The Wolf Among Us

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I’m loving the color scheme.

I finished The Wolf Among Us! I really enjoyed the game, characters and story. It was a great way to continue experiencing Telltale Game’s work while taking a break from The Walking Dead.

Over the course of the five episodes, I found my opinion and relationships with characters continually fluctuating. Yeah, there were like 2 or 3 I liked or hated the entire way through, but with all the curve balls thrown my way, I couldn’t make up my mind about some of them. Which is an exception to my rule. Usually my only feelings towards video game characters are indifference or annoyance. TTG did the same thing to me with Walking Dead, so I’m happy to report their storytelling and character building are just as effective here.

One of the things that stands out to me about TWAU is the art style. Yes, it is cel-shaded like The Walking Dead, but the color scheme and setting are completely different. It’s gritty, like inner city gritty and downtrodden; whereas Walking Dead is like, gory and zombie apocalypse desolate. I also really liked most of the character designs. Many of them have very subtle tie-ins to their fairy tale origins. Others are, well, still animals and such. And their voice acting is excellent! Melissa Hutchinson, who voices Clementine in Walking Dead, voices not one, but TWO characters. And pretty much all the other voicing is just as spot-on as her work.

Part of me wants to read the comic series; if, for nothing else, to at least get some background on the lore. There are, um, discrepancies in the story that I have some beef with. The thing is, knowing only what I’m presented with in the game makes it look like things are happening a certain way due to plot convenience when, in fact, there actually is a logical reason why it happened. The game just doesn’t bother to explain how or why. Also, TWAU is set to  be a canon prelude to the comics. I’d like to know if it’s feasible for the game series to continue on, or if I should just be satisfied with the cliffhanger at the end.

Other than my usual gripes about “decisions” not really meaning much in the long run and loading screen freeze-ups; I recommend this game just as much or more than The Walking Dead. In fact, right now Telltale can do no wrong in my eyes. In spite of my initial doubts, I’m eagerly anticipating their take on Game of Thrones and Borderlands. But if the Borderlands one isn’t a comedy, I quit.

Retro Review: Earthbound

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Check out this ragtag bunch of kids out to save the universe.

Earthbound is an old-school RPG that was first released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, before I got into turn-based role playing games. Thus, I never experienced it during my impressionable youth. Over the years I heard a lot of buzz about this game that’s acquired a sizable cult following, so I added it to my “download and play sometime later” retro game list. A month or so ago, Club Nintendo notified me that I could download this game for FREE as a Platinum member. I did just that, propelling Earthbound from near the bottom of my to-play list to “Must Play Now” status.

I have very conflicting feelings about Earthbound. I think it is a very polarizing game; one that many people either really love or really hate. I’m still on the fence about it. It’s one of those games that is great when its great, and terrible when its terrible. To slog through certain parts of the game requires you to be especially patient and familiar with JRPG tropes of the past.

To start from the beginning; Earthbound is actually “Mother 2.” It’s also the only Mother game that was released in North America. Yes, whoever makes these decisions thought it’d be best to only translate and release the middle installment of a 3-part series. This sets a trend for the complete randomness that permeates a lot of Earthbound’s elements.

Before landing into the game world, the menus will ask a few important questions first. Your favorite food, favorite thing, and YOUR name (The game breaks the fourth wall in a crazy way that I won’t spoil). A little different than the standard “Name Your Character” stuff from games of yore. Then the story takes off. If you go by the default name, you play as Ness, awoken from slumber by some crazy happenings in the middle of the night. A meteorite crashes in your town. When you go investigate it, an insect named “Buzz Buzz” informs you of the greater “Save the world from ultimate evil” main plot. Yes, a bug. A time-traveling bug, actually. And this is just the start of the strange events that will unfold in Earthbound.

Ness, who has psychic abilities (because reasons) is, of course, some prophecy’s proclaimed savior who will rescue the world from Mr. Ultimate Evil Alien, Giygas. Psychic abilities serve as magic attacks in the game. The battle system in Earthbound functions much like old-school turn-based RPGs. Like DragonQuest, you don’t even get to see your characters on the screen. They’re only represented by boxes with their names, HP and PP (Psi Points). Which means attacks are just flashes of different colored lights and effects on the screen. The battle system is pretty standard fare. You choose attack, magic, defend, or item, take turns, and take almost-totally random amounts of damage from things. If you make the mistake of equipping yo-yos you’ll miss enemies so much you’ll probably bust your television screen. Yo-yos have this invisible “Worthless Item” stat. Well it’s more like an invisible “Miss” or “Accuracy” rating, but you get my drift.

