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Derek Pietras's blog

1:39 PM on 01.10.2015

I can't put Persona Q down!

The one video game I got for Christmas this year was Persona Q: Shadow the Labyrinth. I waited until Christmas for it for several reasons—my parents needed something to get me, and because I wouldn't've had time to tackle it until after the holiday anyway. So, while some people have been playing this game for months and probably cleared it several times now, I'm just starting.

But I just can't stop.

I consider Persona 4 to be one of my favorite video games of all time, either second or maybe even first. It just resonated with me so much when I first played it—it hit me like few other games ever did. Since its release, Atlus has milked the franchise quite a bit, but despite that, I still get excited whenever a new Persona game comes out. I think this has to do with the respect given the franchise by Atlus—the games themselves are always high quality, even if they aren't my cup of tea (I wish I could enjoy Arena more). When I heard about Persona Q, an RPG that crossed the characters of Persona 3 and Persona 4 together, I really couldn't wait to sink my teeth into it. Knowing that it would be a meaty RPG that required a lot of time, I waited until I was on vacation from work to really dive in. And while I'm nowhere near as far as I would like, I find the game almost impossible to set down.

I'm holding it now.

If, like one of my coworkers, you've played Persona 4 but have no idea what Persona Q is, it's a game that takes the casts of Persona 3 and Persona 4 and throws them into an RPG together. The plot is that a rift has opened in space time, bringing the two universes together, despite the fact that they exist in two different times. The characters find themselves trapped in a strange version of Yasogami High's Culture Festival, with all activities in full swing. The hallways are packed with students who seem more like lifeless drones, but all events are still running.

Seems fun, but there are huge labyrinths that spring up in the school, themed around culture festival exhibits. Clearing these labyrinths seems to be the key to escaping this strange world, and the two groups of Peronsa-users come together to escape. And enjoy the culture festival while they try.

It's a strange, somewhat contrived set-up, but it works very well for what it does. The game even delves a bit into its lore, establishing that the new gameplay mechanics are in place because there are two Persona-users with the wild-card arcana in the same vicinity. It makes about as much sense as past Persona games, and I'm very willing to go along for the ride.

The game adopts an adorable Chibi art style for its characters, which I love. They are so cute. :) But the Chibi-ness seems to be reflected in the characters' personalities as well. They all feel like themselves, but slightly exaggerated versions. Teddie flirts a bit more often than before, Yosuke makes a lot of jokes at Kanji's expense, Aigis knows nothing about the world, Chie loves meat, and so on. These are quirks of the characters in past games, but here they move more to the forefront, where the goal of the story seems to be more fun and humor rather than serious storytelling. That's not to say there isn't some serious moments, but the goal is more comedy than drama.

Look at all dat ice cream.

The gameplay, however, is just as serious as its always been. However, many changes have been made, both subtle and obvious. For one thing, the dungeons are not randomly generated any more. Instead, you explore a first-person view of the “labyrinth,” a pre-designed dungeon with traps to navigate. You have to draw your own map on the second screen to keep track of everything, so you don't get lost (as it is very easy to do so). This leads to more involved dungeon-navigation than in past Persona games had, as most dungeons were really just rooms where battles could occur. Here, you have to avoid powerful monsters (Called FOEs) dodge traps, solve puzzles, and so on. Considering there isn't the high school stuff and social links to deal with now, it's a good thing the dungeoning is more compelling.

Battles have gotten a shake-up as well. Instead of having just four party members like in past games, you have five here. Battles are turn-based, but you enter all of your moves at the start of the turn, like in Persona 2, and then watch them play out without your input. It gives the game a different kind of strategy than Persona 3 and 4, and makes this game feel more unique because of it.

You're still finding and hitting enemy weaknesses, but instead of the “1-more” system, you get Boost status when you hit one. Boost status means that actions taken on your next turn in battle do not cost anything, where it be SP or HP. This is good, since the cost of spells have gone through the roof! But, by careful use of Boosts, you can get through some battles without any loss of SP.

There is also the use of sub-personas. You can equip every character in your party with one subpersona, which adds their skills to the character's own. The also had regenerating health and SP, which is a big help when fighting monsters. It allows for a lot of interesting combinations too, such as Mitsuru using fire spells, or Naoto using more than instant-kills.

And being just so darn cute.

The sub-persona system is very necessary too, since every character in the game has become more specialized. Yukiko was my healer in Persona 4, for example, but here she only learns fire-spells and healing spells for one person. Yukari is lucky enough to get Media, but as such, does not learn AOE spells such as Magaru. It makes every character unique, and considering there are 16 different party members, they needed these distinctions to stand out.

I'm not even close to finished with the game either, at 22 hours in. This game is massive. But it has a great flow, and you always feel like you are making progress. You never feel you are wasting time, as you are constantly expanding your map, finding new treasure, completing a request, or otherwise just moving forward. The game constantly pushes you to keep going, and I plan to do just that.

See you in the labyrinth!



8:19 AM on 12.21.2014

Playing Donkey Kong Country Returns


I won't say I've taken a break from Super Smash Bros (one does not simply stop playing Smash) but when not playing that, I've been playing some Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii. My history with this game is a bit strange.

I had rented it from Gamefly shortly after it came out (back when I had Gamefly) and played it Co-op with my little brother. I had expected it to provide a similar experience to playing co-op in New Super Mario Bros., that is, a frustrating experience where you spend more time bumping into your partner than getting through the level. But by that same token, it would also provide plenty of laughs. I was wrong.

There is laughter in Donkey Kong Country.

Firstly, in Donkey Kong Country Returns, the two characters you can choose are Donkey Kong and Diddy. Diddy is the superior choice, because he has a jetpack that he can use to hover in place. Since my little brother is awful at platformers, I let him have Diddy and decided to treat the game as playing in hard mode. But it's more like “Very hard” mode.

See, Donkey Kong Country Returns, in its latter levels, was just not designed for co-op play. You don't trip over each over so much as one person makes a jump which topples the platformer they stood on. Then the Kong behind it falls to their death. Then, since my brother was horrible, he'd die shortly after, and we would get nowhere.

Thus, Donkey Kong Country Returns became branded in my house as an evil game, full of devious traps and tricky platforming segments. We got to world 5 or 6, and stopped playing the game. I hadn't picked it up until 

I started a fresh game, selected single-player, and dove in. I'm glad I did.

