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10:18 PM on 05.22.2015

Guardians Of Our Lives: Destiny, and the Skinner Box.

I get up early in the morning, have breakfast and go for a quick jog. After a fresh shower, I sit down and press the black, round button on the controller, and a few seconds later, the character select screen appears. I've only made one character so far: a Defender Titan. He used to be a Striker, until a gold, bright border appeared around his class selection icon. Sure, it is fun to Hulk Smash things and see them fly in all directions, and having all skills learned and finely selected for maximum performance... but after each Vex Goblin falls, a sinking feeling crosses my mind: "there goes more wasted EXP, should have changed to Defender". Nothing more frustating than ending a mission, and not seeing those green round bars circling a shiny, promising skill!. 

Next to his name, a bright, yellow number calls for my attention: 29. And below it, an almost full bar, showing me how close he is to getting to Ligh Level 30. That's OK, it's just a matter of exchanging one last piece of armor with the Crucible Vendor. Why are helmets more expensive than chest plates?. My eyes dart to another number, in a smaller font below this bar: 2005, preceded by a card symbol. Still a long way to go to max it. Maybe I should start using Fusion Rifles in order to get their cards. What was it's requirement? 2500 kills?. Never mind, that will come in time. I hover the cursor over the red banner encompasing it (carefully chosen, as it represents my Level 2 Faction Standing with the Vanguard) and proceed to log in.

My chosen ship appears hovering above a planet. It's a green rarity one, as I have not yet acquired sufficient reputation in order to buy a cooler one. It is not a priority though, I'll buy it later when I have some left over marks. Speaking of marks, let's see what the Daily Mission is... great, The Black Garden again... that one takes so much time!. But I need the Ascendant Energy rewards from it, in order to max up my new Legendary Auto Rifle. 

20 minutes later, and lots of Vex turned to scrap, I'm back again in the Orbit screen. Wonder what the Daily PvP mission is?. Salvage! Nice to see that mode available again. Is not my favorite, but I should make the most of it appearing in the rotation, before it is taken away; after all, I'm just 20 wins short of obtaining its Grimoire Card. Hope I get a good group... Here it goes! Wait, I should equip the Void elemental shotgun, in order to get some kills for the Torn Exotic Weapon Bounty.

We lost the match. Damn Vex Mythoclast. Does everyone and their dog have one?. Can't wait to do the Weekly Raid for a chance at getting it. Oh well, let's go back to the Tower. With some luck, Xur will have something nice to sell this week. Good thing I've already done my Weekly Heroic Strike and got this week's Strange Coins from it. Should start another character soon so the other 18 possible ones don't go to waste... 

Damn Xur hid himself rather well this week. Nothing great on his inventory though. If only I had enough coins that time he sold the Gallahorn... Anyway, let's see what bounties does Xander have this morning. I don't really need the reputation rewards anymore, but why let it go to waste? Maybe my next level up package will have something good! Sweet, easy ones today: -Play 5 games of Control-, -Play games of Rumble-. There goes playing Salvage today...

One hour and half later, everything important is done, and I'm free to turn off the console. Work awaits!. A new expansion comes on Tuesday, if it is good, maybe I'll finally give in and buy that Season Pass. 

Tuesday comes, and I'm greeted by a message featuring the new expansion content. The Prison of Elders mode sounds fun: I was getting tired of repeating the same missions over and over again. Specially the ones about defending the ghost from enemy waves... can't he open those doors faster?. Let's go buy that helmet first though...

The armor I had been working to complete this month is gone. With the new expansion, current vendor gear has been changed in order to provide the new Light Level cap. That means I have to replace my boots, gauntlets and chest plate, as they are no longer useful. That is 225 emblems, or about 56 Crucible matches, that is, 2 weeks hitting the mark cap. Or I could choose to enhance them using some Etheric Light. An expansion only item. Randomly reward for weekly activities.

Fuck this game.

Destiny is a MMO FPS game, with a budget of around 140 millions dollars. Among their design staff is John Hopson, Ph.D. in Behavioral and Brain Sciences from Duke University. Currently, 16 million players spend an average of 3 hours logged in daily to the game.

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5:14 PM on 04.19.2015

From Software, With Love: Fear The PaleBlood

As I did before with Dark Souls (both the original and it's sequel), this are just some of my thoughts on the game after beating it. As always, spoilers abound, so thread with care!.

I'm quite torn on deciding if this is indeed the shortest game in the series. As can be seen above, my first character (STR build, blind run, no Chalice Dungeons) was just short of 30 hours, which puts it quite on par with the other games in the series. However, the second one (SKL/BLD build, all Chalices) was ready for end game in just 14 hours, which definitively felt quite short. Chalice Dungeons added some solid 20 hours more, and that just counting the pre-made ones. I also wonder how much having beaten all the previous games affected playtime (I'm by no means a skilled player, but find myself having made quite an improvement since starting Dark Souls a few years ago), along with how the new combat system focuses on speedy kills rather than turtling.

Much has been talked about the lack of build diversity, and there is indeed some truth to this. Ranged combat has all but dissapeared from the game as a concious decision, as all gameplay changes seem deliberate to prevent players to cheese through encounters (in some way, to play the game as what may be Miyazaki's original vision). However, some depth was also gained in the transition. While it may seem that there are only 4 viable builds (Strenght, Skill, Bloodtinge and Arcane), I think is better to consider the use of each Trick Weapon as a different build, as their moveset is greatly expanded due to the transformation mechanics. A Chikage build plays very differently from a Blade Of Mercy or Burial Blade one, even if all of them rely on pumping up Skill. Fashion Souls is in full effect though, as defense bonuses are mostly limited to choosing which resistance do you want to add 5% reduction to.

