rambling

Some Kinda Natural Flow

With the spring semester in full swing now, I don’t have much time to be messin’ around in video games. Not that I’m using the phrase “messin’ around” to imply my gaming is a waste of time, I’m just tryin’ to say that homework takes up a lot of my efforts. The hilarious detail that comes with complaining about a lack of time on a blog is that this blogging is using up time; amusing, no? Anyway, onto my life.

As it seems to go with me, I’ve come upon a new “natural” way of doing things for myself, which is to say I go to school, I contribute when I feel able, I come home, then I get to my two favorite pastimes: reading and gaming. The reading usually has to do with my schooling, but the gaming is always for pleasure. I’m going to contradict myself immediately by saying that I still make a concerted effort to read for pleasure (I dropped something like fifteen bucks on an interesting-sounding book by Mark Twain when I went to a local bookstore – this book has nothing to do with my classes, at least not directly) and I’m still plugging away at the stack of books that Ellen lent to me. I’ve only got one of those “free-reading” books to go, actually, and the greatest pleasure of being a “big-picture” person is noticing that despite my categorization and separation (school books versus pleasure books) I still find that most of the stuff I read can be analyzed and critiqued and connected in an academic fashion. That’s my roundabout way of saying I dig academia and I look forward to turning just about everything I consume into a point for essays in the future.

But what does this have to do with, you know, games? The thing I’m supposed to be blogging about most of the time? Well, I’ll let you folks in on a secret: it’s my most fervent wish to become some kind of lecturer or teacher one day and to research the literary themes and merits of video games. I’m developing an all-inclusive and all-encompassing perspective of the media and entertainments in my life and I’m realizing that just about anything can be connected if you look hard enough. I love reading, I love thinking, and I love gaming – why shouldn’t I try to mix all my interests together in my own wacky way and develop my purpose?

To that end, I’ve been getting in some video game time when I’m not absolutely pressed to do homework. I’m still following my daily Animal Crossing regimen, which, luckily, should be shortening soon since I’ve collected all the ski resort furniture (no more snowperson bingo, huzzah!). I’ve decided to dedicate myself to 100% completion of Devil Survivor Overclocked and I’ve got two more endings to earn as well as the big-ass superboss to defeat/fuse before I can say I’ve done everything in the game. Those are my two biggest gaming concerns right now, although I have to admit that I’m eagerly awaiting February 13th because I’ve loved Majora’s Mask ever since it was first released on the N64 and I’m way stoked for Majora’s Mask 3D on that good ol’ 3DS. All this homework and my dedication to games means I’ve got a goal: I need to complete Devil Survivor Overclocked before Majora’s Mask is out for the 3DS. I will continue working toward that goal while I keep up with college and enjoy myself in my own deliberate fashion.

So there you have it – things are different but all in all they’re just about the same. I’m still reading, learning, and gaming; they’re the things I love to do when I’ve got time and they keep me feeling fulfilled. Here’s to the coming months and the great games they’ll bring! Keep on gaming, folks.

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Late New Year’s Tidings and Some Thoughts

So, it’s been 2015 for nineteen days now. Back when the fall semester was winding down and winter batted its snow-crusted lashes from afar, I made some promises to beat such and such game and complete such and such task. I’ll admit now: life happens, and I didn’t really accomplish all those goals. It’s sort of my process: I make lofty promises, I only fulfill about half of them, then I feel guilty before accepting my fallibility and moving on at my own leisurely pace. To be more specific, I didn’t complete the Wario Land series, nor did I finish reading that stack of books I kept mentioning. I am happy to say, however, that the stack of books has been readuced (get it? Ha!) to three and I’ll probably finish one of them tomorrow. So, in the four or five weeks I’ve been away from school, I’ll have read a whole lot of stuff. Go me.

The other good news is that I did eventually finish Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked. Then I finished it a second time, and tonight I finished it for a third time. It’s that good, and New Game + really motivates one to run through the Tokyo lockdown again and again to master everything and fuse the most badass demons around. I was delighted to find that Nyarlathotep, one of the many deities dreamed, er, nightmared up by H.P. Lovecraft, is a high-level demon I could put on my team. There’s also Okuninushi, who is described in-game as the deity who made Japan into a nation way back when. So he’s pretty important, and he’s a stoic samurai-lookin’ warrior. If I keep writing about all the sweet demons I have on my teams, I won’t stop – there are just some games that I enjoy so much, I can gush over them at length.

