Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris

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Enter Lara Croft and the throwaway characters!

I know what some of my fellow non-Xbox One owners are thinking: This game is a cheap throwaway to try and satiate us until the very delayed release of Rise of the Tomb Raider on the PS4. How insulting and demeaning!

Well, perhaps. But I honestly really enjoyed my time with this game. It’s not a game to approach with an ounce of seriousness. Because, really, it’s a shallow experience. Casual and fun, but shallow nevertheless.

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Dungeon crawling Tomb Raider style: Yes, the archaeologist busts vases for loot.

As you can see from the above image, Temple of Osiris draws very heavily from games like Champions of Norrath and Diablo. The general premise is similar: Explore dungeons solo or with friends (This game even has couch co-op! Yay!) to slay mobs of enemies and collect loot. Again, let me be clear: this is not a game you will become too invested in. There’s little to no character creation or building. There isn’t even a skill tree! Lara Croft and company use guns and a staff that shoots a fancy Egyptian laser beam. That’s it.

Same can be said for loot and equipment. What you see is what you get. Of course, that didn’t stop me from getting excited when I won the RNG treasure chest lottery with a Legendary goody:

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Uploaded from my Twitter account, so the text is hard to read. Just trust me when I say it’s the best piece of loot I came across.

Gear doesn’t pop out of vases or enemies here. All you’ll get is gems, which become currency for opening treasure chests at the end of each dungeon and in the main map. Treasure chests have different tiers of loot ranging from 100 gems to 1,000 gems to open for your RNG jewelry. Rings and amulets are all you’ll find. Guns, of which there are a pleasantly surprising number, have to be earned through progression, challenge dungeons, or stage goals.

I enjoyed replaying stages to try meeting many of the optional challenges per dungeon. Almost every stage has a speed-run challenge, a “Collect 5 Red Skulls” challenge, and a few others with more variety based on level design. Meeting these requirements earns you gear, ammo upgrades, health upgrades, and even guns.

You really have to try some of the optional challenges, if for no other reason that they’re the only feature adding any sort of longevity to the experience. Well that, and replaying with friends for something to do for a couple of evenings.

I don’t know how much this title sells for on Playstation Network, and I don’t like to suggest good price points because we all look for different things in games. But I will say that as a free Playstation Plus game this month, it is one of my favorite free offerings to date. While not a typical Tomb Raider game, or as involved as many dungeon crawling games out there, it’s got great puzzles scattered throughout a relatively laid back, fun game.

Plus you get Egyptian gods shooting guns. That doesn’t happen very often now, does it?

Final Fantasy XV Demo First Impressions

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Feast your eyes on the latest computer-rendered J-pop boy band!

Hubby and I played through the FFXV demo offered with Final Fantasy Type-O a week ago. It supplies hours worth of content to familiarize yourself with and practice the battle system if you’re so inclined. Unsurprisingly, they’ve completely abandoned turn-based battle mechanics for an action-RPG free-for-all open map style. At least FFXIII pretended to be turn based. But, sigh, it seems that SquareEnix aren’t interested in keeping that tradition alive.

As you’ve probably seen in articles or heard in discussions, the cast of playable characters is a sausage party. No tacos allowed. The player controls Noctis, some sort of Prince, and guides around his infuriatingly character trope-filled bro squad. Their outfits are offensive and obnoxious, but not more than the only female character you have meaningful interactions with; she’s a female automobile mechanic who dresses like Megan Fox in her introduction scene in the first Transformers movie. Apparently it’s acceptable in this newest Final Fantasy world for women to show up at work in a GARAGE with their T&A hanging out.

So anyway, we’ve got a prince on the run or something with 4 obnoxious dudes and a broken down car. In order to raise the gil necessary to get it fixed, they decide to chase after a bounty. This particular bounty is on a mean ol’ disfigured, blind in one eye Behemoth. Don’t let his worthless eye and missing horn fool you; he still stomps the floor with these rank amateurs. Then he has the audacity to make you stealth follow him back to his lair.

Yes, you read that correctly: in a demo that, I assume, is supposed to make you WANT to purchase a game upon release, they incorporate a stupid “follow this AI and if it detects you, you have to start over” segment. Are you kidding me?! I kinda wanted to boycott the game more for that than having no good excuse for omitting playable female characters, but then my husband went and pre-ordered it anyway.

Why did he pre-order it?

