Monthly Archives: February 2017

Language is a reflection of ourselves in Missing Translation

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I originally ran through Missing Translation in a single, puzzle-driven sitting back in December 2016 and have desperately wanted to write about it, but other posts ended up taking priority over the wordless thing. You might view that as ironic, that I haven’t found the time for the right words yet to describe a project built solely on visual language. I definitely do. Fret not, for now I’m here, bright-eyed and inspired, with hopefully enough snappy prose to get the job done.

First off, Missing Translation is free to play on Steam, and for that fact alone, I do urge you to go play it before reading much more about it. Yup, I’m totally ushering you away from Grinding Down by the second paragraph of this post, which means I’m a terrible blogger. Also, it’s not because there’s insane plot twists or amazing watercooler-esque moments, but because it is the kind of interactive experience that is best experienced. It’s a game about language and, often, immersing yourself in something foreign and unknown is the best way to learn what is what and how the world spins. Like that time in college when I went to Montréal, Quebec, for Spring Break with only knowing a few French phrases. Spoiler alert: I totally made it out alive.

Right. Onward with the words. Missing Translation is a short game with intellectual puzzles that is all about teaching a visual language that’s based on drawing lines across a nine-node grid. By decrypting this secret language, one can really begin to understand what’s going on in this black-and-white-and-gray world full of foreign machinery, cats, and robots in funny hats. To be honest, I never grokked the entire thing, but was still able to complete the game and enjoy the uptick in difficulty for the puzzles.

You might have trouble believing that Missing Translation is wordless. Well, it is. From beginning to end. There’s no tutorial, hints, or text–as we know it–to be found, not even on the “start” menu. This means that anyone and everyone can enjoy the game regardless of their native language. It’s a universal conundrum for solving. There are about a hundred puzzles to figure out, varying from connecting dots on a grid in the right way to navigating through large screens brimming with totem-like blocks. Each one grows in difficulty and complexity as you dig deeper, and I couldn’t stop myself once I got started, for fear of forgetting what trick was behind each set of puzzles. This is why I ran through the entire game in a single gulp, unable to leave any bit unfinished. As they get solved, new friends and allies are unlocked to help guide the main protagonist–which can either be a man or woman–back to their world.

Missing Translation is more than a puzzle adventure game. Its got a wonderful premise, inclusive to all that want to click and think and learn, and while I might not know what every strange symbol means, much like in Fez, I had a fantastic and fulfilling time figuring out my way through its many locked doors.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #23 – Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova

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Inscrutable deaths
Explore that Kisilova
Find all vamp objects

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Having a baby in Cayne’s universe is a real life-changer

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I’m a big fan of free, standalone tie-in experiences, not simply because they are free. Some examples that instantly come to mind are Lost Constellation and Longest Night for the quickly upcoming Night in the Woods, the demo for Bravely Default, which contained a side-quest not available in the full release, and the Spore Creature Creator for, well, Spore. These snippets and slices offer a chance to see what the big deal is while simultaneously providing an experience not fully found in the main game. All that setup leads us to Cayne, which is an ultra-dark journey through the dystopian world of Stasis from The Brotherhood, in preparation for the studio’s next project called Beautiful Desolation.

Here’s what I know about Cayne, and, no, I haven’t yet played Stasis though that may likely change. It begins with Hadley, a mother-to-be, waking up in a strange medical facility. Unfortunately for her, this wasn’t a routine procedure and something is severely amiss. She manages to escape the operating table before her baby can be ripped from her body, only to make things worse, causing a massive, floor-destroying explosion. Now on her own, she’ll have to explore her surroundings and find out why these people were after her child, as well as make her getaway. One big problem: there’s a deadly monster-thing-with-claws called Samantha guarding the elevator.