Which brings me to that point I promised to touch upon weeks ago – Atlus. Oh, beautiful Atlus. I’m a fan of Atlus. Am I the biggest Atlus fan in the world? Have I played every single game Atlus has had a hand in creating? No, definitely not, but ever since I played a quirky little GBA game called Riviera: The Promised Land when I was about thirteen or fourteen, I’ve been digging every Atlus game I’ve touched. The funny thing is that I didn’t exactly realize I was loving Atlus games until later, years later. I guess I’ve just been attracted to the style of Atlus games for years now.

See, anyone who knows even a little bit about Japanese games knows this: Atlus is famous (or infamous, if perhaps you don’t enjoy Japanese games) for developing and/or producing Jrpgs – you know, Japanese role-playing games. Lemme tell ya, folks, I used to be scared of Jrpgs when I was a kid: my older step-sister played games like Chrono Cross and Suikoden II on the PS1 and they just looked so damn complicated to me. How did she know when to pick that attack, or talk to that character, or approach that city? It always looked like there was so much going on in the beautifully animated and scored games she was playing. I never thought I’d be able to handle it.

Relevant aside: before I accidentally started following Atlus games around, I got my mom to purchase a kickass monster-raising game called Dragon Warrior Monsters for me. I was eleven at the time. I had never before heard of Dragon Warrior, but the steadfast dude and the interesting critters on the game’s cover got my curiosity a-rumbling. I played the hell out of that game, on and off for a few years at least. Looking back, I realized that not only had I played a type of Jrpg as a child, I loved the stuffing, er, pixels out of it. So I suppose I was always meant to enjoy the turn-based tactical styles of most Jrpgs. Wacky, right?

Anywho, Riviera may have been my first Atlus game, but as I’ve mentioned, it wasn’t my last. You know what’s funny about a lot of the gamers I know, including myself? We can always delve into the intricate details of our histories with various game series, as if we experienced their wonders (or their horrors) only last night. The ones I remember the best fall into two categories: Castlevania or Atlus. Since this is my little Atlus retrospective, I’ll continue in that vein. I don’t remember the first time I ever went into a GameStop, or when the Electronics Boutique at the local mall was even changed into a GameStop, but I do remember waltzing into my local GameStop years ago and pre-ordering a nifty-looking game called Contact. Thank the maker I did so, because I found out later that Contact experienced a pretty limited release and it’s hard to find copies of it. The reason I walked into GameStop that day was to pre-order that game because damn, the preview in Game Informer sounded friggin’ awesome. Terry, the main character, gets different abilities depending on what he’s wearing? He can go fishing and cook sweet meals? I, the player, am somehow involved in his story beyond just being the dude holding the Nintendo DS? Sign me up!

That’s one of the things that’s always drawn me to Atlus: the unique nature of most of their games. By no means is a world-spanning adventure involving monsters and stat increases a new or special thing in the video game industry, but Atlus games always have style. Not like, Suda-51 raining expletives and cel-shaded blood upon you style, but more of a this game looks pretty damn nice for a 2D venture sort of style. I don’t know, it’s hard to describe, but every Atlus game I’ve played just looks pleasing to my eyes. After enjoying Contact immensely (and at this point, I still didn’t know that I was just falling head over heels in love with Atlus) I found myself attracted to a preview of a game called Etrian Odyssey. First, the game piqued my interest: the word “odyssey” was in the title and whenever there’s an odyssey involved, things get awesome. Second, the preview touted the challenge of the game, and this was right around the end of my high school career. I was eighteen and even though I enjoyed (and still enjoy) the colorful fun of most of Nintendo’s stuff, I was looking for a challenge. Etrian Odyssey promised to pummel my party of adventurers until they couldn’t walk anymore. Which says a lot, because they’re not really doing anything – I’m the one with his thumb on the D-pad, sheeit. Dumb joke aside, I was way stoked about the game. Along with the tantalizing title and the promise of a challenge, the game offered exploration for days. Hell, it was all about exploration: the touch screen on the DS was used to draw maps for each floor of the labyrinth you found! Yikes, that sounds cool!

And cool it was. I’d never played a dungeon crawler before, but Etrian Odyssey took the rich difficulty of old-school dungeon crawlers and mixed it with the deep strategy and customization of tough-as-nails turn-based rpgs. I loved the game, while I also hated it. I did pretty well in it, picking it up and taking cracks at it throughout the summer following my high school graduation. I didn’t look up guides or strategies for the game. I didn’t ask people for help. I struggled my way to the fourth stratum of the game’s mysterious labyrinth (to beat the main game, you had to get through five strata) before putting the damn thing down out of frustration.