Not because of the combat system. It’s limited in the demo (when characters level you’re reminded that techniques aren’t available) but you still get a pretty good idea of what it is about. While it isn’t terrible, it is needlessly complicated. It takes a little getting used to, plus the lock on doesn’t really work. The menu says it’s a lock on, but it sort of just moves the camera in the enemy’s general direction. It doesn’t follow them or anything useful like that.

And we’re certainly not in it for the character customization. From the looks of it, the player is only able to control Noctis in combat, and he’s the only character you can equip or do anything with. I don’t think it’s just the demo; I seem to recall reading something about this development decision earlier. If that’s the case, I’m not too crazy about it. We all know how reliable companion AI is in most video games. *Insert eye roll.*

I was at the point where I was getting the similar “Another game with boring, padded map exploration” vibes, about ready to write off FFXV as something not worth more of my time, when this happened:

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Take a close look at his clenched left fist…

Then this happened. Ramuh descended from the heavens to give the Behemoth, (and from the size of it, the entire friggin’ continent) a hefty dose of Apocalypse-style Judgment Bolt. It was enormous and absolutely beautiful. It was the way I envisioned summons should have always been. The most grandiose spectacle I’ve seen in a Final Fantasy game in a long time. After Ramuh had his way with the Behemoth, both of us were staring at the TV in shock, incapable of saying anything besides “Oh my God,” and “That was f***ing awesome.” Having played FF games in their 8-bit glory, this astounded us.

Ramuh’s impressive entrance aside, the demo was so-so. After Inquisition I’m really leery of games with a lot of map wandering. I suppose this means I’ll be playing FFXV for the summons and my franchise loyalty that refuses to die, no matter how many times I try to kill it.

Dragon Age: Inquisition Rant

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Fear my glowing green palm of death!

Steve-O and I finally wrapped up our Dragon Age: Inquisition run a couple of weeks ago. It’s taken me longer than usual to sit down and write this because A.) I had two shorter posts to write, and B.) I wasn’t entirely sure how to properly convey my feelings towards this game. I think the best way to come out with my feelings is to say that I did not completely fall in love with this game like the rest of the internet appeared to have. Aside from complaints about the glitches we come to expect from Bioware games (more on that later), everything I read sang praises about Inquisition. Good story, great characters, excellent battle system, lots to do… So what’s not to love?

Part of me feels like Bioware went overboard with their response to gamer complaints about how limited the setting in DA2 was. Yes, it was a lot of repeated maps and having Kirkwall as the only city was cheap and snooze-worthy. But you know what else is snooze-worthy? Spending 5 hours wandering the same map collecting mats and shards, especially after taking a half-hour detour to get from point A to point B. Between the pointless map wandering and real-time war table quests, you can’t tell me Inquisition isn’t chock full of padded game play hours. I love sandbox games, don’t get me wrong, but make all my wandering at least somewhat engaging. I was bored to tears after an hour of exploring maps to gain Influence that I didn’t really need every time I sat down to play. After suffering through the first couple of maps we committed to doing what we had to do to kill all the dragons and be on our way.

Speaking of the dragons, aside from their elemental weaknesses, the fights are all very samey. For a game titled Dragon Age, you’d think some more work would’ve gone into making the dragon fights feel more varied and exciting. Basically, you fight them to get the loot and that’s it. No epicness is truly felt here.

There’s no epic feelings with the dragons or with the story. Having played DA:O and DA:II I can safely say that the story falls somewhere in the middle between how awesome Origins was and how bland II was. The writers didn’t do themselves any favors by incorporating half-assed time travel crap and a completely cliche main villain. A baddie who wants to be the newest all-powerful god in town? Join the club, buddy.

I think one of the things about Inquisition that irks me the most is the supporting cast. I’ve come to play Bioware games for the characters more than the overall narrative. Sadly, I didn’t like ANY of the new characters. Not a one. Hell, I liked the cast of DA:II better! At least in DA:II the characters I disliked fell into a “Love to Hate” relationship status with me (Aveline) and there was none of that here. The only characters I was interested in were from previous entries: Leliana, Varric, and Cassandra… all, coincidentally, characters we didn’t have the option of romancing either due to our gender or because Bioware says so. We flirted with the idea of romancing a couple different people, like Sera or Josephine, but they eventually turned us off so we decided to fly the game solo.

