Category Archives: RPGs

Fallout 4 opens up faster than expected

gd impressions Fallout 4 Sanctuary Hills

Welcome home, Fallout 4. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m super glad you’re here, as you helped push me into the next generation with the purchase of an Xbox One. Feel free to imagine the sound of an Achievement popping right here, right now. Sorry, PlayStation 4, but you’ll have to sit the next few years out on the bench, and I am saddened to know that I won’t get to explore an alien planet and colonize it under my nomenclature before anyone else in No Man’s Sky, but that’s okay. I assume I’ll still be romping around a ruined Boston in Fallout 4 looking for adhesive by the time that game comes out, with plenty still to accomplish.

Fallout 4 is the story, as far as I can tell because I’m not looking anything up to confirm or noodle out more details, of a ruined family. I’m playing as a good-hearted man named Paul that favors a scruffy beard and cool metal armor, but before we get to all that we need to know how we got to all that. Nuclear war is the short answer. As the bombs begin to fall, you take shelter in the nearby vault along with your wife and son Shaun. Unfortunately, as with all things Vault-Tec, this shelter is more of a social experiment than safehouse, with everybody being cryo-frozen the minute you arrive. You awake from this chilly slumber years later only to watch your wife get murdered by some mysterious folk. Oh, they also kidnap your child, which is the fuel driving your mission to leave Vault 111 and explore a post-apocalyptic Boston.

I was disappointed in how little you actually get to explore the pre-war setting, how quickly you are rushed through it. From Bethesda’s E3 reveal, I was hoping for a longer stay in this environment, but the world quickly falls apart after doing the needful in terms of creating your character and assigning your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. points. I wanted to stroll down the street and speak to my neighbors, scrounge through their trashcans and eavesdrop on private conversations. I wanted to collect some things to take with me into Vault 111. Remember the Tranquility Lane quest from Fallout 3? I wanted that, extended, and not as creepy.

But it’s 2015, and I’m guessing people expect gun-shooting action sooner than later, especially if one was to target, say, the Destiny and Halo 5: Guardians fanbase. Fallout 4 hands it out really fast, so long as you stick to the main story quests for the early portion. In the first hour or so, I got hold of a suit of Power Armor and defeated a Deathclaw, things that were commonly late-game events in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. You also immediately get access to several different companions and the ability to build settlements, though the game does not do a great job explaining both how to do this and why it ultimately matters. I’m mostly decorating my house with coffee mugs and paintings of kitty cats.

All that said, this is an open-world game from Bethesda, which means there’s glitches and jank abound, and, unfortunately, I’m in the camp that, while still grumbling audibly about them, have come to accept this as the price to pay to play something so full of possibility. Here’s some of the things that have already gone wrong in my first few hours in Fallout 4:

  • Game froze within the first fifteen minutes, when prompted by my wife to spin my son’s mobile
  • Subtitles didn’t switch over when speaking with Preston for the first time, leaving up Sturges’ three words of dialogue for the entire conversation
  • No Achievement popped when hitting level 5
  • Paladin Danse climbed on top of a table and couldn’t get down in the background while I was having a conversation with someone else
  • Paladin Danse also had some trouble getting in an elevator, of which I have recorded proof and will eventually show y’all
  • Sent Dogmeat “home” to Sanctuary so I could try out a new companion, cannot locate him now
  • A single Raider Scum got trapped behind an open door and the wall, constantly switching between detected and hidden in terms of aggressiveness

Yup. It’s still janky.

I began writing this post after an hour or two with Fallout 4, but since then I’ve dropped another nineteen hours into my first playthrough. I’m mostly sticking to the main story quests, which I won’t talk about yet to keep this spoiler-free, but also am doing a few side things here and there, such as crafting a special chair for the local drug lady to sit in and do drugs. I don’t know why any of this is important, but maybe it will matter down the road. You can expect me back soon to talk more about some of the changes in Fallout 4 that I still don’t have a great handle on, like skill perks, V.A.T.S., and radiation.

Never want to go back to Final Fantasy IX’s Oeilvert

ff9 oeilvert maxresdefault 2

Last time I wrote about Final Fantasy IX, I expressed my concern over the fact that I just couldn’t help myself wasting hours and hours on grinding for permanent abilities for all potential party members. The siren’s call to fight Zemzelett over and over simply so both Garnet and Eiko had all potential summons at their disposal was too hard to resit. Well, all I can say is that, despite wanting to do more ability grinding, I moved the plot forward after my summoners stocked up on epic, screen-defying magical beings from beyond. I mean, it’s scary–2015 is nearly over, and I simply cannot let another year go by where I don’t see this adventure through.

