Final Fantasy XV Demo First Impressions

FFXV

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:

FFXVRamuh

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.

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Dragon Age II

Dragon Age 2 Cover Art

 

Just like with the Mass Effect video game covers… I have no idea who this well-dressed bloke is.

I absolutely adored Dragon Age: Origins when I played it on the PC a few years ago. Actually, it was the first Bioware game I’d ever played. I fell in love with the characters, battle system, and world. I was completely engrossed in it’s stylish storytelling and relationship building. I hadn’t played a game anything like it before, and I fell in love with it. Under normal circumstances, I’d be the first in line for a sequel to one of my favorite games. Gaming Gods know I’ve forked over my hard earned money to play BAD sequels too many times over. For some reason I listened to the fanbase’s concern this time around and refrained from playing it until Steve bought it used from Gamestop. We decided it was time to get up to speed before Inquisition is released later this year.

All I can say is, I’m glad I didn’t buy this game. And I’m glad my friend didn’t pay full price for it. I wouldn’t necessarily come out and say it is a bad game, per se… I mean, I did enjoy the hack-and-slash approach it took to battle. And the leveling system was solid, mainly because it imitated Origins. Despite my boredom or straight out hatred of some of the characters, their banter was edgy and hilarious most of the time. Unfortunately, it is a shallow and rushed game, evident from beginning to end.

I completely agree with the general sentiment that Dragon Age II has no real feeling of accomplishment. Or, you know, plot. The experience is akin to playing about 30-40 hours of side quests. The first act is, quite literally, doing enough side quests to earn 50 gold. I’m being 100% serious here. And it sets the tone for the entire game, as DAII feels like a string of forgettable side quests with no real purpose. Some of the character-specific quests are interesting, I’ll admit.

After you do a bunch of seemingly unrelated quests, BAM! You’re at the end of the game. The grand climax with no climax at all.  In fact, the only reason I knew we were at the end of the game was because they did a similar “point of no return” room with one-on-one conversations with each party member, akin to Origins and Mass Effect. We were sort of like, “Wait… we’re at the end of the game already?” It wasn’t “already” as in the game was too short (It is shorter than Origins, but long enough for me) but because there were no significant events that felt remotely close to major end game revelations. I don’t know about you, but when I’m getting to the last couple of hours of a really good game, I can feel it in my bones.

As Dragon Age II is sorely lacking in anything else for me to discuss, and Bioware’s main selling point for me is usually the great cast of characters they write, I’m going to talk about all of the cast members and what I hate about them:

Bethany

Here’s Bethany. The main character, Hawke’s, sister, and the reason you can’t side with the Templars in the Mages vs. Templars battle if you have any family values whatsoever. Don’t get too attached to her or start relying on her as your healer. The developers figured you didn’t need a third mage, so they take her away from you for the vast majority of the game. I’m convinced it’s because she was one of the only characters I actually liked. And just to be jerks about it, during the 2/3 of the game you don’t have access to her, they kept her image on the character select screen. Jerks.

Fenris

Here’s Fenris. This game’s version of Zevran, with funky markings and an uncharacteristically deep voice. Most of his dialogue and character background revolves around him whining about his time in servitude and being on the run (even though he’s all settled in Kirkland with his own house and everything. At least Isabela hangs out in the bar). Due to our group dynamics and preferences, we never really used him so I can’t attest to whether he’s useful in battle or not. All I can say is that when he got pissy with me for siding with the Mages and stood against me, I didn’t miss him in the least. Go whine about your crappy life to the Templars. Don’t hold your breath waiting for them to give a crap.

Varric

Behold Varric. I know you can’t tell he’s a dwarf for lack of an abnormally large and/or braided beard, but he is. I wasn’t aware there was such a thing as dwarves without beards until Dragon Age. Anyway, I did actually like him. He’s a sarcastic, opportunistic smart-mouth who also happens to be a bard. As I chose the snarky conversation options 95% of the time, he and I got along smashingly. A lot of his dialogue is funny and interesting. He has a unique equipment trait as well. Unlike the other characters whose weapons you will change out periodically throughout the game, Varric never loses sight of Bianca, his beloved crossbow. His unique skill tree is dedicated to abilities for it/her, and Bianca levels as he does. You can also count on him having something to say every. single. time. you enter The Hanged Man bar.

Merrill

This is Merrill, another pointy-eared, pointy-nosed elf with facial markings who insists on talking funny and using blood magic. She’s so… mousy and naive, despite the fact that she uses BLOOD MAGIC. As cute as it was when Isabela made fun of her, the whole naivety act got old real quick. “Gee, I don’t know why the Dalish hate and fear me. I’m so sweet and innocent and, look, a rainbow!” … “Because you’re using black magic and trying to use a demon to put a cursed mirror back together, you idiot!”

Andersedited

Ugh. Okay. This is Anders. He’s one of the characters I absolutely loathe. First of all, we were barely into act one and he was assuming our female Hawke had the hots for him. Um, no. Not even close. Seeing as how you’re possessed by a demon and in total denial about it, “He’s not bad! His name is Justice for cryin’ out loud!” Then Anders basically blackmails you into accidentally assisting him with doing something completely off-the-wall and “What the hell were you thinking?!” stupid… All for “Justice.” It’s actually revenge, but it’s how he justifies the dumb, uber-violent thing he does. Which, supposedly, the spirit-demon thing didn’t make him do (Yeah, right). As another complete annoyance, because Bethany is taken away from you as a party member for most of the game and Merrill is a Blood Mage, Anders is your only choice for a healer unless you decide to play as a Mage. We played as a Rogue, for the record. And we decided to go without Anders most of the time. That’s how much we disliked him.

Isabella

In case you couldn’t tell from this image, here is our resident T&A for the game. If you care about something silly like her name, it’s Isabela. She’s received a major makeover from Origins. You may not recognize her, but she was the skill teaching pirate you could engage in a threesome with if you played your cards right. Her character hasn’t changed much at all. She really exists just to set the feminist movement back about 100 years. Isabela is a walking stereotype. A hyper-sexualized town bicycle. Or whatever the pirate equivalent would be. I’m not going to pretend I didn’t laugh at her jokes and banter (most of which were quite funny.) After all, we chose her as our romance partner. She’s not the type to get all jealous over us visiting the local harem from time to time. And I didn’t particularly like any of our other options. She’s a great partner in and out of battle, to be sure. I’m still wondering how her assets can be that perky without wearing a Victoria’s Secret Bombshell bra.