Plus, we were pro-mage and basically no one else is. Even the mages themselves were against my actions when I expressed favor for freeing the mages. Yeah, makes total sense. Bunch of self-loathing assholes. Vivien can piss up a rope. I can’t stand her.

That’s right: Inquisition is the only Bioware game I’ve played where I did not partake in romancing a character. Compare that with Origins, where I romanced everyone, or Mass Effect, where I was fiercely loyal to Liara (to the point of obsession) throughout the entirely trilogy.

Compounding these complaints with the horrific experience we had the last two nights we played the game really soured our taste buds. The second-to-last evening we spent with Inquisition we partook in the drawn out, fancy-schmancy ball, where our Inquisition rubbed noses with royalty and tried acting like the upstanding citizens we weren’t. Anyway, we had a glitched door that would not load the next room which was, you know, required to proceed with the game. Thinking it was an issue with switching to the digital version from the disc, we deleted the digital version, re-installed the game disc, and played. We researched the issue online (evidently the geniuses at Bioware screwed their game up even further with one of the patches). Realizing our issue was due to a patch and not the way we were playing, we switched back to digital, only to be met with our game refusing to load, period. It wouldn’t work the rest of the night.

We never found out what happened, but the following morning after my PS4 updated it worked fine. Scared that we would lose over 60 hours of progress to more bugs, and getting bored with the game, we decided to plow through the main story mission and move on with our lives.

For this, we were rewarded with two slaps to the face.

First, we made the mistake of trying to bring Cole with us. News flash: If you don’t do his personal quest, you don’t get to use in the final battle. Ugh. Okay, fair enough. But, and here’s where I thought my head would combust, THEY DON’T ALLOW YOU TO GO BACK TO THE INVENTORY AND TAKE HIS GEAR OFF!

In what world does that make any sense?!?!

And because we had no one besides our actively party appropriately geared, we ended up bringing a naked Sera into the FINAL BOSS FIGHT.

And guess what?!

We STILL had the glitch where the final boss fight–ya know, the part of the game that’s supposed to be all super climactic and shit– became broken because we damaged it too quickly.

Yes, you read that correctly. We did too much damage to the final boss before some invisible time frame with a NAKED ROGUE. I’m sorry Bioware, was I not supposed to explore your large, boring maps and do your countless, boring side quests to get better gear and level my characters? I kinda thought that was the point of open-world games.

In the end, we had to reload the game and I picked my nose while the rest of my team whittled away at it because I was too scared to break it again.

Google it, it’s a real glitch. Along with the previous one I mentioned. That’ my friends, is Triple A, Game of the Year material.

I am dumbfounded, to be honest. And I’m also reliving the tragic experience I had with Skyrim when I literally couldn’t beat the game until a patch came out to fix my terrible luck with broken games. Know how I responded to Bethesda for releasing a broken game? I boycotted them.

Now I’m terrified the new Mass Effect with be a broken, glitchy, padded game with boring characters and a lackluster story. And that makes me a sad panda.

Because I really want to play Mass Effect, and I really want it to be good. Like I wanted this game to be as good as everyone said it was.

Plus, if I boycotted every developer that released a broken game I’d be playing nothing but retros and indies. But I guess that’s a tale for another blog post.

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 Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons

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Well, it’s not ONLY on Gameboy Color anymore…

Remember that post I wrote a month or so ago about my frustrating forgetting to save “oops moment?” Well, it was in regards to this game, and I finally went back to it after reading a novel in the interim. I faced my stupid mistake, sucked up my pride, and re-did the dungeon/dungeon and a half that I evidently forgot to save after. I was mostly annoyed with myself for not only forgetting to save, but also for forgetting to abuse the awesome virtual console features on the 3DS. The 3DS has the ability to create a save state on the retro game you’re currently playing, which totally reminds me of playing NES and SNES games on a computer emulator. Nostalgia feels.

This whole game was one big nostalgia feels session for me. My favorite GameBoy game ever is Link’s Awakening. And Oracle of Seasons is stupidly reminiscent of it. I haven’t played its partner game, Oracle of Ages yet, but I suspect its quite similar. The map, menus, and music are all too familiar. Especially the recycled music. Normally I’d complain about recycled music, but I like it so much I don’t even care. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, I tell you.

Oracle of Seasons is named thus because, well, the oracle of seasons has been kidnapped and needs to be rescued. Din the oracle is the damsel of distress du jour that Link has the pleasure of rescuing from Dark Lord Onox. Why? Well, because.

