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9:59 PM on 06.28.2008

I F*cking Love Tacticals, Part Four--Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift

So, oh loyal readers (all three of you), you may have been saying lately, where in all the nine bloody hells has FlonneMcNinja been, and why isn't she talking about tacticals?

Well, there are several answers to that. One is that I'm lazy and forgetful. A second is that Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker has been distracting me, because my other great weakness besides tacticals is collecting little monsters, cute or uncute as they may be. But the third is that I was waiting for this game to come out.

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance ate a good chunk of my life. Several months were dedicated solely to schoolwork and collecting every item, learning every job skill, and completing every quest in that game. Well, not every--I haven't finished all of the optional quests at the end that aren't on the counter, but I don't know that anyone could fault me for that. My thumbs were about to fall off. But anyway, I was excited about A2 before there was even an American release date. I preordered it a few weeks ago, and had intended to wait, sensibly, until Friday, when I would be near the Magic GameStop anyway. However, no. On Tuesday, I spent my entire workday bouncing up and down quietly, being excited about the game and wearing out my knees in the process. Then after work and dinner I made the forty-five minute drive to said Magic GameStop and got my game. I also picked up The World Ends With You,, because I'm weak. (My little brother, meanwhile, tagged along and got Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. I made the unfortunate mistake of buying him MGS2 for his birthday, and haven't been able to get any time on the PS2 since. But that's another issue altogether.)

Anyway. So jazzed. I get home and settle down. The game is, of course, already in my DS--I brought it to the Magic GameStop with me so that as soon as I got the game I could pop the cartridge in up top of Tactics Advance. But now I'm done driving and it's time to see some game play.

Those of you who played Tactics Advance know how awesome it is. Tactics A2 takes what was done in Tactics Advance and makes it all better. Well, I still can't rotate the camera, but that's a small price to pay. There are more jobs for the original races, and the way you obtain them makes way more sense--they are not unlocked by getting the necessary prereqs, but by meeting a holder of said job who will teach you; once it's on your job list you can find out the prereqs whenever you want. There are two new races. They look like this:

The big guy is a seeq, and the bikini chick is a gria. I don't have any gria clanners yet, but I want one. Don't be deceived by the pixie look--they kill shit. With weapons.

Combat is much the same, but with a beautifully revised law system. In Tactics Advance, I will admit, the laws were a bit of a nuisance, though they did add an exciting air of danger. In A2, there are still laws, but they're very different--you are rewarded at the end of combat for not breaking the law. If you do break the law, though, you don't go to jail; jail cells appear on the top screen, but this symbolizes, not a physical jail, but the inability to resurrect fallen allies. You also lose whatever little bonus privilege you chose at the beginning of combat. So basically: in Tactics Advance breaking the law made you bad. In A2 it doesn't make you bad--you're just no longer special.

On the subject of the top screen, it's used very well here. Normally it just displays some little plot related thing, but in battle it's very useful. In battle it looks like this:

Provided is the goal for this battle, the law in place, the clan privilege currently in use, and the turn order. The bubble over the sprite's head is a description of her strengths and weaknesses. Very useful.

Now, what really annoyed me about Tactics Advance was that bloody build-a-map thing. When I didn't pay attention, I got screwed over; when I did pay attention, I devoted too much time to it, and then that meant that I couldn't advance the plot without access to a computer to check my build-a-map FAQ. In A2, instead of the previous map system, you have regions. This one, for example, is Moorabella, home to the city of Moorabella, and an airport which I haven't yet been allowed to use.

The arrows take you to different regions--or, more accurately, they take you to a world map, from which you can go to any other available region. Clan control of regions is gotten at auctions, which mostly gets you discounts on shit.

Speaking of discounts, the shops have also been improved, through the interesting and very fun loot and bazaar system. I won't go into detail about that one, though, because it's way more fun to learn, and it adds a whole new level of exciting obsession.

The story is weak. But then, the story was weak in the previous game. I don't play these games for story. If you're curious, though, this is the main character.

According to the game manual his name is Luso--full name Luso Clemens--but I named him Serret instead, because that's my favorite name from the Earthsea books. He's ok as main characters go, but not terribly exciting. I prefer this game's Cid. He's the leader of the clan the main character joins. According to the manual he is a "revgaji," though I don't know if we'll meet any more of those. He has a luxurious golden mustache and it makes me smile.

