Sunday, December 6, 2015

Titan Souls

I picked this up on PS Vita, after trying the demo but not being overly impressed. I suppose the "maybe this could somewhat be like Shadows of the Colossus" sucked me in. I was wrong, and it was painful to complete.

The game is punishing. There are checkpoints, but you feel the delay every time you die. 3 seconds of watching the boss continue to murder your already dead corpse, 10 seconds of literally fade to black, 2 seconds of respawn animation, and another 10-20 seconds getting back to the boss fight. This adds up when you die over 100 times in a game.

I completed the game in around 4 hours, plus some change on the last boss who happened after the timer stopped. It started okay, with bosses who were tough, but not unfair. I had a chance to learn their tells and patterns without insta-dying. I still died, but made progress every 5 minutes or so, killing a new titan. These were well designed fights. Later on, there are bosses who are just outright unfair -- 30+ minutes spent trying to get that perfectly aimed cross-room shot in the 2 frames of boss vulnerability.

They did their best to try to elude to how to beat a boss by subtle hints or limiting what you can do. For instance, the Yeti boss gives you zero time to react or plan for the next attack with a pull back shot, and nothing else to shoot. You just have to hit him in his 3 frame of vulnerability at the right time.

As I went to kill the harmless titan, there was a small glimmer of hope that I would get some exposition on why I'm killing these titans. Nope, nothing else is ever told. It's like an incomplete story. This was the big draw of Shadows of the Colossus. I understood that exploration was not going to happen in Titan Souls, but the complete lack of story is a gaping hole. Give me a story I can skip if I don't care, but don't leave it out completely.

Would I recommend playing this game? Not really. It was fun for what it was, but it was brutally difficult and I feel my time could have been better spent doing something else. Almost anything else.

The good things that came of this, was having a game to play on my PS Vita, and I got to update my blog.

Here's a good guide in case you get stuck. I tried not to use it, but eventually used it more and more as I didn't want to spend respawn time slowly figuring out tells, or if I was just barely missing the 2 frames of vulnerability on a boss.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Super Time Force Ultra

Super Time Force Ultra is a throwback to Contra, with more verticality and exploration to its levels. The trick it adds, is the ability to rewind time anytime you want, or on death, and spawn in a teammate to help complete the level.

There are extra characters to unlock by saving them before they die, similar to how you can save your own teammates. You can also get some bonus characters by gathering enough collectibles in the levels. All characters are unique, but I found some to be vastly more powerful or useful than others. The rocket launcher and samurai sword guys were on my solid GOTO list. Rockets for damage, sword to speed clearing.

Each stage gives you a set amount of time to complete it before you die, so you have to be quick. So long as you can get to the boss with about 10-15 seconds to spare, you can win. Picking up time boosts on the ways helps.

I really enjoyed playing this in my spare time, or with a big chunk of plane/airport time. Really good game.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Last of Us

I've been meaning to play this for a while, and finally got some time to get to it. It was recommended by some friends at work, if I wanted to avoid too much grind. I played it on PS3.

I always figured this was a post-apocalyptic game, with emphasis on survival/scavenging. There are also some zombie-type aspects to it.

First off, the game looks amazing. Like really amazing. The models, faces, mannerisms, and animations are all fantastic. Then add solid VO, and the cutscenes are just stunning.

The story is amazing, and the characters are believable, with their own motivations guiding their actions.

The game's gives you an objective that you're going for even though it's always going to be a difficult path to get to that single objective. It does keep things focus though which is really nice. It also gives you a hint if you stick around in a place for too long, because you don't know where to go or forgot.

The gameplay was clear and clean. It's a stealth game until you're spotted, then it's a cover based shooter, or you could just book it and run for the next objective. I had to book it a few times, and it's nice it's an option. It also was nice to see that quite a few cutscenes were done with in-game graphics, versus watching a movie. And with that, you usually at some if not full control over your character. I like that only take control away when they have to.

The controls can take a bit of time to get back into, if you step away for a week (or two), but they make sense.

