Tag Archives: strategy

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Vandal Hearts

At first, I couldn’t remember the name of this game. Was it Valiant Hearts? No, that was the dramatic Great War take starring a cool dog from a few years back. Was it Vigilante Hearts? No, though something under that title does appear to exist. At last, after some light Googling, I figured it out and everything came rushing back…Vandal Hearts, one of my first stabs at a strategy RPG, as well as the title that helped pave the way for future classics like Final Fantasy Tactics and the Ogre Battle series. Too bad this one didn’t really go anywhere. Also, don’t expect it to show up on the forthcoming PlayStation Classic…though I’m surprised that both a sequel and a prequel were later made.

Anyways, this Vandal Hearts is a turn-based tactical role-playing video game developed by my once favorite companies Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo for the original PlayStation back in 1997. It’s got a lot of what many modern, staple SRPGs have these days, such as Fire Emblem and its ilk: a grid-based map, a variety of abilities to employ, and rock/paper/scissors combat. Y’know, warriors with swords kill archers, archers kill hawknights, and hawknights kill swordsmen. There’s also healers, mages, heavy armor warriors, and monks to contend with–who later can turn into ninja, y’know like all monks eventually do. Your enemies for each mission is comprised of similar classes, and it’s your responsibility to exploit their weaknesses, and not every mission is about destroying all the enemies as other objectives are in play.

Vandal Hearts‘ story, as far as I can remember and dig up info on, revolves around one Ash Lambert, a young warrior tormented by the traitorous legacy of his father. Ash and his wonderfully named cast of allies have dedicated themselves to stopping a power-mad dictator named Hel Spites–what a name–from rising to power. It’s a bit traditional, but I liked a lot of the characters and dialogues, and there are some early twists to deal with that make their progress slow and, at times, a little dull.

I definitely did not ever beat Vandal Hearts. I probably didn’t even get too far into the whole affair as I knew early on that SRPGs just weren’t my cup of tea. Though many years later some titles would change my mind momentarily. I do remember being confused why archers were not able to shoot diagonally. Also, moving a cursor around with a PlayStation console was a chore and never felt fluid. Still, it’s a game I think about from time to time, maybe because I dig its aesthetic so much, or because I spent so much of my lonely teenager years hanging out with my best friend the gray videogame console adorned with PSM lid stickers, and the music is super solid.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

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Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Anomaly: Warzone Earth

Anomaly: Warzone Earth is set in the year 2018, where sections of an alien spacecraft have crash-landed in several major cities around the world, including Baghdad and Tokyo, and doom is beyond impending. Y’know, not all that much different from our current climate. Anyways, you take on the role of the commander of an armor battalion, referred to as “14th Platoon,” and are sent to investigate anomalies that have occurred in the vicinity of these wreckages and gather information on what is happening in the affected areas. See, the anomalies–which, if you didn’t know, are something that deviates from what is standard, normal, or expected–are interfering with radar and satellite imagery and must be dealt with to neutralize any potential threats.

Y’all should already know at this point that tower defense is not a favorite genre of mine. It’s not to say I hate it to the point that I won’t play anything in it, as I have enjoyed a few–namely Kingdom Rush and Plants vs. Zombies–but generally I’m not hooked on the gameplay. I only played Defense Grid: The Awakening long enough to get some specific Achievements back when I was trying to hit a certain amount and then uninstalled the game without any further thought. Harsh, but true. Well, Anomaly: Warzone Earth is kind of like a reverse tower defense. Or, if you are feeling silly, tower offense. However, I’m continue to remain not hooked.

Basically, you control a bunch of mobile units in an environment brimming with enemy turrets, making your way to a specific point on the map. Anomaly: Warzone Earth takes this idea one step further by giving you control over what you can build, the order in which you place your units–they move in a singular line–and by also allowing you to plot out the course you’ll take dynamically during the mission, switching routes when necessary or a better path opens up. I enjoyed the rethinking “on the fly” part, as well as running ahead of my units and gathering power-ups, seeing what enemies and traps are in store.

I like the look of Anomaly: Warzone Earth a lot, and the top-down perspective really makes you feel like a god, commanding these soldier-esque ants to do your bidding. You direct all the movement, the moment-to-moment action, and collect power-ups dropped on the battlefield from planes overhead. The UI is clean and stylish, with the map screen sporting a beautiful mix of blues, whites, and reds, and the tutorial never really felt like a tutorial, pushing you through the first mission quickly while teaching you things along the way, such as how to heal units or purchase new tanks. That said, the story is fairly ho-hum, with the voice acting not doing it any favors.

