I’ve not played every single LEGO video game out there, but I’ve gone through a good amount, most of which were in order of release. For me, it began with LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game back on the PlayStation 2, but it’s probably more accurate to say that the starting point for the evolution of these LEGO video games from TT Games began with LEGO Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues. That’s where you began to see things like an enlarged hub world to explore and a split-screen camera option for when playing with a co-op partner, both of which have become mainstays for the series. Going back to play LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga recently has shown me just how far the series has come, for better or…no, just better. It’s only gotten better.
That’s not to say LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga is a bad game or un-fun. Mel and I have been having a good time completing levels, collecting studs, unlocking red bricks, buying multipliers, and revisiting areas for hidden collectibles. We chip away at the larger beast. The LEGO grind is here, but it’s enjoyable because, compared to LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, not every level takes upwards of an hour to complete. Not every door requires you to solve a minigame to open it. Not every puzzle is dastardly obtuse. I guess there’s some worse in the newer entries after all.
LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga is basically a compilation of LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game and its sequel LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, that way you can play through them all together using one single product. Which is good for us because I only ever played through the former of those two, and Mel played the latter with her brother many moons ago. So we both got to experience some new areas together. Also, the game incorporates two previously deleted levels–“Anakin’s Flight” and “Bounty Hunter Pursuit”–though I’m only finding out about this now. Many other levels were redesigned and updated so that both games worked with each other and felt unified. Either way, the games follow the movies, which means you’ll get to see the exciting Trade Federation negotiations go down, young Anakin grow up, watch Luke learn about his father and The Force, and see Ewoks take down the Empire with sticks and stones. Since this is an older entry in the series, the cutscenes are wordless reproductions, but still silly when they want to be.
Here’s something I didn’t expect to ever say: Jar Jar Binks is essential. Early on, his ability to both double jump and jump high is pivotal for getting some hidden minikits, red bricks, or blue studs, which are the ones worth the most money. We brought him into every level we could during Free Play. I do miss the camera that would split in half and allow both players to do their own desires; here, you are stuck to each other, and often it made things easier for one player to simply drop out then for both to jump across sinking platforms floating in red-hot lava. Also, the flying levels are a struggle, especially when you need to get from point A to point B with missiles or a bomb being dragged behind you, and the whole world is out to make you explode. Later, we managed to make a door glitch out and not open despite doing everything right because glitches need stitches. Or something like that. Sorry, I didn’t know how to end that sentence.
We’re currently around the 65% completion mark, with several more levels to fully finish. Then there are special levels to do after you complete everything else, as well as challenges, arcade mode, playing online, gold bricks to buy, characters and vehicles to unlock, special cross-over Achievements to pop, and so on. Only after all that, after we see that 100.0% high in the sky, can we happily put LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga to bed. Still, this has been good co-op fun, which is not bad in July 2017 for the 23rd greatest video game of all time, according to the Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition in 2009.
Rounding up outlaws
One crosshair duel at a time
I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.
It’s bad enough that there are somewhere in the upward hundreds of games in my never not growing collection that I haven’t touched and probably won’t for a good while, but then there are more than a handful of videogames with smaller games inside them that I have only skimmed the surface of, unable to devote more time to them, with my core focus on seeing the bigger picture draw to a close. I just hit this very moment in Night in the Woods with the game’s small yet mighty pixelated dungeon crawler Demontower, which is clearly taking cues from Dark Souls and requires a lot of focus to be successful in.
These are commonly called minigames, and some of them certainly dance on the edge of mini and major. I’m not here to argue semantics, nor am I referencing those slivers of gameplay in the Mario Party series. I’m here to dream a little dream, one where I get to dive oh-so-deep into these things, as many of them are definitely large enough to lose a good chunk of life and time into.
So here’s a bunch of minigames that truly deserved more of my precious hours, and I don’t know if they’ll ultimately ever get that pleasure. Spoilers and no surprises from me on this reveal: two of them are card-based.
“XENOCard” from Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Wille zur Macht
Sometimes I think I want to write about Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Wille zur Macht simply so I can use its full title. It really is a beautiful thing. The sequels, which I alas do not own and probably never will due to their steep prices on Amazon, up the ante immensely. Really, look now: Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse and Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra. My oh my oh my.
