Category Archives: love

The Fabulous Screech will make you click and feel emotions

gd the fabulous screech final impressions

The Sea Will Claim Everything is a game I think about now and then, a game which I haven’t really touched in about four years. That said, I think about it like this: starting over, falling into it once more, eyes wide and absorbing, my brain ready for an overload of story and characters and rich lore. The amount of detail that Jonas Kyratzes imagined up for this world, these Lands of Dream, staggers me still, as does the inviting, storybook artwork by Verena Kyratzes. Together, these two create portals, doors that open and close, but take you far away from where you started. I don’t know if I’m ready yet to give The Sea Will Claim Everything another go–I believe I walked away from it feeling somewhat overwhelmed–but I continue to build up brain space for when that day comes.

In the meantime, there’s The Fabulous Screech, which is a smaller, more contained bit of whimsical fantasy and storytelling. No, it’s not about everyone’s less-than-loved Saved by the Bell nerd-for-brains. The jaunty plot is that your partner bought you a ticket for the season’s last performance by The Fabulous Screech and His Trained Humans. You travel to the town of Oddness Standing to see this unique show and learn how The Fabulous Screech lived its life. Interestingly, this game came to fruition as a Christmas gift for someone’s boyfriend when times were tough and funds were short, and the Kyratzes duo ended up making it more personal than originally intended. This is why you’ll click and feel emotions.

Gameplay is minimal and easy, but that’s okay. This is more of an interactive story, and there’s so much to interact with, to click on and read, that dealing with solving complicated puzzles for getting you from point A to point B would have messed up with the laid-back pacing and gentleness blanketing everything here. At most, you have to find an item for a character, and there’s only so many places you can search, so you’ll eventually find it and move ahead. All this captivating reading and visuals are backed by a soothing soundtrack that works when things are bouncy and childish at the theater’s curtains to the darker moments of dread and frailty by the end. Also, and I had this problem in The Sea Will Claim Everything so I suspect I need to learn to live with it, I’m still not a fan of the common-day references everywhere, such as to the Sierra or T.S. Eliot, but I guess that’s what helps make these lands dream-like. That blurring of fantasy and the real world.

The life–and presumably death–of The Fabulous Screech in The Fabulous Screech is anything but straightforward. There’s whimsy and silliness, but also a good amount of stark reality and sadness. Look, aging is unstoppable. That’s a hard fact. Time passes by with every second, and it’s up to us to make the best of things, to find happiness and be happy. I try not to think about my furry pets dying, but I know they will some day, and that debilitating fear makes it difficult to even write about this stuff. Sure, Timmy can be a psychopath and bully, but also a lap warmer and affectionate friend. Pixie can shed like there’s no tomorrow and get her claws stuck in everything, but she also headbutts me hello whenever she can. They are special to me.

Okay, that’s all I can do. Gonna go hug both of my kitty cats now and hope that, at least in their feline eyes, I’m a well-trained human.

Advertisements

Longest Night’s stargazing results in emergent music gameplay

gd longest night final impressions

I’m really excited about Night in the Woods. I mean, yeah, I was excited before, after playing Lost Constellation early last year and seeing what these cute animal friends can get up to and the staggering amount of imagination and creativity to everything surrounding them and their antics, but now I’m even more excited. Unsurprisingly, this all stems from my recent dip into Longest Night, which is actually the first of the two supplemental experiences from Finji, though I’m tackling it second. You know I never like to follow anything by the book…unless it is the Metal Gear series in order of release.

Longest Night is less game and more short story. Or short stories, rather. Snippets of fake history. A gang of four friends–Mae, Bea, Gregg, and Angus–gather around the campfire and trace constellations in the dark sky, bringing to life these legends of old. It’s a classic tradition as part of “Longest Night,” which is equivalent to Christmas or the Winter Solstice in this world. It’s become a part of life, and the older one gets, the further from it they go, which is why no one around the campfire remembers how to make any of the constellations, something they used to do all the time as little kids.

To learn about these historical figures dripping with lore, like Ibn, the First Singer, Quinona, and Tollmetron, you have to trace matching stars to one another. Linked stars all share similar audio clues, so match all the chanting ones together, all the ones that sound like bells, and so on. It’s easy to figure out, if you know that you’re supposed to figure these sounds out. Honestly, I didn’t even realize you could click on them and draw lines to other stars; I thought the whole point of the game was simply to swipe your cursor around, making pretty tunes and enjoying the cackle of a campfire, but eventually I got the feeling I was missing something and started clicking.