Enemies will be able to one-shot a couple of your party members with a crit throughout the ENTIRE game. Not fun. Especially since healing items are hard to come by in the beginning and you don’t have enough inventory space to carry the items. The inventory management system in this game is so bad that I get the impression the developers went out of their way to make it painful. Each character can only hold a certain amount of items (a dozen, I think). Equipped items still count as part of their inventory. Like items do not stack. You have to cycle through each character’s menus to find what you’re looking for and give it to whoever you want to equip it; provided that character’s inventory isn’t already full. It doesn’t help that one of the characters, Jeff, is a packrat. His main use in battle is using items, so between his equipment and battle items he doesn’t have room for much else.

There’s two ways to circumvent the inventory nightmare. One is to call Escargo Express and PAY them to take only 3 items at a time away from you for safe keeping. By the end of the game we’d filled that extra inventory as well. Another way to whittle down your full inventory is to put out a For Sale sign. Then, no matter what godforsaken dungeon in the middle of nowhere you’re trudging your way through, an NPC will come running up and offer to purchase stuff from you. It’s all so pointless and frustrating. And weird.

The way this game handles money is pretty similar. Earthbound takes place in a modern day setting and incorporates ATMs and debit cards; another unnecessary inventory slot waster. Killing random enemies will cause Dad (who is nothing more than a disembodied voice you speak to on the telephone), to deposit an allowance, so to speak, in your account. This means you need to go to an ATM to access your money, which you’ll need for shopping, hotel and hospital stays. You don’t want to just KEEP the money on hand, because if you die you forfeit a good chunk of it. The penalty for dying is a bit weird in this game. The dead character’s ghost will follow you around on screen. If there’s no revive spell or items in your inventory, you need to trek all the way back to a hospital to revive them. For a fee, naturally. And sleeping doesn’t remedy status effects; you need to speak to certain “healers” to remove the particularly obnoxious ailments.

In it’s defense, I’m impressed by the unique and strange status ailments in this game. As much as I loathe some of them. There’s a ghost status effect, one that makes a mushroom grow on your head (!), and more realistic ones like sunstroke, homesickness, and having a cold.

Why trudge through Earthbound’s nightmarish inventory management and unforgiving old-school battle system, you ask? For Steve-O and I, probably the main reason we kept coming back for more torture was the out of whack humor. Take, for example, these hilarious NPC quotes:

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In case you didn’t know, Zombie PAPER is a thing. Like fly paper, I’d imagine.

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The stench  might also have something to do with the garbage can and rat you’re hanging out with.

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Um, what?

This quirky “I don’t know if I’m taking myself seriously or not” humor also bleeds into the battle system. Not so much the item names as the enemy names. Earthbound has the most colorful bestiary of any game I’ve ever played. Here’s a couple examples:

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New Age Retro Hippie… Doing the Pee-Pee dance.

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If you don’t get the allusion, I have no words for you.

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I can’t stop replacing “Fire” with “Butt” in my mind.

Other honorable mentions include:

  • Big Pile of Puke
  • Demonic Petunia
  • Even Slimier  Little Pile
  • Extra Cranky Lady
  • Farm Zombie
  • French Kiss of Death
  • Overzealous Cop

And the list goes on. A very creative venture, and one of my favorite aspects of the game. Something I never thought I’d say.

It’s hard to explain the essence of Earthbound in words. Despite its shortcomings and my frustrations with it, the unusual charm of the game is pervasive and felt in every nook and cranny. The graphics aren’t even impressive for a SNES game; it easily looks like it could’ve been on the Nintendo. The music isn’t catchy or particularly pleasant to listen to. It isn’t so much bad as it is atmospheric. Indeed, it is situational and makes sense… but it isn’t something you’ll want to listen to for pleasure. And like I said, for reasons I mentioned and haven’t mentioned, the game seems to go out of its way to annoy the player.

