Monthly Archives: November 2014

One Fantasy Life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it

fantasy life pauly the alchemist

I never thought this day would arrive, but, yeah, I’m totally playing Fantasy Life. It’s not some fever dream; I’m actually running around Castele, raising skills, unlocking Bliss, gaining Dosh, earning XP, doing quests, and having a really grand, relaxing time. As of this writing, I’ve logged just about 12 hours in the game, which is akin to maybe gaining your first dragon shout in Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I’m not exaggerating.

If you are wondering why I would open on such disbelief and/or are new to Grinding Down…well, Fantasy Life is a game I’ve been pining after and trumpeting for a good long while now. Let’s see, let’s see–boy, am I thankful for the “search” function on this ol’ blog of mine. I first wrote about it in August 2009, back when it was originally geared for the Nintendo DS and was all about them sprites. After that, not much word surfaced until July 2012, when the game took a big visual shift to be more accessible for the Nintendo 3DS. And then time marched on some more, though gamers in Japan got to see it released while everyone else waited with collectively held breaths. With zero to even zero-er fanfare, a North American release was announced during this year’s E3 after Nintendo finished announcing all the things they felt were cooler and more worthy of air time than a multi-job cartoony life sim. Well, let’s put all that behind us, because the game is out, the game is mine, and the game is good.

For those that really ate up Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies, you’ll immediately notice a lot in common here. Let’s first touch upon the story, or rather the overarching story. See, each Life has its own set of main characters, problems, and resolutions, but the main path is different. One day, the ever-peaceful Reveria is shaken when a meteorite falls into your character’s house, setting off a chain of events foretold in an ancient prophecy involving the land’s goddess and the moon Lunares. Castele’s King Erik asks the main player to investigate these strange occurrences, and he or she is joined in this quest by Flutter, a strange glowing butterfly that has the ability to speak. Later on, you learn that the butterfly is really the daughter of Celestia, the goddess of Reveria, and she fell from heaven to help people. Not exactly Stella–but it does sound a little familiar, yes?

At the beginning of Fantasy Life, you get to customize your character a bit and then must select what Life you’d like to start on. I picked Alchemist as I’ve always been a big fan of alchemy pots in previous Level-5 games, and I wanted to see how addicting it would be here. There are twelve Life types in total. The Alchemist is a mix of gathering items and some light combat out in the field, though I actually can’t remember many story details from the early Alchemist-only quests. After eleven hours of this, I finally decided to switch over to a new Life–you can freely switch between Lives when not on a main path mission and learn universal skills–but I made the mistake of picking Cook, a Life that is perhaps too similar to Alchemist to feel different. I mean, they both use the very same mini-game for creating items. I suspect I’ll try for a Woodsman or Paladin next to get out into the wild more.

So far, at least for Alchemists, combat is real simple. You have a three-hit combo by mashing the attack button, but no dodge or twirl away from danger like in Disney Magical Castle‘s dungeons, which often leads to getting stuck in the combo animation and taking a few hits from enemies. I found it works well enough to hit twice, back off, and repeat, though it doesn’t make for exciting combat. However, many quests are of the MMORPG ilk, meaning kill X wolves or X bandit leaders, and your list will eventually fill fast just like that miscellaneous quests tab in Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim that you have to get out there and kick some monster butt. In addition to these side quests, you also have Life challenges to complete and Bliss objectives to move the story forward. There is always something to do or work towards in Fantasy Life.

Great news–the writing is funny. Very amusing, but then again, just about everyone in the game is speaking my language. Even when it isn’t diving into puns like a fiend, it handles everything else lightly, but still in an entertaining fashion. Even the quiet moments that Flutter has to herself are soft and poignant, with a pinch of fun. I’m not deeply invested in the world or its characters yet, but just about everything they say is interesting. Oh, and animals talk and say the silliest of things, so make sure you speak to each and every cow, chicken, and cat you come across.

I don’t doubt I’ll be back to write more about Fantasy Life, but probably not until I’ve tried out a few more Lives and figured out which is my true calling. Alchemy is good fun, but I need a little more adventuring under my belt.