Aveline

Here we go. Prepare yourselves for a super rant. This is Aveline. In direct contrast to Isabela, she’s your total Girl Power character. A female TANK, who leads Kirkwall’s Knight Guard. She literally commands respect from dozens of soldiers and works to keep the city (and your party if you didn’t decide to play a tanky warrior) safe. Normally this is the archetype I root for. There should definitely be more woman in roles like this in video games. But there’s a slight problem here… She is an insufferable, holier-than-thou know-it-all. I can’t stand her! And, like Anders, we were basically stuck with her because she’s the only tanking character you get. I’m also convinced the writers either gave her a multiple personality disorder or they were just messing with the players, because she just doesn’t make sense. As in Origins, the decisions you make affect your party member’s opinion of you. Nothing I did ever made her happy, even when I thought it would. Then, when I thought I had her all figured out and started making decisions just to spite her, I’d get friendship points! WTF? At one point in time I gave Aveline a shield as a gift and she even managed to turn that into a negative! Finally, my Hawke was like, “Look bitch, it’s just a gift. Take it or leave it.”

There you have it. This time around, Bioware managed to create an entire cast of characters that I either tolerated  because they were funny or I completely loathed. Well, there’s Bethany, but she hardly counts. They even managed to screw up the cameo appearances from Origins. Alistair, Zevran, and Leliana (My previous flame) all have short, meaningless cameo appearances that left me scratching my head asking “What was the point of that?” Except for Zevran… His cameo appearance existed so he, Isabela and Hawke could partake in a little naughty time together.

This game is so descaled and rushed compared to Origins, I actually don’t blame the fanbase for being disappointed in it. Instead of adding onto the great character customization options and gearing, you barely get to choose what they’re wearing. Weapons and accessories only. The side quests all blend together with the main quests. I only knew what was what when I bothered to check my quest menu. The maps were recycled over and over again, with cheap fake walls put up to cut certain areas off. Overall, the game was bland.

Now that Dragon Age 2 is cheap to purchase, it might be a good idea to pick it up and get caught up before Inquisition comes out. Don’t expect a grand, epic game like Origins or you’ll be disappointed. Instead, look at it as a decent medieval fantasy action/RPG game that thinks it belongs in the Dragon Age universe, and you should be okay.

Vaklyrie Profile

Vpbox

 

Valkyrie’s left leg looks broken…

Yet again, I’ve finally seen a game through to the end after starting and stopping it at least twice. If you’ve been following this blog for a little while you may recall my “10 Most Disappointing Games” list which featured this game. I mainly added it because it couldn’t keep my interest and often frustrated me. With the hype and price tag attached to this game, it was a big disappointment.

With Steve-O’s help, we were able to trudge through it. It’s hard explaining why I restarted this game over and over without understanding the game’s strange mechanics. Valkyrie Profile has a lot of hidden elements which can potentially make or break your experience with it. For starters, there are multiple endings. In order to get the best ending, known as the A ending, you must be playing on a certain difficulty level. That was one of my previous restarts.

**As a short aside, when the game says “Difficulty level” it really means “CONTENT PERCENTAGE.” The only way to explore ALL of the dungeons is to play on Hard mode. If you play on Easy or Normal mode you’ll blow off a lot of extra time because there’s literally nothing else to do.**

Anyway… I don’t remember exactly why I quit the other time, but I’m sure it had something to do with not fulfilling the arbitrary A ending requirements. When the game was re-released for the PSP I got a strategy guide and didn’t pick it back up again until now. I am happy to report Steve-O and I did get the A ending, but unfortunately the Brady  Games guide is about as clear as the game when it comes to explaining what is going in.

Which is to say, not very clear at all.

Valkyrie Profile is a different bird, so to speak. The player controls Valkyrie Lenneth; a Death Goddess who recruits the souls of the dead to become soldiers to fight on Asgard, known as Einherjar. After the prologue and until the conclusion, VP follows a pretty basic formula with random elements thrown in: Start Chapter, recruit soldiers, level soldiers, send 1 or 2 to Valhalla. Rinse and repeat. The soldiers available for recruitment is based on a random game pattern (1-4) that you have no control over or way of knowing without consulting a guide.

There’s an interesting sort of time restriction in place. There’s a war going on, after all. Valkyrie can’t be blowing time partying it up with her new undead friends. Each Chapter (There are 8 in total) has 24 periods. When 24 periods are up, the chapter automatically ends and Valkyrie must endure a performance review from Freya and you get the opportunity to see how the Einherjar you sent up are faring in the war.

Valkyrie Flying

On the world map Valkyrie flies around, searching for areas with abominations to destroy and towns to recruit soldiers in. With the press of a button she will detect either a village or a dungeon. For a character recruitment event, you’re treated to some dialogue (which you’ll see in a cut-scene when you recruit the person) and a white dot pops up on the map. When you go to the village Valkyrie’s search directs you to, you are treated to the recruitment event for a new playable character!

One or two exemptions aside, recruiting new characters is as simple as watching someone die! That’s right. You get a splash of the person’s background and personality, then they get killed, then Valkyrie shows up and the dead person goes, “Of course I’ll fight for Odin, its not like I have much of a choice!” Like I said, its different and kind of weird. The plus side is that through leveling soldiers and sending them to Valhalla, the game encourages you to experiment and use different people. I’m guilty of sticking with the same core group in RPGs. This is nearly impossible in VP. I like it. The game makes it super easy to catch up characters you haven’t been actively using. No, they don’t get EXP when they aren’t with you. Instead, you’re rewarded Event Experience for traversing obstacles and completing dungeons. Which is a whole other can of worms.

VP is one of those games that tries (rather unsuccessfully) to meld RPG and action elements. Dungeon layouts are non-traditional as well. Instead of having an overhead or behind view of the character, it is done laterally. Valkyrie moves left and right. When prompted, you can also move up or down to go to a new room or section. The concept is simple, but the larger areas are very easy to get lost in and the map is nearly impossible to interpret in any helpful or meaningful way. There are obstacles to jump over and sometimes scenery to interact with. More annoying is this strange crystal-creating nonsense. Looks something like this:

Valkyrie Crystal

These crystals serve many functions. They can freeze enemies, be used as jumping platforms, create temporary floating platforms, and be broken down into small building blocks. Unfortunately, the game does little to really explain how to use them. We were probably about halfway through the game when we accidentally realized we could make temporary (almost invisible) shimmery platforms to climb to new areas. Incredibly precise maneuvering with frustrating and poorly responsive controls is required in some of the latter dungeons. The jump delay is a particular nuisance. And for a loot ho like myself who can’t stand the chance of missing out on a good weapon or spell book, the combination of poor platforming and nonnegotiable maps made for many annoying moments. To find out I spent 20 minutes trying to reach a treasure chest that ended up being a low level spell I already had 3 tomes for… I can’t put the fury into words.

