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24 Hours of Gaming: September 2015 Edition

I’m excited and ready to get back to it! Thanks for joining me as I attempt to again play video games for 24 hours straight. Whoa, it has been a while since the last one; time to knock the rust off. I have a few new games this time around that I am pumped for, so it should make for a good day. It also looks like it is going to be raining all day, so naturally, that makes it wonderful weather for gaming.

6:30am

Getting back into the grove of Final Fantasy IX, and I must say that it feels good.

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The most notable happenings this time around were that war is breaking out all over the place and Dagger has acquired the ability to use eidolons or Summons, a series staple. The story is brewing nicely as I cross the 12 hour mark.

10:00am

Atelier Ayesha is back on the docket. As it becomes a series staple to my marathons, I do want to finish it soon so I can move on to Atelier Shallie.

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The whole point of the game has been to find Ayesha’s sister, Nio. We finally saw her for the first time at about the 12-hour point. The gameplay has been a satisfying grind of crafting and turn-based combat. I’m still liking it a lot.

12:00am

I started playing the peculiar RPG Undertale.

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The game messes with players’ expectations early and often. I put in about 30 min in, just enough time to get through the game’s introductory sequence. I will certainly be finishing this one up next week.

12:30pm

I started playing the confusing and overwhelming Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy.

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From the maker’s of last year’s great Demon Gaze, Operation Abyss is not nearly as story driven so far and not nearly as straightforward. It is trying to be more investigation-based with less of a focus on the turn-based combat of Demon Gaze. It sets an interesting tone and atmosphere, but it has been rough around the edges so far. The art, however, is fantastic.

2:00pm

Isaiah S. and I started playing Secret of Mana for the SNES. It has been a while since I played an older game in a marathon.

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I had heard that Secret of Mana is the Kingdom Hearts of the 16-bit era, and I am definitely seeing it. The more action-based nature of the game’s combat is refreshing for that era of video games. Pleasant music and bright visuals also help to carry the experience. The story seems painfully cliché at the moment. Hopefully, that part changes.

4:00pm

It is time to find out what all this Shenmue business is all about. My love for the Yakuza franchise will likely set unreachable expectations for the gangster simulator, but maybe I’ll see why so many people love it and are so pumped for Shenmue 3.

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Well… I tend to write a “Before & After” section when playing through games during marathon like this one. Unfortunately, my Dreamcast didn’t feel like reading the first disc of Shenmue today, it played other games fine, but no Shenmue. I then tried to play some F.E.A.R. 2 and my disc had gotten damaged sometime between now and the time I got it. So, there goes 2 games and 4 hours of what I had planned for today. Time to ad-lib.

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I started to the play some XBLAZE Lost: Memories.

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The first XBLAZE game was a great looking, but boring virtual novel, and Lost: Memories is so far, trying to be more “gamelike” with varied results. The games still look striking and impressive, and there are some more interactive elements, so hopefully it ends up having a better story than Code: Embryo.

6:00pm

The opening hour of Swords & Soldiers II sure looks better than the first one. However, the game does not have the original feel of the first one. The missions without the base-building and character creating are boring and tedious.

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7:00pm

Back to Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.

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It is still solid, but there was the introduction of a very annoying enemy that stuns characters and is very difficult to hit. I managed to get through a mission in an hour pushing my play time up to 3 hours.

8:00pm

It has been far too long since I have played Ori and the Blind Forest.

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I finally made a lot of progress in my one additional hour of time with the game. There is no way around it, Ori is a hard game, and it is going to take some patience to finish off.

9:00pm

With two games not working for me I decided to start Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.

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I did not stop playing Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture until credits rolled. It took 4.5 hours and it was a wonderful, and absolutely gorgeous experience. More to come on Rapture in my review hitting soon.

1:30am

I had not gotten stuck in Final Fantasy Type -0 I would probably already have had it done by this point of time.

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I got unstuck quickly and finished up chapter 4. I still really really like this game and I need to wrap it up soon.

3:00am

I’m going to close the night off with a little Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls.

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I tend to leave some of the games I want to play most for the end of the marathon to keep my motivation up, and more Danganronpa is typically great motivation. I finished up a lengthy Chapter 2 and got a good jump on Chapter 3. It is not as good as last year’s two GOTY contenders, but there is still plenty to love here.

Summary:

6:30am – 10:00am – Final Fantasy IX

10:00am – 12:00pm – Atelier Ayesha: Alchemist of Dusk Plus

12:00pm – 12:30pm – Undertale

12:30pm – 2:00pm – Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy

2:00pm – 4:00pm – Secret of Mana

4:00pm – 6:00pm – XBLAZE Lost: Memories

6:00pm – 7:00pm – Swords & Soldiers II

7:00pm – 8:00pm – Code Name S.T.E.A.M.

8:00pm – 9:00pm – Ori and the Blind Forest

9:00pm – 1:30am – Everbody’s Gone to the Rapture

1:30am – 3:00am – Final Fantasy Type – 0 HD

3:00am – 6:30am – Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls

24 Hours of Gaming: May 2015 Edition

It’s that time again: time for me to attempt to play video games for 24 hours straight. Today’s focus is primarily on starting or continuing games from 2015, but the usual suspects from my backlog will appear as they always do.

6:00am

I’m getting started a little earlier today, and of course, I’m beginning with Final Fantasy IX.

One of the more disturbing party members I've ever encountered.

One of the most disturbing party members I’ve ever encountered.

FFIX has a “mechanic” called Action Time Events that not like quick-time events as we know them in a post-God of War era. They are little scenes that fill in backstory or show what another character is doing at the same time as the current playable one. It’s interesting, completely optional, and adds some nice flavor to the game.

Six hours into Final Fantasy IX and things are going well.

9:00am

New party member in Grandia II!!!

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Though one party member left, another has joined.

The story is really heating up as I return to Ryudo’s (the main character) homeland. The air is thick and the atmosphere is tense as he is about to have a showdown with his brother.

It should be said that despite having spread my playthrough of Grandia II out quite a bit, I always know where to go and am still invested in the story. That says a lot, I think.

11:00am

It was a rough two hours with Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate.

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I was hoping to have my time with the game wrapped up by now, but the game is soooooo HUGE. I’m getting very close to where I would be comfortable reviewing it however.

I fought and killed two monsters in 2 hours; long fights that I died on and had to do again. Whew. At least their corpses now lie at my feet.

1:00pm

I got through about a chapter and a half of Super Paper Mario. Unfortunately, chapter 5 was not very good… at all. Annoying puzzle and enemy design made for a slog for 2 hours.

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At least chapter 6 starts off well enough with a faux 100-man face-off. So, the session ended well-enough.

3:00pm

Oreshika: The Tainted Bloodlines is a weird one. I’m about 5 hours into the game and it hasn’t really grabbed me yet. That is probably due to the lack of structure and defined goals.

The game is beautiful.

The game is beautiful.

Like Animal Crossing or Tomodachi Life, one is expected to make their own fun and objectives, except there is even less outright direction in Oreshika. It feels especially strange in a JPRG. There is a character designed to help the player out, but it is easy to rely on her as a crutch and think, “Okay, you just do everything.” I’m trying to wrap my mind around the game, but it is going to take some more time.