Anyone who has played a LoZ game knows primarily what to expect; 8 dungeons, a world map that is a PITA to explore, and pointless nods to Hyrule and Princess Zelda. Yes, there is a super-hot princess in a faraway kingdom. I get it. But that’s neither here nor there. How about the NPCs spend their one to two lines of dialogue telling me how to get to the next dungeon instead?

Oracle of Seasons is puzzle-heavy, making exploring the world map more of a chore than it really needs to be. On top of using power bracelets, Roc feather and cape, and a metallic glove (basically this game’s Hookshot replacement) to traverse obstacles, Link also acquires a “Rod of Seasons.” This special rod can change the season which alters how Link can interact with the landscape. The Rod of Seasons only works when Link is standing on a special stump. I still can’t wrap my head around why that is, but whatever. So you’ll wander around the map, looking for a stump to change the season to whichever new one you unlocked, without really knowing what you’re looking for. It’s kind of hard to know where the ice will appear or where the snowbanks Link can walk across will show up until after you change the season. Expect to do a lot of semi-pointless wandering around unless you don’t have time for that crap like me and use a FAQ.

A big tree that can’t see to stay awake is always asking Link to save the Essences of Nature between yawns. There are 8 of them (imagine that) and collecting all of them unlocks the final dungeon. As you can probably tell, I’m not too enthused about the “story” (This is Legend of Zelda, after all) nor do I remember much of it after only beating the game last week. Basically after defeating the Dark Lord there is a teaser to the companion game, Oracle of Ages. Then there’s a special code to input when you load up the new game. And vice versa if you start with Oracle of Ages then play Seasons second.

Retro Gameboy games only hold up against the test of time so well. The 3DS save state feature (that I am an idiot and kept forgetting to use) helps immensely. However, aside from adding more buttons to map items to, nothing can be done about the annoying amount of times I had to go into my sub menu to change my equipment. During more than one boss fight I found myself relying on 3 different weapons and tools which required so-many-pauses. THEN, on top of that, if you’re using a slingshot or a seed from the satchel, you then have to select which of the four options you want. And this will happen for more than one boss fight. It’s like, “So… wait… I need to use my sword, and my fire seeds, and my Roc cape, and Pegasus seeds? HOW?!” You get the idea. Not being new to old Zelda games, I expected it, and I’m sure you will too, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying.

Another feature different from Link’s Awakening is the incorporation of pretty jewelry for Link to wear. Just rings, unfortunately. Every ring Link finds has to be taken back to Vasu the jeweler to be appraised. Only then can you find out what useful or useless feature it has. Thank the gaming gods Gale Seeds allow for fast travel in this game or I probably would’ve been walking around with a couple dozen unappraised rings for half the game. Once Vasu tells you what the ring does, you pick from your ring inventory which ones you want to carry around (up to three) and even then you can only equip one at a time. There’s a ring that grants times two sword damage with no repercussions, which makes it hard to care what the other rings do. But a certain ring that takes care of electric damage proves useful during the final encounter.

Not only is there the main world map that’s a bitch, er, puzzle, to explore, this game also has an underworld called Subrosia. I liked this area. It was full of cute, charming creatures who either helped Link along his quest or created mischief. This underworld correlates well to the corresponding map above ground. Navigating in Subrosia was relaxing because there wasn’t really any season crap to worry about. Subrosia mostly has mini games and cutesy chase sequences that are a fun break.

Pretty much everything else is what you’d come to expect from an old Zelda game, recycled music and enemies included! The usual frustrations aside, I couldn’t help but enjoy my time with this brainteaser action-adventure game. If this happens to be a Gameboy Legend of Zelda title you haven’t played, download it for cheap and do it! Me? I can’t decide if I want to download Oracle of Ages or play Link Between Worlds.

Lightning Returns

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Lightning strikes way too many times!

   This month brought the end of the Final Fantasy 13 trilogy that I’m not aware many of us requested! This game is less than a month old, so I won’t touch on plot specifics. How many of us still play JRPGs for their plots, anyway? That’s a whole other beast, for a different post. Instead, this post will be focusing on the gameplay elements of this, well…game.

