Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Further into the Odyssey

Disc 3, ~ 32 hours in, party is between levels 31-36.

Look, I know I'm a JRPG neophyte, and my frame of reference w/r/t these games is incredibly limited, but GODDAMN. It's all I've been playing for the last week. I very nearly called in sick today just so I could pull a marathon session.

Combat continues to be enjoyable, which is saying a LOT considering how tedious random encounters can be. I'm starting to be able to craft some pretty bad-ass rings, which in a way hearkens back to the Alchemy portions of Oblivion (when I first got into Oblivion, I was obsessed with harvesting ingredients). The dialog is hit-or-miss (why are there no dialog-writing seminars at GDC?) but the story is engaging, and the characters are just 3-dimensional enough to keep everything interesting. The voice actor doing Jansen - I love this guy. I'm not sure he's ever played a videogame before, because he's definitely NOT adhering to the usual standard of line readings (which the rest of the LO cast is guilty of); I hope this guy continues to get work, he'd be especially great with in a Bioware setting.

But again - I've never played any of the FF games (except for III on my DS, and I never got very far into it), nor any of the other major franchises or one-offs - so consider my recommendation accordingly.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I've been busy as hell lately, and meanwhile my Google Reader has been exploding left and right with GDC coverage. Which is why I'm so happy to have taken 5 minutes to actually read through some of the stuff that's being reported on [most of which revolves around Too Human (which might not suck after all), Fable 2 (yes please) and/or the Gears of War 2 non-trailer], because I just saw this video for FEZ, which appears to be an upcoming XBLA game, and it's blowing my fucking mind.

(There's a better trailer for this here, which I can't embed for some reason.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Halfway through the Odyssey

Just got to Disc 3 in Lost Odyssey; a little over 22 hours, with most of my party at or around lvl 30. Having not played very many JRPGs, it's obviously beyond my reach to say how it compares with all the hordes of titles already out there, but in terms of what I have played, I think it's fucking fantastic. The story and script may be generic and ridiculous, but the characters are richly drawn and the voice acting - for the most part - is outstanding. The environments are very nicely varied, and almost all of them look quite beautiful. There's really only been one or two moments in the game that really got on my nerves, one of which took place during a dreadfully inopportune time (as I was very much on the edge of tears (!)), and another which was simply a frustrating and surprising radical shift in difficulty (which, after (*sigh*) consulting a walkthrough, was dealt with rather quickly). It's not without its faults, and it could be said that the turn-based combat system in general feels archaic and anachronistic these days, but for what it is, it's outstanding.

A special shout-out needs to go to the dreams, which (I believe) were written by Jay Rubin, whom you may have heard of if you've ever read the English translations of Haruki Murakami's novels. Some reviews said that the dreams slowed the game's already slow pace down to a crawl, because who the hell wants to read when they're playing a game, and they do have a point; it's just that the dreams here are so well written and so interesting, and if they were ever published in book form, I'd buy them immediately.

Also: finished Professor Layton over the weekend. It was a lot of fun, and the feeling of conquering a devilish riddle cannot be understated. Still, though, there's not much left to do with it besides bringing it to a wi-fi access point and downloading new riddles, which is kinda the problem; once you know the answer, the game loses its point. That said, I've got a long plane flight coming up in March, and there were a few riddles that I either never solved or never found; it would certainly be nice to spend a little more time in St. Mystere.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Not-quite impressions

As I wrote yesterday, I was able to score copies of Lost Odyssey and Professor Layton and I promised some impressions today. However, I don't really feel like I've put in enough time with either game to give any sort of detailed analysis. That said, there are some quick things I want to throw out there:

Lost Odyssey
After an hour's worth of playtime, here's what I can offer:
  • Even though he hasn't said very much of anything just yet, Kaim is a pretty awesome protagonist. I love how he's animated; in spite of his youthful complexion he has the posture and the walking rhythm of a man who has lived for far too long and seen far too much. He doesn't walk as much as he trudges along (this is most noticeable in cutscenes - when you're out and about, you can run like the wind); this is a great example of character development without getting into expository dialog.
  • The first real "story" moment takes place in some sort of council meeting, and unfortunately, it is fucking ridiculous. Our world is in trouble because of meteors and magic energy and the Giant Staff? Oh Christ.
  • As a 32-year-old man, I find it much easier to relate to world-weary adults as opposed to spiky-haired rugrats who believe in themselves and have something to prove. I'm not sure I will ever be able to go back and finish Blue Dragon if I keep spending time with Lost Odyssey.
  • Speaking of Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey is quite easy to pick up if you played Blue Dragon; the graphics engine may be different (more on that in a second), but the controls are nearly identical. I was actually a little startled to see that "Start" only pauses the game, and that "Y" brings up your menu - this is exactly how BD did it, too.
  • Also speaking of Blue Dragon, I far prefer Lost Odyssey's approach to looting. BD made you check out every single goddamned book in a bookcase, every single plant in a forest, every pebble in a desert - and more often than not, you'd get a "Nothing", which you wouldn't even realize was important until midway through Disc 2. Here, at least, the stuff you can check out is obvious, and there's always something worthwhile to pick up. I can't wait to start getting into the Ring Crafting part of the game; the tiny taste I've gotten of it so far has definitely whetted my appetite, and so I'm actually motivated to check out every thing I can find.
  • As for the combat: well, again, I only played for an hour, and the last 30 minutes were spent in a city; I didn't quite get enough time to really be comfortable with the whole "timing" part of attacking, and I haven't yet had an opportunity to see how the ring-crafting affects combat, and - most importantly - I don't have any party members yet.
  • As for the graphics: it's very pretty. A lot of reviews mention frame-rate dips; I haven't seen anything that bad. The constant loading before combat may be a problem, though.
In short: I can't wait to really get some time to sink my teeth into this one. My hour with the game last night was barely an appetizer.

Professor Layton
I brought my DS with me to work today, just in case I got some time; I played for about 20-30 minutes before going to bed last night, and I found only 6 or 7 puzzles. It isn't quite what I expected it to be, but I am enjoying what I've played. I found a puzzle last night that (I think) requires some geometry, which I've all but forgotten; I was pleased to have solved two matchstick puzzles, though, because I'm fucking AWFUL at matchstick puzzles. I do hope, though, that there's more to this game than matchstick puzzles; it's not a good sign that I've already done 2 of them in such a short span of time.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Glutton for punishment

It's been pouring here in NYC for the last 24 hours; yesterday it was fluffy snow, today it's cold rain. Ordinarily I wouldn't talk about the weather, except that, as this post's title would indicate, I am a glutton for punishment. Also, I am a consumer whore.

I had planned on renting Lost Odyssey and then buying my rented copy, as I do get a nifty little discount from Gamefly. However, even with newly-added shipping centers, Gamefly is still notoriously, jaw-droppingly, agonizingly slow, and even if they'd managed to send it out today, I wouldn't get it until Saturday at the earliest. This assumes that they'd actually send me a copy today; I checked my queue this morning, and instead of being sent off, it was simply listed as having a "Low" probability of being sent out. They changed their notations on product availability a few months ago, but I'm not fooled; "Low" means "not today, chump."

Additionally, I was interested in renting Professor Layton and the Curious Village since my DS has been boring me to death. (Side note: is it just me, or is it incredibly odd to anybody else that even though 2007 was one of the best years for gaming ever, the DS absolutely stunk up the joint?) This was putting me in a bit of a pickle; Prof. Layton is listed as available, so if I'd put it on my queue, I'd never get Lost Odyssey (since I only have a 2-at-a-time plan and they haven't yet received my return of Devil May Cry), and I would like to get The Club at some point next week.

This is all to say that I could not wait, and I ventured out into the rain during my lunch hour.

NYC has a lot of everything, except where I work (namely, east midtown); there used to be a Gamestop over on 6th Avenue, which closed down (and was still a pain in the ass for me to get to), and I can't ever expect to get over to the gigantic Toys R Us in Times Square (the one with the indoor ferris wheel) without wanting to strangle the hordes of tourists who have absolutely no self-awareness and frequently stop in the middle of the sidewalk, or an open doorway, or a stairwell, or what have you. This basically limits my work-day gaming excursions to what's on 5th Avenue (a still lengthy walk from my office) - a Best Buy, a new Circuit City, and a no-name (but very good) electronics store.

The electronics store has a game section and it's usually not very busy; however, it also has a shitty selection and is almost always untimely with new releases; they were my first stop and, as I expected, they had neither title.

The Best Buy used to make new game releases completely inaccessible; you'd have to flag a BB employee down, tell them what you wanted, and then go wait in the ever-expanding cashier line while they (hopefully) remembered what you wanted and then give it to whomever you ended up paying. That's changed and they now have everything on the shelf, but it's still a Best Buy - they don't treat videogames with nearly the shelfspace or the attention that they do with DVDs. They did happen to have Lost Odyssey, but they didn't have Professor Layton.