Anyways, in Xenosaga Episode I, besides getting hot e-mails and a robot lady to battle by your turn-based side, you can play a card game called, as far as I can tell, Xenocard. The goal is to achieve victory by forcing your opponent to run through his or her entire deck, leaving them with no remaining cards. You can attack your opponent’s deck in a number of ways, forcing him to lose cards. At the same time, you must take protective measures for guarding your own deck from quick depletion.
It’s surprisingly complex–I mean, just look at the interface layout above–and not too different from things like Magic: The Gathering though I never got too far into the game to play a whole bunch because, for those that don’t know, there’s a lot of long cutscenes to sit and watch and not interact with, and so I most likely put this aside for something a little more engaging. Maybe one day I’ll return to the world of…Lost Jerusalem (Earth). Maybe.
“Insectron” from Rogue Galaxy
Man, did I love Rogue Galaxy. That’s a statement, not a question. It’s a Level-5 JRPG from the PlayStation 2 days that does all the Level-5 things you now come to expect of the company, and it’s a fun, often silly, sometimes serious, take on all things Star Wars. However, I spent far more time feeding items and weapons to a magical frog-thing to make better gear and creating Rube Goldberg machines in the factory than I did with the game’s “Insectron” minigame. Insectors are small insects that you can catch at various places throughout the galaxy. Basically, this universe’s version of Pokemon, but buggier. The purpose for catching them is to make a team that can win battles against other opponents at the Insectron Stadium.
There are two parts to this massive sinkhole. First, you have to collect the insects. Unfortunately, the probability of catching an Insector is random. You have to find a good location, place traps or cages, fill them with bait, and then wait until you hear a specific sound indicating something’s happening. If you want even better Insectors, you’ll need to invest serious time into breeding. Next, you can begin to raise your collection, upping their ranks and feeding them special items to grow specific attributes. You can see the seeds of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch‘s familiars here.
Once you are satisfied with your team of Insectors, you can start battling. The battles at the Insectron Championship are done tournament-style. Win five matches to advance through one rank, then rinse and repeat. Insectron matches are 5-on-5 battles, and one of your team’s five Insectors is labeled the King. If you defeat your opponent’s King, you win. However, the Insector designated as the King is limited to only moving one space at a time. I think I attempted a few battles, but, having only used a sliver of the untrained Insectors I did manage to catch, did not get very far in the tournament and left the whole thing behind to see Jasper Rogue’s story draw to conclusion.
“Triple Triad” from Final Fantasy VIII
2016 was the year that I finally saw Final Fantasy IXfrom beginning to end. To do this, I had to sacrifice the desire to go after every side quest, as well as the dream of being the legendary best Tetra Master player in the world. This meant I mostly just collected the cards and moved on with the adventure. I also ignored other minigames in Final Fantasy IX, such as Chocobo Hot and Cold and finding all those medallion coins. It’s fine; I’m fine. That all said, of the handful of Final Fantasy games I’ve played, I think I’d prefer to go back to Final Fantasy VIII and study up on all things Triple Triad, if given the time.
In Final Fantasy VIII, you could go up to a random NPC, press the square button, and maybe find yourself in a card game. As always, the goal is simple: capture as many of your opponent’s cards as possible by making sure you place higher-ranked cards adjacent to an enemy card. Easy enough, but the rules are what make this game deceptively tough and addicting, especially considering those rules can change depending where you are geographically in the game. More or less, it’s a modified version of Tic-Tac-Toe, played on a 3×3 grid. Players take turns placing a card down, and each card contains a “compass rose” of four different numbers (1-9, with “A” representing 10). Higher levels contain higher numbers, and these stats determine whether you’ll take the adjacent enemy card as your own or lose to its strength.
I remember wanting to simply collect all the character-specific cards, but then realizing I’d have to risk a lot of my collection to get them. Big ol’ boo to that. Also, the fact remains that disc 3 from my PlayStation 1 retail copy is still gone, given to a “friend” to borrow and then move away with, so I’ll never acquire that full digital collection of friendly faces like Selphie Tilmitt and…well, really, there’s only room for Selphie in my heart. Maybe Quistis Trepe. Evidently, you can play Triple Traid on some smartphones, but probably shouldn’t.
