rambling

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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rambling

School’s out for winter!

Okay, technically, it’s not out since I still have two exams to complete, but I still have a good few days’ worth of relaxing to enjoy. Yesterday I washed the dishes, washed and dried two loads of laundry, read a bit, and played some games. All in all, it was a good day.

Speaking of devoting my winter to playing games, I’ve got that little backlog I want to shrink a bit. Remember how I mentioned I bought a few games during Nintendo’s Cyber Deals event following good ol’ Turkey Time? Y’know, Metroid II: Return of Samus, Wario Land 3, and Wario Land 4? I’ve decided that over this winter break dealio, I’m gonna finish them. All of them. That’s a taller order than it first appears because I also need to play Metroid and Wario Land 2. Damn it. Actually, I’ve been doing a bit of planetary exploration, and I’m happy to announce I’VE FINALLY FINISHED METROID!

It feels so good, it truly does. I have a few confessions to make, however: I did not play Metroid the old-school way. I enjoy the challenge of older games that require one to play it all in one sitting or use fiendishly long passwords to save one’s progress, but damn, I just couldn’t handle it with Metroid – writing down passwords and trying to blast through the game just didn’t work for me. That’s why I’m glad that the 3DS Virtual Console has the “Restore Point” feature.

What is that feature, you ask? It’s a feature that allows you, the player, to save the game exactly where you’ve stopped and continue at any point in the future. Is there a tough room up ahead that may result in your death? Create a restore point just in case you mess up! All you have to do in case of failure is go to the Virtual Console menu and continue from your restore point – you’ll appear where you set your restore point and have another chance at success. It’s almost like cheating! So, yeah, I definitely took advantage of that glorious modern system. I don’t have all the time in the world, folks – if I mess up or miss a jump, I don’t want to loop around to get to the room I was in when I fell, I want to try again immediately and get it right. Also, I don’t want to forget how the hell to get back to the place I messed up, and this leads me to the second way I cheated the system:

I used a map. That’s right, I looked at a map online while I played. Look, a good number of rooms in Metroid are the same or so similar you can barely tell the difference, and I didn’t want to spend hours memorizing paths and drawing my own damn map. Not that I dislike cartography, I just wish there was a map built into the game – but hey, it was 1986 and technology hadn’t yet advanced that far. So, in lieu of fucking up repeatedly just to advance a few tiny steps, I looked at a map and optimized my travel path as best I could.

I know what you’re probably thinking: you didn’t beat Metroid at all, man! And, well, I sort of agree with you. Metroid really beat me, as I’d tried for a few years to finish it and every time I started the game anew I got frustrated and gave up. I’m tired of giving up, so if I had to use a few extra tools to win, well, I think I can forgive myself. After all, I still had to figure out how to deal with the enemies and obstacles. Still, I look forward to the day when I can boot up Metroid again, with only spare memories of its long halls and dangerous caverns, and try to get through it without a map or restore points. That’s a challenge for the future!

So, as it stands, I’m on my way to playing Metroid II: Return of Samus, because it’s the next game in the Metroid series and, as far as I know, the only game in the series I’ve yet to play. I started with Metroid Prime back in middle school and I’ve loved the series ever since. A friend let me borrow his copy of Metroid Fusion, and a few months back when it was released on the Wii U Virtual Console, I bought it for myself. I own Metroid: Zero Mission for the GBA, and love it. I bought Super Metroid on the Wii Virtual Console a few Christmases back, then, after switching Wiis and moving on to the Wii U, decided I should just get the game on the Wii U. Yeah, I even played Other M, and despite enjoying the gameplay I was not impressed with the story. Still, the point of this lengthy and rambling paragraph is to say that I’ve played all the mainline Metroid games of which I’m aware, except for Metroid II. So when I get tired of trying to better my Samus game in Super Smash Bros. on the Wii U, I’m gonna turn on Metroid II and show some parasites who’s boss.

Yeah, this winter ought to be good.

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rambling

I Got Good News and Bad News

The good news may be summed up by the following photograph:

I did it! I finished something!

I did it! I finished something!

