Category Archives: photography

2019 Game Review Haiku, #2 – 10 Gnomes in Paris

Search around Paris
For the ten tiniest gnomes
They are well-hidden

And we’re back with these little haikus  of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

You are designed for accomplishment, so says 100,000 Gamerscore

As y’all probably know, I’ve been at this for a while, slowly building up my pointless and inconsequential Gamerscore, trying to hit it perfectly on big numbers like 10,000, 20,000, and so on. It makes getting these silly things called Achievements fun and somewhat meaningful to me, especially the extra ones you have to actually work for, and I will most likely continue to go at it…though having now finally hit 100,000, I feel like I might not make a big stink of it going forward. I mean, sure 110,000 is a bigger and better number than 100,000, but it just doesn’t seem as cool. Weird.

Anyways, I was real close to hitting this mega-milestone mark back in July, but then some other things happened, and I was away from my Xbox One for a good number of weeks. Once I was back to recovering at home on the couch, I was able to play a few more titles and earn some Achievements, hitting 100,000 perfectly on the nose thanks to games like Death Squared, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, and State of Decay 2. Woo, go me, big celebration.

As always, picture proof, though I only snapped this one photo of my cool-as-cool-gets number using my cell phone’s camera against my broken TV:

Also, I updated my avatar, something I didn’t think you could even do anymore.

A quick side note. One of my favorite things from this current generation of gaming is when a game, such as Gears of War 4 or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, comes out with new Achievements, recognizes you already did the work to pop ’em, and grants you them with glee from the moment you next sign into the game. That’s happened recently, and I’ve also been noodling away at Anodyne, which I will say nothing else of here except that is a game that deserves its own post and exhaustive breakdown because…hoo boy. Also, playing a bunch of Fortnite, but because there’s no Achievements for the Battle Royale mode, that’s not a real thing.

I’m currently almost a thousand points ahead of 100,000 and not even thinking about the next milestone. It’s been a fun journey, starting way back in February 2010 on the ol’ Xbox 360, but I have other issues to concern myself with at the moment. Thanks for coming along with me nonetheless. I’m sure I’ll find some other dumb thing to focus on down the road. Until then, readers…

Hilariously, baby’s first Platinum Trophy is for Invizimals: The Lost Kingdom

Dragon Quest VIII’s photography sidequest is pretty goo


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congratulations to me, for I found the year 2016

where is 2016 gd final thoughts capture

In hindsight, I really should have put forth a larger effort to make Where is 2016? the first game I completed this year instead of Rain. It only makes sense to ring in the new year with a game about…unearthing 2016 by flipping a bunch of hidden red switches to green, time-traveling to other countryside locations to repeat this endeavor, and then pulling a lever to release some jarring, chipper cartoon character from behind a locked door. Yeah, that only makes sense.

From independent game developer Mateusz Skutnik, Where is 2016? is a short point-and-click hidden object adventure set somewhere in France. I make that broad and dangerous assumption from the spatter of French words I saw on signage and rusty pipes. If this is set in, say, Middle-earth, please correct me in the comments below, but I’m more certain that it is not in Middle-earth than I am it is in France. Either way, it’s the countryside and small-town suburbia for your exploring. You do this by clicking areas of a static image, going deeper; in actuality, this is all you do, as well as lose yourself in the minute details of high resolution photographs of foliage and machinery.

There’s no traditional puzzle solving here. Simply find all the switches, turn them to green, return to the main switch hub thing, twist the knob–hey now, this is a family blog, people–and return to the main screen, which features a locked door, a rope to pull, and a clock with hands to manipulate. Do that a total of four times, with each scenario asking you to discover more red lights to switch, and you’ll complete the game. Easy enough. The struggle is discovering what you can click on and what you can’t, though the cursor will change when you are over a hot spot; still, there’s a bit of pixel hunting to do, and here’s a free tip–sometimes you can click in a section you’ve already zoomed in on for an even closer look at things.

I’m more than fine with Where is 2016?‘s length, as it was perfect to get through in ten to fifteen minutes and felt satisfying, in terms of finding all the gadgets to click, when I reached the end. Still don’t understand who that cartoon character was and why he was congratulating me on finding 2016. Perhaps he stars in one of Skutnik’s other games, of which there seem to be many. Sounds like the Submachine series is one worth examining. Also, he’s evidently been at this awhile, creating Where is 2015?, Where is 2014?, and so on for the respective past few years.

Where is 2016? features high resolution photographs for you to click on and dive into. You might think looking at a rusty, old farm plow is beyond tedious, but the closer you get to it, the better you see how it is put together. Then you notice the words etched into the metal, or the small scratches. The flecks of dirty, time. I don’t know if Skutnik took these photos himself for the game or if they come from some stock-based website, but they are crisp and energized, as well as perfunctory and plain. Adding gameplay mechanics on top of them definitely at first feels wrong, but eventually the two elements mesh together without much noise.

