rambling

The Demons Gotta Go

Hey folks, thanks for stopping by. I’d like to ramble a bit about a particular video game I’ve been playing. Oh hell, there’s no point in drawing this out. I’ve been playing GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon.

If you’re scratching your head at this point and wondering what the heck that is, don’t worry – I went through a similar query almost ten years ago, when I first stumbled upon Getsu Fuma. For the quick answer: GetsuFumaDen was an action/hack and slash game made by Konami in 1987. It never released stateside, which mostly explains why I and my fellow Americans scratch their heads when they hear about it.

But wait – if GetsuFumaDen never released stateside, how the heck do I know what it is? Well, I love Castlevania. Konami, despite their recent slip-ups, will forever be thanked by me for bestowing the awesomeness of Castlevania on the world. While Castlevania took off like a leaping flea-man, er, a rocket, GetsuFumaDen stood alone, as though it was waiting for hell to be unleashed upon the world, ready to swing a sword at monstrous demons with deadly precision … but first things first.

For what was to be his final official Castlevania game developed for Konami, Koji Igarashi pulled out all the stops and delivered a multi-generational, time-bending tour-de-force that featured protagonists from almost every Castlevania game. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair freaked me out at first, but only because I didn’t understand how the game worked, or how fun cooperative games could be. I’d spent most of my life getting lost in solitary endeavors, traipsing through huge worlds and downing the forces of evil on my own. So when a co-op Castlevania game came out, I was real confused.

Until my friend invited me to play the game with him over Xbox Live, that is. I soon got the hang of cutting monsters to ribbons with my friend, and my brother, and any random folks who joined our sessions. It turns out that teamwork can be fun, and rewarding.

We played the shit out of the game. We harmonized our despairs perfectly, and soon Dracula himself was weeping tears of blood on the floors of Hell.

Grisly melodrama aside, we did commit to the grind, and soon enough we agreed that we wanted more content. Thankfully, Koji Igarashi and his awesome team were working on more stuff, and by the time the game was “complete,” there were 11 stages and even more characters!

The final DLC pack included a mysterious character named Getsu Fuma. The artwork for him depicted a samurai wielding a katana. Yet when I picked this demon-slaying warrior, he entered the stage as an 8-bit sprite. He was shorter than other characters (great for evasion!), and he didn’t have too many bells and whistles – he always used his katana, so I didn’t need to farm for different weapons. What I did have to do was level up his magic attacks, which, when strengthened, also strengthened his katana.

At least, that’s how I remember him. My interest in Getsu Fuma was piqued, and I looked into him … only to discover that GetsuFumaDen came out in 1987, had still not made it to the states, and stood alone as the only game in its “series.” It technically wasn’t even a series. But damn, it sounded cool – a samurai who fights the demonic forces of Hell? It’s everything I enjoy!

So all those years ago, I learned that Belmonts aren’t the only ones who take up arms against the hellish night. Vampire killers and monster hunters come from all sorts of different cultures, and I appreciate all of them.

Which is why, when I saw that a “sequel” to GetsuFumaDen was in the works, I was over the moon. Little did I know that I’d be over an undying moon. The name of the new game, 34 years later, is GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon, and it’s fucking rad.

“So what is it, Chris?,” I hear my imagined audience asking in my head, “Is it an action game? A platformer? A hack and slash bloodfest?!”

Yes to all of the above questions. The game combines all the things I’ve loved over my gaming life, as well as some things I’ve grown to love over the past few years. I know I haven’t written about a lot of my recent gaming experiences here, but I’ll use this sentence to proclaim my love for roguelike games.

Whoa, what? Yeah, I’ve become a glutton for punishment. When I finally got a decent gaming pc in the winter of 2019, I downloaded Steam, which has been a window into an ever-widening world of awesome indie games. While looking for something that fits my interests (2D, platforming, action-packed, challenging), I came across some Reddit posts gushing about Dead Cells. So I bought it, and sweet lord, I was hooked. I’ve hopped into Risk of Rain 2 as well, and Enter the Gungeon, and oh my gods how could I forget Hades? My point is, I’ve played a lot of randomized games lately, and uh … they’re strangely compelling and fun.

And GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon is a roguelike. Or maybe it’s a roguelite? I don’t really make this distinction too often, but I’m sure there are diehard roguelike fans who would mince these terms … I don’t worry too much. The game features randomized elements, mostly in the form of weapon and material drops, with level layouts changing a little bit each time as well.

