Monthly Archives: October 2018

Every village needs a name, and Tarrey Town is lovely

I loved playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but hated completing it. Not because that meant the game was over and no longer playable–it’s not at all, in fact, as it weirdly drops you back into Hyrule moments before you take on the final encounter so you can fast-travel away though your save slot now shows you completed the final encounter even though you could, theoretically, do it again; it’s a bit messy–but because I found the final fight to be less-than-impressive. Exploring Hyrule at my leisure and taking on what I wanted to take on, in my own way, is where the game shined the most, and the final boss fight seems to be a linear affair, without many options. Also, after it’s done, there’s a pretty short and underwhelming cutscene, and that’s it.

Ultimately, this post is not about that stuff per se, but I’ve been meaning to say something about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild since doing the completion thing shortly before 2017 came to a close. I mean, after all, it was one of my top ten games last year, coming in at the number three spot. Instead, I want to talk about houses and building a community of like-minded people and mundane tasks like gathering wood for construction purposes and watching things change. I want to examine one of my favorite tasks to chip away at while I hunted down more shrines and Korok seeds even if I ultimately have not played that much more of the game since seeing credits rolled. It’s something I think about maybe more than I do, for fear of not having it around as an on-going quest. Of something perpetually to see grow.

Tarrey Town is a new town in Hyrule–so new, in fact, that it doesn’t exist until you steer an up-and-coming architect named Hudson to its foundation to begin constructing it. First, however, you must save a house in Hateno Village from demolition at the hands of the Bolson Construction Company. After that, the flamboyant and cool soundmaker boss Bolson that the company is named for transfers Hudson to Lake Akkala and suggests that Link goes and pays him a visit sometime. Sure thing, chicken wing. Upon Link’s arrival, he sees Hudson mining away at a chunk of rock, and Hudson requests that Link help him construct the new town. On it, my friend.

So, obviously, if you’ve been around this blog of mine for some time now, you know I love the Suikoden series. Well, Suikoden and Suikoden II, really. I still haven’t gotten too far into Suikoden III, and my memories of Suikoden V are as faint as a lantern in a field of fog. I love the notion of building a base and bringing people to it, watching it change with inhabitants and become more than just brick and mortar. If I recall correctly, there was even a town-building mini-game called Faerie Village in Breath of Fire III that I got deep into…though I don’t remember all expansive it ultimately was. Also, Mass Effect 2 had you bringing back recruits for your team to the Normandy, and that was good fun.

The quests to bring Tarrey Town to life are somewhat simple and repetitive. It all begins with gathering some wood. Next, you need to find a Goron with a name ending in “son” because them’s the rules. After that, it’s back to gathering more bundles of wood, as well as finding a tailor. Then 30 bundles of wood and recruiting a merchant. Yes, it’s that task again, but I enjoyed cutting down trees and thinking about all the people I’ve met in Hyrule that have a name ending in “son.” After 50 bundles of wood–seriously, we’re running out of trees here–you need to find someone to officiate a wedding, which turns into a really cute scene Hudson and his new wife. After the wedding is did and done, Tarrey Town is considered complete, and you get three diamonds for all your hard work, plus a free inn to stay at. The end results don’t turn it into a bustling metropolis, but it’s still a busy town with people living in it, and it feels so good to know that, without Link, without your help, none of this would exist.

Spoiler zone ahead. While doing some research for this post, I discovered that a secret shop opens on one of the building’s rooftops, and you can purchase some good gear there. This gives me the perfect reason to return to Tarrey Town and see how its folks are doing. Yeah, yeah, maybe I’ll do a shrine or two along the way. That’s just how The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild works–you start with one idea, and get distracted by several others. Either way, the world continues to thrive, thanks to you.

