Disney Magical World is not goofing around

disney-magical-world 77 stickers

Disney Magical World is possibly one of the most deceptive videogames I’ve ever stumbled upon. At a quick glance, it seems like it is an uninspired stab at trying to steal from the popularity of Animal Crossing: New Leaf, but set within the Disney multiverse. Instead of a house and town to take care of, you manage a popular café and must keep the locals entertained with extravagant parties, as well as running errands. However, there’s more layers to peel back, and they are all built upon the idea of grinding, something I’m usually averse to, but Disney Magical World is always doling out some new goodie or three that will help you progress down one of your various paths. The grinding is far from terrible, and it’s had its hooks me in for a good while.

So far, I’ve noticed a few spots along the way where the game ramps up in difficulty. Getting to about 22-25 stickers is fairly easy, but after that you really have to plan what you plant in your farm, what ingredients you use and save for later, and what dungeon levels to replay in hopes of getting some rarer items you missed the first time through. I think I hit another slow roadblock around 38-40 stickers, and then once more around 68-70. Eventually, you have to just sacrifice your plans and focus on something else, like having Daisy help create pretty froufrou dresses and making Pauly wear them, as they did count towards your Ace Ensemble total. I’m close to finishing up the fishing goals. Seems like the biggest things for me to work on still are creating furniture and throwing parties so all the cool peeps show up–I’ve not seen a lick of Jack Skellington despite some Halloween-themed items showing up in the store.

Right now, I have 77 stickers out of what I assume is a capped 100 stickers. Getting that 77th sticker the other night allowed me to open up a chest, which evidently had the game’s credits in it–along with a “happy crown” to wear. Is this Nintendo’s way of saying the game is over? Not from where I’m standing. I still need to craft a better fishing rod, throw more parties, gain a bunch of funky hairdos, harvest special honey, and so on. I think I only need one more garnet bubble to appease the mighty Donald Duck, and that means another go down an Aladdin-themed dungeon or dive beneath the castle and see if luck is on my side. Either way, it’s probably 20 minutes I have to set aside, just for one single gem, so I can build a new rod to help me catch bigger fish and, I assume, better gems. That might sound maddening, and it probably is, but it’s also extremely satisfying completing these quests. There’s no cheesing it; you gotta make the effort.

Which leads me to the combat, the one aspect I suspect my sister Bitsy will hate when I show her the game this upcoming Christmas. The dungeons are not mindless walkthroughs, but the majority of them are easy to deal with, so long as you have a good outfit (provides health) and a strong wand (determines how much damage you do and how many special attacks you can cast). Strangely, whether it is a tough or easy fight, I find the combat rewarding. It’s all action like Dark Cloud 2, but you can’t lock on to enemies; instead, you can do a twirl to get out of the way and hit them from behind for more damage. Mix this in with timed fights and traps, and you actually have a lot to think about. There’s also something so evil and awesome about the red gems, which revive you if you run out of health, but are also used to open the big treasure chest at the end of each mission. This means that poorer players get poorer and fewer rewards, and skilled players truly reap the benefits of being on top of their game. Combat is a big part of gaining new alchemy items and such, so it is vital to be at least competent at it.

At the beginning of this post, I put out the idea that Disney Magical World is a wannabe Animal Crossing clone. Let me now officially squash that thought; it couldn’t be farther from it. Whereas everyone in your Animal Crossing town has a personality and goes about daily life on their own, the people of Castleton are soulless pods, existing only to give the player a card or quest. If they have neither, you can simply move past them like the New York homeless. Decorating your cafe boils down to putting everything with the same theme in it, which is not very creative, but leads to better bonuses and guests. Yes, you can decorate your bedroom above the cafe as you wish, but it pales in comparison to what you can do in Animal Crossing. The big focus is on dressing your avatar and completing random quests, though I’m also a huge fan of collecting cards from everyone. Some cards are basically old artwork from the golden era of Disney, while other pieces are the same ol’ you-know-whos in stock poses.