Like I said above, Donkey Kong Country Returns is not designed to be a co-op game. It's meant to be a single-player experience, and that's where the game really shines. Platforming segments that drove me bonkers when in co-op now become pleasurable, if occasionally controller-smashing-worthy tests of skill.

Which is shame, because having DK and Diddy hop around together is adorable.

I'm really loving this game!

Back up a bit. Donkey Kong Country Returns is a game meant to harken back to the days of classic Donkey Kong Country. I admit with reluctance that I have never played said past DKC games, so I cannot compare this one to those. But it's a 2D platformer where you control Donkey Kong as he runs to the right and collects bananas. The story, what incredibly little there is, is that there's these evil mask things with hypnosis powers. They steal Donkey Kong's banana horde using the hypnotized animals and awaken a volcano or something. However, they can't hypnotize Donkey Kong, either because he's too smart or too stupid (BAH-NAN-NAHS). So, you take control of Donkey Kong and Diddy, as they get their bananas back. That's it, and that's all there needs to be.

This game oozes personality, and it doesn't need any dialog to do it. Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong don't talk, instead relying on grunts (and in Diddy's case, squeaks) to communicate. Everything else is through their animations. A lot of detail went into these, whether it's the way Donkey Kong bangs his chest when the level begins (which Diddy adorably imitates) or the way he looks at what he collected when he completes a bonus room. It feels very much like a well-made cartoon.


It helps that the graphics on this game are great. The cartoon effect is used wonderfully here, creating a world that is cartoony but believable in the way that you believe an animated movie. Hold this game up to things created on the PS4 or Xbone, and I really believe this game holds up. It makes me excited to see Tropical Freeze.

Playing the game is great, but I feel like it could be better. The actual platforming is quite good, with responsive and (mostly) tight controls. You control Donkey Kong as he tries to find the barrel at the end of the level, and collect things like KONG letters and puzzle pieces as you go. You can find Diddy in barrels in the level, and in single-player, he rides on DK's back, which gets you access to his jetpack.

Where the controls aren't the best is in their insistence on using motion. You shake the WiiMote to have DK pound the ground. Fine. But you can also shake the WiiMote while crouching to have him blow things like Flowers and Candles (Banana breath, durr-hurr-hurr). And, you can shake the WiiMote while moving left or right to roll, which gives you a speed boost and is imperative to getting some tough-to-reach collectibles. For the most part, this works if it's not very intuitive. But every so often, I'll be trying to pound the ground and I'll end up rolling, sometimes right off the edge. These moments are few and far between, but the controls could be tightened. I've heard this is addressed in Tropical Freeze, and I look forward to seeing how that's handled.

Overall though, Donkey Kong Country Returns is a great, challenging platformer. Some of the levels, especially the unlockable temple ones are true tests of your skill. And that's ignoring the insane time-trials (which I'm pretty sure are impossible). But yeah, great little game. I look forward to getting all the collectibles over the next week or so before Christmas. :)



8:22 PM on 12.05.2014

Oh yes, I do so enjoy the Superb Smashing Brothers!


Incoming positively-charged rant about Smash. Prepare yourself.

So, after much crying, sighing, deals with the devil, and so on, I managed to get myself a Gamecube adapter for Super Smash Bros for WiiU. And holy hell, this the way the game was meant to be played! The moment I picked up my wavebird, everything in Smash just started to feel right. The buttons were right where I left them, the C-Stick was where it should be, and the triggers required effort to push down like they should.

Suddenly, I could kick butt again.

Now, if people could start paying me to...

So, yeah. I kinda sorta like Smash Bros. Big surprise, right?

I had unlocked all the characters the day I got the game, because like the milestone says, the fight doesn't truly begin until you have all the characters available. I have since tried each of them, and I find myself facing a dilemna. I like too many of them. I could see myself playing as Peach, Rosalina, Marth, Zelda, Shiek, Zero Suit Samus, Lucina, Toon Link, Regular Link, Shulk, Little Mac, Robin, and OH GOD HOW I WILL HAVE THE TIME.

This game is too good and I feel overwhelmed by how good it is.

Over Turkey Day break from work, I played little else than Smash Bros the whole time. My little brother was home, also known as “STOP PLAYING AS JIGGLYPUFF” and we spent far too much time fighting each other. He's still better than me, which I doubt is something that will change any time ever, but it makes for a great training buddy. Playing Smash with him and two level-9 CPUs brings back many memories of us hiding in the basement playing Melee until the wee hours of the morning. And even if Jigglypuff is the most annoying thing ever. I MEAN SERIOUSLY COME ON.

My favorite characters in Brawl were Peach and Marth, and while Peach is still a mainstay, I have traded Marth for the completely different Lucina. I'm willing to bet that Marth is technically better if you can master tipping (using the tip of his sword to deal more damage), but I overall prefer Lucina. I like her design, and I like her from Fire Emblem: Awakening. Plus, I like the most consistent damage.

Peach has gotten some improvements since Brawl, all of which I find welcome. She feels faster, and her moves seem to launch people farther. Her Final Smash still kind of sucks, but I think it's more useful than in Brawl.

I'm still experimenting with other characters like Rosalina and Shulk. Shulk feels pretty similar to Lucina in terms of his UP+Special and his counter, but the Power of the Monado makes him stand out. I think I'm getting the hang of when to use which power, but it's still not perfect. Rosalina is very interesting, using her Luma to great effect, and I love the character ever since the original Mario Galaxy. However, I tend to play a very aggressive, in-your-face Smash, and I don't think that's where Rosalina shines. I can dance around the battlefield, but when it comes down to the final two in a stock match, I always lose. I do, however, love talking about my “Poor, innocent, defenseless Luma” when I play as her, and crying when Luma falls off the edge or otherwise dies.

It's a fat little star for crying out loud! It doesn't even know what fighting is.

Single-player Smash is actually surprisingly robust. I've heard people complain that there isn't a story mode a la Subspace Emissary, or that there isn't an Adventure Mode from Melee. While I do somewhat miss the latter (it got repetitive after a while), I don't think the lack of story really detracts from the experience. Sure, those cutscenes were gorgeous, but I don't think Smash really needs a story. It's just Nintendo characters (and more now) kicking the crap out of each other. I think that's all it needs to be. Its gameplay is good enough to work on its own.