 

Along with Trick Weapons, BloodBorne added two more mechanics to the Souls formula which I was more than happy with. While parrying did exist in the previous game, the addition of firearms makes them easier and more consistent to pull, as one needs only to pay attention to time, rather than having to calculate distance (though later enemies do enforce the need to pay attention to when to shoot so the bullet is not deflected by the foe`s weapon, instead of doing it as soon as the enemy starts to attack). The Regain system, however, goes in a total opposite direction of what players had learned from the previous games (when hit, forget about attacking and focus on steadying yourself again), and is one of the hardest habits to break for a dedicated Souls player. As can be seen, both mechanics introduce more risk vs. reward situations to combat decisions, which makes for some great moments (both of triumph and hilarious defeat).

To further elaborate on this, it is easy to see on a second run how much more important these mechanics are, and how the game  is designed to enforce players to use them. The first boss (Cleric Beast) can be beaten easily by using typical Souls mentality, that is waiting for one of it's heavily telegraphed attacks and dodging. While it can be parried, it is not quite obvious due to it's size. However the next (and, indeed, obligatory) boss is Father Casgoine, which due to being a Hunter, plays very much like a PvP match with boss advantage. Trying to dodge his attacks is complicated due to the presence of tombs and other obstacles in the area, and staying a safe distance prompts him to make use of his Shotgun for hard to avoid damage. However, most of his attacks are easily parried due to him using an Axe, which give lots of open windows for a shot. I initially struggled with him for a good time on my first run, but utterly humilliated him on the second due to having knowledge of this. Another glimpse of great design is in how he teaches the players: what to expect from a PvP match, which moves are safe and which aren't agains parries, how Trick Weapons transformations affect moveset, and finally, that even big beasts can indeed be stunned. And all of that, without a single line of tutorial text (or you can use the Musical Box, a proper reward for those players who do take time to read item descriptions).

Before moving on to other aspects of the game, I'll like to point how the two last bosses in the main game are designed each one to test player dominance of these new mechanics. Gerhman, which is eseentially a beefed up Casgoicne, challenges players ability for parrying, and the Moon Presence the use of the Regain System under crushing pressure (it's signature attack is a wail which drops your health to a single digit, but makes it possible to regain all of it!). It is nice to finally see some final bosses which asses how much the player has mastered the games basic mechanics. Let's just not talk about Rom, though. Seriously, screw him and his flying spider circus.

Stepping from gameplay to artistic design, I was more than happy to find halfway trough the game that is, in a nice twist, essentially a Lovecraft game. Specifically, a love letter to his Dream Cycle stories, as denoted by the presence of Old Ones, cyclopean architecture, arcane studies and entities so abstract the mere sight of them takes a toll on sanity. I smiled at the cleverness of finding that the Madman's Knowledge is but the Great One's Wisdom. Mind blown! The whole second half of the game (after defeating Rom) is just delightful for fans of his work.

 

Along with this, it was surprising just how crepy and scary the atmosphere ended up being, getting real close to what one would expect from a Survival Horror game. Much of this is owned to the excellent sound design: the growls of wandering beasts, the screech of metal weapons being scrapped against the ground, the echoes of insane laughter and desperate sobbing truly end up setting a really disturbing ambience, with the epitome being the first (and unplanned) visit to the Hypoogean Gaol. Being captured by a lanky Sandman creature, put on a bag and tossed aside in an unknown prison, surrounded by extremely powerful creatures, and with no means of getting back aside from exploring and (hopefully) finding a lamp from which to warp back, all set to an unsettling soundtrack, makes for a truly unforgettable experience. That, and walking in fear of being startled by those damned fat crows.

In conclusion, I'm more than happy with this new entry in the franchise, and eagerly await the arrival of DLC for it. While the Chalice Dungeons were underwhelming (sans some great bosses) and the Covenants all but brushed aside, this has become easily of one my favorite games of all time, and a ray of hope for this new console generation. Praise the moon!

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11:59 PM on 06.02.2014

Rumor has it: an introduction to Persona 2 – Innocent Sin

After discovering the series by way of spin off game Persona 4: Arena, a rough introduction to its RPG roots by Persona 3 Portable, and finally warming up to it through Persona 4: Golden, a PSN sale for some weeks ago finally convinced me to try and visit the series roots, in the form of the Persona and Persona 2 PSP remakes. Having finished the later (recommended as a stepping stone before dealing with the original installment archaic gameplay design), wanted to share some thoughts about it, and maybe push somebody still in doubt into giving it try (as once I was!). No spoilers this time!



First things first: if you are expecting Social Links and high school life shenanigans, prepare to be disappointed. While the main characters are senior years, and the story indeed kicks off in between classes, this installment focuses completely on solving the mysteries happening through the city, in a linear, dungeon-scene-world map sequence. However, this also makes it keep a better sense of urgency, and skips situations of having to “wait a few days” for something to happen in order to continue dealing with the main plot, which goes like this…



In Sumaru City (ominously shaped in the form of the Ying-Yang symbol), strange occurrences start to occur with increasing frequency, as if rumors were becoming true one after the other. Moving statues? Bathroom ghosts? The black market? All of them suddenly real. The most popular one at the moment being that, by calling your own cell phone number, a shady figure who goes by the name of Joker will make your dreams become true. But at what cost?



In contrast to the next games in the series, in which the threat at hand was only known by the main characters, this time the whole city is aware of the fact, and plays a big part of the plot in it’s resolution. The journey also takes the characters through many normal, daily life places (museums, clubs, stadiums, etc,) in which supernatural happenings are taking place, instead of otherworldly planes. You even get your equipment from shopping malls and can go gambling at the casino!



The combat system is very classic style, with a simple turn system: elemental weaknesses only deal extra damage and there are no extra turns, knockdowns or All-Out attacks, while all characters are free to change Personas (instead of only the main character). There is no Shuffle Time, instead, demons can be “contacted” to convince them to give summoning cards, by the way of answering their questions accordingly, or choosing the correct option from a list of conversation topics, according to their personality (talking about the meaning of life with an intelligent demon or cracking a joke for a naive one). These summoning cards can be used on the series staple Velvet Room, where its usual resident Igor will use them to call forth new Personae for the party to use. No cute assistant this time, though.