The randomness makes the grind extra important; if I’m going to get stuck with a weapon I don’t usually use, it’s ideal for me if I’ve upgraded it at least a little bit. I definitely have favorites: the katana is my favorite primary weapon, and the bombs and guns are my favorite secondary weapons (oh my, I’m bringing modern weaponry to bear on the demons). A lot of the challenge comes down to moveset memorization: if I know what an enemy can do, I can react to it accordingly. If I see three enemies arranged just so, I need to know what they can do so I don’t get clawed to ribbons by a hungry oni and their friends.

I love games like this; the ones that push me to play over and over until I’m almost perfect, slicing and dicing and dodging and living until the end. That’s what Undying Moon feels like right now. It’s got the challenges I love with the aesthetics I crave. I’m gonna play it right friggin’ now.

P.S. The original GetsuFumaDen is finally available in the U.S., for folks who buy the new game in early access; I forgot to mention that the game is still being developed, but I was so stoked to experience it that I bought it anyway. I was gifted with the original game. I’ll be killing 34-year-old demons soon enough.

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The Slow and Circular March of Time

I’ve got this quirk. Call it a trait, if you’re feeling generous. I really like to finish the games I start. In these modern times of fast downloads and cavernous storage devices, a person like me can amass a pretty staggering library of games to play and enjoy. Only problem is, I’m a picky guy: I know which upcoming games I really wanna play, and I plan my game time according to my preferences.

For example, Majora’s Mask 3D will be released on Friday. Now, I’m a longtime Zelda fan and Majora’s Mask was one of my favorite games when it was first released – hell, I’d say it’s still my favorite Zelda game but Link’s Awakening scowls at me when I say that (yeah, I’m one of those weird folks who enjoys the “alternative” Zelda games. No Hyrule? No problem). Anyway, with only a few days until the 3DS version of Majora’s Mask is released, I need to find some way to fill the time without committing myself to a crazy long game (since that could possibly split my game time between Majora’s Mask and another substantial game). Luckily, I ended up getting 100% in Devil Survivor Overclocked over the weekend, which means I’ve got no big games to distract me from my Zelda love. So what do I do with no big games to play?

I jump back to all the smaller games I put by the wayside. There was that time in October when I said I’d beat Super Castlevania IV and maybe even Dracula X, but I ended up putting ’em both down. Now I’ve got time to vanquish Dracula again and again – I beat Super Castlevania IV earlier today and now I’m trudging through Dracula X. It’s not a great example of a Castlevania game, but it’s not too bad once you get used to its sluggish pace. Bosses are also friggin’ tough, which adds to the challenge of it. I think it may end up growing on me – the gameplay is slow, sure, but the challenge makes up for that. The only thing that really bugs me so far is the haphazard color palette and strange progression of rooms – from a bright yellow and purple hall to a grimy green-bricked dungeon back to another colorful hall to a mysterious underground waterway? What in the blazing fuck is going on at Chateau de Dracul?

So, yeah, I’ve got this weakness for games. I always want to finish ’em, and I keep adding more to the pile. The beautiful curse of Nintendo’s Virtual Console is that I can play all these sweet games I didn’t play as a kid, but I can also re-purchase games I played a few years ago on a different system. It’s like, I already own the Super Nintendo DKC trilogy – why did I download it? I’ll tell you why: convenience. I can have a great collection of games readily available for my enjoyment all with a few button presses. What if I get tired of jumping through the jungle as Donkey Kong? I can go to the Home menu, pick a different game, and start whipping the fear of God, er, Belmont into demons and skeletons.

Tonight, I’ll lash my way through Dracula’s castle until the Count lies in a pile of bloody ashes at my feet. Tomorrow, I could leave my spaceship to shoot energy beams at Metroids. On Friday, I’ll definitely freak the fuck out as I find myself in a land that’s eerily similar but still different from Hyrule and HOLY CRAP the moon is approaching and it looks PISSED.

It’s awesome having so many adventures from which to choose. 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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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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Ah Crap, I Did It Again

This is what a good chunk of my Saturday night was all about:

Green suits your power suit, Samus.

Green suits your power suit, Samus.

You may remember how I vowed to complete Metroid II: Return of Samus before moving onto the second installment of the Wario Land series, and tonight, I managed to complete that mission. I know that wonky-looking 4 hour and 30 minute completion time may seem impressive for a first play-through, but once again, I have to confess that I used a map. I managed to defeat six or seven metroids before the black and white color scheme bored and befuddled me, so I found a good map online and pressed on from there.