“Spheda” from Dark Cloud 2
I think about this fact from time to time: despite getting to the last chapter, I have not yet beaten Dark Cloud 2. This probably needs to be remedied at some point, but I don’t know what is more daunting–loading up my years-old save and having a forgetful go at it or starting over fresh. I mean, yeah, I did miss a few photo opportunities early on during some boss battles. Well, I’m not here to talk about that, though it is just one of a few minigames or side activities you can take on in Dark Cloud 2, brushing shoulders with fishing and rebuilding towns, as well as Spheda.
What is Spheda? Glad you asked. It’s basically playing golf to repair time distortions. Mmm-hmm. You read that correctly. In short, the only way to fix these time distortions is to get a colored sphere back into the distortion hole, and you do that by whacking it around a cleared-out dungeon like you are playing mini-golf at the boardwalk during the summer. Except you do want to go off the main path and bounce the ball around corners. Each time a distortion is successfully closed, you’ll get a treasure chest containing valuable items. In addition, the player receives a medal, which can be traded to Mayor Need for, you guessed it, other items. Yay for items.
I’d have to load up my save to confirm this, but I think I was successful on one–and only one–round of Spheda. It’s hard. You only have so many shots to get it into the time distortion, and the dungeons are long and windy, with many sharp turns. I remember hitting the ball to be no easy task either, considering this is a JRPG and not a golf simulator. I wonder if I’d have more patience now to learn the ins and outs of this or if the loot is even worth all the effort.
“Cops and Robbers” from Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves
I believe I played “Cops and Robbers” exactly once, with an ex, while waiting for my father to arrive for a visit. Because I used to document my life extensively, I can tell you it was around the time of this comic strip. The objective of this minigame in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves is simple: get five points. One player controls Inspector Carmelita Fox, and the other steers that sneaky devil Sly Cooper. There’s only one map to play on, in Venice. Basically, Carmelita gets a single point every time she takes out Sly, and Sly gets one point every time he takes out Carmelita, as well as one point for every piece of loot he retrieves and takes to a designated drop-off area. Clearly, Sly has more options, but all Carmelita has to focus on is zapping him with her shock pistol.
To mix up the fleeing and pursuing, floating stars are sprinkled around the main section of the city. These provide either character with a power-up that can be used one to five times before a meter depletes. Each player has access to a compass that reveals where your opponent is. I remember it working well, though I have stronger memories tied to the mode where you are flying biplanes around. Oh well.
There’s also a whole treasure map aspect to eat up, which allows Sly to utilize clues, such as “stand before the statue’s gaze, to begin your walk along the treasure’s maze,” that eventually lead to the objective, which in most occasions is treasure. It’s fun and gives me confidence that I could probably star in a remake of The Goonies if asked. No one’s going to ask.
Well, that’s all I can come up with at the moment though I guarantee I’m missing other standout examples. Like “Feitas” from Suikoden V. And “Tombstones” and “Rage Frenzy” from Rage. Grrr. See, told you there’s plenty more.
Anyways, what minigames did you only barely touch and regret not fully experiencing? Well, maybe regret is too strong a word. Either way, tell me about them in the comments below. I want to know.
I wanted to see Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy end many times since picking it up and putting it down for the last two-plus years, but it seemingly refused to do so. It kept pushing its closing moments and credits further away. The game continued warning me that there was no turning back only to then reveal that, yeah, you can totally turn back to find those hint coins and last remaining puzzles or just meander aimlessly from region to region. I will freely admit that I didn’t help thrust this story to its resolution after I discovered what the whole World Times side quest was all about–don’t worry, I’ll explain more a few paragraphs down–but man, this was all a little drawn out.
First, a refresher on the story. Trust me, I needed one after frequently walking away from Layton’s sixth adventure, and the game even provides you a short summary each time you return, to get you back to speed. Right. The mysterious organization called Targent wishes to use the ancient civilization of the Azran’s mystical power for itself. Targent’s rival and everyone’s favorite mask-wearing, self-proclaimed scientist Jean Descole also wants to harness this power. Neither should wield it, naturally. Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy begins with Layton, Luke, and Emmy boarding the airship Bostonius and heading for a place called Froenberg. The three of them received a letter from Professor Desmond Sycamore, an eminent archaeologist, who believes he has found a so-called living “mummy.” Upon arrival, they meet their mummy–Aurora, a girl frozen in ice, closely connected to the Azran civilization.
