Saturday, July 15, 2017

FFXV DLC: F MINUS and other stuff


Downloadable content is a wonderful theory. Who doesn't want more of their favorite games? How about an expansion on some great IP? More levels, more equipment, how does that sound?

Your favorite studio might release an extra episode to your best game, adding an additional 10 hours of engaging storyline, maybe with a new character and some new items. I feel like Blizzard is the perfect example. The hefty expansions usually cost half the cost of the game, but they're generally a massive overhaul that both adds content and usually a extra mechanics to that combine with the basic game and adds depth. Brood War was an expansion to Starcraft that gave all 3 races more units, introduced the burrow mechanic, and added a 4th chapter in the campaign, complete with more cinematics. And new music tracks.

What could be as sweet as one of these? I thought that Final Fantasy XV, one of my most enjoyed games in the last 10 years, would follow this pattern. Sadly, Episodes Gladiolus and Prompto both suck. Both of these cost $5, and offer a total of 2.5 hours of story content that fills in two very intentional gaps in the main game's storyline. Now, my FFXV playthrough was over 100 hours, so the ratio is underwhelming. The next slight comes from both modes having a one-on-one boss fight that showcases that the game's battle system was designed for facing mobs and large bosses, not for dueling. These two 3-minute battles will take hours to master, and only half the challenge is in intentional design. You'll spend the other half of your stress battling the terrible camera, and the random stumbles and shit your character makes in timing-sensitive fighting. The result is a crappy experience that detracted seriously from my opinion of the game. If the same dev team that made the base game put this junk out, I would be surprised. Also, Gladiolus's music sucks. The original FFXV score is a masterpiece; the one new heavy metal track you get isn't.

Prompto's playthrough is a little more fun, but if you're hunting trophies, it's ruined by this racing course on a ski-mobile. This piece of junk randomly flips over, and the camera is your worst enemy. I can't recommend either one of these DLCs unless you really want a crappy experience. I really hope Episode Ignus is better than Prompto, but who knows. Anyhoo, in completing as much as I could of this, I got the keys to the kingdom; access to my friend's digital library. Sony totally allows sharing digital games, as long as you activate the profile you want's account as the Home system and download it. Then, you log in as your own profile and you have access to it. Find a friend and agree on a few games you both like. Then, take turns paying for them and sharing them.

That said, this week was super productive: Battle Knockout Trivia, Infamous: First Light and Strider. The first game is a half-hour trophy list to get 100%, and has some decent highschool-level trivia, with a Japanese-accented English-speaking host. I didn't check the credits to see if it's actually a Japanese guy or if the game just thinks accents are funny.

Infamous was great. The game has a gorgeous aesthetic, with your character controlling neon at night, and takes place in Seattle (what-what!). The controls are super responsive, and the 4-hour playthrough of this standalone expansion is a little less than half that of the original game. You're then rewarded with some battle arenas to just let loose with all your powers and beat as many waves as you can. This is a stark contrast to how dreadful FFXV's DLC was.

Gravity orb-jumpin'

Strider is a slick 2d action game with platforming and hype music. This is a sweet update to an old Sega Genesis favorite.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Gaming Goals in 2017: Mid-year Checkin

I'm sure you do, Akash.
We are a week past being halfway done with 2017, which has been the absolute worst year for employment, but great for personal health and gaming. The biggest change, while not the most frugal of options, is that I joined a gym. Simply walking long distances just wasn't quite enough, and Seattle's handful of 90-degree days just make that a lot harder. The frugal part is that I've consistently gone at least 5 days a week, making the most of the $1/day that this costs me, compared to $4 per visit at the city gym. So, while that does compete for free time, I've still gotten quite a bit of time to mash the controller for dopamine.

Breath of the Wild is losing me. Between uncustomizable controls, way too many obscure puzzles, and the stupid survival element, it's just the wrong combination of game for me. I've put at least 25 hours into it and still have 4 heart containers, and die in 2 hits. But before I journey, I have to cook, but before I cook, I have to get ingredients. I personally despise survival games like Minecraft, Terraria, and this major component of Zelda: BotW. The game's got another 5 hours of my attention before I play something more fulfilling. I really want to like it!