Yeah, it ain’t the real deal with the glory of exploration and discovery and triumph over hostile forces, but seriously, I didn’t wanna look at another set of wonky black and white tiles (or, as you can see, green and black tiles via the 3DS Virtual Console’s “GameBoy Color color scheme”) while wondering which fork I followed wrong. I found it pretty cool that I could choose to view the game with the two color palettes it featured depending on which system one used to play it, but it wasn’t enough to stymy the monotony of the environment. It’s especially frustrating that I had to resort to a map again considering the general consensus that Metroid II is the most “linear” of the Metroid titles, and as I wound my way through the caverns of SR388, I could see from where those arguments come.

You see, in Metroid II, there are pools of acid that will block most progress until you defeat a certain number of metroids; in this way, the game forces players to contend with the hostile parasitic forces and adeptly boxes them in to figure out the limits of each area before opening up the next set of caves. I haven’t looked into any game-breaking glitches or movement techniques, but knowing the Metroid series, I’m sure there are ways to bypass some acid pools and completely ignore the “kill X number of metroids to progress” stipulations.

I know I sound a little bitter about the game, but it’s only because my gamer pride is a little wounded by my reliance on maps. I actually thoroughly enjoyed the gameplay, and the controls were smooth as silk. Nah, smooth as butter. Silky butter? Let’s go with that. I just have to face up to a sad fact of adulthood: even when I’m on break from school, my time is precious, and limited by the reality that I’ll be back at school in five weeks. So, I want to enjoy as many hobbies as I can in this period of time: I’ve got a stack of books I’d like to finish, a good handful of games I want to play, and even some tv shows I’d like to watch. This means that every minute spent messing around in a game that’s a little monotonous is just not cool.

So I’m doing that traditional grown-up thing where I blame most of my problems on a lack of time. While it’s true that time is of the essence as I move forward in my life, it’s also true that I’m way too good at wasting time: I sit at the computer and look up random bullshit way too often. I lurk message boards and read about games, which gets me stoked about those games, but then I play them for twenty minutes before I decide making another million bells in Animal Crossing is a more enjoyable activity. That’s pretty sad. I’d say I’m burnt out on games for the nonce, but that ain’t true – I’m gonna finish those Wario Land games. That is my solemn mission this winter.

So keep on gaming, folks. I know I’ll do the same.

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Initial Discomfort in Gaming: Searching for That Sweet Spot

Have you ever been reluctant to play a video game for any reason? Sometimes you convince yourself a game may be too stressful, or not to your liking, or not worth your time. Yet the desire to give it a chance plinks away at your resistance’s health meter until BAM, you can’t hold back anymore: the controller is in your hand and your eyes are filling with sweet new pixels.

I know the feeling of such reluctance. I’ve been resistant to certain games. Here’s an example: a few years ago, right around this time of year, I downloaded Fallout. Okay, full disclosure: my awesome girlfriend bought me Fallout. It was on sale for five bucks and I was at a low point in my life; I think she sensed this and did what she could to keep me happy. Anyway, don’t get me wrong: Fallout is a well-crafted and highly praised game. Here’s my confession: I’d never played a hardcore crpg (computer role-playing game) before. I’d played Fallout 3 on my Xbox 360 (hell, it was pretty much my sole reason for getting my own Xbox 360. That and Oblivion – damn you, Bethesda!) but according to my internet research, Fallout 3 created a rift in the Fallout fan community, mostly due to it being not in the exact same vein as the original game (I’m paraphrasing here).

Anyway, to cut back on a lot of hemming and hawing, most gamers throwing their opinions into the interwebz agree that the first two Fallout games made by Black Isle Studios are among the best PC games out there, and despite my lack of experience with computer games, I really wanted to see what awesome origins gave rise to Fallout 3. That’s how I tend to progress in my gaming life: I play a game that is usually around the middle or the end of a series and I become interested enough to look into that series’ origins. This is what I did with Fallout.

And lemme tell ya, it was damn weird at first. I recall some of my first thoughts being “Whaddaya mean I can’t move with the arrow keys? How the hell do I shoot that critter? How do people play without a controller?” Oh my, I had a lot of gripes aimed at the game – the learning curve was steep for me and my resistance to trying a new thing was only making things worse.

Then, while my girlfriend and I house-sat at her sister’s place, a big ol’ snowstorm blanketed the neighborhood with pristine flakes of snow. The house we were watching/enjoying was nestled in a cookie-cutter neighborhood near the foot of some mountains, and while the snow wasn’t too crazy it was enough to trap my girlfriend’s car in the driveway. We spent an hour or two digging a path down to the street; once we were done, it was late and my girlfriend wanted to sleep.