The story has its moments. I particularly liked searching after the five Azran eggs and seeing where each egg was hidden and how to get it in our meaty paws. For instance, in the jungle village of Phong Gi, the chief of the tribe is only willing to give up his egg to the gang if they can make him laugh. Contrary to that tone, in the windy village of Hoogland, the group learns of a tradition where young women must be sacrificed in order to appease a wind god; thankfully, they discover this is not actually happening and that an Azran machine was creating the stormy winds. Each egg-acquiring section are good, interesting accounts, with many memorable characters taking center stage when Layton isn’t solving a puzzle or two. I will quickly say and not get into spoilers, but the last act of Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is one twist after another, to the point of ridiculousness. It was the closest the game has come to basically being a TV soap opera’s series finale, and no, not in a good way. Sorry, the Emmy thing was too much. I understand this is the last game to star the top hat-wearing gentleman and they probably wanted to go out on a bang, but there was too much bang.
Okay, now let’s chat puzzles. Mmm. If you’ve played a Professor Layton game before, then none of what is here will surprise you. There are mazes, math equations, general deducing, and some guess-work. I hated the ones where you have to recreate a picture using colored blocks and layering them on top of each other, but those are few and unessential. Of all the entries I’ve touched, which include The Curious Village, The Last Specter, and The Miracle Mask, I have to say that this one had the least exciting mini-games to engage with, and that’s saying a lot because one of those mini-games is basically playing dress up, the only thing I cared about in Grand Theft Auto V and one of the main driving forces behind my time with Disney Magical World 2 now. Anyways, there’s Nutty Roller, Bloom Burst, and Dress Up–I completed none of them, but came the closest on the last item. As always, there’s plenty of hint coins in the environment to pick up and use at your discretion; I haven’t felt shame using them for many years now.
So, this whole time, as I’ve been playing Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, one of the sections in Layton’s trunk continued to update with new details–World Times. These are newspaper clips, often popping up after you finished visiting an area, telling some strange side story of an event or character. I swore I thought they were merely cosmetic, there to make the world feel realer, bigger. Nope. They are basically side quests, which lead to more puzzles and unlockable clothing for the dress-up minigame. See, the problem is that I never went back to any of the story locations after completing them, assuming they were good and done, drained of every hidden object, hint coin, and character interaction. Well, I was wrong, and so a large part of my going back to this game involved tracking down every single World Times quest and completing it, which added to its length for sure.
The animated cutscenes continue to be beautifully done. Every time one came up, I’d get real excited and hold the Nintendo 3DS firmly in my hands and slightly closer to my face. They are heavy on action and scenery, which is a great break from the more stilted, and sometimes overdrawn, dialogue-heavy sequences where Layton is trying to get Luke or Emmy to figure out what he already knows. I really should, at some point, track down Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva simply to marvel in these moments for longer than a few minutes. I mean, if truth be told, the puzzles sometimes are just the means to another gorgeous cutscene.
Well, that’s that. I played the very first game in the series, and then the entire trilogy of prequels. Which is rather fitting, as the end of Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy goes right into Professor Layton and the Curious Village, bringing everything full circle. That connective tissue between the two games feels really special, and makes me think about that first adventure differently, knowing what I now know about Layton, Luke, and even Emmy, though she’s obviously not there for their trip to St. Mystere. I have no immediate plans to find copies of Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box and Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, especially since a GameStop employee rudely spoiled how the final chronological game in the series concludes. Still, obviously, the best game in the franchise is London Life, and that’s a hill I’m willing to die on.
Well, here we are. It’s autumn 2016 and raining leaves everywhere, and I’ve now seen Final Fantasy IX to its conclusion. Well, in reality, that was a couple months back when it wasn’t as chilly in the morning and all shades of red, orange, and yellow because I’m slow to write these days.