I imagine creating video game trilogies is a slippery slope, for a variety of reasons. You have to create a cohesive world, a tangible story that spans not just the typical forty hours, but upwards of a hundred, bare minimum. When you’re visiting the same base cast over the course of three games, you could rightfully expect to see considerable growth in the cast. Storytelling aside, however, I think we can expect the same consistency in gameplay elements. I’ve spent extensive time in FF13, I could stomach only one playthrough of 13-2, and am 3/4’s of the way through my Hard playthrough of LR. That being said, this has to be one of the most inconsistent trilogies I’ve ever played.

The battle system had a fair bit of tweaks between 13 and 13-2, but it was still reminiscent of the system that (in my opinion) was a remarkable evolution of the ATB system. Lightning Returns takes things into a wildly different direction by eliminating the rest of the party. With a few exceptions, you tackle the task at hand completely alone, and the Paradigm Shift feature has been replaced by letting the titular Lightning change her outfits and abilities mid-battle. This makes the loss of versatility that a full party would provide a bit less of a sting, and adds a fair bit of customization in giving you (almost) free reign over what parameters and abilities each outfit has. Each garb has, on average, one or two abilities “locked” onto the garb, around which you base the garb’s role. No more Ravager, Saboteur, Commando…you can build a magic-centric role that specializes in debuffs, but has an AoE elemental spell in to boost the Stagger gauge and deal damage. Your melee bruiser can leave a spot available for Deprotect, so he isn’t reliant on another role to optimize his damage. It’s an interesting twist on the battle system, and considering their insistence on limiting you to one character I’d say it works well. I recall statements earlier in the game’s development claiming it eschews the traditional turn-based system in favor of being more action-oriented. I was a bit skeptical when I initially heard this, but when I played the demo I was pleasantly surprised. When I hear “action-oriented RPG”, I think Kingdom Hearts. This game retains most of its ATB system, and despite missing two party members, it retains the structure of its predecessors. It crept toward the realm of ARPGs in a few ways, namely time-based attacks and defenses, and the ability to move in combat. Regarding the former, plenty of RPGs have incorporated timed attacks and defenses into their gameplay; Super Mario RPG and the Shadow Hearts trilogy, to name a few. Regarding the latter, Lightining’s movement speed is so slow that with the exception of a few attacks, the movement aspect does little more than keep all enemies in frame so you can time guards.  You get a select few abilities that displace Lightning in a select direction and can make for some crafty dodges, but the movement aspect sees little use otherwise. I found myself treating the game as its predecessors and disregarding the movement speed due to its slow rate. If I come back to Lightning Returns, I’ll experiment with Fatal Sweep and Evade (displacers) and Sniper’s Gloves (long-distance damage boosting accessory), but the abilities were simply too infrequent to give accolades to the movement system.

Compared to its predecessors, the amount of customization in Lightning Returns absolutely DWARFS the previous two games. Aside from the aforementioned role customization, they imported the cosmetic Adornment system from 13-2. Instead of putting a wind-up knob in a Behemoth’s skull, however, it’s Lightning’s! I’m not sure if that’s better or worse. Some of the adornments mesh very nicely with the myriad of outfits, others will never see the light of day.  The garbs themselves have a surprising degree of color customization, as well. On more than one occasion I found myself changing the outfit colors to match my hat, hair ribbon, or absolutely fetching Tonberry lantern. Lots of fun there, to be quite honest. Aside from a garb’s default colors, you can save three different custom color layouts. You also have a limited amount of customization with passive bonuses on abilities, but I’ll comment on this later.

Now, things are going to get a lot less pretty. The not-so-awesome changes, and the could-have-been-so-much-better changes. The battle system change brought with it a couple of baffling side-effects. Let’s start from the beginning…one character. You control Lightning as she performs her duties leading to the end of the world.  I can understand why you control her alone at the beginning, but as the main quests progress I see little reason why you must engage the rest of your crusade alone. To add insult to injury, the NPCs that could very well be flushing out a party and adding gravity to your quest can be found sitting around their towns, doing absolutely nothing.  When you spend the entirety of the first game banding together against a cruel fate, and the entirety of the second game amassing help from creatures to fight your way through time…why are people just sitting around town letting me do all the work? A little effort here, guys.

But the down and dirty is that you do, in fact, control one character. Which means one death is the end of the fight, unless you use consumables to revive or valuable EP to Arise. The three different active garbs have varying HP values, so your HP can fluctuate wildly as you switch from garb to garb. The biggest point of confusion is the withdrawal of Cure spells. You have a few quirky ways to restore your health, as well as the standard potions (in limited capacity). You could also opt to use your limited EP to heal, but with the other uses of EP it’s difficult to expend it on healing. In Easy mode, you gradually restore health outside of combat. It is confusing to me that, with the drop to a single character, why they would tear the staple healing spell from your repertoire. You’ll be glad to know that the game is balanced enough that Cure spells aren’t -required-, but it’s yet another omission that ostracizes the game from its predecessors.

