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The Half-hour Hitbox: January 2014

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I know, I know. Technically, the month isn’t over, but I really don’t see myself dabbling in anything new over the next two or three days, and so here’s the newest edition of The Half-hour Hitbox. You’re welcome, and all that. Right. See, the dayjob has been pretty crazy these last few weeks, and I come home from work with only enough energy to do a couple of Spelunky runs and then pop upstairs for the heated blanket and some quick-but-quality Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Pokemon Y time. I think I’m nearing the finish line for that latter title, though Victory Road is proving to be a swift kick in the rear, as my collective team of pocket monsters is still not high enough to make it through in one go. I’m not worried. I finally caught a Garbador, so really, all is fine. I’ll get back to EXP grinding after I’m done stuffing its face full of colorful Poké Puffs.

But enough of that. Here’s a sampling of a few other games I played in January 2014, but haven’t gotten to talk about them yet here on Grinding Down. If we’re lucky, I still might further down the road.

Fountain

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Last month, I tried Terry Cavanagh’s Oiche Mhaith, and found it upsetting and disturbing. Fountain, made for Ludum Dare 28, is not so in-your-face depressing, but it is shrouded in inevitable sadness. You start out as an old woman near a fountain, which, when you touch it, restores you to a younger version of yourself. Now you can explore the map faster and push away the fog of war. Everything is also more vibrant, the music a bit bouncier, but after awhile you have to return to the fountain for more youth juice as age sets back in. With each return trip to the fountain, your youth fades faster, and you must be young and spry to find all the hidden items. I was not able to get many and found it frustrating that your first trip out into the wild is generally the farthest you can go before the fountain binds you to it until time stands still for our leading old woman. I guess something is being said here.

Heroine’s Quest: The Herald of Ragnarok

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Hmm. Heroine’s Quest: The Herald of Ragnarok is as old-school as the oldest school can get, and by that I mean that Bianca, the name I gave to our leading, blonde-haired warrior, froze to death in the forest in the game’s opening fifteen minutes. And no, I had neglected to save at any point. Yup, this is the sort of point-and-click adventure where you can die left and right, so that’s always hanging over your head, along with trying to puzzle out where to go next and how to get there. I’ll try again, as I love its look and the dry voice acting, but it’s not the easiest game to get into and stay in.

Kingdom Rush: Frontiers

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It should come as no surprise that my return to some casual time with the RTS genre is with the sequel to the only RTS game I’ve enjoyed over the last several years. Yup, Kingdom Rush: Frontiers, now totally available to play online, in your browser, for zero dollars. I’m down with that, and yes, it’s still a complete package, even if it isn’t technically complete, as some bells and whistles are only available for those that pay to play the game on their iThing or sign up for an online save slot. I’ll stick with the bare bones, thank you very much, because it’s still a fun, bouncy campaign built around constructing towers and fighting off pre-determined waves of enemies. The real trick is to learn when–and how–to spend your money, as a simple upgrade to a specific tower can be the key to victory.

Rogue Legacy

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Last year, everyone was talking about Rogue Legacy. And playing it, too. Well, now so am I, but let it be widely known I’m not any good at it. Complete rubbish, actually. I think the longest I’ve stayed alive is two minutes, maybe three, but I’m slowly accruing gold, enough to unlock new parts of the castle and upgrade all the various helpful merchants. It’s a great game when you have a few minutes to kill and absolutely don’t mind getting nowhere fast. I have not yet found a specific build that works well, and the timing for jumping with your sword blade pointed down to activate those platforms is quite tricky.

Spelunky

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Speaking of getting nowhere fast, yes…I’m heavily into Spelunky. Giant Bomb‘s Patrick has been playing it every day now for about three weeks, and at first, I watched the videos just because I always watch everything that goes up on the site, regardless if I’m immediately interested in the game in the limelight. It looked like fun though. I played a bit of the freeware version before finally biting the bullet and grabbing the PSN version for a sick three bucks in their 14 in ’14 sale. And now I play it every day, hopefully getting better with each run. I made it to the first level in the Temple section, which I’m pretty proud of. It’s a tough game, but very rewarding in its own way, and I like the Daily Challenges aspect very much. Also: bats are the worst.

