Category Archives: impressions

Grammar is not Suikoden’s greatest joy in life

suikoden grammar 55-PSOGL2_160

During my recent replaying time with Suikoden, I noticed that the translation work, well…it needed some work. Meaning that there were a constant number of grammar and punctuation mistakes across my logged twenty-two hours of grinding and recruiting, enough that I eventually began snapping crappy photos via my cell phone–when I could. For documentation’s sake, of course. I mean, it might be another ten-plus years before I touch this RPG again, and maybe the world won’t even care a lick about good grammar by then–the horror!

I’d love to tell you that I noticed all of these errors back when I was a freckly, green-haired teenager with ska patches covering my backpack, but that probably wouldn’t be true. I don’t think my editing skills really blossomed until college, until I was told to stop pursuing art. Nonetheless, the spelling mistakes and grammar errors don’t detract one bit from Suikoden‘s fun gameplay, then and now; they’re just easier to spot in 2014 when playing on a larger TV screen, and once you spy one, you’ll be constantly looking for more.

Anyways, below are only four examples, but trust me when I say there were many others that I accidentally button-pressed through too fast or the text on the screen disappeared before I could ready my phone. This was especially the case during the final montage before the credits, where every single 108 Star of Destiny you recruited before the final battle with Barbarossa gets a tiny sentence about what they did after the war was over. Unfortunately, these little blips of text don’t stay on the screen for very long, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Or, y’know, you could play Suikoden all the way through. Or just watch here. The most common problem I spotted was subject-verb agreement, such as “Become the Commander-in-Chief and protect the border” for Kasim and “Embark on a journey to improve his imperfect self” for Pahn. They also end up spelling Barbarossa as Barbarosa on several accounts.

Right. Check these goofs out:

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Can’t stop ripping out eyeballs in Tentacles: Enter the Mind

tentacles etm screenshot

It really seems like the Windows 8 phone just lumps a bunch of freemium games together and publishes them all closely together in one big spurt. I mean, Throne Together, Hungry Shark Evolution, and now Tentacles: Enter the Mind all came out in just the last few weeks alone, and this is following another burst of free-to-play experiences with Hexic, Snap Attack, and that trilogy of Microsoft-themed classics like Mahjong, Minesweeper, and Solitaire. Oh boy, my phone might be filling up a little too fast. There’s even a few other free games to download that I’ve held back on simply because I don’t want to overdo it, though clearly that is not a thought in Microsoft’s mind.

That said, so far, Tentacles: Enter the Mind from Microsoft’s very own Press Play studio seems like the most traditional videogame of all these freebie titles I’ve touched of late, even if there are still options to purchase digital money with real-life money. Thankfully, they really don’t get in the way of playing the game, which I’m a thousand times thankful for, since playing the game is a lot of fun and I don’t want anything coming between me and my fun. Perhaps the best missing element is any form of an energy system, which means I can keep stretching from one brain shop to another for as long as I like, or as long as I want to run my phone’s battery into the ground.

To begin, Tentacles: Enter the Mind features a fully 3D and colorful landscape that you can explore via your tentacle-laden monster called Lemmy by tapping all over the screen. Basically, each tap moves a tentacle, so if you quickly tap four times in a row, the monster will zip over to where you want…or you can stretch it out across a bunch of different spots and see how far it’ll go. The story goes that you’re inside the mind of the mad scientist Dr. Phluff, fighting off invading enemies in his subconscious. How do you do this, you ask, probably already knowing the answer based on this blog post’s title? Simple: you pluck their eyeballs out from their heads. You can also use special powers, like a AOE bomb that hits all nearby enemies, by swiping down on the screen. There seems to be 15 areas in total, but each area–or level of subconscious–is made up of multiple stages, which may or may not be randomly generated. I’m currently on one themed around kitty cats, meow.