Aside from the silly and strange humor, Earthbound will call your name in indescribable ways. It has overarching themes that I can sense and feel, but can’t quite put my finger on. If I were more knowledgeable on the subject, I’d say it draws on 60’s drug culture, entwined with its own disturbing visions on both mortality and maternity. Also, the way characters speak so casually in some really messed-up situations was jarring to me.

Given the lack of character development, I can’t call it a coming of age story, which I bet is what you were expecting me to say, given the fact that the main characters are kids. Don’t come to Earthbound if you’re looking for a likable or relate-able cast. Ness is a typical silent main character, and the 3 friends you eventually recruit barely speak after their introductions. Earthbound has a female party member that incorporates both gender stereotype tropes but also makes giant leaps forward for its time (except compared to maybe Metroid). On one hand, Paula is a stereotypical soft-hearted girl who takes care of children in a day care and wields a frying pan for a weapon. On the other hand, if it weren’t for her, the entire adventure wouldn’t happen, and you wouldn’t be able to defeat the final boss. BUT on the other hand, she’s unsurprisingly the weakest party member, getting one-shotted every time an enemy looked at her funny.

The difficulty curve in this game is ridiculous. Paula was always weak, yes, with Jeff being the second weakest, but… man. To go toe-to-toe against enemies that always cast AoE magic attacks (as their first turn) that will make a joke out of at least half of your group ALL THE TIME.  And it wasn’t like we were under-leveled, exactly… Ness was 81, if I remember correctly. It’s unbelievable how frustrating the final zone is. I seriously don’t know how people survived to beat the game in the good old days. We cheated, so to speak, by taking advantage of the Wii U Virtual Console’s save state feature. Like playing on an emulator, it will make a temporary save for you whenever you want, and load it whenever you want. It’s how we survived Earthbound, truth be told. On top of how stupidly difficult the final dungeon is, it’s the only spot to farm Ness’ super-rare ultimate weapon. One in a series of 1/128 item drops throughout the game. No thank you, is all I have to say to that.

The reward for trudging through the hell that is the final dungeon without throwing your game system out the window is the final boss fight. The Giygas boss fight is… memorable, to say the least. It’s unique. Different. Something that sticks with you long after finishing the game. Curious, I went online and did some reading. Needless to say, my eyes were opened to a few interesting tidbits. It’s truly a shame at least the first game wasn’t released in North America, because having the background information on Giygas from Mother 1 really would’ve helped me appreciate Earthbound’s main villain.

If you missed the game back in the SNES days when we had more patience for game difficulty and were more forgiving of bad game play mechanics, it’s hard to say if Earthbound will have a lasting, profound effect, or if you’ll ditch it after the first couple of hours. I can’t say I could blame anyone for quitting anymore than I’d high five someone for sticking it through. Earthbound has been around long enough that there are several reliable walkthroughs available to reference and save you a lot of time and frustrations; making it at least worth a shot in my book. Despite Earthbound’s grave flaws, in the end I’m glad we stuck it out to experience this sleeper hit.

Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Collection

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Bonus! You now get to play Diablo on your shiny next-gen system!

I was going to wait until I had spent more time in the post-game content to come and post my thoughts about the Ultimate Evil Edition of Diablo 3. But, who am I kidding? I saw the whole story, maxed a character, and Destiny’s out. I don’t play games like Diablo by myself, and I anticipate Destiny owning my husband’s soul for the next month or so. I figured I should be smart and post my review while the game is still fresh in my mind instead of saying I’m going to go back and play it some more and never get around to it because there’s way too many great games coming out soon. Which is exactly what happened to my Super Mario 3D review.

I played through Diablo III when it first came out on the PC. I played my go-to class, a Wizard, because casters are all that and a bag of potato chips. I had a hard time deciding what to play this time around. The choices are: Demon Hunter, Barbarian, Wizard, Witch Doctor, Monk, and Crusader, the expansion baby. Hubby was playing a Crusader, and meat shields aren’t really my thing anyway. Steve-O was playing yet another Monk. They suggested I be a Witch Doctor. I remembered hearing they weren’t very good the first time around, but I figured, hey! I can be a caster with a pet, just like in my WoW days, and if I suck that bad, I’ll have two other characters to pick up my slack.