The Circuit City is brand-new, but their game section is fucking horrifying; the games are arranged on circular shelves that surround a 3-TV pod, and the 360, curiously enough, gets the least amount of shelf space. It hardly matters, though, because the shelves are beyond disorganized; it's as if someone started to alphabetize, and then said "fuck it" and just threw whatever they felt like into any available spot. After 20 minutes of going through each individual shelf, I did manage to find a copy of Prof. Layton - it was, as best as I can tell, with the "D"s.

So: success! But also frustration, and, worst of all, wet socks. I need galoshes.

Tomorrow: impressions.

Monday, February 11, 2008


My Gameflown copy of DMC4 arrived on Saturday; gave it a quick spin Saturday night and for a bit on Sunday.

Short version: couldn't care less. It's certainly very pretty, and it's nice to see that the UE3 is capable of producing colors other than gray, but as for the game itself... it's (to me) a generic 3rd person action game that is so rooted in the conventions of the past that it almost feels anachronistic.

I was listening to Major Nelson's podcast on the way into work this morning, and he has an interview with some Capcom Community dude, and the dude basically said that the game is about "looking cool" and "being stylish", that you can spam on the sword in order to get through the game but you get low scores for doing so. First of all: computers shouldn't be judging beauty. Secondly: who gives a shit? Nero is such a whiny little douchebag that it's a challenge for me just to stay interested in the game itself; now I have to worry about making him jump and leap and prance? What the fuck?

(I know Ninja Gaiden had a scoring system, too, but that game was brutally hard, and just getting through a level was reward enough.)

The camera in DMC4 is fucking terrible, if only because it fucks up your controls. For the most part, this isn't that big a deal because the camera almost never changes during combat, but when you're running around, it's a pain in the ass - you can be running up a staircase, and then when you get out you find yourself running back down because the change in camera also changes your controls.

Taking a quick look at the Achievements - I think I got all I'd care to get, since it seems the vast majority of them involve playing the game a zillion times with multiple characters at various difficulty settings. Who gives a shit? I made it through Mission 6 before I realized I had to start backtracking and I couldn't have cared less.


I don't know why, but I have become tremendously excited for Lost Odyssey. I liked Blue Dragon more than most people, although I never bothered to finish it; I'm probably halfway through the 3rd disc and couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do. Lost Odyssey looks a lot more promising, and engaging, and while a lot of previews are talking about how archaic the game is, my experience with JRPGs is actually pretty limited so I'm not all that jaded.


Will there ever be a Skies of Arcadia sequel, as long as we're talking about JRPGs? Goddamn I loved that game.


I constantly misspell Odyssey, and for that I blame Oddworld.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Catching Up

Life's been pretty busy lately; haven't had time for much of anything, let alone gaming, or - more to the point - writing about gaming.  So, then:

1.  Duke Nukem 3D coming to XBLA.  DN3D is what got me into PC shooters; I never did any of the multiplayer or anything, I was simply a slavish devotee of the single player.  And to be honest, I'm not entirely sure I played the whole game - my brother-in-law-to-be had installed the shareware version of it on my brother's computer, and so I think there might have been a few levels that I never had access to.  In any event, this is even MORE exciting to me than the release of DNF. 

2.  Hey, Microsoft, I've got an idea for you.  You've said repeatedly that you didn't include an HD-DVD drive in the 360 because you respected the consumer's appetite for choice, and that you weren't necessarily opposed to the idea of Blu-Ray.  So, then:  why not make a Blu-Ray add-on?  I'll tell you right now, if you make a Blu-Ray add-on and sell it for less than $250, that means that I don't have to buy a PS3.  We all know that you're hoping for digital distribution to be the way of the future - and I agree with you 100% - but in the meantime, this is something you absolutely have to do.

3.  Played a bit of Poker Smash this morning before work; it's a great puzzler.  It's based on the Bejeweled concept of 3-match, except instead of colors, you're looking to make poker hands, from 3-of-a-kind on up.  And you're only allowed to move pieces horizontally.  And the board keeps moving, so there's an element of time pressure.   And it's quite pretty, which is an added bonus.  Best of all, I got an Achievement or two during my time with the trial version, which pretty much sealed the deal in terms of me unlocking the full version.  Developers, you should know: alerting a potential customer of a demo version of your game that they've unlocked Achievements has GOT to have a measurable impact on sales. 

4.  Mass Effect DLC is on its way.  Goddamn.  Just when I thought I'd gotten that game out of my system.  However... my first impression of this is pretty underwhelming; 60-90 minutes of gameplay, most of which will probably be spent in loading screens and/or buildings we've already seen on a million other planets?  Bioware - wake me up when you get something like The Shivering Isles ready to go.