Differences with later installments aside, the gameplay is solid and the graphical style is also really cool, using a mix of sprite work and 3D for the buildings, with some of the later Personae (like Hades) and enemies looking really awesome, along with clean, big conversations portraits which convey easily identified moods. The music lacks J-Pop vocals, and sticks to a more traditional sound style, but the battle themes are really good and don’t get as tiring as later ones (I’m looking at you, Mass Destruction >.>;). You can also save anywhere, anytime, which helps a lot on the later dungeons.



However, it’s necessary to talk about the ugly parts: this being an older game, some design choices take a toll on the fun factor, in definitively non-ignorable ways. The main offender is the absolutely atrocious random encounter rate, which completely rips the flow of the game and can get Vita (or PSP) throwing levels, as enemies appear every 6 or 8 steps in later dungeons. Combat animations, while very detailed, take a long time and feature strange pauses, which can make battles take a long time. Luckily, there is the option to turn them off, and an auto-battle setting, but these contribute to make it feel even more archaic. Personally, I turned animations off for random battles and on again for boss battles. Menus (in and out of battle) are a little clunky, with many confirmation prompts thrown about unnecessarily. In all, it takes a special kind of patience to get through the game, so have that in mind before buying.



With this being said, I think these faults are worth dealing with, as the plot and characters are very interesting (Eikichi is very effective and likeable in his role as the joke character, unlike Junpei…), and the setting makes for a great change of pace from the other ones, as references to real world rumors and legends are plentiful, and even have a profound impact on the plot! What seems really out of place at times, has a perfect explanation later on, and makes everything click nicely at the end. If you liked Persona 4 or 3, or are a fan of urban fantasy styled RPG’s, it’s well worth a shot, just have in mind that it is an old game, and that it is best played in short bursts (like, say, waiting for the bus or in between classes). Thanks for reading!   read


10:26 PM on 03.21.2014

Drangleic: a long journey through a forgotten kingdom.

Disclaimer: this being final thoughts, lots of spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned!

Fourty hours later, the Inheritor of the Throne stands tall atop Castle Drangleic, reminiscing of the challenges and perilous hazards left behind, prepared to rule with the four great Primal Souls in hand, until the time the evil presence which took over Queen Nashandra finds a new host with whom start it’s reign of pain and damnation anew. But, how does the journey of this Chosen Undead compare to the one of his predecessors?



I played through the game as a Knight, focusing completely on brute force and resistances, as can be seen here. My endgame armor was the Vengarl set, which is all kinds of ugly, but had the best physical resistances of the bunch… in general, the art style of the armor sets drifts towards rags and battle worn plate, rather than the stylish ones from the previous games, though there are still some of those, most notoriously the Faaram armor shown on most of the trailers, which sadly has very mediocre stats for what is an almost endgame set.

Not shown here is the Broadsword +10 which accompanied me through the full game, as stats requirements are tighter this time around, though Titatine is way more plentiful, to the point I could raise both sword and shield to the máximum, this being a Tower Shield with lots of stability bur lacking a parry. It’s worth saying that it takes some time to get hands on a shield with 100% damage reduction, so the first hours can be daunting as those little knacks at the health bar quickly start to add up.


 
The game is a lot longer than the first one, with a lot of different locations to traverse, and many optional areas to explore. However, it is also less interconected, as it mainly consists of four big linear paths to take in any order, plus another one for the endgame, being similar to Demon’s Souls. There’s also the need to return to the town of Majula, Drangleic’s versión of the Nexus, in order to level up, repair and buy supplies. I don’t understand the need to go back to the Far Fire in order to level up instead of from any bonfire, as with the ability to travel between them since the beginning, it ends up as only putting an unnecessary loading screen between reaching a bonfire and leveling up. At least the place is easy to the eye, and with nice and relaxing music.   

 

It is also very, very hard in the beggining, and rest assured that even veterans are bound to find some trouble in the first few areas. Of particular note is the descent through Black Gulch with it’s penchant for poison, and the first trip through No Man’s Wharf (pro-tip: light a torch!). Shrine of Amana is where a good part of these deaths happened, due to there being a lot open spaces for spellcaster to nail you with homing spells, not helped in the least by it being flooded, and lighting a torch in order to avoid falling into a pit and drowning making all and every lurking beast to zone in on you in a matter of seconds.  Bosses make the least part of these, amazingly, with only the Gargoyles, Duke’s Dear Freja, Smelting Demon and Baneful Queen needing a good couple of tries. 


 
While Boletaria’s areas felt purgatory-hellish in nature, and Lordran’s majestic and pompous, Drangleic’s have a more… primal tone to them. Like they have been forgotten for a very long time, and left to natural decay and slowly being occupied by wilderness. I particularly liked the end game areas, with Aida’s Keep and the Dragon Aerie being awe inspiring, and showcasing the capabilities of the new engine. However, none get to the level of the Painted World, or New Londo, which used atmosphere in a most sublime way. 


 
There are a LOT of bosses, around 30 to be exact, with some being really well designed like the Executioners Carriage, the Skeleton Lords, the Rotten and the Demon of Song. Of special note is the Smelter Demon, which is one now one of my favorites from the series, being challenging while fair, and requiring change of tactics on the fly because of it becoming deadlier as it’s health decays. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the secret Darklurker boss, which ends up being a luck based misión due to it splitting in two mid fight, and proceding to stun lock you with attacks that, on their own are easy to dodge, but in tándem become unavoidable. I’ve yet to beat it, and as it requires an Effigy as token of entrance to it’s lair, am unlikely to do, at least with this character.
 


Talking about specific moments, the first trip to the Huntsman’s Copse was pretty memorable due to the enemy design and oppresive ambience, along with the dragon skeleton coming to life and ending mine as swiftly; however the crown goes to finding the caged maiden on top of Castle Drangleic, with a Silent Hill-esque monster hanging in chains upside down as guardian, with it’s total lack of context and being so out place making an impression. The way it is dealt with is also pretty strangely animated, and stands as my favorite part of the game. Ornstein cameo was also a welcome addition, though maybe being too early in the game lessened some of it’s impact. The cursed painting also gave me a good scare!