I’m really hoping to have 100 stickers unlocked by the time Fantasy Life comes out next month, as I know there is simply no way I can juggle this, that, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and Tomodachi Life. If I’m being honest, those last two have gotten a whole lot less love from me these last few months–my bad. I don’t mean it; I’ve just got stickers on the brain. And gem birthstones. And Pixie Dust so I can complete Peter Pan-themed furniture. And…

Farming is a profession of hope in Harvest Moon: Back to Nature

hm back to nature impressions

A few weeks back I listened to a bunch of Retronauts podcasts, and one of them was devoted to musing and gushing about the entire Harvest Moon series. Well, as much as they all could. I noticed they neglected to touch upon Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar, the only one I’ve actually played up to this point. But since then, I’ve had the itch to either return to that DS title or try another in the franchise; the fact that you do a lot of farming for special plants and ingredients in Disney Magical World possibly also played a part in pushing me forward. Fortuitously, there was a PSN sale on a bunch of old PS1 classics some time back, so I grabbed Harvest Moon: Back to Nature for like a buck, planting the seed.

Well, in true Pauly fashion, this newly acquired farm is not off to a great start. But how did I come to be its caretaker, you ask? Via a somewhat somber opening cutscene. As a young lad, your summer vacation with your father is suddenly cancelled, and so you end up paying your grandfather–and his farm–a visit in the countryside. Things move quite differently out there. You also meet a girl, and, together, the two of you sing songs and play in the fields. You make a promise to her that you’ll be back one day. It has now been ten years since that summer; sadly, your grandfather passed away and left you the farm in his stead.

I’ve only played a week and a few in-game days for Harvest Moon: Back to Nature, but I’m finding it extremely slow-paced. More so than Grand Bazaar. Granted, I understand that these games are built upon routine, but it seems to even be an uphill climb to begin putting that routine into place. You begin day one on your grandfather’s farm–which I decided to name Freaky Farm–with 500G, a bunch of obvious tools, and no animals other than your dog, dubbed appropriately Chomp. Well, I was terrified to spend all my money in one lump, so I bought nine cucumber seeds, cleared a section of the very cluttered farmland, and planted and watered them each day. Alas, I picked a little poorly, as cucumbers take a very long time to grow.

Your initial tasks are not very obvious, and so you can end up wasting most of your day wandering around the farm and the nearby village. Wait, wasted isn’t the right word. Instead of farming and making money, you’re instead focusing on speaking with the local townsfolk, hearing about their problems and triumphs, and reacting accordingly. So far, a strange man has appeared in town to the policeman’s detriment. I also noticed that many customers are taking advantage of the supermarket’s clerk, using credit to “buy” things and never fully pay for them. A big part of the Harvest Moon games are structured around relationships, and growing a friendship or love thingy takes as much time–or even more–as that 3×3 field of potatoes. I also attended some kind of rose festival, where a bunch of girls did a dance. Also, I’m not even joking when I tell you it took me five days to figure out how to place produce in your bin, which is the only way to sell items and make some money; I kept throwing it from the wrong angle, which I guess destroyed the item.

After a week and a half of farming, I am beginning to see my Freaky Farm routine. It goes a little like this:

  • Wake up at 6 AM
  • Check the crops (water them, harvest them if ready)
  • Head up to the hot springs area and grab three bamboo shoots to toss in the produce bin
  • Head back to the hot springs, but go behind the waterfall, where you can use the hoe to dig up valuable minerals
  • Back to the farm to pet the dog and say hi to Freckles the horse (no brush yet)
  • By now, it’s probably a little after noon, so I’ll stroll through the village in search of any story scenes
  • Return to the farm to pull weeds and toss rocks while waiting for Zack to show up and take everything in my shipping bin
  • Go back inside and hop in bed despite it only being like 5:30 or 6:00 PM

And that’s it…so far. I imagine once I get more animals, more plants, and more things to do, I’ll have to switch the routine up. But for now, this at least earns me around 300 to 500G every day. Unfortunately, everything in the game is costly. I think a cow alone is like 4,000G. So I have a ways to go still. There’s so much I want to buy though: cows, chicken, brush for horse, bell, different seeds, etc.

