September 27, 2013

The Final Push

Posted in life tagged , at 9:32 pm by riulyn

The end of 2013 is going to be huge for me. Plans to graduate, ending 5 years of graduate school. Plans to go to Japan for the first time. Possibly plans to move across the U.S. again.

Life is a mixture of looking for jobs, debating what I really want to do with my life, thinking more than working on my dissertation, and of course, gaming. My diet has gone to shit, my only exercise is walking to and from the lab, and I try to remember to hang out with people (being in an asexual meetup group helps). I spend less time gaming, I watch only a little bit of anime, my Japanese study is reduced pretty much to flashcards. I’m trying to do many things and not getting far in anything. But I think I’m making progress?

Anyway, this is a post about these next few months, specifically October and November. I kind of want to fast forward to December, where all the school obligations are done and I’m wandering around Japan. And Christmas. But before then I have a lot of things to finish up.

School-wise it’s simple. I did my last experiment today. I will need to analyze it quickly (hopefully no more than 3 weeks). I have to get a draft of my dissertation done by the end of October at the latest. I need to give my committee two weeks or so to read it before they can recommend me to defend. I need to get this done before Dec. 6, which is the day I fly out to Japan.

Job-wise I’d like to get a job so I can continue to buy things. And maybe take more programming classes or a Japanese class on the side. On the other hand, I just want to take a long break.

Gaming-wise… I got into this bad habit of starting a lot of games even while others aren’t finished. I’m trying to remedy this again. However, I really want to play Disgaea, which I saved for October. Even though I have how many PS2 games in progress? Oh well. So Disgaea takes priority in October. I just finished Ys III but the temptation to start Tactics Ogre PSP was too great, so I started that last night. Will most likely have to put that to the side. I unexpectedly finished Tales of Xillia tonight, so this weekend I will continue on with PS2 gaming or with The Last Story. Most likely Atelier Iris 2, though. For November, I will continue my Suikoden replays with Suikoden V. Suikoden Tactics just didn’t fit into my plans, but that’s okay. I’ll play that again someday. Otherwise I should really finish SMT IV. I can sense the beginning of the end. I plan to plunge the world into chaos 😀 Also, Ys IV and I will have a very, very wonderful time. Hopefully not at the cost of graduation.

Sheet music-wise, I will continue to not work on it. I think I’ll return to that around the Christmas holidays. I really have the urge to do some music from some of the games I’ve just recently played. Probably simple stuff though, just to get my ears back into shape.

Anyway, I have no idea how often or if I’ll update again this year. I tend to think of blog ideas while procrastinating, so perhaps I’ll be really active. Or I may not post here again until Christmas. I’ll continue to obsessively update my Backloggery, so you can at least keep track of my gaming 😀

September 17, 2013

A battle system that had potential (Magna Carta: Tears of Blood)

Posted in video games tagged , at 9:46 pm by riulyn

I spent quite a bit of time with Magna Carta: Tears of Blood yesterday and Sunday because it magically loaded again. This is going to be one long game, especially as they are making my two different parties go through the same long dungeon! Argh…

Anyway, the basic game isn’t really that bad at heart, but rather badly executed. The best and worst of the game I feel is highlighted by the battle system.

Pros of battle system

  • Chi system
  • Action bar/gauge adjustment
  • Positioning

Cons of battle system

  • Attack animations
  • Action bar too long/slow
  • Only 3 characters during battle
  • AI is dumb
  • Voice acting

The Chi system in principal is very cool. Each attack (by party member or by enemy) uses up a little bit of one of the 8 different Chi in the environment. As Chi is getting used up, the power of the attacks is lessened. When there is no Chi left, no attacks that require that Chi can be performed. Thus the starting Chi environment and the regenerative potential of the Chi of that environment can affect which party members are actually useful attackers in different areas, since each character’s attack will use a different Chi depending on the style he/she is using and what level attack they are using (always have to start at level 1 and can go up to the max for the style and then stay at max until you mess up). It’s also an interesting strategy whether you want to significantly lower the Chi that your opponent is using or pound them with the opposite Chi that could potentially do extra damage (the 8 Chi are grouped into 4 pairs). However, the game spends a great deal of time not forcing you to adapt to the Chi environment. Too many of the environments are just flooded with Chi for all 8 elements or the Chi regeneration is too fast. I spent a good portion of the beginning of the game just sending Calintz to murder everything while his party members just watched.

