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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Slow and Steady: For Coins and Glory

I probably should’ve been done with it a while ago, but I finally finished it! What is it? Wario Land II, of course!

Treasure map? Check.

Treasure map? Check.

Every piece of loot? Check.

Every piece of loot? Check.

Nifty screen that lays your accomplishments out for you? Checkarooni.

Nifty screen that lays your accomplishments out for you? Checkarooni.

Yeah, that feeling of completing a game and knowing there’s nothing left to do is a great thing – especially for obsessive completionists like myself. You know what completionists don’t want to hear when they’re nearing the end of a game? “But wait, there’s more!”

But wait, there's more!

But wait, there’s more!

Yep, as soon as you get every piece of treasure and every piece of the “Picture Puzzle,” as the game calls that nice treasure map, Wario makes his merry way to Captain Syrup’s hidden castle and decides that he’s gonna reverse their situations: she started this mess by jacking his treasure, now he’s gonna end it by jacking her stuff. Just to let you know you’re really at the tail-end of the game, the intro screen to this level lays it all out for you:

Oh, thank God it's really almost over!

Oh, thank God it’s really almost over!

So this really final chapter is, as one would expect, the most frustrating and challenging level in Wario Land II. There are spikes and rushing water currents and pitfalls aplenty, all threatening to impede your progress while baddies of all shapes and sizes cackle with glee as they approach you with spears/claws/electric orbs at the ready. Okay, so there’s really no cackling, but I can’t help but imagine those enemies are having a great time getting in Wario’s way. The bastards.

After grabbing all the loot and completing the treasure map, I initially wondered why in the world I would want to play one final level in the game, but then I realized that this last challenge is the only chance you’ve got to bring everything around and show Wario’s true colors. Wario doesn’t just enjoy the sight of shiny gold coins and fantastic baubles, he loves it, and he wants to wrap his greedy mitts around every object of value he can reach. Until you get 100% in Wario Land II, however, Wario isn’t taking anyone’s stuff; he’s just striving to get his own money back from Captain Syrup. As I beat the real final boss and snagged the biggest money bag I’ve ever seen (replete with the Syrup symbol on it), I couldn’t help but feel that some twisted version of justice had been served. You don’t steal from Wario – he stomps all your henchmen and takes everything you’ve got!

As you can probably tell, I thoroughly enjoy the personality and philosophy that the Wario Land series has in its possession; the greed and power of Wario is a welcome alternative to the endless do-good attitude and smooth jumping of Mario. Yeah, it feels good to be the “good guy” in a game, but every now and then it’s fun to tear shit up and leave one’s enemies penniless.

On that note, I’ll be starting the next installment in the Wario Land series:

Oh yeah, the graphics are crisp as toast!

Oh yeah, the graphics are crisp as toast!

Expect more gleeful coin-grabbing and baddie-tackling soon. Also, I’ve hinted at it a few times, but I’m trying to put together some sort of personal Atlus retrospective for myself, seeing as how I’ve had a pretty good time playing various Atlus-affiliated games over the years. So, y’know, I promise I’ll post that thing at some point too. While you wait, keep on gaming, folks!

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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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Twenty Leaves at Once

Sometimes during the transition from summer to fall, trees go a little crazy for shedding their clothes, and twenty leaves will fall at once. I go through phases like that too, where I’ve got too many things happening simultaneously and I’m trying to keep track of them all. Now is one of those times.

This is an image I’ve seen all too often on my tv lately:

This is the beginning of Stage 7. It haunts me.

This is the beginning of Stage 7. It haunts me.

See, I’ve been stuck on this level for, well, years really – it was the last level I reached before losing touch with Rondo of Blood, and now that I’ve played all the optional stages I can reach I’m back to this hellish place, attempting to cross a crumbling bridge as huge bats swoop at me and hinder my progress; it’s a tricky traversal. I get the feeling it’ll be the last cumbersome roadblock preventing me from finishing Rondo of Blood.

Then there’s my 3DS love. I’ve gotta preface my 3DS habits by saying I’ve spent a great number of hours gripping handheld gaming devices since I first owned a GameBoy Color back in 1998, and that preference for a portable gaming device has remained within me. Even as I turn on my Wii U in preparation for a protracted attempt at crossing the bridge from Hell in Rondo of Blood and log into this website to update this little blog, I’ve got my 3DS on sleep mode while it charges, ready to be opened at a moment’s notice so I can Super Smash some shit up. My Animal Crossing habit is still strong too, so I try to play it every day; for the past two weeks or so, that’s been a daily thing for me. That means daily 3DS sessions, the odd attempt to finish a Castlevania game in honor of Halloween, and trying my hand at being a blogger, all while trying to stay on top of my schoolwork. Oh yeah, that reminds me …

I’m sorta ignoring an essay I should be writing at this moment. The document is open and I’ve put my name and all the other required stuff on it, but I haven’t begun to set my thoughts on paper. I know where I want to go with the essay but I’m a pretty good procrastinator – can’t you see? Rondo of Blood, Super Smash Bros, and even blogging: they’re my fun distractions from the real stuff. Still, even distractions must end so real life can swoop at us like bats from the dusky sky; I’ll end this post so I can play Rondo of Blood until I get frustrated and finally devote myself to my homework. Enjoy your distractions, folks.

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