Throughout the game you can upgrade weapons at workbenches. You get parts for upgrading throughout the game, and you get an upgrade tool at specific spots, to allow unlocking various levels of upgrades. You can also see from this that there are 5 levels of upgrades, so you know you have a good chunk of the game left when you only have 1-2 upgrade tools. At first I found the bow to be very weak, but once you upgrade it, it's amazing. It's a ranged silent take down weapon. Also, the target size for a head shot is forgiving. Also, always carry a full health shiv for unlocking rooms, their contents is worth the minor spend.

I also enjoyed the game much more when I found the lock on option, because I am terrible at aiming a reticle on any console. In this game, you really can't afford to just waste bullets with misses.

A few things I would change:
* Add a continue button screen to the end of loading a game. It takes long enough, and not all loaded games will take you to a safe place
* Make enemies consistently drop ammo. Possibly just on easy difficulty? They drop ammo consistently near the end, but not throughout. Arrows can sometimes be retrieved from a corpse, but not always. Missing and hitting a wall will break the arrow.
* Possibly have an option for how long to wait before giving the hint? There were a few places I was clueless and needed the hint sooner, or missed the dialog hint.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Final Fantasy X-2 HD

I probably started playing originally on PS2 about 5 years ago, which was quite a few years after I purchased it. I just never had the time.
I purchased the HD remake on PS Vita, and I can now play it in bed, during lunch breaks, etc.

The usually turn based combat got a bit more active in this one. Attacks can push back an enemies attack (like a stagger) and you can combo your attacks for more damage if you can time them to hit close to one another.

I also love bringing classes back, this time in the form of dress sphere changes. You can swap mid-combat as long as they're in the grid you're equipped with.

The class levelling system is pretty good, with some holes in a few places. Levelling a warrior is painfully slow, levelling a thief is tedious, levelling a black mage takes a lot of mana, and levelling a white mage is astonishingly easy (just auto-heal every turn). You get a class skill point every time you use an ability basically. You also get a point or two on kills.

The graphics were really good for the Vita, and the voice acting was a bit better than FFX.

I'd say the story was overall weaker than FFX, but I did like Paine.

As per the usual, you can grind to your hearts content, and then the rest of the game will be much easier. The addition of the fiend arena makes this much faster and easier. It's also a great way to get items, gil and level your classes.

Here are a few notes I had while playing the game:

As soon as I found out there was a Charm Bangle. I bee-lined for it. I'm shocked at how close it was to the beginning of the game. Shocked. This helped drastically reduce the tediousness associated with exploring areas for chests and alternate paths.

One of the best classes is Lady Luck. It has the awesome abilities of auto-critical hits, doubling experience, doubling gil, and doubling items. This also stacks if you have more than one in a group. Broken. You have to beat Shinra for this in the sphere break tournament. If you don't, he just runs off with it and says something about being "just a kid." What a D-bag.

Holy crap. Chapter 4 is almost nothing but watching these darn cameras and painstakingly waiting for someone to talk to them for some period of time, which is hard to tell when it's over for most of them. I think I need this for the mascot sphere or I would have skipped this. Also, I had a few hours to burn on a plane, so this was slightly less terrible to do.

Chapter 5 is starting better. There are some length puzzles to be done. Gathering Cactuar's is going to be quite tedious. I spent quite a bit of time trying to get close to 100% story completion, but seriously lost my steam halfway through Chapter 5. I finally got the Catnip accessory and Mascot dress sphere. After that, I was ready to just mark this as done.

This game is extremely crashy. I crashed quite often, and also ran into an issue where combat was stuck in wait mode, with no one acting. So I had to force close it. I sent every crash report I could.

The team

One of the harder bosses in the game. I still had a hard time beating it. Lots of phoenix downs were used.
My son once posed like this. It was just as awkward...

Nostalgia... so smelly...

Hells to the yes.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age: Inquisition is an amazing game. The story is solid, the fights are fun, the abilities are varied enough to enjoy, but not so much that they fade to obscurity (like in DA:O). BioWare excelled again at writing characters that are believable, interesting, and intelligent. They set the bar for that in video games.

