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Mike’s Spring/Summer 2011 Gaming

People seem to want to hear my thoughts on video games, or at least my experiences with what I have been playing… so hey, let’s just dive right in and pretend it has not been a little over three months since my last contribution.

I think what I will cover here actually brings you completely up to speed with my gaming experiences over those last three months since finishing Suikoden — anyone who knows me even the slightest bit knows how slowly I plow through games, so if you expected more, you are out of luck!

As per the norm when covering such a huge amount of stuff, do not expect “reviews” or “well-written commentary” here — it’s all just a string of consciousness. Blame yourselves for asking for it! ^_~

DragonBall Kai: Ultimate Butôden

I plan on finally writing a full review for this game over at Daizenshuu EX, so between what you have already heard on the podcast over there and what I will be writing in the future, you have plenty to dive into. Suffice it to say that this game surprised the heck out of me, and it is a gigantic shame that it will likely never see release outside of Japan.

Besides, this was way back in February, so as The Internet likes to say: “old!”

Pokemon: Black Version

After wrapping things up on the PSP with Suikoden, I was just in time to jump into the new Pokemon. It had been about a year since playing through SoulSilver, a game that I finished but never truly “got into” the same way that I went all out in FireRed and Pearl — but that is a subject for another time. I am just crossing the 100 hour mark in the new game, having defeated “N” and participated in a good amount of end-game content (gathering up the sages, catching all currently-available legendaries, etc.). I have not yet taken on the Elite 4 (and Adler, the actual champion) again because — *gasp* — I have sunken to the depths of specific egg move breeding.

This is something that I have always been vaguely aware of, specifically with the promotion of Pikachu and the move Volt Tackle, but have never bothered to get into on my own. I have sadly gone down the rabbit hole, and I do not know if I will ever return. I have the aforementioned Volt Tackle along with Thunder Punch on a Raichu, a Lucario with Blaze Kick, a Milotic with DragonBreath, and (probably my favorite of all) a Ferrothorn with Rock Smash and Leech Seed. I have no idea what my “team” will be, but I am having a pretty good time toying around with selective breeding for the first time ever. It is a fun compromise between “enjoyment” and “insanity” before dipping even further down into I.V. Training. It fascinates me how much mathematical depth is down a few layers deep, but is always held back in any obvious way from the players. I will concede that having two DSes out (and thinking a third would be helpful) does indeed border on insanity.

None of this is too much of a surprise. Like most of the players who get through the “main campaign” of the game, I find that I enjoy the end-game content far more than anything else. It is as if the game is just stringing you along for a couple dozen hours until the entire world is open and available for you to do whatever you want. That’s a pretty “duh” statement and reflection to all of you, though, isn’t it?

I feel that there is a ton more I could say about the game, but I would probably be doing it a disservice without spending hours upon hours pouring over my experiences with it to come up with an “ultimate post”. I really enjoyed all of the continued improvements, as iterative as they always are, that have been made to the game (though I am left scratching my head why the option to keep the equivalent of “running shoes” on at all times was removed since last year’s Gen II remakes — I hate holding down the “B” button, and I do not always want to be riding the bike). There are some fun daily events to return to, and the Dream World does an interesting job of extending what they started last year with the Pokewalker.

The game is not revolutionary. It is what it is. It is the type of game that lets me get my OCD jollies out so my life still feels balanced. Sometimes that is all I need.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn

The wife and I attempted to play through New Super Mario Bros. Wii together, but ended up putting it aside after one world almost entirely because we got in each other’s way, rendering the game “un-fun”. The two of us have plenty of Mario masteries under our belts (each copy of Super Mario World in our house has that little star next to the 96), so to suddenly be forced to work in tandem with someone else while simultaneous pulling off death-defying leaps of faith was something our brains could not process.

So what made Kirby’s latest adventure any different? The adorable art direction (in many ways taking cues from LittleBigPlanet, and likely in more than just the art) melted our frozen hearts of gamer disgust. It took several months after receiving the game last Christmas, but we finally got around to jumping into the game. It took only around seven or so hours to complete, but like everything else I do with video games, that was spread across a few weekends.

