Tag Archives: survival

Create your own Dark Cloud geographical landscapes

Back in April 2017, I was tabling at Camden Comic Con, selling my comic wares and keeping an eye out for any videogame-related cosplayers. Alas, didn’t see a single one, but there were several for Stranger Things and Sailor Moon, go figure. That said, a few tables away from me was a business whose name I no longer recall selling retro videogames, and by retro, yes, sadly, I mean PlayStation 2, PlayStation 1, and similar ilk of that time period. Wow. Man, I remember when retro meant Atari; hashtag I’m so old. However, in better news, I was able to reacquire a copy of Dark Cloud for a few bucks, one of the first games I originally got with my PlayStation 2, but ultimately ended up trading in for something else, an action I greatly regret to this day.

One of the PlayStation 2’s first big RPGs, Dark Cloud is a title that challenges players to not only battle enemies and solve puzzles, but also to create geographical landscapes using the Georama system, which limits a certain number of houses and items being placed in the world, as well as NPCs only being allowed in specific spots. The game was the first full-scale production by Level-5, a developer who would quickly go on to make some of my favorite titles down the road, such as Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, Rogue Galaxy, and Professor Layton’s London Life from Professor Layton and the Last Specter, among several others. Here, I’ll name two more, just becauseFantasy Life and Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.

Well, in Dark Cloud, you play as Toran, a young boy on an unforgettable journey of rebirth, revival, and hope. Not my words exactly; also, the early marketing for this game claimed this was a “Zelda killer,” which it definitely was not. The game begins as Colonel Flag Gilgister of the Lagoon Empire Army of the East attempts to awaken the Dark Genie, a legendary evil creature, whom Gilgister wishes to use to control the world. Upon summoning the genie, Gilgister orders him to attack the West. However, prior to the attack, Simba, the Fairy King, casts a protective spell around the land, sealing buildings, objects, and people inside magical orbs called Atla. Toran must harness the spirit of those destroyed to rebuild the lands in time for an epic confrontation. You’ll recreate demolished villages by re-building houses, hills, churches, volcanoes, and streams, populating these places with people, and you’ll even be able to control the weather. Ooh ahh.

All in all, Dark Cloud is an action role-playing game played from a third-person perspective, in which the player moves through procedurally-generated dungeons, battling monsters, collecting items, and doing their best to manage a bunch of different meters. This may have been my actual first taste of randomized levels; sorry, Rogue. In these dungeon levels, the player may have the option of entering a separate “back door” area that contains stronger monsters and rarer treasure. Most of the combat involves real time hacking and slashing, along with a lot of stepping to the side, but the player will occasionally “duel” a boss-like enemy, which boils down to a quick time event (QTE); alas, these aren’t all that exciting, but this was the beginning of the era for QTEs.

Here’s one of the two things I greatly dislike about Dark Cloud–while in dungeons, you have both a health meter and a thirst meter. The thirst meter gradually decreases over time, and, when fully depleted, it causes the health meter to begin to decrease. That sucks. To prevent the thirst meter from depleting, Toran must drink water from his inventory or use a small pool found in some dungeon levels. It’s not the most fun thing to keep on top of, forcing you to move through dungeons as quick as possible, almost frantically, which leads me to great dislike number two in the next paragraph…because it deserves its very own paragraph.

Weapons have durability and will, without constant care, degrade and eventually break completely, disappearing from your inventory. How sad and cruel. You can upgrade weapons after they gain a specific amount of experience, infusing them with extra abilities and bonuses, and all of that can be lost if you aren’t careful and continue swinging away at monsters while your weapon teeters on the edge of breaking. Early on, this is a major problem, because you only have access to a couple of weapons, and the mayor will give you one free weapon repair powder each time you talk to him, but only if you don’t have any in your inventory; I have not gotten to the point where I can unlock a shop yet. So my dungeon crawling has gone a lot like this–enter dungeon, fight monsters until weapon almost breaks, repair once, fight monsters until weapon almost breaks, stop fighting monsters, hopefully find key to get to next floor, run around frantically, leave, go back to town, and stock up on items from the mayor. It’s fine, but not very thrilling, and I’m hoping that the weapon upgrade system becomes something I can really dig into, like in Rogue Galaxy.