I can most assuredly count on one hand the number of times I’ve looked at the manuals for the numerous digital games I’ve purchased, but Harvest Moon: Back to Nature‘s manual reading is a must for all newcomers. I can’t stress that enough. The game does not hold your hand and spell everything out; it’s about learning, taking things day by day. However, I’m also using this guide from time to time, which taught me what fatigue looks like, as well as the best way to save money and level up your tools.

Harvest Moon: Back to Nature is acting as a great palette cleanser before I move on to either Suikoden II or Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. I do find it a bit stressful when the day is over too fast and I have very little to show for it, but it’s a learning curve. Evidently, you can hire magical forest elves to help out on your farm, just not during spring as they are all gaga over some upcoming tea party. I’ll take all the help I can get. Oh, and there’s some kind of horse race event coming up; I hope Freckles is up to it. Stay tuned for further farm updates…

Escorting Emma Emmerich is not very enjoyable

escorting emma emmerich

I remembered next to nothing about Emma Emmerich and her little side story involvement in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I wrote next to nothing because, for some reason, I did recall her cute, chatty parrot. Just not her. I suspect this has more to do with how she throws a wrench into the game’s stealth-heavy gameplay rather than her somber life story and damaged relationship with big bro Hal. Plus, she’s completely dismissible, which is a shame since the game forces you to protect, only to watch, via a cutscene, as she succumbs to her untouchable fate.

See, after taking down the Twilight-loving Vamp yet again, you rescue her from a part of Big Shell that is beginning to flood due to explosions. That’s not really a problem for Raiden, who can swim as good as any otter these days. However, Emma is terrified of water after a traumatic experience as a kid, and she’s also been injected with something that makes her legs extremely weak, meaning Raiden has to carry her on his back while underwater, as well as pull her along when on dry ground. Yup, you are now an officially unpaid babysitter, and you need to get Emma over to the computer room at the bottom of Shell 1’s core; it’s not a far walk, but it’s a troublesome one nonetheless.

The underwater parts were not as tricky as I initially feared. You just had to memorize the path and make sure you went up for air more frequently than before because Emma’s got teeny tiny lungs. I ran into frustration in the sections of Big Shell where enemies were on patrol. First, I tried to sneak her past everyone, but kept getting spotted; the moment the enemy is on us, Emma just sits down and gives up, letting the bullets mix with tears of defeat. That meant I had to get down and dirty and simply murder everyone and everything (sky-high cyphers) just so we could creep leisurely from one strut to another. Ideally, it’s not how I wanted to do things, but sometimes you got to snap necks to ensure the weak-kneed make it out alive.

Oh, and there’s one part where a bunch of bugs are covering the floor and walls near an elevator. Emma refuses to go any further until the bugs are gone. You have two options: clear away the bugs with the coolant spray or knock her out and drag her body along. I did the former, but when doing some light research for this post, I found many “gamers” touting proudly and triumphantly that they knocked her lights out. For shame.

All of that naturally got me thinking about other escort missions, and how I really do loathe being put into the somewhat awkward position of the sole protector of someone who is more fragile than an ancient vase teetering on the edge of a wobbly desk. Here are a few standout examples of escorting gone wrong from other games I’ve played:

In BioShock, towards the end of the story, you have to escort a Little Sister somewhere. Not a problem, you think, given that these ADAM-wielding tiny girls are invincible at every other point in the game where you’ve encountered them. Except no–this Little Sister is special and can take damage from enemies. Strangely, she pays little attention to the chaos of bullets, lightning bolts, and Splicers around her, content in just walking around and stabbing corpses with her needle.

Musashi: Samurai Legend made you feel the weight of the escort mission. No, really. Every time you saved a Mystic–a kidnapped maiden who would, upon saving, help strengthen Musashi’s legendary sword–you had to literally carry her to the level’s exit. And still fight off bad guys. Sometimes you could use her as a weapon to push goons back, but it was often easier to dump her on the ground, clear the area, and then pick her back up again. Rinse and repeat a few more times. Yeah, way too unnecessary.

