xyzzysqrl: A moogle sqrlhead! (Default)
So that's Final Fantasy XIV Heavensward down. I wanted to delay this post until I'd at least finished up the Warring Triad boss fight mini-arc, and I did!

Heavensward is... okay, look. Right now the Fandom Consensus is that Final Fantasy XIV's first arc, "A Realm Reborn", is a bloated over-wordy piece of shit with terrible writing and way too much filler and there's no reason to actually play it except that you have to, so skip those cutscenes.

I view it as an introduction: Here are the people you'll be spending the game with, here's the plot notes of importance, here's ... okay the Titan arc is really hardcore filler but it's amusing to me anyway... etc. It's about introductions and learning.

Now that you've Introduced and Learned, though-- Heavensward is where the plot really takes off and Goes Places. I started it early last year, played to the conclusion of the expansion pack and took a break, and now I've finished the expansion content and broken into Stormblood stuff. I can judge it as a whole, and while there were some stutter-start plot threads that are obviously dangling for later...

Wow this was a piece of work. This gives me optimism for Stormblood's plotting. Things they WOULD'VE handled awkwardly are handled with some nuance, and the voice acting even improved a little. It's also still got the best music in the business, I've been wandering around singing bits of Sophia's theme to myself since I first heard it.

A heartbeat without harmony
is moonlight without dark.
The heart seeketh equilibrium,
with balance will your worry part.

So I'm... eager to see what happens next, I suppose.

I also resubbed to Final Fantasy XI because I'm a dipshit, by the way.

ANYWAY... This will be the cutoff point for this year of games. You know what that means.

See you next post!
xyzzysqrl: A moogle sqrlhead! (Moogle)
Keeping the streak of text adventures and interactive fiction alive, here's a Choice of Games number I bought entirely for the premise alone. I do that sometimes.

Unfortunately the stated premise takes a quick hike out the window pretty quickly. The Yeti barely shows up in this game at all, and while you briefly act as his parole officer towards the beginning, you're really working as a peacekeeping officer with the entire Earth as your jurisdiction and various cryptids as your charges. There's a series of incidents ... mothman, chupacabra, a jackalope. Does it all lead towards something? Can your bird-alien superiors keep you on track towards cracking the case, or will your new partner be a hindrance instead of a helper?

I beat this three times in an hour, so it isn't exactly a long-haul game. It's well-written enough but it IS a railroad of a story. You can affect small details here and there, but you aren't changing the plot in any major way except at specific nodes.

Still, I had a good time with it.
xyzzysqrl: (WWSD?)
A short but narratively strong text adventure (with graphics) that's mechanically all about asking questions and guiding a conversation, but storywise wanders between mystery and Asimovian science fiction.

This is a smart one, much like Thomas Was Alone before it. Michael Bithell's strengths lie in plotting, characterizing with personality strokes across a tight canvas, and in a game design that flows in one direction while giving the player an illusion of choice. Yes, in many ways this is a very linear experience that could be done in simple text adventure format, but it feels like a reactive one. Characters acknowledge things you say later on and you never have just one way to react to a situation personality-wise, even if you may be squeezed in tight puzzle-wise.

For people who enjoy engaging with a narrative's themes and allowing themselves to consider alternative viewpoints, this is a very interesting game. For people who do not enjoy this, I suspect it'll be about 45 minutes of clicking followed by an arbitrary choice and a sense of dissatisfaction.

Also, there's a developer's commentary robot that joins you on the second playthrough. I ended up going through most of the game again to hear what it had to say. One thing I had wondered, post-game, was "Can this be expanded on?" and it was nice to have confirmation that yes, the development team put this together in only a few months ("only") and more elaborate interactions were surely possible. I look forward to picking up the next game in this lineage to see how that goes.
xyzzysqrl: A moogle sqrlhead! (Default)
I blame this game for giving me extremely unrealistic standards regarding what Dungeons and Dragons would actually turn out to be. As a kid, I played the Tower of Doom arcade machine a time or two, so I figured "Oh, Elf and Dwarf are their own thing, fighters can do wacky combo stuff and launch people into the air, there's a ton of combat, you level up by finding money? That's kind of an economic parody... this is really cool!"

