Category Archives: impressions

The hero is me, and Dah Castle is open for business

suikoden 2 dah castle finally

At last, after a smidge over ten logged hours of playing Suikoden II, I finally have a castle headquarters to call home. And yes, I named it Dah Castle, so that when I recruit new soldiers I can read them say zany things like, “Okay, let’s head over to Dah Castle right away.” It’s a small step up from Suikoden‘s Castle Castle, but I just can’t help getting silly with names when given the chance. I wonder what I’ll end up calling home in Suikoden III (if I ever get there again and if that’s an option).

So yeah, it’s a definitely slower, much more somber start than Suikoden, but it doesn’t take you too long to get a castle in the former game. Here, you have to be patient, and even then, you have to be a bit more patient. Certainly, the fact that the main character–who I named Hodor, in case you forgot–is not as pivotal to the bigger actions unfolding plays a part. I mean, in Suikoden, you are the son of a great Imperial leader, on the run as a rebel, forced to take up arms and build an army. This time around, it feels much more natural, like you are caught in a current, going with the flow until, finally, based on Hodor’s connection to Genkaku, it happens–you are asked to take charge and command the Dunan Unification Army. For a good while there, you simply took on the role as errand boy for Flik, Viktor, Lady Annabelle, and whoever else wanted a dangerous job done. Now you get to tell others what to do.

I don’t know what the next mission is. Right now, I couldn’t care if Luca Blight’s goons were hiding under Hodor’s bedsheets. It matters not. All I know is that the castle is mine, it is huge to begin with, and there are a lot of rooms to fill. The setup is much different than the castle in Suikoden, which was, more or less, a six-story high-rise, with a few offshoots on two or three of the floors to explore. But you’d have trouble getting lost there; Dah Castle is intimidating in size and layout, especially given that it has a separate inn section attached to it from the outside, providing two entrances. There’s also a bunch of portrait-less characters to speak to, whereas before your castle was only filled with your friends. It’s going to take some time to familiarize myself with where everyone is, and then I’m sure much will change once I get more of the 108 Stars of Destiny to join the fight.

Actually, I lied earlier. I do know what the next mission is, and it’s a doozy: find your castle’s docks. Flik said it was right below where Hodor and his friends were chatting. It took me far too long to figure out what he meant. Heck, I even left the HQ and went to a few towns to see if that’s where the boats are being kept, thinking Flik meant below Dah Castle on the world map. Hint: there’s a small staircase that is easily missed, which leads to a graveyard, prison cells, and the docks. Once there, you can get on your boat and sail around or partake in Yam Koo’s less-than-stellar fishing minigame.

Something else I’ve noticed is that Suikoden II is much more challenging when it comes to the turn-based battles. The previous game was a breeze, and I think I only died once (to Neclord), and that was possibly due to little pre-planning going into the fight. I’ve still not scene a Game Over screen yet this time around, but the amount of medicine and healing spells I’ve had to use post-combat has unarguably quadrupled. The Abomination boss that Neclord leaves behind for you to deal with at North Window proved the toughest enemy so far, with only three party members surviving the fight. Also, Nanami has fallen in battle way more than anyone else; DarkBunnies love picking on her, for some reason. At least I’m grinding for a reason now.

Anyways, once again, I’m anxiously looking forward to revisiting known locations and recruiting new friends for…Dah Castle. The quicker it grows, the sooner I’ll get to participate in the cooking minigame.

Metal Gear Solid 2, an unpredictable mix of gloss and dross

comparison-mgs2-pc-snake-raiden

I wish I could remember whether I knew about the big early twist in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty or not before I deep dove into it. At this stage, it just seems like one of those known certainties that everyone who games is aware of. I was certainly reading a lot of gaming magazines at the time, though the Internet was not yet the spoiler battlefield we have to crawl through today. Plus, at the time, I had other priorities to worry about: drawing, failing at drawing, crying in bathrooms, girls, making friends, losing friends, throwing up in bathrooms, and pondering the future. Hideo Kojima’s second cool action guy game in the Metal Gear Solid series came out in November 2001, my freshman year of college at Rowan University when I was still rocking my original PlayStation and using a dorm-mate’s PlayStation 2 to experience things like Grand Theft Auto III.

In fact, I remember exactly when I got my copy of Metal Gear Solid 2 and for how much; the receipt is still in the case, though now very faded after about twelve years. I snagged it on November 22, 2002 for $16.99 at the Deptford Mall’s GameStop (the receipt says the cashier’s name was Jay–hey Jay!) and then visited a girl at a candy store before heading home to immerse myself in nanomachine-driven mindfuckery and yellow-green gummi worms. That was also probably roughly the last time I played it, completing it over a few days or so while juggling school, dates, something of a social life, and the impending Thanksgiving break.

