2020, A Year in Gaming

I hate that December is the month to look back on an entire year and make sweeping judgments like “Game of the Year”. After many began posting about their favorites, I was still padding my completed games list for the year. Instead of in December, I thought it better to try and do this early in January once the year has switched over and I can truly say the year is done.

All-New Everything

I was lucky in 2020 to make a series of upgrades. I mostly rebuilt my PC early in the year. This led to me thinking I could finally pull-off a virtual reality headset on my computer. I had been using my Playstation 4 Pro and, despite loving it, PSVR always felt limited. It took four months of waiting, but I got my Valve Index in November.

Also in November, I got both a Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X. Excessive, I know, but the wife owed me the PS5 (for prior debts I took on when we were first starting out). The Xbox was more an impulse buy. Back in the day, I was a bigger Xbox fan than most anything else, but I skipped the prior generation entirely. With Xbox Game Pass being a great deal (I am paid out three years in advance), I thought also having an Xbox in the house to play games easily was a good idea.

Here are quick reviews of each:

My computer now handles any game I want to play perfectly on my 1440p monitor. Also, I have two additional 1080p monitors going for work purposes. It has been a long time since I was truly a PC gamer, so the parts I bought were not top of the line, but I am excited to have them all the same. My computer feels like a beast especially since I only play games like FFXIV which, albeit beautiful, are not that intense.

The Valve Index is a dream. I sold my PSVR to help make financial sense of buying the Index. I do not regret it. With the mounted base stations in our office, it has never been easier for me to play a game in VR. With the PSVR, I had to keep the camera mounted on a mic stand which needed to be pulled out and adjusted each time I wanted to play. It was a huge hassle. Furthermore, the higher fidelity on the Index has led to a lot less motion sickness for me.

The Playstation 5 is perfect. The PS4 was one of my favorite consoles in recent memory, if not ever. The PS5 is strictly an improvement. I opted for the disc-based version since I wanted to play UHD movies on it. My television is limited in HDMI slots for HDR, and I knew PS5 would be guaranteed my best HDMI slot.

The Xbox Series X has been an experience. As I said, I skipped the prior Xbox generation entirely. I did not miss much. Still, with the entire Xbox Game Pass available, plus all the games I owned on the Xbox 360, I filled up my Xbox’s hard-drive with games on day one. I focused on playing other stuff, but I am excited to finally play Halo 5 or replay all the other Halo games or finally finish Child of Eden.

My 2020 Dropped List

Time is our most precious commodity. I spend most of mine on games. Sometimes a game does not work out and it makes my dropped list. A game could be dropped because I did not like it, was not feeling it, or just got away from playing it so much that I know I may never go back. I used to look at this list as a waste of money too, but that is less the case. With so many services, more and more games are dropped after trying them rather than trying them after having also bought them.

Presented in no particular order:

  • Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight
  • For the King
  • Scourgebringer
  • Nex Machina
  • Farcry: Primal
  • The Outer Wilds
  • Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order
  • Pit People
  • Monster Train
  • Knockout League
  • Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
  • Dicey Dungeons
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  • Blood & Truth
  • Beat Saber

2020 Games of the Year

Here are all the games I finished in 2020, ranked from least enjoyed to most enjoyed.

#17. Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem
#16. Airborne Kingdom
#15. Panzer Paladin
#14. Timespinner
#13. World of Warcraft: Shadowlands
#12. Final Fantasy IX
#11. Final Fantasy III
#10. Control
#09. The Messenger
#08. Cuphead
#07. Red Dead Redemption 2
#06. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
#05. Sackboy: A Big Adventure

I never intended on buying Sackboy, but after reviews came in, I decided it was worth a shot. I am glad I did.

Despite having played a ton of platformers in the last couple of years, they have all been 2D. Sackboy was the first 3D platformer I have finished since Mario Odyssey and the first non-Mario 3D platformer I have finished since Astro Bot Rescue Mission.

Those are both huge titles to live up to and Sackboy does it. The game oozes charm and imagination. It is fun and inviting. There is the right blend of humor and challenge whilst never being overbearing with either.

Sackboy was a perfect launch title of the Playstation 5. I obsessed over playing it and did almost everything I could to 100% it. I still have a ways to go, but I never try to 100% a game unless I care about it.