I wouldn’t actually beat the friggin’ game until six years had passed. That’s how difficult the damn game was/is. “But wait, Chris! You’re twenty-something right now! Did you finally beat it, oh, a year or two ago?” Well, yes. Here’s a long story cut short: I was so put off by the difficulty of the first Etrian Odyssey that I skipped the second one, then when I read that that Etrian Odyssey III involved sailing and pirates, I had to get back into the series. Come on, man – pirates! So, much to the shame of my collector personality, I had two of the three Etrian Odyssey games when Etrian Odyssey IV was announced for the 3DS. “Well damn,” I thought to myself as a smile split my lips, “I’m gonna have to finish the first three.” So, well, I did what any self-respecting gamer would do: I ordered Etrian Odyssey II from Amazon, got my shit together and beat the first one, jumped into the second one immediately afterward and beat it in a month (I still don’t know if this was sheer luck or if I’d actually learned something – the second is usually cited as one of the toughest games in the series), and finally dedicated enough time to the third game to beat it as well. At long last, some six years after I picked the first game up from my local GameStop, I’d finally completed the trio of Etrian Odyssey games to be played on the Nintendo DS. It felt damn good.

Speaking of games that are damn good, Etrian Odyssey IV and Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millenium Girl (a remake/retelling of the original game) on the 3DS are awesome too. I’m a proud owner of every Etrian Odyssey game that’s been ported to North America so far, and I’m happy as hell to say that the reason I started considering this retrospective was the announcement a month or two ago that said Etrian Odyssey V is in the pipeline. I may have another Etrian Odyssey to embark upon in the near-ish future, and I’m friggin’ stoked. But what do I do in the meantime?

I’m not all that jazzed about this notion that every new year is supposed to be about some sort of endeavor or theme, but I’m tempted to call 2015 “The Year of Atlus.” Not because I think there’ll be a lot of Atlus games in 2015 (really, there were a boatload of those in 2014), but because my appreciation for Atlus is the strongest it’s ever been and it looks like it’ll keep getting stronger. Hearing almost constantly about Atlus’s 3DS game sales, I ended up caving and buying Shin Megami Tensei IV on sale about half a year ago. Being the ridiculous man I am, I didn’t actually play the damn game until summer was almost over, but that didn’t stop me from loving the damn thing and wondering why the hell I didn’t get into demon-summoning before. Seeing how awesome SMT IV was, I saw more SMT-related games on sale and decided to spend just a little more money to get Devil Survivor Overclocked. Once again, my trend of letting digital games sit before I play them got the better of me, but around the start of winter break I finally got around to playing the damn game. As I said earlier, I’ve now finished it three times, and I plan to play it at least three more times to see all the endings and just 100% the demonic crap out of it.

This is why I want to call 2015 “The Year of Atlus”: I’m finally opening my eyes to all the awesome games Atlus makes, and trying to play as many of them as I can afford. I drove my lazy ass to GameStop last week so I could pre-order Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker. I paid for the game in full so when I go to pick it up in May, I’ll just have to grab the game from the GameStop employee and go. If I can continue to be smart with my money, I may just look into more SMT games I can download. I won’t have the time nor the energy to play every sweet game I’d like in the coming months (the spring semester starts tomorrow, alas!) but whenever I have free time, I’ll try to dedicate at least some of it to enjoying the fruits of Atlus’s labor. It’s a labor of love. So to Atlus – thanks.

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Just Grindin’ Games

It’s December 23rd and I’ve got something like four and a half weeks before I head back to school. That means I’ve really gotta step up my leisure game, because I’ve still got Wario Land to finish and I’ve only added a whole new dimension to my load by starting Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked. More on that in a later post, but for now I’ll say that I’ve hardly played any SRPGs before and I’m having a pretty good time.

Anyway, about the Wario Land Series …

But why not 100%?

But why not 100%?

So there’s a weird route one must take in order to get 100% in Wario Land II: you’ve gotta beat the game once before you can go back and replay levels and snag the treasure you may have missed the first time around. This means that the best you can do the first time around is 50% across the board; as you fine folks can see, I missed two pieces of treasure due to my initial misunderstanding of the game’s flow. So, now I’ve got to use this handy dandy screen:

Ooh, such pretty colors! Thanks, GameBoy Color!

Ooh, such pretty colors! Thanks, GameBoy Color!