Still, I love the Georama system very much in Dark Cloud, which should surprise no one. I mean, my favorite part of the Suikoden series is watching my castle fill up with people and seeing where everyone goes and what they can offer me. This sort of hits the same vibe, with some slight differences. After you acquire enough orbs, you can begin placing houses, trees, and ponds wherever you like (so long as it all fits nicely); for houses, you then have to fill in specific slots with items, such as beds, barrels, benches, and who lives there. I just got a llama for Toran’s home…well, barn area. It’s fun to find the right item to slot in and complete a full structure and then go out and meet your new neighbor.

I’ve never got too far in my original copy of Dark Cloud before trading it in, certainly not far enough to unlock fishing or other people to play as, which I know is in the game thanks to reading its manual. I’m hoping to make a bigger dent now and am excited to watch Norune Village grow at my discretion. Stay tuned for further updates down the road. If I build a road, that is.

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Trying to help Sachi survive in Smoke and Sacrifice’s grotesque underworld

Smoke and Sacrifice is not what I expected to be. One of the first screenshots for the game that I saw was similar to the one at the top of this post. It looks bright and safe and a little mundane and reminded me of any number of early towns or villages you visited in RPGs like Suikoden or Breath of Fire. There’s a field being tended to and glowing Sun Trees that are obviously very important to these people and it just feels smalltown farm-like, but then things take a turn towards darker.

See, our leading protagonist Sachi must unfortunately give up her son as part of the village’s first-born rite; basically, she is sacrificing her child to appease the gods, but the good news–if you want to call it that–is that any future children she has will be safe from this custom. How nice. Years later, when suddenly the Sun Tree fades and all the priests vanish, she learns there’s more to this ritual, such as a whole underground world.

Smoke and Sacrifice is an open-world, narrative-driven survival RPG, where exploiting living ecosystems is the key to keeping air in your lungs. Sachi must constantly craft gear, fight off monsters, and explore a massive open world as she searches for her long-lost son. Along the way, she’ll meet strange characters and take on quests for them, as well as learn what really was happening with the Sun Trees and the first-born ritual. The game quickly goes from bright to dark to seriously messed up in a matter of minutes, and you’ll quickly forget all about that fertile land above, now replaced with a gothic wasteland of strange bugs and foreign ingredients.

Unlike many other survival games, there’s a solid if sadly morbid story to follow and no permadeath to deal with. Instead, you can save your progress frequently at a few save points dotted around the map, which are in the form of glowing computer screens, with death bringing you back to your last hard save. I recommend saving all the dang time. I have suffered the sad experience of collecting a bunch of ingredients for a half hour, stumbling into a combat scenario I wasn’t ready for, and having my weapons and lantern degrade at just that moment, losing all forward progress. It stinks and is maybe the harshest part of Smoke and Sacrifice.

The combat in Smoke and Sacrifice is both punishing and a little plain. You can up your chances of making it out alive by crafting an array of armor and weapons, such as a bone machete, but you never really feel that powerful. Instead, you are better off learning every enemy’s pattern and taking them out slowly and methodically. There’s a dodge move, but it is more of a jump away than anything I’d call extremely responsive, like rolling in Bastion. I wish there was a little more strategy or options for combat, but so far it is just mashing the attack button and hopping away when it looks like the enemy will strike. I did just start crafting smoke bombs, so maybe it does get a little more advanced, but I won’t hold my breath, especially when breathing in this underworld’s air is deadly enough.