I thoroughly enjoyed the game, but spent the better part of a year completing it. Below is not a well-written review, but a hodge podge of thoughts, notes, and other things I wrote over the span of a year while I played it. Hope it is at least partly coherent

The fade rift in Hinterlands, is not killable with a party at level 3. Feels very out of place. Came back to that damn rift in the Hinterlands at level 6. Still not doable. The mobs are level 12 (thanks tac cam!), and brutal. Why did they put this so close to a spot I cross all the time?!

As for the party members. Solas seems even enough at the start, but then the snooty-ness comes out. And not in a good way.

Sera is a mischief maker, to no end. She's fun enough, but not deep. She doesn't want to be, and pushing it frustrates her.

Varric is the same as Varric from DA2. Sneaky, charismatic, fun-loving, and an all around awesome bro.

Cassandra starts out as you remember her from DA2. Very severe, very focused. As you get to know her, you chip away some of her armor. The story points between her and Varric are good. It makes her feel more human.

Cole is scary. Not horror scary, mysterious scary. Something is sad and dark in there and I want to know more. I love that people just don't notice him.

Blackwall has yet to join my party - TODO.

Iron Bull is smart, much smarter than I thought. I haven't bantered with him much because I've always needed a tanky character and Cassandra fit the romance-able tank role (*shakes fist at Avaline*). His conversations are good though - he's smart. It makes sense why and how he runs the mercenaries he does.

Vivienne is the personification of snooty-ness, in a shell of unbreakable mage will. She's awesome. I also loved that using the direct romance options are immediately shut down in an air of pity, like "No dear, I don't think so."

For the war table people, Cullen is the typical brilliant strategist, without going too overboard with the whole if-I-hit-it-with-my-sword-maybe-it-will-die schtick.

Lelianna comes back from DA:O, with more mystery than before. She's a powerful ally, and you quickly see that having her on your side is a really good thing.

I couldn't save Maneave in the fires, so Helisma replaced her. Hmm...

Starting Jaws of Hakkon at level 11 (it recommended around level 20). Any enemies would one shot me, so I had to be sneaky/careful/abuse the game. First scripted encounter at a boat man's place was un-winnable, but stealthing up to the group then running into a house somehow despawned them. Talking to the boat man and turning in a quest in the main hub boosted my group to level 13. A few more quests later, I'm level 15 and able to kill things. Also the mod I could buy for Bianca helped a ton with the DPS problem.

Carrying a veilfire torch into a cinematic is kinda neat. No one questioned why I was holding it, it was just there. Does that count as player choice? If so, I don't think they intended it...

Unique enemy mobs were a great addition. It feels like I've accomplished something when I kill them.

Just lost 2 hours of game progress because I tried to beat Jaws of Hakkon with a level 17 group. Unfortunately that's one level shy of getting a decent gear upgrade. Most of my DPS is just from Varric, with his no-level-requirements upgrades to Bianca. Dang it. No, I did not want to switch to casual -- I can finish this game on normal!

So I flipped back the main story line. Finishing up the quests from Adamant on. It didn't take too long. I short-cut it quite a bit by just buying my power from the scrolls merchant in Skyhold. I would have loved to spend more time on sidequests, and playing more content, but I don't have the time.

I finished up the remainder crit path, and finally beat the last boss. It was enjoyable, the fights were tough enough, but not overly. My party was quite overpowered with their Jaws of Hakkon level ~20 equipment.

I want to go back and play more side quests, but there are other things in the game queue to be beaten. Until then, it has been a pleasure old friend. I'll still be debugging you at work, so we'll have that for a while longer...


Picked this up because it's from the team that did Bastion.

The art is gorgeous, and frames the story/combat/background perfectly.

The controls and gameplay are fluid. The combat seamlessly blends into your normal exploration, while still having small hints of RPG throwbacks. For instance, an area seals off around you, your action bar become available, etc.

The main character walks a bit slow, but it's the right pace for the fights. It's still slow for exploration, but the game is quite linear overall.

