Tag Archives: alchemy

Hope your alchemy skills are strong enough for Sokobond

This may not surprise anyone, but my strongest classes in high school were English, art, and, uh, study hall. By that logic, my weakest classes were mathematics, science, and gym. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate things about math and science, as they are fundamental to life, but gym can seriously take a hike down a long, uneven road full of potholes, dog droppings, and ankle-biting snakes. Yes, yes…I was the kid in gym class that walked the mile, each and every time. Anyways, Sokobond is all about chemistry, and I dig it.

Hey, have you heard the one about a chemist who was reading a book about helium? He just couldn’t put it down. ::cymbal crash::

Well, Sokobond comes from Draknek, who you might remember was behind another puzzle game I played recently, specifically A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build, and is an elegantly designed puzzle game about chemistry. Yup, chemistry. Don’t worry–it doesn’t play like a homework assignment. It’s logical, minimalist, and crafted with love and science, full of fun facts that making completing each level worth it. All in all, Sokobond is a tricky puzzler that tasks players with pushing atoms around a stage to form molecules, and while that might sound simple, just like rolling snowballs to form snowpeople, it is more complicated due to certain rules and restrictions.

Sokobond does not feature a tutorial. and that’s a good thing. It invites you to immediately start experimenting, opening without explanation. sitting on a board of squares are three circles–two of them are red, each with an H displayed in its middle and with a single little orb orbiting it, and one is a blue O with two orbs. One of the Hs bears a dotted rather than solid circle, and you can move it around the board with the cursor keys. If you move a circle next to another and they both have orbs, they’ll bond together and an orb will disappear from each. A few moves later, you’ll have maneuvered each circle into a small cluster and discovered that the object is to remove all the orbs, leaving you with a little structure. Many will have already immediately worked out that the circles represent atoms; the H circles are hydrogen, the O is oxygen, and when you’ve put them all together you’ve made water (H2O).

Sokobond is quite varied, not your standard sliding puzzler that just repeats its one trick over and over, with levels divided into sets themed on different mechanics. For example, the first set introduces you to the concept of bonding; the next brings in a bond cutter, which divides molecules if you move their bonds over it. Further along, there’s a bond doubler, which uses an extra couple of orbs if they’re available on adjacent atoms. There’s also a rotation element, which can change a molecule’s shape if its form allows. In one level, these mechanics will be the main part of the solution, allowing you to manipulate your atoms with greater flexibility; in another, they’ll provide its core challenge, cutting a bond into parts when it looked like you had the whole thing solved. The difficulty naturally ramps up with the more mechanics to deal with, but it is never overwhelming or frustrating.

Evidently, Sokobond came into existence after Alan and Shang Lun met one another at GDC 2012 and realized they’d played and loved each other’s games. On the final evening of the conference, they decided to make “a quick four-hour jam game,” which, a year and a half later, turned into the game I’m talking about in this very blog post. There’s over 100 levels to go through, and the music and sound design by Allison Walker is blissful and soothing.

You don’t need to know much about science to enjoy Sokobond‘s puzzles, but I guarantee you’ll appreciate it a bit more if you know what type of compound you are trying to create from the start. Still, I’ll never be able to buzz on on Jeopardy! and answer anything science-related or about the periodic table confidently, but I can totally slide cells around a small board to make compounds.

Mixing items with items to make more items in Ni no Kuni

ni-no-kuni alchemy pot update

Of all the videogame-based alchemy systems, I can confidently say that I like the one in Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch the least. Which is a shame, as Level-5 generally knows what its doing with its item synthesizing mechanics, a gameplay element that warms me greatly. Seriously, I love it. You take one item, mix it with another, and get something–more often than not–greater than the sum of its parts. My feverish appreciation probably all dates back to mixing herbs together for stronger health potions in Resident Evil 2, but if a game has any kind of alchemy element, I’m in. Heck, I bought Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny┬ásolely on this reasoning, even though its very name scares the life out of me and I’ve not played it yet.

In Dragon Quest VIII and Dragon Quest IX, you have a magical pot for all your brewing needs. In the former, it travels with you, riding on the princess-drawn carriage with her goblin father. In the latter, it stays put at the Quester’s Rest inn, which you must visit to do your mixing thing. Either way, you put items together and hope for the best, or you can pick up recipes (or clues) along your journey for killer gear. In VIII, you had to wait a bit for the pot to create the item–maybe about ten or fifteen minutes–which made grinding more bearable, as you battled for XP while waiting to hear that salivating ding that indicated your item was done. They took this away for IX, probably because it was on the DS and meant to be played in short, portable bursts, so waiting was not an option.

In Rogue Galaxy, you have two different ways to create new items: Weapon Fusion and the Factory. Basically, all weapons gain XP from battle until they are maxed out, wherein they can then be synthesized along with a similar weapon to create something new. Toady, a strange frog monster, helps with this by swallowing both weapons and spitting out something new; one could argue it is an alchemy pot. However, you don’t really know if something is going to turn out great and just have to chance it, though Toady will also warn you if the results are really negative. For the Factory, it’s more of a puzzle system, where you have to line up machine parts to get it running properly to create a special item from a set of blueprints.

For non-Level-5 joints with alchemy-based systems, it’s a mixed bag, with most alchemy systems fairly uninteresting or just bad altogether.

Odin Sphere has the player combining two items to generate a new item during gameplay, which is then stored in a “Material” bottle. These bottles can be improved as well by alchemizing two of them together to get a material bottle valued at the multiplicative product of the two original bottles (e.g., Material 2 combined with Material 3 results in a Material 6 bottle). It’s a bit complicated, and I don’t even remember getting to it during my first hour with the game, and I’ve not gone back since. I remember more about various plants you grow during battle than the alchemy, which says a lot, I guess.

And then there’s Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, all of which with systems that are nothing more than perfunctory.

However, in Ni no Kuni, the alchemy system is unnecessarily clunky. You have two options once you obtain the alchemy pot and its genie master Al-Khemi in Castaway Cove: use a recipe or mix and match. If you have all the right ingredients, simply click “use a recipe” and Al-Khemi with automatically take care of it for you. For mixing and matching, you are either guessing or looking up the select few recipes available in your Wizard’s Tome, a tedious process that involves you backing out of the alchemy menu, into the tome menu, zooming down on the page for alchemy, zooming in more to find the recipe you want, mumble it to yourself a few times so you don’t forget, exiting back out to the main menu, back into the alchemy menu, and trying to create something based off of what you were mumbling to yourself.

The sad part of all that? Even if you are successful and create an item, the recipe does not appear in your list of “acquired” recipes; you can only get ones added there from completing errands or earning ’em as the story progresses. That means, even though I successfully made a Fishburger from White Bread (x2), a Dumbflounder, and Crispy Lettuce, I can’t quickly select it again down the line from my recipes list; I have to either remember how to do it from scratch or go back into my tome to remind myself of what is actually in a Fishburger. In short–I really don’t like this. All it means is that I now have to play Ni on Kuni with my laptop next to me open to some recipe wiki page, instead of staying immersed in the game.

What a bummer. At this point, I’d rather just have a repeat of Dragon Quest IX‘s system.