I got this game for “free” from being a Twitch Prime member, along with a number of others that I hope to get to…eventually. I think I’ll poke at it some more as I am interested to see where this dark story goes and if Sachi finds her son while also wreaking havoc on the naughty priests that forced her into this situation to begin with. Weapons, armor, and lanterns constantly degrading quickly might be too much for me to deal with though…time will only tell.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Lone Survivor

I’d never survive in an actual post-apocalyptic universe. That’s just the harsh truth, one that I’ve come to terms with long ago. There’d be mutated monsters stalking the streets, high levels of radiation eating away at our health, and my bone-dry skeleton curled up inside a bathtub because I couldn’t even bother to try to scavenge for food and water and decided that lying down and closing my eyes for forever was the easier path. Also, if the monsters are even the teeniest bit speedy, I’ll never make it due to…well, cardio.

And that brings us to the ever-so-cheery and delightful Lone Survivor from Jasper Byrne, which is a post-apocalyptic survival horror game with retro-styled 2D graphics and a somber-yet-sick-as-all-gets soundtrack. Please note that Jasper Byrne also contributed to Hotline Miami‘s soundtrack. Well, in this disease-ridden world, the player controls a nameless man-boy, who wears a medical mask, and…well, I don’t honestly know what this person’s true journey is, his desires. He may very well only be following directions provided to him via apparent hallucinations, telling him to go check out this room or that room or use violence to take out the monsters. For me, the clear and only goal was to survive, and exploring the spooky, grimy apartment building you are currently stuck in will reveal a staggering amount of special items, weapons, door keys, pills, notes, and a bunch of different types of food to help in this endeavor.

Lone Survivor is kind of like a point-and-click adventure game, but you also have a pistol and can blast monsters with bullets until they stop moving while trying to keep your hunger, thirst, and sanity meters in check, sleeping now and then too. Still, many of the items you find can be used on other items to solve a specific logic-based puzzle; for instance, early on, you find a pair of scissors and, later, when your passage is blocked by a bulging mass of flesh, you know exactly how to use them. You can also combine items together and even cook food for better results. Otherwise, you’re exploring the nearby hallways and rooms, hiding from or killing monsters, while trying to piece together what is happening and maybe looking for a way out. Your apartment, which has a bed, radio, and stove, acts as a mini-hub, which you can return to using magical mirrors and save your progress.

Silent Hill 2‘s influence here is clear. For one, there’s a man you meet in your dreams with a cardboard box on his head that will probably get you thinking about other men with oddly-shaped heads. Similar to James Sunderland’s quest to find his wife, you are running around a spooky apartment building brimming with locked doors, where things aren’t always what they seem to be. Also, there’s a terrible map system here, just like in Silent Hill 2, and I found myself getting lost constantly, unsure of where to actually go for main and side quest purposes. I’d rather have a blank map that allowed me to annotate it myself than try to parse someone else’s notes on it. Lastly, the shooting is almost purposefully clunky, which means you have to decide early on if you want to waste ammo or use chunks of rotting meat to distract monsters.

Evidently, your interactions with the game’s world and inhabitants result in different endings upon completion of Lone Survivor. Immediately, this stressed me out. I mean, it’s not like this is competing with Chrono Trigger or NieR: Automata in terms of number of endings, but still, now I’m over-thinking every choice I make, like whether or not I should take the green pill before bed because I desperately need batteries to proceed but this might affect the ending I get. Gaah. Given that a single playthrough takes around four to six hours to see credits roll, I most likely will only ever see one ending for this game, and it won’t be any time soon as I’ve already uninstalled it from my PlayStation 3, giving up after an hour or two of meandering back and forth, growing hungrier and more insane by the minute, not sure of why I have these items in my inventory or their ultimate purpose or how to even cook food.

Thankfully, if I ever do want to give Lone Survivor another mighty swing of the horror stick, I have a second copy on Steam, ready to go. Or I could return to Soul Brother, one of Byrne’s earlier projects, and a lighter one at that, if my goal is to feel enlightened instead of devoured.

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.

