Tag Archives: Steam

2017 Game Review Haiku, #7 – Dungeon of Zolthan

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Upgrade your powers
Jump twice, dash, fire away
I’m no speedrunner

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.

Descend deeper and deeper with Runestone Keeper

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I am enjoying Runestone Keeper greatly despite it being the sort of roguelike that demands you suffer inordinately for its opening hours before you can even begin to fathom making progress. You know, like Rogue Legacy and The Binding of Isaac. Do the time before you enjoy the sublime. Not like Spelunky though. In Spelunky, you can beat the game on your very first run, so long as you know what you are doing; sure, a wee bit of luck is needed to get some specific items, like the jetpack, but it is totally doable. For other harsh roguelikes with some permanence to them in terms of upgrades and accrual, you must first grind runs one after another to begin closing the distance. I think, so far, I’ve gotten to level 9 with Guy, the only playable character available until you get further or are more successful on higher difficulties.

What is Runestone Keeper you ask silently from the other side of the screen? Well, it is a piece of interactive entertainment that came out in early 2015 from Blackfire Games. What else? It was recently part of the Humble Jumbo Bundle 7, which is where I got my Steam copy. Yeah, cool, but more specifically…what is it? Technically, Runestone Keeper is an über challenging roguelike-to-roguelite dungeon crawler that blends classic roleplaying elements and turn-based combat strategy. Kind of a weird, blood magic-driven fusion of Minesweeper and Dungeons of Dredmor.

That last description probably didn’t help all that much. Allow me to try harder. Basically, dungeon floors are randomly generated and set out as a grid that can be explored in any order from wherever you start, uncovering one tile at a time by clicking on it. Each revealed tile has an effect, even if that effect is basically nothing happens. Most discoveries include finding hearts that heal your HP, gold coins, treasure chests, traps, single-use items, weapons like readied crossbows, merchants, valuable runestones, and various pitfalls. Each tile you reveal also fills up your soul meter, which dictates your usage of certain items, as well as using in-level shrines and such. Your basic goal is to reveal enough tiles to find the staircase to the room below and head deeper into the darkness.

The real trouble with that endeavor is you’ll also reveal enemies in each dungeon level. You can avoid most fights if you want, but monsters block adjacent squares from being revealed, which are essential to finding the way to the next floor. Also, early on, you will want to fight some monsters for XP and dropped loot (which contains random prefixes and suffixes for different stats), though RNG rears its ugly head from time to time, causing you to miss your ax swings even though you are standing directly next to the angry goblin. Your attacks are obviously based on your gear, and you can quickly swap between two sets; I like having something for up close, as well as ranged enemies. Monsters hit your shield first, which absorbs a certain amount of damage before stealing away HP. The cast of enemies is quite varied, and many of them have their own unique abilities, like silencing or poisoning. Early on, your best friend as Guy, is the spell he has to lower an enemy’s attack power for a few turns though it is beyond frustrating to whiff on every sword swing during this phase.

Runestone Keeper‘s gameplay is extremely layered, even if it at times it feels unfair and driven solely by luck spirits. There’s tattoos to equip, an enchantment system, worshiping and un-worshiping deities that provide buffs and debuffs, elite arena rooms, special one-time events dictated by text choices, and more. Lots of spinning plates, and I’m sure I’m missing some elements. My focus for Guy continues to be upgrading his strength and stamina and plowing through enemies as quickly as possible while also hoarding a ton of gold coins and selling unwanted to gear; unfortunately, in the later dungeon levels, he struggles to deal with ranged enemies, as well not exploding when unearthing a ticking time bomb. It’s a problem. We’re working on it.

