Thursday, July 16, 2020

Anachronox #10 - Hephaestus

Sarah doesn't go by the name Sarah anymore, now she is known as Stiletto. Stiletto Anyway, even. Yeah, even the game acknowledges that it's a stupid name, but apparently Stiletto has wanted to re-invent herself and this is the result. Stiletto is nowhere near as cool and useful in combat as Rho Bowman though, in fact she is probably my least useful character so far. But Sly likes her. Fatima, my dead ex-secretary turned into computer doesn't like her though, because apparently she broke Sly's heart or something.

As we discuss how to get the item we need out of the Mystech Museum, PAL-18 decides to go off on his own to solve the problem. We play as PAL-18 for a short bit until he gets, needlessly I might add, rescued by Stiletto who then also decides to join forces with us. I didn't really catch what her motivations for that were, other than that she didn't really have much else to do at the moment.

PAL-18 tries to prove himself.

Rho gives us a quick lesson on what seems to be happening. First of all, there is the Big Bang and the Big Crunch. The universe expands and contracts cyclically forever. This can only happen because there is a certain amount of matter available in each universe. Apparently, someone is dumping matter from a previous universe into our current universe (don't know how a previous universe exists to be able to do that, but that's how it is) and it will eventually lead to our current universe crunching into non-existance earlier than it's supposed to. We need to stop this from happening, obviously.

Rho tries to keep it simple.

Now that we've got the item Rho wanted, it is time to take on Grumpos task of getting to the Mystech Library on Hephaestus - the lava planet where Mystech comes from. Since Rho accidentally activated Mystech all over the known universe, the monks on Hephaestus have been very quick to earn money from it by churning out Mystech from the lava and sell it. It's already a booming business, and some people are saying that they only do it for the money but the monks themselves assure everyone it's for the good of the universe.

Hephaestus, such a nice place for a vacation.

However that may be, as we get to Hephaestus we quickly learn that the abbot of the monastery won't give us access to the library unless we can solve some problems for him first. Of course.

What the game doesn't tell you at this point is that whomever you happen to have in your party when you leave Sender Station Station for Hephaestus are the only people you bring along (though I think you can technically fly back to SSS at any point to swap members, it is a bit of a trek - literally). Every other time the party has stuck together, except for that one time when PAL-18 didn't come along to the Hive for some reason. When you get to Hephaestus the party also agrees to split up, meaning Boots is on his own at first. You can see your chosen party members, in my case Grumpos and Stiletto, walk around the areas on their own, so that is a nice touch.

Have to get everything done myself.

Let me tell you a little bit about some creatures called "Bipidri". When I first came across them I thought they were tiny maintenance robots. I think they're biological creatures though and it seems to be a running gag (if you want to call it that) how mistreated they are by pretty much everyone. They're eaten, kept as pets and abused in every imaginable (and unimaginable, as you'll find out in the Red Light District...) way, though I am fairly sure they're sentient to some extent. I really hope the game resolves the Bipidri side-story by me setting them free or something. I really feel for these little cuties.

I mean they have suitcases, they need to be sentient right?

Let me talk a little bit about the music too. When I mentioned it before I said that it was a bit subdued and I hadn't really noticed it. That was on Anachronox and things have changed significantly since then. Interestingly enough the music has taken a big step up and offers quite a wide range of genres and there are loads of great tracks here. When I go down into the underworks of SSS there is a track that I swear could be straight out of FFIX. And then you have this nice little jazzy tune that plays on Hephaestus or this cool spacey techno tune (can't remember where that plays though). There were many composers on this soundtrack so maybe their diverse talents shine through here, either way it is well worth listening through, I can almost promise you'll find something you like.

Said no one ever.

Back to the abbot and his problems then. First of all you need to refill some substance they're running low on and secondly someone has stolen some relics from the monastery and you need to find the thief. Getting the substance means going down into the lavaworks with all its hazards. Before you're done down there you'll have struggled through poisonous gas, tried not to be electrocuted and avoiding spouting lava that would've made Bowser proud. Great fun in other words.

Everything is a maze.

My second task is more up Boots' alley, some good old detective work. It mostly revolves around questioning a lot of people about where they were and whom they suspect but in the end I find the culprit thanks to some nasty grit found on the crime scene. Before I go to apprehend the thief however it is time to round up my team again, it's always better to not go into those situations on your own.