Jet Set Radio

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Originally, I wrote Jet Set Radio as Jet Moto. My bad. Remember that game? Anyways, in this one, which is a high-definition port for the PlayStation 3, it is all about gaining control of Tokyo-to through graffiti and sick skating skills. The music is rad, upbeat, and heavy on pulsing drum beats and record scratches, and all I’ve done so far is skate through the tutorial, but I’d like to get back into this as it’s such a weird mix of mechanics and a fantastic use of cel-shaded graphics, the kind that tugs at my artistic heart.

EnviroGolf

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This is a bad golf sim that attempts to make you feel bad about playing golf. The jokes are kind of funny the first time you see them, but the experience is lacking overall. By the time I got to the third hole, the jokes were repeating themselves. Also, could really use some copyediting.

Facade

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A small indie thing made for the MiniLD 48 jam. You basically walk to the right, read some words, go through a cave, open a door by collecting light-bugs, learn that you can’t go on the rocket that is going to get everyone off this desolate hunk of junk…and do it all over again. The second time gives you a more final reason why you can’t leave the desolate planet with everyone, but then that’s it. Game over. Some extremely iffy writing, but very pretty to look at.

Scaling the Sky

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Scaling the Sky could also be called Swimming the Sky, as you’ll be doing a lot of that, and it’s fantastic. I mean that from an enjoyment standpoint and a remote from reality kind. It’s a platformer at heart, but you’re going up, up, up, using clouds for a boost and rainbows to transport you to the next scene. The first few sections are pretty simple, with a clear path to follow, but the later ones ask you to puzzle out the best way to reach the rainbow, and you have to sometimes use the push of a chain of clouds to gain great height. That might sound kinda complicated, but it works wonderfully, and I found myself bouncing in and out of clouds, gaining momentum and playing with it. Eventually, all this climbing comes full circle in a moment that makes you smile.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

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I will most assuredly being writing about this at greater lengths, as it took me by complete surprise, but let me just say that Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a hypnotic ride, one that seems to fuse some of my favorite elements of Fallout 3 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and I’m mad at the world because nobody told me that earlier.

The Half-hour Hitbox is a new monthly feature for Grinding Down, covering a handful of videogames that I’ve only gotten to play for less than an hour so far. My hopes in doing this is to remind myself that I played a wee bit of these games at one time or another, and I should hop back into them, if I liked that first bite.

Not eliminating the memories of loss in Eternally Us

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Grief is natural; we’ve all experienced the emotional suffering one feels when something or someone truly cherished is taken away, and if for some reason you haven’t, bless your lucky, cold-as-steel soul. No, really. I hope you never have to feel the lingering twist of a broken heart, but I kind of doubt you’ll avoid it in one form or another. It’s dark subject matter, sure, but worth exploring just as much as any other adventure game plot based around escapism, making a name for yourself, and standing up against persecution.

Eternally Us is about grieving. I didn’t know this immediately going into it, but by the end, all is made explicitly clear. It’s self-described as a tale of love, life, and friendship. Created for the April 2010 MAGS competition by Infinite Grace Games, this somber story from Steven Poulton (writer, programmer, scorer) and Ben Chandler (designer, artist) starts innocently enough, with two young girls sitting on a park bench. Amber and Fio, short for Fionna, are feeding the pigeons, enjoying the nice weather as friends are wont to do. Alas, just as Fio is about to hit her childhood best friend with some very bad news, a magical door appears and opens, revealing some monstrous zombie-like being. And then, just like that…Fio is gone.

Amber now has to travel across five strikingly different locations in search of her stolen friend, solving puzzles and speaking her mind to any that will listen. The scenes are diverse, with one set in a dark, marshy swamp and another in the quiet snow and the final one in the middle of some tranquil, autumnal woods. Chandler’s colorful art makes each place highly expressive and detailed, with the supernatural mixing with the natural in a fairy tale way that had me immediately thinking of The Neverending Story. It’s amazing what adding glowing eyes can do to personalizing bark and branches, but it’s extremely effective here. There’s also a weather effect on top of the painted backgrounds in every scene, with my favorites being the rain and falling leaves. Small details, but they matter. They help you–and maybe even Amber too–forget that this place is not real, that you are traveling through portals and doorways, trapped in the otherworld, looking for someone you actually lost long ago.

Sound-wise, there’s falling rain and peaceful bird-chirping, as well as some surprisingly strong voice acting. Naturally, Amber is the one voice we hear the most, and her voice actress Miranda Gauvin does a fine job of playing someone that is unable to cope, that is begging for answers, but would also rather not hear them. The more inhuman characters dance the line between creepy and ridiculous, but again, I like them talkative trees. A soft, unobtrusive melody plays on a few of the scenes, too.

