Tuesday, 27 December 2016

My 2016 in Gaming

Right, so I don't have the habit of being all that up-to-date on the most recent games, partially because I feel the "buy on release" attitude is somewhat responsible for the pre-order bonus madness that keeps getting further out of hand, but mostly because being like 2 years behind is simply more friendly on my wallet. Basically doing some "Best of 2016" is out of the question because I haven't played enough from 2016. Instead I'm just going over a couple (I intended 5 but I wanted both Tomb Raiders) of the more memorable stuff I played and actually bloody finished during this horrible, horrible year. In chronological order.

(Allowing myself to recycle some of my Tweets about these games from the previous year and expand on them. Win.)

My 2016 in Gaming
From someone perpetually years behind on pop culture.

1. Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster

Released: Jan 19, 2016
Played: Jan, 2016

Resident Evil Zero (2002) for the GameCube was actually the first Resident Evil game I ever played. As such I have some pretty fond memories of it but I never actually finished it. I decided to remedy that with the HD Remaster that was released early 2016. For a lot of longtime fans Zero was the point when the classic Resident Evil gameplay style was becoming old and tired, a problem I didn't really have since I barely played any of the others (I think I stopped halfway Jill's story in Resident Evil: Deadly Silence and the only other similar game I played was Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare). Most of my knowledge of Resident Evil's storyline actually comes from the Chronicles games on Wii and spending too much time on the Resident Evil wikia.

The new models are nice but they seem less expressive.
I'd say if you liked Resident Evil Zero (or want to play it at all), the HD Remaster is a good version of it. Plus it has quite a few more costumes (some unfortunately are locked behind DLC) that you can switch at any time, unlike the original where you first had to finish the game and could then only change them during the train segment. They even included an extra mode after the main game where you play the game as Albert Wesker and evil Rebecca Chambers.

Resident Evil Zero's premise always struck me as being just an inch away from being a romance/erotic novel set during the downfall of society. It's like "she's an inexperienced member of an elite police unit trapped in the zombie apocalypse with a dangerous criminal who also happens to be a total hunk". Unfortunately the interesting character dynamic of police member Rebecca Chambers and convicted murderer Billy Coen having to team up is undermined by the fact that after the first 15 minutes it becomes obvious Coen is a decent guy and shown to be innocent long before the game is even halfway done (hence, on top of the game now being 14 years old, I don't consider this much of a spoiler).

2. Final Fantasy X HD Remaster

Released: May 15, 2015
Played: April, 2016

Back in April I bought a PS4 (like a week before the new models would get announced, because of course) with the Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster. I had already finished the story of FFX twice years ago on PS2, but this time I wanted to go in with the purpose of finally beating those Dark Aeons in the post-game that always gave me so much trouble.
Ultimately I ended up not just beating all the Dark Aeons, but also dodging the 200 lightning bolts required to complete Lulu's Celestial Weapon, completing the Chocobo race challenges, defeating all the post-game bosses, completing the sphere grid for every character and getting the platinum trophy. So that worked out better than I expected.

One thing I liked about Final Fantasy X where a lot of the other more recent Final Fantasies lost me is that Tidus is himself a stranger in the world of Spira. This allows the player to be eased into the world rather than us having to endure a massive plot dump like in XII or XIII.
However doing it like this also opened the story up to a situation where the entire party looks like massive dicks in how they treated Tidus when the big plot twist of Yuna's eventual fate is revealed. "We weren't keeping it a secret, it was just too hard to say"? You mean that at no point during your journey you could just take Tidus aside for a minute and explain to him what was going on? Instead you gave him massive amounts of guilt over what a jerk he unintentionally was. Nice.

I also realized how impossible it is to explain the story of Final Fantasy X to someone not familiar with the series. My best attempt boiled down to: "So this girl has to sacrifice herself to save the world from a huge monster who is the father of a guy who doesn't really exist. So a dude who is actually dead goes to a city that's not real to get the guy because his monster dad no longer wants to destroy stuff".
Alternatively: "A bunch of deities and resurrected dead guys think religion is stupid and poof a guy into existence to prove that point".