Unfortunately, I was watching Giant Bomb‘s Drew and Alexis Extra Life 2015 stream–for the kids!–while playing, and missed an important piece of dialogue before selecting which party of members I wanted to bring to Oeilvert. Other than the name of a place that is deviously tough to spell, it’s also home to some mystical maguffin called the Gulug Stone that Kuja wants, but is afraid to gather for himself. So he kidnaps Zidane and his friends, and in order to save some of them from dropping to their death, tasks Zidane and three other people with traveling there and obtaining the thingy for him. The important part of dialogue I missed though was that Oeilvert is a no magic zone; naturally, because I missed this, I brought Vivi, Eiko, and Garnet with me, all three of which are heavy on magic casting and not so much on hitting enemies with sticks. This made Oeilvert much harder than it needed to be, but by then I had already committed to the task, plus saved my progress.

After you complete Oeilvert, you switch back over to Cid, now a frog instead of a oglop, as he helps free the other party members. How? Through a time-based stealth puzzle section where you have to also place certain weights on scales…naturally. It’s goofy and tricky, and I’m not going to hide the fact that I looked up a solution to the weights puzzle as I was running low on time and worried about losing a good chunk of progress. It’s certainly not the best part of Final Fantasy IX, that’s for sure. With everyone else freed, you get to search the Desert Palace, light candles, and fight monsters. However, now my party was made up of Freya, Steiner, Quina, and Amarant, none of which I look to for magic stuff.

See, in this area, you fight Grimlocks, which have different strengths and weaknesses based on what colored head is on the top. The red head deals out high physical damage dealer, but has a low defense to magic. On the flip, the blue head casts status-inducing spells and has low physical defense. Basically, it boils down to this–when the red head is on top, cast magic, and when the blue is on top, attack with weapons. Basically, I had to constantly wait for these beasts to don their blue heads and then attack with everyone, though Quina did have a water spell in his/her/its inventory. This made these fights extra long, and when you get into a random encounter every few steps, it can begin to feel a bit maddening.

Somehow, I got through it all and am now on my way to the Last Continent. It might not have been the clearest cut path–and that’s my fault for not selecting better balanced parties–but I’m right behind Kuja and his army of questioning black mages as they cross through Esto Gaza. Progress, people. Progress.

Look, I don’t know how Final Fantasy IX concludes, nor do I want to just yet, so please refrain from spoilers in the comments section. Somehow, I’ve remained blissfully ignorant when it comes to plot details for the end of this story, as well as Final Fantasy VIII, but I really do feel like we’re dragging our feet now. The conclusion to disc two felt more like a finale than anything else, but I guess then that would be too short for a JRPG from the mammoth Squaresoft. I’m not as invested in Kuja as a villain as I was with Garnet’s mother, and so I am simply following after the effeminate man because the game is telling me to. Also, I hope I get an airship like soon.

The Mirror Lied is an experiment intentionally too vague

gd final impressions the mirror lied maxresdefault

Earlier this year, I finally got with the times and played To the Moon, which I quickly followed up with its holiday mini-episode. I ate both up quickly, excitedly, and then immediately went to Freebird Games’ website to see if there was anything else to play. Turns out, yes, seeing as I had a copy of The Mirror Lied in my videogames folder for some months now. I’m guessing I never grabbed a copy of Quintessence: The Blighted Venom because I saw that it was incomplete and currently on hiatus. Too bad. Regardless, I finally got around to playing The Mirror Lied a few nights ago, and I have no idea what went down by the time credits rolled, which seems intentional, if not entirely successful.

I’m going to now give you my interpretation of The Mirror Lied‘s plot, but this could be entirely wrong. You play as Leah, a young, faceless girl living in a house all by herself. She has a friend–a bird called Birdy. Somebody keeps calling her house’s landline, telling her what to do, when all she really cares about is watering her plants, choosing the right dress to wear, and exploring the house for secrets. Eventually, she’ll escape, to the roof. Or maybe it’s all a metaphor for depression slash nuclear war slash coming of age slash menstruation. Really, I’ve got no idea, so tell me your take below in the comments.