5:00pm

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is another weird one. It is a strategy-RPG/virtual novel. The strategy part is different in that you have to predict where enemies will be before you attack. You don’t know where they are going to be, but you have to attack them. This makes for a very frustrating time.

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The presentation is fantastic however and carries the game a long way. It doesn’t look like it is going to be super long, so I will hopefully finish up it up soon.

7:00pm

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I am still thoroughly enjoying Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk Plus. The more freeform nature works, and the story is more engaging than Escha & Logy’s, but the overall flow of the game is not as rewarding.

9:00pm

We got four people together and played Mario Party 9. We have been working through all the Mario Party games getting ready for 10, and we were on 9, so 9 is what we played.

Boss fights add a lot to the Mario Party formula.

Boss fights add a lot to the Mario Party formula.

I first played Mario Party 9 sometime in 2012. The second time I played Mario Party 9 was today. It was much better the second time. The complete upheaval of the old structure of the games was not as dramatic when I knew it was coming. Regardless, playing them all so closely together made me not hate 9 nearly as much as I thought I did for whatever that is worth.

10:00pm

I started playing Code Name ST.E.A.M. today. It is a challenging game from the makers of Advance Wars and the Fire Emblem games, but it plays like SEGA’s Valkyria Chronicles.

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The game looks a lot better in motion than I expected based off of the previous footage and screenshots. Critiques that I had heard about the game ring true, mainly that “overwatch” (a mechanic popularized by XCOM: Enemy Unknown) is completely and totally broken. Enemies can get two free shots on a party member without moving or shooting, breaking line-of-sight is all it takes and to make matters worse, the little buggards are deviously hidden.

It’s not bad. It’s not amazing.

12:00am

One of the roommates wanted to play Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, so that is what we did. We got lucky and got a guy in our party who was Hunter Rank 255. For perspective’s sake, my roommate and I have put in around 30ish hours and we just hit HR 4. Let that sink in. Seriously. Some people REALLY like Monster Hunter.

The monster design is still incredible.

The monster design is still incredible.

1:00am

Final Fantasy Type-0 is pretty great. I definitely didn’t want to stop after my 3 hours of it. The game looks good sometimes, and at others it reminds you that it was a PSP game first. The graphics as a whole can be jarring at times, but keeping in mind the game’s crazy journey to the States makes it much more tolerable.

Capes. That is all.

Capes. That is all.

The game is just fun. The combat is a blast. Experimentation is encouraged and there is a lot of it to be done. The RTS mechanics are light, but interesting and I’m intrigued to see how far they will go in that direction.

4:00am

I intentionally saved some of the games I wanted to play for the end of the 24 hours. And Type-0 and Ori and the Blind Forest certainly topped the list for games I wanted to play today. I was an hour in Ori before I started today, and the first 10 minutes of the game are up for my “Most Memorable Moment of 2015.” The game makes an incredibly strong first impression, largely because how exceptionally amazing the game looks.

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The game gets tough. It counters this by allowing the player to save a number of times wherever they want, so make one tough jump… plop down a save point so you don’t have keep doing it over and over again. The system works for the most part, but I am still fairly early in the game, hopefully the game can remain consistent to the end.

And that was my day. 24 hours of gaming goodness… well not all goodness, there were a couple of speed bumps along the way but we made it. Grandia II, Type-0, and Ori were definitely the highlights of the day with Atelier bringing it consistently as well. See ya next time!

Summary:

6:00am – 9:00am – Final Fantasy IX

9:00am – 11:00am – Grandia II

11:00am – 1:00pm – Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

1:00pm – 3:00pm – Super Paper Mario

3:00pm – 5:00pm – Oreshika: The Tainted Bloodlines

5:00pm – 7:00pm – Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters

7:00pm – 9:00pm – Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk Plus

9:00pm-10:00pm – Mario Party 9

10:00pm – 12:00am – Code Name S.T.E.A.M.

12:00am – 1:00am – Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

1:00am – 4:00am – Final Fantasy Type-0 HD

4:00am – 6:00am – Ori and the Blind Forest

If the Video Game Music of 2014 was a Full-Length Album: The Best Game Music of 2014

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Each year it proves harder and harder to choose the best music found in video games. Developers are getting better at utilizing music in creative ways as well as having generally stronger efforts from composers. This list is less about how well music is used in a game and more of which tracks sound the best on their own.

Presented in an album format, we have an “A” side and a “B” side totaling in 20 tracks. The only rules of the list are 1. Only one song per game. 2. No remixes of previously existing songs. Here we go!

A Side

#1. Tomorrow is Mine – Bayonetta 2

The music from Bayonetta 2 is similar to that found in the first game. While playing through the game the music fell somewhere in the background and I never really caught any of it. However, after listening to the soundtrack outside of the game it blew me away. The game is so crazy with what is happening on screen and so demanding in its action that the amazing music is missable, and that is unfortunate because it is some of the best music to be found in a video game in 2014.

The Bayonetta 2 soundtrack is available on iTunes.

#2. That Person’s Name Is – Bravely Default

The boss battle theme from Bravely Default is performed by Revo of the Japanese band Linked Horizon. The music takes the classic style of the older numbered Final Fantasy games and infuses them with hard rock. The result is a soundtrack that helps propel the player through a long game with catchy melodies and memorable music overall.

CDJapan is going to likely be the best place to acquire Bravely Default’s OST. Amazon also has it, but at a higher price.

#3. My Name is Legion – Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky

Logy’s battle theme from Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky is among the best I’ve ever heard. The entire Escha & Logy soundtrack is refreshing with its smooth jazz, use of flute and acoustic guitar. It has a unique feel not heard elsewhere in video games.

Play-Asia is the place to lock down this soundtrack.

#4. New World Order – Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

The music of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is special. The music always fits what is happening and always enhances the raw emotions that the game pulls out of the player on a consistent basis. New World Order swells as the game begins to reach its conclusion and sends the player on ride to the insanity that is the end of the game. Few tracks hit me harder than this one in 2014.

The soundtracks for both Danganronpa games are available on iTunes.

#5. Misrid Hunter – Demon Gaze

Demon Gaze’s OST is short, but extremely well done. If I have said it once, I have said it at every available opportunity: “A JRPG has to have a great battle theme.” Misrid Hunter is Demon Gaze’s main battle theme, and it is fantastic. The game utilizes voice more than most game soundtracks, and I think it is utilized to great effect.

Demon Gaze’s soundtrack is hard to come by, and unfortunately your best bet might be YouTube.

#6. Our Heels Bleed From the Bites of Wolves – The Banner Saga

Now, I am not the biggest fan of Journey. I’m not even that big of a fan of the game’s Grammy-nominated soundtrack either. The game’s simplicity and look are its biggest selling points to me. The composer of Journey’s OST also did the music for one of my favorite games of the year: The Banner Saga. The music is never intrusive, but is always there and fits the dour tone and mood of the game perfectly.

The Banner Saga’s soundtrack is available on iTunes.