I upheld my Halloween tradition by playing a Castlevania game to completion, but the bad news is that it wasn’t Super Castlevania IV: it was Aria of Sorrow. Since I bought the game and showed it to you fine folks I’ve been playing it whenever I get some free minutes, and it just so happens that I reached the endgame stretch the night before October 31st. I booted the game up yesterday and gave the harbingers of chaos and evil what-for; I’d fulfilled my promise, to myself and to whomever is reading this bloggy mish-mash of my thoughts, to finish a Castlevania game before the end of October. Praise the Sun!

Dark Souls reference aside, I do feel a little guilty for neglecting to complete my single-sitting play-through of Super Castlevania IV; long story short, last year I almost beat the game in one sitting before I had to set off for work. I figured I’d pull out all the stops this year and really dedicate myself to the task, but man, sometimes life throws a lot of tasks at you at once. Here’s the list: my brother needed help filming a six-second video for a contest, my girlfriend and I wanted to watch Nosferatu for the first time, and finally we had a Halloween shindig to attend, replete with complicated corset and white makeup for ghoulish appearances, and, well, Super Castlevania IV just takes longer to finish than I remember. Remember what I said about me having a tough time keeping time? Yeah, those few tasks on my list yesterday made it hard to focus on Super Castlevania IV. I started the game, though! Honest, I did!

See? Lookit that awesome gravestone!

See? Lookit that awesome gravestone!

Oh my, now a bat's flying out of it! That's not ominous.

Oh my, now a bat’s flying out of it! That’s not ominous.

For the coup de grace, some creepy mist. Like I said, totally not ominous.

For the coup de grace, some creepy mist. Like I said, totally not ominous.

Take your whips in hand and have at the night, hunters of darkness!

Take your whips in hand and have at the night, hunters of darkness!

If only my flair for the dramatic translated into game-defeating energy, I may have finished Super Castlevania IV yesterday, but alas, time and tasks compounded to draw me away from Dracula’s foreboding castle. Still, I won’t be too hard on myself, since I vanquished the horrible night in Aria of Sorrow and sent the forces of darkness back to their dank hidey-holes. It was a good day, and a good night, all things told.

And yet, I’m ready to put the creepy goodness of October behind me and take in the chill November air with open arms. You know, open, sweater-sleeved arms, maybe with a jacket to boot, because it does get mighty cold down in my neck of the woods. Er, my neck of the neighborhood. The woods are closer to the mountains. Anyway, as I was saying, I’m ready for November. That single-night shift from the haunting Halloween shadows to the creeping November nights is almost a magical thing, where wind changes from macabre whispers to inviting murmurs and every cold front smiles and says “Come on out, you’ve got a nice sweater on.” I love it. The holidays are fast approaching but they’re not the only reason to love the somber steps toward winter; every warm cup of coffee, every minute spent alone with a book, every slow jazz song and every smooth sonata seem perfect in the frigid grip of changing seasons. Yeah, it’s getting colder and I’m getting older, but I still have my books, my blankets, my notebooks, my games – I have a lot of things to enjoy and in the still November nights, I have a lot of time to enjoy my things. Here’s to hobbies, folks, and the greatest times to pursue them.

So come walking on your slow icy feet, winter, and bring some snowflakes along, please. Nothing’s better than bundling up and relaxing with a good book as snow falls to cover the industrial wounds and asphalt iniquities of man.

P.S. The week preceding this entry was a little crazy, by the way; I read for class, as usual, found out my brother and I need to attend an exhausting morning class every session now or we fail, wrote a nine page paper, performed one more presentation for a different class, talked to an adviser and changed my major (while adding another one so I can double-major), registered my car the day before the registration expired, and just damn, man, it felt like a whole lot of crap. Important crap, but crap nonetheless. I hardly had time for the few friends I have, but as I wrote earlier, it’s time to say goodbye to October, and that means waving “So long” to most of the busy work. Things should be simpler now, until the end of the semester brings finals, more essays, and stress before that sweet release into free time and freedom.

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rambling

Damn, I Did it Again

Uh oh, is that another Castlevania game on your Wii U?

Uh oh, is that another Castlevania game on your Wii U?

Why yes. Yes it is. I’ve got this problem when it comes to Castlevania, and another problem with enjoying modern convenience, and when you throw those problems together in the middle of October while Nintendo decides to embrace the creepy Halloween spirit you get this concoction that sucks money out of my bank account.