#04. Half-Life: Alyx

Half-Life: Alyx is not my favorite VR game. That honor remains with Astro Bot Rescue Mission. However, I have always loved the Half-Life universe. Alyx is no exception.

As my first ever Valve Index game, Half-Life: Alyx was a crash course in what VR should be, can be, and is. Few games have inspired the same level of intensity. While the puzzles and story were a bit weak for my tastes, the game’s focus on survival horror-esque elements (darkness, limited ammunition, etc.) always kept me on my toes.

As an experience, Half-Life: Alyx is unlike any other. It was totally worth the investment I made in order to play it. I hope to see more like it in the near future.

#03. Ghost of Tsushima

I loved Ghost of Tsushima for its atmosphere. The gameplay was fun too. I had high hopes that I would fall deeply in love with this game as I had with other open world games like Horizon: Zero Dawn. While I did not, that is no critique of the game overall.

More than its atmosphere or gameplay, I most enjoyed just standing around in this game. That is not a common thing for me. The island of Tsushima is so beautifully rendered and lovingly crafted, that I valued my long horseback rides through its countryside more than anything else.

I have no idea where a potential sequel might go, but I am ready to go wherever it takes me.

#02. Hades

As of writing, I put almost four days of time into Hades. I bought the game shortly after it first hit early access on the Epic Game Store. I have loved it ever since. By far, it is my favorite Supergiant game which is saying something because I have loved (and completed) every game they have put out.

Hades though brings in another passion of mine: Greek mythology. It also taught me that I too can enjoy cute boys and shipping them like some internet-raised teenager. That part is a stranger thing for me to admit, but no less true than my other feelings about the game.

The combination, along with its replayability, makes for as close to perfect as I think a game like it can get.

#01. The Last of Us Part II

If Hades is perfect, then what is The Last of Us Part II?

I always knew I was going to buy a Playstation 5. My wife has promised me one well in advance of any details. With that knowledge and knowing it would be backward compatible, I chose to wait to play The Last of Us Part II until I could play it on my new Playstation 5 rather than my old Playstation 4.

The wait was difficult. I loved the first game and thought it story hit deeper than any other game (and more than most other kinds of media too). The Last of Us Part II hit deeper, harder, and stronger. The game is not perfect in the way that Hades is perfect, but it resonates in its exploration of the human experience. It demands many emotions and earns them all without question.

The Last of Us Part II is not more perfect. It is more human. And it is terrifying.

An Honorable Mention

I played a ton of Final Fantasy XIV this year too. Though I technically finished Shadowbringers, I did not want to include it here as I never feel any kind of completion with FFXIV in the way I do with other games. There is always more to do now and more to come.

Contrast that with World of Warcraft, which I also played a great deal of this year. Both earlier in the year and later in the year for the expansion, I realized more and more that WoW is not the MMO for me anymore. I could write another tireless rant about why, but what is the point of that?

A Year Away

My last post here is dated March 6th. It was about a game called Wolcen, a Diablo-like that I have entirely forgotten – save for the strangeness of me, someone who does not like Diablo, enjoying it. We have all had a same or similar year: terrible. Though mine was less worse than most and I feel a strange guilt for it.

In this last year, I have paid off many debts. The combination of less time spent outside our two bedroom apartment, along with the freezing of student loan payments, helped tremendously. It is amazing what forced frugality and the temporary hiding of a loan can do to your financial well-being.

Many of us, including some of you, perhaps were not as lucky. Maybe you lost your job. I did not. In fact, not only did I not lose it, but working from home has made work better than ever for me. My ability to work from home is still temporary though, so one day soon I will have to put on pants and socks on the regular again.

The wife bought a car. She had been using a used vehicle, well-worn and past its shelf life. We probably did not need a new car in the middle of not going anywhere, but her job too was stable and the moment seemed right. I am happy to copilot a vehicle that does not rattle.

I have been happy as her copilot in life too. 2020 was our first year of marriage together. We spent most of it watching movies, shows, playing videogames, etc. We also both began to work from home and setup our guest/computer/cat-room as our new office. Working side by side, every day, and “partying” every night together, I realized that I married the right woman. I hope she feels the same. I added this paragraph just to read to her the parts of this post that mention her. She is looking at me now with a mix of love and annoyance. Alas, that married look!