As you travel from one stage to another and aren’t too busy ripping the eyes from your enemies–yes, I’m a big fan of that scene from Kill Bill: Vol. 2, how did you know?–you can also pick up gold coins, hammers, eggs, and revive tokens. In between each stage, you pause at a shop menu to purchase upgrades for your monster, including new tentacle effects, different eyeballs, and additional power skills. You use your gold coins on this, and so far, the amounts are not too crazy high that you immediately see the unnecessary need to purchase gold with real money. Everything will come in time, plus you can earn more gold from cracking colored eggs with the matching colored hammer, as well as completing side objectives, like ripping the eyeballs from X monsters in a row without taking any damage.

The feeling of moving Lemmy one tentacle at a time is actually quite satisfying. I mean, after all these years of watching octopus videos, and I finally sort of know how it feels. Throw in that plus dodging and attacking enemies simultaneously, which you also have to tap on, and your phone and your index finger are going to become quite close friends. The only parts I’m struggling with are having Lemmy move to a really specific point in the level; for instance, there’s a part inside a confined tube, where these rotating dividers block your way forward, save for a small hole in them that you have to dart through when the moment is right. If you don’t, you get electrocuted, which is usually a whole heart gone. I can’t get past it, but at least I get to keep the gold coins and eggs I find along the way.

I look forward to seeing more of Tentacles: Enter the Mind and growing Lemmy into an even more fearsome eyeball-ripping monster. Y’all best stay out of my tentacles’ way now.

It is only through Motocross Madness that the soul is revealed

motocross madness early impressions

Trials Evolution is a game I both love and hate, one with extremely hard swings, where one minute I’m leaping off a ramp high in the sky across a gorgeous vista and doing sick backflips and the next grumbling curse word after curse word as I try to get up an extremely steep hill and hit the next checkpoint. It’s really been my only toe-dip into the videogaming world of dirt bike racing–I guess since Excitebike–and its focus on hyper sensitive controls really means that only the driven and dedicated will continue on. Alas, I have not; think the last time I touched it was last fall, and even then it was only for goofing around in the user-created levels, which are, nine times out of nine, absolutely bonkers.

Well, I got the itch to gas a bike up a steep ramp and do silly tricks, and so I turned to Motocross Madness. No, no, not that Motocross Madness, the one from 1998. This is Microsoft’s Avatar-spearheaded take on arcade style and open sandbox motorbiking, and it was given out for free this month to Gold accounts, along with Dishonored, which I continue to be terrible at. More on that somewhere down the line…

To be honest, I’m enjoying Motocross Madness. A lot. While there may not be a ton of variety in the courses, there’s certainly variety to the things you can do in them. First, you can partake in a standard race via Career mode, aiming for that first place gold medal each time. Rivals mode has you competing against developer avatar ghosts. There’s a Trick mode that tests your aerial button-pressing skills and rewards you with new trick combos. Lastly, and probably my favorite part of Motocross Madness, is Exploration mode, which lets you hop off the track’s main path and explore every corner of the environment for gold coins and collectibles, all at your own leisurely pace. The courses are spread across three differently themed worlds, though I’ve only gotten to bike around Egypt and Australia for now; Iceland is still to come.

Unlike Trials Evolution, the racing here is much looser and more forgiving, meaning you can spill a few times and still stay in the lead or, with enough time, catch back up with everybody. I appreciate this greatly. If that’s not the case, then you probably need to lightly grind for some more coins and upgrade your bike a bit, which is easily done via Exploration mode or playing an older race again. The physics are not entirely arcade-ish, as landing after a jump or trick does require you to maintain some balance or skid out, and you eventually are able to ride behind another biker and coast within their wake, which is silly fun.

Much like with Doritos Crash Course 2 and, maybe, World Series of Poker: Full House Pro, seeing your Avatar in action is a blast. It’s a shame that the game encourages you to cover up my silly, bearded face with riding helmets, but sometimes you need to do that to look super stylish. While the outfits are cosmetics, you can make stat changes to your bike, purchasing new engine parts, tires, and brakes, and you will occasionally need to up a bike to perform better in a higher-tiered race. The cartoony graphics all around work well, though there’s some strange pop-in after each race is finished, when your Avatar hops of his or her bike and greets the crowd of cheering fans.