The Swapper believes strongly in a single soul inhabiting two bodies

the-swapper steam completed

This year has been many things. One of them has been me catching up on all the great titles that came out in 2013 and just whooshed past me due to my inability to keep up with modern gaming as it unfolds. At this point, I’ve now gotten to experience the exploratory coming-of-age walking simulator that is Gone Home, the somber journey of siblings in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, what it is like to kill both deer and humans with the same tone in Tomb Raider, quirky personality quizzes in Doki Doki Universe, removing and revisiting bad memories in Remember Me, and using clones unemotionally to make progress in The Swapper.

For some reason, I stopped playing The Swapper right before the last few puzzles and end sequence. My bad. I didn’t know how close I was to the end at the point, but I suspect I just got busy with some other games and planned to return to it later. Well, I have now, having finished it up over the weekend after getting the required 124 orbs to move on, much to my heart’s sadness, though probably to my brain’s happiness. My cups of coffee are also pleased with this news.

Anyways…man. What a game. For those that don’t remember what’s going on here, you control an astronaut with a mysterious gun-like device called the Swapper, which allows her to make clones and swap between them. You’ll use this device to solve puzzles, collect orbs, and make your way further through and discover what ultimately happened to the crew of Theseus, a space station in great distress after taking highly complex rock formations of unknown origin on board. Most of the story details surface in computer data logs, but you will eventually meet a character or two that speak, as well as a bunch of rocks with too much time on their minds.

Look, I’m not gonna lie. A few of The Swapper‘s puzzles nearly broke my brain. Generally, they involved platforms and being down one clone. I’d say I had to look up the solutions to five or six of them in total, but only after I banged my head against the wall for at least fifteen or twenty minutes. I tried, I really did. But I didn’t want one puzzle stopping all my progress in this gorgeous and deeply dark tale of identity, so some “cheating” had to occur. Otherwise, I figured out the rest on my own, and many of the puzzles are really satisfying to unravel. I also enjoyed how you have to use the Swapper device to sometimes navigate from room to room, just to get to the next puzzle. It’s quite exhilarating to hit a gravity switch and go zooming up to the ceiling, only to make a clone a second before you make contact and swap to them; also, pretty disturbing.

Evidently, there are Achievements for The Swapper, but none of them relate to the main path. In fact, after making my final choice (I swapped, for those that are curious) and watching the credits roll, I had to do some light Google research to make sure my copy wasn’t glitched or something. We’re so engrained this day and age to get some kind of pop-up when you do something cool or momentous, but that’s not the case here. Fine, fine. The Achievements are for finding secret, hidden consoles throughout the map that contain special messages; I discovered zero during my entire six or seven hours. Oh well.

But let’s end with this, because it’s really all I want anyone reading to take away from this post: y’all need to play The Swapper.

Dragon Crystal is floor after floor of mazes and monsters

dragon crystal gg005_m

If Dragon Crystal teaches me one thing, and one thing only, it is this: don’t touch mysteriously glowing crystals inside equally mysterious antique shops. If you do, you just might end up getting teleported elsewhere like the nameless hero of this Game Gear title, forced to drag a large egg behind him and fight his way through mazes of monsters in hope of getting back home…to his bicycle. Yeah, it came out in the early 1990s; how’d you guess?

Well, that’s literally all the plot you get (and need), so here’s how Dragon Crystal actually plays. It’s a roguelike, with Bicycle Hero-Man beginning in the middle of a maze level covered mostly by fog. The first few levels are a mix of trees, cacti, sunflowers, and Easter Island style statues, though I couldn’t tell you what shows up later in the game. Maybe dragons, maybe crystals. You progress by finding a warp tile somewhere in the maze, stepping on it to advance to the next floor. While you search for this warp tile, you’ll come across a number of items to add to your inventory, as well as enemies to battle.