The game’s complete disregard for transparency goes well beyond game layout and dungeon crawling into the equipment and inventory management process as well. I’m not completely against figuring stuff out as I go along, but this game is ridiculous. In VP you can turn items into other items, or you can turn them into MP (Materialize Points) and make your own healing items and equipment. We were able to figure that part out. But God help you if you’re trying to make sense of half the stats or descriptions on weapons, equipment and consumable items. Weapons had “Attack Trust” and “Hit Trust” numbers attached to them. Being something I’d never heard of before, I did a quick Google search to find that, according to the gaming community, they didn’t mean anything at all. Nothing noticeable, anyway. Even the skills characters learned in battle had ambiguous descriptions. Figuring out how to execute the abilities in battle didn’t clear our confusion up half the time.

I’m going to take this opportunity to mention that this game either has really bad translations or the writers at Enix have some pretty messed up ideas about what heroic personality traits are. Going along with character skills, there are personality traits you can level or de-level to increase your Einherjar’s Hero Value. Many of the personality traits were downright hilarious. There were many character-specific ones, such as the noteworthy “Hates Men” and “Voluptuous” traits. I’ll let you try to figure out which one is considered a positive or negative hero trait.

Sadly, the mismanagement runs into the battle system as well. There are a couple different types of melee characters (Good luck figuring out who can wear what type of sword and armor after you spend the MP to make them, by the way), archers, and also mages. Each character is assigned a button on the Playstation controller. When you press their corresponding button, they attack with their weapon. Each weapon has a different amount of hits for a total of 3 possible attacks. You can interchange who attacks when. So one character can waste their three attacks breaking the enemy’s Guard, which is an annoyance I won’t get into, and the other three can take turns pummeling the enemy. Certain weapons can launch enemies into the air or put them on the ground. Hitting enemies while they’re in the air yields extra experience.

Mages will cast the corresponding spell you’ve assigned to their “attack” slot. You’ll hardly ever want mages to do that. Why? Well, because if you spend extra time accessing the battle menu to cast the same spell, it will be an AoE spell instead of a single target spell (not all of them, you get the pleasure of figuring it out yourself) and chances are the mage will one-shot or nearly one-shot everything. Yeah, the game wants you using mages, in case you couldn’t tell. Steve-O found that little tidbit out by browsing online. No in-game tutorials told us that life-saving fact. I can’t imagine completing some of the late-game dungeons without abusing this feature.

If your mage doesn’t happen to end the battle in one stroke, they then get to sit on their thumbs for about 6 turns because their wait time is super long. This means you don’t get to use them as item dispensers or anything… they just get to waste space. Wait-time reducing skills notwithstanding, that is. By the end of the game we still couldn’t understand why certain characters couldn’t take their turns when we thought they could, and vice versa. About halfway through the game we stopped trying to figure out the minor details. Coincidentally, this was also when dungeons started featuring random encounter enemies with no weaknesses, mountains of hit points, and AoE attacks that can do more damage than your characters have for hit points. Or, God forbid, the only weapon they can actually be touched with (Beast Slayer, Dragon Slayer, etc.) broke and you have NO other options for whittling down their HP for more than 1 point at a time. I am NOT exaggerating.

This is an original Playstation game. I won’t comment on the graphics except to say they’re about standard for the generation and there are a handful of anime-style cut-scenes. The character designs aren’t particularly good. In fact, the character images displayed when they speak are laughable. Half of the time they’re cross-eyed and the colors don’t match what their sprites look like. It is almost as hilariously awful as the voice acting and dialogue! Most of the music isn’t outstanding, but I do like the battle theme. And you’ll be sick to death of the character recruitment music by the end of the game.

The end of the game… Yeah. As I said, we got the “best ending” which, of course, was a nonsensical, contrived happy ending. I almost feel obliged to say the extra precautions we took to ensure we got the best ending were worth it, but I don’t. I don’t want my happy ending if it is uninspired and predictable. However, I did like the Norse Mythology the story relied very heavily on. I think Norse lore is severely under utilized compared to Greek Mythology. While I don’t feel that the writing, or actually the entire game, was uninspired, I do think it doesn’t quite accomplish what it hoped to. VP is one of those games that suffers an identity crisis. In this case it happens to be “Am I an RPG or am I an action game?” Yes, there are examples of excellent games that manage to merge two different genres together splendidly. This is not one of those examples.

Complete and utter randomness; from what characters you will be able to recruit to dungeons you can access, compiled with terrible descriptions for items and equipment, topped with bizarre enemy weaknesses and difficulty, lent to a pretty bad taste in my mouth when all was said and done. For the price my husband paid to bag a copy of this somewhat rare game at the time, I’d say it isn’t really worth it. You’d have to be a complete RPG enthusiast or video game collector to shell out more than $20 to play this. Besides, it got a PSP port only a handful of people bothered to play. Of all the classic over-hyped RPGs to try scrounging up and playing, I wouldn’t put this one on the top of my list. Which is a shame, because I found the concept and Norse Mythology base unique and interesting. From a game play standpoint, I found it tiresome and annoying more often than I’d hoped.

The Last Story

Last_Story_Box_ArtThey call it “story,” I call it “pile of recycled cliches.”

I love JRPGs. Playing Final Fantasy VIII opened a new world to gaming that was previously restricted to platformers and puzzle games. But as I get older and more jaded, I can’t help but notice that the more things change, the more things stay the same. I’m impressed by the snazzy new battle system, but all the JRPG tropes plaguing this genre which is dying with Western audiences are present and accounted for.

One of the main selling points for Final Fantasy veterans like myself are the big names slapped on the front of the package. Hironobu Sakaguchi, old Final Fantasy executive producer, and renowned composer Nobuo Uematsu, reunited for this project. As usual, Nobuo does not disappoint. I’m planning on downloading this soundtrack sometime soon. There are a handful of memorable tracks I’d love to have on my iPod.

The main positive of The Last Story is the fresh, engaging battle system… for the first half of the game or so. I’ll do my best to explain the highlights. It’s one of those games that feels fun and quick to pick up at first, but five hours into the game when you’re still getting battle tutorials it’s like, “Oh, wow, there’s a lot more to this than I thought.” Which is okay, but then it turns into annoying, gimmicky fights later on that get old when you have limited control of your ally AI actions.

In The Last Story, you’ll be playing as a ragtag band of mercenaries, joined by a magic-centric noblewoman. The main character is Zael, a swordsman with a crossbow, who you’ll take control of most of the game. There are small missions when he isn’t present and someone else will head the party. Otherwise, you’re stuck with Zael because he’s the main character, and therefore granted special powers and issues the commands even though he isn’t the merc’s leader. The Last Story is an action-RPG. Player characters and enemies are free to wander the battle area as they see fit. Controlling Zael’s basic physical attacks is as simple as approaching an enemy. There are weird stealth elements weaved into the battle system. Zael can hide behind pillars and around corners to slash at enemies for extra damage, or shoot an arrow to draw their attention. There’s also an ability called Vertical Slash. I hated using it because it requires running against a wall for about five seconds before he decides to run up and perform the move. And that’s IF you’re actually running against a wall and not some other flat vertical surface like a pillar. Those are no nos, silly me.