For another monthly freebie, Motocross Madness is a great addition to anyone’s digital collection on the Xbox 360. Perhaps a bit small in scope, but still brimming with things to do. You can also race competitively online though, if y’all know me like I hope y’all would know me by now, I’ve made no attempts to try this as of yet. Personally, I end up spending most of my time in Exploration mode, staring at coins and skulls in the sky and trying to figure how best to get ‘em. It’s certainly more enjoyable than hitting restart every few seconds on a tough-as-nails track in Trials Evolution.

The lengthy grind for an urn without a name

nameless urn suikoden blog

I find it both bizarre and amusing that Suikoden gives the player two extremely similar recruit requirements at nearly the exact time in the plot, and both ask that a specific creature be killed in hopes that it drops a certain item. Nothing too out of the ordinary in a JRPG. However, from what I can gather, the drop rates for both of these monsters range dramatically from one player to another, and some people find the item after the first battle and others, like me, end up grinding for two hours just to see its name pop up. As the Brits say, that’s a bunch of bollocks.

Okay, details. The first side recruit involves killing Nightmares, which are floating casino-card like enemies, in the Soniere Prison; one will eventually leave behind an opal, which you can then give to Esmeralda to get her to sign up with the Liberation Army. The second recruit quest has you murdering Holly Fairies for a nameless urn, which will most likely stump even Jabba, a wizened appraiser from Rikon. The objective couldn’t be clearer: kill X until X drops Y. The problem is, there is no way to tell when you’ll see that item. Might be within minutes, hours, or–the horror!–days.

In fact, I had almost left Soniere Prison entirely and started that really tough Gremio scene, but I purposefully back-tracked for a bit to get into a few more fights starring Nightmares. I would wager it only took four or five more rounds until an opal hit my inventory, so that was nice and had me thinking optimistic thoughts about future grinding quests even though I knew what story beat was coming, but hey, at least I didn’t have to grind for two hours first.

So after gathering up a few more recruits for Castle Castle, I double-checked my list to see who I could still get on the non-Imperial side before serving Milich his just desserts, and I noticed that Jabba the appraiser was still calling Rikon home. So off I went, to grind outside on the world map for a bit, searching for that nameless urn. I skipped all battles not involving Holly Fairies and, given how well the opal hunt went, figured I’d maybe spend fifteen minutes at most doing this before getting the urn and moving on with the game. Nope. I grinded Holly Fairy fight after Holly Fairy fight for at least an hour and a half, having to even mute the game’s sound and listen to a podcast so that I didn’t lose my mind. Eventually, I gave up for the night. Upon returning to Suikoden in the morning, it took another thirty minutes or so of fighting the same fights before those magical words appeared on screen: Obtained Nameless urn. My heart swelled, I shoved it right under Jabba’s whiskery nose, and saved my game twice because I was so ecstatic and distracted that I immediately forgot if I had saved or not after just choosing to save. Oh man.

I don’t remember if there are any further “grind for item” quests in Suikoden, but I certainly hope not. Two hours is much too long to devote to such a mundane and trivial quest. My logged playtime is now in the twelve-hour range, and I think this is one of those early JRPGs that you can probably complete in under twenty hours. We’ll see. I am a bit obsessive about getting all 108 Stars of Destiny, no matter what it takes. If any good came out of this, it’s that Pauly McDohl got mega-rich and sharpened all his friends’ weapons, and it wasn’t even any of their birthdays. What a nice, army-raising boy he is…

Hungry Shark Evolution wants you to experience life as a shark

hungry shark evolution

I know I’ve covered this before, but if your videogame has a ridiculously weird name, there’s an even greater chance that I’ll check it out. Which leads us to Hungry Shark Evolution, from Future Games of London and, strangely, Ubisoft, the powerhouse behind time-standing franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Prince of Persia, and Rayman. It’s okay to be curious; I know I was the minute I saw the name scroll by on my Windows 8 phone. However, after playing about fifteen to twenty minutes and not really getting anywhere great in this digital shark life of mine, I think this is one strange title that probably shouldn’t have surfaced. Hey, look at that…a totally unplanned Microsoft-themed pun!