That word “adorable” really sums up everything about the game, especially if you toss “charming” into the mix, too. Particularly on the Wii, art direction and style really means a lot, and it was clear how much the developers took this to heart. The world is colorful, brimming with personality (even the generic “ice stage” has its own distinctive feel), and the right amount of cameos to make it feel fresh while still harkening back to what makes Kirby games what they are. Solid mechanics are a must for Kirby, and they work as expected (that is, perfectly) — a little bit loose and floaty, but tight and responsive at the same time.

While plenty have derided the game for its “you can’t ever actually die” kid-friendly difficulty tone-down, this really was the best choice for the style of game they produced. Even though the majority of levels are on the short side, there were very few that I would have wanted to play even a second time through — a “wash, rinse, repeat” cycle of dying and re-playing would not have worked for them. On the flip-side, that also gave me little reason to want to go back and collect any of the trophies we may have missed (three in each level, similar to the golden coins in recent Mario games) or shoot for a gold medal based on the number of gems collected. We saw it all on one pass through, and simply getting a better grade for the sake of it just was not compelling enough of a reason to return.

Yeah, yeah… all that “art” and “game play” stuff is important, but let’s be honest: the amazing narration work by Dave White is what really makes the game so great.

Portal 2

I got slightly burned on this game, and not in the way you might expect. Amazon was offering it for $5 off plus a $20 credit for pre-ordering the console version of the game, and even though I had no interest in playing the game on anything other than my PC, the PS3 version came with the PC version for free. I decided to go that route and put the free $20 toward the next Dragon Box set. Of course, when the game came in, PlayStation Network was down… meaning I could not redeem the code by linking my account on Steam via the PS3 to get the PC version. It took me a while to get around to playing the game (missing out a bit on the “being an active part of the discussion upon launch” diddly-doo), but it all worked out in the end.

There is really nothing I can contribute to the discussion about this game. What can I say? It was super fun. I was genuinely surprised by the story at certain points, loved all the characters, and even though (yeah, I’m going there) the controls felt a little “console-ified” on the PC, it played like butter. I thought the third section of the main story (post-goo) was a little much and hurt the pacing, but not enough to drag down the whole package. I still have to go back and play co-op, something I can’t wait to do — just gotta find the time and a partner!

It’s more Portal. It’s done well. C’mon, now.

Mortal Kombat

I have written a bit about how I got into Street Fighter, and while I touched upon Mortal Kombat a little bit, I do not think I gave the gory game series of greatness enough credit. As wonky as the fighting engine has always been, it has been a source of hilarity and unironic enjoyment for me. Like most people (I presume), the series faded into obscurity for me after MK3/Ultimate/Trilogy. I no longer cared about the increasingly-convoluted story (yes, I genuinely thought the story was moderately interesting — sue me), the early generation of polygonal fighting games were terrible (and would not impress me at all until Virtua Fighter 2), and I was busy exploring other genres of games, anyway. Oh yeah, and Street Fighter.

I was interested in “MK9”, but purposefully did not actively keep up with its development. If it ended up as a surprise hit, fantastic. If it didn’t, that was perfectly fine, too. Early access to the game’s demo via PlayStation Plus piqued my interest for sure, and a price drop to $40 on Amazon shortly after release was too much to pass up.

Cruising through the story mode, I found myself enjoying the Hell out of how abysmal it was and simultaneously also loving every second of reliving story bits I knew so well from the past — a “reboot” set in the same time period that does not ignore the original version was a fantastic idea.

What is there to say? It is Mortal Kombat, but updated and relevant again. Lots of characters still play the same way as each other (defined only by their special moves), the mechanics still feel a little stiff and imprecise, but dammit, it’s a lot of fun. To reboot with the entire Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 cast is a pretty fine achievement, allowing room to flesh out a collection of go-to characters — I’m still loving Nightwolf (as lame as he is), Kabal, and Smoke… but my ol’ buddy Ermac just isn’t cutting it any more.

Like I said for Pokemon, in the case of Mortal Kombat, it is what it is. It is not going to win over fans of more refined fighting games, but it is a fun romp that has both cleaned and dirtied itself up in all the right ways. It may be getting shoved to the side a little bit in favor of the next two games a little bit, but as I am moderately excited for the upcoming DLC characters, and with “King of the Hill” being as fun as it is, this is one I will continue to pop in over and over.