#7. Too Late to Love You – Kentucky Route Zero Act III

Though Kentucky Route Zero is not even a complete game yet, I would be remiss to not mention this track as it is the best use case of music in a game that I experienced in 2014. KRZ’s music is more ethereal and atmospheric than anything else, but in Act III, the music takes center stage… quite literally. Too Late to Love You is a choose-your-own-lyrics song, and it is incredible. Kentucky Route Zero’s gameplay is largely picking from various dialogue options, so getting to choose the lyrics to a song was memorable. It doesn’t hurt that the song is excellent to boot.

Kentucky Route Zero Act III’s music is available on iTunes.

#8. We All Become – Transistor

The Transistor soundtrack is tied to the game’s identity. Few OST’s this year encapsulate their games better than Transistor. Many of the tracks have a vocal accompaniment, and We All Become is a standout in a collection of music that stands on its own.

The Transistor soundtrack is available on iTunes.

#9. Elusive – Toukiden: The Age of Demons

Now, Toukiden: The Age of Demons may not be the best game of 2014, but I constantly found myself going back to the game’s music. With flares of Eastern musical stylings, the music matches the action in this Monster Hunter-style game from the makers of Dynasty Warriors. Though the gameplay can quickly become dull and repetitive, the music helps in alleviating the game’s poor design.

Toukiden: The Age of Demon’s OST is best sought after from CDJapan.

#10. Scream – Lethal League

Lethal League came out of nowhere for me last year. It was quite the pleasant surprise, as was the game’s soundtrack. Scream easily outclassed the rest of the soundtrack, but the music in the game always elevated the intense action and fierce competition found at the core of Lethal League.

These bangin’ beats can be located on the Lethal League website and SoundCloud.

B Side

#11. Strike the Earth! – Shovel Knight

It was a great year for chiptune music. Super Time Force and Mercenary Kings both provided strong offerings, but it is Shovel Knight who buries the competition. Strike the Earth! is among the first tracks heard in the game, and it is among the most memorable with its catchy hooks and depth of variation.

Shovel Knight’s nostalgic soundtrack is available on BandCamp.

#12. The Opening Theme – Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney

Though I was disappointed with how the game ended, the music of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wight Ace Attorney was far from disappointing. It perfectly fuses the style of music from both handheld powerhouses in creative and impressive ways. It can also be emotionally manipulative when it carefully chooses to play certain character theme music.

There are Amazon and eBay listings for the import version of the soundtrack.

#13. The Showdown – Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Final Fantasy XIII possesses one of my favorite soundtracks from last generation, and Lightning Returns is full of amazing remixes from FFXIII and FFXIII-2 plus plenty of excellent tracks of its own.

The soundtrack for Lightning Returns is available on iTunes.

#14. “Folding Socks” by Meat Market – Sunset Overdrive

Sunsets Overdrive’s music is incredibly distinctive and unlike much that can be found in another video game. Sunset fully commits to its over-the-top and ridiculous tone, its brashness is also felt from its strong collection of tracks.

Sunset Overdrive’s soundtrack is available on iTunes.

#15. To the Songless Hill – Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star

This list could have easily been a list of all the anime opening tracks from the myriad of Japanese games from 2014, but for the sake of diversity, Ar Nosurge’s opening scene and accompanying song was the best one of the year. Song is a weapon in Ar Nosurge, so the strong soundtrack was not surprising in its high quality.

The OST for Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star is available at CDJapan.

#16. Untold Legends – Destiny

Despite Destiny’s many flaws, its soundtrack stands as one of its best elements. Though Bungie fired composer Marty O’Donnell shortly after completing his work on Destiny, his effort stands right there with his now-classic work on the Halo franchise.

Destiny’s OST is available on iTunes.

#17. War – Valiant Hearts

The soundtrack for Valiant Hearts is phenomenal, but I never noticed while playing the game. The track “War” is clearly taking a little inspiration from John Williams, and that is more than okay. The entirety of the OST is exceptional, though the available versions of the soundtrack do not include all the tracks.

The Valiant Hearts soundtrack is available on iTunes and Amazon.

#18. Light the Fire Up in the Night-Dark Hour- – Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth

The Persona games all have some excellent music, especially P3 and P4. Persona Q has two possible routes. The player can choose to play as the P3 protagonist or the P4 protagonist, and the music, especially the battle theme above, is dependent upon who is selected. Despite the grind that is Persona Q, the top-notch battle theme helps the hours go by a little easier.

The soundtrack for Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is available for purchase on CDJapan and PlayAsia.

#19. Theme of D4 – D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die

Like a trippy walk into a time-travel-y sitcom, the docile opening track to D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die feels out of place, yet it feels so right. I would say that the opening track sets the tone for the madness that is the rest of the game, but it doesn’t, and maybe that is how it was originally intended; soft rock to soothe the player in order to subvert the expectations. Regardless, it is a track that I greatly enjoyed from 2014.

D4’s soundtrack is available on Access Games’ BandCamp page as well as iTunes.

#20. Big Top Bop – Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

The original Donkey Kong Country games have some of the most iconic video games tracks out there. Tropical Freeze is full of brilliant remixes and some rockin’ boss themes like those above. The music is probably the best part of Tropical Freeze.

Sadly, the OST does not appear to be available for purchase anywhere, and YouTube is among the few places to hear it.

It was a wonderful year for video game music. Honorable mentions go to TxK, Strider, inFamous: Second Son, South Park: The Stick of Truth, Conception II, Half-Minute Hero: The Second Coming, Divinity: Original Sin, Guilty Gear Xrd – SIGN, and Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. There is so much amazing music from games to choose from. I hope you enjoyed my picks, as we look forward to another year of awesome games and outstanding game music.

24 Hours of Gaming 7: 2015 Edition

February 21, 2015

It has been way too long since I did this. Moving and getting readjusted took a little longer than I expected, so this will my first marathon in the new location. Today’s goal is to continue chipping away at the backlog and catch up on the flurry of new releases in February of 2015. Only nine games today though.

7:30am

I started a little later than I wanted to. I was aiming for 7, but I guess that happens when I forget to set my alarm.

I’m starting with Final Fantasy IX. I may have not finished FFVIII (I got really close), but it is finished with me. Think of it as “a new year, a new Final Fantasy.”

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I am pretty excited about starting IX, I have heard from several people whose opinions I really trust that it is their favorite in the long line of Square RPGs.  It also has the highest metascore of any game with the big ole FF attached.

The game begins with some nice scenes on a boat.

The first three hours of FFIX were solid. The world is being set up, the characters introduced, and the, thankfully, more traditional combat is being explained. It is definitely too early to call it, but IX is looking a lot better than VIII and I could see myself liking it more than VII by the time credits roll.

10:30am

Starting another new game! This time it is Kirby and the Rainbow Curse for WiiU. Kirby Canvas Curse is one of my top 2 Kirby games, so seeing a sequel on WiiU seems like the natural progression.

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Rainbow Curse is pretty great. The art style carries it a long way. I was able to get through the first two worlds of what looks to be a not very long game, which is fine though. The game was only $40, and so far I would say that it is well worth the price of entry.

12:30pm

It’s time to hunt some monsters in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate.

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MH4 is a lot like MH3. There are some nice tweaks here and there, but I’m still not loving the series. I understand the appeal. Maybe I just need more narrative justification in my gaming obsessions nowadays. I’m getting close to 15 hours in the game, and it still isn’t clicking like I know it can, maybe it just take a couple hundred hours more for me to properly appreciate it.

