Category: Games

Persona 5: One “Dungeon” In

Over the last month plus, I’ve been trying to tackle my first ever Persona game and … my feelings are mixed.

When Persona 5 dropped (and, to be honest, before it dropped too), it was a huge hit. My days of playing every JRPG are largely behind me, but the game did peak my curiosity. A friend offered to loan it to me after he was done, which is how we’ve arrived at this point.

I don’t think I have ever been more confused, more interested, or more overwhelmed all at once by a video game. I wouldn’t say I love it, but after beating the first palace (which seems loosely equivalent to a dungeon), I am ready for more.

The game is a weird mix of living an alternate life AND playing a JRPG, only you do it at the same time. Just like my real life, I have to carefully balance the few hours I have in the day for entertaining, self-improvement, relationship building or some mix of the three.

It isn’t my ideal game or my ideal RPG, but it is growing on me. I am genuinely excited to find out what sort of pseudo-psychology, acid trip we are going on next. BUT I don’t want to be playing this game for the next three months either.

We shall see.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (PS4, 2017)

During my blogging hiatus, I revisited Final Fantasy XII with its Playstation 4 remaster.

For the longest time, FFXII was my least favorite in the series, much to the chagrin of my sister-in-law who is a huge fangirl for the game. Anytime I brought up my hatred, I’d get a side eye from her, whereas most of my other friends who happened to be Final Fantasy fans never even touched XII when it originally came out on the Playstation 2. After playing it again, I can safely say that Final Fantasy XII is pretty okay.

FINAL FANTASY Ⅻ THE ZODIAC AGE - 1.png

My history with the original goes back to Blitz: The League, an arcade-style football game that has absolutely nothing to do with Final Fantasy or Square Enix. “Back in the day”, my friends and I would meet after school to play Blitz. On one occasion, a friend who I eventually served as Best Man at his wedding, got so excited in a Blitz win that he jumped up. In so doing, he ended up pulling the console down onto the hardwood floor by a connected controller cord (praise be to wireless). Thus ended our time playing Blitz and my time being a Playstation 2 owner.

A year later when Final Fantasy XII came out, I couldn’t afford to purchase a new Playstation 2. By then, I had mostly moved onto being an Xbox fanboy. Still, as Final Fantasy X and X-2 faded into memory, my need to play the latest and greatest Final Fantasy game increased. Plus, it was set in the same world as Final Fantasy Tactics, my absolute favorite Final Fantasy game.

Through shame and guilt, I made my friend loan me his Playstation 2 until I could finish Final Fantasy XII, which contributed to the first reason why I disliked the game: I rushed it.

Final Fantasy XII is not a game you should rush. With its open world setting, a real contrast to Final Fantasy X, it had an exploratory quality that the series had been missing for some time. Plus, the extra boss fights are both easy to miss and fun to do, so a large part of the game can be ignored if you aren’t looking beyond the plot.

As I previously mentioned, Final Fantasy Tactics was and is my favorite Final Fantasy game. Final Fantasy XII shares the setting of Ivalice, but is set in a different time, in a different part of the world, and all of its callbacks to Tactics are done through flavor text. In other words, it was not a successor, spiritual or otherwise, to Final Fantasy Tactics. This was the second reason I disliked the game.

Despite not being another Tactics, FFXII does have better characters. Sure, the plot was terrible in comparison, but that’s true of 99% of video games because FFT really was that damn good. I didn’t even mind Vaan, though I was pretty tired of the teenage boy shtick for Final Fantasy leads and would’ve much preferred any of the game’s more mature characters to be the sole focus.

For my final reason, I point to the combat. Final Fantasy XII was a huge departure since you only control one party member at a time, though you can switch around. Combat is still turn based, but it takes place out in the open world, and the game promotes automating most of it to the Gambit system. Gambits work as a sort-of customizable AI mini-game that allows you to set conditions for how the AI should play your party mates.

In 2006, I hated gambits, so much so that I refused to use them. Instead, I micromanaged everything in combat, rapidly switching from character to character, queuing actions and hoping for the best. This made Final Fantasy XII harder, but when compared to my more recent play through, far less enjoyable.

Part of the beauty of Final Fantasy XII, much like Bravely Default, comes from powering up your party, creating unique combinations, and finding ways to automate things for efficiency. By skipping over that entirely in 2006, I really missed out. Playing the game as intended and using gambits to their fullest is so much more fun. I loved farming and grinding so much that I did every achievement but kill the secret boss Yiazmat because fuck a boss that takes hours (not hyperbole) to defeat.

I loved Final Fantasy XII this last time around. It is a great example of marrying classic Final Fantasy with a then-modern twist (MMORPG-esque open world, revamped approach to combat, etc.). I hate that the series has only moved further away from its roots, but FFXII was a happy compromise if only I had recognized that fact then rather than last year.

Why then do I say it is only okay?