Unfortunately that's D&D first edition. By the time I got to it, D&D was no longer about fighters beating the hell out of things, but was instead about mages and clerics being unstoppable monsters of magical doom. And you have not heard insufferable until you've heard some magical asshole describe all the ways his character is better than yours.

That said, the gnolls in this game have long created an unrealistic expectation in me that pixel-art furries would be SUPER ATTRACTIVE so y'know whatever.

I'm just happy to be here.
xyzzysqrl: (Ducks)
I felt deeply tired and burned out for a while, so I decided to roll back to one of my favorite older games thanks to the Disney Afternoon Collection.

One of the things I love most about Ducktales is its nonsensical nature, typical of the licensed games of the late 80s/early 90s. Why is Scrooge McDuck on the moon, enjoying Capcom's most memeticly well-regarded music track? Why are Yeti attacking? Why did Dracula steal all of your hard-fought treasures?

The answer is: No one cares shut up.

I'm told the remade version attempts to answer questions like this. That's part of why I've never actually played it.

This is a good game, though.
xyzzysqrl: (Challenger)
IFComp. I can't believe I'm back at IFComp. Judging that ZZT thing reminded me it's possible to have a good time playing competition stuff, and I've been meaning to get back into text adventures.

It's important to remember the rules of IFComp. A judge bases their opinion on the first two hours of a game, no exceptions. I set a timer on my phone and propped it on my desk, so I'd know.

One thing I've noticed this comp is that many of the longest games are parser-based, but there's an absolute abundance of choice-based/web games made in TWINE or perhaps Choicescript or other HTML coding methods. I'm not the kind of parser-purist to be bothered by this... or I am, but NOT because grumble grumble twine games aren't real IF like some takes I've seen.

Rather, I'm bothered because several of the parser games this year are marked "more than two hours long". I know the authors hope I'll judge them fairly. I hope that too. The unfortunate reality is that it's already a barrier of entry to get people to type words into a prompt, after a couple decades of "you can't get ye flask" style jokes.

By entering a game you can't judge fully in the two-hour play window they're basically saying "Hey, I just want eyes on my game. I don't care if you can't complete it in time, just please look at this old-school thing I did."

What's the solution?

nyyhhhh. Answer unclear, consult alternate source. I just observe these things.


Many of these write-ups WILL CONTAIN FULL-GAME SPOILERS. You may wish to skip reading them if you want to play the games and particularly if you plan to judge these games.
Let's spoilercut. )

We'll see if I get to more.
xyzzysqrl: (Sqrlish RAGE)
Ugh, ugh, ugh.
Ugh, fucking ugh ugh AUGH fuck fuck ugh ugh bleah.

Okay so I loved this and I hated it.

Hated: Obtuse puzzles that do not quite reflect the in-game reality.

Example: You have a fishing pole. JUST the pole. No fish visibly on it. You have a magnet. You have a grate with a metal lost object down it. Obviously you magnetfishpole right? No. You need to use your knife on the fishing pole, at which point you get a string (to tie to the magnet) and a whole intact fish skeleton. Excuse me? At least give me a look option on my inventory if you're gonna pull that.

Also hated: The ending. We'll get to that.

Liked: This is a detective noir story about a hard-boiled swearing plush bear and a young girl on an adventure to find her brother and learn who the "Red Man" is that's been burning her city down. The city is made of paper and populated by toys, by the way. It's imaginary, except when it isn't. Amber is treated like a demigoddess creation-myth character, while Ted is treated like an old drunk PI. It's a good dynamic.

It's a hurricane of dumb jokes, some of which land and most of which do not, but it tries.

Decent character writing.

Then there's the ending.

Fuck this fucking ending off a fucking cliff.

Come with me to spoiler-space.
Down here. )

...just ... ugh. Every part of the game I liked was designed to waste my time, in the end. That's how I feel about that.

What a shame, for a promising, intelligent premise to fall that low.


You know, I try not to really go off on games, but this demonstrates what it takes to upset me. I'm not upset because I DISLIKED the ending, although that's part of it. I'm upset because I thought it really had something interesting going, but then it fell back to cliche. That hurts and offends me, and I just get frustrated.

Bear With Me isn't terrible. It doesn't deserve that kind of anger and frustration, but it got a dose anyway.
xyzzysqrl: (Ducks)
So this thing's been in early access for like seven years and I've been sitting on it the entire time waiting for it to just get done already. Well, it's done! Yay! And just in time, I was getting twitchy after Microsoft took all my money and I wanted to play a car game.