I kept active on Twitter but not here. I should have posted here more. I hope to start again. There is a strange solace in sending these posts as letters to the void.

That is not to say I do not appreciate any who might read, or that I expect the many friends I have made over the years here and via social media to ignore me completely. Long ago, when I first started to blog, I had dreams of grandeur. A great, talented, and famous writer! They were silly then and I chuckle reminiscing. You should write for the writing. Nothing else is guaranteed. Then again, in 2020, nothing is guaranteed.

My year could have used more writing, but I focused most of my creativity on Dungeons & Dragons. There, for the entire year, I have run my first ever campaign as a Dungeon Master. Each weekend, my sister-in-law and her boyfriend come over to play. I cook; we play. It is all very normal. And, sure, we all wear masks outside our homes where we work 99% of our days. Each meeting was still a risk. Each time seeing family in person is more than some of you have been able – or willing – to do.

None of this pandemic is over. It still rages on, especially here in Florida. We are still taking it seriously. We are still impacted directly or indirectly by those who do not. We have been lucky to avoid COVID in my immediate bubble. My father too has taken it mostly serious. We will be seeing him again soon.

Why share this? Absolution? A call for commiseration and forgiveness? No, just writing for writing. I need to do at least that much again. I have missed it.

I Played Wolcen

I realize in writing this review of Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem that I am evenly split in my regards to the game. On one hand, it is by far the most successful Action RPG for me personally. I have tried (and failed to enjoy) genre titans like Diablo, Torchlight, and Titan Quest. Wolcen is the first and only Action RPG I have ever “finished”. At the same time, the game is horribly balanced, and I found the plot hard to follow. Completing the game was more chore than anything.

If you are unfamiliar, Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem is an Action RPG in the same vein as games like Diablo. Similar to Warhammer, it features absurdly sized characters in absurdly sized armor yelling at one another about demons, cults, rival political forces, etc. 

As I said before, I felt the game’s plot was hard to follow. Each act (the game is broken into three acts) seemed to introduce a new faction to contend with. However, since the gameplay largely revolves around wandering empty canvases in search of loot pinatas, there weren’t any side quests or side NPCs to exposit more about the story.

And, if I am completely honest, that may have been for the best. Of the bits I did understand, none of the story or its characters landed with me. It felt under-cooked, generic, and overly derivative.

Wolcen does stand out in its freedom. Rather than picking a class, your character is free to specialize in a number of different passives while also improving broadly applicable stats and leveling up skills tied to specific weapons. The game also smartly features a dual resource mechanic (willpower and rage) that is hard to describe but easy to understand once you play for a bit.

The game lacks properly balancing though. Initially, I went with a melee-centric build, but I found it impossible to beat the game’s first boss with my setup. After a little grinding, I managed to switch over to a caster build that made short work of the boss. For all of Act 2 and some of Act 3, I used the same build, but it made the game laughably easy. In Act 3, I switched back to melee after getting some lucky drops and, though it worked better, it wasn’t nearly as smooth or enjoyable.

Still, in my final build for completing the game, I went my own way with a bow build that I enjoyed playing and found reasonably balanced between my two previous extremes. Your mileage may vary, but from my experience, put everything in ferocity, learn how to dodge, and pick one of the top 2 or 3 skills to base your entire build around. Everything else is a trap.

As down as I may sound, I did mostly enjoy my time with Wolcen. It was a solid filler game to occupy my time (mostly while I was battling allergies). The endgame opens up a bit for some repeat activities, but I am not sure how much more juice I can get out of this lemon. If these is your type of genre, then you’ll probably enjoy Wolcen, despite its faults. For someone like me, who clearly doesn’t favor Action RPGs, it was probably worth the money I spent, but I am unsure if I will ever go back to it.

Timespinner (PC, 2018)

I don’t have a lot to say about Timespinner except that it was fun enough. I kickstarted the game on a whim back when kickstarters still seemed like good ideas. I finally got around to playing it and breezed through.

I found the game to be more interestingly, narratively-speaking, then in how it played. It was otherwise a reasonably competent metroidvania.

All that said, it was nice seeing my name amongst the other Chris’s when the credits rolled:

Timespinner - Name in Credits
That’s me!

I am the Moon Lord!