Other than that, I've been hammering away at June's free Killing Floor 2 (on PS+), and spent a week or so knocking out a few added-on trophies for Gems of War, which is still free-to-play and still awesome. I think I harped on the graphics of Killing Floor 2 in a post, and I take it back. I had had gore turned down, and the monsters didn't dismember quite as much as they do on FULL GORE mode.

With all that out of the way, let's get to the Gaming Goals update: I've played five of the games on the list, acquired 2 on PSN Flash Sales, and am one week away from Final Fantasy XII, meaning I'll have covered 7 of the 10 games I wanted to in the first half.

Antipode? I smell Chrono Trigger...
One of those is called I am Setsuna, a classic-style JRPG released by SquareEnix. I feel like this game had almost no promotion on the PSN, which is a shame. The writing is a pretty standard Japanese story: Setsuna is going to be sacrificed and gathers members to protect her on her final journey. What makes it super Japanese is that the whole story is laden with sadness, and Setsuna constantly questions members if they'd really do that for her. She's surprised by people's dedication, and so overly emotes herself to being positive and innocent that it ends up being quite sappy. Also, the entire soundtrack is piano, adding to the melodrama, though it's pretty unique and amazing how distinct the tracks sound with one instrument.

Dual Tech? Sick!
The battle system is pretty much Chrono Trigger, with Techs (magic attacks) that can be combined to make crazy combos. The game is also super linear and doesn't have a whole lot of challenge, save 2 particular boss battles that eat your party alive. Other than that, nothing gives you too much trouble until you hit the final boss and the game world unlocks completely. At that point, you can return to the world, where there are hidden nasties all over the world map that require some massive grinding. Classic. JRPG. For me, this was a welcome change to FPS games and Zelda, and I am pretty damn pleased to have completed I am Setsuna.

Since we've crossed the halfway point of 2017, I'd like to add some more games I want to complete this year: Steamworld Heist, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, Shadow Complex Remastered, Tearaway Unfolded, The Walking Dead 2, Pyre and Abzu. as well as finish Titanfall 2. The only one of these I don't have yet is SuperGiant Games' (Bastion, Transistor) Pyre. The majority of these were free PS+ downloads, but putting them here means I will commit to them and hack away at the stack. Remember, for the perfect marriage of anti-hoarding frugality and trophy hunting, I'm trying my damnest to stick to 3-games-out, 1-game-in. Also, I realized I've been applying this incorrectly for a year! Somewhere along the way, I simplified 1 disc-based game and 2 downloaded games into 2 games. Silly me! The best on my wallet would of course be to simplify to 3 games completed before paying for another.

I'll keep you posted! With my massive disappointment in the game of the year, Breath of the Wild, what was your huge gaming disappointment?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Springtime Gamin III

Mega-babe Fairy. Finally found the Breast of the Wild.

I started over on Breath of the Wild, and am making my way across the abso-friggin-lutely huge terrain, getting distracted from main quests and finding too many things without an easy way to track them.

2 con-babe sisters Sasha and Fiona.
Tales from Borderlands was one of May's free PS+ games, and quite a good ride. The game is what you'd expect from a TellTale/Borderlands crossover: the cell-shaded laughing-in-hell charm of a Borderlands game mixed with the wit and comic-book-style of a choose-your-own-adventure game.

The cherry on top is that no matter how you play, you get the platinum trophy by the end of the 10-hour endeavor. Mad shout outs to the composer, though, who went out of his way to create an amazingly done credits sequence song for each of the 5 chapters.

Choices, choices.

This month's free PS+ games were Life is Strange and Killing Floor 2. I've already written about the first title, which, as much of a burn it is to have paid for it only a few months ago, is a fantastic title to give away. Killing Floor 2 is a ton of fun. Fast-paced co-op zombie survival with classes that you level up through playing the maps over and over. It feels like more of an expansion than a fully-developed game, but damn is it fun! I say that because of the limited frames of animation, the graphics quality and system operation (super loud fan for processing that shouldn't be intense), and the quality of sound. None of these are terrible, they're just not hundred-million-dollar projects like Call of Duty, Mass Effect, or Final Fantasy. In other words, this game feels like it belongs on the previous generation. Again, it's incredibly fun to blow away zombies!