But the game makes sure you don't get lost.

I could harp on about how great this game is, and I will probably say it a couple of times more before I am done playing it. It really is more of reading a crazy book than it is "gamey", and maybe that is what could put people off. You do have to do a lot of talking, but so far I haven't tired of it because they all say hilarious things. You just know that something completely unexpected and funny is going to happen around every corner and I kinda don't want this game to end.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Anachronox #9 - Red Light District

So we're back at Sender Station Station. From here you can choose to either help Grumpos find more information on Mystech on a planet called something like Haephestos or help Rho find more information on why planets get blown apart. I choose to help Rho first simply because I like her better. Also, her cause seems a tad bit more urgent.

Time for some more mini-games while we relax.

Rho needs some pieces of equipment to continue her research, and to get one of them we need to head down to the Red Light District on Sender Station Station. Remember when I mentioned that a few posts back? Probably not. To get to it we have to run through the pump station tunnels and I swear this game must be reading my blog posts or something because since I complained mentioned the difficulty level of the combat in my previous post I can almost physically see how the game rolled up its sleeves to open a can of whoopass on me. I've gone from not having any trouble at all to actually having to act quite carefully in combat. While I have yet to have anyone die, they get down to red health now and I have to make sure I equip the right trinkets (bracelets in this game though) so I don't get "winky'd", which I think is the equivalent of "confused" in every other game ever. I don't know what the status "nuts" does either, but it ain't good.

These guys got really difficult suddenly.

Did I also mention that you level really quickly? Because that's not true anymore. I actually have to grind a bit and get some new gear before I feel like I can venture further down the pump station tunnels but it turns out there aren't very many enemies down here fortunately. It does help that Grumpos has an aoe full heal at his disposal, though you have to wait a while to use it which puts my character dangerously low on health. It's all about tactical choices, and it's quite fun.

I find these anthills everywhere but don't know what they do.

And then I get to the Red Light District which is exactly as tragically decadent as I assume every Red Light District is. You're going to have to suffer through a whole lot of wanking euphemisms before you're done in this area so buckle up.

Nothing is subtle here.

In one of the pubs there is actually an opportunity to earn some cash by doing some sexy (?) dancing. I was immediately reminded of Cloud in the Honey Bee Inn and the gameplay is very similar. I do it a couple of times to try and nail it but I keep getting the same part wrong... I know I am actually horrible at rhythm games so maybe it just wasn't meant to be, sorry Boots for making a fool out of you.

Of course I needed a copy of "Deus Sex".

Speaking of something completely else though, I haven't had to use my camera for anything since I left Anachronox. But now that I mention it here I am sure the game is going to pick up on it and have me use it for something in my next play session. That would be extremely creepy. This game is definitely weird enough to be its own sentient being.

But you don't have to get naked.

I go into another bar and see what must be my next team member dance around for a bit. Then she makes a magnificent leap through the air and assassinates some thug-looking people standing in a corner (I know they are thug-looking because they look like the guy who beat the crap out of me in the beginning of the game). Boots seems to know who she is and calls out "Sarah" after. She basically says "oh hai" as she walks past him and runs out of the bar. The main reason I suspect that she is another team member is because she on the box art.

That just leaves one more team member to find, which must be the other dude on the game box. Interesting that the last two members for your team are the ones on the box art, nice way to spoil that!

As dangerous as she looks.

We're still not done on Sender Station Station though, now I need to figure out how to smuggle myself into the Tech-Museum to steal an item I need in there. I'm pretty sure I need to go through the vents but I haven't really figured out how yet. Maybe this Sarah person can help me with that?

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Anachronox #8 - Cyberinsects

Finding the votes isn't particularly difficult, as long as you just talk to everyone and remember to use your skills in the right places. In fact, the vote I ended up having the most trouble with (Proposition nr 2, whether Vomit Torture should be allowed) was the one you'd think was going to be the easiest, because the answer was right in the open on posters plastered on the walls. I didn't think to look there!

Reading other people's letters like a criminal.

Votowne and Democratus is just absolutely bonkers. As is the entire game. It reminds me in so many ways of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and the funny thing is I wasn't even a huge fan of that book series. It felt like it tried to be quirky and weird just for the sake of it, and the story sort of got to take a backseat. To be fair, I was a cynical and pretentious teenager when I read it so I should probably give it another try. But for whatever reason, the humour in Anachronox works a lot better for me than I ever thought it did in HGttG. Maybe it's just more fun to play than it is to read about it?