All right, imagine if I’m telling you this plot summary via Codec and you can use the analog sticks to be silly and zoom in on my face. You start out by reprising your role as Solid Snake, ex-FOXHOUND operative, who is now working with his Shadow Moses buddy Otacon to stop the production of Metal Gear machines by the military. Currently, Snake sneaks aboard a tanker supposedly housing Metal Gear RAY, an anti-Metal Gear machine. Spoiler alert, but after this section runs its course, the story begins somewhere else, starring someone else. Big Shell, a massive offshore clean-up facility, has been seized by a group of terrorists calling themselves the “Sons of Liberty” and demanding a large ransom in exchange for the life of the POTUS. You now play as Raiden, a greenhorn member of FOXHOUND fresh out of VR training and ready for his first real mission.

There are many things that stand out when you go right from Metal Gear Solid to Metal Gear Solid 2, and I’m not just talking about the graphical uptick that greatly allows characters to emote more voicelessly. The goal remains the same and always has since the beginning: sneak, scurry, crawl, cartwheel, and occasionally shoot your way past enemies until you’ve reached your destination. However, Metal Gear Solid 2 really ups the ante, giving both Snake and Raiden new tools, new ways of traversing, and new perspectives. My favorite was being able to hop over guard rails to a floor below or, if needed, just hang there until the enemy walks past. You can also dive into a roll, if you need to get under a desk real fast. Plus, there’s the first-person shooting perspective, which is vital for using the tranquilizer gun, as well as looking around corners. That said, the controls are still tough to master and do not work 100% of the time (I won’t even go into how many times I’d try to pick up an unconscious guard only to immediately drop them back down); in line with that, I’ll also never master holding up an enemy from behind and then walking in front of them, weapon still drawn, to make them nervous. I got less than five dog tags total during my replay.

I continue to find it easier to simply die or jump off into the water after being spotted in Metal Gear games, rather than try to hide and wait for the enemies to go back to their standard patrol routes. For one thing, in Metal Gear Solid 2, the enemy artificial intelligence got a serious boost, as they will hunt you down, call for reinforcements, double-check areas, and so forth. Their vision cones also extend a bit further than what the radar actually displays, which leads to me getting spotted more often than I wanted. Still, one of my favorite moments is when Snake leans against a wall and accidentally knocks over a fire extinguisher, alerting a nearby guard. In fact, I had more trouble dealing with guards and flying gun-toting drones than boss fights, which is probably the completely opposite with all the previous games in the series.

The action in Metal Gear Solid 2 is mostly solid (pun intended), but it’s the story that many remember (or continue to disbelieve). It goes to some zany places, and I truthfully don’t know how I swallowed it all the first time I completed it, doing naked cartwheels and reliving the past. That said, that’s one of my favorite thing about this series, the clash of super series tech talk and then the ghost of a dead twin brother in the arm of your enemy. Fighting a tentacle-wielding ex-U.S. President after taking down a bunch of Metal Gear RAYs. Learning about top-secret military weapon technology while hiding in a locker and masturbating to pin-up posters. I’m so looking forward to Giant Bomb‘s playthrough, especially given the moments in the original game that Drew scoffed at; he has no idea what’s in store.

There’s a lot of bonus stuff to experience on this copy of Metal Gear Sold 2 from the Legacy Collection. Not sure if it was included in the original or not. Sadly, there’s no skate-boarding mini-game from the Substance version, which I’ve always heard was silly fun. Included though are a bunch of VR missions, Snake Tales (five story-based missions featuring Solid Snake as the main character), and some kind of cutscene remix tool. I dabbled in each a wee bit, but think I’m sated for the time being.

Truthfully, this final summary blog post exists so I can continue sharing my end-game screen statistics with y’all:

WP_20140911_005

I also believe my code animal grade was…elephant? Which was what Drew got for his recent completion of Metal Gear Solid. I think elephants are pretty cool, but I feel like it’s a “bad” grade. Let’s compare rations across the series so far though:

  • Metal Gear – used 57 rations
  • Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake – used 27 rations
  • Metal Gear Solid – used 90 rations (the photo I took is a little blurry and hard to decipher)
  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty – used 69 rations

I’m not exactly sure what those statistics say about my skills, but at least I didn’t need to heal as much as a I did in the previous game. Either way, rations are yummers. I look forward to eating more of them, as well as snakes, in the next cool action guy game in the series. When will that happen, I muse out loud as I glance at the calendar and see that 2014 is dangerously close to closing. I don’t really know. My goal of playing through all the Metal Gear games this year is, alas, teetering on the edge, and I didn’t bother upgrading my grip strength to level 3.

