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I bought the original Borderlands, day-1. Loved it. Verbally assaulted anyone who felt differently.
Now that you know I'm an inherently more credible gamer than you are, you are going to read my impressions of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Because you want my approval. To have just a tiny bit of my glorious and impeccable presence rub off on your pityful, scrubcore style.
But, really. I'm (probably) a nice guy who likes to think he knows a thing or two about Borderlands. Listen up, please?
A bulletproof plan!
Upon starting up The Pre-Sequel, it was cool to be reminded of these two playable female characters and (for all intents and purposes) two playable male characters, respectively, available from the start for the first time in Borderlands history. This way, nobody is angry. You want tits? You got twice the amount now. You want a dudebro military strongman? You got him, and he has an awesome beard.
You want a Claptrap?
Well, uh, sorry. You got him too.
Of course, as somebody who's been leaning more and more towards female characters whenever given the option, I picked the cowgirl with a serious fetish for pain. Not even kidding, she has a questionable as heck moral compass.
"I haven't felt this good since Mom died!". Whoa.
Not to contiuously totally 1-up Darren, buuuuuut I've taken my own screenshots as well.
After quickly realizing that my character was kind of a psycho, I began warming back up to the Borderlands formula of hilarity, shootin' and lootin' (not always necessarily in that order).
The beginning sections were considerably more exciting than the beginning sections of either Borderlands 1 or 2. Even the writers were totally on to that thought process. "All we did was arrive in town on a bus.", states Borderlands 1 player character Mordecai. It wasn't a terrible way to get me back into the franchise since temporarily leaving my many many... maaany hours of Borderlands 2 behind a year or so ago.
I was havin' some good ol' fun times, for sure.
Above is a shot of the room housing one of the game's first boss fights. Not to waste any momentum from promptly crash-landing on Pandora's moon after such a bombastic intro, you're treated to one of the more creative bosses Borderands has given us. Flying and hopping around, above and below the many levels of this stage while simultaneously focusing your attention on "Deadlift" was pretty exciting and a nice break from the somewhat typical "strafe and shoot the bullet sponge".
By that point, I was also graced with one of the game's new weapon variants (also seen above): LAZORZZZZZZ!!!11!!1 They're pretty damn awesome. Throughout my 23 or so levels, I've almost always had one in my inventory for the right situations. Not quite as overpowered as I thought they'd be, but they're typically slightly more useful compared to other weapon variants of adjacent value.
For example, a "blaster" (also see: that shit you see in them Star Warses) laser (or any laser, for that matter) seems to always have some sort of elemental effect. It's pretty easy to find a mainstay blaster laser as opposed to even a half-worthwhile assault rifle.
The hub world of The Pre-Sequel, Concordia. Infinitely more awesome than BL2's Sanctuary.
With all that great stuff said, shortly after the first hour, feelings of "same old shit" started to settle in. I would even say it started to feel like a second-hand Borderands 2. This wasn't exactly what New Vegas was to Fallout 3.
The humor may've been dialed back a tiiiiiiiiiiiiny bit (people aren't wrong that it's a little more in-tune with BL1), but it's still pretty much BL2's "lol we're so random and wacky". Which I actually like. However, much of the dialogue here was feeling like cutting room floor material. Not terrible or unfunny, just... heh. Inoffensive. Though, of course, some may enjoy that if they found BL2 a little too much for their tastes.
The mission design wasn't any more inspiring. It's what you'd expect. Spoken dialogue contextualizing the situation (in this case, Handsome Jack often complains about progress being haulted once again), go here and do a variation of collect and/or shoot, character butts in with something quirky, continue mission, character butts in with something quirky, end mission, good jorb. Inoffensive.
The early settings were very open, but also rather barren, often requiring some trekking before finding a "GET YOU ONE!" station. Even the more dense/restrictive environments weren't super impressive. Borderlands 2 may've been much about ice environments for the first few hours, but those were certainly more visually exciting than dull blue rock, grey pipes and black skies. At the same time, again, they aren't terrible. Occasionally, I would pause to appreciate the landscape. The Hyperion 'H' often looked nice contrasted with the red glow of the moon's lava or the various shades of the lower part of the background.
And, thankfully, exploration is still rewarded with hidden collectables and chests littered everywhere.
I feel a little like a broken record, here. Inoffensive.
Slowly, though, the game starts to show spikes of improvement. You start to happen across some genuinely funny characters like Red Belly and Peapot (related), the missions become more hectic, the settings get more far more interesting (especially once you land back on the 'H' base), and, finally, you (or, at least, "I") start to appreciate the plethora of small adjustments to the experience.
Moonstones (not to be confused with what evolves a Clefairy to a Clefable) are a new form of currency alongside the usual bucks, used to unlock special chests littered about the place, to upgrade your backpack/ammo space(es), to purchase one of Moxxi's temporary stat buff cocktails (those could get interesting in True Vault Hunter Mode), and possibly some other thing(s) I've yet to discover as I'm nowhere near done.
As you're often up against the vaccuum of space (not really a problem for Claptrap players, though), your character now has an "OZ Kit". Not only do they give you something to casually be aware of as well as your combat proficiency and remaining ammo, but they give you two new tricks: Jump-boosts and butt slams. Used together with your other abilities during combat, they can yield all kinds of exciting and decidely vertical results.