 
Of the new characters, the return of a Dark Maiden type of character was very welcome, and her appearance at plot points of particular importance helped to give a sense of progress to the adventure. Lucatiel falls short of her role as the new Solaire, though. My favorite has to be Gavlan, with his jolly attitude and curious way of speaking helping to soften the mood of traversing the No Man’s Wharf, “Gavlan Wheel, Gavlan deal!” is sure to become a fan favorite, along with the squawk of “Give us smooth, give us silky!” from the new Snuggly the Crow. The singing ladies also are very misterious and help to raise the eerie atmosphere a good notch. There a lot more of NPC invasions, but most of them lack a defining of traits to make them shine apart, with sole exception of the Royal Sorcerer who loves to appear in the most annoying of places to wreck havoc all over your unsuspecting self with his hexes.  


 
Overall, I had a good time on Drangleic, however, it also suffers from what happens to be a common ocurrence in the gaming medium: while the first game surprises with lots of new ideas, some of them are not well implemented until the sequel, which elevates everything good from the first installment into a very high tier (think Silent Hill, whose sequel is a whole new level compared to the original). Then, the third game on a series appears and… doesn’t advance things much. It’s refined, plays good, has better graphics, but feels more like an expansión pack that a true sequel. Luckily, we have a brand new generations of consoles on the rise, in which much can be done to surprise us again… at the very least, the concerns of From Software selling to mainstream crowd were entombed, and with the community sure to discover lots of interesting things to discuss in the near future, I’m sure to come back at a later date to this forgotten land (this time as a Sorcerer!), when it’s secret are shared to experience, and new information helps to appreciate details in another light. Praise the sun!   read


10:29 PM on 03.04.2014

A celebration of times begone: My favorite memories about Castlevania

To keep it short, I don't like the direction Konami has given to the franchise this (last?) generation of consoles. I could write a lot about the change from platforming to brawler combat, the tone shift towards drama, the change from a boasting Dracula towards a moping one... but isn't writing about things you don't like like, you know, giving them even more attention? So let's instead, celebrate all the cool things Castlevania has given us during it's 25 well aged years!

(For best results, please turn up the volume and chill out to this humble playlist)

1.- The opening cutscene, showing  this generation’s Belmont ready to challenge Dracula.

While most games of the NES era (and a few of the first batch for the SNES) just threw the player directly into the first level after pressing start, Castlevania made a tradition of showing a short cutscene of the Belmont in turn standing in front of Dracula's Castle, contemplating with resolve the oncoming trial. Some even had a little animation!




2.- The defiant stride of the Belmont Clan (also known as Pimp Walk).

Sprite limits had a toll on old school animations, where it was needed to convey motions through many performance hurdles, and as a lucky result, the first Belmont's got a... peculiar way of walking. Also called power-walking, it has since become a series staple to have the vampire hunter in turn to make his way through the castle halls with a palpable determination and cadence.




3.- Losing half a life bar trying to dodge an Axe Armor hits while near some stairs….

Where to start here... Axe armors, for those new to the franchise, are a kind of resistent enemy that throws axes like boomerangs, mixing high attacks (which must be countered with a weapon hit or sometimes ducking) and low attacks (dodged by jumping). However, the controls for climbing stairs were the same as those for ducking or using a subweapon, so being close to stairs while facing these foes normally ended with our leather clad hero struck mid-step, fumbling to get down, and then getting hit again. Rage and verbal abuse ensued.



4.-  …and regaining it by eating meat found on a wall!?

But then again, we are talking about a game where you use hearts to throw a dagger or wield an axe...



5.-Grabbing the end of level orb in a cool position.

For some reason, vanquishing an end of level boss has been known to make an orb appear from thin air, which must be grabbed in order for the game to tally your points and continue. However, grabbing it also froze time and animation, so of course it's become a must to grab it mid air in the coolest pose possible. Whipping downward, doing a backflip, mid-item crash, the sky is the limit!



6.- Braving the perilous clock tower, gear by gear.

On a more serious note, maybe the series best can be found via their Clock Tower stages. Great music, amazing spritewotk, challenging platforming, superb level design, all adding to an almost hypnotic sense of cadence. Almost always the level close to last, it is something each player is always looking up when trying a new Castlevania for the first time, and almost never has failed to deliver. The Tower of Dolls from Chronicles is also kinda cool, but is the gears that signify the high point of the game most of the time.



7.- Getting knocked off a platform by a Medusa head.

The Belmont Bane, Medusa Head's are the most vile spawn from the depths of hell, created with the sole purpose of pissing people off and making controllers seeing themselves being projected towards walls at high velocities. With an erratic behavior, tendency to spawn in the worst possible places, and highly susceptible to reappear from thin air if the screen scroll shuffles, they are never a welcome sight. Rumours say the Anor Londo archers work for the same guild as this gals.



8.- Facing Death itself on a one-on-one showndown.

What more can be said? Dracula's trusted lieutenant is always a joy to confront. From the top of Clock Towers, to ghost ship's masts, deep caverns and torture chambers, Death knows how to make a fight dramatic. It is also quite fond of transforming, and meddling with different combat styles from itineration to iteration, though never leaving it's trusty scythe. Holy crosses are it's bane, however.


 
9-. The solemn approach to the Castle’s Spire.

Another of the series staples, the final approach to Dracula's keep marks the climax of the journey, leaving a moment for reflection of the trials overcome, letting the player catch his/her breath, and bulding tension for the final confontation. Unless you ruin it grinding for hearths, of course. Anyway, most of the time a lot of care is put into this  section's background, and is a memory that every Castlevania player should be fond of.  



10- Facing Dracula at last.

Admit it! You are thinking of his teleporting laugh now! The Dance of Illusions suffers little change from game to game, but is nevertheless an exciting clash of wills. Asking the player to be on top of his game, and to make use of every trick learned during the journey (like how to hit three times with a single cross), Dracula makes from a memorable last boss on each of his appearances. Except for the one from Dracula X over bottomless pits. Screw that one.