Obviously, Cayne has style. Or, as Jeff Gerstmann likes to say, styyyyyle. It’s drawing heavily from things like Alien, as well as sci-fi short stories from decades ago, the kind that present really large ideas in tight spaces and like to pull the rug out from under you with a big twist at the end. I’m thinking of “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison and “Second Variety” by Philip K. Dick and other similar tales. As you explore the Cayne facility, you’ll gain access to PDAs, computer logs, and other characters, which offer some insights into what is happening while also keeping mum about the true motives of the company. Seems like they are into growing babies, but I never understood why and for what purpose by the end, though the ending does hint that this is a major operation, not some one-off experiment. Also, a lot of the people you meet–both living and dead–are real pieces of scum, so there’s that too.

All of this style is backed up and emphasized on through great voice acting and subtle yet effective audio tones. Hadley comes across as, I hope and assume, many of us would if we woke up in a similar situation. I like that her nervousness results in badly-timed jokes. That’s something I do too. Shortly into Cayne, Hadley “meets” a man. I say “meets” because it is more that she begins to hear a voice, and her dialogue with this person makes up a large chunk of the game, revealing many tidbits and insight into these characters. Also, the FMV sequences are pretty stellar, far more cinematic than I expected.

Something Cayne does well is minimize the amount of things you need to click on by providing descriptions of everything in text off to the side when the mouse cursor is hovered over key items in a scene. Normally, you’d click on it to get this kind of information, but now you can move through the descriptions at your own pace. I like this. The cursor also changes when over something that can be interacted with, which helps. That’s not to say the puzzles are a cakewalk; in fact, many of them are quite tricky, and I won’t deny that I ended up using a guide to figure out the ID number for the Grub Habitat, as well as how to manipulate the server platform and blow up the power generator. Other puzzles were easy to figure out, though I ended up taking a good chunk of notes just in case.

Cayne‘s biggest and most glaring fault is that…like many point-and-click adventure games, there’s a lot of backtracking involved. Generally, that’s fine. That’s part of the genre. However, a lot of games have got with the times and allowed for quicker hopping to and fro, whether through a map of locations (like in Read Only Memories) or by letting the player double-click on the exit areas to jump ahead. Cayne does not do this. Throw in the fact that our protagonist is a very pregnant woman with no shoes running around a facility with fire, broken glass, and gross puddles of ooze everywhere–well, moving through the Cayne facility is a slow burn. Real slow. I found this pace to be extremely frustrating as I was deciphering puzzles, knowing that I’d have to travel across three to four rooms just to find a piece of information and then return with my solution. It’s never a good sign when I begin reaching for my phone to kill time when moving from room to room.

Thanks to Cayne, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on The Brotherhood and what’s next from the studio. I’m not one hundred percent in love with their gameplay mechanics and UI, but those things aren’t deal-breakers when it comes to a powerful story, believable characters in peril or up to no good, and audio design that can set your teeth on edge. You can grab a free copy of the game seemingly just about everywhere on the Internet; I played mine on Steam for those silent, delicious Achievements.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #22 – Cayne

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Don’t wake up, Hadley
For this is pregnancy Hell
Too much backtracking

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #21 – Batman: The Telltale Series, Episode 1 “Realm of Shadows”

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Batman and Bruce Wayne
One man, two lives–each in strife
Expose his parents

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #20 – Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix

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Match gem pairs, damage
Dump them garbage blocks and laugh
Swing hard, Sakura

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #19 – Omnichronic

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Back-stabbin’ captain
Wants yer treasure–time travel
Save booty, not world

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #18 – Overcursed

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Ghost-hunter hired
Begins with points, clicks, outlets
Ends on massacre

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Dragon Quest VIII’s photography sidequest is pretty goo

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I’m not fooling when I say that it beyond insane that, in 2017, I am playing Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King…on my Nintendo 3DS. Like, we’ve always known that Nintendo’s portable game console could run games from the PlayStation 2 era, such as Tales of the Abyss and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, but I never thought we’d get something as great and massive as Level-5’s magnificent showpiece. In my opinion, Dragon Quest VIII was a shining, blinding star in the JRPG night sky from 2004-2005, and the handheld version is mostly on par with that definitive claim, with some additions that I like and subtractions I dislike.