Even further, the OZ Kits also come with their own special stats. Elemental butt slams, buffs for when your airbourne or whether you're in a vaccuum or an atmosphere, temporary buffs following a butt slam, all kinds of things. They don't feel like a second shield or class mod, they're very much their own thing, encouraging unconventional offensive tactics as opposed to just providing permenant buffs or simple situational buffs like increased melee damage while your "Maylay" shields are depleted.
I'm also pretty fond of the new hoverbike vehicle and I'm probably very close to unlocking the use of The Grinder, which is a machine that you dump useless weapon drops into in favor of something potentially useful! It's like pouring bucks into the slot machine, only the bucks are now dangerous clumps of metal.
Things like the cocktails and The Grinder assure some extra fun in True Vault Hunter Mode, as well as the supposed added dialogue bits.
Um. I swear I didn't steal this from Darren's review. Don't you dare think of me like that.
At the point that I'm at (approximately level 23), I'm really digging the extra bit of insight into Handsome Jack. How he became the douchenozzle that he is in Borderlands 2. Like Destructoid's review mentions, he's hardly ever exactly sympathetic, but his transformation is very sensible and a joy to witness. It's not in-your-face or subtle, more somewhere in the middle.
As one of my favorite video game villains (second or third to Ratchet & Clank's Dr. Nefarious), it's great to continue seeing him done justice. If you were a fan of his writing in Borderlands 2, you wouldn't know that the Pre-Sequel wasn't even primarily written by Anthony Burch (for better or for worse).
The story, as a whole, so far, has offered a couple nice little surprises as somebody who was expecting the bare minimum for a prequel job. Let's just say, some elements are nostalgic (being a story that barely takes place after the original Borderlands) while others are almost entirely new.
As far as the new classes are concerned, I'm not gonna pretend to be a expert in that respect. I've only ever played the Soldier in both Borderlands 1 and 2. I don't know how specifically different The Pre-Sequel's classes are, but, from my time with Nisha the Lawbringer, the particular build I have of her revolves around "Order" stacks that you achieve as you kill or get hit. They mostly provide bonus melee/gun damage and potential heals, but sometimes they encourage you to withhold causing damage to specific enemies until your stack is high enough (known as "Wanted" stacks), which is somewhat interesting.
Appropriately, considering her cowgirl aesthetic, her special skill is an auto-lock that drastically increases her fire rate, reload speed and damage. Firing off a good revolver while it's active can be a power trip. She's a pretty fun gal, mechanically.
Claptrap, though, looks like a blast. Those obsessed with co-op play will, no doubt, be into him.
As a gigantic Borderlands fan, it's hard... nay, impossible to not find a good lot of enjoyment in The Pre-Sequel. Unless you're that sick of the formula, at worst, this is something you're going to want to pick up at some point.
As for me, I'm officially really into it. Not a huge surprise, I suppose. I'm really looking forward to subsequent playthroughs as I go through every little bit of content the game has. Heck, I know I'll probably try another playthrough of either Borderlands 1 or 2 when this is all over.
For now, so long fellow space cowgirls.
I normally stay clear of topics like this, especially within the games medium. It's no longer easy to be so motivated to take part in intelligent discussion when said discussions can so innocently devolve into hate-spitting or childish name-calling. That topics come up repeatedly as I'm less interested than usual doesn't help.
In the past several months, STFUAJPG has never meant so much to me. I have way too many goddamn video games to just shut the fuck up and play to be conversing with some random Internet guy/gal about the legitimacy of forced perspective or unabashed violence. But, that is exactly what I'm about to do. I've momentarily stopped my Aliens Vs. Predator (2010) playthrough for you people. It's really good so far, so you better be spankin' grateful!
And, no. I could spend at least half of this blog discussing the not-so-black/white differences between Hatred and something like Payday or GTA, to simply elongate the points I've already made. Instead, here's something entirely different: Why what's not okay is totally okay. In fact, why it can be very interesting.
Let's cut straight to the meat of the blog. The game that crossed my mind, which sparked interest in typing all this vomit out. A free little indie title by the name of "Edmund".
In Edmund, you are given no inkling as to the intentions of your character. You're not even told the subject of the game on it's website. You are simply under the impression that you are some guy, possibly named Edmund, waiting for a bus next to a set of pixels vaguely in the shape of a female human. It's at night, there's nobody else around, and there's just... something that unsettles you a teensy bit about the dialogue.
Given the topic of this blog and my referencing, you've may've already assumed that this game isn't a super happy one. You may've even already guessed what it reveals after a certain point, but just in case you're as naive as I would be in your shoes and are still on the edge of your seat, I'll go ahead and spill the beans:
In Edmund, you, through your own inputs yet unbeknownst, have just raped someone. In all it's pixely detail, you rape and murder a helpless civilian.
When it happened, to say the least, I was pretty startled. "Wow. They went there. Wow." I keep repeating to myself.
This may've not been the game's sole focus, that it was (probably) a story about someone with a split personality and the grief that followed for a brief moment. However, in those few seconds when all my mind could think "... I'm raping someone. I'm a rapist.", any chance of redemption or justification was moot. I was raping someone. Pixels or not, I was raping someone.
Then, when it was all over and I could calmly reminisce, there was no other word for it. Even ignoring it's story and focusing solely on that moment when I was a deplorable human being, all I could think was "... that was interesting.". I am not okay with rape. I am not okay with murder. I'm also not okay with a lot of things that are considerably less awful. But, being forced into the perspective of someone who would do that sort of thing was... interesting.