With that said, you have several single-player modes like Events and All-Star. Both of which are fine, though some events are more annoying than fun (who thought keeping Game and Watches off a ship could be so frustrating?). Classic got an overhaul, where you can choose your fights and to an extent, your rewards. I enjoy that. Plus, you can do it Co-Op now, which I also appreciate tremendously.

I think I've gushed enough, and I could certainly go on. But, really, if you own a WiiU, I'm sure you either already own this game or plan to soon. Get back to playing it. I'll see you online.

Of course, that's when I can do so without fearing of getting an error code. I don't wanna brick my WiiU, and since I can't find any reliable information, I'm not taking a chance.



8:19 AM on 11.25.2014

That's the last time I pre-order at GameStop

And shop there too.

In the past, I've spoken in favor of GameStop whenever they came up in conversation. I've always felt that, yes, they offer you very little in exchange for your used games, but I've never felt like I was forced to accept their offer. Much like haggling on a car, they can make an offer of a dollar, and I can choose whether to accept it. If I feel it's an unfair trade, I keep my game. Done and done. I also enjoy their used games, as I've mentioned before that I have an addiction to cheap games. If it's less than twenty, it's very difficult for me to say no to interesting or high-rated console games. Sure, they have some downsides, such as constantly offering me a PowerUp rewards card (now a credit card) and their used game price inflation on stuff like Xenoblade Chronicles, but I've never really had a problem with them.

And really, the game was worth 90 smackers. 

Until now.

Allow me to set the scene. I drive by a GameStop on my way home from work. As an owner of a WiiU, I obviously want Super Smash Bros for the WiiU as soon as possible. While I don't usually pre-order things, I figured that since Smash is one of the biggest WiiU releases this year, I'd make an exception. I went online to pre-order the 100 dollar bundle, with the GameCube controller and adapter. I planned on having it shipped to store, where I could pick it up on my way home once it came out. However, it seems that the bundle was not available for pre-order, but the game and adapter (the true prize) were. So, I pre-ordered both, specified the store to send them too, and sat confidently in the fact that a pre-order guaranteed me a copy of both for 48 hours after release.

The day before, I called GameStop and spoke to a clueless girl that didn't know what the GameCube adapter was (and offered me the GameStop credit card). After speaking to a coworker, she assured me that both Smash and the adapter would be in stock that day. I told her that I would not be able to pick up the game until roughly 6:45PM because of work, and she said that was fine. So, I felt confident I would get what I had ordered.

Old memes are still relevant.

I arrive at GameStop and find a line behind the counter. That's fine—I expect a line because lots of games are being released at this time, and it's Friday. A guy behind the counter, with the line still long, announces that he's going on break, and a girl takes his place. I go up to the girl, and recognize her voice as belonging the clueless girl from the phone conversation the day before. She looks up my pre-order, hands me a copy of Smash and a cardboard belt, and begins ringing me up. “Wait,” I say.

“My adapter?”

“Your what?”

I explain that I had also pre-ordered a GameCube adapter. She takes an Amiibo and asks if this is what I want. When I say no, she looks to the guy on the other counter and explains what I'm looking for. He, of course, is helping another customer while looking at me. “We don't have any more in stock?”

“The computer says we don't.”

“Then that means it got sold to someone else.”

I could've screamed.

Pictured: An appropriate amount of rage.

He proceeds to pick up a phone held together with duct-tape and starts dialing. He begins muttering to himself that he is going to “kill” whoever sold my adapter, and while helping other customers, he calls other GameStops in the area. The woman looks at me and rings up my Smash game, saying that at least she can do that. So, I pay for Smash, and then move off to the side while I wait.
I waited for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, another guy in line says that he pre-ordered a Smash Bros bundle online, and the girl is sent to find it. I see her dig in a drawer behind the counter, push a bundle aside, and say it's not there. The other guy, still threatening to kill an employee, holding a phone to his ear, and trying to ring someone out, tells her to look in the back. She does, and emerges five minutes later, empty-handed. “The computer says we have one,” she says. “But I can't find it.”

He digs in the drawer, produces the bundle, hands it to her, and says “It's not a console bundle. It's a controller.”

“Oh.” She takes it, and then rings it up.

Now, this is just me, but GameStop prides itself on being a store for gamers, run by gamers. Shouldn't a part of Employee Training be to know what the big releases are, and what bundles are coming out!? She looked right at the bundle, said that wasn't it, and nearly sent the other guy in line home empty-handed. I couldn't believe it.

Or odd, for that matter.

So, like I said, I wait twenty minutes. Remember the guy that took his break earlier? He comes back, and the guy on the phone says that I am missing an adapter. I hear this guy say “I'll handle it” and then marches over to me. He must be the manager, but he is also younger than me and wearing a College Sweatshirt. He says that Nintendo didn't ship them enough copies to fill all pre-orders.

“But that guy said that someone must've sold it to someone else.”

“He was confused.”

“...Uh huh.”

“But I'll give you a call when more come in.”

“Great, thanks.”

I could have pushed harder, but he shifted the blame to Nintendo, not to GameStop. Any screaming would do no good. So, I left.

I realize that there are far, FAR more important things in this world than a missing GameCube adapter. I realize that having my game but not my ideal way to play it is among the Firstiest of First-World Problems. But dammit, I pre-ordered my adapter. It was guaranteed to be there. It wasn't. I got spoken to like I was an idiot, had my time wasted, dealt with some seriously unprofessional people, and had an overall terrible experience. Plus, no compensation for my time, missing pre-order, or anything was offered to me. Nothing. Just shoved out the door so they could do more selling.

If I see a charge on my card for not picking up my pre-order in 48 hours...

Pictured: Me being polite on the phone.

At best, it's embarrassing for GameStop. At worst, it's infuriating for a customer. I expected better.

I guess that was my first mistake.

I got home, and placed a call to GameStop HQ. Turns out, they have only phone lines or live chat—no email. So, I called the phone line to complain. I got told that all “representatives were assisting other customers” and “my call was very important to them.” After a half-hour of waiting, I started a live-chat that took two tries to launch. After an hour of waiting on both the phone and the live chat, and getting nowhere, I gave up.

It's honestly less about my missing adapter now and more about the sheer unprofessionalism of the whole thing. I sent an angry email to Nintendo, because at least they have an email form to fill out, and since GameStop was likely to blame them, I thought I'd strike there as well. They at least responded, and while their advice was essentially to “talk to GameStop,” at least I got somewhere with them.