You gotta swim to survive in Subnautica

I was lucky enough to get a copy of Subnautica from the Humble Freedom Bundle back in February of last year before they ran out of keys for it. However, I didn’t even install it until two weekends ago, kind of waiting for it to finish up treading water in Early Access and release as a full-as-full-gets-these-days game to play. This way I don’t know what has improved or changed or stayed the same, and all I see is a crashed spaceship and an endless amount of ocean to explore, same as you or your brother or your brother’s mother, most likely your mother too. Right…I’m ready to dive in, even if my lungs are not.

Subnautica begins with a bang. Well, more accurately–a crash. You have smash-landed on alien ocean world, and the only place to explore is down beneath the waves. In the distance is your spaceship, on fire and full of radiation, and though the game never explicitly says you should go back there, one feels the need to get inside it and see if there is anything salvageable, figure out where things went wrong. But first, you’ll need stuff, like food and water and gear, if you are to survive Subnautica‘s shallow coral reefs, treacherous deep-sea trenches, lava fields, and bio-luminescent underwater rivers. You’ll also need to manage your oxygen supply as you explore kelp forests, plateaus, reefs, and winding cave systems, and the water is teeming with life, both helpful and harmful. No one ever said swimming was easy.

So far, I’ve put about two hours and change into Subnautica and don’t have a whole lot to show for it. That’s okay. I’m in no rush, so long as I can continue to catch plenty of bladderfish and peeper to sustain myself and various meters. Actually, I have made some better oxygen tanks, fins to swim faster, a repair tool, and a radiation suit, but there’s plenty more to craft via the fabrication panel inside your still-floating escape pod and I haven’t really left the safety of the initial area.

Here’s the problem I am dealing with: I’m not certain exactly what I should be going after and why. I mean, like Minecraft, which is perhaps the only other “survive” style game I have an association with, the goals are sometimes up to you. Clearly, you want to survive as a general rule of thumb and keep your health, food, and thirst meters healthy and high, but after that…you decide. Maybe you also want to construct a better submersible craft to explore the ocean depths or are interested in cataloguing the various fish and underwater life you come across using your scanner to learn more. Ultimately, I do wish the breadcrumb trail was clearer as even a quest log of sorts would help; right now I feel like I’m stumbling my way to progress, and even that is coming about through mere happenstance and not any specific action I took. For instance, I knew that creating a repair tool was important because there were two things inside my escape pod that couldn’t be fixed without it, but then I struggled to find cave sulfur and had to look up a guide outside the game for it, which was frustrating.

Visually, Subnautica is delightful and terrifying. Granted, again, I’m still only in the starting area and suspect there is much more to come, but the variety of underwater alien life balances itself well between recognizable sea creatures and straight-up weirdness. Every new fish or piece of coral is a fun surprise, and you can generally tell whether something will bite you in the face or not. Exploring at night is extremely unnerving because, not surprisingly, it gets dark, and you only have a flashlight and flares early on. The game runs well enough on my laptop, with just a little pop-in here and there, and I’m thankful that you can play it with a controller too.

I recently tried to get ABZÛ running too on this new laptop of mine, but it seems like that one is real heavy on resources, even on the lowest settings I could find, and so I’ll just have to wait until I magically get a copy on Xbox One or something. Surprisingly, when you search the keyword “underwater” on Steam, you only get a handful of games covering this topic, and most of them are horror titles or VR experiences, which, look, I get. I’ve seen enough of Sir David Attenborough’s The Blue Planet to kind of know what lurks in the dark depths of our planet’s oceans. Still, I like exploring underwater areas in a more leisurely fashion, like with Treasures of the Deep, or the time my sister Bitsy brought home a copy of Endless Ocean: Blue World and played for a bit, and it was so relaxing–not boring–that I dozed off.

So I’m going to stick with Subnautica a bit more because it is definitely my speed, but also in hopes that it really opens itself up more and dangles some carrots before my face to keep me pushing forward for reasons. Besides, I’d really like to see one of those time capsules for myself that are all the topics of discussion these days.