I’m happy to report that I really enjoyed being a Witch Doctor. You can have multiple pets out at a time and let them do a ton of the work for you. You can even find special WD equipment that gives you MORE pets to have out at the same time. Zombie dogs everywhere! There’s neat AoE spells with PIRANHAS and support spells (If you care about being a team player, anyway.) And their primary stat is intelligence, just like wizards, so I was right at home.

The one setback to being a Witch Doctor is that you have to go around looking like a complete buffoon all the time.

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Like, seriously, is that supposed to be authentic or something?

As I’m sure most of you know, Diablo III was originally only for PC. When they announced the expansion my Blizzard fanboy husband was just ecstatic. When they announced the Ultimate Evil Edition for consoles we were both ecstatic. I’ve only played a handful of games on the PC. To me, it isn’t the same as having a good old controller in my hand and lounging on my couch and playing on a big TV. I was excited to play Diablo III again, and on my shiny PS4 to boot! I had some reservations, though. I find a lot of the times PC to console reboots don’t always translate well. I was worried the button maps wouldn’t be done well and that the overall experience would feel cheapened by the console port.

Thankfully, I was wrong. Sure, there’s some layout differences that take some getting used to. The weirdest thing for me was the character inventory  and skills screen set-up. It looks something like this:

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As an added bonus, here’s the new Crusader class!

See the circle around the character’s image on the left? The inventory screen is basically the same thing, except every circle is a different piece of equipment or the inventory bag symbol. You have to use one of the analog sticks to circle around and find the piece of equipment you want to tinker around with. It’s a little strange and took me some getting used to. Especially comparing equipment stats and cycling through inventory. You really need to make sure you pay attention to the small commands at the bottom that show all of your available options. I’m not going to admit how long it took us to figure out how to change our Network Settings so we could play as LAN, Friends Only, or Public.

I have very few complaints about this game so far. Probably because I didn’t really pay attention to the story. Let’s be honest, these games are played for the grind and social aspects. And boy, is there a grind. There’s so much to do even after you cap your level, which the expansion raised by another 10. In fact, you get to level some more! Now, there are Paragon levels that you earn. Each level grants you points to spend on growing the stats you want. It’s awesome… and endless. Not something I can get into at this point in my life, but a great addition for those who love to grind for stats and loot.

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There aren’t nearly enough enemies on this screen!

You also have to love chaos. The above image doesn’t do  nearly enough justice to the sheer volume of bodies that will be all over the place at any given time. You can get your enemy kill counter to over 100 enemies easily enough during a basic playthrough. We played on Master difficulty most of the time and were treated to vast amounts of carnage at any given point. It gets difficult to track where the heck your avatar is amidst the madness. Blizzard incorporated the option to press down on R3 to shine a fancy light pillar above your character. I either forgot to use it or still had trouble finding it because I was busy having an epileptic seizure from all the light flashes. Despite the madness, the game almost never slows down or hiccups. I was impressed. There’s also hardly any loading times. How smoothly this game runs is an art in and of itself.

I have to say, I think this game is one of the best couch co-op games ever. It’s so much fun to sit down for an evening and blast through dungeons with friends in your living room. If you aren’t as old school or resistant to change like me, you can grab a headset and play with friends online too. OR, you can do  both at the same time! It’s seriously a great time. I looked forward to our Diablo nights every long, painful work day. And perhaps we’ll go back to  it if Destiny starts to loose its appeal (which’ll happen quicker with me… I’m not as crazy about FPS games). As someone who came away from the original release and didn’t feel strongly one way or the other about this game, the UEE is an incredible step forward. It’s like, I don’t know, Blizzard actually listened to fan feedback and fixed their mistakes! Imagine that!

The Wolf Among Us: Episode 1- Faith

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Big Bad is always sucking on a cancer stick.

At the end of my Walking Dead review, I mentioned my impulse purchase of Telltale Game’s other episodic game series, The Wolf Among Us. In my defense, it was on sale. And, thankfully, I really like it so far.