So basically: shit, this is an awesome game. Get it. Get it now.   read

10:14 PM on 06.05.2008

The start of the affair: Ultima

As a child I was an avid player of computer games. Primarily, as I mentioned in a previous post, I played Commander Keen; funny side-scrollers were about my speed, and I liked the graphics. I also had a passing fixation on the King's Quest games, primarily the fourth one, which I was given by my father when he brought it home from some expo or other.

Then, one day, when poking through my dad's old computer games, I found a box. It said "Ultima" on the cover, and was specifically a small collection, consisting of Ultima VII: The Black Gate and Serpent Isle and their attendant expansions. It took some time for us to get them up and running, but finally we managed it, and I was totally lost. I played the games I had. I played them more. I got the Ultima Collection and played the others. I stopped playing, because I had a new computer that couldn't run the ones I really liked, and then discovered Exult and started playing again.

The Ultima games taught me about stories. Sure, hey, King's Quest 4 had a story, but it was very involved, and a lot of stuff at the beginning depended heavily on knowing the stories that came before. I have all of those too, of course, but I don't love them in the same way I love Ultima. The stories in Ultima VII and Serpent Isle are, while not immensely complex, still complicated and interesting, with exciting side quests and subplots and a lot of humor. You got to fight dragons

and sometimes dress up like the Grim Reaper.

Of necessity, because I began playing these when I was about eight, the Ultima games also taught me to love walkthroughs. I do take great pride in completing games unassisted, but in this case, a lot of me didn't give a biscuit with two shits in it about the puzzles in the game: all I really wanted on a first playthrough was to enjoy the story. On the second playthrough I could poke around, trying for different options (say, getting laid by the other slut in Monitor) and checking out stuff that was weird.

Tangential to walkthroughs are cheats, which the Ultima games also taught me to enjoy, for their entertainment value if nothing else. I've spoken mainly of the two parts of Ultima VII so far, but besides the hack mover, for real cheating fun one must go to Ultima VI. That game has my favorite cheat system of all time. As I recall it's partially a debug menu, left over from development. It's activated by saying "spam spam spam humbug" to one of your companions, and once opened will allow you to dial up, using a number of codes, anything your twisted little heart might desire. Plot items, food, random kitchen utensils--the codes could even be combined, using some formula I can't quite recall, to mix together any two normal items to create a third, say a musical duck, or a loaf of bread that acts like a greatsword. There is fucked-up shit you can do in Ultima VI, as Doug the Eagle's awesome website will let you know in full.

The expansions to Black Gate and Serpent Isle had some fantastic game breaking going on. The expansion to the former, for example, would max out your stats, and you got to talk to a dragon. The Serpent Isle expansion, The Silver Seed, got you high stats, lots of cool stuff, and a ring that provided infinite spell components. It is the sexiest thing.

And then there's the fan community. I already linked to Exult, the entirely fan-made program that deals with the weird memory drivers in my favorite two games so that they're playable on modern machines. Pentagram is a similar project for the eighth game, Pagan, and there are countless remakes. A lot of them are done as mods of popular modern games, the most successful and complete being the glorious Lazarus, a remake of Ultima V using the engine from the first Dungeon Siege. It looks like this:

Isn't that pretty?

Also there were a few cool tangential games, my favorite being Worlds of Ultima: Martian Dreams. It's a little pixely pulp-novel game! With Tesla!

So basically, the Ultima games taught me about everything that I find awesome about video games in general. They have good gameplay, great stories, entertaining cheat modes, and one of the most spectacularly dedicated fanbases I know of. I enjoy them on ever level, and the replay value is immense. The Ultima games are a big part of why I play video games at all.

...also Ultima was the subject of the first piece of fan fiction I ever read. Which is another story. Oh the shame. -_-   read

1:39 PM on 05.26.2008

I F*cking Love Tacticals, Part Three--Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones

For those bothered by it, this post may contain game spoilers

Well, my friend ZeroTolo just reminded me of this, and I feel rather ashamed to have neglected it. I mean, I can't cover the whole Fire Emblem series, because I've only played this one, but to not have covered any of them at all seems like a terrible slight to the tactical genre.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones is special to me because, well, it was a gift from my boyfriend, and because I love it and hate it at the same time. Or rather, it's a love/hate relationship because I love it, and it hates me.

Even on easy mode, which I took first because that's what I do when playing something new, this game is insanely difficult. Mainly it's because there are no create-a-characters, just plot ones, and when a character dies, they're done. Kaput. Just lost your wyvern rider to some bow-wielding little shit across the wall? Too bad. Joshua collapsed in a heap because you put him through the arena one time too many? Oh, so sad, bye-bye Joshua.