Demon’s Souls

Wait, what…?

I own a lot of video games that I feel “I should own” — I’m that type of person. Persona 3? Sure, I will likely never get around to it, but I am glad knowing I have it if I am ever ready for it. Shadow of the Colossus? Well of course I should own and play that some day. Huh? What’s that you say? Better versions of each game exist now (PSP and PS3, respectively)…? Well crap.

When Demon’s Souls went on sale for ~$15 on Amazon with its soundtrack last holiday season, it was an extra that I tossed into an order with some presents for other folks. “Mike,” I said to myself, “You will likely never play this game because it is incredibly difficult. You hate hard games, you have more games than you know what to do with, and you are a fool.”

Well, fine. Sure. All of that is true. Except that I am playing it now. I really do not know what convinced me to toss it in. A free afternoon will do that to a guy.

Every experience you have heard about the game (particularly the Zero Punctuation review) is entirely accurate: you start, you die, you get a little further, you die, and eventually you beat a boss. I am feeling pretty great about myself for completing the first stage of the game (“1-1”, the first area of Boleteria) with maybe only three or four deaths — I do not know how I got through that bridge area (with the dragon spewing down fire from above) alive, but I did!

It has been a fascinating learning experience in training myself to not just run around and hit R1 to slash everything to death — attempting to do so will only lead to, well, more death of my own. Pull up that shield. Parry some attacks. Try to circle behind the enemy. Toss a firebomb down there. The game’s pace is so slow, but the way your heart will race with each new encounter will lead you feel otherwise.

I have been enjoying the online messages, which may have been a reason I decided to start playing the game sooner than later — once the servers are taken down (and they have already been extended before), that component of the game will be gone. Sure, most of the messages are garbage, but even the occasional, “No, for reals, beginners really shouldn’t go down this corridor” have been helpful.

Why do I enjoy the abuse so much? Can someone explain it to me? We will see just how far I get in the game before politely tossing it aside — I have already resigned myself to the fact that it is a game I will never complete (then again, I so rarely complete games that it will not be too much of a change for me). For now, I am enjoying that abuse and want to see a little more of the world. Maybe I just feel it is important to step outside the usual gaming box and see what else is out there. Maybe the underlying character stats are pulling me in.

Maybe I just wanna cut up some demons. Or dragons. Speaking of which…

Dragon Quest VIII

As Pokemon winds down for me, I have been looking at what my next Japanese RPG should be. I have been saying for a while how I almost cannot even comprehend playing these types of games anymore if they are not portable, since the concept of sitting around and grinding away at battles while sitting on the couch at home seems like the last thing I would ever consider a “good idea”. I pretty much assumed my next game would be one of the DS Dragon Quest remakes, since IV/V/VI are sitting right there staring back at me. I briefly thought about heading into Radiant Historia next (based on the fact that Pokemon and Dragon Quest were similar in the grindy-grindy sort of way), but if I knocked that one out first, all I would have left would be the grindy-grindy games.

Imagine my surprise when I decided I would do the unthinkable: play a Japanese RPG on a console again. Pokemon is still not quite over for me, and I was looking at playing something alongside Demon’s Souls on nights that I did not feel like playing the DS, but also did not want to concentrate super hard on reflexes and real-time battles.

I knew it had a 16:9 mode to toy around with, I knew it had great voice acting, I had such a great time with IX… hey, why not dive into Dragon Quest VIII…?

At about four hours in (which includes the requisite “stay close to town and grind for a while” opening tactics), I do not have a whole lot to say about the game just yet. It pains me to say it in light of his historical revisionist alignments, but Koichi Sugiyama‘s musical score fits the game like a glove, and has gotten quite a few approvals from the peanut gallery during play sessions. The cel-shading engine brings Akira Toriyama‘s character designs to life, and upscales quite nicely (though the lack of a progressive mode knocks it down a peg). The little story vignettes that I loved from IX (and from what I gather are a staple of the series) are already in full effect, and I cannot wait to learn more about the world.

I also just got a boomerang for my hero (who’s named “Vegetto”, of course), and that just plain ol’ rocks.