It’s a point-and-click game, and fairly limited in what you can actually do. The left mouse button lets Amber use items, and the right button examines things, which is the standard we’ve all come to know these days. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Two of a Kind. Found items immediately go to her inventory, which can be accessed by moving the mouse cursor to the top of the screen. Any items you find relate to that scene only and vanish when you move on to the next area, so if you get stuck, just keep trying every possible combination/tactic. I only ran into problems with the squirrel at the end, and that was more of technical issues than not understanding what I was supposed to do. I did not see a strong connection in some of the puzzles to what was happening in Amber’s mind, but maybe others will.

Eternally Us is ultimately a downer, but a fantastic way to fall. The puzzles are not terribly difficult and contained to a single scene to make things easier, but it’s the dialogue that you want to hear and the way Amber grows over the course of the short game. There’s also some cleverness afoot, such as how Amber “sinks” through the swamp to the depression area. Basically, you should play this short adventure game to put her and her friend at peace–and maybe find some solace yourself. It’s free and can be downloaded here.

Fire Emblem: Awakening has claimed three villagers and a dude named Edward

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Despite some very early losses in Fire Emblem: Awakening, I’ve begun to turn things around with Chrom’s quest to…well, keep the kingdom safe from all things evil. And figure out who Marth honestly is. I’m on chapter 8 currently if that means anything to you, but I’ve actually been focusing mostly on side quests, such as Paralogues, and general grinding battles to keep those in my team healthy, strong, and, most of all, alive.

Because I’ve lost several key units, like Virion the archer and sword extraordinaire Lon’qu, I’ve had to dip into the Bonus Box feature and recruit some new members from other Fire Emblem games to keep me at a full roster for some fights. Nyna, a sage from Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, has been doing phenomenal with her Elwind spells. Got Norne now on my side, a deadly archer also from Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. Lastly, I managed to trick the myrmidon Edward from Radiant Dawn to join my galavanting troupe. Since money doesn’t come easy in the Halidom of Ylisse and buying new individual members is crazy expensive, I was able to get all three of these folks to join my team by fighting them and then winning the match. The fights aren’t terribly difficult, and so I’m not only gaining a new fighter, but also leveling up along the way. It’s a pretty good tactic, if I don’t mind saying so.

Anyways, down went Edward and three “ally” villagers during the Paralogue 3 “A Strangled Peace” mission. May they rest in peace…a strangled peace, that is! Edward I saw coming as I let him venture too far out all by his lonesome, but it’s not like I knew the guy personally; this was his first battle, as well as his last. Also, since he comes from the Bonus Box and not the mainline story, his profile doesn’t appear in the Roster list, which leads me to believe that I could totally re-summon him again. Might have to try that some day, but not with him, as he obviously wasn’t a keeper. Probably will do so with Nyna, if ever comes the day.

This mission is pretty similar to an earlier Paralogue, wherein you have to do three things: make contact with the village, protect any roaming villagers, and still rout the enemy. The problem is that your army is spawned at the top of the map, and the villagers are in the middle area, and if you don’t get to them pronto–and I basically mean within one or two enemy turns–they will die fast and screaming. Looked like one attack from an enemy unit was enough to wipe a villager. I did not realize this initially, and so by the time I even had enough troops towards the middle of the map, all three villagers were dead. I did manage to get Sully over to the village though and protect it from further attacks. So, y’know, the greater good and all that.

I looked up what rewards you get if you do manage to save the three villagers, and I’m kind of glad I didn’t. Look at this pile of whackadoo: a Seraph Robe, a log, and a spoon. Ooh boy. Granted, I don’t know the stats for the Seraph Robe, but the other two items are just astounding in their simpleness. A log? A spoon? Sorry, villagers, but you’re gonna have to offer more to Chrom and his compadres if you want to get saved next time. Until then, my fellow Shepherds!

