Updates

Yikes! I haven’t updated in a while.

I have been busy though. I put a lot of time into Skyrim. I’ll probably write something about it.

Photo of Nintendo controller with LED modification

I’ve spent some time working on some hardware stuff, including this fun NES controller modification.

I’m also ramping up to selling some modded original Xboxes.

As for games, I’m considering a few to play next. Maybe a JRPG.

Misc Updates

So here’s a rambling summary of the last couple of months.

The last two months have been bonkers. At my job there’s a huge push to get large projects out the door around this time of year.

So my game-playing has been sporadic. I’ve fallen back on some quick-fix games. Specifically, Mario Kart 8 and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. It doesn’t hurt that my kid loves watching me play them.

I don’t have much to say about Mario Kart 8 — it’s awesome and everyone knows that. I haven’t played any online matches yet, unfortunately.

Sonic Racing (on the Wii U) is actually a pretty great game. I played it a little bit on the Vita a while back, but it’s better on a large TV. It’s also a nice contrast with Mario Kart — they’re superficially similar, but they’re actually very different games. You accrue XP in this game and progress through branching paths to different races and challenges.

I’ve also dabbled with a few RPGs. I’ve played a few hours of Earthbound. So far I really like it, and it’s possible I’ll play through the game. I’ve also played a little bit of Planescape: Torment, a game I’ve heard a lot of good things about. So far I like it, but I’m not used to that style of RPG, and it’s taking a little getting used to.

I played some Lunar: Silver Star on PSP a month or so back, but unfortunately I got distracted. I’ll have to pick it back up.

So I’m doing my usual waffling around between games, but I don’t feel so bad about it right now.

I’ve been thinking about doing some repair videos, specifically for an Xbox 360 and an original Game Boy.

Chrono Trigger: Won!

My 15+ year journey is at an end. I finally beat Chrono Trigger on Monday. I know! It’s emotional for me too.

Then on Tuesday I beat it again. Those of you familiar with the game might now that it has about a dozen possible endings. After getting the normal ending, I played the game on New Game+ up to the Ocean Palace. Then instead of letting Lavos beat me and kill Crono, I whooped his spikey-turtle-backed-anus-mouth ass. This got me the “Dream Team” ending, which is the most difficult ending to get (at least until the PSX and DS versions).

The “Dream Team” ending is unbelievably silly. I won’t discuss it at this time.

The normal ending is pretty silly too. In fact, it occurred to me upon beating it that the whole game is pretty silly. I mean, it has some dark moments and some serious moments. But overall, it’s a goofy game.

In fact, that’s one of my few criticisms of the game. It could have taken itself a little more seriously and still had a sense of humor, I think.

And WTF was Lavos? Homey had flippers. He waddled. Seriously. Was that supposed to be horrific? Or goofy?

My other criticisms: the combat is not particularly deep. Strategy takes a front-seat to brute force, but it’s still not too tricky. Neither is character development (ability-wise). Compare Techs to Materia development in Final Fantasy VII. Or even the Espers in Final Fantasy VI. Don’t get me wrong — the game had a number of great features that really set it apart when it came out. And I agree that it’s among the best console RPGs (that I’ve played, anyway).

I’m currently on my second New Game+. So this is my third time through the game. On New Game+ it’s easy to blow through the game, since you keep all of your items, stats, levels, etc., minus a few key items and money. So most enemies (and some bosses) are going down with one hit.

Since I’m still having a blast with it (seriously, this is a great game), I’m not sure I’m going to move on to a new game just yet. But I think I might try something different next. We’ll see.

Chrono Trigger: As Far As I’ve Been

Spoilers follow.

I think I’m pretty close to as far as I’ve ever gone in Chrono Trigger. I’ve hit the point where I just have a bunch of side quests to do, but I could just go fight Lavos. That said, I’m pretty sure my characters would get crushed in a few turns.