So did you play Nitronic Rush? It was a cool shiny car game about driving very fast in the Tron-lined future, jumping and gliding and dodging sawblades as you race towards a mysterious glitchy anomaly somewhere in the city.

Distance took several years to develop as a followup and it's a cool shiny car game about driving very fast in the Tron-lined future, jumping and gliding and dodging sawblades as you race towards a mysterious glitchy anomaly somewhere in the city.

There is a second campaign where you ... uh... basically do the same thing.

I'm not really sure what the seven year development time was for actually. Maybe because there's a lot of new tracks in arcade mode too, plus robust Steam workshop support mostly consisting of remakes of F-Zero and Hot Wheels tracks?

Either way, this is pretty sharp. I had a good time with it. The endings and stories of both campaigns really blew though.
xyzzysqrl: (Challenger)
This is where I usually say a few words about the game I've just played.

In actual fact, a lot of QUBE doesn't need much said about it. You are in another Goddamn White-Walled Facility with another Goddamn Puzzle Solving Device strapped to your hands, so you go solve some Goddamn Puzzles. They're all over the place, man. It's like they live here or something.

Then there's the narrative, which I am led to believe was added at the last minute and at some expense in the Director's Cut.

I don't need to discuss the narrative, because someone else has taken it apart piece by piece and laid it out nicely on a tray I can link to. And so I have.

It's a very spoilery essay but it takes this game to pieces and then builds it back up to show you what was going on. Amazingly sharp. Nothing but respect here.

Anyway I had a good time solving puzzles, except for one godsawful sliding box physics THING that was even labeled in the achievements "the hardest puzzle in the game". That was like five hours of my seven hour play time right there.

The rest was good.
xyzzysqrl: A moogle sqrlhead! (Default)
How do I even summarize this?

Dragon Quest is The JRPG Series. The original, from which all others came. It has changed and evolved significantly over the years, but it's always been basically Dragon Quest.

Dragon Quest XI then is The Most Modern Dragon Quest. It has the things you expect from a modern-day JRPG, it has a bright colorful world and a plot that isn't afraid to punch you in the emotions. You got your silent hero saving the day with a quirky cast of extremely likable characters, you got... well, it's a JRPG, man. I don't know. You either like this stuff or you don't.

I like it a lot. I loved this one, in fact, to the point where I stuck around 115-ish hours in for the postgame and then actually beat the For Real This Time final boss and finished the postgame, which is amazing and rare.

I never would've dreamed at the start of the year that I would've been playing a really good Dragon Quest here towards the end of it, but here we are. It was magical.
xyzzysqrl: A moogle sqrlhead! (Default)
I think this suffered a bit from being broken into two sections. Somewhere between the first and second part, Double Fine possibly listened to a little TOO MUCH feedback or something and changed the course of the game drastically. That's the problem with Kickstarters, I suppose. So many hands driving the bus.

The first half of Broken Age is a lazy little romp through a fantasy world (which has a serious 'monster kidnapping maidens' problem) and a sci-fi world (which has a serious 'this place is run by patronizing parents' problem.) It's very easy and breezy and quick, you have a lot of wacky conversations, the animation is charming and the characters are likable.

The second half, particularly the END of the second half, becomes Myst Puzzle Nightmare, with the most heinous offender being a puzzle repeated several times where you're:

Wiring something.
What you wire it to matters.
There are six points and any connection between the six is allowed (but not necessarily correct).
The DIRECTION you run the wire FROM matters.
There is a trial-and-error element, you have to experiment to learn how the puzzle works mechanically.
It is randomized, so you can't use a walkthrough to solve it.

And perhaps most egregious to people who don't like adventure-game logic:
You have to use information gathered as one character to solve puzzles as a different character with no chance for them to in-character exchange information. It is entirely player-knowledge based.

That isn't a dealbreaker for me, but I've seen people get real angry at that in the past, so I figured I'd mention it.

Anyway two thirds of this game are QUITE easy and charmingly cartoonish and the last third becomes Puzzle Hell.
If that's what you're looking for, here it is.
xyzzysqrl: (Sqrl Barbarian)
Can I really count beating a demo as a complete? Well, it did take me about five and a half hours, and that's longer than some actual games take to finish, so what the heck, let's go ahead and count it.