3:30pm

Super Paper Mario. The two hours fly by fairly quickly as I complete world 4 and a good chunk of 5. It is nice finally being over the halfway point in this game. I find it weird how this game is more like an adventure game than anything else with its puzzles and focus on exploration.

Chapter 4 take place primarily in space.

Chapter 4 takes place primarily in space.

5:30pm

Back to Grandia II, it has been far too long.

I beat the Claws of Valmar on my first try. The bosses keep getting more difficult, and the fights keep getting longer. I’m glad I was able to make such progress.

This battle took far too long.

This battle took far too long.

7:30pm

Now for some Atelier Ayesha PLUS: Alchemist of the Dusk Sky. I love me some Atelier.

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It took me a while to figure out where I was at and what I needed to do since it had been over a month since I last touched the game. However, it did not take long for the game to cast its spell on me again. I’m going to have to blitz through the rest of Ayesha because the new Atelier game comes out in a couple of weeks.

9:30pm

One of the main reasons I wanted to another 24-hour marathon was due to myself falling behind on the year’s releases, one of which being Grow Home.

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News Flash: Grow Home is excellent. It might run a little on the short side (I beat it in under an hour and a half), but I haven’t played anything this fresh in quite a while. A full review should be coming shortly.

11:00pm

Another reason I needed to do this marathon is to get in some serious time with Apotheon. The game looks like a Greek painting/pottery art. Much like Rainbow Curse, the art style gives the game a good edge.

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Apotheon has some nice gameplay to back it up too. The game is like a Metroidvania style RPG. Armor and weapons can deteriorate, be repaired, and be upgraded. The game is more deliberate than its action-heavy genre bedfellows. Attacks take a while to wind up, momentum is gained over time while running, and it has a crafting system. It has a unique feel, and some cool boss fights so far.

12:00am

I left 2 hours open for the day to be filled with whatever I was feeling, and with guests over, handhelds make sense. So, it’s back to Monster Hunter 4!

Earlier today the focus was on multiplayer, now I’m going after single-player.

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I defeated several enormous monstrosities.

2:00am

I got unstuck in Oblivion rather quickly, in order to get stuck right after it. I need some bright dust from a will-o-the-wisp in order to summon a daedric being in order to get an artifact for a reason I can’t remember. ESIV: Oblivion has continued to be obtuse and generally unfun to play. It should not come as a surprise that I do not think it has aged well. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to finish it or not.

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4:00am

Back to Apotheon to close out the day. I probably got through a good two-thirds of the game today and should be able to finish it up quickly later this week. It is still solid, and the boss encounters are probably the best part.

Apollo is a jerk.

Apollo is a jerk.

As I always say: there are far too few hours in the day, and I’ll be ready to do another one of these soon. After all, March is typically one of the busiest game release months of the year.

The Breakdown

7:30am – 10:30am – Final Fantasy IX

10:30am – 12:30pm – Kirby and the Rainbow Curse

12:30pm – 3:30pm – Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

3:30pm – 5:30pm – Super Paper Mario

5:30pm – 7:30pm – Grandia II

7:30pm – 9:30pm – Atelier Ayesha PLUS: Alchemist of the Dusk Sky

9:30pm – 11:00pm – Grow Home

11:00pm – 12:00am – Apotheon

12:00am – 2:00am – Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

2:00am – 4:00am – The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion

4:00am – 7:30am – Apotheon

Steins;Gate: Why Playing the Game is Better Than Watching the Anime

So, Steins;Gate is great. Since it was recently announced for PS3 and PSVita, it probably has some people questioning “Is it really worth all this hype?” The short answer would be, “Yes, absolutely.” Others might be wondering if it would be better to watch the anime or play the game first, and my answer is “play the game!”  Explaining this answer allows me to gush even more about one of the best gaming experiences of 2014.

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#1 It’s All About Perspective

The main character of Steins;Gate, Rintarou Okabe, is among the best and most well-developed game protagonists out there. He can easily rub people the wrong way at first with his extreme immaturity, but his character arc is so good you have to see it to believe it.

In the game, the player’s experience is viewed through Okabe’s eyes. This allows the player to connect more with him as he details his thoughts internally, where they cannot be found in the anime. The added commentary to everything in the game goes a long way in establishing place and the further developing the characters even if it is warped through the mad scientist’s worldview.

The internal dialogue is delightfully entertaining.

Playing through the perspective of Rintarou Okabe and his delusional alter ego, mad-scientist, Hououin Kyouma is the number one reason to play the game first before watching the anime; which nicely lead us to #2…

#2. It’s a Game

Think back to Metal Gear Solid 3… remember how powerful one of the final scenes of that game is due to the player having to quite literally “pull the trigger” on a loved one. Yeah, that is the power of the medium of video games. Interactivity adds so much to a narrative by the simple request of asking the player to do what has to be done to continue the story.

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In Steins;Gate, the player is faced with crushing choices that lead to some of the game’s multiple endings. The game forwardly asks its players if they possess the emotional fortitude and strength of resolve to completely wipe a character’s happy memories. It goes as far to even requesting that a character essentially sacrifice their father for the greater good. The game and anime get incredibly heavy, but the weight of the actions on screen is felt tremendously more when the player has to personally seal a character’s fate instead of watching another execute an unthinkable act.

#3. Time is of the Essence

Time breeds intimacy and connection. Playing through Steins;Gate’s multiple endings efficiently is going to take over twenty hours while watching the anime is going to last between 10-11. The time investment of the game may push people towards the anime, but the experience is richer after spending about a day of real time with the amazing cast.

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#4. There’s More to This Story

As previously mentioned, Okabe’s internal dialogue adds a lot to the game that those watching the anime will miss, but this does not even make up for half of the excellent content and writing that is not in the anime. The most interesting sections of Steins;Gate come from the false endings centered on specific characters.

Steins;Gate is actually structured exactly like a dating sim game, with there being endings for all the major female leads (sorry Daru, no Cloud/Barrett date for you). The endings provide yet another reason to why the game should be played before watching the anime that is to be discussed next.

Some of the false endings are absolutely brutal.

#5. The Game is Darker, Deeper

While playing Steins;Gate can often feel like a mental exercise in questioning the validity of differing theories in quantum physics, the false, character-specific endings explore the negative consequences that go along with this brand of time travel.

The alternate endings in Steins;Gate are obviously not found in the anime, and it really is a shame. The endings offer a deeper look at time travel and the effects it might have on a human being, such as becoming completely detached from everything around you; questioning what is right and wrong when you can just redo anything. In one of the alternative world-lines that Okabe explores, he finds that he does not know any of his friends and falls into an expected depression.  The game also allows itself to get much, much darker than the anime in its false endings. I’m not going to spoil anything, but I certainly will not soon be forgetting how twisted the human mind can become under the right circumstances.

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#6. It Just Looks Better

With what is my most “subjective” reason for playing the game before watching the anime, I think the game is more distinct in its appearance and the character drawings are more aesthetically pleasing. The biggest example of this can be found in the character of Kurisu Makise.

In Defense of the Anime

Although I would whole-heartedly recommend playing the game before watching the anime, the anime is not without merits of its own.