Like I said, I spent far too much time simply losing myself in the stars, adding my own beats to the already catchy and, on purpose, looping soundtrack. I didn’t want to trace the rest of the constellations, knowing this dream would come to an end. Here, have a taste of my cursor-moving skills:


To be real, I don’t even know what Night in the Woods is about. I’m being ignorant on purpose; I want to be completely surprised, not just in terms of story, but also gameplay, much like I was going into both Longest Night and Lost Constellation. Sure, a part of me would like to see elements from these incorporated in the bigger adventure, like creating your own snowmen and music beats, but they could also scrap all of this and do something completely different, something totally unexpected, and I would still be content. From a few GIFs that I couldn’t help not look at, it seems like an adventure game with some varying and stylized action scenes here and there. Oh, and it looks gorgeous too. Lots of oranges and blues, falling leaves. Ahhhh.

Now that I’ve played both of Night in the Woods‘ supplemental side stories, all that’s left to do is wait for its final release. Which is somewhere in 2016. Until then, I’ll be staring up at the stars, humming along to a song that never ends.

New ways to celebrate mediocrity with The Incredibles

gd incredibles playstation2 impressions

I ended up getting a copy of The Incredibles videogame for the PlayStation 2 last summer as part of a small birthday celebration for myself. Please note, I also snagged Suikoden Tactics and Star Ocean Till the End of Time with this, and, of the three, it’s the first one I’ve actually put into my system to play since that package arrived. Yup, some seven months later, I’m just blindly trusting that these used videogames from Amazon arrived in working condition. I mean, yeah, I’ll find out eventually.

Anyways, The Incredibles is my favorite Pixar film. I say that now, in 2015, with total confidence, and have been saying it since the movie saw release in 2004. Y’know, a decade ago. I also suspect that I will continue saying this for many more years, possibly all the years. There’s a lot of reasons why The Incredibles is incredible, and I’ll list a few for those in the know: Brad Bird, monologues, subsurface scattering, Syndrome’s hair, that little kid on the tricycle, capes, no capes, the colors, 1960s homages, the mysterious Mirage, and so on. It’s a funny story about superheroes, but also about family and what it can cost to stay together, to be happy. I watch it every few months as it is one of my top 31 favorite ways to eat up time.

I promise I’ll talk about the letdown that, so far, is The Incredibles on the PlayStation 2, but I first need to lay some groundwork. First, the movie. I was in college and saw it on or around its opening weekend with a girl I was dating then, who we will call the Giraffe, and it instantly blew me my mind. Like, sure, I understood the concept of a “children’s film for adults,” but here was something else, something bigger. It didn’t dumb itself down for the wee ones, and it kept the serious moments super serious. Fast forward a bit, and I’m on my way home from a Spring Break trip in Las Vegas, NV, unfortunately taking a red-eye flight back to Camden. Now, I’m already terrified of planes, and so while everyone else slept, I sat staring at the back of the seat in front of me, sweating like a pig. Until I discovered my girlfriend’s GameBoy Advance and a copy of The Incredibles for it. It didn’t pass all the hours, but it definitely helped; alas, the GBA version is quite different from those released for consoles, playing it as a straightforward side-scrolling beat-em-up, and you can see it in action over here.

I knew that The Incredibles for PlayStation 2 was not the same game I had played on that flight many years back, but it still seemed promising. The movie’s entire makeup is perfectly designed for a videogame: you have a small cast of characters, each with varying special powers, ending up in dangerous situations, all trying to save the world from a man-boy gone mad who has an army of goons and robots to toss at you. Alas, it turned out to be a vapid, uninspired retread of the movie, with an out-of-nowhere difficulty spike, which forces one to use cheat codes to get through it. Hate to remind Syndrome of this yet again, but you do need special powers to be super.

Here are my biggest problems so far with The Incredibles, and mind you, I only just completed stage 8 (of 18 total), meaning I’m a little bit over one-third of the way through it, but boy howdy I’m not thrilled about what’s to come.

It’s boring. The levels are extremely linear, and the one or two occasions it allows you to explore reveal nothing, save for maybe a single “secret bonus item” unlock collectible, which devolves into uninteresting concept art. It’s certainly no this. At this point, I’ve played as Mr. Incredible six times, once as Elastigirl, and once as Dash. Wait, real quick–the game and its manual seem to go out of its way to never refer to Elastigirl as such, calling her Helen or Mrs. Incredible only, strangely stripping her of her identity, even labeling her this in a level that takes place before she gets married. The levels for Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl are of the action adventure style, with slivers of variety, such as a turret sequence, and the Dash level was an atrocious free-runner style thing that I’ll have more on in a sec.