Now, I’ve only played Dead Rising 2: Case Zero and Dead Rising 2 across the whole franchise, but both of those games have survivors to rescue and bring back safely to your headquarters. Some of them are on a time limit, which is not a big deal, given that everything in these games is timed. However, these trapped bags of fresh flesh feature some of the worst artificial intelligence I’ve come across, and if you don’t babysit every single step they take they’ll most likely run themselves right into the middle of a horde and get themselves eaten to death. Similar to Mushashi: Samurai Legend, you can pick them up and carry them, but that leaves you with few options for clearing a walkable path. I think I ended up rescuing only 12 in Dead Rising 2 in the end. Not surprisingly, these problems also pop up in Dead Island.

G-Police is a game I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to write about yet on Grinding Down, but it is overdue for a GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH feature soon enough. Let’s just say that piloting a slow-moving aircraft while protecting a slow-moving car on the ground as it obliviously drives to its destination while people shoot guns at it is not my favorite part of Psygnosis’ Blade Runner-inspired shooter.

Fable III, besides being a bad game, had a bunch of fetch quests in the form of escort missions. Basically, you’d be wooing someone, and they’d then want you to take them to a particular part of the world. Thankfully, once accepting to do this, you can fast travel to wherever is closest to this spot, and the person will also travel with you. However, you must now actually take their hand into yours and lead them down the path; when enemies show up, you must ensure that they don’t get hurt. It’s not terribly difficult, but it is terribly cumbersome, and the hand holding aspect is so glitchy that you’ll often break contact just going over a small bump.

Lastly, there’s a tiny section in VVVVVV wherein you have to escort a fellow comrade back to the teleporter. He’ll follow you when you walk on the ground, but comes to a halt when you flip up to the ceiling. This forces you to figure out how to move him along the path, without killing either of you. It’s a brief, but difficult–and extremely memorable–moment in a game all about moving swiftly from one platform to another.

Well, this post got long fast.

Do you like escort missions, and, if so, are you clinically insane? Tell me about your least favorite escorting scenario in the comments section below.

A broad array of PlayStation characters are ready to fight

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This past Sunday turned out to be “download all those new PlayStation Plus freebies for the month” day, which saw me adding Hoard, Sportsfriends, and PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale in one big gulp to my ever-growing list of untouched games. I glanced at the first two after installing them and decided that, before I get back into some lengthy Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty sessions, I should try out PS All-Stars and see what all the hubbub was about.

First, my history with these kind of all-out rumble in the jungle multiplayer mayhem games: I’ve never, ever ever played Super Smash Brothers. In any form. And I don’t see that changing any time soon, even with the newest ones looking stock full of franchises I adore, like Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Fire Emblem: Awakening. Oh well. I’ve also never touched Power Stone or Ehrgeiz: God Bless the Ring. They’ve just never really appealed to me, and I can’t exactly pinpoint why because I do enjoy Nintendo and its characters, but I guess I felt like the fighting overall appeared rather superfluous and it was simply a bunch of fan service. Plus, considering how bad my eyes are, I’m not a big supporter of when games pull the camera back really far, making it hard to see your character and the supposedly cool fighting moves they are done, something that PS All-Stars definitely does frequently. Especially when there’s four mascots fighting at once.

So far, I’ve run through PS All-Stars‘ story mode once and immediately picked Sly Cooper as my man raccoon of action. His story mode has you playing through several fights as you try to figure out who stole some pages from the ancient family heirloom Thievius Raccoonus. Some fights were one on one, asking you to get the most kills over a three-minute time period, and others task you with being the first player to reach three kills first. Eventually, you get to the story reveal, which is that Nathan Drake stole those pages. Sure, you might see the connection that both Sly and Nathan are thieves, but it’s even more ironic when you realize that Nolan North voiced Le Paradox and El Jefe in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. Anyways, you battle him, and then you battle Polygon Man, the original PlayStation mascot. I did not find any of this challenging at all, but it is fun pulling out multi-kill specials, especially the level 3 one; for Sly, Bentley hooks you up with some kind of missile launcher, which you target opponents with via a first-person mode.