Trying my best to be a team player and not get hypothermia in The Division

tom-clancy-the-division-survival-gd-impressions

Tom Clancy’s The Division sure has had an interesting year and change, and I’m actually quite mixed on the game. Like a piece of delicious chocolate that is marred by the powerful taste of disgusting coconut, there’s good and there’s bad. It did make my list of my five favorites for all of 2016, but I know that a lot of that backing had to do with simply just how much time I put into it over the few months I dug deep over getting all them dumb collectibles. However, I quickly found that the end-game material was less appealing and eventually drifted away from snowy, apocalyptic New York City as my shallow pool of online friends greatly dwindled, returning briefly to play a bit of Underground, its first expansion last summer.

Since then, two more expansions have dropped, namely Survival and Last Stand, bringing about a number of changes to The Division‘s inner workings and plethora of systems involving math, as well as making running around the Big Apple worthwhile even after hitting the level cap. Well, not entirely worthwhile, but more. There’s still a hollowness to the running around, but at least new meters are filling up and check-boxes are being checked on a frequent basis. I’m really good at the daily challenges involving destroying weapons and gear for crafting materials that I’ll never ever use; I can hold the stick in for days.

Well, instead of devoting a post to each piece of DLC and clogging up Grinding Down in all things The Division, I figured I’d lump everything together for one single critical damage attack since I’ve now gotten to dabble in every expansion though I do not claim I was often successful. In fact, I mostly died a bunch. Still, there are thoughts, so out into the contaminated snow we go…

Underground was the first expansion released for The Division and focuses on exploring the uncharted underworld of New York City. Players are tasked with chasing after enemies with up to three other Agents through a maze of tunnels and subways. Or, if you are like me, you’ll play it solo and on the easiest difficulty in hopes of finding all the collectibles which, thanks to the randomly generated levels, are found only on a wing and a prayer. I think I’ve collected five of one type and four of another so far and have leveled up my overall Underground rank to about 13. As you level up this rank, you can modify each run with restrictions, like being unable to use your abilities or even have a mini-map, and being successful with these turned on results in greater rewards. There are a few scenarios you can play through, and a solo run with no modifiers can easily be completed in 10-15 minutes, which, when there was not much else to do in The Division, was enough to occupy my brain and hands for a bit.

In the Survival expansion, players must–and hear me out first–survive as long as possible after a horrible helicopter crash. I’m not sure why I included the adjective horrible there, as if there is such a thing as a delightful helicopter crash. Anyways, this expansion is quite different from Underground, as well as the main campaign. You are alone in an extremely hostile environment, and the only way to continue breathing and making it back to safety is by gathering essential supplies and high-tech equipment to call for help and get your frozen butt extracted back to your base. It is without a doubt my favorite mode to play, as it feels extremely fleshed out and there’s a lot of tension in every move you make, considering the longer you hesitate the more likely you will die.

Now, by essential supplies, I’m talking about scarves and jackets and, I guess, weaponry, but this mode is all about the clothing on your back because you not only have to worry about being hit with bullets but also hypothermia; you combat the elements by dressing appropriately and huddling near trashcan fires. This mode makes clothing matter and exciting, though the fact that you are sick and in constant need of medicine can be too stressful. This is why I don’t play things like The Long Dark or Don’t Starve–there’s too much to worry about, and I really just want to wear comfy clothes and walk slowly from one waypoint to another, enjoying the view. Still, Survival is exactly what I wanted to see from The Division‘s DLC–a unique endeavor that forces you to think strategically instead of simply hiding a wall or car and blind-firing until all the enemies are on the ground.

For Last Stand, things become a little more traditional. This DLC pits teams of eight against one another on a section of the Dark Zone where the goal is to capture and hold as many terminals as possible. Naturally, the team that holds more terminals builds up their score quicker and wins. Sounds both simple and familiar, yes? Well, there are a few wrinkles. Such as the fact that enemy mobs still roam the battleground area. Players can eliminate these scrubs to earn a currency used during the match to build defenses like turrets or scanners that detect enemy movement in a designated area. Lastly, all gear is normalized to make things as fair as possible…if a bit uninteresting.