That being said, even though it is early in the game, I can definitely appreciate the difference between this and IX. Playing them in “backward” order has been a fun way to see how the main series evolved/devolved, and not even necessarily for “better” or “worse”. One of the things I loved so much about Chrono Trigger (a game that came out 14 years earlier than Dragon Quest IX) was the lack of random battles. It has actually been easier than I thought to go back to a console RPG with random battles — I think the wild-critter-every-step nonsense in Pokemon makes everything else seem like cake. The jump from the later game’s non-defined characters (my team consisting of Vegetto, Snow, Trunks, and Uub) back to a non-verbal hero supported by a cast of well-defined, vocal characters is a fun one. Again, none of this is qualified, but just “different” and fun for being that way. I suppose that is just a “statement of fact” that really does not add anything to the discussion, but hey… I am only four hours in.

Minecraft

Have I talked about this with any of you before? Since we have not done a “vgconvos” podcast episode in over a year (and no search results turn up for it), I doubt it!

I got in right before the alpha period ended, figuring a couple bucks for guaranteed updates to a game that a million or so people were enjoying didn’t sound like a bad idea. I wish I could say more about it, but it has actually been a little bit since I last played. I am not enjoying the level of pain that I have started getting in my mouse hand (started using a tablet at work, scaled back on content creation over at Daizenshuu EX… yeah, sucks getting older), so other than the quick plow through Portal 2, I have scaled back on (what little) PC gaming I was bothering to keep up with.

After learning my way around (and I mean that — after dying the first time it took me days to figure out which direction I had originally headed in to build my first base, after which I promptly built a giant, torch-lit wall so I could see it from a relative distance), I started digging and digging and digging. I have built two base camps connected by a stone bridge in one direction, and recently an air rail in the other direction (crossing across different masses of water and circling back around, if that makes any sense). I have started building more bridges out into the distance so I can find my way back — even with a compass, I feel that I will just end up aimlessly wandering without a distinct path to follow to and fro. I have visited The Nether, I have some diamond weapons, and I have endless series of tunnels that I promise myself I will one day connect to each other.

I find that I enjoy hearing about other folks’ adventures in Minecraft, so if there is any kind of “demand”, I would be happy to take pictures of my building monstrosities. They are pretty terrible, but I had fun making everything.

When I have a couple minutes here and there, I boot up the game and continue digging along in one of my underground tunnels. It is cheap, fun times.

So What’s Next…?

Well, that is a fantastic question — I wish I knew the answer! I have plenty of other console games waiting in the queue. In light of the apparent shut down of developer Game Republic, I feel like I should probably tackle Majin & the Forsaken Kingdom at some point soon. The DS has plenty of RPGs waiting for me, so I could really just grab a game at random off the shelf and go for it.

What about you all? What have you been playing recently, and what gems have I still not gotten around to playing?

Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver American Save File Problem?

Yesterday, I headed down to summon/fight/capture Lugia in my copy of Pokémon SoulSilver Version for the Nintendo DS. I had originally started the game on my “DS Phat”, but for the last several days, I had moved over to playing on the wife’s DS Lite. Never once did I go online with the game in either system, though I had locally traded between it and Pearl. I had been leveling up my Farfetch’d (since I planned on using False Swipe to reduce Lugia’s HP to 1). I had also captured a wild Farfetch’d and stole its stick for my own. I had taken “Shuckie” from the dude in Cianwood City to the daycare center with a Ditto to breed my own Shuckle. Once I had the egg and it was hatched, I tossed my new Shuckle into a PC box and returned the borrowed one to the maniac in Cianwood City. I loaded up on Poké Balls and surfed on over to the Whirl Islands. Right outside the cave entrance, I saved yet again (having done so many times along the way, of course).

My battle against Lugia did not go as planned — I carelessly did not bring enough Poké Balls.  I reset the system and loaded things back up to try again with a better plan.

I was outside Cianwood City. Farfetch’d was five levels back. He did not have his stick. All of my Poké Balls were back in my inventory. Interestingly, I no longer had my own hatched Shuckle, but I did have its egg, and “Shuckie” was back at the daycare center.

… WTF?

