Retro Review: Suikoden 2

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Still not enough room for all of the characters.

Recently, Steve-O and I had the urge to scratch a “retro JRPG” itch. Remembering that Suikoden 2 was added to the Playstation Store for only $10, a much more affordable option than the rare disc which, until then, sold for over $100 used, I went ahead and downloaded it. A game that had been on our bucket list for a long time, but disregarded because of the old price point, we were excited to finally play it. Steve-O especially, as he’s played every main entry title.

We’d played Suikoden 1 and 3 together in past years. While I don’t exactly dislike Suikoden games, they do have two defining features that also happen to be on my RPG pet peeves list: silent protagonists and recruiting a bajillion characters. Recruiting all 108 stars of destiny characters is mandatory if you want to see the best ending, to boot! Suikoden 2 doesn’t stop there when it comes to arbitrary requirements to get the better ending after investing 50 hours in the game. All I have to say is I’m grateful we played the game during Age of Google.

RPG pet peeves aside, Suikoden 2 is a pretty solid JRPG. It takes the groundwork framed by the first Suikoden and improves upon it. You’ll create your own silent (generic and boring) young protagonist, and through a strange series of circumstances, become the leader of a rebel army. You’ll get to name the main character and army, so choose the most inappropriate names you can come up with. Personally, I’m still gravely wounded over not having enough character spaces to name my army the “Fuzzy Beaver” or “Bearded Clam” army. So many missed opportunities…

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Having six characters in battle at one time is helpful when experimenting with new allies.

Suikoden 2’s battle system is a bit different than many turn based games. I love that you’re able to bring six party members along with you, especially since the game FORCES certain characters on you ALL THE TIME! Add that to my RPG pet peeve list. In a game with over 108 recruitable/playable characters, being forced to bring certain characters with me so they can have one line of dialogue during a scene is beyond frustrating. Especially when you have a lot of equipment and Runes to swap around. Armor is relatively standard fare, but character weapons are unique to each character and can’t be removed. These add some individuality to a game where interchangeable Runes can make them blend together.

Certain characters have weapons with Runes embedded in them. This gives their weapons special effects, adding some flare. Some will have extra damage, some will have elemental effects. Each character can also have up to three Rune slots unlocked as they level. This means that you could potentially equip someone with 3 Runes to boost their physical attack prowess, 3 Runes full of magic spells, or whichever combination you desire. You can make some pretty sick physical attackers and mages with the right Rune combinations.This system helps make nearly any characters you select a viable option, but it does mean you’ll spend a lot of time micro-managing when swapping characters. And you will be changing your party up a lot because the game doesn’t really give you a choice not to.

One good feature that does help to offset all the character swapping and leveling you’ll potentially be doing is the experience distribution. The game doesn’t give those sitting out experience, but low level characters will catch up in a matter of a few fights, tops. This is the only hint I got that maybe, just maybe, they DID want us to experiment with different characters.

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Favorite boss design in the game.

I won’t say that Suikoden 2 is difficult, because it isn’t and if I did I’d be harassed with “N00B!” comments. But with that being said, the first boss fight was definitely a wake up call. Everything went from smooth sailing to “Okay maybe this game is serious!” Bosses in this game get multiple turns in a row, counters, and do crazy AoE damage. Sometimes, just for fun, they counter with an AoE attack then do it again on their turn before your characters get a chance to heal. Moral of the story: Never go into a boss fight without resting and getting spells back. You won’t make it long without high damaging runes and heal spells. Aside from the boss fights that actually require some thought and strategy, much of the battle system is a breeze.

The battle simulator fights, however, aren’t all that  great. Truthfully, it’s never been my thing to begin with. So I am a bit biased against them. I find the entire process cumbersome and boring. Half the time we wanted to let Apple do her own thing (This prompts the AI to handle the fighting for you) but she typically got units killed so we’d have to take matters into our own hands. Unlike other games of this nature, the player isn’t given a very clear picture of what their goal is. There were way, way too many hidden agendas and forced “Get your ass kicked by the enemies” for my liking.

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There is no HP meter either, you have to guess based on how many soldiers are left standing.

Don’t let fanboys with nostalgia vision try telling you about how unique the story in this game is, either. Sure, the over-arching plot doesn’t turn into “saving the world from an ultimate evil” like virtually every other JRPG in existence, but there’s plenty more JRPG tropes to go around: Silent protagonist? Check. Annoying characters that you just wanna kill tagging along for the entire journey? Check. Childhood best friend becoming your misled, angsty nemesis? Check. Traumatized child who refuses to speak until the dickbag she worships has his redeeming moment? Check. And that’s not even getting into all the watered down caricatures the characters are. There’s 108 of them, so it’s not like the writers really had any other choice.

