Monthly Archives: December 2016

My five favorite games in 2016

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According to my “2016 completed games” tag here on Grinding Down, I finished 83 games in 2016. That’s…a lot. Certainly the highest amount I’ve seen since I started tracking all this nonsense. Yes, yes, many of these games one might consider tiny and small and not worth counting, but it’s my life, my mind, and anything that sparks my attention and holds it for more than a minute or two is worth calling a game, as well as worth seeing through to completion. Now, many of these games that I beat in this year of the monkey were not released in the last twelve months, such as Final Fantasy IX, Read Only Memories, and Costume Quest 2. Also, of the five below, I’ve only actually beaten numbers five through three, but that won’t stop me from lovingly praising the top two entries. Can’t stop me now.

Before all that, some honorable mentions. Gears of War 4: You are all right, a bit straightforward, and I’m finally getting better at the multiplayer, but I really don’t like how serious everyone takes the game, which often makes it not very fun to play (see, I like playing games to have fun). If you want something weird and artsy, give Karambola a bite. Devil Daggers is cool as hell, probably because that’s where it was spawned to begin with, but I’m total rubbish at it. Shout outs to Earthlock: Festival of Magic, a throwback RPG that I’m surprisingly spending a lot of time with this last week. Lastly, The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne is a great freebie that will likely resonate with those that suffer from social anxiety, like me. Remember, it’s an honor just to be nominated.

If you’re wondering why something is missing below, some dear game you hold close to your heart and swear up and down made 2016 all the better by existing, chances are I just didn’t get to play it this year.

Here we go. The last list of the year…

5. Tom Clancy’s The Division

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Tom Clancy’s The Division is a game I never expected to find myself playing. Honestly, I picked it up because a friend from work was getting it and wanted to play together. This is a rare happening, where I get to play a videogame with another human being that I know. I couldn’t resist. It’s a cover-based shooter with loot in a snowy, disease-laden New York City, which, despite that, looks amazingly pretty thanks to all the Christmas decorations left up. Getting through the main missions and to the endgame stuff was pretty easy, and I found myself obsessed with collecting all the collectibles, which had its ups and downs.

Unfortunately, that endgame stuff, as well as the Dark Zone in general when not safely traveling in a group, were not entertaining to me and didn’t keep me around for long afterwards. Nor did the Underground DLC. However, Ubisoft and the game’s developers have seemingly been working to fix a lot of the game, and my few attempts at the Survival DLC so far have brought me back into the fold, excited to craft a scarf with better cold resistance. It’s not a perfect game, but there’s something to it, a looty loop I can’t turn down.

4. Even the Ocean

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For many this year, the biggest surprises were things like Doom and Hitman, old games made new and modern. Well, I didn’t play those. For me, the biggest surprise of the year was Even the Ocean…mostly because I had no idea what it was until I saw a trailer and then immediately contacted the developers for a review copy. The story is grand, telling the struggle of Aliph and her quest to fix a bunch of power plants to stop the foretold invasion of flood-bringing monsters.

The game is a mix of narrative sections and platforming sections, with each area highlighting a new twist on Aliph’s abilities and the ways to balance her energy levels. What’s super amazing about the whole thing is its openness–you can tackle most of the power plants in any order, and you can play the game just for the story, just for the platforming, or a combination of both. There are even further options in the menu if you find the platforming too challenging and need some extra help. There’s a lot of love and care in Even the Ocean from Sean Han-Tani-Chen-Hogan and Joni Kittaka (y’know, Analgesic Productions), and it more than shows in every character interaction, design choice, and piece of music.

3. LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is glitchy and broken in a few spots, but that never stopped it from being fun. Frustrating, for sure, but always fun when it was working. I guess that’s something that can ultimately be said of every LEGO release from Traveller’s Tales. This is a game that I mostly played with Melanie, and we ate it up in pieces throughout the year, finally completing all the DLC add-on missions and last remaining Achievements back in November 2016. As always, there’s a ton to do and collect, and the cutscenes are more enjoyable than ever, full of the usual charm and goofiness, but even show off some details not explained in the film. That said, I still hate racing side missions in these games, and throwing in floaty spaceships didn’t make them any better.

