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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Final Fantasy XIII-2: The tail is wagging the dog so hard I'm getting dizzy.

It suuuuuure is!

I can put up with a lot. Throttling frame rates, dated graphics, and late to the party console ports if you give me a game worth playing for 2 weeks. For only $20 and a C+ from PcGamer I thought I could put up with some cheese to see what that franchise had been up to since 2006. But mother of god, I did not see this coming.

For the first 40 minutes there was no dialogue, just... exclamations and jargon. I know I haven't played the first in the series but Jesus Lord, this is some impenetrable bullsh*t. I'm not gonna grouse about the pop acid jazz abomination that is it's soundtrack, I'm just going to speculate that no writers actually wrote this sucker. Or that the "writer" was really a visual designer that needed to cover his tracks to support whatever fever dream he needed plopped onto the screen.

Games in recent years have been making big strides for better stories and characters. I guess I've become a bit of a snob. But I didn't what to punch every other character in the face in FFXII for opening their over-designed mouths. Or in VI or IX... maybe in VIII.

I'm gonna keep wading through. I'm on a mission now, I'm getting the same pain in the back of my neck that I got from watching The Room. This could get awesome if I didn't have to work today and could down a shot before diving back in. I'm weirdly invested now.

Come on... tell me you don't wanna punch him in the face. I mean, is hair bleaching a huge thing in Japan or something?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dragon Age Inquisition Review: What a show.

You wanted Bioware to make Skyrim? You got it. If there was one thing wrong with Bethesda's opus (and there were many things) it was it's hok-tacular story telling. I mean they got Michael Gambon, Michael (goddamn) Gambon, and all he was asked to do was... dragon shout tutorials.

But Bioware is better than that, less inclined to sprawling open worlds, and more comfortable carefully crafting three dimensional characters. Then the combat and then the story. Those are the best things about inquisition in descending order. The cast is once again, exceptional, and the combat keeping in step with 2's methods. I.E every character has a bunch of skills that cool down and cost stamina and you can switch to anybody you want on the fly.

The story doesn't get as much love as it should. At least the main narrative doesn't. The end comes off as more of a mid-season finale then the show stopping trilogy capper I'd hoped to have seen.

If looks could kill, I'd be bleeding out.

But those are mostly communication problems. As massive and as satisfying as the game is, it does an absolutely terrible job managing your expectations. When I was a third of the way through it felt like the game was just getting started. Near the end I noticed two continents on my world map were completely untouched. Surely I couldn't be done yet... I haven't even seen half the world! 15 minutes after I thought that, the game was over.

The reports of 80 hour run throughs have been grotesquely exaggerated. If you sip and savor the game; Mine the best stones, find the rarest ingredients, kill most of the secret dragons, and track down those friggin' shards, you'll milk 45-50 hours. At most. It's not as long I wanted it to be, but only if I compared it to Mass Effect and DA2 before it. Inquisition is unique. A grand experiment in story telling across a massive world. In that way it feels more successful. 

The massive scale allows time for Bioware to be goofy. I'd be lying if I said my favorite parts of all their games are when they break the po-faced "save the universe!!!" bravado and just make me laugh. There's 30 secret bottles of liquor hidden from start to finish, each weirder than the last. "Bitterbile, a vintage that is not so much served as it is brandished." There's a quest for a missing ram called "The Ballad of Lord Woolsley" and Varric's back. God, I love Varric.

You quippy, authorial, lil' munchkin, you.

Speaking of which, have I ever told you guys I'm the one person on planet earth that hated origins and loved (like head over heels, loved) Dragon Age 2? No? well stick around and get angry! 

I did, though. The design of the first game was so rote and expected I thought Weta Workshop would sue. Millions of dollars spent to essentially recreate the same dreary high fantasy fare I'd a seen a million times before. After I killed the big purple dragon, I called it gilded vomit and put it down for good. But I was a Bioware faithful, Mass Effect had a lot of pull for me in 2010, so I got DAII on the cheap. I steeled myself for a rushed amateur hour and was absolutely stunned at what I saw.

The combat was faster paced and more intuitive. The characters were more interesting and original. The story was focused on smaller, slow boiling, political catastrophes. The vast majority of the design work had been redone and improved. Yes... dungeons were reused too much, but I can forgive 5 overused locations if they have more personality than most of Skyrim's paint-by-numbers dungeons combined.

I said all that so I can say this: Inquisition is DAII-2.

...with a couple familiar faces if you skipped it.

I mean that in the most flattering way possible. The story has a large international politics bent as well as the rote "kill the big bad wizard" deal. Guess which one the team focused on more? It's actually kind of a shame, too. The villain is so much fun to look at, it's absolutely criminal how little screen time he has. You literally only meet him 3 times. And as I said before, the show stops just as it feels like the rising action is starting.

But that's just the main story. For once, the main story in a Bioware game is not the main event. I hope you like crafting, because this game will have you scouring the world for secret herbs, magic pelts, armor schematics, pissed off dragons, lyrium smugglers, astrolabes, invisible keys that lead back to a massive dungeon that demands hundreds of the aforementioned invisible keys. Oh, and fortresses to storm.

Can you ride an Elk?! Damn straight, you can ride an Elk!!!!