11.- The end of the journey: watching Dracula’s Castle crumble from a ledge.

A simple end for simpler times, the sunset rising over the remains of Draculas Castle, facing the trials overcome far behind, is sure to make any player's heart full with pride and even a hint of melancholy for the good times had facing it's perils. Maybe, just maybe, Dracula rising again might not be such a bad thing after all. Thanks for reading! 

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4:37 AM on 01.02.2014

Final Thoughts: Persona 4 - Golden

Disclaimer: This being final thoughts, there are a lot of Spoilers ahead. You've been warned!

Confession time: I absolutely loathed Persona 3 Portable. Being told it was a must have as a PSP/Vita owner, bought it when on sale and was severely dissapointed, mainly because climbing Tartarus is such a chore: after grinding through 80 floors, finding that there were still another 160 floors to climb was reason enough to vanish it from my memory card.


Though it's main screen theme is hauntingly beautiful.

Anyway, Persona 4: Arena appeared at a later date, and as a BlazBlue fan decided to give it shot. Being thoroughly confused by the storyline, went on to see the anime adaptation to at least have an idea of what was happening, and was gladly surprised. Not the best show ever, but it was fun and pushed me to give the RPG version another try, along with reading that it improved over many of Persona 3's shortcomings. 

So, after a few weeks of giving eye to a used copy of Persona 4 - Golden on a non-franchise games store downtown, I finally decided to cough up the money before someone snagged it for a last minute Christmas present; and because of holiday break, blazed trough it on two weeks flat. Here are some of my last impressions:



I really liked the battle system this time, specially on bosses. In most J-RPG's, it usually ends up with spamming the highest damage spell your party has, if null elemental even better, curing as needed and ignoring status effects at all, since battles end up so quickly as to make them not worth their use. Prepare to be erradicated on the TV world following this mentality.

The game forces you to pay attention to enemy (and you party's) weaknesses, and status boosts and lowerings are devastating. If an enemy begins to focus, DEBUFF IT -can't stress that enough-, as a fully charged Megidolaon spells death on most cases. For the first time in ages, the Guard option is useful! End of dungeon bosses can take some time because of this, but overcoming each feels rewarding as a result.



Mitsuo's dungeon drives this point home mid-game. It's also prety cool, having a retro videogame look to it, with the boss selecting his attack options from a menu, leveling up during battle and moving jerkily, akin to frame limitations of the era. Even the boss battle theme gets an awesome eight bit remix!

On the other side, Marie's dungeon is terribly annoying: you can't bring over items, weapons or money, and have to make up with what you pick up on the road. That sounds like a great change of mechanics in order to mix things up after many hours of gameplay, but ends up unamusing as a result of enemies being extremely weak and giving so little experience, I ended up running from most the battles. Shadows being invisible on some floors seals the deal. The boss, while easy, makes for a compelling battle due to plot reasons. Felt so sad and guilty fighting it!



None of them holds a candle to Nanako's dungeon, though. A pivotal moment in the story, taking a leap onto the true feelings and thoughts of this sad, lonely child is heartbreaking, thanks in big part to what become my favorite track from the game, Heaven.

The lyrics, along with the calm depiction of the atmosphere (a child's interpretion of the afterlife as a beautiful place for her deceased mother to rest), make for a very emotional chapter. Would have liked for the theme to continue even while inside battle (like it happens with the one against Gwynn in Dark Souls), but maybe that would have been to much for my poor aching heart.



Moving onto Social Links, I liked Ayane's the most. Having felt very much the same way during my high school years, her issues felt so relevant and hit close to home. It also has a touching resolution, lover's route or not. Ai's is also one I liked a lot, along with Sayoko's -which is also really funny on her first interactions-.

Found the main cast links the most boring somehow, and completed them only to get their final Persona forms... I can't stand Rise's voice actress (since the dreaded EMIL! shout crept to my poor ears some time ago), but she's so useful in dungeons, I had to soldier through it. That SP after battle is almost worth it. Almost. Speaking of that, the Rescue System is really nice and ties nicely to the theme of the game. Receiving encouraging messages from other players -sadly automated- and a very big YOU ARE NOT ALONE prompt before battle makes for a nice touch.



The final battle against Adachi and Ameno-Sagiri was really cool, and would have made for an awesome canon ending to the game. For some reason, to me the extra Izanagi arc feels anticlimatic and cliche, being almost identical to battling Zeromus at the end of Final Fantasy 4 (using an item to reveal the boss's true form and being revived by an apparition of all your friends made through the journey). But maybe that's just tiredness from it being such a long game and having faced three red herrings already.

Didn't get the Accomplice ending, so that's something to look for in a next playthrough sometime in the future, along with finishing the Social Links I couldn't manage to level -most of the secondary cast, like the Old Lady, the Step-Mother and the Tutored Student-. Also, curious about what taking some of the attribute-gated responses will end up in. Seeing the "not enough Courage" message was a bummer many times.



In all, I had a nice time with Narukami and friends, and are looking up to seeing them again on Suplex and Dance All Night (no Persona Q at launch because of current lack of a 2DS :/ ). Also, maybe those Persona 3 Movies may prove to be enough motivation to take the challenge of Tartarus again (not really!). Thanks for reading!   read


10:58 PM on 12.06.2013

My Favorite Gaming Moment Of 2013: Hunting the Griffin

During the course of Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, you are sent on many quests, ranging from delivering goods to braving dungeons, defending ieged forts and taking over bandit strongholds, even solving treacherous plots in court in the process and saving a little time to hang out with the ladies. However, there is one that proved to stand among them all, and ingrain itself as one the best memories I've ever had with a videogame.

Mid-game, you gain access to the Duke's manor, and enlist yourself to his service. That means being sent on quests concerning inmediate threats to grand Soren, which are handled by Aldous, his advisor. The first of these is called "Griffin's Bane", and simply reads "A griffin is stalking caravans. Join the volunteers who plan to vanquish the beast.". Let me tell you of the tale that rose from it...