As you play–and win–battles, the chosen character levels up, unlocking various things, such as new backgrounds, icons, titles, belts, minions, and costumes. I can now happily dress Sly Cooper in his Arabian outfit. By the end of the Story mode, Sly was something like level 11 or 12, and it seems like there’s plenty more to unlock and see for him alone. I guess I can either replay the Story mode (most unlikely) or take the character online. We’ll see. There’s really only a few other PlayStation characters I’m interested in playing as, and they are as follows: Jak and Daxter, Parappa, Raiden, Ratchet and Clank, and Sir Daniel Fortesque. Sorry spiky-haired dude from Ape Escape, but I never got to play you way back when. Also, sorry everyone else, but you’re either too new or too dark and brooding to care about in this goofy, carefree brawler.

I suspect I’ll play this a few more to see what some of those other characters can do and some more of the zany, always-changing and interactive backgrounds. The fighting doesn’t feel 100% great, but maybe that had more to do with Sly, who can’t even block (he turns invisible for a bit instead). I can appreciate the idea behind this game, but I think Sony missed some chances to really include a few larger known entities than Fat Princess (pun intended), such as Crash Bandicoot, the robot bunny from Jumping Flash!, old-school and super pointy Lara Croft, and maybe even that dude from Wild 9. I don’t know; the inclusion of two versions of Cole from inFAMOUS  2 seems a bit uninspired.

At least I got another good–if extremely minor–dose of Sly Cooper, Murray, and Bentley. Really, you can’t go wrong with that trio. Sly’s level 2 special tosses Murray out at enemies in this sliding body slam, and it’s a great way to clear the path before you with the click of a button. I ended up using it more than his level 3 special in the end.

Who’s your favorite character in All-Stars? Again, it’s free right now for PlayStation Plus subscribers, so grab it, and maybe we’ll play together some day down the online road. Hint: I’ll be the raccoon hitting you on the head with a cane.

Solid Snake struggles with investigating the development of a new Metal Gear

Metal Gear Solid 2 initial thoughts

Well, with Suikoden done, I’m moving on to my next target for 2014, which is coincidentally another Konami title–replaying Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. You might’ve assumed I’d go right into Suikoden II, but there is a wee time-crunch hanging over my head. See, Dan Ryckert and Drew Scanlon are playing through the original Metal Gear Solid over at Giant Bomb, with hints that they’ll be tackling more tactical espionage action titles in the series afterwards. And they’re moving forward swiftly. Personally, I’d love to watch them replay Solid Snake’s first outing on the PlayStation 2 after I get to re-experience it myself. Call me selfish, but I don’t want my replay to be tainted by their actions or thoughts in any way whatsoever. Thus, I loaded up Metal Gear Solid 2 the other night via my disc copy of Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection 1987 – 2012.

To open, it didn’t go well, and I’m going to call my first hour or so with the game a complete wash. I didn’t even bother saving it once, knowing I’d like to try again and not immediately goof up and get spotted every few steps. I’m not sure exactly where everything went wrong, but the controls are a huge change from the–well, what now seems rudimentary–controls from Metal Gear Solid. The biggest addition is a useful first-person POV, one where you can aim your gun in and strafe. Before, you merely used it to look around the environment, but this new angle becomes vital when using the M9 tranquilizer gun because guards will fall asleep faster based on where you hit them with darts (go for the heads, Snake, not the knees). However, every time I went to use it, I kept trying to hit the Triangle button instead of the now used R1 button, causing Snake to stand still out in the open a few seconds longer than I’d like. I also found it harder to stick to surfaces using the analog stick, with Snake often slipping off cover and getting spotted. Ugh.

Wait, wait, wait. I guess I should actually try to some up the story before getting into the trials and triumphs of my replay. Metal Gear Solid 2 opens with a flashback in 2007, two years after the Shadow Moses incident that went down in the original Metal Gear Solid. Solid Snake and Otacon, now members of the non-governmental organization Philanthropy, are investigating the development of a new Metal Gear by American marines. To do this, Snake sneaks on to the tanker transporting the weapon and must produce legitimate pictures of it.