2. Stardew Valley

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I have not experienced a full year yet in Stardew Valley, having last played somewhere in the middle of in-game winter. Winter is rough. There’s less to do when it comes to your farm, and I didn’t prepare ahead of time for this. The good news is, one, that it doesn’t matter, because the 31 hours I’ve played on Steam leading up to this standstill were amazing and some of the most addicting gameplay I’ve ever experienced. Two, I plan to restart the game very, very soon on Xbox One, keeping the incoming winter season in mind from the start, but otherwise doing much of what I did before, such as wooing Maru and focusing heavily on digging deep into the mines for rare gems.

Stardew Valley is the epitome of the “just one more…” mantra, with the unit here being day. In this open-ended, country life RPG, you have inherited your grandfather’s old farm plot and given up working in a corporate office. That’s the start of the game, and you decide where to go from there. You can attempt to fall in love and marry a local villager or work to restore the community center. Do not support the Joja Corporation. There’s also events every season to partake in, or you could simply wake up every day, water your crops, pet your cat, and hang out on the farm until the sun sets, doing it all over again the next day. It really doesn’t matter how you play, as it is all rewarding. This is backed by a stellar soundtrack that perfectly matches every time of day, every season. Also, the sound effect when you collect an item is pure bliss.

Even the Ocean was made by two people, and Stardew Valley was made by one, Eric Barone (@ConcernedApe). I find this beyond impressive, to the point that it hurts my brain. Everything you’ve heard about Stardew Valley is true; it’s a game you play now to remember fondly later.

1. Disney Magical World 2

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This might seem like it is coming out of left field, or it may be no surprise at all to those that know me, but yeah, Disney Magical World 2 is my favorite game of 2016. Naturally, I’ve had a post in the works for this one for a couple months now, but haven’t had the chance to put all my thoughts into words and hit the publish button. You also might remember that my favorite game of 2014 was Disney Magical World.

With the sequel, not too much has changed, and I’m more than happy about that. Since getting the game in October, I’ve put over 40 hours in it and have no plans of stopping now, despite only having three more stickers left to acquire. You still move between themed worlds, tackling missions for specific Disney characters and collecting a vast number of ingredients/materials, all of which feeds back into making food for the café, creating ace ensemble outfits, and crafting countless amounts of furniture. There’s also a garden to tend to, and your own house–really a single room–to decorate. Mine’s mostly green. Gone are the collectible cards full of nostalgic art, replaced with pieces from a larger picture puzzle that allows you to interact later in a special area for bonus “like” points…I’m not a huge fan of this switch, but it is a minor element that can be nearly ignored if desired.

Disney Magical World 2 is a fantastic portable game. I pick it up and play for twenty, thirty minutes, and always have something to do. I don’t follow the same pattern each time, but it usually goes like this: run to the café, collect money, load it up with more food to sell, run to main street and see what the lady with the stall is selling (it changes multiple times throughout the day), purchase a new outfit or make some furniture, run around the map and collect puzzle pieces or see if there are any quick material-gathering missions to do, accept a story mission or two, and, lastly, return to the garden to pull up any finished crops and then plant new ones. Phew. This is not the same every time, but more or less my plan of attack. I have some story missions left to do in the Alice in Wonderland, Little Mermaid, and Lilo and Stitch worlds, but I’m trying to save them, really make this last. Besides, even after all the time and work I’ve put into it, I’m only at 33.51% completion.

So far, the in-game world of Castleton has changed for Halloween and Christmas, with the next scheduled event happening on April 1. I was hoping to see something earlier than that for either Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day, but, regardless, I’m looking forward to spending more time with Disney Magical World 2 in 2017. I wonder if I’ll have rung it dry of content by the end of the year.