Another cool feature is the action bar (or whatever that thing is called) that adjusts when you can attack based on how many active party members and enemies there are. However, the bar takes a while to fill up when you have to face 3 enemies, especially since the bar doesn’t keep moving while an attack animation is playing out. I’ve personally never timed how long it takes to get from one end to the other end of the bar, but it has to be at least 15 seconds. If you aren’t wiping enemies out quickly due to a first strike, the beginning of the battle can take forever. Even worse is if you mess up the button presses for an attack. Not only does that reset your character’s progress through the different attack levels of that style back to the first level, but it also pushes the progress back on the action bar back one attack. If you screw up healing, you not only get sent back to the lowest level healing spell but you have to wait another how many seconds before you can try to heal or even use an item. In that time you may get massacred.

Another interesting thing is how positioning works. It’s a rectangular field where you can move around freely, but moving around stops the progress of your action bar while the enemy’s (as long as the enemy is standing still) continues to progress. That part is fine. The fact that attacks require you to be a certain distance away The bad part of positioning is that the AI is dumb so you can just throw Calintz to be the tank and take all the physical hits. Enemies will almost always flock to the closest character even if there is no physical barrier to prevent them from moving and attacking mages. If a mage is in range as well as a tank, the AI is smart enough to use physical attacks on the mage and give him/her a beating.

Now for additional cons. The attack animations take forever and are accompanied by horribly voice-acted one-liners. Also, you get a lot of characters (significant portions of the game has your party split up but still you may have 6 or 7 characters with you) and you can only use 3 in battle. And it’s not like everyone levels up on the side; only battle members do. I like keeping my people’s levels relatively even, but I haven’t found a reason why you’d have to when Calintz can be such a tank.

I wonder how Magna Carta 2 is. Supposedly it improves a lot of things over the first game, and there are plenty of things to improve besides the battle system. I am amused enough by the “bad” of this game that I think I’ll finish it and I have been saving Magna Carta 2 for afterwards. It’s just weird that a year ago I was playing game after game on the Xbox360 and I haven’t touched it since November. I suppose all systems have their droughts when you own so many of them, but it seems kind of serious for my Xbox360… Too many games to play, especially on the PS2 🙂

September 10, 2013

Wanderlust with a purpose

Posted in video games tagged , , , , , , , at 9:19 am by riulyn

Starting games and not finishing them? Usually that’s a bad thing, since you’ve paid all that money, begged your friends, and/or have limited time to play the game. But this weekend I decided to engage in some good wanderlust. The type of wanderlust that allows you to play a bit of a bunch of games you haven’t played before but you own and you need to really know what they are about.

So here’s what I started and dabbled with this past week or so:

Drakengard – I want to like this game more, but I am fighting the controls and the enemies. Also, blocking doesn’t decrease damage taken a ton. Even on Easy I am stuck in Chapter 3. I did some free missions and got another weapon from one of them, but ultimately those heavy-armored guys with clubs are my biggest weakness and I might have to master dodge-rolling instead. I’m not particularly good at action rpgs but at least with Ys games I feel like I’m in control. Here I probably button mash too much without really knowing what I’m doing wrong.

X-men Legends – Not particularly good at this game either, and wish there was some kind of block button. I love the idea of being able to combo a lot of things and switching between 4 characters on the fly. The problem I have already is that I used the 4 recommended characters for the first scenario and I don’t know how I’m going to keep up with all those different characters. Also, I’m not sure what to think of Alison yet.

Atelier Iris 2 – As recommended, I started with the second game of the trilogy. It doesn’t seem like I needed the first one yet (at least 3 hours in). Systems seem pretty simple and I like the switching so far. Feel like I can do side stuff with one character when I switch over while the other is the “main” for that chapter. Well, only 5 eps in, so we’ll see how this progresses. I do feel like the game is really easy at the moment. I also accidentally synthesized 99 heal herbs at the beginning but getting materials seems super easy at the moment. The only thing is that I don’t have all the money in the world to buy everything yet, but I’m sure there are ways around that in the future.