Similar to To the Moon, this is an adventure game, where you explore your surroundings, gather items, and advance the plot. One strange mechanic here though is that you have a limited amount of time to reach the ringing phone, which makes sense from a logic standpoint, but gameplay-wise it’s just annoying. I’d be watering the magically growing plant only to suddenly learn I had five seconds to get to the phone; figuring out how to trigger the ringing a second time after missing it was hit or miss, with me forcing Leah to wander aimlessly until it happened again. It might have seemed neat on paper, but not in function. There’s also a single scenario where you have to use the inventory menu to load an empty gun full of bullets, which was clunky. Otherwise, just have Leah walk up to stuff, examine the items, and move on.

Interpretation certainly has its place in art, such as with the ending to LOST or that couple of dressed up lovers in The Shining who are clearly into some raunchy things, and videogames occasionally let you determine for yourself what you just went through. The Stanley Parable, despite having a narrator tell you every little detail, leaves plenty of room for your own take on events. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP says a lot through very little. I still occasionally ponder what LIMBO was trying to get across years later.

However, here, in The Mirror Lied, it all felt like an exercise in simply trying out mechanics and puzzles–nothing more, nothing less. A half-hearted attempt at a narrative to connect everything was provided with Leah, Birdy, and the phone calls, but the rest is left on the back-burner, because it doesn’t matter if you understand what is happening by the end, only that you got there, by figuring out how to unlock drawers, access a computer’s email network, and fill up a bucket with reddish liquid to water your ladder to freedom.

The Mirror Lied‘s developer Kan Gao stresses that it is not a horror game, that nothing will jump out at you. Can’t argue with that.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #55 – The Mirror Lied

2015 games completed the mirror lied gd 1-Room

Birdy gonna fly
Right over your house, kill it
Interpret yourself

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

Exploration is the name of The Legend of Legacy’s game

gd impressions legend-of-legacy-3

Yesterday, during my lunch break, I did two things: one, I picked up a copy of The Legend of Legacy, which is a new JRPG from Atlus, and two, I put down some cash money on a pre-order of the forthcoming Xbox One bundle for Fallout 4. Now, of those two, one is certainly more exciting than the other, but I’ll talk about my decision to go with an Xbox One as my entryway into the current generation of videogaming at a later date. For now, it’s all about mapping and grinding, sometimes simultaneously.

Some of you might remember a wee unassuming game back on the PlayStation 1 called SaGa Frontier. In fact, I used to own a copy. Anyways, despite not sharing the franchise name or even having a unique, catchy title of its own, The Legend of Legacy is a spiritual successor from Furyu, in conjunction with former staff members for Square Enix and Level-5. Namely illustrator Tomomi Kobayashi and designer Kyoji Koizumi of the SaGa series, Masato Kato, writer of Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross, Masashi Hamauzu, Final Fantasy XIII‘s composer, as well as ex-Level-5 staffer Masataka Matsuura as its director. Yup, it’s got quite a pedigree of creatives behind the wheel.

I’m going to hit you with a truth bomb right from the start: I don’t know the plot. I might not ever know the plot. It’s seemingly going to be told through poetry and over-dramatic descriptions of things done in the ancient past. At the start of The Legend of Legacy, you get to pick one of seven characters to play as, and I went with the default swordsman Meurs, though there are a bunch of other traditional tropes like the girl with amnesia or the ambitious, smarmy treasure hunter. After that, stuff happens, and the fellow who first discovered the island of Avalon and now goes by the uninteresting title of King of Adventurers has sent you and two others off to discover…um, I have no idea. There’s a rock that sang to my party of heroes, and then I filled in a map of a forest. Yeah.

The Legend of Legacy‘s combat is turn-based, which means it has to have more to it than just that to stand out in the crowd. Bravely Default allowed you to either burn later turns or store them up for extra actions at the risk of not being able to do anything later on if you didn’t kill the monsters right away. Paper Mario: Sticker Star requires precise button presses to deal extra damage or survive a bit longer. Some games can get by on simple turn-based combat, but not all. Anyways, The Legend of Legacy takes its leveling system from the classic SaGa games of old, which means characters don’t gain levels per se, but rather parameters and abilities based on how they acted in a fight. Ideally, this means that your sword skill levels up the more you attack with it, you gain more HP by taking damage more often, and so on, though it can feel random as it dishes out these upgrades. One nice touch is that your party is automatically fully healed after each fight.

I will say, while I abhorred filling in maps for the DS remake of Final Fantasy IV, it seems kind of fun here. Heck, I suspect that if one is fast enough they could fill in the maps quickly while still avoiding on-screen enemies in pursuit. I’ve not done this yet, but once you complete a map and all its sub-areas, you can return to town and sell it for big money, which is st in The Legend of Legacy. I know not what st stands for–stitches, perhaps–but it is an acceptable currency, and that’s enough for me.