Suikoden II reminds you to not join the Highland Army’s youth division

suikoden 2 just starting

I like juggling multiple games at once, and so for the moment, here’s everything I’m tossing in a circular motion over my head: Dead Island, Diablo III, Harvest Moon: Back to Nature, The Swapper, and Disney Magical World. Someone off to my side just threw Suikoden II in with the bunch, but it’s okay; I’m a decent juggler. Here’s the real dirt–I first learned to juggle with baseballs because I was generally lousy at team sports and often asked to sit the bench for Little League, and it was one way to entertain myself. Hey, at least I was improving a skill, though not one that my coaches intended.

Anyways, Suikoden II. It was this or moving right on to Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, but I think I need a wee bit more breathing room from Hideo Kojima’s zany nanomachine-influenced mindfuckery for the time being, though I am still intent on playing the remainder of that series before 2014 comes to a close. So long as I can stay one game ahead of Dan and Drew over at Giant Bomb, I’m good. Granted, I also had ambitions about playing a horror game for this glorious month of October, namely Silent Hill 3–yes, another Konami game–but that might not happen given that I’m simultaneously juggling a bunch of comic projects (like Inktober, hint hint).

If you’ll recall, I found replaying Suikoden for the first time in many years to be…an experience. Sometimes an odd one, sometimes a mechanical one, sometimes a repetitive one, but in the end, an enjoyable one. It turned out to be a rather short RPG too in the grand scheme of things, but given that I’ve now sunk just under seven hours into Suikoden II and haven’t even gotten a castle headquarters yet, the sequel is looking to be a much longer, more thorough journey. Let’s get into it.

A real quick summary of the plot goes like this: Suikoden II begins with Riou–who I naturally renamed as Hodor–and his childhood friend Jowy Atreides working together in the youth division of the Highland Army. One night, unexpectedly, Luca Blight, the prince of Highland, orchestrates the slaughter of their unit, blaming it on the neighboring city-state of Jowston. This gives the madman justification for invading Jowston and snowballing a, more or less, civil war. Luckily, Hodor and Jowy escape, eventually making friends with those caught on the other side of battle.

First off, this is a very serious story. Cue ultra and dramatic soundtrack. There are teeny tiny splinters of humor in the game, but so far, they are only with Flik and Viktor and their festering bromance with one another. Otherwise, it’s all about politics and really evil people doing really evil things to innocent villagers; yes, Luca Blight, I’m looking directly at you for that “act like a pig” scene. The game does a great job of making you feel like you really did get swept into the middle of all this, but also prompts you, or rather Hodor, to be the hero destiny foretells. I still wish he wasn’t a mostly mute protagonist, but alas, that’s just how these games roll.

Structurally and gameplay-wise, not much sets Suikoden II apart from its predecessor, though it clearly looks a whole lot nicer. Battles remain turn-based, you still do one-on-one duels, and the large-scale army fights are still there, though tweaked to be more RTS than rock, paper, scissors. The cast is much grander right from the start, and I love that Suikoden‘s Flik and Viktor make a return here, playing extremely vital roles in guiding Hodor and his friends safely through war and strife. I’m curious to see if anything is different with upgrading your castle besides that cooking mini-game; honestly, I don’t even remember how you get your castle, so here’s looking forward to that surprise.

Stray observations, a format I’m totally stealing from The AV Club for the time being:

  • You can run by holding down the Circle button right from the beginning of the game, which does wonders for moving about towns. In Suikoden, you could only dash if you had a specific rune attached, the True Holy Rune, which is one of the reasons I ended up using Stallion a lot.
  • The flashy random battle transition takes advantage of the PlayStation’s ability to render 3D polygons, even in a 2D game.
  • Animations on the character sprites have been enhanced x10.
  • I’m still coming across some strange sound effects, especially when attacking enemies in battle. Sounds like a wet sponge being stepped on. Not as weird as a dragon trumpeting like an elephant, but odd nonetheless.
  • Already took like five photos of bad grammar/spelling mistakes in the opening hour alone.
  • At a glance, seems like inventory space is even MORE limited this time around. Grr. Funk that.
  • I’m happy to see that Unite attacks are more plentiful, especially early on. You end up using Hodor and Jowy’s “Buddy Attack” a lot because it targets all enemies on screen, but I also enjoy seeing Kinnison and Shiro take down an entire column of creepy spiders with their “Loyal Dog Attack”.
  • Already got like three recipes, so bring on the Iron Chef mini-game.