In GTAV, you, as Trevor, are made to violently torture somebody for info on a target. While it's not quite on the same level of awful as raping someone in Edmund, the detail they put into depicting said torture and the neverending pleads from the victim to stop made it almost too much to push myself through.
Trevor ends up somewhat redeeming himself shortly thereafter in a way that made it even more interesting than my overall time with Edmund, but, also like Edmund, in that moment of trife, all I could think was "I'm torturing someone and I can't stop it.". Fuck the reasoning, because, in that situation, the reasoning wouldn't matter. I wouldn't want to do it at all. I am participating and not merely an onlooker. As far as I'm concerned, me as Trevor and Trevor as himself cease to be the same entity when I'm put into situations like this.
The 4th wall is officially broken and I want to stop. It makes me think that I should be more disturbed that I do similar things in games that don't even require of me to do them.
This is exactly why it's interesting. Not the surprise or that the narrative morbidly justifies it, but simply the separation of player and character.
No matter how video games do them, that separation is captivating to me. The game feels good to play, it looks pretty alright, the mechanics are there, but whatever it is that keeps that line between game and reality or some sick truth unblurred is, even if it's just for one brief section, not present.
In the much-touted Spec Ops: The Line, there were many points where I said to myself "I really wanna just turn back and go home or something.". The game may've had excellent character development that made the separation more interesting than it would otherwise have been, but, to me, the simple realization that I had to push myself through a situation where I would want to call it quits and that I only was doing so here because it's just a video game was what stuck out to me.
Heck, even Pokemon has done this!
Whether it's with violence or something else, making you aware of your actions in something that says to play in order to experience it is one of the many things only video games can do. It is INTERESTING!
However, on the topic of context, why do we use context to justify actions like these but not the actions found in Hatred? Edmund has MPD, Trevor is schizorphrenic, and Not Important is sociopathic. Of course the actions of someone with schizorphrenia are likely going to be more complicated than the actions of someone who's simply a stone cold killer. Why is one okay, but the other not? To me, they're perplexing all the same.
Does Hatred seem infinitely more disturbing? You bet. But, I don't think the differences beyond are anywhere near as black and white as some are making it out to be.
All the while, it's also damned interesting.
For as much as I may tout my love for them, me and horror games go together like spaghetti and ice cream (I haven't actually tried spaghetti and ice cream simultaneously, but it can't be good). They're amazing in short doses, but the best of them always get the best of me. The taste begins to settle, and I quickly realize this was a bad idea.
Outlast's first 15 minutes had my nerves shot, Silent Hill's elementary school was so effectively haunting that I haven't touched the game in two years, Slender still makes me paranoid of looking behind my back, the first two FEAR games make you quiver even with all that fancy weaponry, and even games like The Last Of Us have their moments.
However, as of two nights ago, Alien: Isolation is finished and embedded deep into my brain. It even gave me my first real nightmare I've had in months. For as little actual time as you spend with the alien, you do spend a lot of time dying by it's hands, mouth, claws, and spiney tail. Creatively speaking, the xenomorph is the realest thing aboard the Sevastopol, and through isolation I formed a special bond with the creature. For better or for worse.
In the movies, you're merely watching how these things work. You're seeing how others may react, what others would do to survive, but you're hardly ever thinking about what you would do, hypothetically, if you were placed in a room with one of these things.
In your mind, you're a total badass. What's so tough about outwitting some premitive animal? I'll splash my piping-hot coffee all over it's back and call it a bitch. Maybe you're not quite that confident? But, you're still sure you'd be plenty alright? So easy to think that, until you play Alien: Isolation.
If you hide, you're not safe. If you run, you're not safe. If you have a goddamned flamethrower and several pipe bombs, you're not safe. Anything you do (especially if you run) is only a temporary solution to one surprisingly large problem. Like seriously, this thing is at least 8 feet tall.
The first 2 or 3 major xeno bits of Isolation, you don't even have your flamethrower to keep it from formally inviting itself to your face. You're gonna need some real tight tricks, lots of spatial awareness, and lots and LOTS of patience to make it through these. Typically, the alien doesn't give you much room for error and it's easy for it to surprise you.
You think you're clear for that door ahead of you, but then you hear something scamper quickly from behind, above and then ahead to finally see the alien plop down from that last vent all like "Wassup?". That's when you become frozen with fear, it screams out in bloodlust, it runs for you, and you're treated to a very violent French kiss.
It's not just fast, either. You haven't heard the half of it.
It's sensitivity to sound or smell is even higher than you might think for something that doesn't seem to physically have eyes.
I thought I was hot shit when I sicked the alien on a group of humans as I hid away in a nearby vent, using my motion tracker to occasionally keep track of it's movement. Well, because of that confounded (at the same time, useful) motion tracker echoing through that tight, vast space, it found me out and dragged me away from behind. It was even pretty quiet about it, all things considered. I thought hiding in a locker was a free pass as long as I pulled backed and held my breath as it began sniffing through the air pockets (this is an actual mechanic in the game). NOPE. That thing's nose isn't falling for that gimmick a second time.
I shudder to think of just how many spots I thought impenetrable until I got had.
Running even when it's nowhere near you can give it a much more prevalent trail to follow once it does finally catch wind. It will then more thoroughly inspect the area around that and unless you're long gone, you might need to play a tense rendition of Ring Around the Rosey until it decides to give up and search the next room. If you decide to stay in that room where it had previously sniffed you out or heard you running, it will keep coming back until you leave or make a mistake that results in your death.
Unless you're lucky that it decides to shrug it off after the first search. You really cannot predict what this thing is going to do. But, there's always a way around it. You just have to be preparred and patient.