The beast had been seen on a hill on the outskirts of the city, so after grouping up with some soldiers, the Arisen marches on to take on the winged terror head to head. However, it is nowhere to be seen, and the group suggests setting up some "bait" for it. A fresh Goblin corpse from a nearby encampment seems to do the trick, and the Griffin arrives for the free snack.

With some of the most beautiful animation of this generation, the beast hovers around the group for a bit, flapping it's wings magistically with enough force to sent the less fair of feet to the ground. With a heavy thud, it landsin front of the party, sending dust all around the arena and screeching in defiance.

Swords slice the air, magic spells are cast and arrows pierce its wings, but all in vain: the beaked foe takes to the air again, making way back to its hideout on the distance, the tall and ruined Bluemoon Tower, to feast on its freshly looted sustainance.



So begins the long trek towards the beast's lair. After a long walk trough the North-Eastern lands of Gransys, roamed by wolves (which hate fire) and snow harpies, the first obstacle presents itself in the form of Windsworm Valley, a coastal bluff in which a heavy wind takes it toll on the party, slowing its movement and stating that this journey won't be an easy one.

Exhausted, the Arisen arrives as the sun sets over Pastona Cavern and its surrounding canyon passes. Suddenly, a group on bandits descends on the party, heavily entreched on old fort ruins. The battle is brutal and desperate, but the group of adventurers prevails after taking control of the fort's ballistae.

Without a moment to rest, the chosen one marches on, and stumbles upon an strange set of stones, arranged on formation in the middle of the pass. On close inspection, the earth starts to rumble heavily, and soon a heavy Stone Golem stands proud on the battlefield.



This threath proves a hefty challenge, as the mightiest of attacks dent not it's health, until the shine of a magic rune reveals it's weak points. Clinging to the hulking titan, the Arisen works in tandem with the group to cut the magical currents that flow trought it's body, not an easy task as the colossus's weight makes the land tumble on each of it's steps. Finally, on the verge of exhaustion, the flash of a fireball breaks the enchantment and the stones that formed the construct rest on the ground.

Now low on supplies,one of the pawn companions remarks the closeness of Smuggler's Pass, and the allure of getting hand on some stolen goods proves hard to resist for the fellowship. However, they find it to be well guarded by Skeleton Knights, which zealously guard the treasures of the place. The struggle ends being quite profitable, as the sword Caladbolg rested between a pile of bones.



After healing injuries, the party moves on and arrives at the feet of the imposing tower, surrounded by a deep dive into the sea. The clash of blades resounds inmediately, and the group hurries to help the Duke's forces, which had been sent days before to scout the area.

After dealing with ghastly inhabitants on treacherous terrain, always a step close to plumetting onto the abyss, finally the stairway leading to the top floor is found. The view is breathtaking, but there is no time to bask on the rising sun: suddenly, the winged menace reappears, and it's powerful blows begin to collapse the old and fragile ruins.

Making haste, the adventurers flee from the scene, but find themselves trapped by a sturdy gate and are forced to confront the beast on uneven ground. The pawns make their best to distract it, while the Arisen frantically looks for a way to open it. A good bash breaks the lock, and the party escapes just moments before the platform falls down into the sea.



Hurrying with the beast in town, and the threath of a long fall seconds away, the group manages to make it to the summit, and ready their waepons for the final showdown at the bird's nest. The foul enemy is engaged, and soon chaos erupts all around the mile high terrace. Biting, scratching and helping itself with the powerful winds made by its wings, the beast wrecks havok among the party.

The grueling conflict continues, and both sides begin to creep towards defeat. The beast is hurt, its wings scorched and pierced, while on other side supplies and strenght begin to dawndle: if the battle continues for long, it will spell doom for the party.

So, the Arisen decides on a incredibly risky tactic: the moment the beast comes close to the floor, he grabs its tail and begins to climb up to its neck. Sensing the treath, the Griffin rolls in the air and shakes fiercelty, doing its best to get rid of the clinging knight, and makes way to the edge of the arena in order to secure that he falls to his death...


 
However, with the last of his strenght, he manages to slit the feathery neck of the creature, and crashes along with it on the edge of the floor, centimeters away from a long dive into the clashing waves! Exhausted, hurt and bleeding, he can't resist to smile as the now rising sun bathes with his light the treasure guarded by the beast: bags and coffers full of coin and jewels, sided by the enchanted armor and weapons of mighty warriors who had fallen in battle searching for this coveted bounty.

Taking the hide of the beast as a trophy, and as a materials for a new set of armor, the party finally rests in view of the long road taken, knowing that even greater challenges wait ahead for them in the close future.



This tale is for me  without a doubt, one of the greatest moments not only of the year, but of my whole life as a gamer.

When I first heard of the rise of MMO's this is what I had in mind, this was what I roleplayed as a kid on the yard after reading books about mythological beasts on the school library, what the covers of the Dungeons and Dragons choose-your-own-adventure books promised and failed to deliver. And here it was, not ruled by dice or queued commands, but guided by step by step by my hand and decisions.

The awe felt in each situations, the need to change tactics on the fly, the art of managing limited supplies and scavenging for more on the field, exploring the area for treasure, risking death in the process, the adrenaline rush at the proximity of failure.. experiences videogames appear to have begun to forget slowly.



With time, we've grown accostumed as gamers to being granted power by the developers, and dealing with huge beasts as if they were cannon fodder: a manticore, a cockatrice, an ogre are just grinding steps towards the real challenges. But here, the act of hunting a sole Griffin, had become an epic adventure, worthy of song and praise, a tale to share on camps and taverns. And best of all: it was mine! Thanks for reading.   read


7:56 PM on 10.24.2013

October: A Month of Steampunk Bullet Dodging and Murderer Scarecrows.

So, after a bit of a break from gaming (anime watching binges get me from time to time) this last week I've been mostly dedicated to Jamestown (thanks Dtoid!), slowly making my way throughout it's various difficulty levels.