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Casting Relashio on the ho hum Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery

I’ve been meaning to uninstall Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery for months now. Yes, I have known for quite a while that this is not the kind of digital Harry Potter experience I want, which means they need to reveal whatever that open-world thing is as soon as possible or I must finally play my cheap-o copies of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for the PlayStation 2. Heck, LEGO Harry Potter did a much better job of immersing me in the fantastic and fantastical world of wizards, muggles, and a secretive school for learning magic.

The game is naturally set in Hogwarts, but before the events of J.K. Rowling’s novels, featuring a customized protagonist, who you can see above in this blog post’s prominent screenshot. Yup, that’s me, eating the world’s largest sandwich. Alas, he probably looks like a lot of other players’ avatars because the customizing options are fairly limited or locked behind spending high amounts of your precious gem currency…just to get a different hairstyle. Anyways, your homemade student is a first-year and can attend magic classes, learn spells, battle rivals, and embark on quests. So long as you have the time.

Throughout Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery‘s story, players are able to make choices that affect the game’s narrative. Occasionally, these choices are locked if the player’s statistics are not high enough. As expected, your avatar will be interacting with notable characters from the series, such as Albus Dumbledore, Rubeus Hagrid (aka, the best character ever), Severus Snape, and Minerva McGonagall. The main plot starts with your character meeting Rowan Khanna in Diagon Alley, a young witch or wizard–I think if you pick a male avatar, Rowan will also be male because Melanie’s Rowan was a young woman–who teaches the player all about the wizarding world. Later, a conversation with wandmaker Ollivander reveals that the player character’s brother, Jacob, was expelled from Hogwarts for attempting to open the “Cursed Vaults,” a hidden vault rumored to have existed at the school.

As a free-to-play mobile game, it naturally features a system with tasks costing energy to perform. Look, it’s just a staple of the genre now, so to speak. You have to tap on the screen–really specific characters or objects–to use energy during quests; when you run out, you can either wait for it to recharge over real time or pay gems to add more (don’t ever do this). The player also gains different levels of courage, empathy, and knowledge via the choices they make, and higher levels of a particular attribute allow the player to choose some different dialogue options or change the interactions of other students and staff. You won’t be surprised to learn that I focused mostly on empathy throughout my short, two Ravenclaw years at Hogwarts, because I’m a caring soul.

Here’s the part that I found really frustrating in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. Many of the quests are limited not only by a specific amount of energy, but also time. For example, say you are trying to learn a new spell. Well, you have only an hour to complete the quest, and you end up being a few energy taps short after your first go at it. Obviously, you just need to wait a bit and come back to it, but I don’t like feeling tied to my cell phone all the time, and I’d often only return way later to learn that I had failed the quest and would have to do it all over again to progress.

The game looks quite good, but the writing is disappointingly bland. There are occasional moments of interesting stuff, but the side dialogue during quests is so generic it might as well not even be there. Every now and then you get asked a magic-related question to answer, and the questions are beyond easy, even for someone only faintly aware of the Potterverse. Dueling other students and casting spells is neat, but mostly just involves tapping and relying on a rock, paper, scissors outcome. Honestly, the waiting around for your energy meter to recharge wouldn’t be too bad…if you had more to do in Hogwarts. But everything requires energy. You just jump from space to space, looking for something interesting to engage in, and, shockingly, at a school where a professor can turn into a cat or staircases move on their own, there is nothing special to engage in. What a shame.

Ultimately, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery made me feel like a prisoner of Azkaban, demanding I check in on it sooner than later, and I am deathly afraid of Dementors…so no thank you.

All of Spyro: Year of the Dragon’s eggs are up for grabs

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I completed Spyro the Dragon, at 71%, despite the wonky camera, frustrating platforming, and that final fight against Gnasty Gnorc. Then I took on Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage!, collecting a mighty number of gems, talismans, and orbs. After that, I moved on to Spyro: Year of the Dragon, the third installment in the series despite it missing a number in the title, but alas, I’ve still not finished it off and most likely won’t…well, not the PlayStation 1 classic version I have downloaded on my PlayStation 3. Why, you ask? Well, there’s a little thing called Spyro Reignited Trilogy coming out next month–that’s November, y’all–and I’m mega-stoked to revisit the series with hopefully better controls and camera options. Oh, and it looks gorgeous too.