HeartBeat is an upcoming cutesy JRPG-style game in the Earthbound/Mother tradition of Cute But Weird. I dunno if it's going to spring the 'dark edge' of those games at any point, but so far there's not much sign of it.

The world is inhabited by monsters called Mogwai (no, forget about Gremlins, this is different), all of which are pretty adorable but also ... well, monsters. As a Conjurer who bonds with mogwai, Eve goes on a quest...

...well, she kinda doesn't so much "go on a quest" as "make a bunch of friends locally and get dragged into their problems". Still, there's questing, mysterious factions dangled just out of reach of the player's knowledge, friendly fun times, etc.

What catches my interest to some degree is the worldbuilding. Mogwai have their own society, ruled by their own leaders and whatnot, but some are exiled or choose to leave and enter the human world to live among them. Humans see this as either invasive or welcome coexistence depending on their personal stance. Likewise, there are feral mogwai roaming the wilderness, with glowing red eyes suggesting something is Not Right about them... I'm curious to see whether this game has it in itself to embrace and explore the ethical questions it's already raising.

There's an air of mystery and friendliness to the game -- Eve is explicitly not killing anything, she's just defeating or making them surrender -- but her partner-mog is obviously not telling her everything. Likewise, the closest thing to true villains so far is your standard-issue Three Smartassed Jerks. (Team Rocket, Team Skull from Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, whatever.)

I'm seeing a lot of people call it a "Pokemon clone" and it's absolutely not, though. You do not throw capture items at stat-randomized monsters with limited move-pools, you have a party of set characters with a slew of moves each.

That's not Pokemon, guys! Words mean things!

Anyway this was ... generally pretty good and I'm almost certainly going to drop ten bucks on it when it's a full game sometime in September.
xyzzysqrl: A moogle sqrlhead! (Default)
I was expecting Shenmue II to feel like a different game from Shenmue I.

I did not expect Shenmue II to feel like three different, distinct chapters in itself, all shaped like a Shenmue.

There is the Hong Kong chapter. This is a slower-paced tale of information-gathering and exploration in the big city. Ryo may finally be among fellow martial artists, but the road to pursuing Lan Di is long and there are many pitfalls and traps along the way. This is the slower, more adventure-game Shenmue style. Lots of asking directions and following routes to a goal, like the first game but more spread out.

There is the Kowloon chapter, which is finally the dramatic kung-fu-movie action/adventure film people have always wanted Shenmue to be. This is the most action-driven section of the game, but also somewhat the most tedious to a degree. The Shenmue focus on life-simulation rubs very hard up against the faster pace of things, you keep slowing down, speeding up, then slowing way down again. The pacing is erratic, but that is also Shenmue for you.

Then there's the final chapter, which I will say nothing about except that I now understand why fans have been screaming for a third game for over a decade. I too am screaming now, and I only have to wait a year.

There is nothing else like Shenmue, and Shenmue II isn't even like itself the whole way through.

What can I say? You're not going to play one game and not the other. It's a good thing both are sold together now.
xyzzysqrl: A moogle sqrlhead! (Default)
Shenmue is a strange, gently plodding beast of a game that we'll never see the likes of again. Even when Shenmue 3 comes out, it will likely focus on different things, different aspects of gameplay. Shenmue is currently gaming's one and only kung-fu small town life simulator, and that's commendable.

This makes the fourth time in my life I've finished Shenmue 1 and every time I've played it I've seen different scenes, talked to people and discovered what to do next in different ways. I've gotten different toys out of the capsule machines and won different prizes in the lucky-dip draws in the stores. The plot of Shenmue is the same every time, the way you work through that plot is different and organic.

Shenmue came with a disc on the Dreamcast called the Shenmue Passport. (Which sadly is not replicated in the Steam release.) The Shenmue Passport had every NPC in Ryo's hometown. Name, age, blood type, Zodiac signs. Every NPC follows schedules that make every one of them seem something more like a real person. You'll never know the name of that one blonde girl in the coat, but she'll happily tell you to stop asking her so many questions, because she's busy.