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There are several smart changes in the anime like trying to explain Okabe’s “Reading Steiner” ability. There are also some great shortcuts the anime makes to help speed things along. Early on in the story Kurisu delivers a lecture on all the time-travel theories that is heavily rushed through, unfortunately.

The OVA, which of course is absent from the game, is quite good. It fills in a couple of the blanks left open by the game like meeting Daru’s future wife, and what happens to the characters after the events of the main story.

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No Way to Lose

The game is the best way to experience Steins;Gate, but it’s a story you need to experience no matter what. Make it happen however you can. Just know that the game presents the story in an impactful and visually unique way that the anime cannot match.

Alex’s Top 10 Games of 2014

It was a fairly weak year. 2014 was filled with broken games, massive disappointments due to outrageous expectations, and sparse few excellent, top-notch games with a positive general consensus. That being said, 2014 was packed to the gills with worthwhile experiences. I could easily list 80 games that are worth playing, and at least 30 that I would consider “great.” So, I have been saying that the year is weak at the top and strong at the bottom. In other words, there were many great games, but few rise above the rest.

Gazing at my personal Top 10 for the year, a couple things become immediately clear. My top 5 games are all mainly there for their strength of narrative. Story is important to me. The interactive nature of video games offers a solely unique experience that cannot be replicated by simply watching something. Feeling like an agent in a game’s world with either immediate or latent results is specific to games, and that is a part of what makes the medium so special to me. The back half of the list (6-10) focuses more on gameplay. These are games after all, and gameplay is still most certainly king, but was the good characters and storytelling that I valued most in the games that I played from the year of 2014.

10. Bravely Default

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One quick honorable mention for Dark Souls II; the decision to cut it was more difficult than the actual game, but it came down to having a worst game of its series in my top 10 or give credit where it is due.

Square Enix finally did something right.  By getting back to their roots, Bravely Default is essentially a Super Nintendo Final Fantasy game in all but name. The game’s deep and rewarding job system allowed for endless amounts of experimentation. Finding the best jobs for each character and seeing the cool outfits went a long way for carrying the game for 40+ hours. Add in a bizarre story with an amazing twist written by one of the minds behind the thrillingSteins;Gate, and you have memorable experience that still occupies headspace 10 months after release.

9. inFamous: Second Son

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There were a lot of action-adventure, open-world games last year, and it wasinFamous: Second Son that I enjoyed the most. I rarely replay games, and I played through Second Son twice. Part of that is due to how little side content was available, but though there was not a ton to do, what was there was an absolute blast. The core gameplay was tight, the powers were fun to play around with, and the game was gorgeous. Of course, the game is not without its problems, but many of the games that came after it were disappointing leaving inFamous near the top of my list of games for 2014. Bottom line:Second Son is just fun and that was enough.

8. Bayonetta 2

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Many games from 2014 inspired mixed feelings. Bayonetta 2 is one of those for me. I typically value a game’s originality and innovativeness in a Game of the Year list, and Bayonetta 2 does not offer much different from the original other than a haircut.

The first Bayonetta is easily one of the best of its kind, and Bayonetta 2 is more of what made the first game excellent. The character-action game is one of my favorite genres and Bayonetta 2 is not only the best one of 2014, but joins the Platinum elite as one of the pinnacles of action games. The story is a joke and the characters are terrible, but the silky smooth action and insane happenings on screen still make for one of the best experiences of the year.

7. Super Smash Bros. for WiiU

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The 3DS version of Smash 4 murdered my hype for the WiiU version. We already knew what was going to be in it, and there we were stuck with an inferior version of essentially the same game. If it wasn’t for it being on 24/7 in the apartment, I’m not sure where Smash would have landed on this list. I kept playing and playing it though. Eventually, my love for the series reemerged, whether it was due to the 8-player chaos, ridiculously challenging amiibos, or lovable cast of new characters, Smash had me wrapped around its finger again by the end of the year.

6. Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky

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Atelier Escha & Logy was my first Atelier game, and it seems that I have been missing out. The two previous games in the series have remakes that have either been announced or are already out with the improvements that Escha & Logy added. I’m not sure how much better Escha & Logy is over the other entries, but I do know that it is fantastic game that made for one of the freshest gaming experiences I had in 2014. The diversity of gameplay and emphasis on time management made it an addictive formula that I couldn’t pull myself away from. The characters are interesting, but overarching story is little on the weak side. Mechanically, Escha & Logy is near perfect in my book. If developer, Gust, can tell a worthwhile tale simultaneously, we’ll have a real contender on our hands.

5. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

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I had high expectations for Danganronpa due to the pedigree of the developer. Spike Chunsoft has crafted some of my favorite games (999, Virtue’s Last Reward), and we were fortunate enough to get two masterworks from them this year, plus the decent ATLUS published Conception II. Danganronpadelivered on my expectations. Though, it’s probably not as good as their Zero Escape games, Trigger Happy Havoc takes much of what makes those games great and injects an enormous amount of personality, dark humor, and excellent music. It is the oddball personalities of characters, the strength of the game’s antagonist, and mystery surrounding Hope’s Peak Academy that propels players through this delightfully dark adventure.

4. The Wolf Among Us

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I didn’t think TellTale could top their work on The Walking Dead, and The Wolf Among Us might just do that. The two games are good for different reasons. I feel that The Wolf Among Us tells a much more cohesive and satisfying narrative, but The Walking Dead S.1&2 are chock full of memorable moments and painful choices. Both games are a win for the developer and here’s to hoping they can keep up their momentum, which is certainly no easy task. The Wolf Among Us comes together so beautifully, tying together all the past decisions of the game into one climatic showdown that other games of this type need to take note of how well the finale is executed.

3. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair

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That’s right; these games are good enough to take two spots on my top 10 list. Though it was tempting to combine them to make space for another game, each Danganronpa game is enough to stand against the best of what the triple “A” side of the industry has to offer.

Danganronpa 2 edged out the first game for me for just how good of sequel it is. It knows what you know, it knows what you expect, and it will abuse those expectations with no mercy. Outside of maybe Metal Gear Solid 2, I don’t think I have played a game that manipulates its player’s thoughts and emotions so well. It is impressive what has been done with Danganronpa 2, and it easily one of the weirdest and most engaging game stories I have yet to encounter. Some nice gameplay additions, a streamlined investigation phase, and a great remixed soundtrack make Goodbye Despair something everyone needs to say hello to.

2. The Banner Saga

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For a while there, I thought the first game of 2014 that I beat was going to be my favorite. It was close. The Banner Saga presses a lot of the right buttons for me. A unique turn-based strategy system with a heavy emphasis on risk and reward? Check. An amazing story with strong characters, multiple endings, and branching dialogue options? Check (X3). A stunning art style paired with a soundtrack from a Grammy-nominated composer?  You bet.

What made The Banner Saga so memorable for me though was how brutal it was in theme, mechanically, and through its story and choices. Do you upgrade your favorite character to make the battles easier or save your renown to buy food and keep the caravan’s numbers up? That is only one of the multitudes of decision on offer in The Banner Saga, and none of them are easy, but oh, are they endlessly intriguing.