The Top 10 Videogames I Didn’t Get to Play in 2016

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2016 is certainly a tough year to summarize. When I really sit and think about it, several things flash before my eyes, many of which I wouldn’t describe as good. I’m not going to name them. They don’t need naming, and I know Hermione Granger once said, “Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself,” but I’m worried. Deeply concerned and cautious, scared for those that are living in true fear. I’ll be okay, but many others won’t. Also, losing David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and Sheri S. Tepper sucked. Still, one area that seemed to shine and press onwards, at least to me, was videogames, and I’ll never turn down the chance to disappear elsewhere for a time being. That said, I still didn’t get to play everything that came out this year, hence the list.

Once again, because I am the biggest fan of this ol’ feature of mine and love reveling in the games I haven’t played, dreaming of the days when I will get to them, here’s a short bullet list of the previous entries for this annual Grinding Down event:

You could even make a game out of those old posts and try to discover, based on what is visible on Grinding Down, which games I’ve finally gotten to and which ones are still lost in the haze that is other games in my collection yelling at me simultaneously for attention.

All right, on with it…

10. The Witness

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Perhaps I should actually finish Braid before I even attempt The Witness, not that the two are, as far as I know, connected in any tangential way. Here’s the rub: I already know how Braid ends, its twist, the reason it is more about the journey and not the destination. I would just need to soldier through the remainder of its puzzles to see it for myself. After that, yeah, I can move on to line and environmental puzzles on a mystical, magical island brimming with color. It sure does look pretty, but I do worry that my brain might not be up to snuff for some of these trickier areas excitedly whispered about when the game was released at the start of the year.

9. Dragon Quest Builders

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I like Minecraft, and I love Dragon Quest. Thus, this fusion of the two, this Dragon Quest Builders, sounds absolutely wonderful. It’s got style and charm, with a fun story to tell that is evidently directly connected to the very first game. Alas, I don’t have a PlayStation 4.

8. Inside

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If Inside follows the same path as the developer’s previous creation Limbo, then it’ll be given out for free, multiple times, on every platform imaginable in just a few years. I can wait.

7. Samorost 3

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Man. I feel bad. Samorost 3 is really something I wanted to play this year, and I even went back and finally played the first Samorost in preparation for a world of weird, quirky things, starring a tiny man in white pajamas. I watched the Giant Bomb Quick Look for the game and was pleased by what I saw…but then never sealed the deal. Not really sure what happened. Hopefully I can rectify this problem early into 2017 as Samorost 3 is probably the best world to escape to if you want to forget what reality is actually like and just want to solve an obscure, mechanical puzzle by clicking on everything.

6. Firewatch

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So far, I’ve not been spoiled for Firewatch, but that’s likely to be undone as I listen to more and more Game of the Year podcasts and read up on many numbered lists. I guess that’s okay. I’m a huge fan of Olly Moss and his art, and when you combine that with adventure-esque gameplay mechanics, jerk teens, the mystery of what’s hidden in nature, and a lot of dialogue from Chris Remo, Jake Rodkin, Olly Moss, and Sean Vanaman (hi, three-fourths Thumbs!)…sigh. Many of us were asking for so long what is Firewatch. Turns out, it’s one of the top 10 games I didn’t play in 2016.

 

5. Doom

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Now technically I did play Doom this year, but only the first level. Several times in a row before determining that yes, this is great fun and something I look forward to playing more of whenever that day arrives. Alas, it didn’t arrive in 2016, but maybe that’s okay. The game isn’t going anywhere, and 2017 seems like a really good year to wallow in the glory kills of cult-like beings and a demonic invasion from Hell. I probably won’t touch the multiplayer, but it seems like the general consensus is that the main campaign is plenty meaty enough to satisfy the trip below.

4. Oxenfree

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Oxenfree seems neat. It’s a supernatural mystery graphic adventure with style and drama-driven teenagers. I bet it’s my thing. Evidently, the game is on sale for about $4.99 right now for the holidays, but my Xbox One, besides deciding to not show my pins anymore, has decided to refuse me access to the store. I click and click and click, all for naught. Fine. Don’t take my money, Microsoft. I’ll go buy a sandwich instead. Sorry, Oxenfree devs.

3. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

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I’m still working on my no kills on the hardest difficulty setting quest for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and until those Achievements are popped, no future Adam Jensen for me. That said, I’ve heard that Prague is a lot of fun to explore, the sort of introductory hub space one can spend far too long in, like the Hinterlands in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Truthfully, I’m down with that. Let me live in a world and never leave. Even if that world is full of heavily prejudiced people towards humans augmented with artificial upgrades.

2. No Man’s Sky

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As previously mentioned, I don’t have a PlayStation 4. However, I do have a laptop, and this laptop can run some indie games on it, as well as a few bigger games with all the settings turned down low. Such as Red Faction: Armageddon. It’s not ideal, but I make it work. At one point, on Giant Bomb‘s Unprofessional Fridays, they played No Man’s Sky on its lowest settings–resolution, textures, everything–and, to me, it didn’t look terrible. It looked like something I could do to experience one of the biggest launches of the year. However, I never took the bait. I held my breath and listened to those that played the game, hearing both their praises and criticisms. Exploring planets and collecting data on plants and alien life is certainly my jam, and I’m okay with this not actually being more than that. Regardless, I think I’ll wait and see how No Man’s Sky evolves over the next year as the developers update it to match more of what they originally promised.

1. Hitman

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In 2016, I played Hitman: Absolution and rang just about every inch of content from it, getting all the evidence, costumes, and most of the in-level challenges. It wasn’t all that tough. I left one Achievement unpopped, the one for beating it on the professional difficulty. No thanks. I had an okay time with it, but Hitman: Absolution is the exact opposite of IO Interactive’s Hitman (2016). My history of the series has been documented on Grinding Down, but this new entry, which everyone thought was going to be a disaster due to it being served up episodically, seems so wonderfully open that you can truly play however you want. Except using guns. That’s the big difference. For a number of levels in Hitman: Absolution, I hid behind a corner and shot every enemy to death until there were no more people searching for me; that definitely can’t be done in the new game, and that’s a good thing. Hitman is about sneaking around in the open and using the environment to your advantage, with the occasional chokehold or push off a ledge. I hope to play it in 2017, but I am somewhat saddened to have missed out on all the elusive targets along the way,

Well, there it is. And here we are. You may notice some big name, triple A titles missing from the list, such as Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Titanfall 2, and Overwatch. It is true that I also did not play those this year, but the twist is that I had no desire to play them compared to the ones listed above. Twist.

While I have your eyes and ears, what games did you miss out on this year? Share below please. And don’t worry. There’s always 2017 for them, unless of course Drumpf actually decides to play nuclear war with every country ever, and then I guess I’ll just devote my free time to the upcoming Fallout: Old Jersey, to better learn how to survive in a proper wasteland.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #83 – Chimney Presents

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Santa needs your help
Bring gifts, avoid ice, holly
Season’s greetings, all

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

The fact is I hit 70,000 Gamerscore perfectly

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Mark the date down, for today, this twenty-ninth period of twenty-four hours as a unit of time, is yet another behemoth moment for Grinding Down: 70,000 Gamerscore. Hit perfectly thanks to Killer Instinct‘s “Stylish Fulgore” Achievement for 10 points, but really, this was a group effort. Those involved will be thanked two paragraphs down, but first, a summary of my long, meticulous journey to this point and the previous landmarks I visited along the way. Because I enjoy thinking about the trek, imagining myself as an unassuming Hobbit on a grand Adventure, one to eventually share with future generations, becoming legend. Hmm, methinks it is almost time to rewatch Lord of the Rings for the umpteenth time.

Well, naturally, this all started in February 2010 with 10,000. After that, almost a year later, I slid into 20,000. Next, 30,000 was acquired another year after that in March 2012. The black sheep of this story happened in September 2013 as I wasn’t able to get the number I wanted because of stupid ol’ Fable III and settled on 41,000 instead. The gap between that amount and 50,000 was almost two years, as I backed away from the Xbox 360 for a while…for reasons. Here’s the kicker–it was only last June of this very year that I was celebrating 60,000 Gamerscore, which means I did a whole bunch of popping Achievements in the few months since then. Let’s examine where this exponential growth occurred the most.

