't really blame the game design when it's simply the gamer literally being an idiot.

As with any good RPG, you can help yourself into other people's homes.

There is a function in the game I hadn't forgotten about though but have still no idea what to do with - the camera. I even checked through the entire manual without finding anything about it. When I got stuck I was sure there was something I had to take a picture of to continue the story, but just couldn't figure out what that would be. Well, I was wrong. So far I have found no use for the camera other than maybe to remember certain areas, for which it is actually quite handy. And maybe that is all it is for? A notebook of sorts? I would be ok with that.

I think you need a doctor more than you need that whiskey.

Anyway, I lockpick my way into Deanamo's room - she's the woman I was supposed to talk to about a job - and when I find her she is missing two limbs, but doesn't seem too angry about it. That does explain why she couldn't open the door for me though. She helps me along the way to find my new party member, whom I think is named Grummas or something. Grummas is indirectly the reason Deanamo was missing some limbs and at first I thought I was going to smack him a bit for it, but turns out that I am more interested in earning money than setting other people's revenges. 

Like I mentioned before the place is huge, and they've gated some sections off. There are plenty of doors that look like they could be entered but that are simply closed and guards guard some paths that you can't walk to yet. They've got some inventive ways to explain these closures though, one guard kindly told me that I had to wait for a guy who was on fire to "put himself out" before I could go down that path. In the background I could see the guy running screaming back and forth. Ok then.

Promised you a picture of a Time Minder. It's to the left.

Anachronox also seems to be shifting. You get to see a bit of this in a short cut scene right at the beginning, and throughout when you're playing they will announce these shifts. While it's not anything that I've physically seen happen, they do explain some cut off sections with being unsafe to traverse at the moment because of the shifts. We'll see if that is the only part these shifts will play in the story.

You can choose to control any character, and they interact differently with the world.

Me and Grummas are heading down into some corridors or vaults or something to find some "Mystech", left behind by the mysterious alien race that built Anachronox before they were all killed by an even more mysterious plague. Whatever messed up Deanamo is also down there, so wish me luck.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Anachronox #2

This place is absolutely huge. And full of colorful people. And rejoice, I figured out a half-assed but successful way of taking screenshots so you too can see this game in all its graphical splendor.

I went to Whackmaster Jack's because I needed to learn how to combat. It's pretty straight-forward and quite similar to the combat in a game like Koudelka though I'm not sure how many people have played that RPG...

You've basically got an ATB timer and when it is full you can choose to do things like move, attack or use items. There are also special skills you can use. The enemies hit quite hard and I've already died once because of it. Also, even though your ATB gauge is full and it is your turn to choose action, the enemies ATB gauge don't pause. But since you can't see the enemies' gauge on screen I didn't realize this until I had already been pummeled into the floor.

Battles are rare so far. Some times you can see the enemy before you and some times they jump you from off screen. The few battles I've had so far have only occurred in the same spots so it seems entirely scripted where they're going to turn up. If you struggle with a certain encounter you can just choose not to go that way yet.

These M.I.B are mean.

The world, or planet-spaceship thingy, that is Anachronox is filled with aliens of all types.

There are really a lot of fun people to discover. I had a robot throw himself into a fountain (not a regular water fountain, but a deadly space-beam fountain). He claimed he would do it for a buck, but he did in fact do it for free.

Thanks dude...

So far I only have a few clues as to where to go and what to do next and when I seem to be where I need to be it still doesn't seem like I am getting anywhere. It is clear that I am supposed to explore the areas or at least that is pretty much all that is available for me to do at the moment. I don't mind though since there is a lot to explore and loads of fun characters around. Everyone I have spoken to so far, which is pretty much every creature I have come across, has a lot of dialogue as well. They've gone to lengths with the world building here.

The lighting (extremely dark and gloomy) and the setting (sort of a space-station thing) reminds me a lot of System Shock 2. The reason the place looks the way it does is kind of explained in the game and it's pretty interesting. If it is a bigger part of the story of the game I am sure I will talk about it again.

Depending on your settings you can only save at special "Time Minders" which are little fairy-monster looking creatures that apparently go through their entire life simultaneously. You can't tell by looking at them though (forgot to screenshot them this time). I was a bit worried about the prevalence of these save spots, but they're fairly common, at least so far.

Any reason to want to live is a good reason

Anachronox is supposed to be home to the scum (so what I am doing here?) of the galaxy but most people you meet seem pretty ordinary, at least on the outside.

This robot offered to take me anywhere in Anachronox for just a buck. I asked him to take me to Frank's Flophouse since I had a lead there, and the robot just took my buck and laughed at me. I hadn't realized I was standing right next to the place I needed to go...