Similar to how I approached Rogue Legacy, Runestone Keeper is perfect for doing a couple runs, being unsuccessful, but returning to the main menu hub with enough gold coins to upgrade a permanent bonus, such as gaining more XP from killed monsters or earning more gold with each pick-up, and that leaves me feeling satisfied, feeling like I am actually inching towards a better run. I’m still hoping I’ll find that “perfect storm” run where I get some killer equipment/items early on that will help me reach level 10 of the dungeon and maybe even beyond that. If not, this is surprisingly one game I don’t mind bashing my head against the wall, desperately trying to survive or crawl to the next floor in hopes of…well, hope. Not everything has to be about being the ultimate powerhouse.

Dungeon of Zolthan’s classic platforming mechanics are the sum of life

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As I’m wont to do, I didn’t go crazy for the latest Steam Winter Sale, especially considering the number of games still untouched in my digital library, a travesty I swear I’m working on for 2017, though the gamble is whether or not I’ll be successful. Well, shortly before that glittery ball dropped in Times Square and Mariah Carey fake-sung her last tune, indicating the official transition from one year to the next, I made a single gulp purchase of small games for a total that came in just under ten dollars. That’s a record high for me. Anyways, here’s what I got for those curious about what I got:

  • Deus Ex: Invisible War
  • LucasArts Adventure Pack (this includes Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Loom, and The Dig)
  • Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 4
  • The Silent Age
  • PulseCharge
  • Dead6hot
  • Broken Dreams
  • Dungeon of Zolthan
  • Reset 1-1

Part of me is surprised that I haven’t immediately loaded up Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 4 to see what that Australian devil is all about in this new day and age of endless runners considering my affection for the series (well, really just that first game). And yes, you can belly-laugh until hurts that there’s affection here for a game set on a fictitious Australian island about collecting “Thunder Eggs” and stopping the evil cassowary Boss Cass from being, y’know, even more evil; really, it just reminds me of long-gone snowy college days, of being trapped inside a third-floor dorm with not much else to do but toil away at things like Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy and Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, instead of working on that journalism degree.

Well, I’m not here to talk about the largest known carnivorous marsupial of modern times. Nope. This post is all about Dungeon of Zolthan, which was part of the Platformer Bundle by New Reality Games. Visually, it stood out to me from the others listed above due to its limited color scheme and retro graphics. I know that’s basically one-fourth of all indie platforming games on Steam these days, but it is a jam I enjoy on toasted bread and like eating. Not that I get to eat toast with jam on it much lately. I also relish some challenge, though not too much, as I’m not a masochist who gets a rise from dying over and over again. Somewhere in the range of Tiny Barbarian and You Have to Win the Game is just fine.

Dungeon of Zolthan seems to dance on the line between casual and hardcore. You can play it either way, your call. It’s an arcade-style Metroidvania platformer light on puzzles and starring a little green block with legs, eyes, and a mouth, determined to defeat the powerful mage Zolthan that lives inside the dungeon. That’s all the story I’ve gotten so far, and it is more than enough as a goal. As you move from room to room, you’ll acquire power-ups, like double jumping and dashing across gaps, as well as battle mid-bosses. I’m not sure how this fella holds the gun he is carrying, but it doesn’t matter. You can take your time exploring, finding all the hidden power-ups and extra hearts or you can make a mad dash to defeat all the bosses as quickly as possible, with as little extra help as you think necessary. The game itself is pretty forgiving, dropping save points that also restore your health bar all over the place, and the early difficulty curve is lessened once you get the hang of jumping, shooting, and dashing around. Personally, I’m not wasting a lot of time on shooting enemies and am finding more fun in generally avoiding them altogether.

According to the Achievements list, I’m halfway through this dungeon, with two more bosses to battle. Alas, I don’t think I’ll be earning those speedrunning-related Achievements (beat in 40 minutes or 20 minutes or less), as I’ve definitely already logged more time than necessary because I left the game running while making dinner in the kitchen. Oh well. It’s okay. I’ll save the speedrunning for someone else, though I’ll gladly watch them do it later if Dungeon of Zolthan ever shows up in Awesome Games Done Quick. Until then, may your indie platformers be unapologetically old-school.