Being a fan of their Walking Dead series, I was no stranger to the game play mechanics. It didn’t take me long to establish that it’s 99% Walking Dead in terms of conversations, morality, interacting with the environment, battle scenes, etc. But unlike The Walking Dead, Wolf Among Us takes place in a very different setting that I particularly like.

While Walking Dead takes advantage of the over-used zombie apocalypse setting, Wolf Among Us settles very comfortably into the common “gritty detective who-done-it” world. Except the characters are fairy tale characters (known as “Fables”) who have escaped from FairyTale Land… or whatever. To me, it’s like the illegitimate lovechild of Once  Upon a Time and Sin City. For the record, TWAU is actually a prequel to an already established comic book series that I know nothing about. So far, not having read the comic book series has not impeded my enjoyment.

TWAU follows gritty detective tropes like, super hard. The main character, Bigby, is the Big Bad Wolf reformed as the new Sheriff in town. Bigby, Big Bad Wolf… get it? Being Mr. Gritty Detective, he has a cigarette permanently attached to his lips, and a 5 o’clock shadow to go along with it. Oh, and a totally sexy voice. And perfect hair, even after getting thrown out of a second story window.

Anyway.

These cliches didn’t really bother me. There’s a couple of instances when the game’s characters sort of allude to it, but it doesn’t really make fun of itself. They’re too busy making allusions to fairy tales to poke fun at themselves, I suppose. I normally roll my eyes when there’s too many tropes in a game or movie and it doesn’t poke fun at itself… But the fascinating dialogue and characters make up for it.

The art style is very similar to The Walking Dead, except the way in which colors are used is almost mesmerizing sometimes. The music is also perfect for the setting.

There’s something about Telltale’s games that makes me super anxious about making decisions when talking to characters and responding to situations. I know it’s silly, since the story arc will undoubtedly circle around to whatever the conclusion has to be, but I can’t help myself. I hate disappointing certain characters, yet I’m a complete bastard to others. This really says something about their writing, because I just came from 50 hours of Ni No Kuni where I wasn’t emotionally invested AT ALL in anything that happened and I barely read half of the dialogue.

I’m going to finish the season before recommending this game to anyone, but I think fans of TTG’s The Walking Dead and/or edgy who-done-it detective suspense stories (or, alt-universe fairy tales characters?) will probably enjoy this. I know I’m digging what I’ve seen so far.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

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This is the boring cover.

I’ve finally finished Ni No Kuni. It took… a while. This game is a typical JRPG in a lot of ways. Think of it as yet another JRPG grind-fest with pets that you use in battle, combined with Studio Ghibli animation and storytelling.

I enjoy Studio Ghibli’s movies, so I thought I would like what they had to offer here. Sadly, I wasn’t really impressed. Maybe the writers just couldn’t figure out taking a 1.5 hour movie script and stretching it out over 50 hours of gameplay. I understand that. But I at least expected to like some of the characters. The main character, Oliver, is kind of cute, but everyone else I felt indifferent about. Well, except this THING:

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Meet Drippy.

This is Drippy, “Lord of the High Faeries,” as he’ll remind you about 5,000 times throughout the game. His voice is so obnoxious that during his first cutscene featuring voice acting I was going to quit playing if he was going to talk so much. As it turns out, the game doesn’t use voice acting in cutscenes all too often, so I stuck it out. But seriously, I wanted him to die. He has a lantern on his nose… that’s reason enough right there.

So, an RPG where I’m not crazy about any of the characters. Not off to a good start. I’m going to skip over the story for now, because that’s part of my rant, so we can talk about the battle system for a little bit.

I played this game on Easy. I’d heard it was a bit of a grind-fest, so I figured playing on Easy would lessen the amount of time I had to spend grinding levels, money, equipment, etc. Turns out, it didn’t. Despite doing a handful of side quests early on, thinking I was padding some money and levels, I still managed to die quite frequently. I’m not pretending I don’t sometimes suck at games, and I AM distracted by a 2 year old most of the time, but come on. I died more during this game than the entire Mass Effect trilogy… and I suck at shooters.