Access to sunken areas granted.
Last on the trophying was Xeodrifter, the 8-bit Metroid-style alien hunter game. The soundtrack, graphics and gameplay are all perfectly NES-era. You start off in a rocket ship and can go to any 1 of 4 planets. One of those has monsters that move really quickly and kill you, so you painfully learn to turn back. While exploring another planet, you might find an screen that you just can't pass. The game doesn't tell you what you're looking for, and even has its own alien alphabet. Instead, like Metroid, it guides you to follow the right path based on obstacles that you can traverse as you gather more equipment and items.
Rekt the boss with a few hits to spare!
The bosses have predictable attack patterns, but also can destroy you quickly. However, after 5 minutes or so, you'll be able to beat that boss if you're learning from mistakes. The other test of memory is trying to remember where in the maps you got stuck and knowing to return. You can of course follow a guide, but I found most of the stat-boosting collectibles and completed the game in about 3 hours. So, like the quintessential NES game, it encourages you to explore and try things without exposition, the soundtrack is super cool, and the game punishes you for mistakes, but the whole experience is short and pretty awesome. I think Xeodrifter is easier to recommend because it's a small commitment to a great afternoon.

That's right, Sigma and Ultron merged. Wait, what?
Finally, the demo of Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite is currently free to download, and lets you play a section of story mode. This 30-minute session is pretty easy, and the matchups are against throwaway henchmen bots, rather than characters in the game. The graphics are super smooth, and every character gets a shiny metallic look, which is pretty neat. The character design, however, is a different story. I think Ryu hasn't ever looked like a Japanese person, but his new wide face, hawkish nose and large eyebrows make him look like a dinosaur. Chun Li has looked super European for a few games, but the SF community is making a big deal out of this being the ugliest Chun Li to date. Also, you've got King Arthur (Ghosts and Goblins) that runs and moves like a dork, and Dante (Devil May Cry) who's known for being over the top and his move set matches that. Finally, there is Ultron-Sigma, a mashup of a total Marvel badass and...Mega Man X's nemesis. This game's setting is all kinds of crazy. However, if I had the characters from the dozen games and universes, I'd be crazy, too. Ahh well, the fighting is smooth, combos and super moves are easy like an MvC game should be. Get the demo!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Frugality: How I stay ballin'

In light of my recent employment, I've been thinking about it a lot lately. At the highest point of my career, I had a salary of $36,000 - $53,000, depending on the JPY - USD exchange rate. This was the most money I've ever made by far.  Unfortunately, I only took advantage of the higher-end of that exchange for a few months in 2013 before the USD started getting stronger, shrinking my fund transfer amounts to 60% their value. Despite the fluctuations, in 2 years of saving half my salary, I paid off all credit card debt and invested about $30,000 into the US stock market via In 3 years, that $30k became $40k because the stock market is awesome. Because I live cheaply, I could essentially take 3-4 years off, if I really wanted. All these details are here because I know a decent amount of you have resources like this to save aggressively and get similar results. So, take this less as bragging and more as encouragement that you can do your own finance-fu too.

My middle-class salary days are over, though, folks. For the last 2 years, I've been working customer service work, making $12 per hour, mostly full-time. My New Years post shows that in 2016, I made $17k and socked away 17% of it, or $3000. I have since hit lean times and have had to start drawing on my savings. I still keep all of my frugality about me, and it's really important with little-to-no income.

Here are my conditions: I live by myself in an apartment 15 miles outside of Seattle, had no car for most of the last 2 years, and have a very small social life with partners and friends who pay their own way. I still give gifts, tip and go to birthday parties, I just don't have the latest phone, car or clothes. This lifestyle may not be for everyone, but here are some habits that will fit anyone.