In my desperate, post-Slay the Spire doldrums, I decided to go back to Terraria, another game I’ve spent hundreds of hours on already. The last time I played, I tried to get to the Moon Lord and failed miserably. Details are poorly stored in my memory banks, but I think it was a mix of playing the game a) solo, b) on expert difficulty, and c) with a penchant toward less productive (for monster slaying at least) character builds. I remember getting demolished during all of the game’s Hard Mode exclusive events.

This return was different. I didn’t play on Expert. My previous world had been lost to reformatting, but my character was stored in the cloud. In my new world, I was a god for quite some time.

I did struggle a bit on the mechanical bosses. I had inherited a good setup for killing lots of enemies simultaneously, but the build had little to no single target damage. I had to rethink and rework my approach. I eventually settled on a ranged build (using a bow or gun, whatever I had that was better). From there, rather than be demolished, I became the demolisher.

I rapidly found where I had left off: post-temple but pre-Moon Lord. At a certain point, the power you can amass with just a little effort in Terraria sends you rolling downhill at whiplash speed. After some initial hiccups, I reascended to godhood …

… until I finally met the Moon Lord.

For those of you unfamiliar, the Moon Lord is Terraria’s (current) final boss. He’s a Cthulhu-esque monstrosity that takes up the majority of the screen and has two distinct phases. In phase one, you destroy the eyeballs in his hands and the one on his forehead. In phase two, you destroy the one on his chest. With my ranged setup, I was consistently able to get to phase two, but I never survived it for longer than a few seconds before dying.

Unfortunately, dying to the Moon Lord when solo means he flies off, and you have to resummon him. Resummoning him means doing a map-spanning event to slaughter around 400 semi-challenging enemies. It’s a time sink!

When I picked the game back up, I had intended to get all the achievements done. After playing for a bit, I did get a few more done, but there are some that I just can’t get interested in (mostly fishing related). Still, the Moon Lord had to die, regardless of all else.

I tried a few more times with different ranged weapons/builds, but nothing worked. Rather than continue to beat my head against a wall, I instead decided to cheese the boss with a build specifically chosen to outlast, rather than outplay, him.

It worked and I am done.

I absolutely still love Terraria. I do consider it one of the best games ever, and it holds up every time I revisit it. Sure, sometimes it feels a bit cheap for my liking, but that’s more due to the game’s open-ended design rather than its strict focus on punishing anyone. That you can farm or innovate around bottlenecks is just one of its many, many charms.

Also, it is embarrassing to admit this (for the wife, not me), but after vanquishing my fiercest foe, I ran out, mooned her and yelled, “I am the Moon Lord now.”

Why did she marry me?

Dungeons & Dragons (& Dinner)

Well, it finally happened: I am a Dungeon Master running a D&D campaign.

In addition to our regularly scheduled weekly game, we decided to start an irregularly scheduled side campaign (mostly to fill-in when our other party member is unavailable). The sister’s boyfriend is the DM of our primary campaign (and has been for a few years now), so he was excited to get back in the PC chair again. I wanted to practice DMing with something longer than a one-shot. Its working out.

We decided to run D&D 5th Edition’s Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. I admit, I bought the book (and the sequel) long before there was any guarantee of me running it. As the summary states, Dragon Heist is a “treasure hunt set against an urban backdrop”. That’s instantly appealing, as is its levels 1-5 target, especially for my novice DM skills.

In two sessions, we’re off to a solid start. We’ve got a streetwise druid, an up-and-coming paladin, and a bard whose latched onto the pair in hopes of a song. I’ve had a blast sticking to the script, albeit it with my own slight tweaks to impart a little more humor. DMing with actual material to follow feels a bit like wrangling a tornado at times, but that too has (thus far) been appealing to me.

In addition, as is customary, I’ve cooked dinner as well. When it was just family playing in our primary campaign, the Mrs and I would host and I generally would cook. Now that we’ve added others, I cut out the cooking because it was going to get expensive.

I haven’t missed cooking, but I do miss have a reason to cook something “different”. While I rarely fall into much of a routine with just the Mrs and I at home, adding two more to the table gives me an opportunity to put on more of a show.