You’ll surely remember that I tried to go back to my Dragon Quest VIII PS2 save some years back. My return to the kingdom of Trodain didn’t last long. I had already put in over 80 hours because, at the time that I got the game, in my first studio apartment in Clifton, NJ, I declined getting Internet/TV services for a few months to save money. Thus, I was left with entertaining myself in the evenings, and that ended up being a lot of reading, some drawing, and, well, Dragon Questing. It was hard going back and remembering where I left off and what to do next. I certainly never beat the game, but couldn’t find the main path again to focus on, instead spending a few hours in the casino or chasing after monsters to capture for the fighting arena. I’m hoping to make a more direct run to the credits in the 3DS version and save some of the bonus side stuff for later, if possible.

A plot reminder, because these games have plots, even if they are somewhat convoluted: the game begins with Dhoulmagus, the court jester of the kingdom of Trodain, stealing an ancient scepter. He then casts a spell on Trodain castle, which turns King Trode into a tiny troll-like thing and Princess Medea into a horse. Unfortunately, everyone else in the castle becomes plants. That is, except you. Yup, the nameless, voiceless Trodain guard–lucky devil. Together, the three of you set out on a quest to find Dhoulmagus and reverse his spell. Along the way, you join up with some colorful characters: Yangus, a bandit who owes his life to the protagonist (I named him Pauly this time instead of Taurust_), Jessica, a scantily clad mage looking to avenge her murdered brother, and Angelo, a Templar Knight that likes to flirt and gamble.

Let’s just get to it and talk about the differences in the 3DS version of Dragon Quest VIII, as there are several. All right, in we go.

Evidently, you get two new playable characters–Red the bandit queen and Morrie, the owner and operator of the monster battling arena–but I’ve read you don’t gain access to them until late in the game, both entering your party at level 35. Not sure how I feel about that, as there’s a comfort and familiarity to the initial team of four, especially after you figure out how each character works best and spec them in that way (Angelo = healing, Yangus = tank, etc.). Being able to see monsters on the world map and avoid them at your discretion is great and something I look for in nearly every new RPG. The alchemy pot–always a staple in Level-5 joints–is no longer on an unseen timer and simply creates what you want when you want it, as well as provides suggestions for items you can mix with one another. Lastly, at least for small changes, as you gain skill points and upgrade your party members, you can now see when each one will unlock a new ability or buff; before, it was all guesswork unless you had a walkthrough guide at your side.

Cameron Obscura’s photography challenge is one of the larger additions and is quite enjoyable. You encounter this man fairly early in the game, at Port Prospect. He requests that you take some specific photos, each one earning you a different number of stamps. As you complete stamp boards, you earn special items. Simple enough…yet extremely addicting. Some photo requests require you to capture an enemy in the wild doing something silly or find a hidden golden slime statue in town. They vary in difficulty. Taking a picture is as easy as pressing start to enter photo mode; from there, you can zoom in, add or take away party members, and switch the main hero’s pose. Looks like there are over 140 challenges to complete, but you are limited to only 100 photos in your album, which means deleting some later down the road–not a huge inconvenience, but seems unnecessary. However, I wish getting to Cameron’s Codex–this is where you find the list of potential challenges that updates as you progress in the story–wasn’t hidden away in the “Misc” option menu; I’d have liked it to be in the drop-down menu on the touchscreen, where you can quickly access other constantly used things like “Zoom” and “Alchemy”.

Okay, now on to the issues I’m not a fan of. None of these are deal-breakers as Dragon Quest VIII remains a strong classic JRPG that does stray from its successful mold of yore, but I’m still bummed.

First, there’s the soundtrack or lack thereof–the original orchestrated soundtrack was removed for the 3DS version. What’s there is fine, but no longer as sweeping. The game’s cel-shaded cartoon visuals still look pretty good, but there’s a lot of draw-in when wandering around, which can make it look like nothing is at the end of some monster-ridden hallway, but there’s actually a red treasure chest there and the only way you’d know that is to walk closer towards it. Speaking of visuals, the menus, once full of icons, tabs, and visual indicators, and looking like this, have been replaced with perfunctory text that, yes, still gets the job done, but loses a lot of personality. The in-game camera continues to be an issue, especially in tight spots, and I have to use the shoulder buttons to swing it around for a better view as I, like many, prefer seeing where I’m going.