A videogames rundown in honor of Barristan the Bold

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Right now, I don’t have any particular thoughts on a particular game, so I figured I could use a post to sum up what’s going on with the games I’m playing currently. As usual, I am juggling several, which does not bode well for efficiency and completing many of ‘em, but it does allow me to see a wee bit of each thing. Let me break this out into a little list:

  • BioShock Infinite – I am really close to the end on this even though I only just posted my impressions about it recently. Its pacing is such that you keep playing, unaware of how much time has passed. A part of me wanted to just soldier through it last night, but it was getting late, and I suspect there’s an hour or two left to unfold. Regardless, I’ll finish it up tonight and then probably lock myself in a small room, crying over what brain-twisting revelations are revealed. Or spoiling myself via the Internet on all the stuff I missed.
  • Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon – Just managed to beat the first mansion’s boss, a particularly crafty ghost-controlled spider, which has now opened up the multiplayer aspect, as well as the next mansion. Have not moved on to either of those yet, but I will soon. Seems you can also hop back into the mansion levels to track down hidden Boos. Where you at, Boos?
  • Fire Emblem: Awakening – No one has died since my last post about losing Miriel. Granted, I haven’t played since then, but I’ll take my accomplishments with this brutal SRPG where I can.
  • PhantasmaburbiaHaven’t touched it since my last post, but I do plan to get back to it, especially since I know I just need to do some light grinding to get the two boys strong enough to take down the progress-blocking boss.
  • Kingdom RushI play this during my lunchbreak as I slowly sip down vegetable juice as part of my 10-day juicing fast. I got stuck on the first snowly level and had to drop the difficulty to easy to make it through with a pitiful two-star rating.
  • Patchwork – Cannot figure out how to appease the fire spirit (wants something to eat), and since this game is so small and indie and unknown, any online guide or clues are nowhere to be found. Curses, as I really like its art style and music a lot.
  • Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch – Stuck fighting Moltaan, the Lord of Lava, at the top of Old Smokey. Probably gotta grind more, especially since I evolved a few familiars, which drops them back down to level 1. Basically, my party is now a tad unbalanced. Oops.
  • El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron – Umm, I don’t know. Stopped at Chapter Two. Ha.

Since my last musings on PlayStation Plus, I’ve gone and downloaded several more games I won’t ever have the time to eat up, like The Cave and Demon’s Souls. Unless I clear a few of the above off my plate. Which may or may not happen soon. But hey, with me, you never know, as something entirely new (or old) will grab my attention. Looking ahead, I can’t really see anything that looks enticing, but that’s the magic of the videogames industry; there are always a few well-kept secrets.

Kingdom Rush convinces me to like the tower defense genre

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For those that don’t know, I’m not very much into tower defense games. I find the gameplay often stale, with too much setup and not enough involvement during the action. Of late, the only tower defense game I’ve really tried is Happy Wars, free for the Xbox 360 and more on the action side of things, but not very good. Unless Microsoft has fixed all the server connecting issues, which I’ve not gone back to check on.

Also for those that don’t know, I’m on a 10-day juicing fast. It’s for health and mentality reasons and mostly so I can fit into all my now-too-tight XL shirts for the spring and summer, and I’m going to be drawing some wee journal comics along the way, like so:

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You can check out more comics by following my Tumblr or Facebook page.

Anyways, what does building towers and drinking vegetable juice have to do with one another? Not much, really. I just needed a game to play on my lunch hour to distract me from the hungry grumbling coming from my stomach. Enter Kingdom Rush. Which is, for all intents and purposes, a tower defense game, but one with enough style and cartoonish behaviors that I found myself enraptured in it, getting up to level 6 or 7 after an hour of clicking around. I’m playing the free browser-based version, by the way, which is available here.

In this one, you construct towers in specific locations to try to stop waves of enemies that move on a linear path from reaching the other end of the map. There are four types of towers–archery, magic, barracks, and boulder-tossing–and each tower itself can be upgraded multiple times in several different ways. This allows for quick customization and flexibility in how you want to slay the line of bandits and spiders heading your way. Coupled with that, you have two special abilities that come with cool-down timers: sending in reinforcements and summoning a meteor shower attack. These are vital for stalling enemy units or even wiping the map clean at the very last second.

Each map I’ve played so far in Kingdom Rush has had more waves of enemies and introduces newer enemy types and mechanics in a satisfyingly gradual way. I’ve never felt overwhelmed or even out of control, and of the seven levels, I only ended up letting a few guys past on two or three of them. If you gets three stars on a level, you can replay it to earn more stars, but only under specific restrictions, like no archery towers and so on. These kind of modifiers are great for replaying old levels in new ways.

I dunno. I’m digging it. Especially its look and sound, and any game that gives me a beastiary is on track to being amazing in my book. There are other aspects I’ve not yet gotten to experience, like proper boss battles and hiring heros and exploring the skill trees more, but there’s no rush. Well, there’s Kingdom Rush. But I’ll see it all in due time, especially if it keeps me from not eating bad food during this juice fast. Especially then.