Let's talk about when I had amassed a flamethrower and schematics for pipe bombs, noisemakers and molotovs.
Was some of the tension taken away? You bet. Was it still a tense battle for who was most patient and least gullible? You bet you're sweet candy ass. If anything, now that I had these things, scavenging became much more important. If I wasn't finding all the fuel cannisters that I was, accounting for it's short range and using as tiny of bursts as I possibly could, that flamethrower would empty pretty quickly. Any one of your other tools still require you to prep your shot and aim carefully as to not damage yourself as well as the alien.
Remember: You're not the being with the powerful exo-skeleton.
Even that flamethrower won't always save you completely. The alien can easily charge through the flames, knock you on your butt and damage you as it tries to quell the pain and run to a nearby vent. Even without explosives, you can indirectly cause yourself some damage and be forced to rummage that health pack you were saving for just such an occasion.
There's even more to cover in regards to how this brilliant AI works, but what's under the hood and those individual moments of surprise aren't all that I wanted to talk about. It's how that AI and those surprises work along with those treks from room to room, the waiting and waiting, those minutes-long bouts of extreme tension and release that make Alien: Isolation a memorable experience.
In just that first major section with the alien, I understood the value of total silence and solitude under that desk in that room to the left. About 95% of the time, you're hearing the alien to some capacity, but there are those times when everything is completely quiet and you can almost fool yourself into thinking you're totally safe. Having that silence then broken by the sounds of the xeno's thumping footsteps or rustling about above almost always made me second guess my decision to move from my temporary safe spot.
I can't count how many times when I would finally make my move to hear the alien drop from the vent in the room I was just exiting or his pressence open a nearby automatic door, signaling that I should fucking crouch faster but YOU CAN'T DAMMIT AUGH PLEASE DON'T SEE ME! Walking about in the open, even when it's not actively on the prowl, had my stomach in a perpetual knot until I began to barely notice. It became that natural, playing Isolation.
And when it peaks it's head outward from the corner you're hiding in because you weren't quick or confident enough to find a nearby vent, desk or locker, you shut your mouth and pray that it runs right on by so that you can slowly sneak around and press that emergency lockdown button, temporarily blocking access to the room.
Not one single encounter with the alien is not an "Oh, fuck." moment. Your plans quickly change, you crouch, you back off, and the cat and mouse chase begins.
There's even a particular section of this game that is the scariest fucking part of any game I have ever played.
For those who have played much of Isolation already, let's just say it happens around Mission 14 within the reactor control. You'll know what I mean. Even with an almost full tank for my flamethrower, a couple molotovs and enough supplies for several health kits, the way they switch up the xeno encounters for that bit is almost overwhelming.
I had everything that I needed to survive. That the game still managed to make me cower into a locker or hidey hole longer than any other section before that is a testiment to how horrific this part really is, and I wish I could emphasize it better by just flat out spoiling the surprise.
They kept the xeno away for just enough time for the comeback in Mission 14 (?) to be jarring and legitimately frightening. Absence makes the heart grow softer. I was literally shaking, breathing heavily, and dreading every moment they just about forced you to draw your weapon at another enemy, making enough noise to give away your general position.
How Creative Assembly portrays the xenomorph in Ailen: Isolation is about as close to a real, living, breathing, thinking creature that video games have ever given us, and I don't say that lightly. That it looks as menacing as it does and that it can kill you so quickly only exacerbates the fear of the hunt exponentially.
Much of the game may be spent on encounters with humans and synthetics as well as the Sevastopol as it's own sort-of-character, but I will always remember the alien. That thing that haunted me through even the most rudimentary of tasks. That if I made too much noise almost anywhere around that ship, that it's rustling wasn't just background noise and that it would come for me... made for something very special.
It came at short notice. Not a month before it was to happen, I was informed of available tickets for a certain "Alamo City Comic-Con". Where I would find cosplays, famous faces and, ideally, some generally great times.
Almost immediately, possibilities ran through my head. Who would I seek out to meet? What panels would I go to? Who would I dress as? Was this all even worth it? Do I BELIEVE THE HYPE? The days leading up to curtain call were exciting on their own, but I had no idea just how much I would enjoy the convention. My very first one.
As anyone will likely tell you, it's an amazing and very unique kind of experience. In fact, it was most fun I've had since early high school and will probably remain that way for quite some time.
To say that it was life-affirming is putting it lightly. Never have I felt more proud to be a total fucking dork. It was it's own little, self-contained world where "abormal" was now fair game and you could express anything as long as it was appropriate.
On a normal day, if a dude walked up to me, then suddenly crouched into a cardboard box, I would've chuckled and been on my way. At Comic-Con, it was an impromtu stage performance. I pretended to be curious at the box before me that I could swear I saw move. After a few seconds, I threw my hands up and continued my patrol. Just like in that video game!
Every cosplayer knew how to play ball. Every single one was your friend, more than willing to take your shoulder and pose for a selfie.
Some people describe cosplay as an excuse to be someone you are not. But, if you were not this person, then what the hell is it that you are doing, exactly? That's totally you. You don't literally switch brains with some fictional character. This is simply an environment that encourages your inner most geek and when, if, it's let loose... the fun you have is incomparable.
I wish I could be this open everyday.
And then there are the celebrities. If it were just cosplays, vendors and gabbin' with fellow nerds, it would've been more than enough fun and worth the relatively cheap entry price. But, when you see tables set up to feature the likes of Steve Downes, George Takei, Troy Baker, Robert England, Anthony Michael Hall... you can't deny the allure.