I’ll probably continue to poke at The Division throughout 2017, especially since Ubisoft plans to remain supportive of the game for the near future, even offering up two more expansions for no cost to the player. I suspect I’ll revisit Survival the most of the three DLCs as it offers something very different from the standard experience. Look, this game has been and remains often confusing and clunky, and yet I enjoy the firefights, dressing up my avatar, and the idea of having a full gear set that really plays to my strengths, which are healing other players and taking potshots from a safe distance. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there, but the dream is enough to keep me logging in now and then.

Where They Once Were ended with me cold, dying alone

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Where They Once Were is another teeny tiny yet impressive result of Ludum Dare 31, which brought us cheerier titles like Kram Keep and A Place in Space. Actually, no–both of those contained their fair share of murder and mayhem, though here it is downright brooding. Anyways, that thirty-first game jam’s theme, in case you forgot, was “Entire Game on One Screen,” and I’d say Where They Once Were absolutely nailed it, seeing as everything happens on a single screen, in and around a snowed-in log cabin.

Basically, Where They Once Were is a survival game. Like your first few nights in Minecraft or all of The Forest from the moment the plane crashes. I’m just not sure if one can, ultimately, survive the many snowy nights, but a better player than I might be able to make it. There’s three endings, of which I got two: eaten by a wolf, and cold, alone, with no more supplies. Not sure if the third ending is a victory or just another way to buy the farm; I couldn’t figure out what to do differently. Maybe it has something to do with that snowman outside the cabin.

For controls, you can use the arrow keys to move left or right, up grabs items or drops whatever you are currently holding, and the space bar interacts. Sometimes it’ll interact with whatever you are facing, sometimes it’ll go to what is in your hand, and the other times it’ll use what’s in your hand on what you are facing. That might sound confusing, but it’s really not. For example, to stay warm at night, you need a roaring fire. To do that, you go over to the log pile, carry a bunch of logs back to the fireplace, and press the space bar to drop them in. Then you grab a book of matches, go back to the fireplace, and light them on fire. Rinse and repeat each night to keep on keeping on, while other elements development.

Where They Once Were‘s puzzles aren’t too tricky to figure out, as everything, more or less, follows a logical path. Yes, part where you use a shotgun to shoot a ladder down, I’m raising an eyebrow at you. Need that can of food opened as soon as possible? Whack it with your shovel. Once you are fed, warm, and free from outside danger, you can use the bed to sleep safely through another balmy night. However, the odds are stacked against you from the start, with a limited amount of supplies in the cabin, meaning you’ll have to work hard to make everything last. There’s not much in the sound department, but the absence of sound effects adds to the mood, though I don’t believe that to be an intentional decision, rather a cut due to time.

The game’s page describes the story as about “a woman finding a weird abandoned cottage while escaping pursuers.” A couple things. I never got the sense that the main character was a woman, though with pixel art it can be difficult to tell. Shame on me for assuming this. Also, there was no mention of being chased by off-screen villains, so I took this more as this person lives out here by themselves in the day-to-day, but must now survive the harsher weather for a few nights on a sliver of supplies. You don’t get much in terms of words-on-screen narration, though I did find a diary with some obtuse writing in it. Regardless, surviving is the goal, and the reasons behind it are up for interpretation.

Either way, it’s a neat survival game that may help you years from now if you find yourself trapped in a snowstorm with only a creepy log cabin for safety. You can download the original jam version of Where They Once Were in the link from the previous paragraph, which is the one I played, or there’s a post-jam version here that adds sound effects and additional endings. Both will suffice in terms of atmosphere and experience. Let me know if anything happens with that snowman. Really now–I know it’s vital for living.