As with most other old school JRPGs, the terrible translations make the entire experience more humorous than it probably should be. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Though I have no doubt she really said this!

All in all, Suikoden 2 is a worthy JRPG to take the time to play if you’re a fan of that genre like we are. Steve-O, the Suikoden veteran, gives it a two thumbs up. Suikoden 2 wasn’t masochistic and grind-y enough for our tastes, though…. So maybe we’ll do Earthbound Beginnings next to further torture ourselves!

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?

Styx: Master of Shadows

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This may be the first time I’ve played as a goblin instead of killing them.

Styx: Master of Shadows was free to download on Playstation Network last month. Since then, I’ve sat down and played it for a handful of hours. I had no prior knowledge or experience with Of Orcs and Men, so I didn’t exactly know what I was getting myself into. Styx is a game for hardcore stealth fans. Not wannabes like me who play the Assassin’s Creed series and think that suffices.

I started off liking the game well enough. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t absolutely love it either. I made respectable progress, getting through the first couple of areas while the game slowly unravels the multitude of tricks and skills Styx has up his sleeves. I appreciate, and find a bit funny, a few of his human-killing methods. For example: Styx can puke in a bowl of fruit to poison and kill people. The animation is complete with green goop and sound effects to boot. Can’t say I’ve seen that before. The vomiting also lends credence to the game’s darker tones. Styx is vulgar, often proudly swearing between bouts of puking. As someone who never tires of gratuitous vulgarity, I was quite pleased.

As with many other video games, you can unlock skills to empower your character. Styx has otherwordly powers such as becoming invisible, vomiting up clones, and using Amber *cough* Eagle *cough* Vision to detect enemies and find hidden markers. These abilities are made possible through the use of Amber, the stimulant drug du jour in this world. Leveling up these amber abilities can only be done while at the hideout. This feature was the first turn off for me. I was only able to get to the hideout once the entire time I played. I’m the kind of person who can’t wait to burn points and get more powerful as soon as I can. Waiting until the game allowed me to in a game where you’re slowly trudging from point A to B because you can’t get seen just killed it for me.

Another turn off was the piss-poor battle system. I mean, I thought Assassin’s Creed was lazy with it, but now my eyes have been opened. At least in the AC series I can attack someone if I so choose. Styx is not so fortunate. If you make the mistake of catching a guard’s attention, prepare yourself: he, along with a dozen of  his friends who materialize out of nowhere, will gang up on you simultaneously. There’s no Gentleman’s Syndrome here, folks. They have no qualms with killing you while you’re stuck in a parry or kill animation. That’s all you can do, by the way: parry and kill. Every single fight is nothing more than determining your parry timing, and parrying however many times you have to until parry turns into kill. Then Styx knocks them to the ground, and while stabbing them to death, gets sliced up by their pissed off friend.

Yes, I understand this is a stealth game and combat should be avoided when necessary, but this is just ridiculous. Styx has all these neat tools to his disposal, so why can’t I use them during battle? I’d like the option to turn invisible and try sneaking off again (and seeing the guards crap themselves when I disappear into thin air). Or barfing up a clone to take some beatings while I pick one off. Or even puking up my poisonous vomit in their face while dueling. That’s the kind of dirty fighting Styx seems like he was made for. However, none of these creative devices that could make battles more interesting are even hinted at. Guess I’m just creative like that.

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I never got far enough to unlock the Kill From Above-type skill.

None of these complaints are even what put the fork in the game for me. I was still content with continuing along, (rather slowly I might add, with all the hard saving and reloading I finally resorted to thanks to the not generous auto saves and guard ganking), until a peculiar thing happened. I was in the midst of a “Don’t get seen or you have to start over from the last checkpoint” section. Something I’ve become akin to thanks to Assassin’s Creed. So I figured, “Okay, time to be diligent about not triggering guards.” No biggie. But then I got a peculiar message. Something about a dead body being seen. Okay. Before I have time to react, the game reloads.

Really? A game over for a dead body being detected? Without giving the player time to backtrack and try doing something about said body? Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention, but I had no idea that a dead guard I left behind who knows how long ago would become a death sentence. Obviously if I had known it’d be such a BFD I would’ve tried harder to stealth past him or do away with the body. There’s only so many closets and chests to hide them in. Sure, an NPC gives you vials of acid to destroy corpses with, but you only get a couple to carry you over until God knows when.

And that’s it. I was in the middle of trying to solve a puzzle involving using the clone to pass through metal gates and activate triggers when I kept “dying” due to carelessly leaving a dead guard behind. I tried reloading a previous save, but it didn’t erase my mistake.

Then Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris became available for free, thus putting Styx on the digital shelf to probably not be picked back up again.