Breath of Fire (GBA version) – I feel the standards of SNES RPGs just oozing out of this game. It’ll probably serve those times where I kind of just want to grind through a game and not have plot/dialogue get much in the way. Though soon after I repicked up SMT 4, which is serving that purpose a bit more than BoF. But I see myself playing this game every once in a while. Hopefully more often than DQ 9…

Ar tonelico; Melody of Elemia – Another Gust game and it kind of shares a lot with Atelier Iris 2 on the surface. Only played about an hour but Lyner has immediately acted like the stereotype JRPG protagonist to the fullest. He looks kind of like Cloud Strife of Kingdom Hearts verse but acts more like Cless of Tales of Phantasia? Kind of like Atelier Iris 2, lots of save points and crafting and so far so easy. I think I’ll like the game (world seems interesting except “viruses” are totally not like that at all) but because it’s so like Atelier Iris 2, I think this one will be played later.

So in conclusion, I’ve not eliminated any of these games from the backlog because they suck, but I think I’ll go back to putting more actiony hours into Tales of Xillia and focus more on Atelier Iris 2 out of these games. I should also either start my replay of Suikoden Tactics or drag out Growlanser 2 since I’m not actually playing a tactical RPG right now. Or finish off Ephraim’s path in Sacred Stones. Hmm…

September 5, 2013

Let’s Talk About Music Again

Posted in music tagged , , , , , , at 6:12 pm by riulyn

Just because I haven’t been working on sheet music doesn’t mean I should stop talking about music, right? If I’m surveying a shit ton of games, I’m hearing a lot of different soundtracks still, right?

I’ve been playing a bit of “play whatever loads in my PS2 and if not, Tales of Xillia”. Which means I should have an opinion about Tales of Xillia’s soundtrack by now. Compared to other Tales’ soundtracks, I feel like Xillia is in the middle? Even though I’m over 20 hours in, I’m only in the second chapter and there’s plenty of time for the rest of the soundtrack to show up. Sakuraba’s best themes, if there are amazing ones on a Tales soundtrack, tend to be near the end anyway. I have to say that the anime intro song is probably my favorite Tales intro song ever. I have spent hours listening to it on repeat. But anyway, I’m happy that Xillia’s soundtrack is better than Graces’. I might have been imagining this downward trend in “quality”, or at least in my personal enjoyment, of Sakuraba’s music starting with Abyss. I wonder how much overlap there is in the music for Xillia and Xillia 2? I guess I’ll find out when the sequel comes to North America.

Otherwise I have been engaged in the inner debate on which Wild ARMs soundtrack I’ve liked the best so far. I think it’s a fight between 3 and 5. The best part of 5’s soundtrack was the great variety in it, but 3 has catchier tunes. I probably should wait until I finish all the Wild ARMs games before choosing the Wild ARMs soundtrack to represent. I feel like when people think of Wild ARMs music they think of the first game, so it may have the best of the Wild ARMs soundtracks.

Recently, in my attempt to finish more PS2 games, I played some Magna Carta and while the game is taking way longer than it should to get through battles and has some of the worst scripted and acted cutscenes ever, the music is actually pretty decent. I don’t think I like it enough to own its soundtrack, but it certainly makes playing the game more enjoyable.

And while Magna Carta wasn’t loading, I was able to load Drakengard. I feel like this soundtrack will need to grow on me. It is certainly…interesting. I think the music fits the game? The game is also…interesting.

The one soundtrack, or rather music collection, that I’m getting soon and looking forward to is the 3 music CDs that come with the Ys IV Silver Anniversary edition. It’s $20 more than the limited edition, and I am severely lacking in Ys music on my computer. I don’t think I’ve met an Ys song that I haven’t liked, and certainly not a battle theme. I really, really hope the Amazon date of early November is true. I need it to come in before I head to Japan!

Finally, I don’t know if I spazzed enough about the awesome Muramasa soundtrack. Sakimoto’s music group continues to make good stuff. And frankly, I find myself once again wondering why he isn’t one of my top composers? When he goes melodic, it’s usually wonderful and awesome (like Valkyria Chronicles music). He certainly does atmospheric stuff well too (Breath of Fire Dragon Quarter, FFXII). In Muramasa, his crew makes melodic, sometimes driving music that has this traditional Japanese-ness to it. It’s incredibly appropriate for a beat-em-up RPG where you drive through enemies in traditional garb. I think out of all the big name Japanese RPG composers, Sakimoto is the least appreciated. Sometimes he was just so good that you didn’t even realize his genius? If that’s the reason, then I was one of the unenlightened…until now?