Let’s see, let’s see. I dug back into my larger-than-necessary backlog for the 360, polishing off Hitman: Absolution and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag as much as possible. In terms of the Xbox One, the games that really helped grow that Gamerscore were LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Costume Quest 2, Monopoly Plus, The Wolf Among Us, and, embarrassingly, Ben-Hur. Of course, I’ve dabbled in a number of other games, both large and small, both on consoles and mobile, and, as mentioned before, this was a team effort. Even the games where I opened them once and played for less than twenty minutes matter. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to thank every game individually, but they should know in their heart of hearts that they are greatly appreciated.

I feel like with every one of these posts, I try to convey an air of lukewarm detachedness. That hitting these milestones is no big deal, simply a little fun to have with a system designed to reward gamers for all sorts of actions, such as defeating a tough boss or simply watching a game’s credits all the way through. The truth is…I care about hitting these numbers very much. The minute I begin to inch closer to them, I immediately start scanning out the list of potential Achievements and begin planning my path forward. I find it entertaining, and maybe someone out there reading this does too–hey, let me know if ya do–and I’m genuinely curious about what mix of games will lead me to the 80,000 mark. I do have a bunch more episodic adventures from Telltale Games to go through, and those are pretty easy Achievements to pop. We’ll see.

With all that said, picture proof:

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Wait, I took a better pic, since that screenshot ended up being so tiny. Also, I refuse to change my Avatar’s outfit. The more likely reality is that I no longer remember how:

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2016 Game Review Haiku, #82 – The Wolf Among Us, Episode 5 “Cry Wolf”

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Bigby, his true form
Helps bring in the Crooked Man
For justice, hard calls

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

Another garden to tend to in Earthlock: Festival of Magic

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Currently, I’m juggling a lot of gardens. There’s the one in Disney Magical World 2, which is where I’m looking to harvest some rarer fruits, vegetables, and flowers, such as spooky carrots and solar sunflowers. There’s the one in Dragon Age: Inquisition‘s Skyhold castle, which seems to only grow plants after I’ve traveled between a set number of regions to recreate some actual passing of time. There’s the one in Stardew Valley, which is your biggest means to making money through the four seasons, and I now have the game also on Xbox One, resulting in double the work if I plan to continue with my PC save as well. All of that is to say that there’s now one more place to grow and cultivate plants in Earthlock: Festival of Magic, a colorful RPG from Snowcastle Games, as well as a monthly freebie back in September 2016.

I’m about nine to ten hours into Earthlock: Festival of Magic, just around the 50% completion mark, and, alas, I don’t think I can sum up its plot easily from the top of my noggin. Not because it is extremely deep and layered, like multiple seasons deep into Game of Thrones, but more that it is not extremely clear or focused. I’m going to have to resort to the developer’s own words and see if it stirs anything new from me:

Embark on a journey to save the beautiful world of Umbra, a harsh planet that stopped spinning thousands of cycles ago. What started as a mission to rescue Amon’s uncle from the clutches of an ancient cult, soon spirals into an adventure that was centuries in the making. You must bring together this group of unlikely heroes to stop the ruinous past from repeating itself.

Yeah, sure. That’s kind of being descriptive without providing any actual details. At this point in the game, I’m in a town called Suvia, lurking through sewers after the bad dudes that stole some machine. A machine that may or may not be connected to a relic that Amon and his hammerhead uncle stole at the start of the game. I don’t know. I’m kind of moving from place to place, fighting enemies every few steps and talking to a minor amount of nonplayable characters for some background lore. Oh, and there’s a boy in a frog suit that has given me a special, magical area, almost like Bastion‘s Bastion, to grow plants, craft ammo, and create talent upgrades for my team, and it’s where I have been hanging my hat the most, as the actual towns in Earthlock: Festival of Magic are not many, nor are they all that interesting to explore.