Umm, shouldn't we help him?

Once I knew how to vote and had my golden vote certificate, proving that I had voted exactly like the high council that day, I made my way to ask the high council for help. Turns out they needed my help instead since the entire planet was under attack from some sort of Hive-creature that had sent out dozens of missiles to strike the planet. The high council couldn't agree on how to react, they couldn't even agree on whether there was an attack on the planet at all. They wanted to vote for it. Rho is a no-nonsense kind of person (I actually love her character) and told them that we'd gun our way into the hive and kill the queen. Boots wants to just take the space ship and run away but Rho won't let him. She's feeling guilty for blowing up Sunder and wants to atone by saving Democratus and the rest of us just has to enjoy the ride.

Rho Bowman, probably my favorite character so far.

For reasons I didn't quite understand PAL-18 chooses not to come with us. We make our way to the Verilent Hive and get to do another little mini-game, this time it's like that game Descent from 1995. Full disclosure, I haven't actually played that game, but this mini-game is how I imagine it to be. Once again the game suddenly decides to go completely mum on how to play the mini-game, probably thinking everything is self explanatory. Well... it isn't really. It took a while before I realized I couldn't fire more shots because I needed to reload, House of the Dead-style. This reloading is easily the worst part of the mini-game because I couldn't figure out a quick way to do it, each time I had to move my mouse cursor down to left corner of the screen (i.e away from my targets) and click the reload button. And you reload a lot.

A huge beehive floating around in space, what could be worse?

It also took me a while before I figured out that I could choose my own path and that I had to kill off some sort of structures before I could finally land my space ship. I flew around like a headless chicken trying to figure out what to do, but fortunately the game is pretty generous with healing items so there was little risk of failing.

Also the hit detection was bad, but overall not a horrible mini-game.

Once I am inside the hive I quickly figure out that I need to find some sort of colored items to put into colored holes to be able to open the path and... yeah it pretty much goes like all the other places I have been. While it might not be the most inventive gameplay, the dialogue and setting of the game is just so fun and funny that I don't care. The hive itself is no less of a labyrinth than the mini-game part was and here and there I find humans (?) who have been cocooned. They seem pretty ok with their situation though, I don't even make an attempt at saving these people.

You fight a lot of bugs in this place and you level up quickly in this game. Combat has yet to be a challenge but there is a lot to do so you can choose to be quite crafty about it if you like. Every character has a regular attack, some special skills that use up "bogue" which constantly charges throughout the fight, Mystech skills which use up NRG which can be recharged with Glodents (don't even ask...) and items. Any character can use any Mystech skill, they're equipped and bought like items. Special skills are unique for each character and I quickly find out that Grumpos both has an awesome aoe attack and aoe healing. With him on my team it feels like it would be impossible to die, though I really haven't felt anywhere near worried about dying so far in any case.

She looks meaner than she is.

Once I've found all the crystals I needed
to open up the path I go to fight the second boss of this game, the Hive Queen. It's a pretty fun fight, though also quite easy. For some reason the enemies are really bad at hitting you and so they miss a lot. I barely even take damage in most fights! Enemies also have a tendency to home in on just one character in my party who then takes the vast majority of attacks. Not sure if that is a good or a bad tactic, it is what it is.

The queen goes down, the missiles are disabled, Democratus is saved. We go back and get to leave with our shuttle. The Democratians have to decide on how they want to reward us, and in the meantime we go back to Sender Station Station.

I don't even know what to say.

As I am chilling in the lounge, a planet (!) shows up. Not just any planet, it's Democratus in mini-me size (because they can do that)! Apparently their reward to us is to tag along as a party member. The. Entire. Planet. This game you guys... it just has to be experienced. How do they even come up with these things?

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Anachronox #7 - Sundered

After finally getting the necessary tickets and tricking myself onto the shuttle, I am on my way to the planet Sunder.

Talk to everyone or the shuttle won't land.