If you’re hardcore into stealth games, or played Of Orcs and Men and enjoyed it, then I say go for this game. But for the rest of us, I wouldn’t really recommend it. Aside from Styx’s great voice acting and character, everything else was lackluster.

Telltale’s Game of Thrones, Episode 5: A Nest of Vipers

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Yep, he’s finally setting sail…

While a short episode, Episode 5 of Telltale Games’ Game of Thrones spin-off finally begins to move things forward to the grand finale and managed to get me pumped for the series again. Character arcs finally progress onward and the player finally gets to make a decision that seems like it’ll actually make a big splash in the narrative!

And, yeah, some characters die. The video game, like the HBO series and novels, always instigates a haunting “Who is going to die next?” voice repeating in my brain. Some deaths elicit glee and excitement, others sadness and dread. I felt a little bit of both this episode.

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Being in Cersei’s shadow is never a good thing.

Mira’s portions of this game tend to annoy me. I know they’re necessary to reflect the large part of GoT’s universe that is the political power struggle realized through touchy conversations, eye shifting, and layering lies until you can’t remember what the truth is anymore; but truth be damned, because anything is better than getting on Cersei’s bad side! Through her usual style of manipulating and plotting, Cersei now has Mira in the palm of her hand, which I can only take to mean things will end very badly for Mira soon. She annoys me, so I hope she gets a good dose of Cersei revenge.

Mr. Tuttle isn’t having too much fun wandering the frozen expanses of the northern wilderness in pursuit of the mythical North Grove. Without spoiling too much here, I’ll only say there is a battle scene thrown in to spruce things up and he trudge on. Continue on and possibly die from hypothermia or get killed by winter zombies, versus turning back and probably get his head lopped off for desertion. The world is his oyster.

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Pretty boy’s gonna get his arse beat.

As usual, I had the most fun while playing with Asher and Beskha. That pair always find themselves  in hot water and solving differences at sword point. In Episode 5, Asher must prove his worth to the meandering pit fighters, now ex-slaves with no purpose but wanton violence. After reigning supreme in the pit, Asher gets himself an army to take back to Westeros. Yes, Asher FINALLY sails back home.

And it doesn’t take long for Asher to find more trouble. At least this time he is uniting with his Forrester family against the Whitehills. Unfortunately, Asher’s reunion with his family is short-lived before grief strikes yet again and the player is left to a difficult, and I’m hoping profound, choice.

I’m just going to leave it at that. You’re welcome.

Entwined

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So Pretty…

Entwinted was a free Playstation Plus download on the Playstation 3 for the month of July. I recalled the indie game being showcased at E3 last year. The style and colors were mesmerizing, and I told myself I would check the game out one day. About a year later I finally followed through. It was free, after all.

The concept behind Entwined is relatively simple. The player assists two star-crossed lovers; an orange fish and a blue bird, who somehow met and fell and love. Now, as you can imagine, they’re tragically separated for all of eternity and it is up to the player to assist them with uniting into a fancy green dragon every lifetime and liberating the creatures by drawing in the sky.

Don’t think too hard about that.

This translates into a simple, yet immersive, gaming experience to start. Entwinted is easy to pick up and play. The left half of the screen represents the fish’s realm, and the player is assigned the left analog stick to move the fish around it’s domain. Similarly, the right hand side and right analog stick are reserved for moving the bird. The player must navigate both avatars simultaneously to hit or move through their corresponding colors to fill their bars. At times there are green zones the fish and bird must enter together. Missing will cause the corresponding bar to deplete.

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There are orbs to collect as well.

Once the fish and bird both have filled bars, they flash and you’re prompted to press L1 and R1 simultaneously to begin what I call the Unity Phase. Their bars link across the top of the screen, and each successful move will cause the bars to creep together until they are conjoined to create a green dragon. Then they’re free to spend the rest of that lifetime bonded in their love for each other, painting beautiful streams in the sky until the cycle is set to repeat and you get to do it all over again.

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Collect things as dragon. Because reasons.

Entwined clearly takes heavy inspiration from artsy-fartsy games like Journey and Flower created by thatgamecompany. And, to its credit, it does start off as enchanting as those titles, providing sufficient escapism. However, I felt like a lot of the charm with Journey, for example, was that I became so immersed I really forgot I was playing a video game. While playing Entwined, especially in the later Lifetimes, the difficulty is amped so I felt like I was constantly being pulled from the experience.

I know, I know: Get Good. My only problem was I couldn’t figure out what the hell I was doing wrong half the time. I can’t get better if I can’t identify what I’m doing incorrectly in the first place. Despite my glaring lack of self-reflection, I was able to beat the game in a little over an hour.