There's too much to do and you're gonna have a blast getting lost. I've sunk 78 hours over two characters and I'm more than pleased with A. how deep the character creation tools are, and B. that you can choose two different voices for each gender. My roguish, English, human was a far cry away in personality than my brusk, American, wizard elf. Yep. You have 4 actors to choose from and the two I chose were pretty solid. Nothing approaching Jennifer Hale's FemShep... but you shouldn't have your expectations so high. Get down from there!

In the end, Inquisition couldn't save 2014 from generally being a miserable time to be a self identified "gamer." It didn't live up to the heights of Mass Effect 2... but it didn't toy with my fragile emotions by letting me down as hard as ME3. It's not a great game, some of Bioware's stellar DLC may change that, but for now it's a very, very, good one. In a year littered with massive delays, disappointments, and over hyped mediocrity, I say it's enough.

Friday, December 12, 2014

I'm kind of obsessed with "busy earnin'

Ever since Tales from the Borderlands I've been listening to it at least twice a day. I can't really articulate why.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Cristopher Lee is 92 and metal as hell.

Christopher Lee has a Christmas single (apparently he sings) and it's fizzle of standards rewritten to praise a slightly... different deity. The God of rock and all that is metal. Also I just just remembered how lucky I am to be alive. How awesome is life, guys?!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Binding of Isaac Rebirth, Review: Between Heven and Hell.

Defenseless at the knife wielding hands of his delusional mother; Isaac retreats into the basement to fight though a nightmarish horde of the unholy. He's armed only with his own tears and a lifetime of mementos detailing a harrowing story of hope, loss, and deep emotional abuse. Yep. Isaac shoots tears. Also his dead sibling's fetuses are power ups. So this is not for everyone, but would you believe it's not anywhere near as sacrilegious or cynical as it sounds? Well ok... it's a little sacrilegious.

The Binding of Isaac was never a game I'd say I loved, but one I didn't seem to stop playing all throughout 2011. You could play it for 20 minutes or 4 hours at a time and reaching the end bosses were honest to god achievements. Because this game is harder than you've heard. Like a more unpredictable Dark Souls. Reaching an end takes as much skill as it does luck, but it's somehow not as frustrating as it sounds.

A lot of the things that try to kill you smile in this game. Does that make you uncomfortable?

I beat the original every which way and still bought Rebirth. That's how good it was. While Rebirth is technically the same game, it's faster, it's bigger, more accessible, and it's every bit as good as before. This is a damn good remake, that oddly needed nearly twelve people where the original took 3. But nothing more. It does not reinvent the wheel, merely providing hundreds of different kinds of the same wheel. The result is a little scatter shot, and I'm not talking about the actual scatter shot.

Some of the new comers are great! Fire tears seem like an early game breaker, but they can make enemies spontaneously combust, forcing you to keep a healthy distance at all times. Others are a confounding mess that can ruin a flawless run. Like gravity tears. F**k them. I wanted to shoot straight, not have them form concentric circles around me like a dingus. All in all, the good outweighs the bad, because new power ups and new bosses are never a bad thing for these kinds of procedurally generated deals. Also the final  boss (or is it?!) before the game branches off into either the heaven or hell ending has been reworked and is much more satisfying.

Hey gravity tears? F**k you.

The only thing that actually bothered me was the soundtrack. The original was wonderful. Haunting, beautiful, and badass. The new one is... fine. Sometimes approaching Danny Baranowsky theme building and then chickening out into ambient pointlessness. After so many promising steps forward, that was a massive stumble backwards. Also the new pixelated ascetic allows for better performance and bigger rooms, but the loss of the hand drawn look bums me out more than I expected.

Though, this is a great game for veterans and new comers alike. That tight rope act is not lost on me. Sure, the game has a "normal" mode, but it's really the easy mode. Even a slightly easier version of one of the hardest games ever made is going to rough you up a smidge. Though I still cannot say whether this is the "definitive" version. Technically it is the deepest, but the absence of the original soundtrack robs so much of the atmosphere. But I've harped on that enough, this is a steal at twice the price. If you've craved something radically different, something that can make you feel physically ill then tease a little chuckle out of you, this is your game.  

And a here's a piano remix of Baranowsky's work just in case you think I'm messing around, here.

I am NOT messing around. Not here. Not ever.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The rights to Blofeld have shifted back to the Broccoli estate... then this:

No more "quantum" half measures, guys. The Bond films own Blofeld again, which meant that they could slowly introduce a modern riff on the most iconic Bond big bad of all. I thought they'd try to make it a third act twist, but no. The whole movie is called "Spectre." To which I start hopping up and down and foaming at the mouth. Because I know Christoph Waltz is playing a villain and I know the creative team these days would absolutely murder a Ernst Blofeld arc.

I absolutely cannot wait another fuggin' second for this.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Did you read Chris Rock's Vulture interview?

Because you should. It's tremendous. It represents the best of his unique talent. It provides a simmering, justified, anger that you can't help but relate to. Everything from Cosby to Ferguson, to Robin Williams, to Obama is covered with wit and style. Yeah, the interviewer shoves the questions into obvious directions with little tact, but Rock rolls with the punches like a champion. It's the best interview I've read all year.

You need to read this. Right now.