Of course, as many fans of the series already knows, this was a bait and switch tactic by Konami, and the tanker section is only a prologue, with the main meat of the game starring FOXHOUND’s newest recruit Raiden two years later. His objectives are to infiltrate the Big Shell clean-up facility to rescue hostages, including the U.S. president, from the terrorist group Sons of Liberty. This terrorist group is purported to be lead by Solid Snake and backed up by Dead Cell, a rogue anti-terror training unit. They are also threatening to destroy the facility they have seized.

So, I had trouble on the tanker. I played for an hour, got spotted a lot, tried to fight my way out of alert mode, died, and so on. At one point, because I didn’t remember how hanging worked, I dropped Snake right into the cold, unrelenting mistress known as the ocean. Thinking back to my VR days, I decided to try a few training sessions out and see if they helped any. Once I felt ready, I went back in to Metal Gear Solid 2 with the following repeating loudly and clearly in my mind: getting caught is not the end. See, games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Mark of the Ninja really pushed for non-lethal playthroughs, the perfect kind, where you don’t even get spotted once. Well, that seems really hard and also not fun, so I’m not going to worry too much if things go awry rather fast because I darted by some guard’s vision cone too soon. Plus, I’ve found it is easier to simply let Raiden die than try to take out five or six guards or, even more impossible, hide from them; the game does a good job of auto-saving when you enter a new area.

Metal Gear Solid and its earlier brethren spoiled me by providing the radar from the get-go. Here, you have to first find a terminal and download a radar for each new area, which means when you first arrive somewhere, you can only see what you can see, and have to use the AP sensor as much as possible. This makes each new area tougher to initially run through, but also more exciting. There’s some strange new items, like pornographic magazines and coolant sprays, to use, and I am still horrible at holding up soldiers and getting them to shake dog tags free. Well, that’s only partially true; I can consistently sneak up behind a guard and get them to freeze, but then trying to reposition Raiden to take advantage of this always leads to mayhem.

If there is one thing I forgot about Metal Gear Solid 2, it’s that its color scheme, specifically once you get to Big Shell, is phenomenal. I know teal and orange is a bit overdone, but maybe it is used over and over for a reason–it works. I love traveling from one strut to another and being outside on the bridges with the sea gulls and blue sky. The music is intense and stirring, and while there is the occasional bit of still awkward and robotic dialogue (ironically from the Colonel), the voice acting still draws you in despite the ridiculous characters and situations. I particularly like the Rosemary and Jack stuff, which I somehow forgot entirely since I last played this back in college.

Right now, I’ve infiltrated Raiden’s way into Shell 1’s core by wearing an enemy’s disguise and carrying an assault rifle. Now I need to figure out how to work around a retinal scan in hopes of learning the location of the captured U.S. president from a man or woman named Ames, who apparently has a pacemaker. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the rest of this zany plot unravels as I really only remember the most zany moments–naked cartwheels–and not the quiet stuff, like Fortune’s affection for Vamp and the silly detail of Fatman drinking a fruity drink before starting the boss fight.

The end has arrived for Suikoden’s cruel Imperial regime

suikoden final throughts maxresdefault

Well, I did it. I beat Suikodenagain. I suspect this is probably my third time through as I most likely beat the game back around when my neighbor helped buy it for me from Kay Bee Toys in 1996, stumbling through it blind as Morgan, the eyeless slave swordsman from Falena, and only recruiting two-thirds of the 108 Stars of Destiny. Then a copy of PSM hit my parents’ mailbox, hinting that a certain character called Gremio could be revived before the end fight if you gathered everybody possible first. Well, I just had to try again, and so I did, successful in my endeavors, but never really returning to the troubled political strugglings of the Scarlet Moon Empire since then.