Despite how annoying this is, though, I also kind of appreciate it, because it forces the player to use some really serious tactical thinking. In most tacticals if the situation requires it I can sacrifice someone without another thought. In this game, however, every move, every healing and attack and sacrifice, must be weighed with the utmost care.

You can send Syrene over the mountain to pick up your new allies--that's actually the best way to do it. But would you do the same if a bow-wielding little shit like I mentioned before is cooling his heels there, just waiting for an airborne attacker to soar by? Or would you send Seth the tanksome cavalier, knowing that no matter no good he is someone with a lance can still land a critical? It makes me really consider the map before I lay out my characters.

I love the combat system--specifically the manner in which every defender gets a chance to fight back if he can.

They won't always land something, but they can at least try to hit back, and the animations are really cool.

The support system also adds a lot to the game. For those unfamiliar with the series, support relationships can be built between certain characters if they fight side-by-side (literally) a lot. Neimi and Colm, for example, two of my favorite characters, are childhood friends. If they stand next to each other in battle for long enough, you'll get a "Support" option; if you pick it, they'll have a chat (like this one, although these two aren't Neimi and Colm)

and their support relationship will go up a level. If you get it to the highest level, then at the end of the game you learn that they fell in love and got married. But besides adding to the plot, support relationships actually give you a tactical advantage. If Neimi and Colm (again) have a support relationship, they'll give each other stat boosts when they stand next to each other in battle.

The story is great--there are lots of wonderful characters, and with the support system there are many ways each one can develop. The art, as you might see in the screenshots, is really wonderful, particularly for a GBA game. ZeroTolo tells me that we might be seeing a DS Fire Emblem sometime soon, which makes me happy in my heart. I think it's a platform that deserves more strategy games, and with Rondo of Swords and Drone Tactics and Final Fantasy Tactics A2 and now this, we're seeing a beautiful explosion of games this system should have.

For now, though, I will hunt down the other GBA games. And also I can always play as Marth in Super Smash Brothers Brawl. I like to put him in the white costume. I call him Glorious Snow Princess Marth. He's so pretty. ^_^   read

1:00 PM on 05.26.2008

Tales of Etrian Odyssey

Ok! Stop right here! I have a confession to make.

I've never played this game.

I know, I know, shame on me for detailing my favorite Etrian Odyssey experience if I haven't played it. Hadn't even heard of it before yesterday. But I looked it up, found out what it was, and here's what I have to say.

Never played the game, like I said, but when I dungeon-crawl, I do it old school. Like, no graphics old school. I've played Advent. You know Advent, right? The original text adventure? I played it. I beat it. I've played all three original Zork games; I even have the third one on a huge floppy disk. (Admittedly it's my dad's, but hey, I've got it.) I also have a disk of the Wizardry Archives, all the games through Wizardry Gold. Haven't quite gotten the hang of them, but it's mainly because I can't seem to make them run properly on my computer.

I love me some dark dank dungeon-crawling.   read

11:02 AM on 05.25.2008

I F*cking Love Tacticals, Part Two--La Pucelle: Tactics

I will admit this. I'm a sucker for anything from NIS. I love their stuff like crazy, and they glory in their tactical mastery. So when I found a copy of this for fifteen bucks used at GameStop, of course I jumped on it.

I haven't had a lot of time to play, given that I just bought it two days ago, but from what I've seen so far I'm impressed. It's no Disgaea, but that makes sense--this game came out in, um, 2002 in Japan, I think, and got ported here two years later. The first Disgaea game came out in 2003 in Japan. That's not much time to polish, but it's some, and the first Disgaea game is slick. Cursed Memories is even slicker. But La Pucelle is a glorious start.

The gameplay is occasionally, I'll admit, a little clunky. I don't like that once you've acted, you can't move, even if you haven't moved already, nor do I like that special abilities (spells and such) activate immediately instead of waiting for the execute command. It robs me of the ability to chain together a frillion attacks on one person, as is my wont in Disgaea. And sometimes you can't rotate the map enough.

But hey, like I said. It's pre-Disgaea. They were still working out the kinks. And La Pucelle has some amazing coolness going on, too. And one of these cool things is the purification system.

So some basics. This here is Prier.