This is very much a throwback to the adventure RPGs of the late 1990s with a heavy focus on turn-based combat and character progression, such as Chrono Cross and Tales of Phantasia. I’m going to dig into the combat first. Speaking of first, enemies are always present on the field, and you can gain the advantage of attacking first if you press “A” before the enemy runs into the party. I don’t know if I’ve missed this chance once yet. It’s probably hard to miss. As previously mentioned, combat is turn-based, with a list of turn order on the far right of the screen. Each character has different stances, which determines what attacks they can do, such as ranged or up-close melee or dancing between support spells and attack magic. For instance, Alon, the protagonist–or, at least, my assumption is he is, though you can switch to play any other character if you want–can either get intimate with a knife or use a gun to attack from a distance. Switching stances costs a turn, which I personally think sucks, and so I’ve been sticking to one stance per character for most of the fights unless the scenario obviously calls for a change.

Upgrading each character reminded me of how it worked in Final Fantasy XII with the License Board, which consisted of a tiled board with hundreds of squares. Each square represented an ability, spell, equipment piece, or augment, and these could be unlocked after earning LP. Here, in Earthlock: Festival of Magic, you have a similar board for each character, with some predetermined abilities (passive and active) locked in place. As you level up, you’ll earn Talent Points (TP–hee hee), and you can build each character’s skill tree as you wish using a mix of talents to boost stats like strength, defense, accuracy, magic, and so on. Defeating bosses gets you access to special tiles that do things like help reduce the time it takes to switch stances or even see hidden ghosts on the field. I really like this system as it does offer a lot of control and personalizing for each character. Also, you can pair each party member with another to grow a stronger bond between the two to unlock more stat upgrades and abilities. Phew. There’s actually quite a lot going on with the combat, though to be fair, it doesn’t go much deeper than this, and the secret to beating tough bosses like GobKing and Mushriga is simply grinding.

In terms of graphics, I’m conflicted when it comes to Earthlock: Festival of Magic. Everything is cartoony and colorful, with a looseness that is both stylish and on purpose, reminiscent of Broken Age and Tales of the Abyss, which I’m all about. In fact, its look, from the few screens I saw of it and not knowing much else about the title, was enough to get me to install it. Unfortunately, the overworld map is severely dull and bland, and by that I mean it is lacking textures for the ground you are running on, which makes it feel unfinished. I also think some more love and pizzazz could have gone into the location titles (see Final Fantasy IX for inspiration). Sound is a different subject, and the soundtrack is quite good, a mix of upbeat, battle-appropriate tunes and relaxing notes for watching plants grow, though I did notice a lot of effect noises missing during a few battle sequences. See, conflicted.

Earthlock: Festival of Magic is an indie RPG with dreams of being big. Extremely big. You can see what it wants to be by noticing where it is lacking. For instance, there’s not a lot to discover in this fantasy world, other than a hidden treasure chest or two. Towns are tiny and only hold a limited number of people/things to interact with, and the interactions are slight at best. The story seems to have fun, unique characters, but no one is really standing out currently as somebody to champ for, except maybe the hogbunny Gnart. I plan to finish it and hopefully pop every Achievement–most of which are labeled rare because not many people are playing–but thankfully this RPG is only as big as Costume Quest 2 and Dragon Fantasy…and not Dragon Age: Inquisition, which might not ever end at the pace I nibble on it. As always, that’s a different post.

At last, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy comes full circle

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I wanted to see Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy end many times since picking it up and putting it down for the last two-plus years, but it seemingly refused to do so. It kept pushing its closing moments and credits further away. The game continued warning me that there was no turning back only to then reveal that, yeah, you can totally turn back to find those hint coins and last remaining puzzles or just meander aimlessly from region to region. I will freely admit that I didn’t help thrust this story to its resolution after I discovered what the whole World Times side quest was all about–don’t worry, I’ll explain more a few paragraphs down–but man, this was all a little drawn out.