I played the first three levels of Anomaly: Warzone Earth‘s campaign, stopping at mission 4 “Distress Call,” and that’s enough for me. There’s other modes, like Baghdad Mayhem and Tokyo Raid, that are grayed out on the start screen, and I’ll never experience local co-op, but that’s okay. I liked this more than I thought I would, but not enough to keep going.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

2018 Game Review Haiku, #18 – Legendary Gary

A battle of turns
Make Gary legendary
Find motivation

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.

An outlandishly intriguing echo of Legendary Gary’s life

For many, videogames are not just a way to kill the hours, a delightful form of digital entertainment, but rather pure escapism. They are a doorway to elsewhere. I know that when I was going through my divorce a few years ago I leaped at the chance to lose myself in some other world than this, to worry instead about equipment, side quests, and skill points versus dividing up household items and signing papers full of legalese. I’m not ashamed to name some of them either, such as Remember Me, Transistor, Fantasy Life, and, uh, Disney Magical World. Sometimes avoidance is the easier path, though usually not the best one in retrospect.

Legendary Gary, made by Evan Rogers, who previously worked as a programmer on What Remains of Edith Finch and The Last of Us, is a literal take on escapism. It’s about a young man named Gary who lives in his mother’s basement and would never be described as legendary by those around him. He’s been recently fired from his job at the local supermarket, and he’s struggling to find motivation to do anything responsible-like. Thankfully, there’s Legend of the Spear, a turn-based strategy RPG that he can play on his computer, day and night. to keep adult-ing at bay. This game within the game stars Winkali, a heroic warrior who somewhat physically resembles our leading lad and must save his kingdom after his King mysteriously disappears during an attack. Eventually, Gary’s personal life and Winkali’s quest begin to share some similarities, and the line dividing them weakens, to the point where even Gary himself is questioning everything around him.

Gameplay in Legendary Gary is divided up into two beats. For normal, everyday slacker Gary, you’ll walk around small areas like his mom’s house and workplace, talk to friends, family, and co-workers, and tend to the garden, which basically involves planting some seeds and ensuring all the flowers are watered once a day. At first, I was worried I’d be falling deep into another farming-like simulator, but that was not the case; so long as the flowers are healthy and wet, you’ll gain extra abilities during fights. There’s also a “motivation” meter to be aware of, affected by Gary’s relationships and decisions and whether or not he gets a good night’s sleep, and this determines some dialogue choice options, but it never seemed to go further than that, so don’t get too upset as it climbs and dips as the story moves forward.

In Legend of the Spear, it’s all about the combat, with a couple of name-guessing puzzles to boot. Battles are predetermined and limited in number, taking place on a small hexagonal grid. Both the heroes and enemies attack in a turn-based fashion, except the wrinkle here is that everyone is technically moving on the same turn simultaneously. You kind of need to see it in action to grok it. This type of combat requires a different type of strategy and takes a few attempts before everything really begins clicking, but thankfully there are some helpful tools readily available from the start to get you up to speed. For instance, you can preview every single turn to see what your enemies are planning to do, determining your actions based on this bit of future sight. You can also rewind turns if things go sour quickly, and they will because if one character in your team dies, it’s over. If you’re successful, you’ll get to see an entire uncut replay of the fight, and it’s like watching a young child’s interpretation of a theatrical song and dance about good versus evil, sped up slightly.

So, the combat is probably the big seller for the game, the thing that makes this a narrative-driven RPG, and I found it initially underwhelming. However, with each fight, I felt like I was getting better and beginning to master how to move everyone around the field, conserving SP and using everyone’s abilities smartly. Your party, at most, is made up of three team members, but you’ll also have some solo fights to deal with. Still, some fights were absolutely brutal, like the one against Sintravos, which took me 70+ turns to see conclude. In retrospect, there were some abilities I never even used, and I found myself sticking to the same-old patterns and tricks to get the job done, such as having Winkali winding up for a stronger punch on the next turn. I initially assumed there would be grinding involved and leveling up via experience points, but each fight has been designed to teach and test you appropriately. In reality, they are more like combat puzzles.