If you’d also like to start your year off right by releasing 2016 from its locked, dark chamber, begin click, click, clicking all up on Where is 2016? in your browser over here.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #3 – Where is 2016?

2016 games completed where is 2016 capture

Search sharp photographs
In France, for switches, secrets
The new year is here

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

A Date in the Park is no walk in the park

a date in the park gd final thoughts

A Date in the Park is out to surprise you, whether it is through its digitalized 1990s visuals and animated sprites, the brazen stride forward it takes to leave you in the dark when it comes to translating Portuguese, or its twisted, tragic tale of love at first sight. I finished it the other night feeling…perturbed. Shaken. And a little more cautious of empty parks in the middle of the afternoon.

You play as Lou, who looks like he should be either the lead singer of an early 2000s emo punk rock band or a recently homeless man living under a beach boardwalk given his adoration for flip-flops. Lou recently moved to Lisbon, in Portugal, to take up a new job and start life anew, though A Date in the Park never really goes into specifics there; it doesn’t matter. Lou is a catalyst, a way forward, a love-sick boy with fantasies of picnics and skinny-dipping in his head. The night prior, Lou meets Catarina, an enchanting woman to say the least, at a bar, and the two of them hit it off great in the way that many first encounters do, where you eager say “me too” when something you enjoy as well is brought up and the hours simply drift by in a fascinating lull. She told him to meet her the next day at Tapada das Necessidades, her favorite park.

I’ve never been to a foreign country by myself. In high school, I had the chance to go to France with my French class, but I chickened out for reasons I won’t go into here. I have to imagine that it can be scary, to know no one, to be up against a language barrier when trying to meet someone. And so, when you do make a connection, like Lou with Catarina, you have to pursue it, wholeheartedly. This means that despite Catarina not appearing at the park when they agreed upon, Lou will do whatever he can to see her again, even if it involves chasing after floating balloons and solving mechanical puzzles.

A Date in the Park, in terms of a point-and-click adventure game, is fairly straightforward. You have an inventory accessible via the top of the screen, you can click to walk around, you can click to either interact with an item or look at it for a description, and you can right click on the corners of the screen to instantly exit to the next screen. Alas, there’s not very many people in the park to interact with, meaning no dialogue trees or experimentation with items on people. The  person you do interact with early on, a gardener, speaks no English, leaving everything one-sided. The puzzles are limited and fairly easy to deduce, save for the one where you need to get the water pump working for the statue pools; I got through it guessing, and I also have to imagine some players might have trouble not realizing that many screens scroll, meaning there might be an exit to a new screen off to the right or left, but it’s only visible if you move over enough. Some of the back-tracking proves annoying, but not too much.

This is a surreal piece of horror, no doubt about it, and things quickly escalate once Lou discovers the wounded duckling. I have some big problems with the plot in terms of believability, but then again, it’s just a game, and I can look past a lot of things, but given how real of a setting it takes place in, as well as realistic sprites playing the roles…I wanted something real. Part of me would have been totally okay with a straightforward date in the park, with hand holding and skipping and looking at the historical sights. The tension builds to a horrific horror–think Se7en–and it drives last few minutes of the game with a palpable panic. I was certainly caught off guard, maybe even more than Lou; like him, I was here for a stroll in the park. We got that and then some.

All in all, A Date in the Park took me about an hour to get through, but again, I got stuck for a bit on that water pump puzzle. Others might move through it faster. You can grab the game for free right over here, but only after you finish feeding the squirrels and sitting quietly on a bench to take in nature’s beauty for at least five minutes. Oh, and after you get through A Date in the Park with your heart intact, check out Mudlarks, another free adventure title from the same developer Cloak and Dagger Games. I plan to soon enough.

Grammar is not Suikoden’s greatest joy in life

suikoden grammar 55-PSOGL2_160

During my recent replaying time with Suikoden, I noticed that the translation work, well…it needed some work. Meaning that there were a constant number of grammar and punctuation mistakes across my logged twenty-two hours of grinding and recruiting, enough that I eventually began snapping crappy photos via my cell phone–when I could. For documentation’s sake, of course. I mean, it might be another ten-plus years before I touch this RPG again, and maybe the world won’t even care a lick about good grammar by then–the horror!

I’d love to tell you that I noticed all of these errors back when I was a freckly, green-haired teenager with ska patches covering my backpack, but that probably wouldn’t be true. I don’t think my editing skills really blossomed until college, until I was told to stop pursuing art. Nonetheless, the spelling mistakes and grammar errors don’t detract one bit from Suikoden‘s fun gameplay, then and now; they’re just easier to spot in 2014 when playing on a larger TV screen, and once you spy one, you’ll be constantly looking for more.