For the reasons I’ve stated above at the start of this post, I’m playing Suikoden II slower and in much shorter chunks. Granted, that might all change once Hodor gets his castle headquarters and can begin bringing in a swarm of friends and allies, but for now, I’m okay with the pace. After all, there’s a lot more heavy moments to take in here, and no matter how many times Nanami told Hodor he didn’t have to wait with her for Jowy’s return, I’ve got all the patience in the world. You can’t rush through the good times.

Dead Island’s a lively tropical vacation full of zombies

dead island thoughts and stuff

Back in October 2013, I grabbed a digital copy of Dead Island for $4.99 on the PlayStation 3 and played for a little bit, actually finding it too unnerving to play solo, given that any group of three or more zombies proved deadly, and the to-ing and fro-ing for fetch quests felt both depressing and lonely. I don’t think I got out of Act I or even hit level 10 with whatever character I selected before putting the whole thing aside. Flash-forward to February 2014, and Dead Island is given out as a freebie for Gold users on the Xbox 360. Figured I’d try one more time.

For those unaware, Dead Island is a first-person, zombie-killing survival loot fest. What does that mean? Well, you will kill zombies, find better weapons, and use them to kill more zombies. There’s a high focus on melee weapons though guns do pop up later and are less exciting. The game takes place on the fictional island of Banoi, a tropical resort destination located off the coast of Papua New Guinea. You play as one of four survivors who discover, after a crazy night of partying, that the island’s gone to heck–undead heck, that is. Back on the PS3, I started off as Xian Mei, a hotel receptionist and spy for the Chinese government, but decided to go with former football-star Logan Carter for this second go-around, seeing as he is much better suited for wielding blunt weapons.

Your goal is, naturally, to get off this zombie-infested island alive. Along the way, you’ll do smaller quests for other survivors, like finding a necklace or reuniting siblings. All the quests exist to simply get you out in the wild, killing zombies, finding new weapons, and gaining XP. This can be a lot of fun, generally when it is you versus one or two zombies; it’s all about crowd control and managing your stamina, which runs out fast with each hard swing of your hammer or spiked baseball bat. Breaking a zombie’s bones or slice its head off in one swift action is very satisfying, even if the game occasionally bugs out or feels too tough for one person to get through.

Well, something happened the other night. I was playing through the campaign by myself, specifically the Act 1 mission where you have to protect a mechanic’s workshop while he tinkers with upgrading your van with some zombie-blocking armor. Naturally, all the noise he creates draws in a bunch of biters; I finished the mission just fine when, out of nowhere, another player joined my game. This player was clearly much higher in level than me–his gun shot bullets that set zombies aflame and put them to the ground in one single trigger-pull–and I figured he’d see what I was up to and decide I wouldn’t be fun to co-op with, given the differences between our characters. But no–he lingered. And then two other players joined, both just as high in level as him. They wanted to adventure with moi.

With these three other power-spewing players by my side, we blazed through the remainder of Dead Island‘s Act I and got pretty deep into Act II before I had to drop out to make some phone calls and play something less terrifying before bedtime. I wouldn’t necessarily call it fun for me or how I even wanted to play, as I spent the majority of my time just walking behind them, watching zombies getting slaughtered and free, unearned XP added to my character, and there seemed to be little I could do. Given that Act II begins in a new area, I wanted to explore more slowly and on my own, but these three were eager to just move on to the next mission, often firing guns in the air as a signal for me to hurry up and over. A part of me felt bad for abandoning them; heck, they joined my game, and were here to assumedly help me. So I followed behind for a good while, earning lots of XP, money, and weapons, and missing every important story beat along the way. Now that they’re gone, I feel very out of my element–like I don’t belong in Act II.

As you explore Banoi, the game is constantly letting you know that so-and-so is nearby, just click this button to join their game. I tried it once or twice, with it putting me really far away from the other player, to the point that I was basically still just playing solo, but listening to someone’s choppy voicechat. It’s a neat function that seems to work well enough, but I think I need to turn it off, at least until I complete the story once. Right now, I feel like I’m missing a lot of the atmosphere and small details by just jumping from quest to quest, completing a handful in under an hour. Maybe they were all boosting for Achievements, but I’m not really interested in that stuff anymore.