This is the absolute last time I pre-order anything from GameStop. And likely the last time I shop there. Since they can't guarantee items in stock that I pre-order, there is no reason not to order from an online retailer such as Amazon. The one advantage of GameStop pre-orders, I had thought, was getting the item I wanted that day. Guess I was wrong.

And the worst part? I got a physical letter the next day from GameStop HQ. Do you know what it was? A Credit Card offer.

Fuck you, GameStop.


9:40 PM on 11.15.2014

Let's talk about Bayonetta 2's ranking system!

So, I told myself last week that I was done blogging about Bayonetta 2. It was time to move on, I said, and despite the fact that I've played little else since the game was released, surely I had said all I could on the subject. It's a brilliant game, and after all, there are only so many synonyms for brilliant on But, as I sat down to think of something to write for this week, I could think of little else.

So, here we are. Talking about Bayonetta 2 once again. Specifically, its ranking system.

If you've never played a Platinum Games' game (and yes, this phrasing amuses me) before, firstly, shame on you, and secondly, here is how the game is structured. The games tend to have a large number of levels, and each level is divided into encounters with monsters. The name of these encounters varies from game to game (Missions in The Wonderful 101, to Verses in Bayonetta). Each encounter has a set number of enemies to defeat, whether a small legion of weaklings or a giant boss. And at the end of each encounter, you're graded on your performance based on three simple-to-understand criteria:

  1. The length and duration of your combo.

  2. The amount of time it took to defeat all enemies.

  3. The damage taken during the battle.

The amount of points you earn in each of these criteria is then scored to give you a grade for that encounter, ranging from Stone (you suck) to Pure Platinum (you rock!). At the end of the level, each encounter's score is tallied together to give you a kind of “Final grade” for the level.

Like a report card you never show your parents.

These rankings never hinder your progress in the game, and they rarely affect anything other than special unlocks. And with Platinum Games' games being unforgiving and very challenging, it's very likely that your first foray into this wonderful world of video gaming will result in low ranks.

For some people, this becomes a kind of disheartening feature, reminding them of how much they suck at video games. I'm inclined to agree with that idea. This does show that you suck at these games. But rather than get disheartened by it, I welcome the challenge. Yes, I suck at this game now. But I'll get better.

You can play through a Platinum Games' game and entirely ignore the rankings. That's fine. But if you do, you're missing out on a whole new level of challenge and gameplay. See, these games are made to be replayed multiple times. Because, by the time you get to the end of the game, you are far better at the game than you were when you started. And if you were to go back and try an earlier level, your ranking would go up. It's a tangible measure of progress, and while you may not have mastered the game, you at least can measure your improvement.

My first playthrough of the original Bayonetta resulted in many Stone rankings. But I kept at it, and managed to get those scores higher and higher. In Bayonetta 2, I've earned almost always gold and platinums, and upon clearing the story, I went back to earlier levels and raised my ranking. Now, I learn nothing less than platinum ranks, even on higher difficulties.

It just required practice.

Look, a quote in an image. How inspiring.

Too many games, I feel, are designed to empower the player. They are designed to make you feel like a badass without doing much more than just going where the game says to and doing the thing. Their systems aren't complicated, and the game never begs you to master it. There's no challenge, because the game is too concerned with making you “look cool.”

Bayonetta 2 makes you look cool. But before you can do so, you have to master its systems. It's a game that rewards practice, and makes you earn your badassery. It's a system that keeps on giving the more you put into it.

It's a type of game philosophy I can really get behind.

Did this make sense to you? :) Do you agree with this thought process, or do you like the illusion that you are good at the game? Let's talk about it! With these posts, I'm finding that my views are more and more in the minority opinion of video gamers, something I find fascinating. Let's discuss!



2:37 PM on 11.08.2014

Do you need stories in your video games?

I'd like to bring up a discussion I had with one of my video gamer friends a few days back regarding the value of a video game. Specifically, what would justify the purchase of a sixty dollar full-console experience. I was talking about how I would spend sixty smackers on Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart, Smash, Super Mario 3D World, and so on. He said that he didn't feel those were full experiences, and when I asked why, he said something very interesting to me.

“They have no story.”

Ignoring the fact that Bayonetta 2 does have a story of questionable quality, I instead chose to ask, “Why does that matter?”

“Because I'd play something like Mario, finish it, and be done with it. I wouldn't be invested in what was going on—I'd just be going through the levels. Without a story, I feel like I'm getting half a game.”

I thought that was a very interesting perspective on the current state of video gaming as a whole, and one that clashed immediately with my own. Ignoring the fact that not all video game stories are created equal, and that everyone has a different opinion on what makes a “good” story, the idea that not having a story at all could make for a lesser experience seemed very strange to me. And I think it spoke to the generational differences between the two of us.

Whippersnapper! Back in my day, we had two glorious d's. And we were happy to have'em!

See, I'm 24 years old. I've been playing games since I was young enough to be terrified of Doctor Robotnik (which is a story for another blog), and my first game console was a Sega Genesis. The first game I ever completed was one of the Sonic games (I forget which, probably 2?), and those 2D platformers were the basis of my gamer ideas.

My friend, on the other hand, just turned 18. He's never owned a console that wasn't made by Sony—his earliest gamer experiences were with things like Crash Bandicoot. Sly Cooper is among his favorites, as is Jak and Daxter and, more recently, Infamous. He talks about those games the same way I talk about classic Sonic, with a nostalgic air and eye.

The games I grew up with had very little story at all. Sonic didn't do much more than run to the right and break robots. I played a lot of platformers with a similar style, and for a long time, when I thought of video games, I thought of merely going right and navigating obstacle courses. He thought of collecting things, exploring 3D environments, and most important to this discussion, stories that defined his childhood.

And that's when Master Chief bust a cap in the mean ol'alien's ass.

This blog is not about the quality of video game storytelling (after all, I think Uncharted 3's story is a load of garbage, up there with Heavy Rain and LA Noire) but rather the idea that games need to have story as a focus, as if not having one makes for an inferior product.

I bought Super Mario 3D World knowing that there would be next to no story and wanting none. I wanted Nintendo's classic polished platforming and creative level design. I got it, and do not think the game is lesser because of it. In fact, I'd rather Mario have no story than the stuff pushed in Super Mario Sunshine. My friend would feel very differently. Nintendo games actually don't appeal to him because of the lack of story. He like Kart Racing, but would rather play Modnation Racers over Mario Kart, not because it's a superior kart-racer, but because there's a story mode.