Battles are turn-based and remind me very much of Hack, Slash, Loot, given how many times Bicycle Hero-Man missed with the swing of his dagger. Anyways, you face the target monster and press in its direction to attack. Sometimes you’ll do damage, sometimes you’ll miss, and the same goes for the monsters fighting you. Text at the bottom of the screen fills in the details. But nothing happens until you hit a button, so you can stand completely still and really think about your next move or dump into your inventory and see what potions you can use. It’s not very deep combat, but it works well enough, and several enemies can cause status effects, such as poison or dizziness. You don’t gain experience points in the traditional sense, but your HP increases with each new floor you find, and equipping new gear raises your power and defense stats.

Dragon Crystal is all about the bass items. Just like how Bicycle Hero-Man had to touch the mysterious crystal in the antique shop, you too will have to use most items to learn what they can do. This is my least favorite part of roguelikes, something that always made my heart skip a beat when using unknown pills in The Binding of Isaac. However, once you use an item and know what it is and can do, all future instances of that item will be acquired with everything spelled out. Thank goodness for that. Each item is color-coded, though the color doesn’t necessarily correlate to the effect, so be prepared to toss green books, purple rods, yellow pots, and cyan rings at enemies to see what the 401 is. Careful though as I discovered a cursed ring through this process and was unable to remove it once I put it on. Oh, and certain pieces of armor will affect how your character looks, so this immediately gets two thumbs up from me. All that said, I’m still not sure what money is good for given that I haven’t found a shop or merchant out in the wild.

So, that egg that is just immediately trailing behind you at the start of the game…well, by the time I had died, it had hatched into a small, tiny dragon. I’d like to imagine that it grows even larger over time and eventually helps you fight other monsters. That’s the dream, really. I read that there about 30 floors in total to get through.

Well, here’s as far as Bicycle Hero-Man got on my first run:

dc gg capture

Dragon Crystal‘s a fun little maze-crawler, with good replayability to it. I expect to return to the color-coded items and foggy forest trees real soon. You hear that, Siro Me? I’M COMING FOR YOU.

Proteus is a mesmerizing and powerful getaway

life in proteus gd thoughts

On one hand alone, I can count the number of islands I’ve been to in real life. Ignoring that less-than-stellar fact, here’s a bunch of fictional islands I’d love to visit and explore for a day, just a day:

  • The island from LOST, specifically Dharmaville and far from wherever the Smoke Monster dwells
  • Amity Island, from Jaws
  • The El Nido Archipelago, from Chrono Cross
  • Gilligan’s Island
  • Isla Nublar, home to Jurassic Park‘s dinosaurs
  • Yoshi’s Island

Well, let’s add one more to that list with Ed Key and David Kanaga’s Proteus, which is actually difficult to describe, though I’m sure all the Gone Home haters would describe it as “not a game” or a “walking simulator.” Phooey on them. Sadly, I just discovered a new term, “anti-game,” while doing some quick research, and that really bums me out. I think anything that creates an experience can be called a game, whether it is highly interactive or not. That time you stabbed a pencil around your fingers and sped up each go? A game. Connecting dots to other dots with lines to reveal some kind of image? A game. Traveling to a foreign, digital world and taking it all in visually? A game. Really now, people.

I guess you could say Proteus is a stark adventure of exploration and discovery in a musical wilderness environment. There are no challenges and set goals, no Achievements to pop (well, on the PC version, at least), no text anywhere on the screen to tell you anything or provide lore. You can’t even really pause the game, only close your eyes to take a snapshot or exit back out to the main menu. As you explore the island, a reactive audio mixing system modifies your soundtrack, with frogs, tombstones, flowers, and birds each acting as individual notes that sound as you draw nearer.

There’s plenty to see on the island, as well as plenty to not touch. All the animals scurry away as you draw near, and you will eventually stumble across a cabin and small circle of statues, but all you can do is look at them and wonder. There’s no “Press X to Pay Respects” button, and that’s more than fine. You can, however, press a button to sit down on the ground and absorb all the sounds. I also found a giant tree-thing that teleported me to the other side of the island. Otherwise, it’s a lot of walking, looking, listening, and learning. Sounds simple, but it’s beyond effective.