Because the plot sucks, most of the characters would be better off in a narrative that wasn’t “crappy Star Wars”, and it wasn’t Final Fantasy Tactics 2.

Sorry! Some things don’t change.

Onward to Distant Worlds

This past weekend, Diane took me on a (very delayed) anniversary trip to see Final Fantasy Distant Worlds in St Petersburg, Florida. It was fantastic!

Highlight of the Evening

Distant Worlds 2

Nobuo Uematsu was there and most of the crowd, save for one older gentleman sitting next to Diane who smelled like a marijuana, recognized him. The volume of applause went noticeably up anytime he was present.

It’s not that I feel like no one knows who he is or that people at a Final Fantasy concert wouldn’t recognize him, I just didn’t expect the level of respect shown him for his work was that evident in his fans’ passion.

It was a pretty spectacular thing to witness.

Oh and there was a sing-a-long for ‘One-Winged Angel’ where we all got to yell SEPHIROTH back at Nobuo himself. Amazing.

Lowlight of the Evening

There weren’t that many cosplayers, but there was one really amazing Zack. He was so good that we spent some of the evening just watching people walk up to him for pictures (it was a lot of people).

Diane and I were conflicted on this, but the reason this excellent cosplayer is a lowlight for me was because during ‘Swing de Chocobo’, he and his date started swing dancing in their balcony seats. People started pointing it out during the performance too, so I felt like it was a bit too much “hey, look at us and not these talented musicians currently performing right now”.

Best Song of the Night

I was really hoping for something from Final Fantasy Tactics or Final Fantasy XIV. I got the latter featuring the Tampa Master Chorale, which included one singer who absolutely floored both Diane and I with her singing.

The song? “Heavensward”:

Top 3 Songs I Wish They Had Played

For fun, here’s three songs I still wish I could hear played live:

Final Fantasy Tactics “Ultima, the Nice Body”

Final Fantasy VI “Aria di Mezzo Carrattere”

Final Fantasy XIV “Good King Moggle Mog’s Theme”

Super Mario Odyssey (Switch, 2017)

Before playing Super Mario Odyssey late last year, I would’ve ranked my top 5 Mario games as:

  • Super Mario Bros. 3
  • Super Mario World II: Yoshi’s Island
  • Super Mario 3D Land
  • Super Mario World
  • Super Mario 3D World

And after playing Super Mario Odyssey? My ranking has not changed.

Super_Mario_Odyssey_Logo

Super Mario Odyssey is the 2017 Mario main series debut for the Nintendo Switch. It’s a 3D platformer more in the vein of Super Mario 64, with open worlds and a ton of exploration. I personally loved it but I was confused by how it was being treated as the greatest Mario game ever. For me, it just wasn’t.

The game suffers from having too many things to collect. I have never been a Mario completionist and collect-a-thons in general don’t appeal to me. Still, if the gameplay is good, I will at least make an attempt at getting everything. Super Mario Odyssey’s gameplay is fantastic but there was no way I was going to go after 900+ power moons.
That may seem like a petty complaint, especially since I have allowed this one issue to deflate my overall love of Odyssey significantly.. Throughout the game, I felt like I was getting a power moon for everything I did, whether it was challenging or not. Sure, some puzzles and platforming sections were rewarding to compete on their own, but the sheer amount of power moons you can receive in any given world devalued them for me significantly.

Beyond my issues with its gluttony of collectibles and devalued reward system, the rest of Super Mario Odyssey was really good. I am less a fan of Super Mario, the open world adventurer, as I prefer the focus of levels (probably obvious after seeing my top 5 list above). Still, Odyssey is a great iteration of the formula and managed to be fun throughout for me even though it wasn’t my preference.

I do think the game could’ve benefited from proper co-op. I really loved Super Mario 3D World since it had so much replayability with friends. However, I rarely got to play that co-op since it was local only. With Super Mario Odyssey, I had hoped it would bring the co-op back, especially since the console has been touted for its portability. I have a few colleagues in the office with Switches, so I could’ve easily played it with others on my lunch breaks.

Finally, the boss design is terrible. The bunny wedding planners felt like they belonged in a different game (maybe a Wario game). Plus, fighting them all multiple times felt like a cop out for a game that otherwise had so much creativity. I much prefer multiple unique bosses to repeating the same boss with slight variation, especially when I hated that boss’s design the first time I fought them.

Where would I rank Super Mario Odyssey overall? It is easily in the top 10 overall Mario games for me and definitely the best platformer I have played since Super Mario 3D World a few years back. I’d probably play a direct sequel to it, but I won’t be as hyped as I was for Odyssey before I played it. It was fun and exciting, but not the style of Mario game I love most.

A Year+ As a Half-Orc: My First D&D Character

Hadak

One session, I drew scenes on my tablet. This is my rendition of my character breaking a garrote with his bulging, raging neck muscles. I know. I am talented.

Over a year ago, I created my first ever Dungeons & Dragons character, a Half-Orc Barbarian named Hadak. We are nearing the end of our campaign so I wanted to do a retrospective about the experience.