First of all: You will never have enough money. Ever. Not until you’re at the end of the game and haven’t found purchasable upgrades in hours of gameplay. The core of the battle set-up will explain why; there are 3 human characters (Oliver, Esther, and Swaine-the-Hobo) who you have to keep equipped. They have 3 “familiars” EACH, that all have to be given a weapon, armor, and accessory. I’m pretty bad at math, but I quickly figured out that meant I essentially had 12 party members to acquire gear for. It’s quite a hit to the wallet. I often went without buying all the upgrades for every party member/familiar just because calculating the hours I’d have to spend grinding money gave me a headache. And it wasn’t like I knew which familiar the AI was going to be using in battle so I could focus on setting up certain familiars. Which leaves me to my second point…

The AI in this game is terrible. I can’t stress it enough. Ni No Kuni is an action-RPG. You can move the avatar you’re currently controlling around to dodge attacks, grab HP and MP drops, and position yourself for attacks. At any given time, there are 3 cutesy familiars belonging to you, plus however many enemies you’ve encountered, all bumping into each other and trying to move around the others to get a hit in. So if you’re relying on physically attacking, be prepared to be yelling at the screen a lot because your familiar is spending its entire Attack gauge riding someone’s ass. And you will be relying on physical attacks during most fights because the MP costs of spells is stupidly high and MP replenishing items are expensive. The only plus-side is that characters get free refills when they level.

But that’s not my main complaint about the AI in this game. My main gripe is how the characters you aren’t controlling just don’t do what you ask them to do. There’s no fantastic Final Fantasy XII gambit system at work here. Just simple commands, like, “Go all out!” or “Keep us healthy!” I assumed “Keep us healthy!” meant what it said. Heal. But when the designated healer with the heal spells and the healing familiars is set to that, they just stand there and pick their noses while everyone in the party is a cough away from death. I figured it might be because they were low on MP. So, I’d have to change to the healer and see. Nope. still enough MP to cast healing spells (or God-forbid use a healing item). Then I’m forced to do the healing myself, taking me away from casting awesome spells or using my best physical attacker because the AI would take over the previous character I was using and make them start acting special too. I don’t get it.  It got to the point where I stopped caring and didn’t resurrect anyone unless it was the middle of a boss fight.

I’m pretty sure I would’ve hated this game less if they just made it turn-based, seeing as how they’re completely inept at creating functional AI behavior.

I also don’t understand the prioritizing and animation sequences in this game. Being a sort-of action game, you can block and dodge, and can also interrupt enemies’ attacks (if you’re lucky). Your signal to defend or evade is pretty obvious if you aren’t too distracted with swapping between characters and familiars. Enemies all have the same animation for when they’re prepping an attack you’ll most likely want to try lessening the blow. I found the window of opportunity (especially with bosses) to be frustratingly short. So short, that I already have a character in queue to use a healing item before the enemy’s attack animation begins, yet the attack goes off before I get to heal and everyone dies. It happened to me a lot. I can’t count the number of times I was in the middle of tossing a healing item and a character died. Then I had to either sit through another lengthy item-use animation with a phoenix-whatever, or cycle through my familiars trying to remember which one had the resurrection spell. The spells are all given stupid cutesy names too, which meant I had to stop and read the description if I hadn’t played in a week and forgot what did what.

The side quests got horribly tedious to the point where I just stopped doing them. Oliver, the young boy who happens to be a wizard, can somehow take aspects of a person’s heart and give them to someone else. So, say someone is overflowing with “Confidence.” You can ask them to borrow it and then give it to someone who happens to be lacking halfway across the world. Interesting concept. Except the characters feel the need to have a pointless five minute long conversation about it, where you’re just mashing X to get through it and get your merit stamps and money. I honestly just ran to the green spots on the map and mashed X without reading the dialogue. There are bounties, which aren’t too bad, because you just go find a monster and kill it. But some of the tasks were so nit-picky, like, “Only kill a monster with a certain spell,” that I didn’t even bother.

I remember one quest where the NPC wanted me to bring him certain familiars. “How do you collect familiars in Ni No Kuni?” you ask? Well. You have to beat them to a bloody pulp, of course! Then, if you’re lucky enough, the creature will become enamored with you, as made evident by pink hearts floating above their head. That’s your cue to take control of Esther and serenade them. Then they’re your pet to use and abuse as you please. Only problem is it’s totally random whether you’ll be given the opportunity to serenade them or not. After fighting enough of a certain enemy to become so powerful they actively ran away from me on the world map, making it nearly impossible to engage them in battle, and still not having that one certain familiar, I said “F this” and never tried again.