Then it ejects a puck if you got pressing skills.
1) I almost never buy coffee to go. $2 here, $3 there for just the basic stuff might be fine for some of you, especially if you make more than minimum wage. 3 times a day, I use an Aeropress to produce some of the best coffee I've ever had. I personally use LaVazza, an Italian import that comes in a handful of flavors. The best coffee I ever had was in Italy, so why not keep it going? Also, here in Washington, LaVazza goes on sale for $6-8 every other week, plus Amazon sells bricks for the cheapest I've seen. Probably works out to 25 cents a cup, a lot less than the hot brew that comes out of those awesome vacuum thermoses. So that's $22.50 per month for something I can't live without, that also tastes amazing. Not going to cafes certainly miss out on a lot, though. No cute girls; no standing in line, listening to the comforting sounds of the machine (one of my biggest losses); and if the cup isn't satisfactory, it's your fault and there's no free replacement.

I just can't make that...
2) I try not to order food that I can make a satisfying version of. Satisfying, not better. I am not a steak person mostly because paying a week's worth of groceries for one main ingredient and several others pushes me away. Obviously, the chef's expertise, restaurant atmosphere, and freedom to enjoy such a high class meal makes the difference and is worth it for most other people on planet earth. Other forbidden foods: I try not to eat at restaurants with cuisine of countries I've been to. This is a weird one. I generally try not to eat at Italian restaurants because I've had it in Italy (and good stuff in New York) and I feel like having regular access to really good Italian food will diminish my desire to want to visit Italy again. Plus, I really enjoy the pasta I make, even if it's nowhere near authentic. There are purists who don't like cultural cuisine because it's not authentic, and that fact alone keeps them from ignoring the good food in front of them. I never eat Japanese food because I go there so often, I'd just rather save up a couple restaurant trips (it's so @#$#^ expensive) and buy a ticket to Home 2. I'm sure it tastes great, but each bite would make me want to go back that much less. However, I totally suck at making pizza. Even then, I doubt I could make a decent pizza for less than the cost of the $8 carryout that 3 local pizza chains offer. Once again, these aren't the most social of choices, but that's why you invite some friends over and enjoy it all together!

Side note: I try and make traveling sound trivial so it doesn't get written off as too expensive. I've visited 8 countries because I was either working there or stayed with a friend and cut major expenses like food and accommodations. Use any connections you have!

3) As mentioned previously, I get carryout rather than delivery most of the time. Even after a tip, I still save $4 delivery charge and $2-8 tax, depending on the size of the order. I'm out in the burbs, though, so hangouts are rarely more than 10 minutes from a pizza place.

cheap sirloin attack! 
4) Buy reasonably large. Since meat's sold by weight, buying more at once isn't necessary, unless it's a short-lasting sale. In that case, do what I did in the pictures and freeze!

5) I am on top of my subscriptions. I know which months my cable, Playstation and Amazon subscriptions renew. Every once in a while, I canceled Netflix for a few months after I've seen everything I'm interested in. My yearlong $50 internet (50Mbps) promotion was about to expire, so I called Comcast. 4 minutes later, I was rolled into the next year's $60 for faster internet (100Mbps) for the year, rather than the regular-priced $80. I know the customer service there is supposed to be Hell, but I had the best phone call that particular day. Sony raised the annual fee (which pays for online play and a dozen free games per year) by $10. I agree the service is worth every penny, but I still know that September is my month to browse and find that membership for $48. For those of you that have a subscription of a service you know you love, never ever pay month to month. This might be obvious, but I know someone who pays $8 per month for his gaming service because he doesn't notice the little fee monthly. He's paying $96 per year for the same service! It withers my shriveled, tormented soul every month.

6) Host get-togethers before your friends with money suggest going out. I can hear your eyes rolling. The tactful way to do this is the day or morning before Friday night when your buddies are wondering what's going down that night. That way, you offer the cheapest but most intimate default, and only the most passionate will argue their way out of it. My friends are definitely on to me when my apartment is the second or third suggestion, but making fun of dumb movies and consuming adult beverages is a cheap way to chill.

These suggestions are how I navigate minimum wage and keep afloat. I'll have more tips on how I stay ballin' in the future, stay tuned!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Springtime Gamin II

The last few weeks were a jumble of awesome stuff. Guardians of the Galaxy 2, a funk club night with my friends on a birthday, and that same friend graduating from law school.  Congratulations, Chad!

However, given that I now work part time from home, there has been a lot of time to work that controller.