This might have been where I stopped last time. When games lose their narrative drive it’s easy to walk away for a few days. Then sometimes it turns out that 3 months have passed, and then there’s no way I’ll pick it back up.

I’m hoping my next update on Chrono Trigger will announce that I’ve (finally!) beat it. I’m already thinking about the next game(s) I want to play.

Anyway, here are some observations.

Preventing Chrono from being killed by going back in time and replacing him with a fake duplicate — YES! Finally some clever, logically consistent time travel. Well, his actual “resurrection” didn’t make a whole lot of sense, if I recall correctly. Still, conceptually it works.

Bosses are definitely more difficult now. I’ve had my party wiped out on a number of occasions. It’s all about strategy, though, so it’s not too bad. Brute force doesn’t get you far.

When going to the Ocean Palace, I got some major déjà-vu. Not from past plays of Chrono Trigger, but I think from Chrono Cross. I haven’t looked it up (and probably won’t, in case I want to play Chrono Cross again later), but I’m pretty sure that you visit the Ocean Palace in Chrono Cross.

I got déjà-vu in another way too. When you first go to the Fiendlord’s Keep, the camera pans up to show the building then pan back down. The reason is because I must have been playing a lot of Chrono Trigger back when a friend and I made our own RPG with “RPG Maker” for Playstation. The game we made was called “Adventures of Hot P”. That was the truncated version of its proper name, “The Adventures of Hot Pants”. The game’s title screen wouldn’t fit the whole thing. There is a very similar scene where the characters go to a church and it pans up and down the castle. In addition, there’s a locked door at some point early in the game. When you try to open it, a spotlight shines down on your character, and a message pops up: “It’s locked. How f&*$ing tragic.” I’m pretty sure this was supposed to be a reference to the locked boxes in Chrono Trigger. “Adventures of Hot P” was a terrible game. I may record a play-through of it some time and post it here.

Chrono Trigger Updates

I’ve been busy for the past month or so, but I have played some Chrono Trigger. I’ve just visited the End of Time for the first time (wait … that’s super-confusing) and gone back to the time period where the game began (1000 A.D. — what does A.D. and B.C. mean in this game’s universe?).

I don’t have much to say except that it’s been fun so far. I still think the Back to the Future moments are ridiculous and make absolutely no sense — if Marle’s presence in 600 A.D. meant that her ancestor was killed, thus meaning Marle was never born, then she couldn’t have gone back in time to inadvertently get her ancestor killed. And she sure as hell wouldn’t have faded from existence.

(I know I said I wouldn’t harp on this — but seriously! It makes no sense! And quantum branching doesn’t explain it — why would Marle disappear after her ancestor died if quantum branching was what was happening?)

But, you know. With these games it’s all about the gameplay, right? And that part is pretty good. It’s a little on the easy side so far.

I have to say that I really don’t like the silent protagonist thing. I’ve never liked it in Zelda. I kind of like what Halo did — the character has a voice but no face (he’s always wearing his helmet). Making the protagonist silent just leads to awkward moments in dialog, where it’s clear that the character is talking, but the game isn’t showing me that text to preserve the silence.

Still: it’s classic, mid-90’s JRPG fun. And I’m going to beat it this time, damn it.

Also, I got to see the first cut-scene, which is shown when you find Robo. It was all right, but it doesn’t really add much to the game.

So as I said, I’ve been busy, which is why I haven’t made a ton of progress. I’ve been working on and off on a garage workshop. It’s shaping up nicely, though progress has been slow.

As for gaming-related projects, I’m almost finished with the Dreamcast VGA mod. I’ve just got to modify the console shell to accommodate the VGA jack. The Gamecube region mod is done, but I’m not done painting it. I installed a mod chip in one of my Sega Saturns and it works great. I haven’t done a region mod to it yet. I also made a completely home-made Turbo Booster for my TurboGrafx-16. That is, I made a peripheral that can be plugged into the expansion port to output composite video and stereo audio. I’ll post some pics and info on that. I may even do an instructable for it.