The short of it is that, in Hungry Shark Evolution, which I’m playing on my Windows 8 phone, you are a shark that is very hungry. No, really. Like starving. Your hunger meter–which is basically your health bar–depletes extremely fast, and so the shark is never satisfied despite eating an entire school of fish in one gulp. Your goal is to survive as long as you can, which means constantly swimming around, looking for your next meal. This can be easy targets, like tiny fish that don’t fight back, or other sharks…or even unaware swimmers if you head towards the beachy area. Along the way, you can complete side objectives specific to each shark type, and these generally boil down to things like “eat four turtles” and “survive for at least six minutes.” Nothing terribly difficult, seeing as I have already unlocked one of the six total Achievements for the game:

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Reef Shark (20G): Complete Super Mission 1 using Reef shark.


To complete the Super Mission, you have to first finish all the side missions and do whatever is asked of you next. For this, it was hitting a high score of 25,000 points. Not too hard. The other five Achievements are tied to the other five sharks–Mako, Hammerhead, Tiger, Great White, and Megaladon–which you unlock by first leveling up the prior shark to its fullest. I’ve got the Mako shark next on my evolve list.

The challenge in Hungry Shark Evolution comes from enemies, like sting rays, other sharks, scuba divers, etc, which attack you and significantly lower your food meter. I’ve found some enemy aquatic life harder to kill than others, specifically the sting rays, and if you miss on your first chomp, chances are the shark is taking a hit of health. If you go too long without eating something, that’s it. Your score and gold coins are added up, you watch your shark’s XP grow, and you get returned to the start mission menu, where you can enhance your shark’s swim, bite, and boost abilities, as well as purchase one-use items, accessories, and treasure maps. Some parts of the underwater map are also gated depending on what shark you are using; for example, the reef shark can only swim down so deep.

Much like in Throne Together, I’m finding my finger to be a hindrance to performing a great run. To move the shark, you simply press on the screen and move your finger in the direction you want it to swim. I find it easier to keep my finger in the middle of the screen, because if I move it too far over to the right then I risk the danger of hitting one of the buttons to return me to my phone’s home screen. Keeping it on the left means my wrist is now covering the screen. Again, my finger ends up obstructing a good portion of my view of the shark. Also, while moving with one finger, you can tap the screen with another finger to perform a boost of speed, which is easier said than done, considering I’m using my other hand to cradle the phone in place.

It’s a strange game, for sure. It looks nice, with cartoony, World of Warcraft-like graphics that help flesh out a colorful underwater realm. And it is teeming with puns, like when you eat a scuba diver, the words AQUALUNCH pop up, or VITAMIN SEA after gobbling up a bunch of fish. I think I even saw SUN SCREAM when you leap from the water onto the beach to steal away some clueless sun-tanner. As a cartoonist that lives and dies on pun-related humor, I can’t help but squeal and smile at all this. Goofy name and goofy humor currently outweigh all the free-to-play elements here, which, so far, are easy enough to ignore.

Life as a reef shark was fairly perfunctory, so I’m looking forward to what I can do as a Mako shark. At some point, I also need to Google whether Megaladon is a real shark or one from dinosaur times; it looks ridiculous.

Suikoden’s rock, paper, scissors take on war

Blog Suikoden Army Battle

All right, I know I teased you last time I covered Suikoden about forthcoming elves and kobolds, so let’s get right to it–I met some elves and kobolds.

After a mighty banquet and stealth ninja assassination attempt (how rude!), Pauly McDohl and his friends tried to leave Castle Castle in hopes of pursuing new recruits, but stumbled upon an elf, exhausted and drenched, right on their front doorstep. Evidently he was so desperate to speak with Lady Odessa that he swam all the way over. Hmm, well, Kirkis, we have some bad news for you, as does he for all of us. The pointy-eared fella who could probably pass for a rebellious teenager from Lothlorien based on his ginger hair says that the Great Imperial General Kwanda Rosman is planning to exterminate all the elves.