If I was prompted, I captured a familiar. Otherwise, I didn’t care. I just made do with what I had. I don’t know how it is in Pokemon, but in Ni No Kuni the abilities the pets have to choose from are so similar it isn’t worth the time to try collecting them all. I stuck the familiar types with the appropriate humans and leveled them. Like Pokemon, the creatures will evolve as they level. Unlike Pokemon, they don’t get sweet new designs… only different color palettes. Which was pretty boring. Then you get to level them all over again, because their level resets to 1. Joy.

Ni No Kuni also has alchemy, in the form of a magic genie who will combine items to make shiny new things for you. I hardly ever had the mats to make anything worthwhile. I think I made all of 5 items. So it either requires more grinding, or post-game stuff, which I have negative desire to do right now.

Have you ever been playing a game, and gotten to the point where you expect the end credits to roll, but instead get saddled with another 5-10 hours of gameplay? Yeah, that totally happens in this game. I was treated to the grand conclusion of the main story arc, fought the somewhat main villain, and thought, “Sweet. I’ll go kill so-and-so, then have another cutscene, then be done! Yay!” Except that wasn’t what happened at all. Instead, there’s way more exposition about something that, while semi-interesting, I didn’t give a lick about, then a lengthy final dungeon, then a boss fight with 3 stages that I was severely under-leveled for. I got to the final boss’ third form with relative ease… then got spanked hard. I was not happy. Under these circumstances, I browse online forums to see if I was doing something wrong. In this case, I just had to go farm about 10 levels. Seeing as how I already thought I was done the game, this did not illicit much satisfaction from me.

But I did it, because I’d already invested way too much time to give up when I was basically at the finish line. Plus I felt like I should’ve expected it; seeing as how the entire game was a big grind-fest.

I’m just realizing the irony in this. I’m pretty sure Xenoblade Chronicles is the only JRPG that’s been released within the past decade that I’ve honestly enjoyed (remasters don’t count) and I never beat that final boss. After literally playing the game for like, 70 hours. Such is life.

I will give Ni No Kuni credit where credit is due. The artwork and style are great, and certainly unique for a video game. The music tracks are very good, but unfortunately recycled a bit too often. The game also is quite courteous about letting the player know where they have to go by way of a star quest marker. Quest NPCs and bounty monsters are also clearly indicated, which I appreciated. The world is thoughtful, with unique areas and environments. The story, while bland at times, had some highlights. I also liked most of the boss designs.

With that being said, the highlights are certainly not numerous enough for me to want to play this game again, or to even dive back into it for the post-game content. In order for me to want to experience an RPG again, it has to either have above average characters and storytelling, or an exciting and fun battle system. Unfortunately for Ni No Kuni, it lacks in both of those departments.

Mass Effect: Retribution

MERetribution

 

Keep smokin’ that cig, Illusive Man.

Onto the third Mass Effect novel, and the final one written by Drew Karpyshyn. There truly is little to no reason to read this novel if you haven’t already read Redemption and Ascension, so go read those first. Retribution follows the original characters (Plus Illusive Man and Anderson) from the first two books.

I bet you’ll never guess which blue-skinned lady friend from the video games makes an appearance: our favorite renegade asari, Aria T’Loak. She makes the mistake of getting in bed with Cerberus, for reasons I won’t disclose. I thought this novel was going to evaluate on the events which lead up to Aria being kicked out of Omega (as you see in Mass Effect 3) but… it doesn’t, exactly. Being the asari fangirl that I am, I did enjoy seeing more of her and learning a few new tidbits about her.

Despite the Illusive Man and Cerberus playing a huge part in this story, I was surprised when Kai Leng made an appearance and continued to be a major player throughout the book. If you love him (or love to hate him, as in my case), you may enjoy seeing him using his assassin skills on someone that isn’t Commander Shepard.