Spyro: Year of the Dragon opens with a celebration in the land of the dragons, where Spyro and his kin are celebrating the titular “Year of the Dragon,”, an event that occurs every twelve years when new dragon eggs are brought to the realm. However, unfortunately, during the celebration, a cloaked rabbit girl named Bianca invades the Dragon Realms with an army of creatures called Rhynocs and steals all of the dragon eggs. She brings them back to the Sorceress, an evil ruler of all the Forgotten Realms, who scatters the eggs throughout several worlds. Spyro, along with his trusty lifelong pals Sparx and Hunter, are sent to recover the dragon eggs.

Well…my save file says that I’m at 64% completion for Spyro: Year of the Dragon. Go me. That more or less equates to 10,110 out of 15,000 gems and 90 out of 148 dragon eggs, according to the in-game Atlas menu. Which, if I can say, is really handy for tallying up all your accomplishments, along with the objectives still to finish off in each distinct world. This is good information to have because you often need a certain number of dragon eggs to move forward to the next area, and most of them are easy enough to collect, except for the ones based on mini-games, like skating or boxing.

The gameplay is, more or less, the same as the it was in the previous two games. In this one, Spyro will explore over 30 worlds, defeat enemies, complete puzzles, participate in mini-games, and collect eggs and the usual colored gems. He doesn’t have any brand-new moves, but the controls are still fine, if a bit iffy when trying to both charge forward and jump; often, I would just send our poor tiny, purple dragon right off a cliff’s edge. The camera remains a constant opponent. That said, it’s still a lot of fun to explore these worlds and find all the hidden-away gems or see a dragon egg in the distance and figure out how to reach it.

Spyro’s quest to recapture the dragon eggs stolen by the Sorceress is aided by a number of furry and fuzzy friends. Such as Bentley the yeti, Sheila the kangaroo, Sergeant Byrd the flying penguin, and Agent 9, a blaster-wielding space monkey. These characters are represented in unique levels to highlight their different powers and abilities, with puzzles only for them. For example, Sergeant Byrd, has large, open levels to match his ability to fly and long-distance attacks. There’s also Sheila, who has much more vertical levels to make use of her double-jump ability, and these sometimes look like a traditional 2D platformer.

Spyro: Year of the Dragon‘s graphics, sound, and charm all work together to create something special. Yes, even some eighteen years later. The character designs, while low on the polygon count, still show off Insomniac’s knack for creating iconic characters that are the step-stones for what’s to come down the road, namely the Ratchet and Clank series. Honestly, I’m excited to revisit all three games next month, and I promise to get all them dragon eggs back from the Sorceress. Why? Well, mostly because they’ll be tied to Achievements. Ha, I can’t quit caring about those digital bursts of dopamine.

An abridged version of Final Fantasy XV that I cannot actually fit in my pocket

For a good chunk of my young adult life, I played every new Final Fantasy game that came out, starting naturally with Final Fantasy VII, then the underappreciated Final Fantasy VIII, and next to Final Fantasy IX, a game I only came around to seeing its conclusion a couple years back. I dabbled in a borrowed copy of Final Fantasy X from a friend in my sophomore year of college, but actually was more focused on schoolwork, dating, and being social than playing videogames. Shocking.

And so it went on, with me skipping out on Final Fantasy X-2 and the online-only Final Fantasy XI. I eventually returned to these hallowed grounds after graduating college, moving into a tiny studio apartment near New York City, and not setting up cable or Internet for a couple months because money was an issue. Thankfully, two games kept me quite busy–Final Fantasy XII and Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. This is a lot of preamble just to say that the last recent Final Fantasy game I’ve played was Final Fantasy XII back in 2006-ish and that weird side-scrolling beat-em-up…until now.