1. Dragon Age: Inquisition

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Well, after thinking on it, 2014 has been the easiest it has ever been for me to choose my Game of the Year. Dragon Age: Origins is one of my favorite games of last generation, and I’m one of those weirdos that actually likes Dragon Age II, so maybe it was inevitable for Dragon Age: Inquisition to take my top honors for the year.

There was no question about it. With most triple “A” titles being at least somewhat disappointing, it was easy for Dragon Age to emerge the victor. Nothing can match its scale, depth of gameplay, strength of characters, story, and breadth of its world. If you take on individual pieces, sure, Dragon Age is not the best. I’d take Atelier on pure gameplay. I’d want Danganronpa’s cast.Guilty Gear Xrd’s soundtrack is awesome. But when taken as a whole, nothing is even on Inquisition’s level, nothing can compare, and nothing comes close.

24 Hours of Gaming 6

September 27, 2014

Well, here we are again. This is the sixth time I have attempted to complete a 24-hour gaming marathon. Today’s planned agenda is about a 50-50 split between backlog and games from this year. A lot of repeats show up from the last several marathons, but hopefully I’ll be finishing many of them soon.

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5:30am
I’m naturally beginning with Final Fantasy VIII. I put about 7 hours of time into the game in between marathons, and I must say that I will have the game beat either before the next one and finish it off in the next marathon. I hit my first difficulty hurdle in the game and have grinded for over four hours. Let’s hope it was enough.
It was enough. It was by no mean a smooth victory, but a victory nonetheless. It takes me a long time to find Trabia garden tucked neatly away in the middle of some mountains. Who would of thought that piloting a giant mobile fortress would be awkward and unwieldy to drive?

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It is also still amazing that a game from 1999 has a character named “Selphie” in it.
Final Fantasy VIII is trying to win me back over with a series of really cool scenes. The clash of the Gardens section is quite impressive; two flying fortresses repeatedly ramming into each other makes for the quite the spectacle. It’s just too bad that the Junction and Draw systems are so incredibly terrible. The end of the game is in sight now. I’m 28 hours deep and approximately 75% through the game.
8:30am
Maybe I will actually get to a fight in my third hour of BlazBlue: Chronophantasma. I’m not holding my breath.
Well, I was wrong. I was in a fight within 5 min of starting it up.

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It was the only fight, however. The game says so much without saying much of value at all. Overall though, I’m enjoying Chronophantasma.
9:30am
Yoshi’s New Island is a little disappointing, especially from a musical perspective. But I haven’t been hating my time with it thus far.

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I complete World 3, and the game is still largely unoriginal and uninspired, but also inoffensive at the same time.
11:00am
Grandia II is becoming a staple of my 24 hour marathons.

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Grandia progressed very smoothly. I’m looking for a sword the great… Granasaber… the proper nouns in this game can get a little corny.
1:00pm
Thus begins the Mega Man block. Last time it was Mega Man 1-3, this time it is Mega Man 4-6.
Mega Man 4 is solid, safe, and kind of forgettable. The boss line-up is not terribly strong and the stages are not quite distinctive visually or design way. The music is not the best either. It’s not bad, but not great.

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Mega Man 5 is immediately better than 4. The levels have a more distinct art direction, the weapons, in particular, are pretty cool especially the Gryo Attack. Gravity Man’s stage is very good.
A lot Mega Man 3 for us next time, our patience for Mega Man 6 had been long spent by the time we got to it. Three Mega Man games in a row is one too many it seems. On the upside, MM6 probably had the best music of the three today. So that leaves my rankings being: 2 – 5 – 1 – 3 – 4 – 6.

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5:00pm
The amount of cutscenes in Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright is truly impressive. They are gorgeous, and the presentation of the game is phenomenal.

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I am a total of 5 hours into the game and enjoying it greatly. Hopefully it can fulfill the enormous amount of potential the opening hours instill.
8:00pm
Only two games have appeared on every single one of my marathons, the first is, of course, Final Fantasy VIII, the second is The Wonderful 101. Ideally, this will be the last time it appears. The end is near I can taste it.

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I finish Operation 7 and start Operation 8, the end of the game has to be close.
10:00pm
Super Paper Mario continues to be a very strange game. I wrapped up World 3 and the boss of the area was quite ridiculous. It was a chameleon who embodied nearly every nerd/otaku stereotype that one could imagine.

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12:00am
Next up is Tales of Xillia 2. I was bummed that I have not had enough time to really dig my teeth into ToX2, and now I finally get that opportunity.

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I ended up playing the rest of the night/morning. It is solid. It is good to be back in the world, but there are some glaring problems that will hopefully not last the entire game. Time will tell.
That was a long day. #6 complete. See ya next time.

24 Hours of Gaming 5

August 9, 2014

Here we go again. This is the fifth trial in the attempt to clear the backlog of games. The focus today is getting some more time in with some longstanding unfinished games; mostly older ones, but there are some 2014 games that I still need to beat sprinkled throughout the day.

Missile strike from FFVIII.

Missile strike from FFVIII.

5:15am

This is the earliest I have started one of these. I was planning on starting at 6, but anticipation as it would have it would not allow for that.

Unsurprisingly, I am starting the day with 3 hours of Final Fantasy VIII, as per tradition. I won’t finish it today, but I should some time in the near future, as I tire of seeing Squall’s ugly face. It’s a fairly easy game, but mechanically, it is strange and kind of everywhere. The need to Draw spells that can be cast instead of having a Mana system is more annoying than it is original.

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I died a couple of times losing some precious time. There are some great looking scenes in this game. Rinoa looks a little too much like Tifa from FFVII, especially in the CGI cutscenes. I destroyed a missile base and saved “The Garden” from certain destruction by turning it into an enormous hovercraft, now we drift endlessly across the ocean not knowing how to steer the thing.

8:15am

Grandia II, it has been too long since we have held company together.

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Grandia II is staying consistently good. The story is starting to ramp up and the combat system remains unique and engaging.

10:15am

Next up is an hour of BlazBlue: Chronophantasma. Despite having spent two hours with the game so far, I have yet to actually get into a fight in the game. Aksys and Arc System Works really seem to be taking the virtual novel genre very seriously.

Kokonoe (left) is the coolest new character in the story so far.

Kokonoe (left) is the coolest new character in the story so far.

Still no core gameplay, but a couple of options surfaced that offered alternate paths. At least there is some form of interaction so far.

11:15am

The abstract puzzle game, Metrico, is up next. The Sony published Vita-exclusive has an austere and clean aesthetic that is matched by unique movement-based puzzles. The music is strange.

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The game grabbed me after an average first impression. The game layers in smart mechanics to help keep it engaging. There are a lot of Vita-specific features that are well implemented, but can be a little cumbersome for the precision that the game requires.

12:15pm

Punch-Out!! section.

Punch-Out!! section.

Now for 2 hours of The Wonderful 101. This game is getting close to the end; I can feel it. I’m starting to come around on it. It is starting to mix up the gameplay with a schmup and a Punch-Out!! clone that were both kind of neat and a great change of pace.

2:15pm

Quite possibly the worst box art ever created.

Quite possibly the worst box art ever created.

Brock and I beat all the bosses in Megaman, the original Megaman for NES. Good times. Well, it was all-good till the system froze on us… We got to see all the levels though.