She's a demon hunter in the Church of the Holy Maiden, and the main character. You start out with just her, her little brother Culotte, and Alouette, a senior demon hunter. If you've played Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, or its PSP port, you may recognize her as the boss for the extra stage Alternate Netherworld, who joins your party once you kick her ass. She's crazy strong. She kicks down a lead door in a cutscene.

Anyway, she's a demon hunter for a church. Her job is to go around fighting zombies and stuff so that their troubled souls may rest. But she can also purify them, sucking the evil from their bodies and making them nice people. And if you purify a monster enough and then defeat, it'll join your party, and hey, ready-made character. Needs equipment, but still. They get useful monster-only skills, and you can train them and make them strong and then trade them to the creepy guy in the Rosenqueen Shop for cool shit.

There are also Dark Portals and Dark Squares, the predecessor to the ever-delightful Geo Symbols of Disgaea fame. Dark Squares emanate from Dark Portals in a line; you can stop the flow by standing upon and facing it, or divert it by standing on the flow and facing somewhere else. If you let the Portals sit around for too long more monsters come out of them, which can be useful for leveling. You can also purify them and destroy the squares, which looks like this:

And if you get Dark Squares to flow in a closed box around a bunch of enemies, you get insane shit that looks like this:

And that is super cool.

So far I haven't run into any create-a-character options; I'm not sure if there is one, but if there isn't, monster training amply makes up for it. You can teach any magic to anyone, though! There are elemental staffs which teach spells in the same way that a master learns from an apprentice in the Disgaea games--use the staff's spell enough, and it's your permanently.

What I really enjoy about this game, though, is the level-up system. It's fascinating. There is, of course, the normal experience-points-to-level thing. That's standard. It'd be silly to cut that. But your stats also gain experience, and which stats these are depend on the items you have equipped. Physical combat weapons up things like attack and defense, for example. Staffs do intelligence, eyeglasses do intelligence and speed, armor does defense, and there are special wearable stat items. When you kill a monster, your experience goes up, but your stat gauges go up too. And when you purify a Dark Portal, it powers up your items.

Which is not to say that gameplay is all. The story is fun. A lot of the characters are named after weird things in French, and the monsters chat with you while you train them. Prier is a bit shrill, but I can handle it. I'm a big girl. Anyway, it's a fun game to play. It's no Disgaea, but then, what is? Don't let that stop you from enjoying it.

Now I've got to get back to that Gamestop. They had a copy of Phantom Brave for thirteen dollars.   read

11:45 AM on 05.08.2008

If you love it, change it: Commander Keen

There are certain games and game series which I love and cherish in a manner normally reserved for the person from whom one received one's first kiss, games that I played as a child and which set me on the path of lifelong game love. Any game from Sierra with "Quest" in the title, for example, has a good chance of brightening my life. The Ultima games are similar, at least up to Ultima 8. But there is one game series which, above all others, sends me into such nostalgic fits that after a good gameplay session I often feel the need to settle down with a tall glass of chocolate milk, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and a few episodes of Eureka's Castle in order to relive my childhood.

The Commander Keen games were wonderful. The graphics were pretty cool for the time, they were easy to play, and it's just a great concept. Basically, the premise is that you're this kid:

This is William Joseph Blazkowicz II, otherwise know as Billy Blaze, otherwise known as Commander Keen. Billy Blaze is eight and has an IQ of 314, and has built his own spaceship, the Beans-With-Bacon Megarocket, out of soup cans and anything else he could scrounge. When he can manage it, he sneaks out, flies off in his rocket, and goes and fights aliens with his trusty ray gun (technically a Neural Stunner in the second trilogy), while amassing a shit ton of candy and toys along the way. His primary foe is the self-styled Grand Intellect, Mortimer McMire, a little shit from his class who scored, I believe, one point higher on the IQ test.

Side note for fans of the Wolfenstein games: this kid is the grandson of William Joseph "B.J." Blazkowicz, from Wolfenstein 3D.

Now, this all together is fantastic. I mean, it's a super-kiddy game, but who cares? It's fun! So here's what I'd change.

Well, first, I'd like to see more Keen games. That's just obvious. There were two Keen trilogies and Keen Dreams; we were promised a third trilogy, but it never materialized. Goddammit, where is The Universe is Toast?

Besides that, I'd like to see the Keen games--all of them--get the Megaman Powered Up treatment. Sure, there was at one point a little non-canon Gamebody Color release, but that doesn't count. I want to see a real rerelease, specifically for the DS or the PSP: nicer graphics, update sound that isn't all blippy MIDIs, and maybe an alternate play mode or two. I'd love to see how his babysitter would handle the situation in the sixth game if Keen had gotten kidnapped instead of her.