Actually, I’ll share the results of most of those on here at some point. And I’ve worked on a couple soft-mod things that I may discuss later.

Game Overload

Oh, the first-world problems.

I’m playing too many games at once again. I’m currently playing:

  • Final Fantasy XIII-2
  • Assassin’s Creed III
  • Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation
  • Lost Odyssey
  • Professor Layton and the Last Specter

In addition, I actually beat another game in the interim between the last post. It’s called 10000000 (ten million) and wow, it’s a fun, addictive game. It didn’t take me long to beat, but still, it’s a lot of fun.

I started playing Lost Odyssey while on vacation. We were visiting the in-laws, and my father in law has an Xbox 360. I found Lost Odyssey used. I had previously played a rental back in 2008 or 2009.

I’ve enjoyed it. It was created by Hironobu Sakaguchi and scored by Nobuo Uematsu. Final Fantasy fans will know those names. In fact, Lost Odyssey really reminds me a lot of Final Fantasy VIII. It has a skill-learning system that’s reminiscent of FF VIII’s Junction system. It’s also got a thing where in combat, as your character is about to strike their opponent, you try to hit a button at exactly the right time to do extra damage. This was also present in FF VIII’s gunblade attacks.

It’s going to have to be put on hold, though. I didn’t get particularly far. I’ll still play it for an hour here and there so I don’t forget what’s what, but it’s on the back burner.

I’ve started playing Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation because I’m a nerd and I bought a PS Vita. So far, it’s fun, and I’ll just pop onto it here and there to do a mission. It’s buggy as all get out, though. I actually had to restart the game from the beginning because of a bug that trapped me on load screens (even after resetting the game). I’ve also managed to swim under and inside houses, trapping myself there. I’ve seen pedestrians walk into and through walls. I climbed through a roof once to get a treasure chest.

On the heels of playing AC: Revelations, I’m really disappointed in Ubisoft. That was buggy too. Now that the main AC games are done (though I haven’t beat III yet, of course), I may not purchase future games in the series. AC III seems to be bug-free so far, so that’s something. But Liberation wasn’t dirt cheap and it feels like a beta release.

Speaking of AC III, I’ve got past the point where I switch characters. There was a nice plot twist at that point, which was very cool. I won’t say what it was, but they did a good job. I felt more and more uneasy with a particular aspect of the story until the twist made sense of it all. I loved it.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 is on the list, but I haven’t played it for a few weeks. I may pop it on soon and try to wrap some stuff up. I’m probably only 5–10 hours from beating the game; though I’m not entirely sure.

Back on the FF Train (again)

My last post was August 8.

This blog is called Stack of Shame, after all. This is how it happens.

That said, I’ve been playing Final Fantasy XIII-2 for a couple hours each night for a few days now. I collected 10–20 fragments. Leveled Serah and Noel a lot — probably way more than I needed to. Leveled some of the monsters a bit too.

I also opened up some new stages. Two versions of Vile Peaks. I’ve played some of one of them.

It’s been fun. Good for blowing off steam. I think I may be winding up some of the leveling for now and I may delve back into the main storyline.

Back to FF XIII-2

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted. I didn’t play Final Fantasy XIII-2 at all until two weekends ago. We did a little travelling and my kid has become much more mobile (he just turned 8 months). So we’ve had our hands full.

I did get some time that weekend, though, and I needed to blow off steam. So I played it for a few hours on and off. Of course there’s always that initial half-hour or so of disorientation when picking up a game after a while. I’ll forget how to pull up the map, or I won’t know why a character is equipped with this or that. This time was no exception, but it didn’t take long.

I wasn’t up for advancing the story (it’s hard to get into a movie or a game when you’ve got a squealing, gargling, pooping miniature person crawling all over you), so I decided to go for chocobo racing. I don’t have the time to experiment with it (see previous parenthetical), so I just went to the strategy guide. If I didn’t cheat, I probably wouldn’t bother doing it. So yeah. It gave some instructions for building up a Silver Chocobo to race with.