You kind of control a pond’s ecosystem in Among Ripples

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One of my goals for 2017 is to chip away at my Steam library, and I’m using HowLongToBeat to help me determine where to start. Certainly not with Crusader Kings II, which the site claims is around 175 hours in total to see through to completion though I do what to give it a swing at some point after really enjoying the fun that was an old GBE Playdate.

Instead, I went with Among Ripples, estimated to eat up 19 minutes of my sweet, precious time. I think I ended up logging closer to 25 minutes before exiting out of the…experience and staring for a bit at my two cats, wondering where they’d fit into the whole survival of the fittest scheme. I actually think Pixie would last longer in the wild, hiding with all her might, while Timmy would totally walk up to a predator to lovingly rub his face on it. Ah, tiny domesticated lions.

There are no cats in Among Ripples, at least none that I could find. There is, however, an otter, and that made this slice of casual gaming all the more wonderful. Though I still really don’t know what it was. In descriptive terms, it’s a meditative ecosystem management simulator. You are the puppet master of a small pond, filling it with food and predators/prey, watching life unfold over the seasons. Basically, you add different creatures to the mix and see how everything interacts. I did this just fine, but kept expecting something more to happen beyond this, despite knowing that this was all there was to experience.

It’s an extremely simple slice of sandbox gaming. You can click on a few things to get life going and then sit back to take in the watercolored art and gentle, calming soundtrack. However, among all this niceness is the fact that nature is ruthless, and animals eat other animals. You must be prepared for this. They also do other things many might scoff at; one time, at the Philadelphia Zoo, I saw a giraffe drink another giraffe’s pee. Nature is surviving at all costs, whether we’re talking about reality or simulation.

Among Ripples is neat, but not enough. I understand that the goals are your own to set, and I watched an otter live through all the seasons, which is all I ever ask of otters, as well as saw a bunch of crayfish rot. I don’t plan to write a haiku review about it as I didn’t feel like it was technically something I completed, but rather dipped my toes in; sure, I could leave this up in the background one day and really watch the pond evolve, but I best move on. No worries though. To quote that eccentric, charming mathematician from Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.” Just not in my pond going forward.

Grinding Down’s 2017 gaming resolutions

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This is always dangerous, making promises. I’ve done it in the past here on Grinding Down, only to burn myself and those written words when it, for instance, ultimately, took many more years for me to beat Final Fantasy IX. Still, it’s always good to have goals, something to reach for and hopefully achieve after putting in the hard work, and, at the very least, these empty checkmark boxes give me direction, a place to go when I’m not sure what to do next. I’m not saying I’ll be successful on every account below, but I am willing to try. For all we know, 2017 could be the year of our very unmaking, and I might as well go down fighting for a cause, trivial as some of these may be.

Right. Allow me to highlight some future gaming goals…

Suikoden III

It’s always been my intention to play (and replay) the entire Suikoden series from start to finish to get to the games I’ve never touched yet, specifically Suikoden III, Suikoden IV, and Suikoden Tactics. Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t believe I ever saw credits roll on Suikoden V, but I do have a memory card save…somewhere. I got through replaying the first two games rather quickly, but then moved on to other non-Konami adventures after that.

For 2017, I’d like to get back to collecting them 108 Stars of Destiny, especially after finally playing some Dragon Age: Inquisition last year and seeing a few strong connections between the two. The roadblock is that I want to finish up everything for Dragon Age: Inquisition first before moving on to another large, time-demanding RPG. I just became friends with Dorian and am looking to move things forward romantically with Blackwall before tackling many more side missions. It’s probably going to be awhile.

So, I did play a bit of Suikoden III a few years ago, but my PlayStation 2 copy seems scratched up and unreliable. Thankfully, during some past PSN flash sale, I purchased a digital copy for the PlayStation 3, which means I really have no excuse now. It’s installed, ready to go. The real question is, as always, what to name my castle once I acquire it.