Overall, I did enjoy my time with Entwinted. The gorgeous aesthetics, impressive soundtrack, and easy to pick up controls entertained me for about an hour. Whether it is worth the full price tag ($10, I believe) isn’t for me to say. But free is the best price of all, and this is certainly an indie title worth checking out.

Saints Row IV: Gat Out of Hell

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If there are purple wings in hell then I’m going there.

Steve-O and I enjoyed our time with Saints Row IV so much that we decided to extend our experience with the Gat Out of Hell expansion. At the time of purchase it was $19.99 on PSN. We figured $20 would be a fair price for 10-15 more hours of Saints Row over-the-top ridiculousness with the added bonus of playing as Johnny Gat in Hell going toe-to-toe against Satan. Thankfully we were not let down.

Things start off with the surviving gang celebrating Kinzie’s birthday. One of the geniuses decides it’d be a great idea to get out the Ouija board. Then things go straight to Hell. Literally.

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Even Zinyak gets invited to these things.

The main protagonist you created in Saint’s Row IV gets kidnapped, and Johnny heroically decides to save them. Kinzie comes onboard because reasons. Hey, it’s her birthday dammit, she can go to Hell if she wants to.

A cool feature we didn’t take advantage of is being able to choose to play as either Johnny or Kinzie. Steve-O and I didn’t know much about Johnny since we jumped on the Saints Row train on The Third, so it was fun to spend time with the SR veteran character. He’s all for pointless violence, and the DLC basically has you committing many of the same violent side missions as the main entry to fill your Satan “aggro meter” to draw his attention. These include Hell versions of some of our favorites like Tank Mayhem and insurance fraud.

One main feature, game play wise, that stands out from SRIV is the addition of flying. Johnny has ember wings and can soar to traverse the underworld and collect clusters for ability upgrades. This is way more frustrating than the awesome super-sprint. To me, flying is like swimming… I pretty much always hate how it works in video games. Unforunately, Gat Out of Hell’s flying mechanics are not as polished as they could be, leading to quite a bit of frustration if you plan on doing the mini-games that require some relatively precise flying skills.

As with most Saint’s Row games, I was astounded by the creative weapons we were given to play with. Seriously, developer creativity amazes me at times. Since you’re in Hell, you get weapons representing everything from demons to plagues. There’s even an armchair with machine guns for arm rests.

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This hot number is Uriel’s sword.

In Gat Out of Hell, we were treated to a lot of interesting surprises. The plot isn’t entirely complicated, but it throws in some super entertaining tidbits like musical numbers, cameo appearances from famous historical figures like William Shakespeare, and an exclusive peek into the Devil’s family drama. Satan’s daughter, Jezebel, is rebelling, and what better bad boy to fall for than our own Johnny Gat?

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Satan is pretty much how I expected… But still a lot of fun to watch and fight.

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Disney-esque random outbursts into song never get old!

If you enjoyed Saint’s Row IV and need an excuse to visit the series’ wanton violence and over-the-top humor in the fiery pits of Hell, Gat Out of Hell has you covered. It’s $20, sure, but it has enough content to easily occupy a gamer for at least 10+ hours. We certainly didn’t regret diving into Hell to rescue our sociopath President!

Telltale’s Game of Thrones, Episode 3: The Sword in the Darkness

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Finally, some fire-breathing action going on this episode!

The halfway point in Telltale Game’s Game of Thrones series is more engrossing and entertaining than the previous episode. There were some interesting goings-ons, what with the purple wedding and Daenerys making a cameo appearance at the end. At the Wall, we were also treated to an interesting reveal from one character before Gared found his balls and finally gave someone something they deserved.

The same cannot be said for House Forrester. Episode 3 continues with the Forrester family taking it up the butt from the Whitehills; who are, at this point, becoming more cheesily over-the-top insulting than the jocks in Glee. It’s starting to feel forced at this point. Yes, as lord of the house you can talk back to them, but it serves little purpose besides saving the player’s ego  before getting thunder-kicked to the floor again. I’m hoping against hope that we can start giving the Whitehills a bit of what they deserve starting next episode, because the high school level bullying is getting old. I get it, they’re being jerks, can we move on now?

As with Episode 2, Asher’s screen time was the most entertaining for me. He has another fun battle scene, except this one is flavored with a hint of dragon. Daenerys’ missing dragon, to be precise. Spoiler: Daenerys is this episode’s famous face. And her character model looks really good. Like, really, really good. There’s something about the other HBO show characters that are off to me with this art style, but Daenaerys is perfect.

We accidentally played on the wrong save file, and I actually want to play it again to see how one crucial aspect differs. Normally I shrug and say, “It all melds together in the end.” But this time I’m actually anxious to see the difference. If that doesn’t show I’m invested in this game, nothing does.