Monday, June 15, 2020

I Am Playing Anachronox

Did you ever play a game called Anachronox? I had never really heard about it until it fell into my lap somehow and with Eidos Interactive and Ion Storm behind it, it sounded great (though they did also release Daikatana so no one is perfect…). Anachronox was released a year (2001) after Deus Ex and is also a science-fiction RPG with cyberpunk aesthetics. I really don't know much more than that about it (I didn't need to, that was enough to have me throw money at it!), but I just started playing it. I only got half an hour into it though before my headphones died, but so far so good.

I have a really soft heart for these late-90s, early 00's computer graphics and Anachronox is a great example of it. The faces, the blocky hands, the claustrophobic environments, what is there not to love? A lot of the graphics often, probably completely unintentionally, give off a really creepy vibe to me but I quite enjoy it (Omikron: The Nomad Soul is another good example of this).

To my great sadness it doesn't seem I can take screenshots from the game, at least not the way I am doing it. But just imagine the above chin in two pixels and you get the idea.

Internet saves me when my computer fails me.

30 minutes into the game I've already been punched thirty times and been thrown out of a window. Since that only gave me a black eye I am clearly immortal. My nickname is Boots (Sly Boots even!) because I am a detective and you can't be a detective without being called "Boots". I've got a dead computerized woman following me, telling me I'm a lazy bum. But she throws shields at me during fights so I guess she likes me anyway. Oh yeah, and mana isn't called mana in this game, it's called "bogue". Or was it "bouge"?

*quick internet search later*

Ok so "bogue" is at least a real word but the definition does not make any sense in the context it is being used in the game.

Anyway. It's quite promising so far, but I know by experience a lot can change. My biggest issue with games from this area is that they can be too confusing some times, meaning it takes me ages either to figure out what I need to do next or to find the thing I need to do next. This game has already shown some promise in this regard however, since it has a nice quest-up-display. I haven't seen a map yet though...

Images from mobygames.com and anachronox.fandom.com.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Final Fantasy VII Remake - Review

At around 41 hours of gameplay and having watched through the entirety of the credits, I realized last night that I had played through a masterpiece. I had played through the first part of Final Fantasy VII Remake.

I can throw in the towel at once and just straight up admit that I don't have the linguistical prowess to do this game justice in any kind of review. I simply don't have the words to adequately convey in what ways this game affected me and the feelings I felt throughout.

But I am going to damn well give it a good try. Let's start out with quoting myself (like all good writers) from my previous post, when I had only played a few hours of the game and gave it my first, careful thoughts.

"...a few hours into the game and I have barely anything to complain about. So far it is everything I hoped for and it gives me all of the nostalgia from the original while also infusing it with a fresh and new feeling. I am hoping the manage to keep it this good throughout, because then I am envious at myself for the absolutely amazing journey that lies ahead of me."

I doubt I have ever been more correct about anything in my life, and I couldn't be happier about it. The journey was in fact so amazing, I can't even be sad about the fact that I have completed it. I am just happy. So happy that I got to know these people, got to spend some time with them. And if I am lucky, in a not so distant future I might get to meet them again.

Did I even know these people before? Biggs, Wedge, Jesse. Aerith, Tifa, Barret. I have played through the original FFVII two times and played parts of it a couple of times more. I've always felt like I knew most of the game thoroughly. I thought I had a clear idea of who these characters were, whom I liked and whom I didn't so much. I realized as I played through this game though that not only did I not have a clue who they really were, I didn't actually like most of them that much before. For some reason I never could stand Tifa. Aerith was bearable. Jesse, Biggs and Wedge were barely in the original game enough for me to start caring about them. In fact this goes for pretty much every character in the original game, they're all kind of vague and never fleshed out enough for me to feel like I had a good sense of what kind of people they were. 

The first amazing thing the remake does is smack me over my head and go "look at them. LOOK AT THEM! They are great people! They are people you want to know. They are people you are glad you got to know. They are people that you will miss...". 

The remake takes the original game and decides to flesh out everything about it. When I first had daydreams about a remake of FFVII, many many years ago, I couldn't even really think of what I wanted them to "remake". The graphics maybe? But surely the story and gameplay are perfect the way they are? I realize now I was wrong. There is in fact a whole bunch of things about the original that was worth putting more time into, but I could've never thought that what they did to the characters would so fundamentally change the way I felt about them.