Earthbound

I’m not sure what it’s going to take me to finally start playing EarthBound. I was hoping buying the game, for more or less zero dollars thanks to Nintendo Club’s closing back in May 2015, was a solid place to begin. Alas, nope. I haven’t loaded it up once. Honestly, having this game available on the Wii U gamepad and not actually a Super NES locked to a TV should make this process even easier, considering I can take the experience with me into bed (hey now) before the Sandman visits.

However, that would mean I’d have to put down my Nintendo 3DS for some time, and with Disney Magical World 2 taking up all my pre-sleep time and Pokemon Moon waiting in the wings–as well as the remake of Dragon Quest VIII waiting even further in the wings–this might not happen just yet. Maybe by Spring 2017. I mostly wrote that to both give myself some breathing room, but also a starting point to stick to. This one’s for you, Iwata.

Steam backlog

At the time of writing, I have 362 games in my Steam library. Yeowza. Granted, many are not installed, and not all of them are huge, triple A titles that can’t even run well on my struggling-to-breathe ASUS laptop. Many have not been played at all, in fact. See, I have a bad habit of downloading just about every free thing released on the platform, as well as gobbling up indie bundles for real cheap to bloat this thing out even more. It’s gotten to the point that, when I do finally occasionally scroll through the list, I can barely remember where some of these titles came from, and then I freeze in fear, unable to decide what to try next, eventually settling on something safe, like AdVenture Capitalist or another unsuccessful run in Runestone Keeper. This is a problem.

I’m not here to make any kind of crazy schedule, like trying to play X number of games every week. That’s not going to gel with life. I am, however, here to make an effort, and make that effort known. I’m going to start small, using HowLongToBeat to help identify the not-so-big-timesinks and start whittling away from there. My problem, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, is that I always want to experience as much of a game as possible, that I can’t remove it simply after beating it if there are, for instance, collectibles remaining to find or extra challenges that could be accomplished. I need to work on that. I need to accept that not every game needs to be squeezed dry, leaving nothing behind but a colorless husk. For 2017, I need to let go more often.

80,000 Gamerscore

This seems more than doable, especially considering that I jumped 10,000 Achievement points in the matter of six months last year. This goal also feeds into the constant sub-goal of clearing up hard-drive space on my consoles and removing finished games, as I continue to download those freebies every month, but not do much else with them except wonder when I’ll find the time. I’m looking to polish off Earthlock: Festival of Magic real soon, as well as a number of those single introductory episodes from Telltale’s numerous adventure gaming series, which will probably help make a good step forward towards this next milestone.

Create something one might call a game or experience or waste of time

Now, I know nothing about programming and code and how to submit something for certification with the big console-makers. It takes me upwards of three minutes to remember how to hyperlink something using HTML when the button doesn’t work here on WordPress. That’s fine. I’m not looking to do all that and beyond. This can obviously be argued, but: I can draw, I can write, and I have ideas.

And so, I want to create something. An experience, with emotions and mood and meaning and jokes, maybe stuff to click on, a puzzle or two or twist you never saw coming. Something interactive. Which leads me to think that a piece of interactive fiction is a good starting area. I plan playing a few pieces of interactive fiction soon, which will hopefully help bring the inspiration juices to a boil (ew gross). The trickier part would be deciding what story to tell, y’know, from the hundreds bouncing around in my brain every day.

Well, there you have it. Five things make a post. Two named games to finally dive into, a whole bunch of things within my Steam library, a larger Gamerscore, and something creative. We’ll stop there, as any more goals will just tip the boat over.

That said, how about y’all? What are you looking forward to accomplishing in 2017? It need not be related to videogames. Perhaps you are finally ready to start cleaning up that garage full of clutter (hi, Dad!) or want to exercise more or get into knitting. Either way, let me know in the comments. I like knowing.