It was not just that the save was rolled back to a prior one… it was both that and a weird corruption of prior events. Is that even possible…?!

I was idling in the Daizenshuu EX chat at the time, and immediately vented my frustration. It sounded like others may have had a similar situation occur, but there was some uncertainty about whether the game had actually been saved in the meantime. I next went to Twitter, where I almost immediately received a response back from someone that had a very similar thing happen to them… around the Lugia event, as well. Many folks told me about the Dutch release of the games, which had an issue with save files, themselves.

My game seems to be fine (having saved a bazillion times, turning off the system, and restarting to confirm I still am where I think I am), though now I am retracing my steps. I have captured a dozen wild Farfetch’d again, and none of them have my precious stick…!

I am going to have a lot more to say about this game in the near future, but this was certainly not something I expected to be writing about. In the near-200 hours I have logged on both FireRed and Pearl, never once did I ever encounter any errors that hindered my progress or rolled me back. Had this error been even the slightest more severe, it could have potentially made me drop playing the game all-together. Those that know me know how much I rail against back-tracking and replaying segments of games. I am extremely hesitant to turn off the system now in fear of losing progress — and not only progress, but legit legendaries in my PC boxes and on my team, carried over from the aforementioned FireRed and Pearl.

I am not deeply ingrained enough in any Pokémon communities to know where to discuss this, so if any of you happen to be the VegettoEX of Pokémon… by all means, please share my story and offer any advice you may have.

Conversation 009: Shooting the Shit and E-mails

It may take us six months, but we eventually hit you back with a show…!

When we realized (upon gorging on pizza and beer) that the core group was actually all together at the same time and had a free evening, we decided we may as well just go ahead and record a show! Episode nine of the podcast is the embodiment of everything the show aims to be — a bunch of friends sitting around pontificating about video games. Sometimes we say stupid things and sometimes we say brilliant things, but the end result is a good time, and hopefully with a few guys you want to hear from.

Andrew told us about playing everything from DJ Hero and Civilization IV. Jeff has been playing everything from Angry Birds to Boom Blox. Mike has been playing everything from Heavenly Sword to Final Fantasy 1. You all had e-mails with some top ten lists, and questions about everything ranging from English translation ambivalence to relationship advice.

For your amazing convenience, here are some of the iPhone and PC games we spoke about during the show, as well as one article:

Special thanks to all the folks who hung out with us the other night during the live recording of the episode! After you listen to the show to let us know what you think (and chime in on any of the opinions or questions), let us know how you best want to be notified about new posts and live recordings. Does the site warrant its own Twitter feed? A Facebook fan page? What do you think?

Enjoy! Hopefully we’ll see you again sooner than six months’ time! Expect some blog posts from all of us in the meantime, of course!

Six Weeks Pokemon Free

I can’t believe that it’s been six weeks since I popped Final Fantasy VI into Slot 2 of my Nintendo DS, effectively putting an end to my current playing of Pokemon. Since then, I have loaded up not a single Pokemon game for GBA, DS, WiiWare… anything.

It’s been perfectly wonderful.

To briefly recap, I played about halfway through Yellow back on the GB(C) when it first came out in 1999. Got pretty bored and dropped it soon there-after. I felt the bug coming when Generation IV (Diamond & Pearl) were on the horizon, and decided to give it all another go having skipped two generations. I picked up FireRed (GBA) and Pearl (DS) the day Generation IV was launched in the US, and proceeded to put something like 90 hours into GBA and around the same into DS (I honestly don’t remember the exact numbers; it was approaching 100 for both, I think…?). Once I “beat” Pearl (that is, defeated the Elite Four), I captured all of the standard, non-event legendaries and various specials, and then pretty much let it go.

Many months later, I randomly picked it up again. I don’t know why or how, but I did. Perhaps it was around the time that the special event critters were being passed out at Toys R Us…? I finally started messing around with things like trading on the GTS (and with a couple friends), going underground, breeding… all things I barely dabbled with on the initial playthrough. It was like a whole new world of end-game content was available to me, despite it being there the whole time. I really enjoyed it all. My Pokemon Ranch added a little bit of fuel to the fire, giving me even more of a reason to try completing my PokeDex and transfer specifically-bred (and traded) critters for the sole purpose of putting them on the ranch and seeing what they do.