Well, we simply can’t allow that, and so the gang is off, first through the woods, which are unnavigable without Kirkis’ help, then through an empty kobold village, and off to visit the mighty elves, who live high up in the trees and just think the snootiest of thoughts when it comes to humans. Long story short, things go awry, and the gang is tossed into jail, though Kirkis’ girlfriend helps set everyone free shortly after. We then visit the home of the dwarves, where we learn that Kwanda Rosman was able to build a Burning Mirror after stealing the blueprint from one of their mines. The dwarven leader doesn’t believe this, so he tasks us with stealing something to prove such a feat is possible. I won’t go into more detail there as it is a pretty straightforward dungeon crawl, though I must comment on the “telephone puzzle” to open the boss door, another nugget of strangeness I forgot over time.

Upon returning to the village of the elves, we find it burnt to the ground. We were too late, and now Kwanda Rosman must pay, taking us into Suikoden‘s first large-scale army battle, which, much like the castle and 108 Stars of Destiny, is to become a trademark of the series. In these, it’s all about scope, with your army of tiny pixelated soldiers versus another, and the army count actually does reflect the number of people you’ve recruited, so even if Onil and Krin serve little purpose once in your castle, they at least participate in war. Basically, you select from four options: charge, bow, magic, and others. Your opponent is also making a choice, and the outcome is determined in a rocks, paper, scissors fashion that I’m sure Fire Emblem: Awakening could appreciate. Let me break it down:

  • Charge beats bow
  • Magic beats charge
  • Bow beats magic

If both players pick the same attack, the damage is reduced for both, but still accounted for. The “others” option allows thieves to sneak in to the opposing army’s camp and steal gold or get a hint as to what attack they’ll do next. It’s really just a guessing game, and I got creamed on my first two attempts, even ending up losing Eileen. See, for many of the non-vital story-related characters in your army, death can come quite easy during these army battles, and this is permadeath, so you best be careful with who you send out. Since I’m ultimately going for 108 total Stars of Destiny, this was an instant “reload my save” scenario, something I’m usually against. Finally, with a little luck and a good streak of my army casting magic against Kwanda’s charge attack, the fight was over. Now it was time to storm the stronghold.

Once you get through all the random encounters, open all the hidden treasure chests, and take care of that dragon miniboss, which was a bit hard since I still don’t have much in the “heal the entire party” option, you fight Kwanda, one on one. Mano-a-mano. And just like the army battle, it’s a game of choices. Here, let me break it down one more time:

  • Attack (damages opponent, even a little damage through defend)
  • Defend (blocks opponent, counters if against desperate attack)
  • Desperate attack (deals big damage, but can be countered)

Once again, it’s the whole rock, paper, scissors thing, but at least this time, so long as you read the dialogue carefully, your opponent’s attacks are televised. Like, when Kwanda is ready to do a desperate attack, he says something aggressive so you know to hit defend. I beat him on the first try, so it’s a much easier way to fight, going for something more cinematic than strategic. Anyways, because Pauly McDohl has an obsession with recruiting characters, he let Kwanda live and join the Liberation Army since he was clearly acting under a magic rune spell.

I’m hoping to progress further in the game and not need to stop and comment about every single section I encounter. However, when I last played this game, I wasn’t even a writer, just some mopey teenage kid who thought ska was the gratest music ever, that khakis were more comfortable than jeans, and that George Constanza had a way of looking at the world that I totally grokked. Yeaaah. I think, at this point, I’ve seen all the big component parts of Suikoden–if I remember right, that is–so all that should be left is story stuff and more turn-based fights, army battles, and one-on-one combat scenarios. Plus more recruiting. Gotta grow that castle, after all. As soon as the Kwanda stuff was done, I went right back out to grab a few more friends for the fight before seeing what Viktor and the recently returned Flik were talking about. I guess I’ll be back if something strange or interesting pops up and I’m compelled to write about it. Until then.