My five favorite games in 2016

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According to my “2016 completed games” tag here on Grinding Down, I finished 83 games in 2016. That’s…a lot. Certainly the highest amount I’ve seen since I started tracking all this nonsense. Yes, yes, many of these games one might consider tiny and small and not worth counting, but it’s my life, my mind, and anything that sparks my attention and holds it for more than a minute or two is worth calling a game, as well as worth seeing through to completion. Now, many of these games that I beat in this year of the monkey were not released in the last twelve months, such as Final Fantasy IX, Read Only Memories, and Costume Quest 2. Also, of the five below, I’ve only actually beaten numbers five through three, but that won’t stop me from lovingly praising the top two entries. Can’t stop me now.

Before all that, some honorable mentions. Gears of War 4: You are all right, a bit straightforward, and I’m finally getting better at the multiplayer, but I really don’t like how serious everyone takes the game, which often makes it not very fun to play (see, I like playing games to have fun). If you want something weird and artsy, give Karambola a bite. Devil Daggers is cool as hell, probably because that’s where it was spawned to begin with, but I’m total rubbish at it. Shout outs to Earthlock: Festival of Magic, a throwback RPG that I’m surprisingly spending a lot of time with this last week. Lastly, The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne is a great freebie that will likely resonate with those that suffer from social anxiety, like me. Remember, it’s an honor just to be nominated.

If you’re wondering why something is missing below, some dear game you hold close to your heart and swear up and down made 2016 all the better by existing, chances are I just didn’t get to play it this year.

Here we go. The last list of the year…

5. Tom Clancy’s The Division

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Tom Clancy’s The Division is a game I never expected to find myself playing. Honestly, I picked it up because a friend from work was getting it and wanted to play together. This is a rare happening, where I get to play a videogame with another human being that I know. I couldn’t resist. It’s a cover-based shooter with loot in a snowy, disease-laden New York City, which, despite that, looks amazingly pretty thanks to all the Christmas decorations left up. Getting through the main missions and to the endgame stuff was pretty easy, and I found myself obsessed with collecting all the collectibles, which had its ups and downs.

Unfortunately, that endgame stuff, as well as the Dark Zone in general when not safely traveling in a group, were not entertaining to me and didn’t keep me around for long afterwards. Nor did the Underground DLC. However, Ubisoft and the game’s developers have seemingly been working to fix a lot of the game, and my few attempts at the Survival DLC so far have brought me back into the fold, excited to craft a scarf with better cold resistance. It’s not a perfect game, but there’s something to it, a looty loop I can’t turn down.

4. Even the Ocean

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For many this year, the biggest surprises were things like Doom and Hitman, old games made new and modern. Well, I didn’t play those. For me, the biggest surprise of the year was Even the Ocean…mostly because I had no idea what it was until I saw a trailer and then immediately contacted the developers for a review copy. The story is grand, telling the struggle of Aliph and her quest to fix a bunch of power plants to stop the foretold invasion of flood-bringing monsters.

The game is a mix of narrative sections and platforming sections, with each area highlighting a new twist on Aliph’s abilities and the ways to balance her energy levels. What’s super amazing about the whole thing is its openness–you can tackle most of the power plants in any order, and you can play the game just for the story, just for the platforming, or a combination of both. There are even further options in the menu if you find the platforming too challenging and need some extra help. There’s a lot of love and care in Even the Ocean from Sean Han-Tani-Chen-Hogan and Joni Kittaka (y’know, Analgesic Productions), and it more than shows in every character interaction, design choice, and piece of music.

3. LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is glitchy and broken in a few spots, but that never stopped it from being fun. Frustrating, for sure, but always fun when it was working. I guess that’s something that can ultimately be said of every LEGO release from Traveller’s Tales. This is a game that I mostly played with Melanie, and we ate it up in pieces throughout the year, finally completing all the DLC add-on missions and last remaining Achievements back in November 2016. As always, there’s a ton to do and collect, and the cutscenes are more enjoyable than ever, full of the usual charm and goofiness, but even show off some details not explained in the film. That said, I still hate racing side missions in these games, and throwing in floaty spaceships didn’t make them any better.