I also wrote this guide on how to fill up your Blitzball team with female members if you're into that: Vicsor's Opinion: Guide: Final Fantasy X - A Female Blitzball Team

3. Life Is Strange

Released: Jan 22, 2016
Played: April, 2016

Life Is Strange is a game I didn't expect like, but I bought it anyway because it was fairly cheap and I still wanted to support Dontnod Entertainment (I loved Remember Me despite its rough edges). Turns out I actually did end up liking it once I actually started playing. Unfortunately the final episode being largely cut-and-pasted from the earlier episodes and a limited payoff of all your choices made during the game hinder it somewhat, but it was still a powerful experience with a gameplay style that I hope modern adventure games take notice of (except more puzzles please).

Chloe Price, to whom the concept of self-preservation
is completely alien
Unlike a lot of fans I didn't feel that much of a connection with Chloe Price though. A lot of Chloe's problems just stem from very poor choices on her part. Most of the time the friendship between Max and Chloe seemed toxic at best, at times even abusive towards Max. A lot of choices involving Chloe usually boiled down to a choice between 'Do the right thing and piss off Chloe' or 'Do the wrong thing to appease Chloe'. Instead of this deep connection, it felt more like I was weighing the collective good against the anti-social whims of a troubled teenager who could fly into rage at the drop of a hat. I did feel a strong connection to Max herself though, who I really wanted to hug for going through this hell of a week. Yeah, if you know about the endings, you can guess which one I went with...

No amount of context can save this terrible, terrible line.

Some of the dialogue gets viciously mocked on social media, and true enough there's quite a bit of cringe-worthy slang in the way these people talk. Overall most of it isn't that bad in context though and the characters themselves mock each other for it enough that it becomes a bit of a running joke. Except Max commenting on plasma and the delicacy thereof, that line cannot possibly be salvaged. Second was dropping "I swear to dog" in dead serious conversation in episode 3. 

I also wrote something about Victoria Chase's character: Vicsor's Opinion: Life Is Strange - Victoria Chase

4-1. Tomb Raider 2013 - Definitive Edition

Released: Jan 31, 2014
Played: Aug, 2016

I always had mixed feelings about the most recent Tomb Raider reboot. On its own it was a pretty good game but it never clicked as being worthy of the title "Tomb Raider", which made it jarring for me because the game insisted on flashing a Tomb Raider logo on screen every 5 seconds. However because I had recently picked up archery as a hobby and Not!Lara's main weapon is a bow, I decided to give the game another chance with its Definitive version on PS4.

Turned out I was pleasantly surprised. The game itself was still the same of course, but an update to Not!Lara's character model at least meant she now resembled someone I could buy as being an inexperienced Lara Croft. That actually made a world of difference for me. Also to mitigate the visual effects the torture porn nature of the game has on Lara, I stuck her in the competitive archery suit for the duration of the game which meant all those horrible cuts and bruises she accumulates are gone.

So yes, my experience with the Tomb Raider reboot went from being annoyed with it a few years back to it being massively improved simply because the character model now actually made me believe I was playing as a version of Lara Croft.

4-2. Rise of the Tomb Raider

Released: Oct 11, 2016
Played: Nov, 2016

I liked Rise of the Tomb Raider from the start because, unlike its predecessor, it didn't feel as ashamed to be Tomb Raider and actually made an effort to reintroduce elements from the Tomb Raider lore. The previous game drastically altered Lara Croft's backstory by removing the plane crash in the Himalayas (which I feel would be like removing Bruce Wayne's parents getting shot in the alley from his backstory). In this game it turns out there was a plane crash in the Himalayas, it's just that Lara's mother was on it rather than she herself, which motivated Richard Croft's obsession with myths of eternal life, which in turn motivated Lara.
We learn this information in the reintroduction of Croft Manor, whereas the previous game didn't even want to acknowledge Lara's nobility. Croft Manor is also filled to the brim with references to the previous games, even implying Lara will at some point be searching for Tomb Raider II's Temple of Xian. Now if in the next game it turns out Jacqueline Natla is responsible for Trinity, that would be absolutely fantastic.