Enter the de-boned turkey with sausage stuffing:


Presentation wasn’t perfect (I should really learn a butcher’s knot) and I got it a touch overcooked for my tastes, but everyone enjoyed it. I served it with Mike’s Hot Honey glazed, roasted potatoes, radishes, and Brussels sprouts, as well as black-eyed peas. All-around, a very filling and satisfying meal.

I doubt I do anything else like this anytime soon. Our next session is tentatively scheduled for pre-Royal Rumble this weekend, so I am imagining wings or pizza … or both.

Slain the Spire

After 970 hours, I have slain the spire and achieved everything.

I previously wrote about Slay the Spire for GameSpace (thanks again, Bill) two years ago. I loved it then, and that love  never stopped. I am not an achievement-seeker or a completionist at heart. However, I never mind doing either as a side effect of playing a really good game.

Ironically, in my byline for GameSpace, I mentioned my chasing of the platinum trophy in Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. I accomplished that a while back, and walked away from the game completely afterward feeling really good about myself.

Slay the Spire occupied the hole left by Binding. It was the game I played to get away from playing other games. It was what I used to relax (yes, as strange as it sounds, I find roguelites to be very relaxing). A game or two before bed? Sure. Before work? Only if I dare.

To accomplish all achievements on my Steam copy of Slay the Spire, it took me 970 hours. That’s more than a month (approximately 40 days). Considering I bought the game in December 2017 for $16, that’s roughly 60 hours per dollar spent. In other words, with one purchase, I bought 16 copies of Final Fantasy VII.

I can’t tell you how much time I spent playing Binding since that was on my PS4, but I am sure it was similar (if not more). The next closest game on Steam, just in terms of time played, is Terraria with a bit over 300 hours. I am glad I cannot look up total time played in something like World of Warcraft …

Earlier this month, I gave myself an ultimatum: finish all achievements or uninstall at 1,000 hours played. I am glad I made my goal because I am sure after a month or two away I would be lured back in to keep trying. The Eternal One, the game’s achievement for unlocking all other achievements, has been done by just 0.7% of Steam Slay the Spire players. That’s a hell of a lure when it is in reach.

Combine that with my platinum trophy in Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, and I feel like a really rare creature right now.

Sadly, as eternal as it has been, I do feel the need to walk away from Slay the Spire, even with a new character set to come out in the near future. I am going to pre-order this sweet t-shirt first though.

To MegaCrit, the game’s developer, thank you. It is a little scary admitting I put 40 hours into “just a game” out loud, but there were days (and nights) where I needed something like Slay the Spire to just chill. Life, responsibilities, things outside my control: they all took a step back while I hoped to draw the perfect card or loot a useful item. Never to a self-destructive level, thankfully, but enough to continue surviving adulthood and all its ills. Whatever you make next, I am buying.

To anyone else who may be interested in Slay the Spire, go for it. If you want to ask me anything, feel free. Just remember: it took me 970 hours to get here. I am persistent, not an expert.

A Brief Journey in World of Warcraft Classic

Few genres are as nostalgic for me as the MMORPG. While EverQuest and Ultima Online remind me of summer, I strongly associate World of Warcraft with Christmas break. In a bid to recapture some of that glory, I felt a bit weak during the holidays and resubbed so I could try out WoW Classic for the first time.

Old is New, New is Old

Before I caved, I tried giving EverQuest (via Project 1999) another go just to see if that might tide me over long enough to get past the “I want to give Blizzard money” phase of an obvious sickness.

It didn’t. In fact, it made things worse.

Truly, and not just on a purely nostalgic basis, I miss the pacing of MMOs of yesteryear. While some genres I feel have not aged well (like the Western RPG ala Baldur’s Gate), the humble “relaxed-but-not” and “social-but-not” MMO still has a place.

You Make the Game, Not the Other Way Around

Like EverQuest, there’s an automatic breeziness to World of Warcraft Classic. After creating a character, the game does little to hurry you along, outside a few quests here and there. For most classes, the speed of combat is tied exclusively to your health and/or mana bars holding up.

Unlike EverQuest, it feels possible to succeed early on in WoW, and less likely to be overwhelmed (outside of early cave sections). Its a relaxing pace, and, had it been fresher content, I might have been more entranced by it.

I poked my head in on my characters of current WoW. The comparison was stark, to say the least, as I quickly felt overwhelmed by multiple bars, abilities, pop-ups, world quests, etc. It has been a while since I played WoW on even a semi-regular basis. I could probably figure all these things out again, but I kinda wish it wasn’t a requirement.