Yup, move aside official release Final Fantasy XV, with your mega realistic graphics, hours-long epic plotline, and detailed character models and pictures of food that convince you this world and its inhabitants are worth believing in. Because I’m playing Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition, which takes a 50-hour console JRPG and re-imagines it as a 10ish-hour mobile game. Except I’ll add one more wrinkle to the mix–I’m playing this on my laptop, not my cell phone. For this to happen, Square Enix naturally had to murder its darlings, cutting back on story, controls, and graphics to deliver a more shortened and laid-back telling of Prince Noctis’s journey to become king. It actually works though, surprise surprise.

Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition follows the same plot as the original game, as far as I can tell, but eliminates the open world aspect and many sidequests for a more focused experience. Exploration and combat have now been shifted from a behind-the-back view to an isometric overhead perspective with simplified controls more suitable for playing on a touchscreen…or using a mouse and keyboard, as I am doing. Music and voice acting was mostly kept intact, while the graphics were given a makeover with “chibified” character designs. The game is divided into ten chapters; the first chapter is available for free, hooray, and the remaining nine can be purchased individually or as a whole with discounted pricing.

The combat in Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition is more friendly and forgiving though maybe a little uninteresting. When the party enters a fight–no random battles here–the player takes control of Noctis only while his companions do their own thing. Noctis will auto-attack whatever enemy is nearest to him or whatever one you personally select, with opportunities to parry and dodge presented as timed button prompts. As the party gains EXP, Ignis, Prompto, and Gladio gain the same sort of special combat abilities they do in the core version, and there’s a skill tree to unlock other perks, such as using magic or enhancing how much damage your weapon does. Noctis himself has a very special ability called warp, jumping from one enemy to another by clicking on that enemy and holding down the mouse button, getting the drop on the unaware. You can also do this outside of combat, to reach certain areas.

Honestly, I enjoyed my free time in Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition‘s first chapter, but I’m not hooked enough to drop any bucks on it and see the remainder of the young prince’s plight. The combat feels inconsequential currently, though perhaps it gets more involved later on once magic and summoning show up. Still, it’ll always be a watered down version, and for some, that is ideal, and others not. I still find the idea of a boys’ roadtrip to be entertaining, even if it eventually does the Final Fantasy thing and end up being about saving the world from plunging into eternal darkness.

The world is ripe for digging in SteamWorld Dig 2

While playing I, Hope and growing extremely more disinterested and disappointed in the whole thing, I began to tinker away at SteamWorld Dig 2. This was a seemingly sleeper hit for many last year, and I, like many, wish I had played it sooner. It was like experiencing polar opposite games, where one game was just learning how to program jumping code for the main character and then the other game was able to flawlessly nail the feeling of feet lifting off the ground in order to reach a higher platform. I know I shouldn’t compare the two, as they are vastly different in countless ways, but I can’t help it, considering I would use SteamWorld Dig 2 as a feel-good chaser after dealing with some frustrating areas on repeat in I, Hope.

Let’s start at the start. SteamWorld Dig 2‘s story takes place between the events of SteamWorld Dig and SteamWorld Heist, of which the latter I have in my Steam library, but have not checked out yet. Following Rusty’s disappearance at the end of SteamWorld Dig, Dorothy, a robot who he had befriended, travels to the mining town of El Machino in order to search for him. Along the way, she comes across Fen, a remnant of the Vectron that Rusty had previously fought, who joins Dorothy as a navigator. While searching the mines for Rusty and hearing rumors of him turning into a monstrous machine, Dorothy comes across a group of humans led by Doris, who claims that mysterious machines are triggering earthquakes. From there, Dorothy is off to investigate.