In other games, NPCs materialize from the ether whenever you're not looking in a particular direction. Those NPC do not have a story behind them. They're a random collection of assets: Hair, facial features, clothing, body type, that was generated ten minutes ago. They may be doing things but they were created two minutes ago when you swung the camera around and the game needed to populate the street.

The NPCs in other games are exactly as functional as Shenmue's NPCs. Doing all that work for Shenmue was, perhaps, unimportant and wasteful. Whether you think so or not kind of defines how you'll feel about Shenmue in total.

Shenmue is about drawers full of clutter you can pick up and look at. Shenmue is about hours standing in a vacant lot punching the air to rank up your kung fu moves, because Ryo is a martial artist and needs to practice his moves to get good at them. It's about playing Hang-On and Space Harrier in an arcade because those were arcade games around in 1986, which is when Shenmue takes place. It's about forklift racing every morning and Ryo being memeticly emotionally dead towards people he actually likes.

Shenmue is about Ryo taking one last walk down the street before leaving his hometown, before his adventure even truly begins, and the dull aching realization that you know every face he passes. Maybe not the names (or the blood types or where they live) but you know those people and it's time to say goodbye to them, just like Ryo is.

It's Shenmue, and there's never been anything like it since. I'm about to move on to Shenmue 2, which is Ryo as a fish out of water in Hong Kong. I've never actually played it before.

There may not be anything like that out there either.

I'll let you guys know.

[EDIT] - This Eurogamer article says the same thing I did, but better.
xyzzysqrl: A moogle sqrlhead! (Default)
This was an interesting little game. As usual, the plot is completely disconnected from what you're actually doing.

The plot is that as a good member of your village and a true believer in the goddess Yemanj√°, you want to help prepare for a village festival but the entire village is traumatized by various losses and deaths. You take quests from them, solve their problems and get them back in the festival mood.

You do this by, uh, platforming underwater. You put on a big clunky diving suit and stomp around underwater a while, collecting coins and pages of ... something? possibly your motivational speech? ... and then you come back up out of the water and deliver the speech when you have all the pages.

It's a relaxing, soothing sort of game with some very chunky DOS-game-esqe pixel art. If you have fond memories of shareware titles of the mid-to-late nineties, you're probably going to enjoy the visuals and music here. The game starts out feeling quite difficult, but upgrading your suit soon has you zipping around the seafloor double-jumping and throwing nets over sea life and just generally storming the levels.

There is a bug or glitch you can exploit, where if you take a quest and then use your "memories" box in the ship's hold to replay an earlier level, you finish the quest you were on. This can be useful if you're stuck on a harder level -- just pop down to the hold and replay an easier level instead. It can feel a little cheaty and it might get patched, but I'm not here to judge anyone. It's not your college exams or resume. You're not hurting anyone. Cheat as you like.

Anyway I found this pretty engaging and it gave me a morning's worth of entertainment plus it got me researching a goddess I'd never heard of while music from the game looped in my head. All missions accomplished, I think. The devs can be proud of this one.
xyzzysqrl: A moogle sqrlhead! (Default)
(If you're past a certain age, I can just say that this is Take Two Interactive's "Bureau 13" game, except actually done WELL. If not, keep reading.)

Technobabylon was one of the best games I played in 2017 (yeah I know it came out in 2015, shh). Wadjet Eye has done it again with Unavowed, one of the best games I played in 2018 and an amazing capstone to all of their work so far. You can play this game without having played the Blackwell series, but you'll get a little more out of it if you have.

It's also a rather dark piece of work, with a tone somewhere between Sleepy Hollow (the TV show) and something like Buffy. Your character (whose gender and former profession are chosen by you) gets possessed and goes on a year-long murderfestival rampage across New York City. Eventually the Unavowed, a brave supernatural-evil-fighting duo show up, and with the body back in your own control you sign up to fight evil with them.

As the game goes on, you recruit more characters in Bioware style, solve mysteries (all of which center around that year of hell your character went through), make Tough Choices and work to make the city a better place. All in absolutely gorgeous 640x480 resolution pixel art.

There were a couple of puzzles that slowed me down (the word "LEGS" is going to cause me to make faces for weeks) but this mostly flowed very smoothly. If you're at all a fan of past Wadjet Eye creations, this game needs to be in your life. If you're not, it's a good starting place, maybe the best starting place except that its quality might spoil you for the rough patches of past games.