This book is similar in style and execution as its predecessors. Entertaining, light reading, with a couple of noticeable editorial mistakes. The progression of the characters not in the video games was relatively satisfying. One major thing that annoyed me was their godly powers of deduction. With the way all the characters were able to basically read each other’s minds or calculate someone else’s entire scheme based on one small action. Maybe I’m particularly dense (I don’t have extensive Alliance military training, after all), but half the time I found their assumptions to be a bit far-fetched. I was waiting for the author to mention the crystal ball in their hand.

These books have been a great way to keep myself in the Mass Effect universe since my video game backlog is way too long to consider replaying them. I’ve also learned some interesting supplemental information about the Illusive Man, Kai Leng, Cerberus, biotics, and other things. I have one book left before I need to come up with some other way to satiate my ME obsession. Then I don’t know what I’m going to do until they re-release the trilogy for new gen or come out with “Mass Effect Next.” Maybe I’ll see if I can get a hold of the comics.

The Walking Dead Video Game- Season 2 Episode 5: No Going Back

The_walking_dead_video_game_season_two_promo

Ah, another great ending.

I can’t contain my happiness anymore.

This post will be rife with spoilers and I don’t care.

You have been forewarned.

But before I talk about the amazing ending (Which has me jubilant, not depressed like season 1’s ending) I have one little thing I’d like to rhetorically ask:

Does no one who made this video game have a baby? I mean, Rebecca sort-of randomly turns into a zombie with a newborn on her lap, gets shot by Kenny, thus igniting a big shoot-out during which everyone on my side manages to not get killed. Luke survives getting shot in the knee only to drown in zombie-flavored water. I won’t lie, that did make me a little sad, especially since Jane came back and they maybe (?) could have worked on having a not-awkward relationship. So anyway, we’ve got a ragtag group of wandering adults, a teenage Russian hostage, and Clementine taking care of a newborn baby.

None of them are capable of making milk for said baby, in case you were wondering. And yet, the baby somehow doesn’t starve to death. It hardly makes a peep, actually. “AJ” also manages to not freeze to death during the winter nights despite only being wrapped in what appears to be a thin blanket without his face being covered. Newsflash: newborn babies are on the boob. Constantly. It helps increase milk production, assists with mother-baby bonding, and obviously keeps baby full and happy since their little digestive systems can only hold so much food at once. The game shows everyone taking turns holding the baby, yet no one is ever feeding it. Since there’s no Mommy Milk, the baby would have to drink formula, which is never seen or spoken of until near the end. “Look, formula!” … Great, where’s the clean water and bottles? Sorry, but it’s just so unrealistic. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that baby wouldn’t have survived long enough for Kenny to turn it into his new reason for living. Which, by the way, he changed more often than he changed his underwear at that point.

Now that I have that off of my chest…

KENNY IS FINALLY DEAD!!! AND I GOT TO SHOOT HIM!!!

Judging by the stats provided at the end of the episode, I seem to be in the minority here. I absolutely hate Kenny. I’ve hated him ever since Season 1, when after my Lee spent the entire season kissing his ass, he refused to help go save Clem. Yeah, he can suck it. Not only that, but he has proven time and again to be an unstable time bomb that brings chaos into every group situation. I don’t agree with what Mike and Bonnie did (I called Kenny and Jane for help when I caught them trying to sneak away with Arvo), but I can see why they did it. Kenny was a cancer, plain and simple.

Jane’s little ruse was justified. Kenny needed to die, and I was more than happy to pull the trigger. If you shoot him, he even tells you that you  made the right choice. I don’t need more validation than that.

I assumed that if you opted out of shooting Kenny, Jane would win the scuffle and pretty much the same ending would occur. After reading online, it appears I was wrong. There are two very different ending scenarios, which intrigues me because season 3 has been announced and there can only be VERY different experiences based on how season 2 ended for you. It’s actually enough to want to play again with the other scenario, which I can’t say I’ve had the urge to do up until now.

Season 2 had a great ending, but it was a “Great” ending in a completely different fashion than the first season (for me, anyway). I’ve enjoyed my experience with Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead series so much that I purchased the first season of “The Wolf Among Us,” on sale on PSN over the weekend. I plan on starting that if I can tear myself away from playing Diablo III: UE on the PS4 with my hubby long enough to finish Ni No Kuni. I’ve half a mind to post a separate rant about that game, but I’ll refrain for now.