We're there to meet a scientist named Rho Bowman, because Grumpos thinks she knows a lot about Mystech. It turns out Rho has been branded a heretic because of her science and rather than being burned at the stake she and her thoughts have been quarantined at a place called the "Rainbow Sanctuary" which looks a lot like you'd imagine a mental institute. To get to the Rainbow Sanctuary, which of course is out of limits to just anyone, I have to deactivate some lasers. It's a pretty easy and straightforward quest, especially since the guard by the lasers tells me exactly what I need to do to deactivate them. Why make things difficult, after all? I was going to find out some way or other anyway. I find Rho in the middle of a very interesting Mystech experiment. It's so interesting in fact, it's going to be the cause of all of Sunder being blown apart. But I am getting ahead of myself a bit.

Turns out it wasn't just a side-quest.

So far Anachronox is a very straightforward game. Interestingly enough it reminds me a lot of the so called "walking-simulators" that we've got nowadays, though I guess if anything this game would be called a "talking-simulator" because you do a lot of that. A lot. You basically need to talk to every person you see, so it's a good thing they went through some trouble to make most people's dialogue quite fun. I have yet to find this gameplay system tedious or boring, I'm actually just enjoying a story that allows itself to unfold in front of me without me having to bend over backwards too much.

There are plenty of moments where someone will ask you for something and you will think "ah yeah, I remember seeing that somewhere" or "didn't that other guy mention something about this?". In some instances people will just straight up tell you what you need to do and know or Fatima will pop up out of nowhere and scare the bejeezus out of you, to tell you what you need to know. The only times I have been stuck so far is because I forget I have skills that can be used at certain points, not because the game hasn't given me enough information on what I need to do.

Do we look smart enough?

That doesn't mean that there aren't things you need to keep track of. While the quest tracker is pretty good at telling you what you need to know, suddenly it will just not do that and if you're not on the ball you might need to reload.

A good example is when I get to the Rainbow Sanctuary and one of the personnel offers to guide me to Rho's lab. We pass four doors that require a color combination to unlock and I decide that I want to write these down just in case. Unless you're memory is superb there is no other way to get to these combinations once the frontdesk woman is done with you. And just as I had guessed, not long after you are on an actual time limit to run the heck out of Rho's lab to save your behind from being blown into space. 

Oh oh, someone left their luggage unattended.

The game is pretty obvious with the fact that you might need the combinations, but it doesn't outright tell you. I enjoy that though. It outright tells me so much else that the out of nowhere "where you paying attention now mug?" elements can either be taken as fun or frustrating. But I am ready for them, in fact I always thought there were going to be more of them. In my opinion the game keeps it at a good level.

Being an old game though you need to be prepared to redo things you've already done and consider exhausted after you trigger the start of a quest. It doesn't matter if you've talked to some person or tried to interact with a certain object. Some times they just won't do what you need them to until you've triggered the quest. For instance, I managed to get a ticket for Sunder on Sender Station Station before I got the quest to get tickets. The game couldn't read the fact that I already had a ticket in my inventory, and so kept telling me to get a ticket I already had. Fortunately this didn't prevent me from actually using the ticket when I needed to.

The laser quest is much easier than they make it sound.

Rho's experiment with the Mystech triggers an event that tears Sunder apart, I guess the name should've been taken as some sort of foreshadowing. Everyone on the planet dies, which apparently is pretty much every scientist in the known universe, because that is where they hang out. But we make it out of course, after a little asteroid-dodging mini-game.

Some you need to dodge, some you don't. Better guess right!

The blast knocks out the shuttle we're on though and the gang don't get rescued until they've been floating around aimlessly in space for 2,5 weeks. We get to see some scenes from these days, and they're pretty funny. Overall I quite enjoy the tone and writing of Anachronox, it's definitely my kind of humour.

Sunder goes kaboooom.

By the end of the 17 days in space we get taken in by a place called Votowne on the planet Democritus. I've heard of these people before, some guy on Anachronox told me they vote on exactly everything which pretty much paralyzes their ability to get anything done. And of course, as I land there and need help to get the shuttle fixed, I first need to make sure to vote in the daily elections. In fact if I don't vote, they are going to kill me. And I can't just vote any which way, I have to vote the same way the High Council does or they won't want to help me. So I set out to... yes you guessed it... talk to people about how they are going to vote.

So far I've only been able to find out that they are going to vote NO to allowing marriages between locals and extraterrestrials, so I have a lot more prying and talking to do to find out about the other seven matters before we can leave this place.