Every click burns a little brighter in Torchlight II

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Though I’ve not really mentioned it much here on Grinding Down, I’ve actually been playing a lot of Torchlight II for the last month and a half. Well, more than I expected. It’s a game that I bought during the most recent Steam Winter sale for a sexcellent deal and boot up for a bit every now and then, like while I’m waiting for my hot cocoa water to boil or if I got a half hour to kill before Tara and I head off somewhere. Bits and pieces, clicks and flicks. So far, I’ve not really thought of anything profound or illuminating enough to create a blog post around, but having just beat Pokemon White 2, I see some similarities between the two, and that’ll do just fine as a place to launch.

Now, to start, I liked Torchlight. Alas, I played it first on the Xbox 360, and so I had to experience tiny text syndrome on my TV, which lead to me missing out on reading all the various loot stats and spells descriptions and just going with what seemed best, defeating the purpose of caring about loot and equipping my character to the nines. It was not the most involved way to play, I’m afraid, and I later purchased the very same Torchlight for just under $4.00 for the PC during last year’s Steam summer sale, which helped rectify that problem. Though I didn’t really play it again for too long as there were a number of other distractions available. And then I picked up its sequel, which quickly eradicated it from my mind as something I needed to play.

In Torchlight II, you do a lot of the same things from the previous game, but it all somehow feels new. Or at least polished to appear new. Switching things up, I am playing as an Embermage, which is a highly trained spell-casting class with elemental attacks. His name is Mosley, and he uses gem-enchanted wands and relies on a lot of electrical-based spells, as well as some random happenings. My favorite being when a giant meteor falls from the sky onto everyone. His pet is a Badger, but sadly, I don’t remember what name I gave it. This class is a great mix of things, and trying to decide on skills is a fun challenge, as the Embermage can totally go in a number of ways. It’s definitely spicier than previous classes like…the Alchemist (basically, a wizard) or the Vanquisher (in short, a ranger).

Allow me to now compare Torchligh II with Pokemon White 2, as well as probably enrage some diehard fans from either boat. In both games, there is always something to do. For the former, it’s clicking on things until they are dead and picking up loot; for the latter, it’s battling Pokemon to gain EXP or capture them for your team. It’s all about collecting, moving forward. That said, there’s a story around both these main game mechanics that exists high above, nothing more than a blur and disembodied voice telling you where you should go to next. You can, if you want, get invested in this, but there is very little point. I don’t remember any specifics from the the original Torchlight‘s story, and I couldn’t tell you what is going on in this one. Same goes for Pokemon White 2. The story is such a non-issue that it is nothing more than perfunctory, which is a disappointment, especially in a fantasy realm as colorful and quirky as Torchlight II.

And with that odd comparison, let me say that I’m really enjoying my time with Torchlight II. Constantly finding new and interesting gear is a joy, as well as customizing it with gems and enchantments to make it even more unique. You are constantly improving with every new piece of armor and skill perk. Everything is streamlined, and playing solo is completely viable, even against some of the huge raid-like bosses. My Mosley is creeping up near LV 20, and I have no idea where we’re going story-wise; I just head to the starred locations, click on things until a new starred location pops up, and then I head there. That probably sounds a little underwhelming, but all along the way I’m clicking and having an excellent time. Looking forward to more with Mosley, though I suspect he’ll be my only character and playthrough for Torchlight II. Eventually, the light will gently fade.

The first hour of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch spirits you away

NiNoKuni1 first hour review

So, I made some time this weekend and played a wee bit of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, covering the first hour of gameplay for, naturally, The First Hour. Click that link to find out how everything went.

Since then, I’ve gotten to give Studio Ghibli/Level-5′s JRPG about two more hours of my time, and it’s been pretty dang delightful. The story is nothing astounding, but it plays by many of the same rules as fairy tales do, naming the key players and letting magic live without scrutiny. Running around the world is an experience that is very hard to describe, as it is both videogame-like and surreal, with all credit to Studio Ghibli for the way everything looks and moves. Oliver and Drippy’s animations are charismatically fluid, and the way the game breaks down every system shows the level (pun intended) of deepness one can fall into. Evidently, there will be alchemy. Oh yes. That said, I’m still having some trouble either getting into the combat or understanding it completely, and it’s mix of menu managing, character swapping, and moving around the battlefield in real time is something that I’m going to have to quickly master if I’m ever to take on a real boss or more than three enemies at a time.