I think it is officially the…third game in the ironically long-lasting series to get crossed off for the history books. The two others include Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy XII. I have also watched–Maker, forgive me–Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within more than once, so perhaps that should count for something. Or maybe I need to really consider never mentioning that publicly ever again. Anyways, this has been a long-time coming, and if any of you reading this blog o’ mine are frequent visitors then you’ll know I’ve been…hmm, actively doesn’t really seem right to use…futilely trying to beat this game since about 2013. Or, if you consider when I actually got my PlayStation 1 copy, then more like the year 2000.
Final Fantasy IX is an RPG that has always managed to grip me with its first several hours of action and adventure and story-telling, and then lose me by the end of the second of four discs. I will continue to stick my flag in the ground and say that this epic adventure is too epic, and that the story should have concluded once Garnet was back in Alexandria, her mother, Queen Brahne, no longer a viable threat. Sure, sure, the whole Kuja side-plot would need some rewriting to make that work, but just have the two go down together and bring on the parades of peace and happiness and Vivi not feeling terrible about his existence. Everything that happens on discs three and four is insane, and I don’t mean crazy in a good. I mean characterized or caused by madness. Honestly, I tried to follow along in earnest, but once we got to the point where we learn that Zidane and Kuja are actually Genomes, sentient soulless beings constructed by Garland for the purpose of acting as hosts for Terran souls when two parallel universes merged…well, I gave up caring. There’s a really good chance I even got some of those details wrong, and I was using an online source.
Here’s the thing. Without its cast, Final Fantasy IX is just another adventure to save the world from destruction. From a single-minded villain. I’ll go out on a limb and say its three most pivotal characters are Zidane, Dagger, and Vivi. Steiner is one note, and that note is amusing and never sways too high or low, but not enough to be top tier. Despite not caring what was happening in the overall plot in the second half of this fever dream, I did care greatly about what was happening to each and with each of these characters, as well as many of the side, almost one-offs, such as Cid and Beatrice. The characters are quirky and troubled, all trying to better themselves or find their place in the world–something I can connect with. Also, those Active Time Events I loved so much? Yeah, they are nearly non-existent in the last two discs, which was a big bummer, as it is in those side snippets that you learn the most about the cast.
As it turns out, despite the number of hours I put into Final Fantasy IX, there are complete sections and quests that I didn’t even dip my toes into, for various reasons. Such as Chocobo Hot & Cold, a mini-game that is so lengthy and involved that it might as well be its own standalone title. Related to this is feeding Kupo Nuts to a Moogle couple and watching their family grow. Now, I did keep up with delivering mail for Mognet, but was unsuccessful in seeing it all the way through; evidently, you can eventually visit the headquarters and save the post office from fading into memory. Dang, that sounds pretty good. I also didn’t fight any of the Treno weapon shop monsters or participate in many games of Tetra Master, content to simply collect the cards, though I’d estimate I didn’t even hit 50% of them by the time credits rolled. There’s even more things I didn’t do, as my focus from disc three forward was on strengthening my team–always Zidane, Vivi, Steiner, and Dagger–and synthesizing good weapons and armor in their fight against Kuja’s evil minions.
Whew. Unsurprisingly, I suspect I have a lot more to say about Final Fantasy IX, but I’d rather wait for those thoughts and revelations to emerge naturally and not force them out through my fingertips. It’s a big game. There’s a lot going on here, and I’m not just talking about mechanics and boss fights and grinding. Vivi’s “who/what am I?” story is handled with such coldness and confusion, and it gets me every time. I still love how perfect the “Dagger Tries” ATE is in Dali. That said, every love connection felt really forced, and that ending cinematic and triumphant reveal was a little too drawn out for my liking. Again, like when I went back to play Primal, I’ve discovered that there’s both good and bad to examine here; real quick, I’m not at all saying that Final Fantasy IX is anything like Primal. In fact, it’s far superior, but both of those games are ones that I played the opening hours over and over again, building them up in my brain and assuming that’s how the entire game went. Nope, nope.