Could she handle it?

If Keen was the bad guy and Mortimer was the hero, could he stand to look a Vorticon in the face?

I'd also like to see one or two more options applied to the main game. Specifically, the Flower Power bombs from Keen Dreams were awesome. They should be incorporated into the other games, for when you need a quick fix and are tired of your ray gun. Although seriously, who gets tired of a zap gun? Or power-ups for that most glorious of all transport devices, Keen's pogo stick.

I feel it's important to specify that, while I think these games should be updated a little so I can play them constantly instead of occasionally, I don't think they should be made any more mature. These are kids' games. You play an eight-year-old and get points for collecting lollipops. I don't want blood; I like shooting venomous slugs and seeing them freeze up and look shocked.

The Commander Keen games are still available at, and that's pretty cool. But I think they deserve to shine again, to be exposed to a new generation of budding gamers as well as to the older generation of slavering fanatics.

I might be getting overly excited, but seriously. This is my childhood.   read

8:15 PM on 05.07.2008

I F*cking Love Tacticals, Part One--Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness

Oh my god you have no idea.

Anyway. On to business.

It may be noted that I am a fairly recent arrival to gaming--I only got a PS2 last year (actually, it was a Christmas present for my whole family), a DS last summer, and a PSP in December. So I have a fair amount of catching up to do. I will profess at least an amiable curiousity about any kind of game that isn't a shooter or Katamari Damacy, the former because guns in and of themselves bore me and the latter because the camera angles make me nauseous. So when my boyfriend recommended that I check out the Disgaea games I said, "Sure, cool," and when I found an improbable copy of Hour of Darkness at GameStop I persuaded my mother to buy it for me. And then the next week I went out and got Cursed Memories.

That was...say, last June? And since then the series has been eating my life. I swear, they're like fucking...I dunno. They're like soul leeches, but instead of gross they're awesome. The storylines are absorbing, the writing itself is funny, the graphics are fantastic, and the gameplay is artery-explodingly lovely.

I mentioned I got my PSP recently? It was so that I could play Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness, the PSP rerelease of the first game with new stuff added. Now, I really enjoy playing games on television consoles, but handhelds are really where my affections lie, because they fit in my pockets and can be played covertly when I'm bored in class. And that was the first selling point of the game: Disgaea pocket-sized! What could be more awesome that having these guys

around to entertain me at a moment's notice?

Then there's where my true love of tacticals, and particularly Disgaea games, comes in: these games take forever. Not to win the main game, no, that's pretty easy. The final boss is only level 100. But the Disgaea games specialize in things that are absurdly intense. The level cap is 9999. And then you can reincarnate and get to 9999 again. And again, and again, your stats improving with every reincarnation. Every item can be made awesome beyond belief. There are infinite random dungeons for the discerning gamer, and you can fight people from other games.

And the game rewards you for doing this.

Seriously, that's my favorite thing about any Disgaea game. You are not only encouraged to power level, it gets you presents. If you bother to level enough and run the bills through to get to Priere, and you defeat her, she'll join your party. If you complete the Cave of Ordeals they give you a leveling map and a really nice fist weapon. Even better, if you complete the exciting new part of the Cave of Ordeals in Afternoon, they give you the same leveling map that they gave you before, but supercharged.

I have spent about two months power-leveling in this game. No joke. I'm taking a break right now to poke around in the infinite random Item World dungeons to steal things to increase my item collection record, because with every ten percent increase, the little collections dude gives you a godly stealing item. And I can carry all of this awesomeness in my purse and play it before class. Or, well, during class, sometimes.

Another cool thing about Afternoon is that they added another mode of play. If you read Etna's diary at the start of every chapter, when you win you get offered Etna Mode!

It's really short, but all the enemies are harder, so it's totally worth it. Haven't played it yet, though. Too busy power leveling.

The Disgaea series, and particularly this game, are the entire reason that I like this genre in the first place, and are thus the reason for my starting up this series of posts. They're absorbing and entertaining, and I like games that reward me for being OCD.

Also, one last thing: I like working out the strengths and weakness of my enemies and then sending one little dude to stand on exactly the right square and do exactly the right thing to take the enemy down hard.

Tacticals are like puzzle games. Except that people die.   read

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