There were still quite a few things I didn't like that much though. The writing of the Tomb Raider reboots is kinda odd. Their stories aren't necessarily all that straightforward, but the plot twists they use are cliches themselves, meaning you can easily predict where the story is going whenever a new plot element is introduced.
Then there's the RPG-like upgrade system for both Lara's skillset and her weapons, which doesn't really seem to matter all that much since basic headshots are completely lethal from the beginning and helmets aren't that difficult to overcome anyway. Also I'm still missing some of the more advanced acrobatics that exited the series after Tomb Raider Underworld.
Still, I feel Rise of the Tomb Raider redeemed the reboot series. Especially since the 20th Anniversary Edition included a bunch of costumes from the Core Design games (oddly missing is Legend era Lara though).

I also had way too much fun shooting bottles out of the sky with the bow.

It's technically an achievement but you can easily do it with a shotgun. I just learned to do it with the bow because that way it actually felt like an achievement. That sure was an hour of my life well spent!

5. Year Walk

Released: March 6, 2014
Played: Dec, 2016

I actually played and finished Year Walk just a few days ago on Christmas eve after the family dinner and before going to bed, which seemed appropriate since Christmas was historically one of the times a year when year walking took place. I mainly just got it because I wanted to know what the deal was with the horse in a suit that was featured in the promotional screenshots. Turns out there was actually an interesting experience behind the weird horse.

Yes, this. What is up with this?
Year Walk is a pretty short game that can easily be finished in like a single evening (I'm at 3.6 hours for 100% completion). Now it's already a very atmospheric puzzle game by itself, but the ending and alternate reality game-like post game is what pushes it over the edge into being a memorable experience (since it's also a big deal, I won't spoil it here). Basically while you are playing the game itself, the story takes a backseat and is only given proper context in the secret ending. Just be sure to keep a notebook on hand because the puzzles actually require some thought and expect you to be paying attention.

Anyway, those are some of the more memorable games I actually finished during the last year. Now if you'd like to hear my opinions on games actually released in 2016 that weren't rereleases, I will see you again in about 2 to 5 years!

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Life is Strange - Victoria Chase

Life is Strange really caught me by surprise with how much I ended up liking it. I was kinda interested in it because I loved Dontnod Entertainment's first game Remember Me, but the way the game looked invoked a weird sort of uncanny valley for me. Still, when all the episodes were released I bought the game, played it, and it didn't take long for it to suck me in after all.

However, I don't want to talk at length about the game itself here. Rather I want to talk a bit about a particular scene regarding a particular character. Basically just a short insight I had while staring out the bus window. (As such this will be more or less useless to people who haven't played or finished the game)

Warning: SPOILERS for Life is Strange

How Strange Is It?
Victoria Chase - Life is Strange

Victoria Chase is a rich, popular girl who serves as a minor antagonist towards Max. Compared to Nathan Prescott, she's more of an annoyance rather than an actual threat (except when it comes to Kate Marsh's storyline, who she is unwittingly bullying into a suicide attempt). However she is a more personal antagonist than Prescott, which the game neatly illustrates by having her dorm room directly opposing Max'.

A part of Episode 1 plays out in the Blackwell girl's dorm, which is a convenient way for the game to develop some characters by giving us the chance to snoop in their personal lives. One of the puzzles in the dorm requires us to invade Victoria's room (including the rather infamous scene where Max is suddenly commenting on a plasma TV and the apparent delicacy thereof), but before we do that, we see this message on the slate outside of her room.

"Be the change you wish to see" -Gandhi

When we first encounter the message, we're supposed to cringe along with Max at the dissonance of this narcissistic pest quoting Gandhi for all the world to see while at the same time she's bullying Kate to the point of attempting suicide. During the rest of the game however, we slowly learn that beneath the alpha bitch facade she puts up in public, Victoria is actually just really insecure and not all that bad.