I’m most certainly not ready to commit to another entry in the series at this point. In fact, the only other one I have in my grasp that hasn’t seen its credits roll is Final Fantasy VIII, and I’m missing one of the middle discs because I was young and dumb once and loaned it to a “friend” who ended up moving away with it, which really puts a nail in that quest’s coffin. I would certainly love to dive deeper and play one of the older titles; that NES Classic Edition coming out this holiday season comes packed with the original Final Fantasy, as well as 29 other retro titles. Hmm. Also, perhaps one day, far, far down the road of life, I’ll give Final Fantasy IX another swing since it is now available on Steam and has a tempting list of Achievements to pop.
Until then, I’ll just cast “Sleep” on myself and crawl under a tent as a Moogle softly sings me to safety, to slumber.
Here’s something rather amusing: I was playingSuikoden II as it was announced over the weekend at Sony’s PlayStation Experience event that it was finally, at long last, coming to North America via the PlayStation Network. Take that, outrageously high eBay prices. Instead of dropping over $100, you can now download the epic JRPG for a sliver of that. I’ve read two different reported prices so far: $10.00 and $6.99. Either is a fantastic price for Konami’s sparkly, well-kept gem, one that many might not have gotten to play due to its rareness, as well as it being out-shadowed during its release by Final Fantasy VIII. Yeah, the one with the floating garden school and Junction/Draw system.
That said, after a logged forty-nine hours and change and with my main party of characters all just under level 60, I can safely say that I have playedSuikoden II. Again. The last time was definitely back in the 1990s. Hot off the heels of replaying Suikoden, I found my revisit to Suikoden II even more enjoyable, as well as at least seventy-five percent less goofy. This is a game about darkness and dark things, like betrayal, wavering confidence, murder, sacrifice, and rape. Sure, there’s still a good amount of silliness to balance out the grim, but all in all, this is a serious adventure in the same vein as current mega-RPGs like Dragon Age: Inquisition and Diablo III, with conflicting opinions and difficult choices all around.
Here, let me sum up the plot once more. Suikoden II‘s protagonist, who I named Hodor, goes from being a member of a youth brigade in the Highland Kingdom to being the leader of its opposition. Hodor and his best friend Jowy Atreides each end up acquiring one half of the Rune of the Beginning, both destined to become leaders. Luca Blight is heir to the throne of Highland, as well as a bloodthirsty madman who developed a strong hatred for Jowston early on after witnessing his mother’s rape by thugs hired by City-State capital Muse. Hodor will eventually find himself fighting against Luca and his best friend, for safety, for civility.
The six-party, turn-based combat from the first game returns, with visual upgrades for rune spells, but not many mechanical changes. Yup, there are more Unite attacks to use, as well as the ability to switch between rows during a fight, but I found using “auto” attack to work out well enough in most situations save for boss fights. Since the point is to recruit a bunch of different people for the war, the Suikoden series is one of the few–Chrono Cross is another–that really does encourage you to mix things up and try out new team members. You can’t go wrong with who you select so long as you have a good S/M/L range mix, keep them armored, sharpen their weapons, and give them strong runes. My mainstays throughout the campaign were Flik, Viktor, Nanami, Millie, Futch, Georg Prime, and Valeria, with Hodor acting more as a healer than anything else since his speed allowed him to act first in most fights.
Massive battles and duels are thankfully kept to a minimum, which is fine considering they still require a lot of guesswork or well-hardened knowledge of how rock, paper, scissors works. The massive battles are a little different in that you have to move units around for better positioning like in a strategy RPG, but it’s still a matter of attacking horses with bow and arrows and knowing when to charge with soldiers. If you want, Apple can take over your actions on autopilot. For every duel, I ended up using a wiki guide because, more often than not, these pixelated duels take place after a big boss fight, and I didn’t want to lose any progress. It’s just a matter of selecting the correct choice of defend, attack, or wild attack based on what your enemy says.
By Suikoden II‘s close, I did end up recruiting all 108 Stars of Destiny, but not in time to get the “good” ending, though I still like the ending I saw. Many refer to it as the “tragic” ending, but seeing as I myself recently went through a tragic ending this year, it is rather apropos. Plus, it does that thing from A Link to the Past, where you check in with everyone after the war’s over to see what they are up to. Well, not everyone. Sorry, [redacted] and [redacted]. I missed/skipped out on a few other elements, like Clive’s timed side quest, recruiting the additional squirrel warriors, doing every Richmond investigation, unlocking the hidden bath scenes, and so on. There’s so much small, side stuff in Suikoden II that it can feel very overwhelming; most of it has no effect on the plot, but provides cool little moments or bits of backstory to a game already oozing story from every orifice. Still, after nearly fifty hours, I saw plenty.