Throne Together, a block-based puzzle game about building castles

Throne_Together_WP_06

Recently, I got my fill of Angry Birds Rio, so much that I even unlocked all twenty Achievements in it, and so I happily removed it from my Windows 8 phone feeling pretty satisfied with the experience. Which is not at all how I felt about Temple Run 2, since it glitched out and wouldn’t let me unlock the last Achievement despite meeting its requirement on many runs, as well as Microsoft Mahjong, also glitched to the point where I’ll no longer be able to earn 20 medals despite totally being able to. It seems like many games for Microsoft’s Windows 8 phones are less than stellar in the quality assurance section, but since the majority of them are all free, it is hard to grumble too loudly. Anyways, I downloaded two more recently, Throne Together and Hungry Shark Evolution, and I’m here to talk about the former first. Sorry, shark fans.

Well, once again, I couldn’t come up with a clever blog title for Throne Together, and so I went the straightforward route of simply describing exactly what it is: a block-based puzzle game about building castles. So far, after doing five to six puzzles, that premise has remained true and untouched, and so the diversity revolves around what kind of castles you need to build, the pieces you use to build them, how fast you move, and other level-specific challenges. Seems like there is a “lives” system similar to Hexic, wherein you get five chances to not fail and can keep playing until you run out of lives, with them regenerating over real-life time. Oh boy. Definitely not my favorite aspect of free-to-play medium, as I just want to play when I want and for how long I want, but I wonder then if people would just burn through everything super fast and move on to the next shiny item before even contemplating the thought of spending real money to buy a boost or extra slew of blocks. Me, no, I’ll never do that.

I’m no professional castle builder–though I always did make LEGO houses full of booby traps as a kid–but neither is Microsoft. Here’s how it works. Basically, you are shown a crown floating in the air (or sometimes multiple crowns), and you have to construct a castle that will touch these, all either under a time limit or specific number of block pieces used. You also have to factor in that the castle has to be stable, that constructing a long, narrow structure might sway and fall or too much heavy weight on top could crack the foundation and bring everything tumbling down. You can counter this by place additional pieces next to the parts cracking, but only for so long. So far, it’s all been fairly easy to figure out, but I can see future levels as getting very tricky, especially depending on where the crowns are positioned. Additional challenges, like building over a river, are also tossed at you.

I’ve only quickly touch upon the Achievements for Throne Together, which certainly look grinding and some require you to pester your friends, which I won’t do, but what really gets me down is that all the icons are the same: a red throne on a blue background. C’mon, we’re no longer living in the medieval times of Achievements (2007-2008). We can get more creative than this.

Right. I’ve run into a problem that I’m surprised has not popped up on other Windows 8 phone games yet. When moving pieces around with my pointer finger, it is difficult to see the screen and pinpoint where exactly to place them. Maybe I have fat fingers or maybe I don’t. I’ve had to rely on the Tetris way, lining up where I want the piece to fall and then watching it trickle down slowly on its own. During untimed missions, this is fine, but when I need to complete a castle in under X number of seconds, this will not work. The problem is that the castle block pieces are smaller than the end of my fingertip to begin with, so when I touch the screen, I can’t even see what I’m manipulating. You’ll probably hear me complain about this again later in Hungry Shark Evolution.

Anyways, not sure how many levels in total there are here, but I stopped at 16, which is one or two after you learn about blueprints and how building them while trying to build a castle can add extra bonus points to your ultimate score and help you on your path to a three stars rating. There’s no story to follow here, just instructions from a nameless castle inspector, and that’s fine because, while it worked in a cutesy way for Hexic, I just can’t see it adding anything here. The meat of the game are the levels themselves and figuring out the best way to build a castle. I’ll keep at it for a bit, but if the later levels prove too challenging I don’t think I’ll feel too bad abandoning this one. It definitely doesn’t have its hooks in me despite my love for castle structures. While this is absolutely a game of thrones, it is also no Game of Thrones.