"Is that Vaas?! Far Cry 3?", exclaimed Troy Baker, voice of TLOU's Joel, Persona 4's Kanji, Arkham Origins' Joker, Bioshock Infinite's Booker Dewitt, Resident Evil 6's Jake and MANY others.
"Why, yes it is!", I answered with a twinkle in my eye.
I come back a second time and find him chatting with fans like they were best buds. Slamming his fists on the table like an excited teenager, complementing cosplays, talking about video games, whatever. On that second trip, I even managed to negotiate a free few measures of Will the Circle Be Unbroken.
Steve Downes (Master Chief) and Jen Taylor (Cortana, as well as L4D's Zoey) weren't much different. Fans were not a burden at all. Sharing interests, chatting it up and just having a great time.
Believe it or not, I was this close to shaking Stan Lee's hand. Instead, though, I just silently murmured "Stan Leeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee." and walked off as to not bother him. Or so I told myself. Really, I choked. There's no real way around that. I choked.
Just when I thought I had seen it all, there was a whole 'nother half a stadium full of vendors next to the other quarter of a stadium of vendors and comic artists. With that much swag crowding my line of sight, I had to buy at least a few things.
Plushies, paintings, die cuts, costume accessories, even live commisions and... love pillows. And an entire vendor dedicated to My Little Pony. I'm not a man with a right to judge, but that's definitely something.
Give this dude's figure some props. The perfect Nightwing.
The convention wasn't nearly as empty as I was expecting, if empty at all. Since it wasn't any of the more heavily-promoted Comic-Cons, I assumed it was one of those meager substitutes until the real deals. That it wasn't "cool" enough. That could not have been further from the truth.
Vendors out the wazoo, dozens of famous faces, displays, events, showfloor panels, just about everything you could imagine was out in full force and nevermind the many many attendees who were usually in constume. There was always something to see or do.
Heck. You didn't even need to venture towards the celebrity cosplayers to see something on-point and worthy of a total fangasm. Just regular old folks doing it purely for the fun, that's always going to be more impressive to me.
Those that got creative with their cosplays were even better. We had gangster Deadpool (also see: D Pooly), Wario and Waluigi with karts petruding from their torsos, original designs that were truly something to witness, and genderswaps. Lots of genderswaps.
FemLink? Hell yeah. Male Marceline? Would date. Sweet little girl as Blue Knight from Castle Crashers? ADORABLE!
I did see a lot of the same costumes, though. Which was to be expected. Deadpool, Spider-Man, Batman, Finn, Link, and lots and LOTS of The Joker. Also, lots of cleavage.
You know who I didn't get to see, though? What would've tickled my fancies? Diablo III's Malthael. Nocturne's Demi-Fiend. Just ONE Simpsons character. Nobody brought their dog as Okami and themselves as Sakuya. And most criminal? There was but one Waluigi.
I should've gone as Waluigi.
I sort of love these guys in particular.
I could go all day about how amazing of a time I had at Alamo City Comic-Con. I would if it were feasible, with thousands of words and every single one of the 50 or so pictures I took. In my current state, I still need plenty of sleep. It was a workout, walking about for 5-6 hours.
I leave you all with this: If you have the opportunity, go to one of these. Or any convention. Anime, video games, specific communities, anything. But, especially if it's some sort of Comic-Con. It will be worth every cent. Don't take that as a casual endorsement. If this is a kind of environment you're not used to but interested in, I guarantee you'll be more than impressed.
I will treasure that Saturday's hours for the rest of my life. That was a day I can take to my grave. "I did that. I totally did that.". At this very moment, I still feel confident in saying that I can die happily.
A little somethin' for Hoffman.
In just two short years, I've played and greatly enjoyed (most of) a whopping 8 Shin Megami Tensei titles.
Well, actually, that would sound like a lot if there weren't still so freakin' many left to try! I'm scared to Wiki the exact amount. But, to put it into perspective, we have a Persona game coming just a day before my next birthday (!!!), another (hopefully) sometime in 2015, SMTIV is finally releasing in Europe next month, and a Devil Survivor 2 port is in development.
I think ATLUS has met their quota, don't ya think?
This guy still has a "Fuck you." quota to meet.
One of SMT's standout elements, for me at least, is it's fantastic music. Much of it composed/arranged by Shoji Meguro, who quickly became one of the very very few video game composers I took the trouble to look up and keep in mind for future reference. I had only played Persona 4: Golden, but his work was seriously giving me a hard on.
What Jonathan Coulton is to folk/geek music culture, Meguro is to video game music culture. He can pump out dozens of tracks per game, with multiple games sometimes releasing within the span of less than a year. Tackling multiple genres, channeling all sorts of vibes, and kicking so much ass. This man's creative juices just don't run dry.
Here, I will try my best to justify my love. Stop listening to your wubbysteps or your Anacondas or something because I haven't been able to get SMT off my mind for the past week. I need to shove some of that down your earholes.
"Fierce Battle" - Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne
For as much as I praise Meguro, this particular track reeks exstensively of "bahbee's first metal recording". Betting most of your track's hook almost entirely on E to F to A# chords and neck slides to a basic rhythm is about as edgehard as wearing sunglasses indoors. It being the first battle tune you hear in Nocturne and coming straight off of the high quality of SMTIV's battle tracks, it was a grand disappointment.