Not Sticking the Landing

As much as I applaud the easy going nature of MMOs of yesteryear, neither re-hooked me. That’s not exactly a fault – I don’t feel cheated of my $15 dollars, for instance. That’s cheaper than a lot of museum visits, and that’s how I treated my time.

Both my brief tour of EverQuest and World of Warcraft Classic do confirm one thing for me: I want a new MMO like these games. There’s a lot to love about Final Fantasy XIV, but once I hit max level, that locked-in-feeling sets in with the gear grind. I hate it.

I used to be able to play MMOs in a far more serious-casual manner. It rarely mattered that I accomplished anything noteworthy as long as I enjoyed the journey. There were always things outside my reach that inspired me to stretch a bit further, or just appreciate the success of others. I felt comfortable switching between winning a PvP duel, deep diving into a dungeon, or worrying over house decorations.

Most of the fun was making friends along the way, not upping a gear score.

You can still make friends in MMOs, of course, but its a lot harder when everyone seems so busy all the time.

Vagrant Story, 20 Years Later

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There are a few facts about me that you must know before this article makes sense:

  • Final Fantasy Tactics (FFT) is one of my favorite games of all time.
  • Anything even tangentially-related to FFT is instantly of interest to me.
  • In and around the year 2000, I was a Squaresoft fanboy, and I bought almost all of their Western releases based on the box cover and their company logo alone.

Vagrant Story is an “action” RPG for the original Playstation. Published by Squaresoft in 2000, Vagrant Story is set in the Ivalice Alliance series, a bit of trivia it shares with Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII. Like those two games, Vagrant Story was also directed/produced/designed by the legendary Yasumi Matsuo, the creator of Ivalice itself.

In addition to its relationship to one of my favorite games of all time, Vagrant Story reviewed really well at the time. Glancing through the Reception section of its Wikipedia article, including a 40/40 from Famitsu, a 9.6/10 from IGN and GameSpot, and a 9/10 from EGM (R.I.P.).

And, after booting up the game in an emulator recently, I do not see any kind of perfection whatsoever.

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For the last two decades, my only memory of Vagrant Story was my complete inability to beat a ghost monster you encounter within the first hour or two of the game. In returning, I wanted to see what I missed by allowing myself to quit the game in frustration. After all, its an undermentioned classic, right?

At first, Vagrant Story got a lot right. For starters, the atmosphere is top notch, and kind of terrifying in its own way. Like Final Fantasy Tactics, there’s a lot of political intrigue, but there is also a presumed Big Bad who refuses to die, even when he takes an arrow square in the chest. Once the game actually begins, you’re greeted with a dank wine cellar, almost no music, and a mix of classic Gothic video game enemies (bats, wolves, corpses, skeletons).

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Now, maybe this is an unfair comparison since I only have a passing familiarity with the series, but I instantly thought of Dark Souls when I first started out in Vagrant Story. It has that same unsettling emptiness to it. Plus, the bosses I have seen so far have been fairly large in size (at least for the era).

The wife saw me playing the game and snickered at how it looked, but despite the polygons and artifacting (and with the emulator’s help), there is beautiful art buried beneath it all. Hiroshi Minagawa has the credit for artist here, and he has worked on some of the best games of all time (including this year’s excellent Final Fantasy XIV expansion, Shadowbringers). It shows.

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Now that the positives have been had, let’s talk about why I am hating this game and may not continue playing it.

It’s a Box Puzzle Game

I cannot recall the last time I played a true box puzzle game. I am so vague on the concept now that I am unsure if it is a true sub-genre of gaming or a weird dream of mine.

Ask yourself if this sounds familiar (and infuriating):

In each room, there is a door to the next room. To reach that door, you must stack boxes in the appropriate manner. Due to the limitations of how you can maneuver boxes (and related objects), each room plays out like a small puzzle. If you fail or mess up, you have to leave the room and come back to start over again.

In two hours, I have had to do these puzzles at least ten times now. They are not memorable, interesting, or welcome. The game may eventually drop them, but their frequency (and simplicity) early on does not bode well.