Yet another violent jarring from what we’ve been accustomed to, is the time limit. Yes, the elephant in the room.  At first, the time limit put a whole lot of stress and pressure on me; you finally cut the reigns and let me do things by the beat of my own drum, but impose a time limit on me? By its very nature, it discourages exploring the open world they finally incorporated. And to an extent, that’s true…until you learn to abuse an early-gained ability called Chronostasis. This is the reason why it’s so difficult to warrant spending EP on Curaga (unless you’re playing on Easy mode…you’re swimming in excess EP, then). You can chain Chronostasis, yes…but then you’re limiting your EP expenditure to remove an arbitrary time limit, which means you aren’t checking out all the other abilities. I’m almost through the game twice and haven’t touched a handful of the abilities. I’ve only used Army of One on accident. When you put a death counter over the head of the player, a lot of us are going to clutch our EP for “oh crap” moments, even when it’s clear they won’t be needed.  I understand the story’s reason for putting a doomsday clock, but it could have just as easy tackled the day situation the way RPGs have for years; days end when you sleep at an inn, or in this case trigger an ability to return you to the Ark and end the day. The story gets its sense of impending doom, and the gamers wouldn’t have been frustrated and rushed through their first playthrough.

I have two huge grievances with gameplay elements of this game, and I’ve saved them for last. First, the levelling system. Talk about a huge step backward.  FF13 is tied with FF10 for what was, in my opinion, the best levelling system in the series. Customization from the ground up, right down to stat distribution as you level. You can beef up aspects according to what role the party needs at any pending obstacle, it was great. Then, FF13-2 completely gutted and dumbed down the system; it was disappointing, but still bore some resemblance to 13’s Crystarium. Then Lightning Returns came along and completely crapped on any sort of customizable character growth with their 3-point fetch-quest-based level system. Instead of killing monsters to gain points to allocate to stats in different roles, you go buy sunglasses at four PM for someone whose too shy to talk to his crush. Then you get a few HP, a couple points of strength and magic, and move on to foot-racing an eight year old to the train station.  Maybe after that you’re up for fetching a book for a goddamned message board. They call them ‘side quests’, but that insinuates that they are optional. And in a sense, they are…if you’re okay with absolutely zero stat growth, by all means ignore them. But if you want the sense of growing more powerful during your travels, gaining the might needed to overcome increasingly difficult obstacles then, by God, I hope you’re ready to sample food from six different restaurants and become a connoisseur of gourmet foods. Never mind the fact that you killed half a dozen eight hundred pound behemoths getting between towns, that doesn’t mean anything. If you want to increase that magical might, you had better be ready to go plant vegetable seeds! To be clear, I have nothing against quest experience; anything that diversifies how you strengthen your character gives you the option to spice things up a bit. But when the only way to level your stats is to accomplish a handful of bland, uninspired quests, there’s a problem. You discourage grinding, and while I’m all for giving alternatives to grinding for level gaining, just removing it altogether is absurd. The problem leads to an effective stat ceiling, and I’m certain I’m not the only gamer out there who thoroughly enjoys grinding to hilariously overpowered levels and dropping bombs on bosses. FF13 had stat ceilings as well, and I was about as fond of them then as I am now.  The level system was nothing short of a travesty. I suppose it’s just as well, considering grinding would be restricted in the game by way of the new Extinction mechanic. This has its ups and downs; the idea that your systematic killing has a lasting effect is kind of nice. The final specimen of a species is stronger, drops more gil and much better loot, so driving monsters extinct has a certain appeal. Just don’t think too much on the moral implications of what is essentially poaching. The other downside is that as you drive monsters extinct, you drive them extinct. No more farming EP to keep Chronostasis rolling, no more farming specific Abilities on later days, they’re gone until your next playthrough.