Zael doesn’t have any magic spells, per se, but he has special abilities to add some flavor. He obtains the Gathering ability early on. This performs a few necessary functions in battle. The most noteworthy of them is the ability to revive fallen party members. Here’s where the battles play a bit differently from most other games I’ve played. There are no usable battle items. None. So, there’s no worrying about consumable pools of magic or anything like that. How does one revive fallen party members, you ask? For each fight, all the characters have 5 expendable lives each. When they go down, they’ll automatically revive after a set amount of time. It feels like forever, but I’m sure it’s more like 10-15 seconds. If you’re in a hurry for your healer or DPSer to wake up, Zael can revive them with a touch if Gathering is active. Pretty handy. If the main character loses all 5 lives, it is a Game Over. If you happen to get a Game Over, do not fret. Manual saves and checkpoint saves are abundant so you won’t lose much progress.

Another unique ability is the “Gale” skill. This creates a fascinating element to battles I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. The party mages only have two spells a piece. Doesn’t sound like a lot, I know, but check this out: Every spell is cast as a circle on the floor, so it has an area of effect. Heal circles are a white circle on the ground that the characters must stand in to heal, for example. BUT every spell also has a secondary effect that triggers when Zael uses the Gale ability inside of it. When the Recover spell gets dissolved, it heals and removes negative status effects for all characters. When Yurick’s Fire circle is active, that element is added to any of your physical attackers standing inside of it. When dissolved, it lowers enemy defense. I found this unique twists to typical action-RPGs an awesome breath of fresh air.

Until the boss fights roll around. Then the lack of control over the AI characters gets frustrating. The only time Zael can issue commands to party members is when a certain segmented bar is full. Not a big deal when leveling or fighting trash. Boss fights are an entirely different story. There always seems to be one specific spell or ability that has to be performed in order to do any damage to the boss. Calista will be all, “Zael, use my barrier!” without bothering to cast the damn spell herself. You’d think that between only having TWO spells to cast the AI could be bothered to use the right one on it’s own. But it refuses, so you have to go through the command option whenever the bar is full to tell them to do it, only to turn around and use Gale to trigger the madatory diffusion effect. By the way, Gale uses one segment of the SAME bar that must be filled to issue a command.

See where I’m going with this?

This process made tricky and end game bosses really annoying. If only there were a way to preset the AI. I would’ve been happy with just being able to tell the mages to favor offensive or defensive. Guess the developers  couldn’t have been bothered with that. All but one of the characters favor either magic or physical. But Lowell, the only party member who isn’t particularly better at either, has one magic command and one physical command. What the AI had Lowell doing at any given point is anyone’s guess. I just gave him the best sword available after equipping my physical attackers and hoped for the best.

One of my RPG pet peeves is what I like to call “party raping.” Being party raped means the game is constantly throwing certain party members in and out of the party, leading to frustration when I get to like certain characters but don’t determine when I actually get to use them. The Last Story constantly does this. In fact, it never doesn’t do it. Unless you’re fighting in the optional Arena, you will never choose who participates in the active fights. This didn’t annoy me as much as I thought it would for two reasons:

1.) You’re always given access to non-active character’s equipment screens, so you can take back that awesome sword that isn’t being used whenever you want. Even during battle.

2.) Character customization in this game is so shallow that there isn’t much to miss out on. The game will hook you up with whatever mage (AKA- spell du jour) that you need for the gimmicky boss fight. I learned to be happy with that.

The equipment menu is not very involved either. Each character can wear one chest piece and one leg piece. Armor and greaves. Keeping it simple. All armor can be dyed when you collect the proper mats, in case you’re getting bored with the default templates. There’s even a couple side quests that will give you invisible dye upon completion. That’s right. Invisible dye. Nothing like shamelessly exploiting pixels to satisfy those rogue “I wonder what Syrenne’s bra looks like” thoughts.

Throughout the game you’ll pick up items which can be used to level equipment up to +9, depending. First you’ll only need moola, then gnome copper, then gnome silver, then gnome gold, for example. As you progress, the necessary items for upgrading become more and more rare. I only had maxed armor for Zael by the end. I had better luck with the weapons, but they capped at +5. As weapons and armor level, they gain extra perks which is nice. I had Zael equipped with weapons that had a Death on hit percent chance, and it procced a lot! No complaints there.

Acquiring mats for upgrading and such is typical RPG fare. Treasure chests and enemy drops. The trick in Last Story is that every drop is random. I’m not entirely sure how it works, but when a chest is opened or an enemy drops something, a reel quickly cycles through a list that looks something like random piece of armor, or random arrow type, or random weapon. I felt like I got quite a bit of rares out of this. Oh, and enemies also drop permanent stat boosts! While traveling dungeons, sewers and whatnot, Zael and his companions stumble upon summoning circles. Triggering the Gathering ability on these summon circles makes enemies pop. I loved this method of grinding for a game with no random encounters. I spent a good half hour or so at each summoning circle, leveling and picking up stat boosts at the same time!

I used to play JRPGs for the story. Not anymore. The Last Story really solidified that for me. It’s really a conglomeration of predictable and recycled plot points with medieval fantasy elements thrown in. For example: The very first time Zael meets the game’s love interest, I was having childhood flashbacks from watching Disney’s Aladdin. Remember when Aladdin meets Jasmine in the market place and she’s all, “What? I have to pay for this apple?” …Yeah. The same exact thing happens in this game. I was in shock. Then they run away from the guards together? A huh. I’d eat my own shoe if the writers of this game were hooked to a polygraph and said they’d never seen Disney’s classic Aladdin movie. Then there’s the typical cheesiness of characters apparently being on the brink of death so they can spout some heart-wrenching sentiments, yet five minutes later they’re remarkably better and fighting alongside you in battle. Stuff like this just makes me roll my eyes.

The characters are mostly cookie cutter stereotypes, if you can fathom that. I couldn’t help but like Syrenne, the rough-around-the-edges lush with a hot accent. As it turns out, she and Lowell (the playboy) have some kind of history together, but you’ll never know what it is unless you do the easy-to-miss side quest. I missed it, naturally, so I really know nothing about either of them from before the game began. The rest of the playable characters do get fleshed out histories, which I appreciate.