It was like I was a kid again, dedicating all of my gaming time to the same, singular game (even playing FireRed or Ranch was essentially playing Pearl, since they all led to that destination). The only “problem” with this was that I was ignoring all of the other games I had been accumulating and dropping. Sure, I would hit up the new multiplayer games when friends were around (Mario Kart Wii, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, various other fighting games including the standard Capcom staples, etc.)… but no progress was being made in any single-player games. I just wasn’t getting any other experience. It was really bothering me, but at the same time, I told myself I was having fun and that’s all that really mattered in the end.

While I still stand by that justification, I have to say how wonderful it is to be playing some other games again. I’m somewhere around ten hours into Final Fantasy VI, and while I’m still waiting for that huge emotional impact to hit me, it’s fun to be playing none-the-less. That’s really all I’ve been able to put time into right now (with the upcoming wedding, and all) since I’m able to play it on-the-go (mostly during lunch at work), but I’m psyched to come home after the honeymoon and know I have so many other games (both new experiences and re-playings) waiting for my time…

WipEout HD (barely started), Super Mario RPG (re-play; in-progress), Ys Book 1 & II (not started), Shining Force II (re-play; not started), Soul Calibur IV (in-progress), DBZ: Burst Limit (in-progress), The World Ends With You (not started), Space Invaders Extreme (not started), Bioshock (not started)… Hell, I might even go back and play some more of Super Mario Galaxy, which I was having a ton of fun with but just suddenly dropped (classic Mike gaming).

Games We’re Finally Playing: Final Fantasy VI

OK, so technically Jeff has already played it (and you heard all about it back on episode two). However, I had never actually played beyond the first five minutes (I thought a full hour, but no, not even…) of Final Fantasy VI, considered by many to be the pinnacle of the series. I’ve had Anthology (PS1) since it came out, and I’ve had Advance (GBA) since it came out… but… never played…

This post is actually two-fold in purpose. The first is like the title says; I started playing the game. However, in order to be playing this game, I had to do one other thing.

I dropped the Pokemon habit.

That’s right, I’m done (again… for now). Despite putting the majority of time these days into Pearl, just the fact that Pearl was in Slot 1 and FireRed was in Slot 2 was enough to keep me from playing anything else on-the-go. Once I started up my new job and had an hour lunch to go off and do whatever I wanted, I was all about starting up a new game.

Final Fantasy VI

I decided to make that game Final Fantasy VI, and I’ve been quite enjoying it. That’s not to say that I’m falling all over myself with how amazing it is, but it’s totally perfect for what I need it to be right now. The distance between save points is always just right for a lunch break (something III on DS did amazingly well, might I add). The characters are quirky and hilarious. The music is… well, I haven’t really hit anything yet that’s flooring me, to be honest (yes, I’m playing with headphones so I don’t miss anything). I also understand that the GBA audio isn’t quite up to the level of the SNES, but it has nothing to do with the audio quality; I’m talking strictly composition and arrangement.

I’m just under seven hours into the game, and I just did my second round of split-up-the-team and fight-lots-of-oncoming-soldiers, concluding with Kefka at the end (that shouldn’t be all that spoilerific, I think).

So while I’m enjoying it, there’s nothing knocking my socks off just yet. I know I still need to wait for the inevitable “world beyond the world” realization, and something about an opera scene…

I’m quite petrified of Pokemon: Platinum coming out in the US, because I’m kinda enjoying playing other games for a change…

Top Ten Pokémon

Shut up. I felt like it.

Despite saying in my initial entry that I would be writing “semi-professional but non-corporate” material, I am going completely against that with a list of my Top Ten Pokémon. Wouldn’t this fit in better on that new video games podcast with conversations and top ten lists? Somehow I doubt either Jeff or Andrew would be down for that, so I’m all on my own. As a mid-20s Pokémon quasi-wannabe-fan, I don’t have many outlets to write this kind of stuff…!

My affection for these characters comes from a variety of places, but primarily (1) playing the games, and (2) watching the anime. There are some sub-sectors to those (the movies in Japanese, for example), but it should all make sense as you read through.

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