Haven't got a chance to play multiplayer yet, but it looks great.

Normal and Difficult were no big deal, and seem like a perfect way to introduce people to the genre, with Legendary being the first real test of ability for a one credit clear, specially because the last level can really chew up on lives on the slightest mistake (forgetting about score and chaining vaunt and vaunt cancels seems to work, however), good thing the last boss is really easy, even on its final form.

Divine is a completely different tale though, I can barely make it through the levels individually (specially the second one and the annoying spores) so a full Gauntlet run seems unlikely, and let's not even talk about Judgment, which gets downright insane since the beggining of stage one.


And then, he goes Super Saiyan. Not joking.

While the game has great sprite and gameplay, the music could have been done better: shmups are made with replayability in mind, so bombastic, epic tunes can get a little tedious after a while, but that may just be a result of being spoiled by Zun (and the fan remixes are even better, currently listening to a sassy jazz version of Border of Life). Overall, it's a really good game which hopefully can get a sequel sometime; the addition of matchmaking would be really awesome!

In between runs, I've been also dabbled on some League Of Legends now that we have a Latin American server. Short version, I suck at it. But it's quite enjoyable with friends, and the great quantity of champions makes it so each week there is something new to try.


Caw, caw, caw!

So far, Fiddlesticks and Jax have given me the best results (jumping from a bush to rain down a murder of crows over a teamfight never gets old), and Garen is quite easy to use as well, just can't get on the habit of last hitting minions while managing cooldowns, poking the enemy, calling missing enemies, looking for ganks and setting wards: too much multitasking! There's a reason why I'm silver league on Starcraft 2...

Anyway, a few weeks ago we went to watch the finals at a local bar, it was exciting to see so many people cheering at a videogame event!. In fact there were so many people at the venue that no food or beer was available after the second round, and the roar of the crowd at an Ace (complete wipe of the enemy team) rivaled that of a goal of the national football selection (very serious bussiness here in Mexico!). Too bad it ended 3-0, a comeback by the losing would have been great.


Also, Lulu is cute as hell.

Just hit summoner level 11 last night, let's see how things fare against medium difficulty bots... though with Jinx and her uber-brokeness (seriously, she gets used every game and racks up no less than 25 kills on each one) being free this weekend, the IP and EXP should keep rolling in at a decent pace (even had a 15 minute game with four level 30's on the team!).

At this moment, I've just bought Corpse Party: Book of Shadows from the PSN Store. Loved the first one, and can't wait for midnight to play it properly, the last games 3D stereo sound could get real creepy under the right conditions. Also, Asami Imai is on it, and you can never have enough of her :3


Man, did those scissor see action!

Watched the anime version a few days ago, and was surprised at how faithful it was to the source material: while some things got a little rushed (like how to deal with the children ghosts), the voice acting was top notch and the level of gore really sends shivers down the spine. Though it could have done away with the fan service. somehow, Yuka and Satoshi seemed less annoying in general, and Kizami got way creepier with his upgraded psycho gaze. A must watch for this season! Hopefully Dead Patient delivers again when it's released overseas.


Next year, maybe?

Well, needed a break from school stuff to keep my sanity, thanks for reading, and see you around!   read


6:40 AM on 08.17.2013

Mansions, Moe and Madness: A Look Into Freeware J-Horror Games.



This last couple of years a trend of horror videogames designed upon the RPG Maker engine has emerged, notably among japanese gamers, most likely due to the success of Team GrisGris "Corpse Party" series, whose first apperance was on 1996, but only gained recognition upon reaching the PSP on 2008.

Swaying away from the conventions of mainstream games, this platform has given these designers the opportunity to experiment with the genre, adding their own twists and quirks to this (formerly) decaying genre.

Lack of combat, an emphasis on exploration, surreal themes, cryptic puzzles and many sudden deaths are staples of this take on the genre, as is the use of an overhead perspective, female main characters and multiple endings, along with subtle changes on second playtroughs.

Here are some of the flagship entries in this niche, and hopefully some of you, dear readers, may be convinced to give them a try. Believe me, it will be worth it!

Mad Father



After the passing of her mother due to illness, Aya Drevis has spent her life happily playing with her dolls behind the walls of the family manor, under the care of her loving father (a rural doctor) and his assistant, a young woman with beautiful green eyes. That is, until she wakes up to a chilling scream on a dreary night...

Relying on classical horror tropes, like evil spirits, the undead, a terrifyng mansion, dark basements and secret tunnels, this game is a good starting point into this genre. The ambience is akin to the Clock Tower series, up to the defenseless protagonist whose only means of survival consist on running, hiding and careful use of the enviroment.

The puzzles are based more on the correct selection of items, and thinking outside the box in how to apply them on some cases. Health is restored after leaving a screen, though some hazards will result in an instant death.

There is a lot of portrait and CG work, which makes it pop up among other games made on the same engine, and the sprites are well detailed for both characters and the enviroment, while the music consists mostly of soothing piano tunes.

Vision is mostly limited to Aya's lantern radiance, adding to the eerieness and sense of danger of the areas, with some jump scares dotted around, and good use of footsteps and other sounds, like creaking of floorboards and rattling of furniture to darken the mood.



The game is quite lenghty, clocking around two hours and a half, not counting deaths, with good variety of situations and puzzles, though it is possible to miss an item and have to backtrack a little, specially in the beginning of the game.

There are three different endings, each one worth seeing and with proper art done that doesn't appear on the others, along with a hidden extra cutscene that can be unlocked by collecting 21 gems hidden in the scenery or obtained via side tasks.

The true end is rather shocking and puts a character on a totally different light, making a second playtrough worth it in order to pick up on subtle foreshadowing, and to read some extra notes that explain some of it that only appear on a replay.
 
The game can be downloaded here: http://www.vgperson.com/games/madfather.htm

The Witch's House



While traveling to visit her friend in the woods, thirteen years old Viola finds herself trapped by a wall of thorned roses, with no other shelter nearby than an old, eerie house... said to belong to a witch.