It sounds like Dead Island is a pretty long game. The level cap is 50, and I just hit 25, and there are still two more acts to go. I’ve come across some online grumbling about how these final sections are less fun than exploring the beach/resort area. Already, I’m disliking the city/church area, as there are way too many zombies to realistically handle; I’ve found myself sprinting past enemies more often to not. It’s also more closed off, with narrow alleys and buildings, whereas the beach felt very open. I’ll keep going though. I don’t want to be a zombie.

There’s some cold, quiet body interchanging in The Swapper

the swapper early thoughts

Well, back in February of this year, I tossed a few bucks at Humble Indie Bundle 11 and got the following puppy-eyed indie dogs back to play with:

  • Antichamber
  • Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians
  • Dust: An Elysian Tail
  • Fez
  • Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams
  • Guacamelee! Gold Edition
  • Monaco
  • Starseed Pilgrim
  • The Swapper

Naturally, I’ve only really played half of these. Granted, I already played and beat Fez back when it debuted on the Xbox 360, so my digital copy will most likely continue to collect e-dust for a good while unless I get a hankering for some world-rotating fun. I also ended up getting free copies of Dust: An Elysian Tail and Monaco for being a Gold member, so I won’t really be getting much use out of these Steam editions. Really, the only game from this list that I played freshly and fully is Guacamelee!, and I do intend to pop back to it eventually, as its Metroidvania map is still littered with secrets to unearth.

Of the remaining names, I’ve been most interested in seeing what The Swapper is all about. While it and Antichamber are both puzzle games, one is more intimidating than the other, and I’ll let you figure out which is which. Psst: it’s the one that deals with colors and walking backwards.

The Swapper‘s got a great, Golden Age sci-fi plot, the kind that makes me want to fish out my many Asimov books and pore through them all over again: having exhausted their natural resources, humanity establishes seven remote outposts in distant space to extract and synthesize useful materials from nearby planets. The crews for these space stations must survive independently of Earth for several decades as they work. Unfortunately, Station 7 loses orbit and disintegrates into its closest sun, and then Station 6 mysteriously goes offline. The crew of Theseus begin to explore an uninhabitable desert planet and find that it is abundant with natural mineral deposits called Chori V. However, they also discover an alien lifeform similar to Earth’s silkworm and highly complex rock formations of unknown origin that seem to possess rudimentary intelligence.

The majority of the story is told visually and through terminal logs, though I have run into another living, speaking crew member, distraught as she may be. Oh, and rocks talk to me telepathically. But really, it’s all about the visuals. Which are, to put it straight, simply stunning. The 2D visuals are created from photographed clay models, which gives everything a diorama-like look, and every room you enter tells a story, whether it is the lush, vibrant plants still thriving in the greenhouse or the somber, abandoned rec rooms. Lighting plays an important part; your character’s Swapper gun is equipped with a flashlight, which is really only a sliver of light, but it adds to the atmosphere wonderfully. The levels themselves are gorgeously lit or sometimes dark on purpose for effect. It’s got the same sobering sadness found early on in Super Metroid or when you later get to the powered down section.

To progress in The Swapper, you have to collect orbs, as some doors or places on the Metroidvania-esque map require you to have X number of them first to get past. You find these orbs as rewards to puzzle rooms, and sometimes you get one orb, another time you get three, and occasionally you’ll rack up a large sum all at once. The puzzles revolve around you using the Swapper, which creates clones; you can make up to four other copies of yourself, and so long as the path is clear, swap places with any of them. At first, the puzzles are fairly elementary, but they quickly ramp up in difficulty, often asking you to balance timing and the specific placement of each clone, as well as dealing with moveable crates or Swapper-nullifying bursts of light. You’ll also end up murdering many, many clones of yourself, all for the sake of progress. I’m proud to say I’ve not had to look up outside help…yet.

If I had The Swapper‘s story spoiled for me during some of Giant Bomb‘s GOTY talks last year, I’ve quickly forgotten whatever they said. Sure, I suspect there’s going to be some kind of twist related to your ability to create disposable duplicates of yourself, and those mind-talking rocks are surely up to no good, but either way–I’m glad I don’t remember what is going to happen. It makes both the future puzzles and story beats all more desirable, rewarding. I don’t know how much further I have to go, but here’s to more orbs, obtuse terminal logs from Sam Cook (not to be confused with Sam Cooke), and watching my body crumble into itself after missing a timely swap as gravity took over and floor quickly met feet.

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…