This game contains some gore, some body/existential horror that might be jarring to some, and a lot of swearing.
xyzzysqrl: A moogle sqrlhead! (Default)
I spent about eight minutes on this, beating Celine out with her ten. Speedrun challenge anyone?

No, don't do that.

Anyway uh... yeah. Short, cutesy platformer with a slightly eyehurting color scheme and a visual effect like a dying CRT full of static and color wavering. I don't know what to call that. Fauxmatic aberration? I'm sorry.

It's about the length of one autoscrolling level in any other platformer. The multijump was sort of irritating. This wasn't bad or particularly good, it was just sort of there.
xyzzysqrl: A moogle sqrlhead! (Default)
As a sequel to Off-Peak, The Norwood Suite continues the themes and ideals of its prior work, namely it's a mashed-up messy arthouse collage with a really weird ending and a lot of interesting themes at play, presented in a style that's suited to a 90s early-CD-ROM multimedia playhouse where being Interesting is more important than being coherent.

It makes a lot of advancements on the prior game -- you've got an actual inventory now, for example -- but it also regresses a little. The entire game is a system of keys and fetch quests, picked up by listening to the rambling diatribes of the hotel guests.

The achievements are also slightly buggy, one of them outright refused to trigger for me. This is not really the kind of game you play for achievements, though. You're here to explore the quirky cast, form theories about what's going on, and have your face implode at the ending.

Really, it's all a game like this should be.
xyzzysqrl: A moogle sqrlhead! (Default)
I feel like most of my engagement with Off-Peak was based in fascinated staring, and the rest of my engagement was based on trying to figure out what board games the dudes in the beer garden were playing.

Off-Peak is an interesting, surreal little wandering game. You're ... someone. You've arrived at a train station. You're going somewhere, but you don't have a ticket. One of your friends has a ticket for you, but it was torn up and scattered around the station. Go assemble it.

What this game reminds me of is those... early-90s sorts of Multimedia Experiences, where you get some music and some surreal animation and a big space to wander around in, and eventually you have to decide how Peter Gabriel feels about sex. (Spoiler: I believe he's in favor of it.)

Obviously there's a lot less of that HERE, in Off-Peak, the game I am talking about. But it's a free hour-long game where you explore a very interesting building and talk to some very strange people and nod thoughtfully and make mental connections and eventually find your damn ticket and leave.

You can leave directly to the sequel, "The Norwood Suite", which was given to me as a present and which I will be playing presently. I expect basically more of the same, from everything I've heard.
xyzzysqrl: (WWSD?)
I have not finished all the quests in this, but I have finished the "main" game. So let's have an entry.

If you've spoken to me lately, you've heard me go on about this because I fricking love it. If you haven't, let me go on about it a while, because I fricking love it.

Jazztronauts is an add-on module for popular dicking-about simulator Garry's Mod, and to my surprise it has a legit plot. While exploring a fairly generic Half-Life 2 map, you discover a gang of literal cat burglars hanging out chatting about their latest scheme. They take you back to their interdimensional headquarters/bar and quickly conscript you into being their latest dimension-diver. You fiddle with a machine, it sucks a world up (from the Steam workshop) and you and your magical item-stealing superbaton charge in there to yoink everything. Furniture, people, wall textures, etc.

It beautifully re-contextualizes the maps away from shootman adventures to a playspace where you can just run around, do urban exploration, suck all the light fixtures off the walls, and have genuine fun.

Then you pull a lever back at base and get money to upgrade your stuff, all while running fetch quests for your new feline employers. Could you in fact... find a partner among them?

Well probably not, or at least I'm not sure how. But they're a fun bunch to hang out with and really well-characterized for a fan mod.

Plus, Jazztronauts is near-infinitely replayable, because of the sheer scope of maps you can find on the workshop. Every mistake or someone's first map is a new adventure, every mess of godawful texturing mistakes is something you can yank down and sell off. If you've been a FPS dork for years, you probably have all the Half Life games, maybe Counter Strike Source, and Garry's Mod. If so, I really advise you to try out Jazztronauts. This thing's gonna show up in my game of the year awards for sure.

And if you do try it out, give me a yell and I'll join you in stripping the walls off the wall.
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