So, I’ll be back later on with more thoughts as Oliver progresses forward on his journey to save his mother.

Save your daughter and as many flashlight batteries as possible in Ascension

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Bundles, bundles, bundles–you can’t turn right without walking into one these days. That can be, at times, a bit annoying, especially when one has wallet issues or an ever-growing backlog, but the latest bundle shouldn’t be a problem for anyone with a working computer: The Free Bundle. Yup, that’s right. Free. No minimum, no “beat the average price” tier rewards. Just a list of some indie games and the buttons to download them. Currently up are six games, of which I’ve downloaded the four I’m most interested in: Ascension, Celestial Mechanica, Abobo Big’s Adventure, and Treasure Adventure Game.

For today’s post, I’ll be talking about the first one mentioned there. Before I begin, I have to state that I think it has an unfortunately generic name, as Googling “Ascension” brings up a rather popular CCG or talk of the forthcoming God of War: Ascension. Nothing for the indie game comes up on the first page of results certainly. Oh, and there’s totally an XBLA indie game of the same name out there. Ultimately, I think Atticus Ascends would have been a better title, but that’s just me. Otherwise, it’s hard to track anything down about the little indie horror stab in the dark. To get the screenshot above, I had to navigate to the developer’s website, and even then there was not much in the form of media, but that’s just a small gripe from my perspective. If I was to ever do a second post on the game, I’d have to take screenshots as I played for myself–the true horror!

Ascension is surprisingly good. Well, at least I was surprised at the quality of the gameplay, the look, the controls. Just about everything, except the story, which is kind of by-the-books. It’s a psychological horror game where you play as groundskeeper Atticus, who has brought his sick daughter Viola (or is it Violet?) to work on the day of a terrible accident. Separated from her, he must find his way back before something else reaches her first–dun dun dunnn. You control Atticus, wandering floors of some building, reading notes left by others, searching for items, like flashlight batteries and key cards, and avoiding zombie-like monsters by sneaking past them in the darkness. Or maybe killing them with an axe; I’ve not yet figured that part out.

The game has a really nice look to it. Cartoonish, painterly at times, but capable of style, with great lighting effects from your flashlight, especially when it begins to dim and weaken from low batteries. A nice touch. All text is dished out in a lackluster typewriter font, with the typewriter sounds to boot, which leads me to question who is telling the story here: Atticus or an unknown author. Some scenes, like saving your game or speaking with your daughter, are presented in a larger shot than traditional gameplay. These are nicely done and help give more dimension to the characters. In the end, I just wish there was a map. Lone Survivor had one, even if it was a riff on Silent Hill 2‘s apartment building maps. It helped nonetheless.

I played up to the part where Atticus has to navigate through the Cold Storage area. Without a map, I quickly became lost after so many hallways and doors, and then the monsters kept killing me despite the ax I was wielding. Holding your breath only works if they haven’t seen you, so the moment you are spotted, it’s kind of over. Death isn’t a complete end, but it does throw you out of the loop for a bit. I might hop back into it again and try once more; I don’t expect it to be a very long game, but I might need to read up some more on how the combat works because I don’t think I have it down well enough to survive. Anyways, again, Ascension is good and free, so go download it from the Free Bundle (31 days to go!) or the developer’s website. And conserve your batteries; I mean it.

What I loved about Chrono Trigger

A long, long time ago–well, back in March 2012 really–I beat Chrono Trigger. It was both a great and grueling experience, and I put down some notes on the things I disliked about the RPG legend that is legendary among RPG fans. And people reacted. Think the post even made it on Reddit. Yeeeeeah. It was like I called their sweet little grandmother a raging prostitute that was the reason STDs spread or kicked their dog into the middle of traffic on a busy highway. It’s either the depression in me or my strengthening pessimistic outlook on life that I can’t see anything as perfect. Videogames can be great, can be a lot of fun, really enjoyable–but never utopian.

Okay, that’s enough intro. I could really go on about all the little things I dislike in games I adore, but my point is just that both exist, and sometimes they co-exist, and other times one is the predator stalking the prey. For now, let’s use the  dual tech Slurp Kiss (Ayla and Frog!) and get into the love.

mighty music

Surprise, surprise–it’s amazing. Here, let me name a few tracks: Corridors of Time, the hauntingly Secret of the Forest, an overworld theme that is both whimsical and foreboding, Zeal Palace, or that battle theme that really gets you into the fight and will thankfully never leave my body. And there’s plenty more. Basically every soundbite, whether it is a song or sound effect (Robo has some great ones!), is highly memorable. Both for its quality and charm.