Hadak doesn’t have a complicated backstory. I only chose such a basic character because originally I thought we were only going to play a few sessions. My sister-in-law and her boyfriend are both big fans, and when he wanted to try being a Dungeon Master for the first time, Diane and I volunteered to play. I didn’t realize we were committing to a full campaign or that it would take nearly a year and a half to reach a conclusion.

Playing Hadak has been an experience. Like most Half-Orc Barbarians, he’s not the most intelligent person but he packs a punch. I gave him the Entertainer (Gladiator variant) background, so he does have an ego and charisma. I play him like your typical over-the-top, happy to fight Barbarian, but having an open-minded DM has let me take him down some interesting paths, especially as my interest has waned in being a dumb meat shield.

A few months into playing, Hadak purchased a cursed version of the Headband of Intellect. Rather than automatically setting his intelligence to 19 and making him super smart, the headband would randomize my intellect score each day. I had a ton of fun roleplaying a character who, although typically dumb, could wake up dumber, smarter, or at a genius level. The party Rogue is Hadak’s spokesperson and “manager”, so there were some great interactions when he suddenly knew how to count and manage his own money (including her usually larger cut).

I also used the high intelligence days to try and explore a darker side of the character. Hadak is far from being Good (I tend toward Chaotic Neutral with him), but he prefers challenge and competition over murder and mayhem. Yet, because he is dumb and Half-Orcs aren’t the most popular, intelligent Hadak is aware of others and their opinions of him in a way that his dumber self either fails to understand or can’t be bothered with.

The most obvious example of this is his nakedness. I never let Hadak wear more than a cloak and a thong (lovingly referred to as my ‘dick pocket’ since I somehow store a ton of weapons, potions, provisions, and other items there). On the days he would wake up intelligent, the first thing he wanted to do was cover himself up. Furthermore, whereas regular Hadak was brash, gregarious, and outgoing, intelligent Hadak was reclusive, quiet, and unwilling to trust even his party mates.

Over time, the magic of the cursed headband  fused with Hadak’s psyche. Instead of a random intelligence score each day, if Hadak meditated long enough, his intelligence would go to a set number but he’d revert to being even dumb if he ever raged.

Given the opportunity, this allowed me to roleplay him more as a split-personality character. He began talking to himself more. The way I saw it, both entities now existed separately but are trapped in the same body. I found it challenging to get Hadak to meditate though, so after this change, the whole secondary character faded a way as Hadak spent the majority of his time in rage or just coming out of it.

I had intended to work with the DM to do a slow burn toward the secondary character coming to life and ‘exiting’ from Hadak’s body entirely. I had thought of a background to the item where the mind of a powerful Wizard had actually been trapped, and that it was really this Wizard struggling to reign in the chaotic mind of Hadak and not a different aspect of Hadak at all. This idea got pushed out as we moved in a different direction, but after nearly dying for good in a recent campaign, smarter Hadak has finally returned.

In a previous session, my character was bit by a vampire but showed no reaction. The DM asked me in private if I wanted to be a vampire and I declined at the moment. He pocketed the idea until a near death where he could bring it up again. Upon my resurrection, I returned as a pseudo-vampire. I also asked if I could count my time dead as meditating to which he agreed.

I am now in control of a Half-Orc Barbarian Vampire with incredible strength, dexterity, and intellect. Dropping the Wizard idea altogether, I think it is time for the meaner side of Hadak to run the show for a while. I think from here on, he will be aware that if he loses composure and rages that he may never be in power over his own body again. It’s kind of like a Bruce Banner/Hulk situation, except Bruce Banner is mean and doesn’t care for anyone but himself and the Hulk, well, he’s still a crazy monster but at least he understands loyalty.

We’ll see where it goes from here. I am ready to move onto something new, but I think this is a pretty fitting and interesting end for my first ever character. I will let you know what happens next!

GameSpace: Murf on Slay the Spire

Slay the Spire Has Slain My Free Time

If you didn’t see my previous article on GameSpace reviewing Son of Scoregasm, I don’t blame you. Beyond the great title to that review, it wasn’t exactly my first idea (though I enjoyed the game and you might too).

Slay the Spire, however, is my jam. I am at 80+ hours in this Early Access gem and I am ready to call it my GOTY for 2018 (but it dropped in 2017). I love deck building and card games and roguelikes. Slay the Spire is all of that.

Check out my preview and then the game!

The Last Guardian (PS4, 2016)

The Last Guardian - 3

I have mixed feelings about The Last Guardian. On one hand, it was an incredibly moving experience that leveraged the technology of video games to create a believable, lovable animal co-star. On the other, I often wavered between boredom, frustration, and confusion before the game’s last act. I think it is safe to call it one of the best gaming experiences I had in 2017 though I would hardly call it one of the best games I played.

Continue reading “The Last Guardian (PS4, 2016)”

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