Now? This is preciously why I love it. It's grown on me to where I appreciate it's cheese factor, and the percussion and jutting chords hit just hard enough that I can't help but punch and kick a few holes in the wall in a fit of air guitar and wavy long hair. With a huge, shit-eating smile on my face.
"Hunting Field" - Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga
I look to my right, then my left. I may imagine myself in a nice bathroom, with tan/white marble floors and walls that sheen with every glance. I walk out to what seems like a lovely hotel, take the pen at the register, state my name, sign in, then walk calmly to my suite. All the while, I would not be surprised to hear a little bit of the Digital Devil Saga soundtrack. There is a surprising amount of very relaxing music for a game as dark and serious as this.
If I had to place this particular piece within a precise genre of music, it'd have to go with "gloom lounge" or something along those lines. Not quite dark or creepy, just ever so dreary. Soft synth stretches across just about every second, with the heaviest element likely being the guitar chords that spike and then slowly decipate into equally as soft echoes.
It's an interesting track. If "gloom lounge" is already prominent enough to be an actual genre, I need to hear more. If it isn't, I need to bust out GarageBand and start the next big music movement.
"Battle Beat" - Devil Survivor
Devil Survivor is the one game out of all the SMT titles I've tried thus far that I haven't liked, falling into what usually deters me from most JRPG's early on. Competent dialogue or characterization seems to be surprisingly rare for games that focus so heavily on story.
I mean, I get it. You created a sqealy, ditzy young girl who's one gimmick is to form almost everything as a question and to bicker at her inability to understand anything as a "plot device" to consolidate the player in case he or she ever got confused. It's not subtle or enjoyable, it's just annoying.
Thankfully, the music fares much better. Battle Beat, specifically, vaguely reminds me of one of my favorite Megadeth tracks, High Speed Dirt. Similar rhythm, two-note chords rooted in A galloping away, etc. It's solowork may not be anywhere near as impressive, but it's still a great representation of a thrilling battle. Naturally, making it a nice battle theme. Really comes together towards the end where the harmonizing solos especially shine.
I swear, I keep half-expecting Mustaine to burst in by the end of every few measures and sing about demon summoning and penis beasts.
"Basement" - Persona 3
I don't think I remember this track from my many many hours of Persona 3: FES, but it must've come up at some point. The tragedy with video game music is that, sometimes, the story or gameplay grabs so much of your attention that it's easy to forget that there's probably some nice sounds alongside.
There's a LOT going on with this track. It's the perfect backing to someone holding their head and screaming out in paranoia. Fast and varied percussion, jolting guitar sampling, horrific string and bit melodies, everything layered so damn well and always staying interesting. It's almost criminal that tracks this good and complex are usually looping after only a minute to a minute and a half.
"Main Theme" - Shin Megami Tensei IV
SMTIV probably has my favorite of the SMT soundtracks I've experienced thus far, so believe me when I say I understand picking the main theme is unambitious and that are plenty more awesome tracks that don't get the attention they deserve, but this theme track is goddamned epic. I don't use that word lightly, "epic". It is most definitely is.
At first, I found it dull. But, much like how Fierce Battle eventually grew on me, I've come to love this track. Just not in any sort of ironic sense. The frightening and powerful piano strikes, those crunching pick slides that almost sound like demonic moaning, that howling synth melody towards the end, I just love how every single element of this track perfectly suites the atmosphere and general tone of SMTIV. Grandiose, dark, and desperate.
As I explained with P3's Basement, tracks this good I usually want more and more out of. But, SMTIV's theme tune is so perfectly-paced that I can't complain. It doesn't leave me wanting more, rather.. it leaves me satisfied. There's nothing at all missing from it. Frankly, it's fookin' perfect.
"Your Affection" - Persona 4
Ahhhh. The game that started it all. Well, the game that started my love of SMT at least.
There's something to be said about someone who can successfully tackle both metal and J-pop. Who do I have to sell my soul to for that kind of feat? Eh? Jesus, Meguro. You're #based as FUCK. Can we, like, take a second to appreciate that? That takes more talent than most might think.
Those sexy bass rides under what is a great use of the typical *high-hat, snare, high-hat, bass, repeat* sort of beat, and the beautiful melody that doesn't go for too many intense highs while remaining just as soulful... it's about as solid, dignified, and enjoyable as pop can get. Pretty much sums up all of Persona 4's pop tracks, really. "Catchy" is such a great quality when it's not exploited through a song that's lackluster as heck otherwise.
"Virtual Art Gallery (Cave)" - Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers
Have you ever gotten anxious or nervous from the sound of slowly dripping water? That's literally all this track is, outside the ominous sounds of wind echoing through a cave and that single cello note that repeats throughout.
This is not necessarily a legitimate entry for this list. Just a cool little Pavolovian-esque experiment. Personally, about 5 seconds in, my heartrate began to rise. Guess it's sort of like those suicide myth's surrounding Pokemon Red/Blue's infamous Lavender Town track. Immediately sets you off. *shudder*
"Ebony" - Persona 2: Eternal Punishment
Sans your Isley Brothers' Greatest Hits CD... that which is now only but a Spotify playlist, nothing will get you and your significant other in the mood quite like this track. Or, if you're by yourself, that's okay too. Somebody's doin' somebody.