I explored Proteus‘ island once on Steam during my Extra Life stream and then a second time on PlayStation 3 just the other evening. Each trip takes about twenty or so minutes, and each island is randomly generated, though you will see a few familiar pieces and critters with each playthrough, as well as summon the swirling vortex of floating white lights that fast-forward the seasons from spring to summer to fall to, lastly, winter. I have not tried simply standing next to the vortex and not causing this shift to happen, though I think that’s possible too. Both of those games ended differently; the first time, I flew into the sky, chasing after the aurora in the night sky, and the second time I got lost in a bleak, snowy winterland, heading for the moon.

So, there are Trophies to unlock on the PlayStation 3 version of Proteus. I got one, and I have to assume I got it for beating the game once. I don’t know. They are overtly obtuse, and I’m looking forward to unlocking a few more–hopefully by accident–though their inclusion does break a bit of immersion and uniqueness. Oh well. Not the worst thing ever, though trying to read all their descriptions in one sitting gave me a headache.

Ultimately, Proteus is about time, about mortality. The experience is all at once deeply relaxing and terribly unnerving. The music will warm you, fill you with hope; then it will drain you, drain from you, and remind you that hope is fleeting. Life goes round and round, until it stops. There’s more than a vicious cycle to experience here, and it’s certainly a walk to remember.

LUFTRAUSERS gives you the power to set the skies aflame

Luftrausers-PSN-Announce

Some of my favorite Peanuts strips revolve around Snoopy’s alter ego of a World War I flying ace battling the likes of the Red Baron or the Austro-Hungarian Empire high up in the sky, his doghouse an adequate stand-in for a time-appropriate biplane capable of intense dogfighting. I even found the Xbox Live arcade title Snoopy Flying Ace to be decent fun. Anyways, I’ve always been a big fan of when comic strips get imaginative, which is why it won’t surprise you to learn I eat up other strips like Calvin and Hobbes, Rose is Rose, and Big Nate. In many ways, Vlambeer’s LUFTRAUSERS feels a lot like these comic strips, where the real and unreal mix in a manner that can only result in bold, sparkling joy.

The premise to LUFTRAUSERS is simple: select a combination of parts to complete your Rauser plane, take off into the sky, and shoot everything that shoots at you. Don’t worry, it’s not confusing–everything shoots at you. Depending on your plane’s build, you’ll have different amounts of HP, but you can recover damage by not shooting anything for a bit. Each part–gun, body, engine–has its own set of missions to complete, such as blowing up submarines or destroying ten enemies while boosting, and you can mix and match your build to create the perfect plane for completing each task. I personally found the Nuke body to be perfect for taking down those nasty submarines post-death. Right now, I’m trying to figure out how to get the blimp to spawn, as many missions are locked until I can take one of those bloated airbags down.

Visually, LUFTRAUSERS has a minimalistic look, but it works extremely well, because once you are up and about flying around like a madman, doing loops over dozens of on-screen enemies, the flat, muted graphics help make each enemy and bullet pop whereas something more detailed might cause these elements to become lost in the action. The sprites get more detailed in the menu options, such as in the bunker or statistics, where an actual member of your team is standing there, watching your every move. There’s also tiny cutscenes as well, which will make you fondly think of your childhood SNES adventures. From the sounds of it, you can collect other color variations for the game, too, so if sepia isn’t your thing, something else might sink your battleship.

The experience of zooming up into the sky, dropping down into the water, and blasting everything in sight would be less of a thrill if the soundtrack wasn’t as killer as it is. For one thing, the soundtrack morphs based on how you construct your plane, so there’s both plenty to hear, plenty to see, but regardless of that, every song exists to pump you up about getting into some intense aerial combat–and it works. I can’t tell you the number of times I caught myself unconsciously bobbing my head as I played, only to realize how into the tunes I was after my plane blew up.