The gameplay is quite similar to the original SteamWorld Dig, but much more refined. The loop is very much the same–dig deep underground, collect gems and materials, unearth the terrors of the underworld, and return to the top to cash in your collected goods for upgrades to help you better navigate this “platform mining adventure forged in Metroidvania flames.” Those are the developer’s own words, but man do they nail it right there. You’ll also unlock fast travel points along the way, so you can hop to and fro with ease, and some areas will require backtracking once you acquire a certain ability or perk, such as the jetpack or grappling hook.

I ended up taking a long break from SteamWorld Dig 2 because of the time I spent in the hospital and a growing general disinterest in playing many games on my laptop, but coming back to it months later is a breeze. One of my favorite elements is related to cogs. All of Dorothy’s tools are upgradeable with cash earned from excavating gems, and additional features are upgraded with cogs, which are found for the most part in secret areas or puzzle rooms scattered around the map. So, for example, for your pickaxe, you can use modification cogs to unlock Hunter’s Edge, which gives +5 extra XP per enemy killed with pickaxe, or Bounty Hunter, which nets you a cash prize for taking out enemies with the pickaxe. What is super awesome about this is you are not locked in to any of these mods and can switch them out freely at will, similar to Functions from Transistor.

Graphically, SteamWorld Dig 2 is a pure delight, especially on my laptop since I sit so close to the screen. It reminds me of a Saturday morning cartoon, all bright and bouncy and safe to absorb. The robot designs are fun and imaginative, and there’s more to talk to here than the first game. The game’s soundtrack is strong, especially the song that plays in El Machino, which is important, because you’ll be returning there a whole bunch for selling goods and upgrading your gear. Sound effects are solid, especially the noise of you collecting gems and materials, which you’ll be doing a lot of; Dorothy’s pickaxe attack against an enemy is also quite pleasant.

I’m making no promises that I’ll see SteamWorld Dig 2 to its conclusion in 2018, but that’s okay. This is a gaming experience worth savoring and dipping back into now and then to get just a little further down the hole. I fully expect Image & Form to come out with a SteamWorld Dig 3 or another spin-off like SteamWorld Heist, as this world and its characters are too good to not do more with them. I’ll be ready, whenever they are ready.

Harvest Seasons is a dangerously addictive clicker

I don’t play as many clicker/idle games as I did a few years ago, but I still check in on a few now and then, such as Clicker Heroes, Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms, and Harvest Seasons, today’s topic du jour. I also have some Office Space-themed thing on my phone that I looked at once or twice, but still haven’t uninstalled for some reason or another. It’s there for emergency purposes, like many of the games on my cellular device. Either way, if built right, an idle/clicker game can be quite relaxing and satisfying or dangerously addicting. So far, that’s how I feel about Harvest Seasons.

What exactly is Harvest Seasons? Well, one, it’s free on Steam. Second, it’s a fusion of many familiar things, such as a farming game, a city building game, and an idle/clicker game. It’s all about harvesting resources and leveling up your individual tiles to, well, create more resources, which will open up more options to increase your farmland’s yield. It’s a cycle of clicking and waiting, but a surprisingly addicting one because there never seems to be a dull moment, as something is always asking for an upgrade and your workers need to continually be kept busy cutting down trees, gathering crops, mining ore, or carving animal skins. Otherwise, you just aren’t growing.

It’s got a good look, heavy on the cartoony pixels, but the graphics are not the star here. They are functional enough. You can also stay very far zoomed out, which I do, as it lets me see more at once than being all up and close. I did have to turn off all the music and sound effects though as they are a little too loud for my sensitive ears, and because I don’t play in full-screen mode I can rock a YouTube video or Spotify playlist instead. Also, some of the font is a little tiny to see, even with my face only inches away from the computer screen. These are minor complaints though because, so far, and I’m still only in the first season of many seasons, I’m enjoying the clicking and waiting and clicking again.