3:45pm

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Megaman 2 is up. Megaman 2 is a lot easier than Megaman. It also looks nicer, the soundtrack is stronger overall, and handles better. So, after all of the robot masters and a couple of freezes (thank goodness password generators exist), we moved on.

5:00pm

Let’s keep this NES train a’rollin’ with Meganman 3.

Snakeman's level is pretty cool.

Snakeman’s level is pretty cool.

Megaman 3 is hard. Maybe even harder than MM1. It adds a sliding mechanic that is a lot of fun to use, but the levels in general are not satisfying. Perhaps we are just getting burned out after nearly 4 hours of Megaman, but #3 kicks our cans.

6:15pm

Yoshi’s New Island is generally despised by most fans of the original game. I’m going to give it a little more time before deciding what level of garbage it is.

The second boss is insultingly easy (especially coming hot off of Megaman).

The second boss is insultingly easy (especially coming hot off of Megaman).

I completed the second world and the first level of the third world in an hour. It is a very easy game. It is a slower paced, exploration and collection based, and largely inoffensive aside from its ear-melting soundtrack that is truly terribad.

7:15pm

It’s been a while since I played Super Paper Mario, so hopefully these two planned hours go smoothly.

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I got Bowser to join my party and finished chapter 2 and got a good jump on chapter 3. Super Paper Mario is such a weird game with its perspective changes and platform action with slight RPG mechanics.

9:15pm

Back to some delicious Atelier: Escha & Logy: Alchemist of the Dusk Sky. I have been hitting this game hard the last several weeks with hopes of finishing it soon. It is so deep mechanically. It has some of the best character designs I have ever seen in a game. It has some of the best music of the year. The game really is fantastic.

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The three hours fly by as I craft a mountain of items and weapons and complete pages of assignments.

12:15am

Time to ramp things up again with Drakengard 3.

This game is insane.

This game is insane.

The game remains consistently hilarious with its irreverence, fourth-wall breaks, and fantastic writing. The action is still below average to serviceable, but the characters are more than enough to keep me playing.

You know what, I take it back, only about half of the writing in Drakengard 3 is fantastic, the other half eventually boils down to immature sex jokes that get old very quickly.

When you see this character, prepare for a constant stream of endless eyerolls.

When you see this character, prepare for a constant stream of endless eyerolls.

Three Intoners down at least 2 more to go.

3:15am

The last two hours of the day belong to Oblivion.

I finally got unstuck. I had to wait in a specific spot at a specific time in order to continue the main quest. It is a little obtuse and the menus are still garbage. But the game still offers an enormous amount of freedom that few games have pulled off to date.

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I ran out of lockpicks and I’m pretty sure I have to unlock a chest to continue… ugh.

Wrapping Up

Well that’s a day. There are still not enough hours in a day. The backlog is still too big, but some serious progress has been made today. Here’s to hoping I can do it again soon.

Summary

5:15am-8:15am – Final Fantasy VIII

8:15am-10:15am – Grandia II

10:15am-11:15am – BlazBlue: Chronophantasma

11:15am-12:15pm – Metrico

12:15pm-2:15pm – The Wonderful 101

2:15pm-3:45pm – Megaman

3:45pm-5:00pm – Megaman 2

5:00pm-6:15pm – Megaman 3

6:15pm-7:15pm – Yoshi’s New Island

7:15pm-9:15pm – Super Paper Mario

9:15pm-12:15am – Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky

12:15am-3:15am – Drakengard 3

3:15am-5:15am – The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

24 Hours of Gaming 4

24 Hours of Gaming 4

Alex Linna

April 16, 2014

The primary focus of today will be to eliminate games in my backlog, as well as continue playing some games I am currently working on reviews for.

6:45am

First up, is Final Fantasy VIII, again.

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Squall’s such a bad boy hijacking that car.  A cool two-round boss fight and it is finally on to the second disc!

There are some ups and downs, the team gets split up and gets back together on this emotional roller coaster that is Final Fantasy VIII.  They escape an underground jail and sabotage a missile base.  This game is really leaning in to the “playing as a terrorist” angle. 15 hours in! I should be well passed the halfway point now.

9:45am

I’m sticking with the JRPGs and going to continue on with Grandia II.  I doubled up on my time spent with Grandia II (4 hours in total now, I had previously only played 2hr).  I got a new character to join the party and I ended right before what is surely a boss room.  The game continues to have a good flow and it looks like it will have some interesting side stories along the way.  The current village I am in is stricken with having lost their sense of taste.  It is unknown if these people have loss favor with the god of the land or if something sinister is at work. All in all, the two hours pass quickly.

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11:45am

Next up is Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. I played a little ahead this time, I got all the bed pieces before diving back into Dreamt Team again today, however, it turns out that I have to rescue the person who must assemble the bed from the pieces.  I thought, “Oh, that won’t take long.” I was wrong. It took about two hours from the time I got the last bed piece to get the bed assembled.  It closed with a challenging boss fight.  This game continues to stretch out what has already been super stretched out, and it is losing me.

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1:45pm

Back to The Wonderful 101.  Two hours planned for today, what color do I unlock next?  I think this game has yet to grab is due to how “not varied” the gameplay is.  The new Wonderful people add a little, but most of the puzzles are dumb, and the action gets repetitive quickly.  It’s sad, because it is still a decent action game; it just cannot hold my interest.

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And it was Wonder White from Japan with Wolverine claws who was the new character this time.

3:45pm

Following the two previous marathons, next up is 4 hours of Donkey Kong Country 3.  It is not a horrible game.  It is just plagued by some questionable design and character choices. Brock and I almost made through 6 of the 8 worlds. The game is not easy.

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7:45pm

Now, on to 2 hours of Super Paper Mario. It’s a game that I started for the Best Wii list we did recently, and I would like to finish it.

The Mario RPGs are all incredibly charming, and Super Paper Mario is certainly no different, even though this time around it is not a RPG at all.  It is an action-platformer with a nice perspective-changing gimmick.  The game’s art direction is wonderful. There is a lot of reading to be done, but the writing is great. This is Intelligent Systems after all (who went on to make Fire Emblem: Awakening).

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I finish the first chapter rather quickly and take out a good chunk of Chapter 2.

9:45pm

Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky might be a mouthful of a title for a game, but it is also a game with a lot going on with its gameplay.  “Complex” is one word that comes to mind, “Deep” is another.  There is so much to do and the game looks fantastic and has some of the best video game music out there. It is a pleasure to experience, but it is not for the faint of heart, Atelier will ask a lot of its players, but it gives more than it takes.  I am only about 3 hours into game and I can’t wait to see how it progresses.

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10:45pm

Let’s keep this JRPG train a’rollin’.  I played about an hour or two of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII when it was released, and have not touched it again until right now.

So, it turns out Lightning Returns is pretty good. I played almost two hours more than I was originally planning.  FFXIII-III is a weird JRPG much like the first two XIII games, but each are unique in how they are weird.  XIII-III is essentially a complete opposite of FFXIIILightning Returns is very open with a several large, highly detailed environments to explore and get to know.  And you will want to get to know them, not due to the convoluted storyline, but the urgency felt in the side quests.  I found myself not wanting to put it down.  The focus of the gameplay is not on the core combat, but in exploration, efficient time-management, and side-questing.  It feels really unique and foreign in some ways.