Interesting how tracks like this might be just as prevelant to Meguro's resume as pop or metal. I can't get enough of that MIDI acoustic. Such an innocence to it. However, this is in serious need of some love-makin' lyrics. The saxophone, the slow drums, the keys, the snappy synth bass, it's perfect RnB fodder. That's my lone criticism of this track: Something's definitely not right when I have nothing to sing to myself, bumpin' this as I browse FurAffinity or Gelbooru.
Besides that, though, I can't really say much else. It's just a pretty darn chill piece of music.
"Jakyou Manor" - Shin Megami Tensei
Being super familiar and fond of the SMTIV version of this track before setting up this blog, I decided to take a trip through video game music history and dig this little number up.
I will admit, I haven't touched the original SMT. I just love this song and hearing it compressed into a bit track is definitely something else (in a way, I think it sounds better). It never gets boring, arrangements are always changing and surprising you while not going overboard as to have it suddenly feel like a different song. That it only consists of a church organ and keeps me engrossed like that is also impressive.
Would probably suit as some pretty nifty studying music!
"You In Wonderland" - Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth
And finally, a little surprise for those who weren't aware of the fact, but Persona Q's soundtrack has been out in it's full glory for about a month. However, just a few hours ago (as of typing this), the soundtrack has begun uploading song to song by user Bandpuffs, making highlighting You In Wonderland that much easier.
I have yet to hear anything resembling a tune like this within SMT, so this was very interesting to witness as I was attempting to breeze through every track in the bulk upload video. Accordians, now? Pretty much completes the musical repertoire of this franchise.
Quirkier tracks like this usually loop fairly quickly, but this is surprisingly fleshed-out. Complete with orchestral breakdowns towards the middle point and contrasted next to the "big top" accordian melodies, it's a fun and interesting piece that gives me plenty of hope for the rest of the PQ soundtrack. More stuff like this and the battle themes, please!
In a couple short hours, I'll be heading off to the Alamo City Comic-Con! I'll be showing off my Vaas cosplay, hanging out with fellow geeks, and hoping to meet some famous folk. Especially hoping to find Troy Baker and get him to sign my copy of The Last Of Us: Remastered. I would have Steve Downes sign my Halo 3 LE Master Chief helmet, but that'd be a burden to carry around.
I'll hopefully have a blog about that coming soon! Really really excited!
I needed a break from the, sometimes, slow-burn collectathon that is Kirby: Triple Deluxe (it's so FUCKING CUTE, though!), and that break wasn't to be spent playing more video games. Perhaps I've had enough for today.
But, what else is it that I do besides play video games? Why, talk about them of course!
It wasn't until a couple or so years ago that I started to really think critically about video games. Get in to the mindset of what our very trustworthy reviewers find themselves in when they just wanna have fun.
That's the key point there. Before then, I thought having fun with a video game was almost just appreciating it in passing, not thinking too much about it, while experiencing whatever bombastic, thought-provoking or downright sexual splendor it had for me to experience. Thinking too much about the fun you were having would be to miss the point! STFUAJPG!
Then I began to appreciate video games in so many more different lights.
What was once "I liked the gunplay in Halo. It felt visceral." was now "The enemy design and AI factor so greatly in to your movement around the almost arena-like battlefields that you'll naturally find yourself thinking on the fly, in the moment, and using the environment and your weapons to your advantage in a way you thought were almost lost to shooters of old. You're honed in. The gunplay is polished and said gunplay is put to such great use.
It's alright. Tenouttaten."
Sometimes, I no longer had to dig deep to find a game's fatal flaw. New standards arose, for better or for worse. That was when, I think, my journey for a favorite game truly began.
And now, sometime later, we're here. What is my favorite video game?
Really? I don't fucking know yet.
I first thought back to Saints Row 2. It's vibrant and exciting open world is still amongst the best you'll find despite it's lackluster art and graphical design, which is really all that needs to be said. It's gunplay and driving meet just enough averages that the act of playing it, generally, doesn't get in the way of appreciating it's design beyond.
The open world is, naturally, one of the most important aspects to any open world game, and I love SR2's updated Stilwater (one 'l', people). It's many indoor areas and extensive underground locales, it's nooks and crannies, it's architectural variety, and let's not forget the soundtrack (indirect as it may be, it has at least some baring on your enjoyment of Stilwater). Is it great? Well, it has Down Under and Gangsta Bitch a few flips away from eachother. How's that for perspective?
In theory, it's still my favorite game.
Problem is, the actual technical performance doesn't hold up at all. Whether it's PC or consoles. And after a solid two years of 45-60fps gaming on my notebook, performance has become a real sticking point for me. It's buffet of activities and side distractions, it's awesome open world, it's great campaign, it's endless customization... almost seems like nothing amidst regular frame drops at an otherwise 30fps cap. Get too much on-screen and I'm actively forcing myself to find the fun in playing with what's essentially a slideshow.
I know, in many ways, I can still have plenty of fun with it, but I'm not sure I'd still truly consider it even amongst my favorites.
Well, if we're going to apply a similar line of thinking to other open world games, shouldn't I absolutely adore GTA IV? Because while many do have good reason to dislike it (especially coming off of a game as expansive and eccentric as GTA: San Andreas), it's open world is literally the best.
It is PACKED with painstaking detail and oozes passion for visual and architectural design. Every goddamn alleyway is a brand new adventure. To this day, I'll pop it in just to walk around for a tick and I'll usually find something new every session. Like a competently-sized cemetary, complete with civilian mourners. Just... tucked away in the corner of one of the islands like it's no whoop.