I wonder if this is becoming a trend for modern gaming. As games strive more and more to emulate Hollywood, it seems that the focus is shifting away from game challenges such as surviving and learning the system, and instead looking more at creating interactive cinematic experiences.

Because we clearly need more of this.

I personally think that's a shame, because cinematic experiences can be enjoyed in other mediums. Movies, television, and books all can accomplish the same thing, debatedly better, than a video game could. Yet, video games can do so much more.

I know that story-based video gaming has its place, certainly. I play JRPGs after all, and really enjoy things like The Walking Dead and Gone Home. But I never felt that a game was inferior for having no story. A bad story, yes (especially when that's the game's selling point), but a game like Mario does not need a story like a game like The Walking Dead does.

So, now I turn it over to you—I've rambled and meandered long enough. What do you think? Are you more like my friend, or me? I'd love to hear from you and discuss in the comments.



9:05 AM on 11.02.2014

If you need to learn how to talk to a lady, play Bayonetta 2!

 I'm going to do my best not to type in all caps and gush here. After all, I am a writer. I am expected to remain critical at all times.


I am both an adult and a professional, I swear.

Yeah, I need you to reschedule that call until AFTER Power Rangers, thanks.

I've been waiting for Bayonetta 2 for what felt like a eons. A big fan of the first game, my body was beyond ready for a sequel. I loved the world of Bayonetta—I loved how stupidly over-the-top everything was, how silky smooth the combat was, and how much the game pushed me, not only to beat it, but to master it. I put probably 40 hours into the first one, and barely scratched the surface of what the game had to offer. So, needless to say, Bayonetta 2 was a day one purchase for me. I even pre-ordered it.

And got offered a Powerup Rewards Credit Card for my trouble.

I'll admit, I felt some trepidation about the sequel. I did not think it would be a bad game, but I worried that it would be too similar to the original. I worried that there would be a sense of “Did here, done that” to the game. A more refined game, but lacking a certain Je-ne-sais-quoi that made the first all the more special. The demo reinforced this fact, because while a great glimpse of the game, it did little to convince me that this was going to be more than Bayonetta 1.5.

My fears were entirely unfounded.

I have yet to finish the game (or even get very far as of this writing because real life sucks), but it's clear to me that Bayonetta 2 knew exactly what it wanted to be. A refined version of the first game, introducing subtle new ideas and taking the action to 10. It takes what I loved from the first (Combat), drops the stuff I didn't (Angel Attack) and injects plenty of life and personality into everything. With modern gaming constantly striving to appeal to everyone at once (and lose its appeal in the process), it's refreshing to have a game where simply watching the main character speak drips personality.

Seriously, watching Bayonetta in the cutscenes is a joy, purely because of how much of her character leaks through.


Combat is a joy. It's similar to the system in the first game, but with some refinements. Firstly, combo inputs are slightly different. Button mashing still works fine, but a few of my old combos are slightly changed. For example, you can know kick four times in a string, as opposed to three. Punch-kick-punch still gets a wicked weave, but now punch-kick-kick does (for most weapons) as well.

Speaking of weapons, the news ones I've unlocked so far (which isn't that many), feel very distinct and useful. Whereas in the first Bayonetta, I didn't use anything other than her guns and the sword, here I want to play with everything. The only weapon I can't quite figure out is the bow and arrow, but hey, we all have our favorites.

Bayonetta controls perfectly, with barely a frame rate hiccup. Her instant-dodge is still in full-force, and just as satisfying as ever to pull off. Wicked Weaves feel great as ever, and seeing Bayonetta unleash a fury of attacks in glorious 60FPS is just icing on the cake.

The fact that this isn't the standard of video gaming is both sad and pathetic.

No comment needed.

But, I think what I like most about Bayonetta 2 is how much it feels like a video game. Which is somewhat strange to type. But, many modern games seem more concerned with telling a story, or generating certain emotions from the player. Bayonetta 2 strives to challenge, amaze, and most importantly, create fun. The cool stuff you see Bayonetta do in cutscenes? You can do cooler stuff in gameplay. It's incredible.


I'll probably write a more thorough write-up of the game once I get further along in it. I really think Bayonetta 2 represents where modern video gaming should be going, rather than where it is. I hope that it succeeds. And, at the very least, is remembered for how brilliant it really is.



11:53 AM on 10.25.2014

Hyrule Warriors: A simple, but surprisingly addictive game


I had no intention of buying Hyrule Warriors when it was released. I hadn't ever played a Dynasty Warriors game, or any of its many sequels/spin-offs. But I had heard enough negative buzz about the series to be turned away. I heard that its combat was simple, repetitive, with no depth or nuance to it. As a Bayonetta fanboy, I scoffed at the idea that such a game existed. Let the peasants play their Dynasty Warriors, I say, I'm a real man! I plan Ninja Gaiden and Bayonetta, a man's game! I like to be challenged—I feel no need for simple combat!

[b]I'm pretty much better than all of you.[/b]

But, here's the thing. I went to a used games' store a few weeks back, and as I browsed their game collection, I saw a copy of the (now ancient) PS2 game, Dynasty Warriors 3. It was on sale for five bucks. I knew nothing about the game, other than that its voice acting was a thing of beauty. Deciding that the voice acting alone would be worth the price of admission, I snatched the copy and took it home.

I booted it up with the full intention of playing it for a bit with my little brother. We started a multiplayer round, and gave it a go.

Playing it on the PS2 was painful. Not because it was a bad game, really. But because the game was poorly programmed. The fog of war in multiplayer really only let you see a few feet in front of your character, enemies would attack before they were loaded and appeared on the screen, it was tough to perform any moves, and so on.

[b]Is this Dynasty Warriors 3? I don't know.[/b]

But, there was something there. Something that was actually pretty fun! My brother and I enjoyed ourselves, despite the poor programming. We enjoyed ourselves so much, that I decided that a version of this game, running on more powerful hardware, could be really enjoyable.

So, we bought Hyrule Warriors.And really enjoy it!

All of the complaints I've heard leveled at the series still apply. The combat is mindless, and a bit repetitive. There is no real nuance to anything—it's just charge forward and kill, kill, kill. If you don't get 1000 kills in a single mission, you're doing something wrong. The game has a problem with pop-in, with enemies appearing on the map after you get there. And the framerate ranges from tolerable to godawful.