I originally played LUFTRAUSERS on Steam, even streamed it a bit as I figured out my setup for Extra Life, though that video is now gone from my archives, but the game is now a November freebie for PlayStation Plus subscribers on PlayStation 3. No surprise, but it plays the same on both systems, but this arcade-inspired “one more run” style of game is more enjoyable on the couch, so that’s where I’ll continue on with my dogfighting plans. Watch out, blimps–I’m gunning for you!

The real Diablo III adventuring begins after defeating Malthael

diablo 3 ros beat the game

There were a few hours during my Extra Life live-stream that I didn’t actually stream anything live, and that was around 3 AM to 5 AM. I moved over to my couch to play some Xbox 360, most notably more Diablo III: Reaper of Souls. I’d been picking away at it for a good while now, inching closer to the conclusion of Act V, which was never part of the original Diablo III campaign. For this act, you are chasing after Malthael, a former member and leader of the Angiris Council. He has claimed the Soulstone for himself and plans to eradicate humanity. Short story even shorter: I couldn’t keep my eyes open and ended up putting it aside for a quick cat nap instead.

Zoom forward a week, and I finished up the remainder of the campaign for Diablo III: ROS while my father visited and took a quick nap himself after we hiked a bit over at Bushkill Falls. Taking Malthael down was not very tough, but then again, no fight in the game really was considering I was rocking the lowest difficulty setting possible from the very beginning. I don’t know, I liked the casual nature of beating up swarms of dudes and getting gear without constantly using a health potion every few seconds. Regardless, everything ended in a whimper and fountain of mediocre loot, with a menu prompt pop-up saying that the story was over, but Adventure mode had now been unlocked. Strangely jarring, this lead to credits–my father couldn’t believe how many people worked on a videogame–and then back to the main menu.

With Act 5’s six hours or so of story content done, I had the choice to either start Diablo III: ROS all over with a new character/class or continue on with my demon hunter Whisper in Adventure mode. Given that she hasn’t even hit level 50 yet and the cap is 70, I wanted to see her grow some more. The newfangled Adventure mode removes nearly every single story aspect–so long lengthy dialogue chats that I only listened to in order to check off a challenge–and instead simply assigns you with specific quests (called bounties) across each act’s map, giving the player the freedom to do as they please. There’s even a new currency to acquire, which you can use to purchase mystery items; I bought one, found it to be complete garbage, and most likely will never take the chance again, but hey, options are options. At this point, I’ve knocked off five bounties, though there is an Achievement for clearing 500 of them. Eep.

In addition to bounties in Adventure mode, there are also Nephalem Rifts, which are randomized gauntlets that ramp the chaos meter all the way up. You can only open a rift after collecting five key shards, which you seem to get with each bounty you complete, so the two are interconnected deeply. Basically, you run around these dungeons killing X amount of enemies until a super difficult elite boss shows up. Shortly before doing my first rift, I switched the difficulty setting from normal to whatever the next one was…maybe hardcore. That said, Whisper the demon hunter died for the very first time so far in one of these rifts. They mean big business, but they also provide unpredictable fun and empowerment unlike anything seen in the main campaign. For example, I came across a new Pylon shrine that filled my character with lightening bolts that struck out at anything within a few feet. It’s really cool. Looked like after you beat the Nephalem Rift boss, you can continue exploring the dungeon, but I popped back to town to sell some mediocre gear; as I did, the rift’s portal closed after thirty seconds, so you have to choose wisely what you want to do.

Like I said earlier, I want to see Whisper hit the level cap and check out some of the high-end gear, but I will probably now only play this in sporadic bursts. Like while waiting for the laundry to finish or kettle water to whistle, which is just enough time to do a bounty or two. I really don’t know how interested I am in playing through the campaign ever again, even with a completely different class, which is a shame because it means I’m missing out on experiencing like five-sixths of Diablo III: ROS in terms of abilities, dialogue, and specified loot. Granted, I really ate up the one-sixth I got, and you can’t shake your head at things that made you happy, even if only for a sliver of time.