The voice over carries the story in a well paced manner -- giving you a bit of exposition as you need it, but never overwhelming you. Very well done. The OVC terminals are also a neat way to show her thoughts and emotions without having her speak. It's clever, also well-paced, and immersive.

The function system is solid. It almost requires a bit of time to make sure you know how they work, and how to optimize them. They give you a testing room to test out combinations, which is nice. There's also a testing ground in the same area that challenges you in a puzzle to kill enemies under a certain time, kill enemies in one turn, or survive. I loved this, but it was tough at times.

Functions can be equipped to sockets in the Transistor (A, B, X, Y slots). Functions can be equipped directly to a slot, as an active command, or they can be equipped into an upgrade slot of an active command. They can also be equipped to a passive slot, so with just a few functions, you already have a lot of combinations to choose from! Each function costs between 1 and 4 memory to equip, so you'll have to make a choice on what to keep pretty early on.

When you level up, you get to pick a new function from a choice of 2. Then you choose more memory, an additional upgrade slot, or an additional passive slot. Finally you choose a new limiter, which you can activate to make the game more challenging, but also give you more experience per fight. I played the majority of the game with most limiters on, but I avoided getting any limiters that reduced my total memory.

Dying doesn't end the game, it breaks one of your functions. You get to continue the fight after that, but you're going to be in much worse shape. On top of that, if you manage to beat the fight, you have to get to 2 more checkpoints before the function is restored. I think it was their intention to force you to try out new abilities. The challenge rooms were a good way to help me try out new abilities and see new combinations -- this was just frustrating.

On a minor positive note, I've learned from experience it never removes your last damaging function. If you happen to have an off-hitting function though, it will almost always destroy the main one... with the 2 upgrades... that was doing 99% of the damage for you...

Things I loved:
* When you boot the game, it immediately continues your game. No title menu, no choice selectoin, just GO.
* The art, controls, dialogue are awesome
*  The functions are well thought out, and fun to toy around with combinations
* There is new game plus

Things I "did not love"
* The above notes about the consequences of dying. I basically just restarted from checkpoint when something broke
* Walking around was a bit slow
* Could use a few more boss fights

If you haven't played it yet, it's well worth it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Defense Grid 2

I picked this up on the kick starter campaign, because the first one was the best tower defense game I'd played.

The voice acting is quite good, despite what they're saying being a very thinly stretched plot. The amount of audio exposition that happens after the level is beaten, messes with the pacing. I understand why they did it -- it gives you something to listen to, while checking your scores against other people, but it makes the level that you finally beat with a gold medal require you to wait a few more minutes before moving on. I only played the game on the Hard difficulty, so by the time I finished the level, I was kinda done with it. There is also a lot of text that is given to you at the start of each level, which will not make sense for over half the game.

They added three new features to the game, and removed flying units -- which helped focus the game to a ground based defense model. The first is boost towers, which allow you to cheaply route the enemies without having to build a lot of unnecessary gun towers, and they also allow buying a boost to the tower that you build on top of it (more damage, more score for enemies killed around it, or stealth detection). It was a nice touch.

The second thing they added was upgrades that you have a chance of getting at the end of beating a level. The upgrades affect a specific tower, and you can choose which upgrade to put on each of your towers before starting a level. My personal favorite upgrade was the tachyon ones, which slow down enemies when you hit them. Second to that was the one that changes the targeting to hit the strongest unit, which was great for cannons or missile towers.

The last thing they added was the ability to purchase extensions to the map, so you have more places to build, or more paths to route the aliens. It's not always clear how it's modifying the map, but after a few quick purchases and rewinds, it all makes sense.

I'd highly recommend picking it up. It was an improvement to the first.

Also, if you're confused on the new scoring system you should check this discussion. Defense Grid 1 used a rating system of remaining currency + X per core you still have + sell value = total score. Defense Grid 2 is similar, but not as transparent. It makes sense when you think about it. You score better if you can build a more efficient defense.

The typical graph for scoring in any level.

My strategy for the last level. Surprisingly it took only 2 rewinds to get to this setup.