I don’t go to bed at “normal” hours, though – I game. So I jumped back on the Fallout wagon to see if I’d stay in it willingly, and oh man, that’s when I found the sweet spot.

While my girlfriend slept peacefully, I became absorbed in a world that is far different from my own. Radioactive winds cut across blasted deserts to bring death and mutation in their wake. Bloodthirsty raiders bartered in bullets and bad words. Most folks struggled mightily just to find a decent snack, let alone a full meal.

I trudged through that apathetic desert and I loved it.

I took on every quest I could, I searched every container, I tried to pick every virtual lock and pickpocket every virtual person, I lived and died and reloaded my save file again and again in a sand-eaten wasteland of gray morality and blood-red arguments. I wanted to keep on exploring that wasteland, even when three A.M. grinned from darkened hallways and my hands ached from hours-long dances across my keyboard. I’d found the gaming sweet spot and let it consume me.

To those who know what it’s like to feel anxious or apprehensive about playing a particular style or genre of game: don’t let your lack of expertise prevent you from at least trying out a new thing. Sometimes, when the planets align and interstellar dust mixes with our atmosphere to tinge the sky a deep strange orange, or when radioactivity threatens to eat away the very fabric of human existence, you find that sweet spot. You don’t want to stop enjoying yourself.

Sometimes, a game is just too good not to play.

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Whoa, it’s December

Hey everyone, it’s been a while since I last posted on this site. It’s not that I dropped all the games I’ve been playing – far from it, actually! I’ve just been pretty damn busy with schoolwork, and the next few weeks don’t look to be any lighter on the homework front so I figure I should get some posting off my chest before school drives me up the wall and even along the ceiling. Without further ado, then.

My God, what is that? Let's jump back 12 or 13 years, eh?

My God, what is that? Let’s jump back 12 or 13 years, eh?

Aye, for those in the know, that’s a Wii U with one of those snazzy new GameCube controller adapters and a Super Smash Bros. edition GameCube controller. I ain’t tryna brag, I’m just tryna demonstrate why I’ve been out of commission for so long: I’ve been playing a lot of Super Smash Bros. on the Wii U, you see. In a way, I feel ripped off because I already did so much work in the 3DS version to get trophies, and I’ve got to do the same basic stuff again (run through Classic and All-Star modes with all the characters, do the Home-Run Contest with urryone, et cetera) to ensure I’ve got all the damn unlockables I got in the 3DS game. It’s frustrating, to say the least.

Yet, it’s oddly soothing, in a mind-numbing, “I’ve done this so many times it’s brainless” sort of way. I’ve even decided to switch mains (I was super stoked to bring the Pac-Attack on the 3DS but now I’m shootin’ charge beams and missiles as Samus – woot) and playing online is a blast. I have to wonder if I piss people off with all those projectiles, but hey, as competitive types say, if you can’t deal with the pressure, that’s your bad.

Anyway, onto my growing backlog. Despite my severe lack of extra dollars, I managed to afford a few games during Nintendo’s “Cyber Deal” promotion – namely, Wario Land 3 and Metroid II: Return of Samus on the 3DS and Wario Land 4 on the Wii U. I can’t play Wario Land 3 until I beat Wario Land 2, which I haven’t even begun, and I can’t play Metroid II until I beat Metroid – which, even with the awesome save state feature on the 3DS’s Virtual Console, is frustrating. This means I have at least, like, five games I’ve got to play through this winter, not counting the Super Smash Bros. grindfest.

I would say I’m getting bored of my pixelated distractions, but that’d be a lie. If anything, I’m just anxious because games are turning my attention away from my schoolwork. Yeah, there are only about two or three weeks left in the fall semester, but I’ve still got to write two lengthy essays and take a few final exams – how will I continue to hone my missile-launching skills when I’ve got to type about Arthur’s fear of death in the Alliterative Morte Arthure? I suppose I’ll have to, you know, put the games down for a while. Damn. Damn it all to damnation. This semester has been dragging for a while but I can make it, man. I can get through this final hoop and proceed to enjoy the winter break. Cold air, warm controller, layers of clothing – I’m jazzed, folks. I’ve just got to get my homework done. Whenever that happens, I think you guys may want to expect some sort of retrospective – I’m still gathering the courage to put my unwanted games up for sale, and that means I’ll be looking at a lot of old games with fond memories attached. Happy gaming, folks.

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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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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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