This one has little dialog, and a higher emphasis on unexpected deaths than the others, however most of them are creative, and the jump scares work very well. A little more controller dexterity is needed tough, as some chase scenes require good reflexes. While there are some usual enemies, cursed items and the enviroment coming to life are the main foes in the witches lair.

The puzzles are straightforward, with the exception of one involving numbers at the very end of the game, though no one requires backtracking, and the solutions aren't as arcane as those of other entries (specially Misao).

The tileset work is good and varied, while the music does it work. There is little use of full screen CG's, but some effects like fog and darkness are well implemented, causing
at times a little slowdown due to the engine, though nothing unplayable.



A playtrough should take around an hour and a half, counting deaths, luckily there are a lot of save points so it never feels like you lost a lot of progress.

The ending twist is memorable and frankly a little sad, though much of it isn't explained until a second run, where the files on the library change a little, and extra information can be gotten via a no-save run, which is easy since you'll know how to avoid all hazards.

The game can be downloaded here: http://www.vgperson.com/games/witchhouse.htm

Misao



It has been three months since the dissapearance of Misao, a student from the local highschool, and rumours begin to spread among her classmates. After a night of restless sleep, one of them -Aki- awakens to Misao's voice in the distance...

The closest one to Corpse Party in both in setting and gameplay, this game (from the team behind Mad Father) has a more open ended structure than others, centering about the exploration of Aki's high school after it is transported to an alternate and deadly plane of existence.

However, access to some areas is gated behind puzzles and hazards, requiring a lot of backtracking between locations and fiddling with items in search of reactions. To reduce frustation, a fast travel option is adquired shortly, and a quick save option is a button press away. Due to the amount of sudden unavoidable deaths, it will soon become second nature to save before inspecting the most harmless of objects, or talking to other characters.

The game has a B-movie feel to it though, with some of these demises seen from a mile away, and other even worth of a chuckle due to their silliness. That said, the game deals with a serious and very real issue at the end, which turns the mood entirely upside down and even manages to make some relevant social commentary.



The spritework is functional at best, though each character has it's own set of portraits and there are some well done CG's appearing from time to time. While the tileset is frankly standard, there are nice ambience touches in the form of background events or noises. Character design takes more than a cue from Revelations: Persona, though.

The game is quite short, taking no more than an hour for a full run (unless the player finds himself stunted on a puzzle), and it's two endings are dependant of a single endgame decision. Getting the Good End allows the selection of a "Truth" epilogue on the main menu, which sheds some more information on the motives of some of the characters and their fates. There is also an unlockable second playable character for the main story, which maintains the overall plot but changes some dialogue and reactions.

All been said, despite it's low points, a walkthrough is worth the time, and it can be downloaded from here: http://www.vgperson.com/games/misao.htm

Yume Nikki



It's been a long time since Madotsuki's last interaction with society. Refusing to leave her room, she spends most of her time sleeping, drifting away in strange worlds where anything is possible...

The weirdest of the bunch, it's unique approach to the genre -some say the creation of an entirely new one- has spawned large ammounts of fan art, discussions, theories, and even fan games mimicking it's characteristics.

The game is entirely exploration based, with no puzzles to solve or storyline to follow outside of the goal of collecting all "effects", items that grant Madotsuki with abilities ot merely visual changes.

There exist twelve different worlds to navigate, consisting of vast expanses of terrain where it's easy to get lost, populated with interesting, strange, disturbing and just plain weird images, creatures and imaginery. Some of them can be interacted with, but there are no real hazards or enemies to keep an eye for.



Yume Nikki is entirely hit or miss: some will love it's eerie ambience and "feeling" of navigating other person's dreams, while most will be turned off by it's lack of interactive opportunities and defined goals, as much of the fun consists of discussing theories and interpreting the visuals with other persons.

The sprite work, in parallel to the game, is bizarre and weird, ranging from the carefully drawn to doodles and scrabbles. The music is mostly drones that end up nauseating, and do a great job on setting a mood of discomfort and awareness, akin to the feeling of not having completely woken up from a dream.

Very different from the rest of the entries on this list, yet playing by the same rules, those curious enough may apply here: http://yumenikki.wikia.com/wiki/Yume_Nikki

Ib



One rainy day, elementary school student Ib is taken by her parents to a gallery currently showing an exposition on cult artist Guertena, producer of bizarre and eerie works, which seem to have a life of their own...

The best one, saved for last. Focusing on surreal imaginery rather than blood and gore, Ib provides an absorbing tale that, trough subtle notes and exploiting the paranoia of the player, manages to crawl under the skin long after gameplay is done.

Though the game has got a hit point system in the form of the dwindling petals of a rose, it is mostly used as a means to deter the brute-force solving of puzzles, as chances to recover are plentiful and monsters are easy to evade.

However, the various works of art that dot the gallery manage to be disturbing on their own, maintaining the player on their edge even on perfectly safe situations, and there is also some fourth wall breaking at unexpected times. Enemies range from living manequinns to cursed dolls and haunted paintings.



Sadly, the sprite work is the weakest point of this entry, looking somewhere between eight and sixteen bit, and the tileset can seem rather bland in comparison to other works.

On the audio side, while the action goes on in total silence for the most time, the real world gallery theme is nice, and lower floors also have catchy drones that accentuate the creepiness of the ambience.

The plot is deeper than the other games on this list, and has sparked discussion about the meaning of certain scenes and specific dialog. It is also rather lenghty, as even though a playtrough takes around an hour, there are six different endings that are affected via multiple variables, making a guide needed for the rarest of them.

With a surprising amount of changing events due to choices, at least one replay is suggested in order to see how different things unfold depending on particular events, with one route giving the ability to control an unexpected character for a short time.

The game can be downloaded here: http://www.vgperson.com/games/ib.htm



Well, that's all for now, thanks for reading, and remember: for best results, use a good pair of headphones, move to a dark room and wait for night to come...   read


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