And yet, my brother and I played the game for four hours straight Saturday night, and would've kept going if we didn't need to get some sleep.

I'm not even completely sure what it is about the game that makes it so enjoyable. It could be the power trip it creates where your characters really feel like one man armies. It could be the light tactics involved (capture that keep first, move over here, I'll get that guy while you get this one). Or it could be the inherent charm of the Zelda

[b]Or, it could be that badass scarf.[/b]

But for what it is, I'm completely addicted. I won't play it by myself, because then I think the allure would vanish. But playing with my brother or a friend? It's really hard to stop! There's always one more keep to capture, one more map to clear, or another Gohma to defeat.

I fully intend to sink stupid amounts of time into Bayonetta 2 once it releases (I'll have posted this after the release date, but wrote it before hand). But, once my brother comes home, I expect to once more draw the Master Sword, and lay waste to the legions of enemies before me.

After all, Ganondorf isn't going to level up himself.



12:12 PM on 10.18.2014

Playing Resident Evil 4 for the first time

I think just about every gamer has heard of the majesty that is Resident Evil 4. Upon its release on the Gamecube, it was heralded as one of the greatest video games of all time. Its revolutionary new camera system, featuring a sharp “over-the-shoulder” perspective changed action, horror, and 3rd-person shooter mechanics forever. Now, the game has been often imitated, even by its sequels, but in the eyes of most gamers, nothing has topped it.

Having played the Wii version, it is easy to see why.

I have no history with the Resident Evil series. I've played a very short bit of Resident Evil 5 long ago, and didn't care for it. Sometime later, I picked up a copy of Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition for a dirt cheap price. But, it stayed on my video game shelf since then, collecting dust and forever being one of the many games I'll “get to eventually.”


But, with Halloween around the corner, and me needing something to hold me over until Bayonetta 2 drops and changes my life forever, I decided to give this zombie game a try.

I'm glad I did.

If you don't know, Resident Evil 4 is about Leon S. Kennedy, a recently promoted government agent who has been sent to MiddleOfNowhere Europe to search for the president's missing daughter, Ashley Graham. Upon arrival, it's not only clear that Ashley has indeed been taken here, but that something really strange it going on in the village. The people have become mindless drones, moaning and dirty, and will kill Leon on sight. Leon must not only find Ashley, but escape with her alive.

And so the game begins.

As of writing this, I have not finished the game, so it's possible my views will change. But suffice to say, the storyline isn't amazing but it's very serviceable, with good voice acting, and some wacky and some not-so-wacky characters making up the cast. Leon himself, with his emo haircut, seems more like an anime character than a real person, but his wisecracks are bad enough to be enjoyable and makes for good company as you explore the village.

Plus, his hair screams "tortured soul."

I think what impressed me most upon my initial boot-up of Resident Evil 4 was how “not-ugly” it is. It looks dated, but it seems to have aged more gracefully than many other games of its ilk. The town is ugly as it should be, as are the zombies you encounter. But it's the art style that makes it ugly, not the graphical limitations of the time.

Controls took some getting used to, though. Leon doesn't move like most characters do. He can only walk forward or back, and he needs to rotate in place to aim his direction. I'm used to it now, but it felt unnecessarily tricky at first. To shoot, you press a button which has Leon plant his feet on the ground and raise his weapon. I thought, since this was a Wii game, I'd be using the WiiMote to aim my weapon. And I do, but you use the left stick to aim the camera. Bringing the WiiMote to the edge of the screen does not move the camera at all. You have to use the left stick and WiiMote in tandem to be effective at shooting. It's wonky, it took some getting used to, but I understand why they did it.

The camera is unnaturally glued to Leon's back, making it so that you can only see what he can see. You have no idea what's behind you because of this, and more than a few times a zombie snuck up behind me. It works well at creating a sense of unease, as if you can never see the whole picture. I liked it. According to some reviews I read, the WiiMote makes the game too easy. Having not played the other versions, I cannot comment on that.

I hesitate to call the game scary though. Ammunition seems to be readily available, and many times I have more ammo and health packs than I know what to do with. Plus, when your shotgun can blow the heads off the zombies, it's hard not to feel empowered. This doesn't detract from the game though—it just makes it less scary than I anticipated.

Shotguns hurt zombies too.

Something that had me initially worried was the fact that a lot of the game consists of an escort mission. You find Ashley early on, and it's your job to ensure she makes it out alive. She has her own health meter and everything, so I was preparing myself for the worst.

Quite the opposite, actually. Ashley is excellent at standing behind Leon when he's firing at zombies, keeping her mostly out of harm's way. If she's in front of you, she'll duck out of the way as well, thereby not getting in the way of shooting. You can only give her two commands, “wait” and “follow”, but I never felt like I needed more than that. It's not so much that Ashley is smart enough to take care of herself, more that she's smart enough to not get in the way of Leon protecting her. Escorting her around never once felt like a chore, and for that, I am very thankful.

In fact, something about the game that may sound like damming it with faint praise, but really isn't, is how not-annoying the game is. Yes, enemies are bullet sponges, but never to an obnoxious degree. Boss battles are challenging, but never frustrating. Puzzles are not overly strenuous. There is no point in the game that I felt was poorly conceived, poorly designed, or just annoying. Nothing.

That alone, is a great accomplishment, and one that Resident Evil 5 couldn't match.

As of this writing, I just started chapter 5. I hope to finish at least the main campaign before Bayonetta 2 drops on the 24th. But even if not, I am glad I got to experience this game. Playing it, it's very clear why it is considered one of the greatest games of all time.


9:41 AM on 10.11.2014

Comments on recent video game controversies

I've debated with myself numerous times over whether I would chime in on the recent controversies that have been plaguing the video game community. Every time I went to write a post, I always stopped before I started, deciding that I was no expert on these subjects, and would likely write something based on false assumptions and be mocked for my lack of knowledge. But, I feel that ignoring these controversies is a bad route to take as well, because they are becoming a big part of the community now. So, while I would rather gush about my love for the Bayonetta 2 demo, I am here instead talking about serious issues. Whoo.

That tail deserves 3000 words alone. 

I am no expert on any of these subjects, and I won't ever claim to be. I am nothing more than one guy with a keyboard and an opinion. I'm going to share that opinion now in what I hope is a clear and not too rambling post. But the GamerGate controversy and the others surrounding it are truly too huge to discuss well in one post.