Perhaps my favorite element of Legendary Gary is its soundtrack. It’s weird and weirdly mesmerizing. All the music is done by xXsickXx, and there’s a tribal, electronic pop tint to it all, like something you might imagine was born and bred in the 1980s, in a jungle, with a fever. Sometimes the disconnect between the songs and what is happening in the game is super strong–mostly because the soundtrack only veers its strange head during fights–but it never took me out of the experience completely. Also, you might be surprised to hear someone singing in a couple songs, as most soundtracks for games are instrumental only, but it does become an integral plot piece later in the game. The artwork in Legendary Gary is just as striking, reminding me of an illegal fusion of Squidbillies, Disney’s Pocahontas, and that 1982 Franco-Hungarian animated science fiction classic Time Masters, and it’s extra neat to see how people in Gary’s real life appear in Legend of the Spear. There’s a simplicity to the style and animations with bright, flat colors, but it works well and helps create a unified world.

Despite all that, I still had some issues with Legendary Gary. The Augur egg puzzles, which basically require you to input a specific name, are at first unclear and ultimately not fun to do because you have to click left or right a bunch of times to find the correct letter, and it just slows everything down to a snail-like crawl. I’d have preferred using my keyboard to type in the specific name; I’m a fast typer. Pathfinding is problematic too, especially in the supermarket. Gary’s friend Dave is a sour note, relying on way too many jokes about having sex with Gary’s mom who you come to realize is degrading in mental health, and his gross humor just didn’t sit well with me. Lastly, and this is a big point for me, considering my day job is editing the heck of out other people’s grammar, there were several spelling mistakes throughout Gary’s journey, such as using “effected” instead of “affected” and “weilding” instead of “wielding”, and each instance of these broke my copy-editing heart.

In the end, I wanted more from Legendary Gary. I really enjoyed its look and sounds and felt ready by its credits to take on some even tougher battles, but by then it was over, and the story was told. Still, if you enjoy turn-based combat and want something a bit different than the standard stuff, along with a soundtrack that will have you bobbin’ your head from the very first beat, give this a try. It’s available on Steam.

A copy of Legendary Gary was provided to me by Evan Rogers for review. It took me about four to five hours to complete over a couple of sittings. At one point, during a battle, I closed my eyes and drifted away on a gloriously fluffy soundtrack cloud, returning several minutes later to, y’know, play the game proper. I don’t know if I grew every flower in the garden, and I’m still pretty upset about Gary’s mom, who reminded me way too much of Ellen Burstyn’s character from Requiem for a Dream. Anyways, pay them bills.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Hoard

The first time I became aware of the concept that a dragon even liked gold was as a young lad reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The powerful, fearsome dragon Smaug, who invaded the Dwarf kingdom of Erebor 150 years prior to the events in the book, is now happy to spend the rest of his days sleeping among his loot, a vast hoard of shiny treasure. Eventually, he must defend it from a group of 13 Dwarves mounting a quest to take the kingdom back, who are helped along the way by the wizard Gandalf and the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins. Look, if you haven’t read The Hobbit, please do so as soon as possible; if you hate reading and prefer watching motion pictures, you can skip the Peter Jackson films and eat up the 1977 animated take from Rankin/Bass and Topcraft instead.

Anyways, enough about The Hobbit. I’m here today for another exciting edition of Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge to tell you a bit about Hoard, which I think I got as a freebie way back in September 2014, though the game came out a couple years before that. Honestly, it’s a good amount of fun, but not a keeper. Your true goal in this action strategy game is to be the greediest dragon of them all and amass as much gold as you can before time runs out. You do this by spewing flames and burning towns, castles, and crops to a crisp, revealing piles of gold that can be carried back to your nest. Naturally, not everyone is down to party, and you’ll have to fight off archers protecting towns, knights out to rescue stolen princesses, and other dragons (which can be controlled by other players) that have their own hoards to build.

Every piece of gold you bring back to your lair in Hoard will give you experience points, which, after getting enough, can be spent to level up your dragon. Your options include making it fly faster, have stronger armor, and a more powerful fire breath. There are a handful of stats you can choose to boost, and you don’t need to stress too hard over this as your dragon is reset to nothing at the start of every game. I focused early on speed and fire-breathing and later would up my dragon’s toughness as more difficult enemies reared their difficult heads.