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“Action” RPG

I don’t think anyone makes RPGs like this anymore. Owing a lot to Parasite Eve, another Squaresoft game of the era (and another I couldn’t get into), Vagrant Story is a real time-and-pause game. In other words, you run around in real time, but when you attack, the game pauses so you can target the right enemy and/or a specific body part of that enemy.

I suppose V.A.T.S in Fallout is similar, but here it is an incredibly unsatisfying experience. There’s no tracking on your attack swing cooldown, so after each attack sequence, I am rapidly pressing the button to get another attack in before the enemy can. There’s also a range component, including melee weapons with variable ranges, so combat consists mostly of spamming attack button at max range, pause and choose target, let animation play out, move a few steps, and repeat.

There is another aspect to the game that I have yet to master: chaining abilities. This is a classic gaming experience, so there are zero tutorials, but this last time I played, I started to figure it out. Basically, you map different reactions to different face buttons on the controller and, whether on defense or offense, timing your button press right activates the reaction.

It is a nice way to add a little more action to the experience, but it feels clunky especially with slow animations and …

3D Cameras on the Playstation

Since each room is a smallish 3D box, there’s a classic PSX-era platformer feel to the camera. It even has “shoulder buttons to rotate”, though I have started using the game’s weird first person view as a quick turn.

Like other games at the time (and, to be honest, for another decade), Vagrant Story has a terrible camera. When you add in the need to place boxes all the time or “real time” fight enemies, there have been a few occasions where I was staring at the backside of a horrible drawn texture while something was happening out of sight with my character. It dates the game more than anything else.

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But hey, I finally killed that Ghost. Maybe I will finish the game in the next 20 years.

Dropped Games (December 2019)

Time is precious. When it comes to playing video games, there are too many to waste time on any I am not enjoying. Each month, my backlog has a few casualties – games I consider “dropped” – where I’ve put in enough time or made the realization that I am not having fun.

In December, I dropped three games:

  • Disco Elysium (PC, 2019)
  • New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (Switch, 2019)
  • Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition (PC, 2013)

Disco Elysium (PC, 2019)

At $31.99 on sale, that was still a splurge for me. Disco Elysium caught my attention because of comparisons to Planescape: Torment, one of my favorites. Like that game, it mostly revolves around dialogue and dialogue choices, rather than any actual combat. All of that is true, but no one told me I would feel gross playing the game.

Almost immediately, Disco Elysium gave me a similar vibe to Hotline: Miami. There’s a certain intangible quality about either that leaves me feeling gross, disgusting, and disturbed. I am not against this kind of subject matter, and I am especially fond of dark humor, but both just felt too wrong for me to keep playing.

That’s not to say whether Disco Elysium is good or bad. It just was not for me.

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (Switch, 2019)

I picked up New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe back in March of this year. At the time, I was wanting some classic Mario action. I never really bothered much with other games in this particular offshoot of the Mario franchise, so I thought this was a good place to start.

Despite wanting a Mario game, I could never get into this one. The jumping felt all wrong to me. With every character, I felt like I was floating, and platforms felt far more slippery than I am used to. When compared to other platformers I’ve finished recently (Hollow Knight and Celeste) this one felt off. When compared to other Mario games I’ve finished recently (Odyssey, 3D World, 3D Land), it just wasn’t a good representation of the plumber.

Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition (PC, 2013)

When I was younger, before MMOs got their hooks into me, I mostly played WRPGs like Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and the previously mentioned Planescape: Torment. I have a fond memory of the genre and its many classics.

Returning to Baldur’s Gate quickly reframed those memories, however. I remember the game being challenging, but upon my return, I realize it’s more dull than anything. If this is a true reflection of the Dungeons & Dragons rules at the time, I am glad I started playing with 5th Edition because combat in Baldur’s Gate is a series of many misses until one or two hits kills something. Its dull.

Worse, I had forgotten how slow it is to move around in games like this. Younger me had infinite more patience than my modern day, coddled self. Everything about Baldur’s Gate is slow, awkward, or designed intentionally to waste time rather than enrich it.

I bought Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition a while back. I haven’t played it yet, but after Disco Elysium and Baldur’s Gate, I am worried that part of me is lost to time, and that I won’t enjoy it anymore. I really hope not. I am still desperate for a D&D 5E Planescape source book. I loved and still want to love that setting.