Chrono Trigger was scored by Yasunori Mitsuda and Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu. Mitsuda spent many nights sleeping in the office, which led to many songs feeling dream-inspired. I totally hear that. He also later suffered from stomach ulcers, and so Uematsu was brought in to finish up about ten songs. Either way, the music from Chrono Trigger is universally loved–and deservedly. I still listen to more tunes from Chrono Cross, but that has to do with a more orchestral feel to them than anything else.

The Millennial Fair

When it happens, it’s downright magical. You’re on trial, accused of trying to kidnap Princess Nadia and take over Guardia Castle. You even get called a terrorist. And you, the player, know none of this is true, and are ready to defend yourself against your accusers. But then the Chancellor begins bringing up actions you took–or didn’t take–at the Millennial Fair, where you first met the princess. Seemingly normal encounters are now twisted and distorted to make it appear like you are one shifty soul, even if you’re definitely not. Like, if you grabbed the dropped pendant before checking on the princess, you are labeled greedy and after the throne. Small things mattered. But you don’t learn this until it is too late, and so it doesn’t matter how many silver points you earned playing games at the fair: you are a criminal. And you’re put in a cell for your alleged mistreatment of the princess, which really gets the ball rolling plot-wise. It all felt so natural as it unfolded, too.

Visible enemies

My distaste for random encounters continues to grow as I get older. I find it way more annoying now, and so when a game gives me enemies on screen, leaving it up to me to fight or flee or sneak by, I am overjoyed. Granted, this phenomenon seems to be more of a later trend, making it a nice surprise when I could watch Blue Imps and Goblins wander in the grass in Chrono Trigger before taking them on. Not only do you see enemies before you fight them, the battle itself takes place right there. The UI switches to reflect this, but other than that, you are fighting where you are standing, and it’s all very quick, a definite upgrade from slower turn-based RPGs.

The jet bike race

It’s random. Really random. But I guess someone wanted to put the SNES’s Mode 7 graphics to use. The jet bike race is found in 2300 A.D., during and after Beyond the Ruins. It allows you to take a shortcut across the ruins, avoiding a couple of screens of monsters to fight. That is, if you win. Which is not as simple of just gunning it all the way. You’re racing against Johnny, a half-tricycle automaton, and he has this way of constantly inching his way in front of you. Rubber-banding, I believe it’s called. It’s tough, but at the time a great change of pace, and you can come back to race Johnny later for various prices, like a Power Tab and Ethers. Once you get the Epoch, you can skip the race entirely as it is avoidable. I’m saddened that this element never spawned a tie-in: Super Crono Kart.

That evil laugh

There is only so much a sprite character can do to evoke emotions. Usually, they hop around and squirt drops of water off their heads if excited or run back in forth in place to express various levels of excitement. My favorite little animated moment is one I discovered purely from curiosity. Games like Animal Crossing: Wild World and The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion taught me that sitting in chairs is something one can do in videogames. It’s just as exciting of an action in digital life as it is in real life. And so, when in the Giant’s Claw, I took my lead character at the time–always Crono, yo–and plopped him down in Azala’s chair. He changed. He laughed with mirth and evilness, and he looked right at me as he did it. And then he rejoined his party members to continue the hunt for  Lavos. It’s a really small, random occurrence, but I love these little additions. They show a sort of shared consciousness between the player and those that made the game, that they realized someone would try to sit here, and for that that did, here’s a bonus animation.

Right. Those are the things I loved. I hope this clears up any non-obviousness over how I feel about Chrono Trigger. It’s a fantastic game. It has some problems, but the great outweighs the bad unarguably. I played it fully once now and am glad I did. Given my gaming habits and time schedule, I doubt I’ll ever play it again, whether via New Game+ or starting all over, but other than different endings, I saw a really good chunk of the whole experience. And just like Chrono Cross, I’ll revisit the soundtrack when the mood strikes me, so it’ll always be there, the legend that is legendary.