While I’m talking about the way the story is written, I have another retrospective thought to throw out there. Not only are side quests easy to miss, but so are complete chapters! Imagine, complete chapters can just be ignored. Can you imagine reading a book and having multiple chapters with content not required in order to get the complete story? What would we consider those in a video game? Oh I know… side quests! I’m not entirely sure how they figured what was considered a “Chapter” compared to a “Side Quest” but it’s got me scratching my head. Pretty sure if I handed in a manuscript and there were entire chapters that weren’t necessary the editor would shred and burn them.

The actual side quests are very easy to miss. Somewhere along the line I was under the impression it was getting to be normal and expected for NPCs with available quests to have some sort of indicator above their heads. But after playing this game and Lightning Returns, I’m coming to the realization that this is not the case. I’m good at speaking with NPCs my first go ’round of a city, but I can never remember where they are when it comes time to turn the quests in. Plus there’s no quest log in the main menu to remind me of the quests. Not good for someone like me who sometimes only gets to play on the weekends. And my memory is crap. All in all, I didn’t get many side quests done. I did season 1 of the arena multiple times. I repeated the fights in season 2 a couple of times, but when the gamblers outside offered me the same lowly rewards they did for the easier fights, I stopped bothering.

I also found about 90% of the scenery to be bland and boring. Kind of depressing, considering how short the game is for a JRPG. There is only one main city, a castle, and a handful of other areas to explore throughout the game. I appreciate games not padding hours just because. That actually drives me nuts. But with such a limited scope, I can’t believe they had the nerve to bring me back to the starting dungeon near the end of the game. I really didn’t need to see that boring Reptid cave again, thanks. I’ll take that pitch black room before the final boss fight as their pivotal moment of creativity.

Oh, the final boss fight. The plot is so predictable, if you didn’t see this one coming then I’m going to assume you skipped over the cutscenes. Actually, you don’t skip cutscenes, you fast-forward through them which is funny because letting the button go prematurely makes the cutscene play out with no audio. But the character’s justification for everything is just plain stupid. Like most of the story. I hate this boss fight because I died about three times. Every death was at the final form. For a game so generous with checkpoints, I find it weird there weren’t any between the boss forms. Don’t bother trying to kill the final boss if your levels aren’t in the mid-60’s. I was level 62, died three times, reloaded my last save (because you’re blocked off from just turning around into the next room where the summon circle is) and grinded until 66. Then I killed the boss with relative ease.

Was I rewarded with a happy ending and credits? Not right away. For some reason there are FOUR epilogue chapters to complete after the final boss fight to actually see the ending. Completely unnecessary and anti-climatic. I killed the final boss, okay? Give me my happy ending, staff roll, and ask me if I want to save my file for a New Game+. Why on earth should I have to do another boring dungeon with a spider boss fight to see something that could just happen after the narrator does the whole, “Here’s everyone rebuilding Lazulis castle for the THIRD time. But hey, Zael and his friends are legends and stuff.” The end. That might’ve been this game’s one go at padding gameplay hours. My only guess is that they were like, “Oh no, gamers can beat this RPG in only 20-something hours… we better add some crap!”

There is also online multiplayer, but with Nintendo turning off online support for Wii and DS, I suppose I won’t ever get around to checking it out.

I know this post comes off as a rant, but I did like this game and can picture myself playing it again down the road. Like Xenoblade Chronicles (which is definitely a superior game), it is a breath of fresh air from the rest of the wii offerings. If you want to give this game a shot, I only advise you disregard the title and don’t think about the story very much. I think the few paragraphs I wrote about The Last Story in this blog was more effort than the writers put into writing this “story” themselves.

But at least I can make my character’s armor invisible.

Parasite Eve Replayed!

Parasite_Eve_CoverartOh, the things I learned about mitochondria… Like how to use it as hair gel.

Parasite Eve and I have history. Good history, in fact (minus my first attempt at the final boss but we won’t go down THAT memory lane). I like this game enough to bestow upon it an honored slot on my video game top ten list! Recently, I decided to fix slcantwell’s egregious oversight of never playing this Squaresoft gem. So, we plodded away at this 10-ish hour game for a couple of weeks and finally ended Eve’s spawn last night.

There will be no mention of the Chrysler Tower or collecting hundreds of pieces of junk in this review. 99.9% of the time we hang out we have two little people running around. Ain’t no mommies got time for crazy optional stuff. I did the Chrysler Tower years ago and leveled Aya to 99, but never ever will I farm junk for Wayne. Unless the reward was a picture of his junk or something.

My point is, this was a quick run-through so she could experience this overlooked classic. She wanted to know what all of my fuss with PE was about, anyway. And I wanted to test my memory with a few things. Turns out, the overly-critical academic actually liked the game and my memory was, well, what I expect it to be nowadays.

For those of you who haven’t played this game (go download it from PSN and play it now, fools!) it’s a very unique experience; even stacked against gaming offerings released in the two generations following the Playstation. When I first played Parasite Eve, I was 16 and my love of RPGs was newfound. I’d played Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and probably some other ones, and Chrono Cross. Squaresoft could do no wrong in my eyes (Oh, how times have changed). When I saw this game with female lead characters made by Squaresoft, toting a unique action system with a sci-fi vibe, I ponied up the cash immediately. It’s rated M (17+) and thankfully Gamestop didn’t care about age-appropriate suggestions at the time. PE was released after FFVII. They even use that as a selling-point on the packaging. You know, “Coming from the makers of Final Fantasy VII,” or something like that. It might’ve been a little misleading, since you can’t really compare the two. Yes, they are both RPGs made by the same company, but they’re of different breeds. Obviously, Final Fantasy games are fantasies, set in whole new worlds which take hours to establish and explore. As I mentioned, Parasite Eve is a science fiction tale. It’s based on a Japanese novel, which also has a movie adaptation with the same name. I’ve played/read/watched them all. The video game adaptation is almost like a sequel to the novel, taking place in New York City.

And gaming gods help me, even stating the plot premise is going to sound ridiculous. The game is about saving humankind from their own mitochondria.

There, I said it.

The story is as chuckle-inducing B-movie cheesy as it sounds. And then some. Especially with the delivery, which is done through completely over embellished dialogue. “…” and “…!?” and “WHAT THE…!” are beaten to bloody pulps, they’re used so much. All these years later, I’m still not sure how someone would speak and/or express “…!?” Someone please link or send a video of this expression being performed. In between the “…” pauses, the characters will most likely be talking about evolution and mitochondria. The idea is that “Mitochondria Eve,” (the title given to the first female ‘discovered’ when the human genome was traced back to its origins somewhere in Africa) has finally manifested and decided to take control from the humans, their ‘vehicle’ used to ‘create the perfect environment for them.’ I’ve gotta ask how modern-day New York City was their envisioned utopia. To be fair, the silly premise is backed up by scientific facts and if you pay attention you might learn a few things. Like, did you know that if all the mitochondria in a human’s body worked together at the same time they could produce 200,000 volts of electricity? This fact is used to justify humans erupting into flames at the drop of a hat all over the place. If they aren’t getting barbequed by their own mitochondria they’re melting into blobs of mitochondrial ichor to become the uterus for the Ultimate Being; AKA- final boss fight. And what a final boss it is! We’re talking multiple forms, along with a one-hit-kill-one-wrong-turn-will-cost-you-chase-sequence- at the end. This definitely ranks high on my RPG final boss fight list.