In Episode 5 during a rather confusing bunch of time travel sequences, we get to revisit the scene at the very start of the game with Max in Mr. Jefferson's classroom. Due to Max' character development over the course of the game, we now have an option to read one of Victoria's notebooks, whereas at the beginning Max was too timid to even consider invading her privacy like that (At least publicly since, as mentioned, she gleefully inspects Vic's room not long after).

Inside the notebook we find something of a written down (and punctuated) stream of consciousness exclaiming that she herself sucks and ending with the words "I want to hate her, but she wouldn't care. Envy is a sin, Vic. GET OVER YOURSELF!", revealing not only Victoria's insecurity but also a desire to better herself.

This, to me at least, puts that little slate outside Victoria's room in an entirely new, kinda heartwarming light. Victoria doesn't write Gandhi quotes to show off to the world how deep she is, she does it to remind herself that she should at least attempt to be a better person.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Guide: Final Fantasy X - Blitzball Female Team

In early December of 2015 there was a leak that revealed the Playstation exclusive Final Fantasy X was possibly headed to Steam. Being a big fan of the game (although up until recently I didn't dare to call it my favorite Final Fantasy, even though it is) I was more excited about that than any new games in the pipeline. Weeks turned to months but so far we have yet to receive any official announcement. In the meantime I ended up with a PlayStation 4 with, you guessed it, Final Fantasy X | X-2 HD Remaster as my first game. So that problem is solved. (Not long after, the game was released on Steam after all. Because of course.)

Final Fantasy X
A Female Blitzball Team

One fondly remembered feature of Final Fantasy X is of course the Blitzball minigame, which manages to be so addictive that they might as well have made it its own separate sports game and I'd buy it. For this playthrough of Final Fantasy X, and since it would make a nice follow-up to the guide I did for female Mother Base staff in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, I decided to see if I could build an all-female blitzball team and find some success with them. So I did, and I did.

Very special thanks to all the people who compiled all these comprehensive Blitzball guides over the past 14 years (especially the Final Fantasy wiki) for making this way easier to assemble.

First Things First

The First Game

The first Blitzball game you play is also the only story-relevant and necessary one. If it's your first time playing the game, it's also very likely that you'll end up losing (the game doesn't require you to win though and the reward for it is negligible). The Besaid Aurochs are indeed a pretty bad team and Tidus is the only one with some decent stats. Luckily the Luca Goers aren't as good as their reputation so if you managed to pick up the Jecht Shot on the boat to Luca, you do actually stand a decent chance.

General Blitzball Tips

  • Pass the ball around a lot!
    Your team gains experience by being active in the game. You can gain a significant advantage by simply getting your hands on the ball, keeping it out of the opposing team's hands and passing it around. Especially in your first few games you can quickly leave the other teams in the dust by advancing several levels per match.
  • Pay attention to techniques.
    Set appropriate techniques for the player's position. Mark appropriate targets to learn new techniques. Look out for the 'Techcopy' prompt whenever the opposing team makes a movie. Without Tidus in your team, you lose the ability to perform the Jecht Shot (which is easily the most convenient technique for easy goals) so you'll want to make sure your other characters are equipped appropriately.
  • If all else fails, there's an exploit you can abuse
    If you have the ball and swim behind your own goalkeeper, the opposing team has no idea what to do. So if you manage to get ahead, you can simply swim behind the goalkeeper and wait out the remainder of the match.

Building an All-Female Team

My Team

At the time of writing (and after just having won a tournament with this team), my team is made up of:
  • Front: Linna, Svanda
  • Mid: Naida
  • Defense: Vilucha, Lakkam
  • Goalkeeper: Miyu

Tidus was the last remaining 'original' Auroch in my team until Linna and Svanda were able to reliably score goals. Naida's speed (and having the Brawler technique) made her ideal to intercept the opposing ball carrier, no matter where they are. Vilucha is more fit as an attacker, however I picked her up late so she's still low level. I'm intending for her to eventually replace Svanda. Lakkam's high PA makes her really useful to pass the ball from the back across the field to whoever is open to score a goal. Miyu was an easy choice as goalie since she passed Keepa early and easily.