There’s no campaign to follow here, which is okay, I guess. Hoard‘s core mode is called Treasure Collect, which not surprisingly tasks you with collecting as much gold as possible over a 10-minute period. There’s also Princess Rush, Survival, and Co-oP, though I only tried the former and not the latter two of those types. I do like that no game is longer than 10 minutes, which means every action counts, and you can’t dilly-dally about. Your dragon’s skill will grow tremendously over that short span, but I did often feel like I was just getting into my groove as time was running out. Which only made me want to jump right back into another match.

Hoard is definitely one of those quick fixes type of games, like Spelunky or The Binding of Isaac. Where you can dip into it quickly and have a good time and bounce out before the sun sets. There’s an in-game achievements system, but I don’t have it in me to play hundreds of matches to see these things pop. I enjoyed the few that I did play, and that’s that. Enjoy your pile of gold for eternity, dragon, because I won’t bother you anymore. Or, much like with Super Motherload, if I do feel the urge to poke the slumbering beast, I’ll grab you from Steam instead.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

If you wish for peace, be ready to wait in Battle Ages

battle-ages-xbox-one-gd-impressions

One of my more fonder early gaming on a PC moments was the time I spent in Age of Empires, a history-based real-time strategy video game developed by Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft. Yes, despite my natural disdain for the majority of RTS games out there, save for things like Kingdom Rush and the random run of a Command & Conquer: Red Alert skirmish, I did have a good time with that one, as it was a much more methodically paced foray into building up your camp and defending it when deemed necessary. It was definitely more Civilization than Warcraft, and that’s probably why I did better at the whole goal of trying to maintain peace for years on end. I’m into peace, majorly.

Anyways, Battle Ages is without a doubt no successor to Age of Empires, but it tries to guide the player slowly through different historical ages and creates one-off scenarios to do battle with other players’ camps or in-game missions. The problem is, right from the start, it’s a free-to-play game, and that means progress barriers for those unwillingly to pay money to knock those walls down. Like me. I started playing Battle Ages back in October 2016, and I guess I’ll consider myself being done with it as of this month. There’s still a new age to reach, as well as four seemingly unattainable Achievements, so I’m ready to uninstall the whole thing as soon as this post gets posted. Boom.

I’ve dipped into Battle Ages almost daily, whether to collect coins or begin researching a soldier or upgrade a building, because all those things are important to growing a strong, survivable settlement, as well as heavy on time. Naturally, the timers begin short, with some ranging in the 15-30 minutes range. A few, such as for upgrading landmines or walls, are instant, so long as you have enough free workers available for the job. By the end though, you’ll be waiting up to 5-6 days for some processes to complete. You could, of course, use money to bypass these timers via the use of jewels, the game’s special currency, but you don’t need to, if you are patient enough to wait. You will earn some jewels as you play, and I ended up burning a bunch to instantly have enough coins to push my civilization into the next era.

At some point during my journey to earn more gold so I could upgrade quicker, I broke some sort of peace treaty. This meant that, while I wasn’t playing Battle Ages, other people playing the game could attack my settlement and steal my hard-earned coins, as well as deplete my stock of soldiers. Boo to that. There were times that it felt like I was going nowhere, earning just enough gold to repair my bombs and restock my army tents. You can also go through a number of campaign missions where you attack a settlement and try to utterly destroy it, and these range in difficulty, but the most annoying thing for these is that, after you do one, you need to restock your army and call-in help before doing the next one. I eventually stopped doing these early on and stuck to timers for earning money and fame…which is probably why it took me so long to reach the Industrial Age.

So, with all that said, my time with Battle Ages has come to a close. I don’t see myself acquiring the four following Achievements left unpopped on my account:

  • Moving on Up (Acquire 2,500 trophies in battle)
  • Sticky Fingers (Steal 1,000,000 coins from the enemy)
  • Hold the Line (Achieve 250 defensive victories)
  • For the Win (Achieve 250 offensive victories)

If anything, Moving on Up seems permanently glitched, having been stuck at 40% for me since last year. Unless I’m doing something wrong. Either way, whatever. No Achievement for lowercase trophies. Well, when I get that next free-to-play, lots-of-timers itch and Fallout Shelter isn’t doing the job, I also have Battle Islands: Commanders from the same publisher 505 Games to get into, with that one focusing on World War II.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #63 – Battle Ages

Free strategy lark
Grow your civilization
Wait on long timers

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.