Ah well. Mitsuda will probably forever be my favorite, even if it’s the nostalgia talking. Chrono Cross music got me into video game music, after all.

September 3, 2013

JRPGs at PAX? Well…

Posted in video games tagged , , , at 11:42 am by riulyn

Let’s say Japanese RPGs were pretty much only at Square-Enix and Nintendo this year. But that’s okay, I guess. There was no secret Ys demo or Bravely Default or Etrian Odyssey. Square-Enix had Lightning Returns, FFX HD, Kingdom Hearts 1.5, something for FFXIV which I didn’t go to, and there was a FF Geek panel (which I did go to). Nintendo had Pokemon X & Y. Chaos Rings was somewhere but I didn’t find nor did I look very hard for it.

There were a lot of indie RPGs, some that were hugely influenced by Japanese RPGs like Dragon Fantasy Book II, Telepath (sp?) Tactics, a ton of others which I can’t remember off the top of my head. “Indie” and “RPG” seems to be a big thing nowadays. PC is where it’s at for that stuff, though most of you in that scene would know that.

In terms of Japanese niche stuff that wasn’t RPGs, there was a decent line for Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies and for Project Diva f. The former was because the demo was decently long (both a trial mode and detective mode). In that line my line neighbor and I talked about other JRPGs though I don’t know how it exactly got started, but we talked about NieR for a bit. Somehow from Dragon Quest IX we ventured over to NieR and its music. Also a bit of lamenting on how AA is digital only. The latter had a line for the glow sticks they were handing out. The demo was only one song and I am terrible at rhythm games but Project Diva f is flashy and the songs are good. I don’t think it’s enough for me to buy it when I still need to buy things like EO and like the FFXIII trilogy.

Speaking of Lightning Returns, I found that the game was really fun and why the hell hadn’t Square done this with job classes before?! In the demo Lightning had 3 “Schemata”. It’s like having 3 ATB bars, one for each Schemata, and performing actions uses up action points. The battle is active because the other schematas’ ATB bars charge while you are performing actions in the current schemata. Each schemata has four actions you can take mapped to ABXY or the Playstation equivalent. So you use up the action points of one schemata and then switch to another. The costumes themselves and whatever they did to Lightning graphically is its own issue, but the battle system is fun enough and makes more sense than Crisis Core’s roulette. I’m tempted to just play Lightning Returns and skip the others… Except it wouldn’t make sense.

I felt no need to demo FFX HD or Kingdom Hearts 1.5. I don’t care enough for those games to replay them except when I feel like replaying something or as part of a marathon challenge. They look nice, but I don’t think demoing them would have told me more about that.

Pokemon X (actually I don’t remember which version I demoed haha) seems like another small evolution towards something better in the Pokemon franchise. I mean, I haven’t played any since Pokemon Red/Blue, so I’m not a great judge. I don’t see anything wrong with the game. I didn’t exactly understand how I triggered a Mega-evolution and I just randomly jumped onto a dog-like Pokemon at some point and rode it for a bit. I don’t even know if newer Pokemon games are like this, but the battle commands are on the bottom screen and they were not mapped to any buttons. You had to touch the screen but it’s like 4 buttons taking up the entire screen, so it wasn’t hard to hit something.

On a non-RPG note, Zelda: Link Between Worlds (or whatever it is actually called) really looked like A Link to the Past. The whole merging into the wall to help solve puzzles wasn’t something I really got use of in the time I demoed, and really paled in comparison to what I saw of Contraption at the indie Mega Booth. Link Between Worlds has other things going for it, but merging into the wall to advance through the world just seemed so much cooler in Contraption.

This post is already too long but I just wanted to say that I managed to meet a fellow Suikoden fanatic at PAX and that was awesome. Even if besides Suikoden we go off on our separate ways, there was some good chatting and some good button mashing while playing fighting games in console freeplay. Also talking to random people about JRPGs is always a good time. Too bad I think I’m a bit sick now after 4 days of weird eating and being around so many people and now it’s raining…