I love them all now. I love Tifa, and Aerith, Barret and Jesse and all of the others. They are multifaceted people with agency, camaraderie and humour. They will make you laugh out loud and cry into a pillow, they will make you want to hear their thoughts and make you wish they would stay around longer.

Graphically the game is far from perfect. I found many oddly low rendered objects and there were several times when I wondered if I was playing on a ps2 or a ps4. It felt weird because on the one hand there was great detail and world-building put into this game and on the other hand you could run past an object that almost looked like it didn't belong in the game because the graphics were all wrong. Some parts felt a bit rushed, but contradictively in the end the game still managed to make me feel like everything had been given the utmost care and love. I attribute that to atmosphere and probably a hefty does of nostalgia. How amazing isn't it to see and be in the locations of the game you played 20 years ago, but in completely reimagined and new graphics? 

Odd low resolutions aside, and I don't even care about them, they managed so incredibly well with keeping the feeling of Midgar, and just like with the characters they even enhanced, expanded and evolved the city. Running through it you can almost smell the dust and rust, you can feel the pressure of the plates above you. The first time I swung the camera around and looked up on the upper plate hanging over my head I was completely awe-struck. This was a feeling the original game never managed to convey to me, though to its credit it did incredibly well with the graphics at its disposal (I mentioned this in my previous post as well).

Cloud and his merry band of rag tags look great, I am absolutely on board with all the character designs which are very close to the originals anyway. I decided to go with Japanese voice acting and thought it worked great for all the characters in the game.

Overall I am completely blown away by how well they have walked the precise and fine line regarding the whole "what to change and what to keep". Hats off! I think the audio and music is an area that shows this perfectly, where they have opted to keep almost all of the original soundtrack basically intact, while letting the re-arrangements be optional jukebox tracks. Every single track that came on, with one exception, gave me a huge smile on my face. They did an absolutely amazing job with making the original soundtrack sound perfectly nostalgic and perfectly new at the same time. I've got confirmation that the soundtrack simply is timeless.

Moving on to something they went on to change quite a bit instead, the combat system. As I already mentioned in the previous post, I had my trepidations especially regarding the changes made to the combat system as I am personally quite a big fan of the FFVII ATB system. A few hours into the remake however and I wouldn't want the combat to run any other way. I can see their vision and idea that the original ATB system just wouldn't work as well with the modern concept and I think they are absolutely correct. The new system which is more active and action filled works so well and is so much fun. I almost wish this game had random encounters so I could just run in circles and mess things up.

The story too has been changed to contain so much more of everything. It almost gives me vertigo thinking about it. I read somewhere that the original Midgar section takes about 7-8 hours to complete. If this remake is any indication of the work going into the rest of the game, we're looking at a story and game time enhancing at the magnitude of five times. If the original game then takes about 75-80 hours to complete, does that mean the finished remake will take around 400 hours to complete? I swoon at the thought of it. But having played through this remake I definitely don't hold it to be impossible.

I end up not disliking any of the story changes they have done. They're barely even changes, the story keeps very closely to the original but fleshes it out with side quests and new side characters. I love it all because in the end I just want more of everything that is this world. I hope we haven't seen the last of Leslie for instance (apparently he is part of a side-story manga?)! And again, the feeling of having so many memories, and so much nostalgia for a thing and then getting to relive it in a new and fascinating way just can not be put into words. It has to be experienced. I doubt any other media can have this effect either. A movie remake or a re-telling of a good book just couldn't do what Resident Evil Remake or FFVII Remake has done.

Playing through the game on normal I never felt it was too hard or too easy. It was exactly tuned to fit me. And that can actually be said for the entire game. Is it perfect? Probably not. Am I biased and affected by nostalgia? Probably. But I can't recollect the last time I felt so strongly that this is a game made for me. I am the exact target group for FFVII Remake. Every corner I turn, every line Barret says, every fight I get into I just feel yes, yes, yes! This is exactly what I wanted FFVII Remake to be, even though I never even knew it myself. SquareEnix have managed to open up my brain and pick out every single element required to make a game that resonates so hard with me I can feel my bones vibrating.

My biggest issue here is that I can't objectively tell whether this is actually a good game or not. I am so ensnared into the nostalgia of the original game that it is impossible for me to say if these characters and this story will mean anything to anyone who doesn't have any previous history with it. I can't even tell if SquareEnix has actually tried to make it into a game that anyone would enjoy or if this is a treat just for the fans. But that's ok, right? I think we deserve it.

"Here, we made this for you. We know you have been waiting for a very long time and we hope you will enjoy it".

Oh I did SquareEnix, I did. And I will be eternally grateful to you for the experience that is FFVII Remake.