In a nutshell, this involves acquiring a Silver Chocobo, building up its stats, then infusing other creatures (one of which I also needed to build up). Building up stats in creatures requires certain items, which can be obtained by fighting certain creatures.

This is time-consuming. For example. I needed something like 46 Potent Essences. Which sounds pretty gross. There are a handful of creatures that will drop them after a fight. I went to the Archylte Steppe to track them down. I had completed some quests there earlier that ultimately resulted in me being able to control the weather with some steampunk machine.

Yes, I said control the weather. With a machine. Look — this game has magic, time travel and angry, fighting, hat-wearing dessert treats. Just go with it.

So these particular creatures only appear on the west part of the map and only when it’s raining. I set the controls for rain and spent a couple hours stomping around in puddles and collecting Potent Essences from Mud Frogs, Swampmonks and Caterchipillars. You know — a typical Sunday afternoon.

Did I mention that it was time consuming? Because it was. If I was lucky, I would get 1 Potent Essence after a fight. I occasionally got 3 or 4, but usually 1 or none. After one fight, I freakishly got 9. I was almost there when something happened that destroyed about an hour’s worth of progress.

Before I explain it, let me explain how our living room is currently arranged. We’ve got a fireplace. On either side of it are some shelves where most audio/video equipment, video games, etc. are. The TV is mounted above the fireplace. 1 There’s a couch on one adjoining perpendicular wall and a love seat on the other. There’s a chair facing the TV. The chair has an ottoman. There’s another, larger general-purpose ottoman. There’s no fourth wall — there are no walls separating the living room from the dining room or kitchen, which means when the dishwasher is going, I can’t hear shit unless I turn the volume up loud. That’s easy to do, since we’ve got 5 speakers installed in the ceiling. But I also share my house with my wife and baby, so courtesy demands I not blast it. But I digress.

So my receiver, PS3, etc. are all close to the ground. They are therefore in constant danger now that my son can crawl. So we set up a gate that does a good job of keeping him away from all that and the fireplace. It’s arranged in a curve, butting up against the sides of the couch and love seat. We arrange the ottomans on the other side, and the baby effectively has a large playpen.2

I was playing the game, my kid was rolling around, gurgling and doing baby-type things, and my wife was going between playing with him and watching what I was doing.

So here’s the problem: he can still reach through the gate far enough to reach the PS3. And the eject button. And the disc, once it’s ejected. So he did all those things. In the span of several seconds.

I was of two minds. One, I was annoyed that I lost my progress, though I obviously couldn’t fault a baby (well, I could, but then I’d be a big jerk). Two, I was pretty impressed that he was able to eject then remove the disc, which I was able to get to away him before he did something unspeakable to it.

So I need to rethink the setup.

On the upside, restarting from my last save seemed to reset a random number generator or something, and I got the materials I needed much more quickly.

I’ve procrastinated on this post long enough, so I’ll pick up where I left off in the next post.

  1. The room was designed for this, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it. The mantle makes my 50″ TV look like it’s 40″, and it’s too high — I’d prefer it to be closer to eye-level.
  2. Read: he’s locked up.

Final Fantasy XIII-2: Graviton Cores, Music as a Crutch

I’ve hit a point where I’m hunting for items called “Graviton Cores” to help with a plot-related task.1 I’ve tracked down a couple of them, but the remaining ones are proving a little hard to find. Still, it’s giving me plenty of opportunity to level, collect monster crystals, etc. Which is another way of saying, “I’m doing one of my favorite things ever”.

But this also puts me at risk of accidentally abandoning the game. I get very wrapped up in all the advancement, then I take a break (like, perhaps, a holiday trip). Then I don’t jump right back in, because I was in the middle of something in the game. And I never have the time to reacquaint myself with what I was doing, and next thing I know, I haven’t played it for 3 months.

Still, I’m having fun and I’ll try to avoid this problem. That, after all, is the entire point of this blog.