Lastly, there’s Jessica, who uses her sexuality to charm monsters into not attacking. I remember being weirded out by this some twelve years back, and it hasn’t gotten better with age. Initially, she’s dressed quite conservatively, but the minute she joins your party her attire changes to be extremely less so, and there’s even some needless boob bouncing. Sorry, Akira Toriyama, but it’s gross. I’m currently trying to specialize her in the opposite direction so as to never see the puff-puff spell in action. Maybe Red will replace her, but who knows.

All right, that’s enough Dragon Quest VIII talk for now. Evidently I can really go on about this game, as well as Dragon Quest IX. I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I see both the later game content and stuff that pops up after credits roll. Until next slime, everyone.

Blameless is ironically not without its faults

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I don’t play many horror games. Honestly, I’d like to touch more, truly, but I have a hard time being the deciding factor of opening that creaky door and stepping into the dimly-lit room full of monsters with only a twig as my sole mean of defense. I’m thinking the last one I danced with was Silent Hill 2, some three years back, and I made a promise to play Silent Hill 3 last year around Halloween…but that never happened. There’s also Outlast, Siren: Blood Curse, and Lone Survivor, installed and waiting. They might be waiting for a long time. Heck, I even have that last named game ready to go in two different locations (laptop and PlayStation 3). Nah, the mood is never right, and by “the mood,” I naturally mean my mood.

So, what pushed me over the edge to play Blameless, which is totally a horror thing? Well, besides being completely free to play, I saw via HowLongToBeat that it was a quick experience, with completion times ranging in the fifty- to sixty-minutes range. “I can handle that,” I told myself, clicking the “play” button and sitting up straighter in my chair. I also politely asked my cat Timmy not to make any sudden jumps on to my lap. Surprisingly, he behaved.

All right, here’s the rundown on Blameless. It’s a mysterious first-person adventure focusing primarily on solving puzzles in the vein of collect specific item and use it on another specific item correctly to make magic happen. Point and click, but with more exploration. You are an architect dude–maybe you have a name, but I can’t recall what it is–investigating a potential project house currently under a lot of construction. Alas, once there, you get bopped in the head by the man you agreed to meet and left in a locked room. As you make your escape, you discover more acts of violence. Your best chance is to get out of there and call the cops.

Visually, the game has a decent look. It’s no PT, but it makes a valiant attempt. I mean, it’s a house full of clutter and the remnants of bereft construction workers. I’m not expecting beauty from the tool benches, garbage bins, and unused materials, but it does all seem to look as it should, and that fact helps create a realistic, believable environment. That makes poking around in its darker corners all the more unnerving. The voice acting, unfortunately, is sub-par and really jarring, and the puzzles never become more complicated than finding the right item to use where it is supposed to be used. I will give the developer props for making me use a set of keys twice and actually take them out of the first padlock manually; I mean, that’s how you’d do it in real life, but a lot of games would have automated that process so you wouldn’t stall moving forward.

Unfortunately, Blameless broke in a big, big way right near the end, to the point that I had to abandon the whole sojourn and look up how it ended via YouTube. Ironically, I was almost there, only a few footsteps from the conclusion myself. Oh well. For some reason, after a spoiler thing happened and I failed to remain alive, the game reloaded me into a previous checkpoint, except all the walls of the room were missing and I couldn’t interact with anything. Basically, I killed the scripting and found myself unable to move forward. I tried re-loading the same checkpoint multiple times to only end up at the same roadblock. For a free game that took me only about an hour to get through and wasn’t anything I’d shout from the mountaintops about, I can’t be too annoyed, though it certainly cemented my thoughts about its quality right then and there. The ending tries to stuff a somewhat unbelievable twist in there and really force it down your throat; I wasn’t a fan.

Let’s hope whatever the next scary game I play at least lets me complete it.