Doing it all over again in Pokemon White 2

I firmly believe that there are two types of Pokemon videogame fans: those that play on a surface level, and those that really dig deep. Insert joke here about the  damage-dealing Ground-type move called Dig. Nah. I’m most assuredly the former despite my love for stats and intricate systems in RPGs like Fallout: New Vegas, Borderlands 2, Dragon Age: OriginsSuikoden IIGrandia, and so on. But with the pocket monsters? I just like collecting them to fill out my Pokedex, giving them cutesy nicknames like Birdbutt and Trashy, and then exploring towns for silly side stuff. That’s about it. I don’t have friends that also play to battle against or participate in tournaments or breed to get the best of the best attributes Gattaca style. And I’m not really sure if Pokemon White 2 has the makings to change me in this regard.

But first, I failed. My goal was to jump back into Pokemon White, grind like mad, and defeat the Elite Four before moving on to the sequel. Alas, no. A few test battles against the first member of the Elite Four showed me just how much further I needed to crawl, and it looked dire. There’s actually a limit to the amount of grinding I’m willing to do for a game, and the rewards did not seem to justify the time spent doing battle after battle after battle, resting when needed, and then getting right back to it. No thanks.

So I went into Pokemon White 2 without knowing how Pokemon White ended. After about six to seven hours, I can safely say: it doesn’t matter. At least not yet. Everything plot-wise so far is follow-able; you begin anew, picking your gender, the name of your “rival”, and then a starter Pokemon. Last time, I went with Snivy, the grass-based beast, naming it Snape. This time, I switched things up, picking Tepig, the fire-based one, dubbing it Hamstring. He’s pretty good. And then you’re off, to fight Gym Leaders and keep those pestering Team Plasma grunts at bay. It’s going pretty well. With four gym badges collected, I’ve also gotten further into the game to open that silly side stuff that I secretly croon over.

The two big ones are Join Avenue and Pokéstar Studios. I like them both, but have really only just dabbled in each. For Join Avenue, you become the owner/manager of a long stretch of space between two towns. Here, you can ask people passing by to open shops or visit shops you’ve already opened, and doing so raises the shops’ rank, as well as the overall rank of Join Avenue. There’s a reason for all this, because as the shops increase, so do the benefits. Right now, I have two beauty salons, a cafe, and an antique store opened, ready for business. It seems like a neat idea that I’ll be revisiting in between gym battles to see how things are evolving. The other main side activity is Pokestar Studios, which has the player filming a script for a big theatrical release. You go through a bunch of decisions and then even get to see your film in a theater. I’ve done it once, but plan to sink more time into later. A few other mini-games carry over from Pokemon White as well, like participating in a play and dressing up with props.

If that’s not enough, Pokemon White 2 introduces…Achievements. Well, they call them Medals, but we all really know what they are. You get them for everything: walking, saving frequently, purchasing 10 Pokeballs at once, nicknaming X caught Pokemon, and so on and so on. You even get hint Medals to help you figure out just what you need to do. It’s a nice addition even if, ultimately, just like Achievements, they are meaningless. Unless something crazy good happens if you get them all–I don’t know, I’ve only gotten around 18 or so at this point.

While I picked Hamstring as my starter Pokemon, he’s definitely moved aside to make room for Genesect, a special robotic bug ‘mon that initial purchasers of the game can download for free. It is mighty powerful and considered “traded” so you immediately get a boost to all its EXP earned. Can’t go wrong with that. No way, no how. At first he felt extremely overpowered, but I just got my butt whooped at the fifth gym, so he is not all that and a bag of rice. Need to find some water-based Pokemon to help out in that fight…

I’m already planning for the future, meaning the final battles. I want to keep at least four of my chosen pocket monsters all around the same level, all different in tactics and nature and powers. It’s working out okay so far. I really don’t want to hit the same wall as I did in the previous game, and, as can be expected, a whole bunch of other content unlocks once you finish the game.

For me, it’s a great game to play a little bit of before turning in for the night, so while I’m playing it slowly, I’m also playing it methodically. At least, I hope I am. There’s so much in this game–these games, really–to take in. Layers upon layers of stuff, from berries to held items to the difference between TMs and HMs, to learning a new move or keeping old ones, to evolving or not evolving, to raising a friendly pocket monster, to earning money, to riding a bicycle, to playing mini-games, to using C-Gear, to withdrawing and depositing team members. At times, it’s like getting lost, and the safest way through is just to stay on the main path and do only what is necessary. Again, this is why I’m a surface level player; any more, and I’m just burying myself.

Okay, enough writing; back to training.