Since there’s not much to talk about (yet) when it comes to leveling, I thought I’d write a little about the music in the game.

I’m a big fan of the series’ music, especially the music composed by Nobuo Uematsu, which is most of it. I don’t think the music for this game was done by him, but it’s still pretty good. My only gripe with it is that many of the songs have vocals.

I find the vocals to be horribly distracting. I’m not sure when vocals first started showing up in Final Fantasy music. I think it was X, but I’m not sure. In X, a song in one of the opening cinematic had death metal-style growling or barking. It wasn’t too bad there, though it was a little surprising.

In XIII-2, though, there are several tracks with vocals. And some of these are played during regular exploration. I find it very distracting. I also find it less fun. I usually make up ridiculous lyrics in my head. While I was re-playing Final Fantasy VII a few years ago, my wife came up with lyrics for two songs: one to the game’s main theme about Mexican food, the other for the battle music about Rainbow Horseheads. Discussion of these will have to wait for a future posting. For now, take my word for it that they were amazing.

Also, though, with vocals suddenly the songs become more concretely about something. And usually not something as interesting as the action going on onscreen. Moreover, now there’s another character of sorts to contend with — the vocalist.

And yes, I have similar feelings about music used in other media. Overall it’s used too much, and when it is used, it’s used poorly. Music so saturates games, movies and television that it can be jarring and disconcerting when it’s not used — I recall a notable episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that used the lack of music to good effect. In games a lack of music is often used to incur feelings of discomfort in players.

That’s always interesting, but it also highlights how much games, movies and television use music as a crutch. When used well, music can compliment some amazing storytelling. When the storytelling is weak, the viewer is left with emotional reactions to something that isn’t particularly compelling. That is, the music is serving as a cue — “Get goosebumps! This is an emotional moment!” — rather than letting the action speak for itself.

This was parodied very well by SNL several years ago:

I realize that I’m rambling a bit incoherently here. The point I’m trying to make is that music should compliment an experience. It should be a part of the experience, but over-reliance on it annoys me. And introducing a song with vocals is often heavy-handed, compounding my annoyance.

Final Fantasy games don’t tell objectively masterful stories. I wouldn’t argue that at all. But very few stories are masterful, and I certainly don’t expect that from any video game. Final Fantasy games do tell a good story augmented by excellent character development mechanisms and turn-based-derived combat. These are well-complimented by Uematsu’s (and Uematsu-inspired) excellent scores.

But XIII and XIII-2 have, well, pop songs.

Most of them aren’t pop songs, but the ones that are draw attention to themselves.

It certainly doesn’t ruin the game(s) for me. But along with the hyperactive battle system and the cinematic quick-time events, it gives me the impression that they’re trying to appeal to a wider (or a certain?) demographic. This isn’t necessarily bad, but the games are starting to feel different. These games don’t need these elements to be good.

  1. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you probably saw this as a status update posted directly from the game.

Final Fantasy XIII-2: Chocobo Racing and Moogle-Tossing

I’m about 30 hours into the game. It’s been pretty fun so far. I opened up a Golden Saucer-like location1 called Serendipity. So far there are 2 games available — Slots and Chocobo Racing. I was very excited to see this — I have fond memories of the Chocobo Racing mini-game in Final Fantasy VII. I entered one race and bet against my own chocobo. This paid off — my chocobo was not very good. Anyway, I’ve decided to put racing on the back burner for now. If it’s anything like the racing in VII, I’d risk getting very sidetracked if I started now.

This game, intentionally or otherwise, has many references to older Final Fantasy games. The intro sequence has a scene with a sword landing in the ground that reminds me of the intro to Final Fantasy VIII. In fact, the feathers that seem to fly when Lightning brandishes her weapon is very similar to a part of VIII‘s opening as well.2

Also, Noel Kreiss seems kind of familiar. Maybe he’s reminiscent of Final Fantasy X‘s Tidus? I do suspect, at this point in the game, that he may not be a real person.