I had Tidus in one half because Vilucha was new and I was
worried the team might not have cut it. They did.

The Players

Once you played the first Blitzball game and you're back on track with Yuna's pilgrimage, you gain the ability to scout players by 'talking' to certain NPC's by pressing the Square button instead of X. If the NPC is a potential blitzball player, you'll get the ability to sign them up for the Besaid Aurochs (if they don't already have a contract with another team of course, in which case you'll unfortunately have to wait until they are released).

Here you'll find the location of all 19 female blitzball players in the game. If you want detailed information on their stats, you can find them on the Final Fantasy Wikia over here.

Balgerda (Luca Harbor, Number 3 Dock)
Starting Team: Luca Goers

Decent defender early on, but drops off fast like the other Luca Goers 

Deim (Kilika Temple, Great Hall)
Starting Team: Kilika Beasts

Decent defender early on, but doesn't develop her attack high enough to shine later on.

Doram (Luca Harbor, Number 3 Dock)
Starting Team: Luca Goers

Decent early on, but drops off fast like the other Luca Goers.

Irga Ronso (Luca Harbor, Number 4 Dock)
Starting Team: Ronso Fangs

Slow like all Ronso, but among the best defenders otherwise.

Judda (Airship, Corridor)
Starting Team: Al Bhed Psyches

Great defender until she's passed by Kiyuri and Kulukan at around LV 50.

Kiyuri (S.S. Winno, Deck)
Starting Team: Free

Weak early on, but one of the best defenders later.

Kulukan (Kilika Port, Tavern)
Starting Team: Kilika Beasts

Same as Kiyuri, she's weak early on, but one of the best defenders later.

Lakkam (Airship, Corridor)
Starting Team: Al Bhed Psyches

Very high PA skill early on. Remains a decent defender throughout the game.

Linna (Macalania Temple, Frozen Road)
Starting Team: Free

Great overall skills with the exception of very low EN. Has a maximum PA stat at LV 99.

Warning: She moves to the front of Macalania Temple after the airship becomes available, requiring the player to battle Dark Shiva.

Mifurey (Thunder Plains, Travel Agency)
Starting Team: Free

Great overall stats, but unbearably slow early on with a SP of only 20 compared to the average 60. Her speed only reaches that average at LV 60. Useful as a midfielder.

Miyu (Moonflow, North Shoopuf Wharf)
Starting Team: Free

Has a pretty good CA skill early on, making her a good replacement for the Besaid Auroch's default goalkeeper Keepa. She's also useful as as a defender.

Naida (Calm Lands, Shop)
Starting Team: Free

Ridiculously fast swimmer (only outdone by Brother and Nedus). Good choice for a midfielder.

Nuvy Ronso (Luca Harbor, Number 4 Dock)
Starting Team: Ronso Fangs

Slow like all Ronso, but pretty good as a defender.

Pah Guado (Guadosalam, House)
Starting Team: Guado Glories

Decent defense early on. High AT later on.

Shaami (Luca Harbor, Bridge)
Starting Team: Free

Good as a forward with her high SH and EN skill. Less useful in defense.

Shuu (Luca Seaport, Cafe)
Starting Team: Free

Great overall stats (except SH and CA).

Svanda (Calm Lands)
Starting Team: Free

Good SH and BL stat early on. Develops EN and PA faster though, making her less useful in the front later on.

Vilucha (Besaid Village, House)
Starting Team: Free

Ideal as a forward thanks to her high SH and EN.

Warning: Since she's in Besaid Village, during the endgame she'll be blocked by Dark Valefor. 

Yuma Guado (Guadosalam, House)
Starting Team: Free
Decent goalkeeper (after LV 60 she's a better one than Miyu), but overall not that great of a choice.

Links & References

All screenshots from the PlayStation 4 copy of Final Fantasy X | X-2 HD Remaster