Now, I present to you, my opinion.

Let's start with sexism, because why not. I dated a feminist for a year or so a couple years back. Without going into it, let's just say that I've seen, first-hand, the good feminism attempts to do for the world. I've also seen how it shoots its own ideals in the foot. I've seen her eyes light up when her arguments open my eyes to something I had never seen nor understood because of my own gender, and I've seen her rage illogically when I point out how something she said becomes hate speech. I've seen both sides.

I don't think Feminism itself is the true problem here. Feminism is defined by Webster's dictionary as “the theory as political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” That is a definition I agree with, and I guess that makes me a feminist. Unless you're a bigot, I think a lot of people agree with that definition too. The problem is that many of the most vocal feminists don't follow that ideology. They don't strive for equality, they strive for superiority. Those ideas quickly become the most vocal, because an extreme idea is far easier to share in 140 characters than a more moderate one. I don't think most feminists hate men. I just think it seems that way, because of the vocal extremes and the ways those are easily spread.

Got your attention quick, didn't it?

There's not an ounce of science there. It's just my opinion.

Gamers are uncomfortable with feminists bursting into their medium. And why wouldn't they be? I think most of the quote/unquote hardcore gamers never fit in in school. They've been told time and time again that their hobby, video gaming, is a waste of time. And not only a waste, but also leading them down a road of horrible violence, misogyny, and other names. Of course they are going to get defensive and fight back. We all do when we're told we're wrong. My ex-girlfriend would get horribly defensive the moment I disagreed with something she said. She hated the idea that she could be wrong, that these ideas she read online could have someone disagree with them. Gamers do the same thing. Seeing a feminist come in and tell them their hobby is wrong inspires the same defensive reaction. ]

You don't have to stay within the realms of sexism to see gamers have this fear of being wrong. Look at the comments section for any negative review of a popular game. There is always a few, maybe many, leaping to the game's defense. They call the reviewer names, they make exaggerated claims, they type in all caps—they get angry. And defensive. After all, here's a reviewer telling them that they are wrong. The reviewer says that the game is crap. Somehow, that becomes a personal attack on the gamer's tastes, and the gamer reacts with rage.

It seems as if the negative review somehow diminishes the joy the gamer had with a game.


On some level, this does make sense. In gamer culture, there's a huge focus on pre-ordering, buying the game the day it comes out, etc. No one likes to feel that they made a bad purchase, especially with games are expensive as they are. But rather than rage at the reviewer (and make yourself look like a child in the process), why not just play the game? Find out for yourself if it's good or bad. You might like it. The things that the reviewer didn't like may not bother you. Find out for yourself.

A video game reviewer is simply a guy or girl who gets paid to review games. A review is nothing more than their opinion on a game. They are only an expert in that their job allows them to play more games than you. Their opinions get posted on bigger websites. But their opinion is no more valid than yours. Their opinions deserve respect, as does your own. But Jim Sterling's low Mario Kart score should not somehow make your enjoyment of Mario Kart invalid. It's just a discussion. That's all a review is.

I don't believe that reviews are objective. Like, ever. They are opinion pieces. Sure, they could discuss how such-and-such game has an extraordinary polygon count, or that its textures are unreal. They could say that the game has a solid 30 FPS, or a 60 FPS. But, do either of those really affect the game itself? Is there an objective way to

One needs only to look at Deadly Premonition to see that there isn't. From perfect 10s, to 2 out of 10s, the game meant so many things to so many different people. Yes, the graphics were crappy, the textures bad, the voice acting terrible, the plot silly, etc. That didn't wreck Jim Sterling's experience with the game, in fact, it enhanced it. But it wrecked the experience of the reviewer who gave the game a 2. Is one opinion more valid than the other? No. Is one more objective? Maybe, but how can it really be objective from an enjoyment perspective? The bad graphics enhanced the game for Jim, wreaked it for others. Objectivity? Doesn't really exist.

Zack, they said our game's poor graphics improved the experience. 

Something that gets thrown around the GamerGate thing is the idea of integrity in the video game journalism...thing. For the longest time, I never understood that. But, then again, I'm one of those people who always thought that the concept of video game “journalism” was laughable at best. With rare exception, there is very little actual journalism in the industry. Interviewing developers, generating previews, posting news, all of that is essentially a glorified ad for the industry. Journalists may have more connections than you or I, but the news they post is almost always what the developers and publishers have decided to tell them. It's a cynical view, but it's the one I always had.

A preview event is something carefully constructed by a developer/publisher. The “journalist” gives his opinion on what he played, but that's it. There's no real objectivity there—it's just an opinion. Same as a review. Interviewing a PR person, dev, or whoever? Carefully constructed statements meant to shine a bright light on an upcoming game. And most journalists can't land an interview until the publisher says so. Is this integrity? I don't know, I don't really think so. Are exclusive reveals of a new trailer integrity? Is obeying a review embargo integrity? I don't know.

After all, publishers give limits on what can be discussed in a review. They say that the review cannot be posted yet, and cannot discuss certain aspects. The reviewer is expected to obey that, if they want to keep their job and continue to get advance copies of video games. Why does the publisher set those limits? Because they view the review as another form of advertising for the game. Positive buzz is advertising, after all. A review is often the equivalent of people telling their friend to play such-and-such because it's “so good.”

A reviewer should always give their honest opinion. I believe almost all of the reviewers out there do. Is that integrity? I think so. I think a problem that stems up though, and often the reason that inspires so much rage, is that it's easy to forget that a review is an opinion. Most review writers won't explicitly state “I think this part of the game is crap” in their reviews. They will just say “This part of the game is crap.” That implies that it's a fact, not an opinion. Because of that, if someone was not bothered by whatever the reviewer thought was crap, it makes them seem wrong. After all, it's a fact that this part is crap. Therefore, the gamer feels wrong, and therefore acts defensively.

Whew. That's enough typing on this subject today. It was more rambling than expected, and kind of jumps all over the place. But those are my thoughts on the subjct. Happy to discuss them in the comments section. :)


8:01 PM on 09.26.2014

Feels like I'm playing the game for the very first time!


Short post this week, but one that I personally find pretty interesting. Jordan Devore mentioned in a post about a week ago that he was not playing Destiny, and was instead playing Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, a game he had gotten for free from Nintendo as part of their ambassadors program. He had played the game in the past, but because he hadn't touched in so long, it felt like he was going through the game for the first time.