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2:30am

Rune Factory 4 is one of four games that have been a part of every one of my 24-hour marathons since I began, and I’m afraid I have hit a wall.  I am currently on a boss that I have tried a good 10+ times with varying ranges of success, but I have yet to topple the foe.  30 minutes of trying over and over again went rather quickly.

3:00am

Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars was released yesterday and I put a lot of time into it.  So, there is no surprise that it was the game I was most looking forward to playing today.  I intentionally put near the end of the 24 hours due to the thought that if I started it; I would not want to stop.  So here we are at 3:00 am, let’s see if I can pull myself away in two hours.

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My suspicions were well founded it seems.  Closing the day with nearly 4 hours of Conception II was a great way to bring an end to the 4th marathon.

I was planning on starting Bully and ending with Oblivion again, but Conception II is just too good it seems.  Lightning Returns was probably the biggest highlight of the day, however, I was not pumped to play it today, it ended up being the best thing I played today.  Who knows if it will continue to be good.  Conception II and Atelier were also pretty great.

Summary

6:45am-9:45am – Final Fantasy VIII

9:45am-11:45am – Grandia II

11:45am-1:45pm – Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

1:45pm-3:45pm – The Wonderful 101

3:45pm-7:45pm – Donkey Kong Country 3

7:45pm-9:45pm – Super Paper Mario

9:45pm-10:45pm – Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky

10:45pm-2:30am – Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

2:30am-3:00am – Rune Factory 4

3:00am-6:45am – Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars

 

After today, I would like to try a 24-hour marathon where I play even fewer games.  Playing more of less would make it feel like I am accomplishing more.

BADGP Reviews: Bravely Default

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Bravely Default (Square Enix/Nintendo, Silicon Studio)

Alex Linna

Released: February 7, 2014

Review: Where the Fairy Flies

Nintendo of America recently announced that Bravely Default sold well, exceeding 200,000 sales in just three short weeks.  Square Enix recently discussed how the worldwide success of the game financially, will affect the nature of their JRPGs from now on. Also, a sequel is already announced, and there is even an unlockable trailer for Bravely Second in Bravely Default upon completing the game.  All this news surrounding one handheld JRPG is deserved because Bravely Default is a great game.

Final Fantasy in All but Name

Bravely Default is an “old-school” Japanese Role-Playing game.  The presentation, structure, combat, and map all harkens back the classic Super Nintendo JRPGs created by Squaresoft.  Bravely Default resembles Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy: Tactics in particular. The robust job system in Bravely Default is no doubt an allusion to these previous Square titles.  It is okay that Bravely Default borrows so heavily from Final Fantasy games of old, due to it being a Final Fantasy game in all but name.  Many items and spells in Bravely Default are directly copied from the storied franchise.  Players revive fallen party members with Phoenix Downs and cast Firaga to fry enemies.  As many things about Bravely Default send a shock of nostalgia down the player’s spine, but there are plenty of things that make it stand out as its own newly budding series.

Meet your heroes.

Meet your heroes.

Brave vs. Default

It is the core combat of Bravely Default that is most defining.  Players may “Brave” up to three times in order to do four turns at once, but one must then wait for the enemy to take the same amount of turns before being able to act again.  However, four characters are controlled at once, so staggering the team out can be beneficially, as can be a full assault of 16 player attacks in a row.  “Default” is the game’s take on the typical “Defend” command that is found in many JRPGs, however “Default “ banks an additional turn for the player as well as acting as singular defense buff.  This mechanic is similar to what is found in ATLUS’ wonderful DS game, Radiant Historia, where the player may delay attacks in order to chain them later.

Aside from the core turn-based combat described above, there is a multitude of experimentation to be done with the game’s deep job system.  Upon completing a battle, players earn experience points that go to the characters’ all-around level, and Job Points that are experience points for the currently equipped job.  The entire set of abilities from two job sets may be equipped to each character. This allows for dizzying amounts of customization that is both fun to play around with and rewarding when finding something that works just right.

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Anyone who has played a RPG ranging from Pokémon to Persona is going to agree that Bravely Default’s best feature is its inclusion of a random encounter slider.  Players may choose when they want to grind.  One can run straight through a dungeon to the boss if he or she pleases. There is a warning displayed when the battles are completely turned off stating that being underleveled is a bad idea.  The slider allows for the player to control the pacing and that is a much welcomed addition that should be included in every JRPG from here on out.

Social Features

Bravely Default encourages the player to have it on their person at all times, and is loaded with 3DS specific features. StreetPass players that have been collected may be summoned to help during battles, and 4-5 additional combatants can be added everyday through the Internet. People gathered through these methods may also be put to work in restoring one of the main character’s hometown. By rebuilding the tiny town, additional items and weapons are added to the shop. Placing the game in sleep mode will have the people go to work on the town; it will also load up SP points.  SP is what is used in the game’s Bravely Second feature that are essentially free turns.  Three may be saved at a time, but they may be purchased with real world money if one does not want to wait 8 hours per point. The game’s narrative also plays with the idea of StreetPass in some clever ways.

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Let’s talk some more about the story of Bravely Default.  The game is broken up into 9 chapters.  The first four chapters play out as a traditional game of this nature would: predictable and safe.  Things start to change up in the 5th chapter.  The rest of the game subverts expectations in some creative and impressive ways.  Most of the plot can be summarized as “restore the crystals,” but there is definitely more to it than that.  The premise of the game is that one of the main characters wakes up and his town is gone.  There is a giant hole in the ground where it was that is referred to as the Chasm. It is then presumed that restoring the four great crystals will bring the city back and cleanse the world of the evil that has been posed upon it. The journey spans continents.  The rest of the game’s narrative needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated.

Audio/Visual

Bravely Default is beautiful game with fantastic art and looks wonderful in 3D.  The game begins with a strange augmented reality (AR) scene. It would have made more sense if there was another scene near the end or AR being more prominently used at all.  The game is not fully voiced, but many of the scenes feature the game’s talented voice cast.  There is a lot of dialogue, and a lot of reading in Bravely Default, so the large amount of voice acting is appreciated. One of Bravely Default’s strongest aspects is its score.  The soundtrack is memorable and diverse. The music will surely be among the best to come out of a video game this year.

The Bad

Bravely Default is certainly not a perfect game. The middle chapters drag. It is done intentionally and is eventually narratively justified, but that does not abate the frustration and repetitive nature of a large portion of the game.  Until the game reveals the true nature of its story, it is not engaging.  The payoff for sticking with the game was huge, but getting there was taxing.  If it was not for the game’s excellent core gameplay, I might not have been able to finish it.  The four main characters are well written and acted, but are hardly memorable.

The Recommendation

If one has any affinity for the Super Nintendo Final Fantasy games, then Bravely Default is a no brainer.  The deep and rewarding systems at work in Bravely Default make it a satisfying and worthwhile adventure.  It is a shame that the game’s story does not get interesting until the 30 hour mark of a game that can easily clock in at 40 hours. Replayability is ample with nearly infinite combinations of classes. Bravely Default certainly presents a good value, and is an excellent addition to the 3DS’s already stellar library.

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Score: 8.2 out of 10