So what hope could humanity possibly have against their own mitochondria which can fry them to crispy bits if they so (apparently) desired? The main character, of course! Aya Brea, a rookie cop in New York City, becomes the hero. Thanks to dumb luck, really. Without giving away too much about her ties to the main baddie, her mitochondria underwent a different mutation, becoming a natural enemy to the “master race” mitochondria. In terms of game play, this manifests itself in the form of “Parasite Energy.” Think of it as magic spells. Parasite Energy offers itself in both offensive and defensive ways. You can heal, remove status effects, cast Preraise, and transform into your own version of a mitochondria angel of death. The spell is Liberate. And it changes everything. Be absolutely sure you don’t leave the final zone, the museum, without it. Using Parasite Energy is much like casting magic in other RPGS; you open up your menu and select whichever spell you wish to cast from a list. It is a consumable resource (Can’t make things too easy now), but instead of having items to replenish your PE stock, you must wait for the PE bar below your health to fill on its own. This method means you are cramming less items into your already limited inventory, and it also adds another layer of strategy. After casting a few spells, you’ll notice the bar filling up slower and slower, until you’ve come to the point when you’ve used all the medicines you brought along and your PE still hasn’t replenished to the point when you can  cast Full Cure. One way to bypass this is to change your armor. For whatever reason, this resets your PE charge rate. But it means you have to gamble utilizing a turn to change into inferior armor, risk taking more damage instead of inflicting damage or healing.

Aside from PE energy, the battle system is a bird of it’s own feather. You have a traditional ATB, like many RPGs. While the ATB is filling, you have control of Aya, and must dodge enemy attacks in the designated battle screen. Enemies can bite, shoot fireballs or poisonous gas at you, or grab you. Speaking of poisonous gas, poison sucks in this game! Sucks as in don’t get hit by it because it inflicts a substantial amount of damage. You can mod your armor to have “anti-poison” which is a joke. The game doesn’t tell you what the percentage resistance is, but seeing as how I wasted a mod permit to add a slot for it and the next fight I got in I was poisoned…  it wasn’t worth it. Anyway, when it’s Aya’s turn to perform an action, she attacks with good old-fashioned guns. Something I get sick of seeing in today’s video game market, but back then it was fresh and different. I’d only really played platformers and fantasy games with funky swords and magic until then. There are rifles, shotguns, machine guns, rocket launchers… all sorts of goodies. I really enjoy the simple yet satisfying method of improving Aya’s arsenal. Weapons and armor (of which you can only equip one of each at a time) come with three parameters. They also may or may not have additional effects; i.e. 2x attack, item capacity increases, elemental damage… stuff like that. Added parameters and effects can be moved with a Tool from one gun or armor to another. You can shift ALL THREE parameters from one gun or armor to another. Alas, unless you have a Super Tool you can only move one added effect at a time. Each gun or armor has a pre-designated number of effect slots. But with a mod permit or trading card you can add more. For guns I recommend 3x attack, burst, and whatever else. We went with poison… it rocked. Enemies fell to poison while Aya’s ATB was charging many times for us. With armor you can add HP+, extra item capacity, status ailment resistances (which aren’t reliable) or PE boosts.

Changes are, you’ll spend the bulk of the game with the same gun and armor, boosting their stats through the roof. A great feature of Parasite Eve is the ability to carry over your weapon and armor of choice into New Game Plus. Give them a snazzy name, and they’ll come with you into subsequent adventures. In New Game Plus, you’ll want to  continue boosting their stats to the point where barely anything touches you and then take on the Chrysler Tower. I said I wasn’t gonna talk about that optional 99-floor nightmare, but I just want to make the point that there is additional content worth doing after completing the initial adventure.

Aya also levels relatively traditionally in RPG terms. You gain experience for killing mitochondria mutants, level, and your stats increase. If you’re lucky Aya will learn a new PE spell. You will always gain Bonus Points (BP) which can be applied in a plethora of ways. When selecting the BP section of the menu, you’ll be given the option to increase Aya’s ATB recharge rate, her item capacity, or one parameter on any weapon or armor of choice. Again, very simple, but that’s what I like. Hard to screw up or forget.

The game never leaves New York City, but the scenery doesn’t get stale. You’ll go to Central Park, Soho, and even the Statue of Liberty before all is said and done. The only zone I really don’t like is the sewers. And that’s because sewers in RPGs and I have a tumultuous past. Meaning I hate them. The sewers in PE are terrible because they’re like a grid maze with annoying enemies that blind and treasure that’s so good you won’t want to risk missing it. I like every other area in the game available for exploration; even the large National Museum of Science at the end, though I find it easy to get lost in there, too. But who am I kidding? I’m basically an expert at getting lost in games.

I mentioned the cheesy dialogue delivery and story line, so perhaps I should mention the characters and other bits of presentation. The wonderful irony in this game is that you’d expect there to be all sorts of female stereotypes, given the main character is a young women (blond and skinny, of course, but let’s not get too carried away!). I personally found the more obvious stereotypes directed towards the all-male supporting cast. Daniel, Aya’s partner at the precinct, is an “angry black man” who punches out more than one person before the game is over. Maeda, a scientist from Japan, is your typical Japanese man who can’t manage a coherent sentence around a pretty girl. And Aya, the main character, is a rookie cop hesitant hero type, but there isn’t much emphasis placed on the fact that she has a vagina. In the opening of the game she goes to an opera with a date, who remains nameless and you never hear about him again after she elbows him the hell out of her way when he’s freaking out about dying. By all rights, he should have erupted into flames along with the rest of the audience. I’m okay with this particular plot hole because without it we’d never get to experience him saying, “Oh Jesus… I… I don’t want to die…!” before Aya knocks him over with her shoulder and he is never heard from again.

Yeah, this game has a lot of plot holes like that. They’re mainly silly things, like “I was ahead of him, how did he get to this room before me?” But there are some significant ones, like, “How did that Navy Admiral know Aya is the only one immune to Eve’s powers?” My favorite, however, is the very unlikely evacuation of NYC in ONE night. Hah!