I decided to go back to Suikoden–and hopefully Suikoden II soonish–for a variety of reasons, one of which I’m still not ready to talk about. However, back when I played these games, I was not a writer. Or even an aspiring writer. I was just a goofy kid that listened to way too much ska music and rode his bike around the neighborhood after dark and liked games that seemed to last forever, mostly JRPG juggernauts, like Final Fantasy VII and Chrono Cross. Nowadays, a lot of what I play sits in my brain, swirling this way and that until I put it down here on Grinding Down, really thinking about mechanics and pacing and how effective or non-effective a transition was, etc. I often make the claim that Suikoden and its much more loved sequel are my favorite games, but I always worried that nostalgia played a big part behind that, and so it is healthy and informative to replay your old favorites every now and then, that way you can truly see if they stand the test of time.

Overall, I’d say that Suikoden is still an immensely enjoyable JRPG, if a little kooky and surprisingly easy. The first hour is very slow in terms of action and challenge, though once you get your castle headquarters and can begin traipsing from town to town looking for recruits, the pace picks up tremendously. Almost too fast. My save slot just before the end battle with Emperor Barbarossa is a nick over twenty-two hours, but please remember that at least two of those hours were spent simply grinding for a nameless urn. Once you get the castle, you kind of go from one big story event to another, with no push to take things slow and go do your own thing for a bit. I mean, you totally can, and I did, but many might not realize the importance of growing your army and just charge through every story beat. All you have to do is keep returning to Mathiu and he’ll always have some plan in the works.

Suikoden might be one of the easiest JRPGs out there. There is no difficulty setting, so it is what it is, and you can, more or less, simply press attack on every character in battle without seeing much resistance from the enemy. In truth, you don’t have many options during the turn-based combat: attack, rune (magic spells), and, depending on who is in your six-member party, unite. There are not as many unite attacks as I originally thought, and many force you to use some less than ideal characters to pull them off–no thanks, every blacksmith ever. Eventually, I ended up using “free will” a lot, especially when grinding, and there were only a few moments when things would go really poorly. So long as you are on top of healing, boss fights are straightforward. I can say that I only saw one “game over” screen, and that was during the second fight with Neclord up in his castle, and it was my fault for not having enough “heal all” spells or mega medicines. Not even Emperor Barbarossa in his true three-headed dragon form proved troublesome.

Recruiting men and women for the Liberation Army barely requires any extra legwork, not counting the two you need to grind for an item for. Most will immediately join up after you speak to them once. A few ask you to be a certain level or, such as in the case of Rubi and Kirkis, another character to be higher up before they’ll throw their bag in the fight. Occasionally, you need to bring a specific character with you to convince someone else to join. I’m looking forward to seeing if the requirements in Suikoden II are a bit more trickier. Gathering recruits is twofold: one, it is fun watching them move into the castle and claim a space for themselves, and two, it ups your army count during the larger-scaled battles, so it does have an effect on gameplay.

I ended up using the following characters as my main mission-goers: Cleo, Victor, Pahn, Valeria, Kirkis, Flik, Stallion, and Ronnie Bell, exchanging them when the situation dictated so. While there are 108 Stars of Destiny to recruit, not all of them are able to fight in the turn-based battles. Like pointless, nose-upturned Onil. Not many of the characters end up playing differently from others despite visible stat differences. They all have different weapons, but you can attach any rune you want to them, turning that martial artist into a healer or that pacifist farmer a wielder of fire spells. I made a mild attempt at trying a few peeps out that I normally ignored, but still found that they lacked personality, especially when you consider that Cleo and Victor are involved in story moments and others, like Lotte and Lester, just aren’t.

All right, here are a couple of other small Suikoden points I’d like to comment on. Just like as in Chrono Cross, you can collect new window frames, but all of them are disgusting and hard to actually look at, though I did end up at least changing the color of the transparency part of the text box to a light brown. The music, when not sampling elephant noises and strange banjo-plucking tunes for mini-games, is memorable and moving, especially that one scene at night when Odessa and Tir McDohl are having a little heart-to-heart moment. Here, have a listen. I ended up spending all my bits on sharpening weapons, rarely purchasing armor or items; you gain so many as you scour dungeons anyways, and the armor is not reflected on the character sprites, so whatever.