And this little beauty:

But what's the picture gonna be?

But what’s the picture gonna be?

To keep track of my overall progress. Now, these screens are actually available while you’re playing the game the first time through, but the problem arises when you realize that you can’t go to a level-select screen and try to grab the stuff you missed in any levels you just finished. This option only becomes available when you’ve finished the game, and it’s a beautiful option because there are some levels with secret exits. Wait, what?!

Yeah, Wario Land II has this thing going on where some levels have hidden doors or alternate goals, and if you finish the level in the alternate way you go on a different path. This wouldn’t be such an annoying thing if the level select screen was there from the start, but I get what the designers intended: they wanted players to figure out the secret exit dealio on their own and then search for the other paths once they beat the game. You see, a lot of older games didn’t go for the instant gratification a lot of us enjoy nowadays, and instead opted to let players figure things out for themselves. I know I seem really mad about the level-select being withheld until the end of the game, but really, it’s a pretty nifty mechanic: it lets players who don’t care about completion enjoy the story and the game and move on, while giving the completionists like myself the option to keep on playing and go for that golden 100%.

So that’s what I plan on doing for the next few days when I’m not grinding in Animal Crossing, making life-or-death decisions in Devil Survivor Overclocked, and/or celebrating the holidays. My Animal Crossing sessions are actually lengthening because I’m trying to complete a long-term project, and, as most Atlus games go, Devil Survivor Overclocked is a lengthy undertaking. I dig it though, so I’m pretty jazzed on Atlus right now.

Keep on gaming, folks, and keep on enjoying yourselves. I’m gonna do just those things, while I tinker with my idea for a big Atlus-themed post. Hee-ho!

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Winter Relaxation: Sweaters, Jackets, and Coffee

I haven’t sworn with such vehement disdain at my television in a long time, but one of the event matches in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is pissing me off.

Betcha didn’t expect a post about relaxation to begin that way, did ya? I just wanted to highlight one of my habits: when a game becomes too frustrating, I take a little break from it and return later to see if my luck has changed. This works sometimes, I swear.

Being a man of many hobbies makes this sort of distracted relaxation simple, for I always have some other entertainment to which I may turn my attention; a stack of books, a list of games, and a queue of tv shows makes flitting from one medium to the next as easy and calm as a leaf floating on a breeze.

Seeing as how my winter break from college officially began last night after I took my final final exam of the fall semester, I’m going to have a lot of time to enjoy myself and live as I want, which means I’m gonna take things nice and slow and progress at a natural, languid pace. I was made for long winters and desert nights, always ready to bundle up and get comfy with a book or a game. I’m going to do a lot of that over the next month before the spring semester begins. A quick revelation: I just realized that, according to most college types, winter is only about a month long. Ha! A lot of cities beg to differ, but I digress.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times before, Wario Land II is the next handheld game on my list, and I’m still going strong in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I’m considering going along with the changing seasons again and switching my house from a haunted mansion to a festive collection of snowy, icy, and holiday furniture. Even if I don’t redecorate, I’m probably gonna get off my lazy ass and post some pictures of my town. It’s about time you fine reading folks saw the fruits of my slow labor.

Aside from the usual Animal Crossing grind, I’m still plinking away at the trophy collection in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and things are coming along nicely. I’ve got nearly 600 of the 716 or so trophies in the game and I feel pretty good. I’ve got to enjoy that as much as I can today because as of tonight I’ll be watching my girlfriend’s sister’s house with my girlfriend for a week and I won’t be bringing my Wii U along – I leave it at home and enjoy my handheld games when I go places. Yay normalcy?!

This whole “watch a family member’s house” thing is becoming a winter tradition for me, and it works well because I get to laze about without fretting over school or work or what-have-you. I can just relax and enjoy my games, my books, and my own calm way of living.

So I’ll probably be doing a lot of 3DS gaming over the next week. I expect to finish Wario Land II in that time, while I continue crossing animals in New Leaf, and maybe even throwing some Etrian Odyssey IV in there. Or I could start playing Devil Survivor Overclocked. I downloaded it a while back after I’d gotten around to playing Shin Megami Tensei IV and digging it. Damn, my list of games to play gets longer by the day – I gotta take care of that. Winter, ahoy!

P.S. Atlus rules. Some games were announced a little while back that got me super excited for next year, and I haven’t posted anything about those yet. I’m thinking a big-ass post about Atlus and some of their awesome games may be in order for the very near future. Happy gaming, folks!

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