2. Stardew Valley

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I have not experienced a full year yet in Stardew Valley, having last played somewhere in the middle of in-game winter. Winter is rough. There’s less to do when it comes to your farm, and I didn’t prepare ahead of time for this. The good news is, one, that it doesn’t matter, because the 31 hours I’ve played on Steam leading up to this standstill were amazing and some of the most addicting gameplay I’ve ever experienced. Two, I plan to restart the game very, very soon on Xbox One, keeping the incoming winter season in mind from the start, but otherwise doing much of what I did before, such as wooing Maru and focusing heavily on digging deep into the mines for rare gems.

Stardew Valley is the epitome of the “just one more…” mantra, with the unit here being day. In this open-ended, country life RPG, you have inherited your grandfather’s old farm plot and given up working in a corporate office. That’s the start of the game, and you decide where to go from there. You can attempt to fall in love and marry a local villager or work to restore the community center. Do not support the Joja Corporation. There’s also events every season to partake in, or you could simply wake up every day, water your crops, pet your cat, and hang out on the farm until the sun sets, doing it all over again the next day. It really doesn’t matter how you play, as it is all rewarding. This is backed by a stellar soundtrack that perfectly matches every time of day, every season. Also, the sound effect when you collect an item is pure bliss.

Even the Ocean was made by two people, and Stardew Valley was made by one, Eric Barone (@ConcernedApe). I find this beyond impressive, to the point that it hurts my brain. Everything you’ve heard about Stardew Valley is true; it’s a game you play now to remember fondly later.

1. Disney Magical World 2

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This might seem like it is coming out of left field, or it may be no surprise at all to those that know me, but yeah, Disney Magical World 2 is my favorite game of 2016. Naturally, I’ve had a post in the works for this one for a couple months now, but haven’t had the chance to put all my thoughts into words and hit the publish button. You also might remember that my favorite game of 2014 was Disney Magical World.

With the sequel, not too much has changed, and I’m more than happy about that. Since getting the game in October, I’ve put over 40 hours in it and have no plans of stopping now, despite only having three more stickers left to acquire. You still move between themed worlds, tackling missions for specific Disney characters and collecting a vast number of ingredients/materials, all of which feeds back into making food for the café, creating ace ensemble outfits, and crafting countless amounts of furniture. There’s also a garden to tend to, and your own house–really a single room–to decorate. Mine’s mostly green. Gone are the collectible cards full of nostalgic art, replaced with pieces from a larger picture puzzle that allows you to interact later in a special area for bonus “like” points…I’m not a huge fan of this switch, but it is a minor element that can be nearly ignored if desired.

Disney Magical World 2 is a fantastic portable game. I pick it up and play for twenty, thirty minutes, and always have something to do. I don’t follow the same pattern each time, but it usually goes like this: run to the café, collect money, load it up with more food to sell, run to main street and see what the lady with the stall is selling (it changes multiple times throughout the day), purchase a new outfit or make some furniture, run around the map and collect puzzle pieces or see if there are any quick material-gathering missions to do, accept a story mission or two, and, lastly, return to the garden to pull up any finished crops and then plant new ones. Phew. This is not the same every time, but more or less my plan of attack. I have some story missions left to do in the Alice in Wonderland, Little Mermaid, and Lilo and Stitch worlds, but I’m trying to save them, really make this last. Besides, even after all the time and work I’ve put into it, I’m only at 33.51% completion.

So far, the in-game world of Castleton has changed for Halloween and Christmas, with the next scheduled event happening on April 1. I was hoping to see something earlier than that for either Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day, but, regardless, I’m looking forward to spending more time with Disney Magical World 2 in 2017. I wonder if I’ll have rung it dry of content by the end of the year.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #81 – Missing Translation

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Explore the unknown
No words, no voice–just puzzles
You must understand

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.