While I’m on the subject, allowing players to drive a creature extinct that only drops certain items on later days is pretty cruel. Giving the player no in-game indication that they drop said items later is even more cruel…unless I was mis-reading it, I had items listed on the bestiary page that were greyed out. I assumed I was unlucky and kept farming for said item, until the creature was extinct. I hopped onto a message board, only to find that they only drop those items on Hard mode. Oh, okay then. Two or three EP sources extinct and I had to rely on the internet to tell me what was going on? It seems inconsistent, because I’ve had other greyed out items drop; it was a matter of not yet acquiring the item. That makes sense. I can understand that you want to strong-arm us into a replay, but would it have killed you to leave the item drop spots blank, so I don’t farm them into extinction? Having to budget time and freaking monsters as a resource is bad enough, I’d have liked a bit of consistency in when I’m farming for something you won’t even drop in this game mode.

Speaking of forced replay value, my second biggest gripe is that they took the fun out of levelling; that’s pretty awful, but I soldiered on. In FF13 and FF13-2, you level your characters and their weapons and accessories alongside them. In Lightning Returns, you can upgrade weapons and shields, too! That is, after you’ve already beaten the game. Yes, in New Game +, you unlock the ability to do what you could do right at the beginning of the first and second FF13. In the same game that they absolutely eviscerated a decent level system, they also tore the ability to level your equipment until you’ve already beaten the game once. In a game whose overlying theme is restriction restriction restriction, expecting your players to stick around for a second playing is more than a little presumptuous.

The cons outweigh the pros, but when you get over the disappointment of what it could have been had it kept the strengths of the previous games, it’s mediocre in its own merit. If you’re on the fence, give it a few months; you will definitely see a sharp price drop.

Torchlight II

torchlight_2_black_logo_wallpaper-wideTake THIS, Diablo III!

I finally wrapped up a Casual playthrough of Torchlight II this weekend! I preordered the game last summer so I could dabble in the first Torchlight for free for crying out loud! I believe this was when Hubby and I were playing Diablo III as well? My memory of that time period is a bit fuzzy, as my life was a cycle of work, feed baby, change baby, nap, repeat. I do recall being a master at playing games while nursing, burping, and rocking our baby to sleep. I miss those days. I could get away with playing on my PC because my little one didn’t move. Now it’s like I turn my head for five minutes and he’s tumbling down the stairs or something.

Yeah, our computer/gaming attic isn’t toddler-proof, so I don’t get up there very often anymore, unless it’s to use the treadmill when hubby is home. This leaves very little PC gaming time for me. Maybe someday we’ll have the money for a gaming laptop. For the last six months or so when I have the opportunity to sit at my computer for a little while, I’ve been playing Torchlight II.

When I fired up Torchlight II, I decided to be an Embermage. Mages are usually my thing. I love standing back, casting fancy magic, and letting my pet do most of the melee work. My idea worked out pretty good for me. Especially when I discovered Hailstorm. Man, that spell is incredible. There are three elements to choose from: Fire, Lightning and Ice. I decided to stick with the ice element mostly, as it tends to freeze/shatter enemies. And Hailstorm rocks. Did I mention that yet?

The only thing that didn’t work out for me was getting gear with ice damage perks. I swear, these RNG games always seem to know exactly what not to give me; which is always the one thing I actually want. And do you think I could get an enchanter to randomly give me an extra ice damage enchant? Hardly. I got a lot of strength bonuses on my gear, though! I try not to let these pesky aspects get to me in RNG-dungeon crawler games, because I know the whole point for every other player in the world is to farm until your eyes bleed. And at least they don’t expect you to spend real money to get what you want. *Cough*Diablo III*Cough*

Speaking of farming, the random map generator and other goodies you unlock after beating the final boss are pretty awesome features that I wish I had more time to dedicate to. You can start your end-game experiences there, or plunge right into a New Game+.

Fresh after playing Diablo III, I especially loved starting off each gaming session with the following three options: Single Player, LAN, or online mode. The first Torchlight somehow missed online co-op mode, which I find strange for this type of game. For those of you turned off by such a lonely experience, Runic games heard your cries.

I liked this game enough to keep coming back to it when I just as easily could have given up on trying to finish it. Most of the features from the first game return with improvements. I liked teaching my pet spells. Though I did forget to feed him fish a lot of the time. I have fishing relapses from playing WoW and generally find fishing boring, so I didn’t do too much of it anyway. But the leveling, dungeon-exploring, and item collecting were all fun ways for me to pass the time at a casual level. And I don’t doubt it is just as fun for the more hardcore group as well!

Anyone else play this game as a different class and on a (real) difficulty have any input you’d like to share?