This game also involves the moogle Mog more than most games. He/She was a playable character in Final Fantasy VI. I don’t think that’s happened since. Mog transforms into Serah’s weapon during combat, and is used for item discovery & retrieval outside of combat. By item discovery and retrieval, I mean that Serah or Noel grabs Mog, while Mog cries “Kupo kupo kupo”, then hurls him/her toward an out-of-reach treasure ball, or just in a random direction. If there’s a treasure nearby, Mog will retrieve its contents. If not, I can sometimes get a good item anyway, though I usually just receive 1 gil.

Moogle-throwing is oddly satisfying.

Anyway, I’ve been pounding away on the game. I get more time in on weekends than weekdays. Since I can’t just pick up and play it like I could with Final Fantasy (which I played on my PSP), I kind of need to set aside time for it. But, as I said, I am about 30 hours in. I’m guessing I’m about halfway through.

A few other notes: The Academia location was fairly annoying. I’d get into a fight every few seconds. Most of them were against very weak enemies, but it was irritating that if it took too long to get my bearings after a fight, I’d be right back in another one. This game has a convention where you’re alerted that you’re about to fight. A countdown starts, and if you locate and strike the enemy before the time’s up, you begin the fight at an advantage. The problem is, when the countdown starts, you scramble in various directions to hit the enemy. Once you’re out of the fight, you’re facing in a random direction, and sometimes you lose your bearings.

I worry that Square Enix concentrates too much on making these games exciting — the battles in this and Final Fantasy XIII are much more fast-paced than earlier games. I know there’s the option to carefully plan your attacks, but you can only do that with your lead character. And while you’re trying to select attacks, the battle rages on, so you’re better off just mashing Auto Battle, which picks a series of appropriate actions for you. In many ways it’s kind of a hybrid of Final Fantasy XII and the older games. You are basically configuring patterns for your characters to fight in, with occasional intervention. So there definitely is a strategic element to battles, but non-boss battles become both over-stimulating and boring at the same time. The camera flies all over the place, shit’s exploding, people are yelling things — it’s hard to keep track of it all. On the other hand, I spend most of my time mashing X and watching my characters’ vitals, with occasional glances at the enemies’ life and stagger bars. It’s a very different experience to traditional turn-based video roleplaying games (or at least the ones I’ve played).

The draw of earlier Final Fantasy games was the strategy in combat, character development and, at least after the first game, plot. From VII on, cinematic cut-scenes were also part of the experience and a reason to play. This game (and XIII) have all those plus these rather frenetic battles. I’m not sure that this is necessary, but it certainly doesn’t ruin the game for me.

Another irritant — this game, along with games like Assassin’s Creed (and from what I’ve seen, Call of Duty), like to throw important dialog at you while you’re otherwise engaged in activities. I don’t multitask well.

These are minor nitpicks, though. I’m enjoying it a lot so far. The time travel plot is interesting. There’s been hints that my characters are actually the cause of the time travel problems — that is, in the future (or in the future of their personal narratives) they may do something which kicks off the sequence of events that started the game. When they run into Caius Ballad in different areas, he talks to them differently. It’s not clear how his narrative or theirs intersect. It’s also being heavily suggested that it’s not always actually Caius they’re running into — some of them may be artificial reproductions.

On the other hand, at one point Serah’s fiancé, Snow, did a Back to the Future-style fadeaway. That sort of thing never made sense to me. If you’re going to adhere to a branching model of time then you wouldn’t have situations like that. That said, a central element of the game is the existence of paradoxes, which by definition don’t make logical sense, so I think a few weird things like that can be forgiven.

  1. The Golden Saucer was a location in Final Fantasy VII. There were some plot events there, but mostly it served as a site for a bunch of mini-games.
  2.  Update: I don’t know how I forgot to mention it, but Caius releasing Yuel into the water is an overt reference to Final Fantasy VII.