First, a refresher on the story. Trust me, I needed one after frequently walking away from Layton’s sixth adventure, and the game even provides you a short summary each time you return, to get you back to speed. Right. The mysterious organization called Targent wishes to use the ancient civilization of the Azran’s mystical power for itself. Targent’s rival and everyone’s favorite mask-wearing, self-proclaimed scientist Jean Descole also wants to harness this power. Neither should wield it, naturally. Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy begins with Layton, Luke, and Emmy boarding the airship Bostonius and heading for a place called Froenberg. The three of them received a letter from Professor Desmond Sycamore, an eminent archaeologist, who believes he has found a so-called living “mummy.” Upon arrival, they meet their mummy–Aurora, a girl frozen in ice, closely connected to the Azran civilization.

The story has its moments. I particularly liked searching after the five Azran eggs and seeing where each egg was hidden and how to get it in our meaty paws. For instance, in the jungle village of Phong Gi, the chief of the tribe is only willing to give up his egg to the gang if they can make him laugh. Contrary to that tone, in the windy village of Hoogland, the group learns of a tradition where young women must be sacrificed in order to appease a wind god; thankfully, they discover this is not actually happening and that an Azran machine was creating the stormy winds. Each egg-acquiring section are good, interesting accounts, with many memorable characters taking center stage when Layton isn’t solving a puzzle or two. I will quickly say and not get into spoilers, but the last act of Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is one twist after another, to the point of ridiculousness. It was the closest the game has come to basically being a TV soap opera’s series finale, and no, not in a good way. Sorry, the Emmy thing was too much. I understand this is the last game to star the top hat-wearing gentleman and they probably wanted to go out on a bang, but there was too much bang.

Okay, now let’s chat puzzles. Mmm. If you’ve played a Professor Layton game before, then none of what is here will surprise you. There are mazes, math equations, general deducing, and some guess-work. I hated the ones where you have to recreate a picture using colored blocks and layering them on top of each other, but those are few and unessential. Of all the entries I’ve touched, which include The Curious Village, The Last Specter, and The Miracle Mask, I have to say that this one had the least exciting mini-games to engage with, and that’s saying a lot because one of those mini-games is basically playing dress up, the only thing I cared about in Grand Theft Auto V and one of the main driving forces behind my time with Disney Magical World 2 now. Anyways, there’s Nutty Roller, Bloom Burst, and Dress Up–I completed none of them, but came the closest on the last item. As always, there’s plenty of hint coins in the environment to pick up and use at your discretion; I haven’t felt shame using them for many years now.

So, this whole time, as I’ve been playing Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, one of the sections in Layton’s trunk continued to update with new details–World Times. These are newspaper clips, often popping up after you finished visiting an area, telling some strange side story of an event or character. I swore I thought they were merely cosmetic, there to make the world feel realer, bigger. Nope. They are basically side quests, which lead to more puzzles and unlockable clothing for the dress-up minigame. See, the problem is that I never went back to any of the story locations after completing them, assuming they were good and done, drained of every hidden object, hint coin, and character interaction. Well, I was wrong, and so a large part of my going back to this game involved tracking down every single World Times quest and completing it, which added to its length for sure.

The animated cutscenes continue to be beautifully done. Every time one came up, I’d get real excited and hold the Nintendo 3DS firmly in my hands and slightly closer to my face. They are heavy on action and scenery, which is a great break from the more stilted, and sometimes overdrawn, dialogue-heavy sequences where Layton is trying to get Luke or Emmy to figure out what he already knows. I really should, at some point, track down Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva simply to marvel in these moments for longer than a few minutes. I mean, if truth be told, the puzzles sometimes are just the means to another gorgeous cutscene.

Well, that’s that. I played the very first game in the series, and then the entire trilogy of prequels. Which is rather fitting, as the end of Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy goes right into Professor Layton and the Curious Village, bringing everything full circle. That connective tissue between the two games feels really special, and makes me think about that first adventure differently, knowing what I now know about Layton, Luke, and even Emmy, though she’s obviously not there for their trip to St. Mystere. I have no immediate plans to find copies of Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box and Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, especially since a GameStop employee rudely spoiled how the final chronological game in the series concludes. Still, obviously, the best game in the franchise is London Life, and that’s a hill I’m willing to die on.