That seems about right to me. For example, I played Twilight Princess, and have the completed save game to prove it. But ask me what happened in that game, and I couldn't tell you. No idea why, but for some reason, that game didn't stick with me. If I was to play it tomorrow, it would feel a lot of ways like playing it for the first time to me.

That's a great experience, but I wonder if it speaks to the quality of the game. For example, I've only played Persona 4 once, but many of its story beats (which I will not post here for fear of spoiling for someone else), have stuck with me. I remember more about P4 than I do about P3, which I played after the fact on my PSP (because I didn't want to deal with AI party members on the PS2). Does that mean that Persona 4 had the superior story and gameplay?

Certainly had better colors.

To answer my own question, I'm going to say that I don't think so. Without getting into a war in the comments over whether P3 or P4 is the superior game, I think it has to do a lot with how the game “hits” you at the time. Persona 4 came in at a very turbulent time in my life—back to college, struggling with courses, attempting to find my way, etc. It was the game I needed at that point in my life, and because of that, had really stuck with me.

I think P3 didn't come at that point in time.

If I were to replay Persona 4, either on the PS2 or the PS Vita enhanced remake, it would feel a lot like visiting an old friend, as opposed to playing it for the time. If I were to play Twilight Princess, I would be impressed if I recalled anything other than Link's name. That would be playing it for the first time.

I think both experiences have merit in their own ways. I don't think anyone is going to say that Persona 3 nor Twilight Princess are bad games, but I think it just speaks to where I was in my life at the time of playing them. Because of that, replaying them would result in very different experiences than replaying Persona 4.

What about you guys? Have you had either experience (or both) happen to you?



9:34 AM on 09.13.2014

My favorite video game: Sonic 3 and Knuckles

How do you define a favorite video game? Is it the one that filled you with the most inspiration? If that's the case, then the clear winner would be Skies of Arcadia, a JRPG for the Dreamcast that presented a bright world full of wonder and possibility. Even now, when I take a step back from my writing and look at it critically, I see the influence that game has had on me.

Or, is your favorite game the one that had the greatest emotional connection to you? If that's the case, then the clear winner is Persona 4. Kanji's struggle with his sexuality mirrored my own in a number of ways, and years later, I can recall specific plot points from the game with clarity. It's stuck with me for years, and will continue to do so.

Or, is your favorite game the one that always brings a smile to your face? The one that you boot up when you're feeling down, the one that was a constant companion for more years than you care to admit? The one that you swear you could play with your eyes closed? If that's the case, and I believe it is, then my favorite video game is Sonic 3 and Knuckles.

Yes, I know I'm cheating a little bit here because that's technically two games combined together. But the experience they create feels so singular, so united, that I very rarely played them separate from each other. And they were originally designed to be one game, so I'm gonna say that it counts. I'll leave it to the commenters to decide if they agree.

Sonic 3 and Knuckles uses the admittedly-still-cool feature of cartridge locking. Basically, Sonic and Knuckles has a slot on top of the cartridge for you to put other games on top. When you put Sonic 3 on there, the two games combine together into an almost “mega-game.” The stories combine, more levels are added together, and everything fits perfectly into place. It's like this was how the game was made to be played.

Funny how that works out.

The plot of the game is fairly simple, but complicated by platformer standards. Out in the ocean, Angel Island rests. Angel Island is home to the Master Emerald, a crystal with tons of power. Dr. Robotnik needs the Master Emerald for his world domination plans, but he finds that the Emerald is protected by a red echidna named Knuckles. Rather than roboticize Knuckles, Robotnik convinces him that Sonic and Tails (who recently arrived at the island), are out to steal the Emerald. Thus, the blue hedgehog finds himself with a new foe. And so the game begins.

Level design is at its most creative here. There are still loops and rings, and a clear focus on speed. But there is also a focus on exploration, as the special stages are accessed by finding Golden Rings in the levels. If you want the best ending, you need to seek out these stages. Levels are layered, with alternate paths branching off everywhere. While I have my preferred routes to travel, it does feel that every time I go through the game, I get to the end a different way. It's fast, and it's challenging at times, but it's always fun. Even in the water levels.

Unlike past Sonic games, there is a boss at the end of every level. Often, there is even some interaction with the bosses before their actual encounter. The first level has a robot that burns the forest, for example. You start the game in a sunny green area, but about halfway through, the robot drops bombs every and burns it all down. The rest of the level is then on fire. It's a little touch, but it goes a long way.

My favorite boss is that of Marble Garden zone. Sonic finds Dr. Robotnik with a drill on his ship, and it looks like a typical boss fight. That is, until Robotnik drills straight down, destroying the garden in one fell swoop! The first time I saw this, I gasped. How was I supposed to win that, with no ground? But Tails, who is normally regulated to “guy who gets in the way” saves the day here. He picks up Sonic in his arms, and together they are able stop Robotnik.

There is a strong focus here on the cinematic nature and the story. Whereas other Sonic games kept story light with a seemingly random set of levels strung together, here everything is connected. Act 2 of a world begins right where Act 1 ended, with no fade to black. There are little transitions from each level. They aren't much, but seeing Sonic fire himself out of a cannon and then land in the next world goes a long way to making this game feel connected.

There are even some brief cutscenes, though they are usually kept playable. Towards the end of the game, Sonic and Knuckles have their fight. Dr. Robotnik, seeing the chance, steals the Master Emerald. Knuckles, of course, sees this, and tries to get it back. He grabs the emerald, but Robotnik has other plans. Bits of wire come out of his ship, and electrocute Knuckles, wounding him, and giving Robotnik time to escape. Knuckles, seeing this, uses the last of his strength to help Sonic pursue his foe. It's not much, but for the time, this was really big. It stuck with me, you know? Even know, the once-bad-now-good trope is one of my favorites.

That's ignoring the other details, like how the Death Egg can be seen in the background of some stages, how Knuckles goes through every level differently than Sonic and Tails, with some different bosses, the quality of the music, the dizzying special stages that require more skill than in the past, the bonus level you get when you complete all special stages, and so on and so on. There is so much content and memorable moments packed into what is basically a two hour game, that I cannot describe them all in this one blog post.

I can only recommend that you play the game if you haven't already. You won't be disappointed.


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