If you thought the castle headquarters in Suikoden was neat and fulfilling to explore, just wait until you begin seeing it grow in Suikoden II. I mean, you could spend a good hour just running around the place, examining things, talking to people, seeing where they go when the place upgrades. There’s also mini-games to tackle, like fishing, cooking, and even whacking moles, but I might touch upon those more in a separate post. My regiment was that, every time I popped back to HQ, I’d check the suggestion box for new notes, start/complete an investigation with Richmond, make a pitstop at the warehouse, and then run over to the cafe to do the latest cook-off challenge before using Viki to teleport wherever I needed to go to next. There is legitimate excitement in my heart after recruiting a new member for the group and then scouring the castle for where they reside.
Right. Fun times. I’m going to take a wee breather before moving on to (and starting over) Suikoden III, but I think closing out a less-than-stellar year with one of my absolute favorite gaming experiences next to A Link to the Past is a good thing. Very good. Now, in the wise words of Viktor: “Oi!!!!! Let’s end this damn thing!!!”
Over the weekend, after discovering I don’t have any tape in the house and thus can’t begin wrapping Christmas gifts, I played through Jazzpunk by Necrophone Games and published by Adult Swim Games. It only took about two hours, but it was two hours that flew by way too fast, that had me smiling and chuckling to myself every few steps. It’s been on my list to play this year for some time now and I snagged a copy from Humble Indie Bundle 13, but with “game of the year” discussions popping up soon everywhere I wanted to experience it for myself unspoiled. Really glad I did.
Jazzpunk is a comedic adventure videogame that really makes me want to rewatch Airplane! or Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult. The plot is centered around a top-secret espionage agency, which, for some reason, is operating out of an abandoned, Japanese subway station in the late 1950s. You control Polyblank, a spy-for-hire, as well as a silent protagonist. The game is made up of several missions given to Polyblank by the head of the organization, and you start each initially straightforward quest by ingesting a dose of prescription medicine; interpret that as you want. Anyways, while the mission might read “infiltrate a Soviet consulate,” things quickly become bizarre and nonsensical, and that’s where Jazzpunk shines, both at its strangeness and the speed it dishes out jokes.
The main focus is on exploration and comedy over solving puzzles or combat. While each mission has a single central objective, Polyblank is free to explore the zone’s world at his own pace, and I did this for each level, saving the main path for last. As you explore, you’ll come across a number of interactive NPCs, some lined with a single gag or even a separate side quest, like degaussing three pigeons for a pie, just like how meemaw used to do it. I won’t spoil every minigame you can find, but let’s just say that the Frogger clone is the most tame of the bunch. That said, if you see a wedding cake at the Kai Tak Resort, I urge you to examine it.
Control-wise, Jazzpunk is pretty simplistic. I plugged in an Xbox 360 controller to play, and you can walk around with the analog stick, jump, and examine highlighted objects/people. Your inventory never gets too big–I think it had three or four items in it at most–and you can cycle through each item as you stroll. The game is equally as simplistic in its visuals, but I really dug the cartoony, thick outlines. There are moments where real meets digital, and those are fun, but a platforming section towards the end was a strain on the eyes due to an overload of white, white, white. Many have compared the graphic style to Thirty Flights of Loving, but I’ve not played that one yet. Oh, and though I’d never drop my Showcard Gothic font here at Grinding Down, the font used in the game is fantastic, whatever it is.
I don’t know what the name Jazzpunk means, but I do know it’s a ton of fun to play and experience firsthand. Guess it gives off the vibe of 1980s cyberpunk or bombastic spying in the vein of Roger Moore. I’m so glad I got around to it this year, as it is definitely making my top five games list, and I have a few more Achievements to pop so I’ll drop back into it sooner than later, to do things like jump into a pool incorrectly and help someone with a saliva problem. Yup. That’s what I need to do.