Anyways, below are only four examples, but trust me when I say there were many others that I accidentally button-pressed through too fast or the text on the screen disappeared before I could ready my phone. This was especially the case during the final montage before the credits, where every single 108 Star of Destiny you recruited before the final battle with Barbarossa gets a tiny sentence about what they did after the war was over. Unfortunately, these little blips of text don’t stay on the screen for very long, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Or, y’know, you could play Suikoden all the way through. Or just watch here. The most common problem I spotted was subject-verb agreement, such as “Become the Commander-in-Chief and protect the border” for Kasim and “Embark on a journey to improve his imperfect self” for Pahn. They also end up spelling Barbarossa as Barbarosa on several accounts.

Right. Check these goofs out:

WP_20140822_001 WP_20140828_001 WP_20140830_001 WP_20140831_001

Latest Nintendo 3DS firmware update adds Accomplishments, new Mii hats, and more

Last night, Xbox Live got an update, and this morning, my Nintendo 3DS got an update. Of the two, I’m loving the latter way more. Let me show you what it brings to the table.

After simultaneously recharging my dying battery and downloading the update, the first thing I noticed on my 3DS was a new app called the Nintendo Zone, which promises special content when connecting with certain free wi-fi hotspots. There’s none near Grimmauld Place, and I have no idea where any nearby would be. The 3DS Camera app now has a toggle for either taking video or stills; hopefully you can record video for a decent amount of length, and not a mere 30 seconds or something. Otherwise, that’d be a waste, but I’ll have to wait until later to give it a try. Early reports mention up to ten minutes of recording, with time-lapse being an optional setting. Cool.

Seems like the most new additions are found within the Mii Street Plaza. Fine by me! First, we have Achievements. Well, Nintendo is calling them Accomplishments, which is way better than Accolades, but whatever–they work all the same. Do this, and earn a shiny red exclamation point. The nicest thing is that upon simply loading up the Plaza, I unlocked 15+, meaning they are retroactive. I got one for having over 50 Miis in my plaza and another for having Miis from two different regions (United States and Canada, snatch). Speaking of that, there’s a geographical map to show you exactly where all your Miis come from; I’ve got a lot of East Coast staters, with some strangely from California, too. And you can now get Miis from using SpotPass. A music player lets to kick back and hear some battle tunes. There is a sequel to Find Mii, offering new hats, but only if you’ve found all the ones from the previous game, which I’ve not yet done–I’m one hat away. And new puzzles for Puzzle Swap. Oh man, looks like I’m going to be walking around with my 3DS in sleep mode a lot more than usual.

This firmware update now also allows content to be moved between 3DS systems, and the eShop has also been updated to support demos and downloads when the system is in sleep mode.


Next on the list before 2011 runs out is us 3DS Ambassadors getting 10 free GBA games. This little handheld of mine is going to be bursting with So Much Stuff. Not a bad thing. Not at all.

To infinity and Beyond Good & Evil HD once again

Beyond Good & Evil was one of the first videogames I wrote about publicly during my first attempt at videogame journalism. That was…about four years ago. And the game itself came out in late 2003. So, like eight years later, thanks to a crazy good Cyber Monday sale, I happily tossed down $3.00 for Beyond Good & Evil HD, which is the same game that I played on the PlayStation 2 back in 2007, but now with a shiny coating of high definition. To me, it kinda looks the same, but that’s probably because I don’t have an HD TV and therefore can’t pinpoint the differences.

Well, there is Achievements now. Here’s the two I’ve popped so far:

Hovercraft (5G): Power up the hovercraft

Gamble King 1 (5G): Win 3 times in the coconut shell game against Peepers

I kind of forgot how much I loved this game. I love the short musical cues that play when you enter the lighthouse or when you discover a new item; I love how Latino AI Segundo pronounces Jade’s name as Yade; I love collecting photos of strange Hillys wildlife and earning money for them; I love getting emails on the fly; I love the Star Wars vibe that a culture of homo sapiens, rhino people, and sharkfaces can live in mutual harmony; I love the give-and-take relationship that is Jade and Pey’j. I love lots here.

That said, some parts haven’t aged well–such as mouth movements not being synched to spoken dialogue–but it’s easy to overlook this kind of stuff when the game is so welcoming and enchanting. It starts fast, and really doesn’t slow down unless you want it to. There’s races to win, looters to chase down, photos to take, and security buildings to infiltrate. I paused last night before starting the mission to rescue Double H and find out what went wrong on his last mission for the IRIS Network. That starts the sneaking stuff, which is a blast, but Tara and I had to give LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7 some attention for a bit. To further hit home how much I love me some Beyond Good & Evil, I was wishing the entire time LEGO Mr. Weasley and LEGO Tonks were putting out LEGO fire that I was back on Hillys, snapping photos and skipping across glimmering water.

However, I’m not looking forward to winning the pellet game against Francis for his Pearl. Not one bit.

But yeah, $3.00 for a game I already own and paid over $20.00 on years ago…yeah, it’s love. Shame on you if you didn’t pick this up on Cyber Monday. Shame, shame, shame.