Civilians banter and animate realistically, weather effects and day/night cycles bring all sorts of thick atmosphere, it's varied and very appropriate soundtrack echoes through the heavy traffic, and it's physics systems are still impressive. It's a genuinely immersive and fun to explore place, GTAIV's Liberty City.
It's a shame there's almost nothing to actually do in it outside of lukewarm takes on bowling and pool, the horrendously drawn-out campaign, or forcibly making your own fun with the police chases. As much as I want to make physical love to every corner of this great virtual city, I gotta say the brakes slam fast when there's not much fun outside impromptu walking/driving simulation.
The open world might, arguably, be the most important aspect. However, it's definitely not the only important one.
To not drag this blog out to an ungodly degree, let's say we get faster and more IN YOUR FACE. What about the more likely candidates?
Guitar Hero 1 and 2 are what got me way more heavily into music and even playing guitar, and I've had literally thousands of hours logged across every Rock Band (even LEGO... which I love!) iteration. Harmonix, as a company, I owe a great deal of the better parts of my life to.
And I really... really don't wanna think about all that money I've poured into DLC.
Important factors to consider, so what about one of those games?
The inspiring amount of creativity put into platformer Super Mario Galaxy is hard to deny.
Even at it's most dark, Galaxy is so darn bubbly. Everything makes me want to either squish it, eat it, or rub up against it. Outside of Kirby, modern 3D Mario is about as happy as gaming can get. It's a feeling so infectious that it's hard to complain about it's lack of challenge, and it's design is even quite awesome despite. With each "galaxy", you're not retreading tired ground, you're jumping into a whole new playpen of fancy powers, whimsical platforming, and stupid Goombas.
Some minor padding aside, it's a lively, soulful and breathtaking experience that I can play over and over and over. Even if I may be playing as a sociopathic beast of badden.
Any game that good and worth playing endlessly is bound to mean something?
Fresh off of a new IP starring a super douche now turned superhero, Insomiac graced you and me with Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando.
Seriously. In just a single short year, they totally trumped the original in every way and then some. Back in the day, man. When that was totally doable as long as you had a team dedicated enough. An insanely extensive campaign with a wide array of locales, a polished up and now totally satisfying combat system, competent racing and space combat to break up the usual shooter gameplay, a wonderful sense of humor, etc.
Gaming doesn't get much more simple, while far from monotonous, than this. More than Dynasty Warriors or Earth Defense Force, Going Commando is my therapy. BLAM BLAM KABOOM!
... maybe Going Commando is my favorite?
I've already sung my bard's tale of praises of Alan Wake in another blog. In retrospect, it was a bit hyperbolic, but my thoughts are practically the same as ever. It's not gaming's best narrative and it's not amongst a master class of game design, but it's a game I cannot stop thinking about. I am completely invested with it's universe (moreso than with ones as fleshed out and exciting as Mass Effect or Elder Scrolls) despite it's potential holes and "just the tip" cliffhanger (you're killing me here, guys).
Fuck. I wanna play it right now. For a third time. It MUST be my favorite!
Our forgotten brother Jim Sterling's review of Deadly Premonition says it all, really. But, to recap: DP is the business. You're dealt it, you don't know what to make of it, it may've even hurt a little along the way... but, you know it's fucking great. It's as close as gaming's gotten to perfection in "so bad it's good". What's not to love in that? It was innocent yet ambitious, fun as hell, and a little tragic in it's lack of mainstream success.
If we're judging my favorite game based on how much it has brought a smile to my face, Deadly Premonition would be it. I just don't think the magic would be there a second time. Another playthrough in order, perhaps?
As my first foray into the core SMT franchise, Shin Megami Tensei IV was an adventure I will remember fondly for the rest of my life.
My sense of wonder and awe was second to no other game I have played. Every boss demon had me wide-eyed and intimidated (some had my mouth agape or even had me straight-up terrified by their mere concept), every other demon encounter tickled my interests, the gameplay (while easy to fall into a groove with after a while) was never not about as satisfying as turn-based combat can get...
Though I did absolutely hate the Tokyo overworld map design, sometimes making backtracking and exploring a temporary Hell. But, hey, *SPOILERS* you can directly influence your player choices into creating an ending that destroys all life within the entire universe for all enternity. Uh huh.
That pretty much seals the deal?
With that said, across my 18 hour journey through The Last Of Us: Remastered, I experienced a tale far more epic than most 50-100+ RPG's.
Alan Wake may include some of my most favorite gaming lore, but The Last Of Us' narrative strength is in it's characters. Not to overstate things, the performances are fucking outstanding and real as the clothes on your back and butt (unless you're naked reading this) with dialogue equal in quality and subtlety. Whether it's in the way a character's expression quivers or morphs under pressure, the way someone may move their body, or just in the total lack of delivery.
You're not beaten over the head with EMOSHUN, you're not left hanging at the end, it a simple A to B story told brilliantly at a near-perfect pace. To say nothing of the tension and unadulterated brutality to be found in the gameplay on it's Grounded difficulty mode, The Last Of Us is one hell of a package with only minor quibbles holding it back.
Jesum. The Last Of Us MUST be it!
Point is, I think it's too early to tell. Gaming being the passion it is for me and given my curious and observant mind (*wank wank wank*), back and forths are bound to happen.
At the very least, I'm always on the prowl for new favorites. Critique has become something I look forward to as much as actually playing the game, which might be why it's so impossible to pick an absolute favorite. Every one of my most-treasured gaming experiences are special and gnarly in their own ways.
Would probably be that much easier if I could feasibly chunk in a few military shooters.