It’s confusing. Look, I know the movie inside and out. I have to imagine anyone coming to this game also knows the movie pretty well or would at least see it first before playing the action game based on it. If they didn’t, well…this will make zero sense. Small, condensed scenes from Pixar’s film are used between levels to bridge the gaps, but it does little to explain why so-and-so is here, doing this, wearing that. One level you are playing as an overweight Mr. Incredible in his old-timey blue costume, and the very next level you have him looking fit and all donned up in Edna’s new design. I know how he got there, but many won’t if they are relying on this for plot. Also, you rarely get told what to do in a level or where to go next, though there are only so many options at hand.

It’s too difficult. Maybe this is my fault, coming to The Incredibles and assuming it was a child-friendly beat-em-up with additional elements, but certainly something easy. Most levels, based on a quick scan of YouTube replays, take about eight to ten minutes to finish, while I was averaging more around 30 minutes. This is due to many deaths, but also frustration at overly difficult sections, sequences I just can’t imagine a young gamer getting through without repeated tries or external help. In some levels, if you miss a platform jump, you have to return to the start of the scenario yourself and start again, and it doesn’t help that the camera makes it challenging to tell how far a jump is. In that level where Dash has to race the school bus, the checkpoint systems seems oddly tiered, often working against progress. The only way I was able to beat the Omnidroid in stage 8 “Volcanic Eruption” was to spam health replenish and Incredi-move cheat codes. I don’t know, maybe I’m just terrible at games, thinks the dude that did beat Yama on a Daily Challenge last year.

The short of it is this: The Incredibles is not as incredible as the movie. I’m going to finish playing it, because that’s who I am, but like that tricycle kid hanging around the Parr’s driveway, I’ll still be waiting for something amazing to happen.

2013 Game Review Haiku, #56 – Jurassic Heart

2013 games completed jurassic heart

Girl meets large T-Rex
Find a new ukulele
Got the “good” ending

These little haikus proved to be quite popular in 2012, so I’m gonna keep them going for another year. Or until I get bored with them. Whatever comes first. If you want to read more words about these games that I’m beating, just search around on Grinding Down. I’m sure I’ve talked about them here or there at some point. Anyways, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry.

Not eliminating the memories of loss in Eternally Us

eternally us final thoughts 3

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.

Marriage is a fine institution, but not in Skyrim

skyrim_mara_wedding

Over the weekend, I got married. The day before I got married, I got engaged, and it was a sunny, clear day, with chickens skittering around on the ground and dragons roaring in the baby blue sky above. Couldn’t imagine it any differently. I didn’t really know the woman I just promised to share my life with too well, but she seemed more than eager, and in a realm like Skyrim you only live once. I immediately fast-traveled to the Temple of Mara to speak with the priest and prepare everything. There was little work for me to actually do. He said to get some rest and come back tomorrow. I took a thirteen hour nap in the temple’s basement. Upon coming upstairs, I was surprised to see the guests had all arrived–though none looked like any of my friends. Where was Hadvar? The Greybeards? Before a candlelit altar, the priest said some elegant words, and my bride-to-be and I shared our vows. When the ceremony ended, she turned, started to say something to me about a “happy life,” and exited the temple in mid-sentence. I rushed outside, deeply worried about my new wife and the possibility she might have a concussion, and discovered that she had vanished entirely from Riften. It truly was a Skyrim moment.

So, for those curious, I married Avrusa Sarethi. This piece of Dunmer flesh and mind:

Avrusa

Meooow. At first, I was just turning in a quest. See, she asked me long ago to find like twenty Jazbay Grapes, and after discovering that a merchant in my fully restored Thieves Guild hideout sold them, I just bought one or two each time I visited the place until I had enough to complete the miscellaneous task. Think she needed them for potions or Nirnroot stuff. However, before I gave her the grapes, I noticed a dialogue option that basically went, “Ya want dis?” Nice to know that she was interested in me long before I did the quest for her; otherwise, that’s just guilt driving her forward, which would never last.

Currently, Lohgahn is level 47, married, and totally alone. He adopted a kid some time back out of generosity for an Achievement, and I think that young boy resides in Breezehome–by himself–but it’s hard to remember as I have four houses currently, thanks to the Hearthfire DLC. Here’s hoping that my dear Avrusa disappeared to one of my many abodes, because having a spouse offers some gameplay bonuses, like free food and he or she will shop for you while you’re out slaying dragons and finding Word Walls. Not sure how much of that is useful at this point in the game when I have all the money in the world to buy food and ingredients, but it’s kind of neat if a bit old-fashioned. When I’m up to all the fast-traveling and loading screens, I’ll go around the realm and check all my houses to see where she ended up, if she is even alive. If not…well, that’s another blog post.

Regardless, with the words said and before my new wife could hightail it back to Sarethi Farm, this Achievement popped:

SR-achievement-Married
Married (10G): Get married

And truthfully, that’s what marrying in Skyrim is all about: showing off.

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.