Evidently, Harvest Seasons was lovingly hand-crafted by a husband and wife team, under the name of Bearded Bunnies. That’s super cool. This seems to be the duo’s first game, and I think it has a lot of promise. It’s not about loot crates or forcing you to purchase a ton of boosters with real-life money; instead, it’s pretty chill in letting you go at it however you want. For me, that’s checking in on it at least once a day, clearing out a few requests, focusing on unlocking at least one building or taking on a dungeon level, and then leaving it off for the remainder of the day. You aren’t punished for being away, and I find coming back to it with a ton of things to do to be ultra exciting.

Also, and this is a silly thing, but Harvest Seasons comes packed with over 400 Achievements to unlock. Granted, the majority of them are for reaching generic-like levels of things, such as harvesting X amount of crops or earning X amount of gold, all at different tiers, but it does hit that special spot in your brain to see so many unlocking so quickly. I’ve got about 50 so far, with plenty more to pop.

At some point, I’m going to have to “buy the farm” and do the thing I hate doing in these idle games but understand it is a necessity and start over…with some bonus perks, of course. I believe this is how you move from one season to another in Harvest Seasons. Eventually, you hit a wall where leveling up requires too much time or effort on your part, and your best bet is to start anew, with some enhancements to help get you back to where you stalled quickly. I get why it must be done, but it never feels great, wiping the slate clean. This is why, in real life, I am no farmer.

Do the Moonwhale’s bidding in Legend of the Skyfish

You can play a good chunk of Legend of the Skyfish for free before the walls go up and you have to drop a wee bit of cash-money to experience more. This happened to me specifically at Mamachi Swamp – Level 04, which felt like an odd place to stop players, but whatever. I feel like I grokked what this game was going for, enjoyed what I played and saw, and am totally okay moving on to something else. That’s not to say I don’t suggest you ignore this level-based puzzle adventure, just that you might get enough from its demo section. The full price on the PC is $7.99 or you can get a mobile version for half that.

Legend of the Skyfish stars a young hooded woman named Little Red Hook, as she journeys with the Moonwhale, the “warden of the seas,” to defeat the monstrous Skyfish. Not a lot of plot to go on, but it is serviceable. She’s armed with a rather unique item, a fishing pole–kind of like how Young in Anodyne wielded a broom instead of a sword. She uses her fishing pole both as a weapon and a grappling hook, and you can upgrade it as you progress through the levels. Of which, there are evidently 45 levels to see, plus giant boss fights. I already told you how far I got in the free-to-start version so I only saw one boss fight.

The levels in this The Legend of Zelda-lite romp are pretty similar from one to the next, slowly upping enemy counts and puzzles as you go further along. Little Red Hook explores screen after screen, flicking switches, and using her fishing rod to return sea horses and puffer-fish back to their ocean home. At the end of every level, she hacks a Skyfish totem to pieces, which I guess affects its plan of total domination. The fishing rod isn’t the only thing our leading lady can use. Little Red Hook’s hookshot tool can be used to snare solid objects, hurling her from island to island, grabbing stone blocks to weigh down ground switches, and yanking enemies across the screen to impale them on spikes, something that Mortal Kombat‘s Scorpion would highly approve of.

I played my little bit of Legend of the Skyfish on the PC, using mouse and keyboard for controls. It worked fine, especially because the game is quite linear, as well as friendly and pretty easy, though I generally prefer a controller for this type of adventuring. You can generally take everything slowly, and that includes engaging with enemies or moving from one island to another. It’s a gorgeous game to look at, from the way Little Red Hook moves through large patches of grass to the ripples in the water to the designs of enemies and the way they react to our leading lady’s presence. It’s quite stunning at times. Less can be said of the action, which is repetitive, with basic combat moves, but I found it relaxing and satisfying at times, and the rousing soundtrack helps keep you hooked, pun totally intended.

Perhaps Legend of the Skyfish will be included in some future Humble Bundle, where I can grab the full thing for a few dollars and see more of this beautiful world, maybe even give this supposedly dastardly Skyfish its just desserts. Time will tell, for sure.