For its release date, PE’s graphics were pretty good. I love the soundtrack and listen to it quite often, minus the recycled bad opera tracks. This is before the time of voice acting, so there’s no worrying about bad VAs. Looking back without my fangirl lenses on, I realize this game has quite a few flaws and comes across as pretty silly 90% of the time. But in terms of gameplay, it is still a unique and fun experience while offering a challenge. One of my main gripes is how difficult leveling is. there are no random fights and enemy spawn rates are quite low until you get to the final zone. And after leveling Aya to 99 once, I have no desire to spend hours leveling there probably ever again (Levels don’t carry over into New Game Plus, in case you were wondering).

If you’re a fan of Squaresoft before the disastrous merge with Enix and haven’t played this game yet, do it already!

Dead Island: Riptide

deadisland-riptide-all-all-packshot-ps3-esrb11

 

I made the mistake of waiting over a week to sit down to write this review after Steve-O and I completed our initial run-through of this game, so my thoughts aren’t as fresh as when the credits ran. For better or for worse, my review of this follow-up to the sleeper hit zombie-slaying 2011 release is what I anticipated it would be before I even played the game. I expect this to mean one of two things: either the video game industry has become way too predictable or I play too many video games.

For those of you who haven’t been following my blog for very long, I’ll give you a little run-down on our history with Dead Island here at Hardly Hobbies. Steve-O and I both happen to be fans of RPGs and gratuitous zombie violence. We stumbled upon Dead Island far too late and became hooked. I gave it a sterling review and both Steve-O and I have placed it on our Favorite Games of all Time lists. Dead Island‘s faults add to its charm. The entire experience is akin to a badly written B horror movie… In all of its unpolished, glitchy, cheesy glory. It usually doesn’t take itself too seriously. And that is what we love about it.

I watched some gameplay footage and interviews with developers before Dead Island’s successor released. My initial assumption was this: the next game will be more of the same, and they won’t bother to fix any of the obvious issues with the first one. I am pleased to say this entry is more of the same. I am not so pleased to report they didn’t take the time to fix many of the glaring issues with the first. Open-world games always seem riddled with bugs, and Dead Island is no exception. Unlike, say, Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, I haven’t stumbled upon any game breaking bugs (my Bethesda boycott still stands, TYVM). But there is a crap-ton of glitchy quest trackers, zombies miraculously running through walls, and weapons disappearing into the void when you throw them. With that being said, dead zombie bodies still twitching while stuck halfway through a fence is part of that unpolished charm I love so much about it.

What kills me is when they don’t bother fixing dumb things that don’t take any creativity to fix because the riddles were solved back in the 90’s. For example: inventory management in this game is still horrific. Why can’t I tell the seller how many of a particular item I want to buy instead of clicking the confirmation button 99 times? Why can’t I just hold the down direction to scroll through my inventory? Why can’t I organize my hundreds-of-random-items-long inventory? Why does the game keep randomly equipping a different weapon on my character? Like I said, elementary stuff.

Riptide captures the soul of the Dead Island experience, even with the additions I’ll be discussing momentarily. At the expense of mini-spoilers (haha!) the plot is mostly predictable. The main characters from the first game escape Banoi, only to stumble upon yet another zombie-infested island. This time around, there is another immune character to add to the roster: John Morgan. I know him as the Aussie veteran with a bad attitude and a Big Boot! Steve-O and I debated for a while as to whether we should import our level 40-something Xian from the previous save file or start over as John. When we found out you don’t carry over any inventory and would therefore be fighting level 40-something zombies with level 10 knives, we decided against Xian. Plus we’d heard John can really kick zombie butt. And oh, does he kick zombie butt. John kicks zombie butt across rooms, streets, and flooded alleyways. Literally. His electrifying uppercut is nothing to shake a stick at, either. Not only can he pound zombies to kingdom come with his knuckles, he also gets ridiculous health regeneration skills as well. Yeah, he is my new favorite zombie killing machine.

Aside from adding a new playable character, they also added new zombies to kill. Walkers and Infected are still the most populous of them all. There’s plenty of Floaters and Thugs. I don’t know why, but I had a harder time differentiating Thugs from regular zombies at a distance compared to the last game. I would have enjoyed more Rams and Butchers, we didn’t stumble upon too many of them. The new zombies are Drowners and Screamers. Drowners are wet zombies who jump out at you while you’re in the boat or running across water. They also never drop loot EVER. Screamers are absolutely annoying because they scream (surprisingly), and in doing so they stun and/or knock you down and invite all of their zombie friends to pummel you in your incapacitated state. But at least they drop good loot most of the time.

The last main feature that really stood out from the previous game for me were the barricade defense missions. At different plot intervals you get to set up barricades and fight off invading zombies with the rest of the survivors and cast from the first game. These quests are often hectic, but fun. As John they weren’t usually too difficult, until you found yourself fighting groups of zombie mini-bosses and every NPC suddenly needs your help fending off a particularly friendly zombie. I can see the point of these, but they became frustrating because I found it really stifling my creativity. In some zones the game has mounted guns you can use to pick off the zombie hordes. So I’d be all, “Sweet, I get to use a mounted machine gun!” or whatever, but by the time I got my butt up there the NPCs would start crying for help. I give up on shooting zombies, go find the NPC, and sometimes by the time I got there they’d changed their minds and took care of the problem themselves. After the zombies broke down the barricades (assuming the game gave me time to set any up) and all my mines/bombs/grenades went off, I gave up on the guns and went all  fisticuffs.

With the pathetic way Xian, Purna, Sam B and Logan defend themselves against zombie hordes in Riptide, it seems nearly impossible that they survived the events of the first game. I thought it was ironic that I was playing as John and doing item fetch quests for all of them. They’re immune too, (obviously!) but they stand around with the survivors and not one of them volunteers to go with you while you’re getting piles of random crap for everyone. I agreed all too well with John when he would intermittently cry out, “Why am I the only one doing this?!” It would’ve been cool if you could select a character escort to accompany you while questing since developers seem adamant about making local co-op obsolete nowadays. I’m not really into playing with strangers online in games that aren’t arcade fighters or free-for-alls.

And that about sums up my two cents with Dead Island: Riptide. As many other reviewers stated; if you enjoyed the first Dead Island, you’ll enjoy Riptide. Killing zombies by punting them across the screen never got old. The game was so much fun that I usually forgot about the redundancy and absurdity of it all. I’m hoping Steve-O will have time to write a supplemental post regarding the other playable characters that he revisited, as I’ve only experienced this game with John so far. I’m tempted to load Xian and give zombies a whack with the BBQ blade I received via retail bonus code, but I’m not sure slicing off zombie limbs is as satisfying as dismemberment by a great big boot to the chest cavity.