Visually, The Legend of Legacy is pretty. It has a pop-up storybook element to its dungeons, with trees and rocks and strange, singing structures lifting up from the ground as you get closer, filling in the world around you. Not quite to the snuff of Bastion, but the idea is the same. Back in town, the game uses that zoomed out trick from Bravely Default, pulling the camera in closer as you move around and explore the inn, shops, and local inhabitants. The character designs are neat, and I almost selected the strange frog warrior because, c’mon, it’s a frog warrior, but decided to go with Meurs, which the game defaults to. Either way, I managed to recruit the frog warrior to my team in town later on, so I guess it doesn’t ultimately matter who you start with if they all team up in the end.

I’ve only put an hour and a half into The Legend of Legacy, and I’m seeing a lot of reviews call it a slow grindfest with no incentives, which is worrying, but we’ll see how things progress from here. As one knows, I’m okay with a game heavy on grinding, though I do like to be constantly working towards something in the end. If it’s just more singing rocks, then this legacy might not last very long.

Final Fantasy IX’s middle ground really drags

final fantasy 9 disc 3 slow start

I am freaking out. Not in a way that anyone would know by looking at me, but on the inside, and the inside of my insides, I am freaking out. It’s October 2015, and I’ve still not completed Final Fantasy IX, a game I set out to take down in 2013 and then, upon failing that, put in the crosshairs once more for this stretch of three hundred and sixty-five days. I could present y’all with a list of excuses, of things that got in the way and stole my limited attention span away, but it doesn’t matter. I’m in charge of this ship, and I have two months and change left to see Final Fantasy IX‘s credits roll, as well as every Active Time Event unfold.

Unfortunately, after an epic finish to Final Fantasy IX‘s second disc, which saw the ragtag group of adventurers battling the Soulcage at the Iifa Tree and then witnessing the power of Bahamut, the start to the third disc really drags. It’s got a ton of great stuff in it, but it’s all turtle-pace storytelling and character development, for nearly every character, and there’s little freedom put in the player’s hands, which means a lot of reading, watching, and doing as whoever is in charge currently says.

There’s some playful–and Broadway play-like–silliness involving a found love letter, wherein everyone who comes across it misinterprets its meaning. Next, you travel to Treno to participate in a card tournament; since I’m terrible at Tetra Master, I found myself nervously saving a lot and reloading when I’d lose a rare card to an opponent. After that, there’s the fall of Alexandria, and one could get through this seeing little action, but I did at least discover a bookshelf and hidden Tantarian in it, which awards everyone with lots of AP upon defeat; it’s a tough, long-winded battle, but worth it in the end. Lastly, there’s some action and cutscenes and rebuilding of Alexandria, with the plot pushing forward to have everyone go after Kuja with a smoldering passion, but not before trying to restore Regent Cid to human form. Spoilers: it doesn’t work.

After all that, I’m back to actively controlling my party–all members, too, even Quina–and exploring the world of Final Fantasy IX. Plot-wise, we’re off to the Black Mage Village. However, I can’t head directly there just yet. I mean, technically, yes, I totally can, now that I’m riding the ocean in style on the Blue Narciss, but my brain won’t let me. See, there’s abilities to be earned for all these party members by equipping all sorts of gear, and that means a whole lot of easy, but mindless grinding to do. I can’t not do it, I’m sorry. I need for every party member to have as many options as possible when it comes to abilities and spells to cast. Sometimes this means equipping weaker armor or weapons just to permanently learn these things. I’m sure there’s a saying that relates wells here, like to go forward, one must tumble backwards for a bit.

I think what I need to do is put aside Super Mario Maker, Fantasy Life, and Pokémon Shuffle as my late night, pre-bed gaming fix this week and focus squarely–pun intended–on getting my team up to snuff so that they can move and do actual story stuff. I care about these people and what trouble concerns their land, but I also care about earning enough AP for Steiner to learn Level Up so he can constantly level up faster, as well as Dagger to get every summon locked under her belt. You never know when you’ll need to cast that Odin or Ifrit, but you’ll be glad you can when the moment arises.

Final Fantasy IX‘s credits or bust.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #51 – Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness (Episode 1)

2015 gd games completed penny arcade rain-slick episode 1

Quest of house revenge
Kill mimes, hobos, and robots
Spacebar past all text

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.