I knew it was coming. That title that’s highlighted by my Wii U’s cursor is Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, and it’s the beautiful GBA Castlevania game that tuned my heartbeat to the rising and falling of Dracula, and the cracking and smacking of a Belmont’s whip. That’s not supposed to be dirty, I promise. I anticipated the release of Aria of Sorrow on the Wii U Virtual Console, because the prior two weeks saw the releases of Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance on the Virtual Console, respectively – they’re the two handheld Castlevania games that preceded the masterpiece that is Aria of Sorrow. Seeing this fantastic October trend and knowing of the GBA Castlevania triumvirate, I figured Nintendo and Konami would use the third week of the month to grace loyal gamers with the third, final, and best GBA Castlevania game (ok, that’s definitely just my opinion but a lot of Castlevania fans agree – Aria of Sorrow is generally considered the best handheld Castlevania game).

Anywho, why do I sound a little disappointed in this development? Well, shit – it’s because I’ve entered one of my phases of video gaming A.D.D. I’ve got, oh, something like five or six games on my brain. I’ve been listing them throughout my posting to this blog, and with the addition of Aria of Sorrow and one more game to my list, things are getting out of hand.

Wait? Did I just mention another game I’ve added to my list?

Oh yeah. You've gotta know what this means. And if you don't, I'll lay it on ya.

Oh yeah. You’ve gotta know what this means. And if you don’t, I’ll lay it on ya. Also, look: it’s me! Way to take a ridiculous picture, genius.

Yeah, that’s the title screen from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. You know, that big awesome open-world game that helped bring “nerd culture” to the mass market? I don’t know if I’d been ignoring the trend or if my rampant love of Skyrim just forced me to face it, but the things I love that used to be “weird” or “uncool” suddenly became “normal” a few years back. It’s funky, but the trend continues and I shouldn’t feel bad about it – I can wear a Mario shirt or my Zelda hoodie and expect comments from strangers. It’s a little exhilarating. Once again, though, I’ve got to look at this example of a great game with a little trepidation. Here’s why:

Wow, cool nod to Norse poetry and OH MY WORD, YOU'VE PLAYED THIS GAME A LOT!

Wow, cool nod to Norse poetry and OH MY WORD, YOU’VE PLAYED THIS GAME A LOT!

Yep. Four-hundred-and-eighty-ish hours in the wild and ravishing lands of Skyrim. And that’s just one character – all told I’ve spent something like 600 hours playing the game. I got it at midnight when it launched on November 11th, 2011, and didn’t really slow down my wanderings for about a year or so. Even after I finally did take my foot off the Elder Scrolls accelerator, I’d keep coming back to it periodically – ya know, when DLC added more cool places to explore and more badass armor to craft. I’d jump in for hours on end and only stop to go to the bathroom or eat a little something. Don’t wanna pass out while I trek across ice floes in search of Horkers and ancient ruins!

As you can see, I get a little caught up in my games sometimes. October is my month to geek out on the creep-out stuff and I’ve been a Castlevania fan since I was thirteen or so – I think that’s when Aria of Sorrow was first released. Still, in the land I call home, October is also a month of deepening chills and frigid nights, when a sweater may need to couple with a jacket to keep the cold air at bay. Hence, my almost ritualistic return to Skyrim – it’s cold in real life, it’s cold in the game, it just feels right, all right? Sorry, I didn’t mean to go all Tarantino on you folks – I just have to be a little wary of my habits. When I first played Skyrim, I was unemployed and in my last semester at my local community college. My class schedule was almost bare it was so light, and I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into that land on the northeastern edge of Tamriel. Now, well, I’m unemployed but just now getting into the swing of university life; I’ve figured out how and when I can get away with laziness, and when I can be lazy I boot up a game. Why, the whole time I’ve been writing this I’ve had Aria of Sorrow ready to go, just waiting for me to click on the “Publish” button.

Thus, damn, I did it again – I added another time-sink to my life, one more distraction from a real goal or purpose. Ah hell, I’m getting cynical; getting an education is a purpose in and of itself. I’ve got ideas for stories floating around my head, I’ve got another few nights to finish that seven-page essay, and money ain’t so tight it’s strangling me. I think I can afford to play a game or two in my free time.

So here I go – back to Dracula’s castle for some soul-stealin’ and blood-spillin’. Happy gaming, folks!

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