Dead Island

“Thank God I found you, I was lost without you…”

Honest truth: Whenever I considered how to begin this blog post, that song by Mariah Carey always came to mind. Not because I think Mariah and the 98 Degrees men would do well during a zombie apocalypse, but because that’s how much I love this game. Srsly. A zombie apocalypse open world exploration action/RPG? Why hasn’t anybody thought of this before? Why haven’t I thought of this before? Genius, simply genius. Part of me is glad I waited so long to play Dead Island, because I have less time to wait for Dead Island: Riptide to be released.

There are four characters to choose from, each with their own specialty. Sam B, who is responsible for the ridiculous rap song in the intro, is a blunt weapons specialist. Purdy is a firearms specialist. Logan is a throwing redneck ninja. And Xian, who I finally decided on, is a blade specialist who happens to be Asian. And cross-eyed. I mean, glaringly cross-eyed. I don’t know how I missed it while choosing my zombie scourge, but in every cut scene during the game I noticed it. It is one of those, “I can’t look but I can’t look away” things. I think the part about her being a disappointment to her father has more to do with her physical appearance than her occupation. Oh, those strict Asian fathers…

Speaking of cultures and stereotypes, I will say this: I am easily fooled by the unauthentic accents in, say, the Assassin’s Creed series, but the conglomeration of accents in this game is laughable. There should be a mini-game where the player has to guess what country the NPC they’re talking to is supposedly from. When the “Russian” approached us with a quest, he said, “My name iz Nikolai…” and my friend and I burst into laughter. OF COURSE your name is Nikolai… Really. Are men in Russia named anything else? And the indigenous tribesman near the end who all speak perfect English? With Ope, their tribal leader, who challenges you to slay a couple dozen of his finest warriors with your modded-effing-machete while they just barrel straight towards you in perfect head-decapitating single file? Priceless. The game definitely has the survival B-movie feel to it all the way through. I couldn’t help but love it for the ridiculousness of those things… And the requests of post-apocalyptic NPCs.

I feel like I could write an entire blog post about the silly quests I was sent on. I don’t want to count how many times I was asked to go to the gas station. Ugh. But at least going for fetch-quests to get fuel makes sense. There were plenty of ‘go get me water or food or bandages or whatever’ repeatable quests, which, again, made perfect sense. And getting free money or experience for handing in crap that was clogging up my inventory was nice. But there are some characters where I could not help but wonder. There’s a man in the resort who needs help drinking himself to death. He takes lots and lots of alcohol bottles, despite the fact that there’s booze littering the bar surrounding him. And  Svetlana… Oh, Svetlana. She gives diamonds, worth $1,500, for champagne. Brand champagne. “Not that cheap shit!” She will remind you from time to time. My favorite thing she says goes something like, “I’m going to drink like it’s the fucking apocalypse!”

Like I said, priceless.

I really enjoyed playing as a blade specialist in this game for two main reasons:

1- Nothing is quite as rewarding as lopping off zombie limbs one after another. The gratuitous violence is poetry in motion. When an Infected comes barreling at you and you slice off its head in one fell swoop and the game rewards you with a slow motion view of the blood splattering everywhere, nothing else quite compares. I made the mistake of not investing any skill points in increased experience from severing limbs until the end of the game. By then, I wasn’t maxing out the potential because most enemies died in one or two hits from my souped up katana. Hopefully I can put it to use in a New Game Plus. 

2- The poison weapon modifications in this game rock. On a critical hit, it will make a zombie puke its guts out, at which point you can watch the zombie puke itself to death, hack away at it to speed up the process, or direct your attention to the rest of the zombie horde you’re most likely trying to kill. The first time I fought a Butcher zombie, I scored a critical hit and it puked its brains out. Really trivialized these encounters when I was lucky. I was also ‘lucky’ enough to get the final boss to puke itself to death. It was awesome. 

Really, if you like slaying zombies, open world/sandbox games, or action-RPGs, I can’t recommend this game enough. However, with that being said, this game does have some obvious flaws, and those are mostly glitches. I did not play this game until very recently, and even though it has already been patched, I still saw some annoying (but often hilarious) issues that I would’ve thought would be resolved by now. Nothing I encountered was as severe as, lets say, Elder Scrolls: Skyrim “The main quest is bugged and I can’t even finish the main questline!” (and yes, that did happen to me, and so far I’ve kept my word about not giving Bethesda any more of my money), or Silent Hill Downpour lagging like crazy and crashing my PS3 more than once. Again, a true story. No, these are little glitches that for the most part can be overlooked. Except if you spend a lot of time with a weapon and getting the mats to modify it, and you throw it at an enemy and it disappears. Pretty crappy deal. With that in mind, I’m not sure I’ll ever want to play as Logan. I’m too paranoid to take that risk. Zombies hit you from the other side of walls and gates, but you can hit them back. One time a silly undead somehow popped his head through prison bars, and I managed to kill him and sever his head on my side of the bars. That was charming. For me, the most annoying issue was the quest tracker wigging out. I found it a great step up from your typical quest trackers that give you an arrow, but sometimes it doesn’t account for obstacles that you need to go around. It wasn’t quite as sophisticated as the Dead Space one, but I really liked it when it worked. The problem for me was the quest tracker just disappearing. Eventually we seemed to connect it to adding a waypoint on the map. Whenever I did that, the white-dotted path I was following would disappear. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend more time than should be necessary toggling back and forth between my quest log and map trying to figure out which was activated and where the game wanted me to go. I also would’ve appreciated a little bit more of a tutorial regarding the map legend. Eventually I figured it out on my own, but not without some frustration at the beginning of the game. 

Which reminds me. Jumping backwards really helps to get yourself away from zombies when you aren’t playing as Sam B and aren’t pummeling them across the screen with blunt weapons. Killing Thugs was painful until that little trick was revealed to me. The game’s controls were easy enough to pick up and learn, and were mostly a lot of fun. For the first few levels, you don’t even really need a weapon. You can kick the zombies down and manually beat the snot out of them. The gratuitous headstomp I learned a little further in was the best way to save on weapon durability and satiate my murderous rampage. There are portions of the game where you are forced to fight punk-ass humans who are taking advantage of the situation. These sections are the game’s weakness. The AI isn’t sophisticated enough and the battle system isn’t really developed for this type of play style. Thankfully, the times you are forced to play like this are few and far between. But once you are done Act 1 you will always want to carry around a pistol or rifle just in case.

Once I finish the game I am working on now, I plan on going back to Dead Island. Not sure if I will mess around online, or just doing a new game plus. I have very high hopes for the sequel. If they touched up the bugs, quest tracking, and added a local co-op split screen mode, I would already nominate it for game of 2013. Elder Scrolls has already proved you can charge full price for a glitchy-ass game and still receive multiple game of the year awards, so maybe I shouldn’t get my hopes up. But that’s a topic for another blog post.