So yeah, Suikoden. Still a charming, enjoyable adventure of a boy who unknowingly takes up the call to fight back against an evil empire with the help of an assortment of characters of all different relationships, colors, and races. I wonder what George Lucas thinks of it. It’s perhaps a bit too easy of a game from beginning to end, making things like Costume Quest seem like a hardcore gamer’s nightmare, and the story is not as epic or deep as I remember–or grammatically correct–but it plants all the right seeds for the series to grow from, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Suikoden II plays in 2014. All I remember from it is the cooking mini-game.

Line of sight works against me in Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine

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When it comes to stealth games, I can accept the stretch on the limitations of reality to allow the character I’m controlling to gain the upper hand. For instance, in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I always upgrade Adam Jensen with the Augmentations that gives enemies vision cones and allows him to see through walls. Actually, maybe in that scenario, it works fine within the fiction. Also take Mark of the Ninja, where you can use Focus to freeze time and better survey the environment, especially when most of it is shrouded in shadow. Truthfully, I’m not asking for much, but having a slight perk above your enemies makes dealing with them and the situation all the more fun.

None of that is the case with Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine, a deceptively tough stealth action indie title from Pocketwatch Games and Majesco Entertainment that puts pressure on co-operative play for success. The game has four main story campaigns, two of which tell the same story but through different styles. You can choose from eight pixelated characters, all of which have unique abilities: the locksmith, the pickpocket, the cleaner, the lookout, the mole, the gentleman, the hacker, and the redhead. Just by the names alone you might be able to figure out their perks. Certain characters are better suited for specific levels, though I’ve only gotten to play the first few levels in the opening campaign story at this point, using mostly the locksmith and mole.

So, Monaco is presented via a top-down view of blueprint style levels where players can only see things through their “line of sight.” Everything else is shrouded in a thick, gray fog that indicates where rooms are, but not the details within. Unfortunately, your character’s vision cone is narrow and limited, offering up only a tiny slice of what is ahead of you, making it extremely easy to walk through wires or even right into guards on patrol. You can unlock doors, hack ATMs, and hide in bushes by simply pressing up against them, waiting for a meter bar to fill. There are also weapon pick-ups, such as smoke bombs and C4, scattered throughout the level, which you can use against nosy guards.

I got a copy of Monaco some time back for the PC, though I couldn’t tell you how it ended up on my list of Steam games. Probably some kind of bundle. I played through a level or two before determining that this style of infiltration gaming was not for me. For September 2014, it’s now free for Gold members on the Xbox 360, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to try one more time. Well, I got just as far as I did on the PC–the bank heist level–before putting the controller down. I really do struggle with seeing the big picture of the level, and the moment a guard spots me, I just panic and run around like a headless chicken. There’s something not connecting with my eyes and brain, especially when a lot of the mission objectives and tips are presented within the level, hidden until you swing your vision cone over them.

It sounds like Monaco is intended to be played cooperatively, with friends. I don’t have three other friends I can invite over, and so there’s an option to link up with strangers via Xbox Live. Eh…no thanks. I’m not one for putting on a headset and chatting with new people in a game that clearly requires teamwork and strategic planning. From what I’ve gathered through forum chatter, a lot of problems crop up with co-op play in that everyone just runs ahead and does what they want, setting off alarms left and right and leaving every other player to fend for themselves.

Monaco certainly has a cool style to it, but part of that style inhibits the gameplay. For me. Others seem to have no problem whatsoever, and goodie for them. But it’s why I struggle with horror games, of not knowing what is ahead and to the left and right and even behind my character. Or it is like those mirror mazes, where I have to take it slow and one step at a time, unsure of what is only a foot in front of me; the last one I did was both a mirror maze and clown-themed, and I was in my early twenties and I’ve still not gotten over the experience. Perhaps I’ll try some online heisting–though I refuse to bust out a headset–and perhaps I’ll attempt another solo run, but regardless I just don’t think this is the stealth action I’m looking for.