Overwatch has taken about half my gaming's fun again. I'm finally being rewarded for hard work, as teammates are grouping up more, and I've switched to mainly playing support. I still have the arrogant complaint that whether it's Zarya or Zenyatta, I pretty often get gold medals for damage and eliminations. Why is this a complaint? This means DPS aren't doing their jobs, and I hate that this is normal. I'm not particularly great at taking out the enemy team, that means the other members must really be bad! Support should be medaling for healing and defensive assists, while your DPS is picking off the weak and racking up kills. I am stuck in a rank with a few good players, but most of them still will selfishly disregard good team composition and forming up to try the same inefficient lone wolf tactics over and over. This is why I'm trapped in gold and can't get out. Either way, it's still quite a miracle that the Overwatch community is still pumping a year after release; that's unheard-of for consoles! Congratulations, Blizzard!

Teleported here via that intense frog statue. Yep.
My last rental was quite a pleasant surprise; Earthlock plays and looks like JRPG. Bright, colorful graphics, turns, number damage, powered abilities after taking/doing enough damage, and a great soundtrack (link). The difference with Earthlock is that the developers are Norwegian, so there are some welcome differences. JRPGs usually miss the mark for relationship tropes, humor, and villains. Usually, there is unspoken or awkward love between two characters who never confront it, the humor is either about how a man likes women or a woman likes men, and the villains are usually the only Japanese characters who laugh. As much as I love certain parts of Japanese culture, I am so rarely blown away by the writing that goes into Japanese games and characters.

Might have to zoom in for this...
I love the way the robot talks in this game. 
This is of course where Earthlock stands out. There is no love interest whatsoever. No wasted scenes with awkward gasps and downcast eyes. Next, the game itself is light-hearted, but there aren't many jokes. This is shown through on-point localization and characters with a more colorful vocabulary than what's usually used in JRPGs. Finally, the villain is just a bad guy. I didn't notice anything particularly clever about the writing, but the story wasn't especially convoluted and easy to keep track of due to a short, 15-hour playthrough. That doesn't sound short, but the last RPG I played had a 110 hour save file.

You want it fast, strong, magical, or buff?
I wholeheartedly suggest this game to those of you who want the JRPG experience with a slight twist. It's got beautiful art, an amazing soundtrack, swappable party members and a custom level-up system. However, the plot is simple, there's minimal grinding, no random encounters, and a well-done soundtrack all along the way.

Because it's an arcade game...
I also tackled some PS3 arcade games: Marvel Super Heroes and Pacman Championship DX. Gotta keep the 2-games-out, 1-game-in factory working!
Spidey's victory quote cuts deep.
A burn that brings its own questions about the person who said it.
Pac-man on crack, man!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Springtime Gamin'

There's a cafe in Hell, too.
Odin Sphere turned out to be a mildly entertaining game. It's a beat-em-up game with some very rudimentary leveling. The twist is that the experience is gained only minimally by fighting, and the rest by eating at restaurants and cooking.

A friend of mine had told me that Japanese people will almost never claim to have a religion or be religious, yet their cultural attitudes toward food is pretty religious. While America is probably dead last in terms of rich countries' quality of food, Japan is the only country I've traveled to where local food is more expensive than imported food. At the start of the meal, you say a phrase about beginning to eat. Also, it's considered good manners to eat all the grains of rice in your bowl, and if you've ever seen a Japanese lunchbox, you'll know that it's always worth having multiple tastes in a meal, no matter how small. So many of their tv shows have a food segment, and Japanese dishes always strive to have lots of colors. I mention all this because The Japanese respect for food shows up in games, whether it's food to restore HP or some usually-stupid fishing mini-game.

Dad's an asshole in this game, too!
But back to Odin Sphere: it was 5 5-hour campaigns that center around a few events from your characters' different perspectives, but the plot is so littered with predictable tropes that I skipped more than half of the cutscenes. Nevertheless, it was fun to mash buttons and see how many levels I could gain off a good eating sesh.

Next up is Murdered: Soul Suspect. This detective game is more of an interactive story that is very well-told. Great voice acting, slick graphics, and one of my favorite game features: the collectibles unlock content. The extra stories are only a few minutes long, but pretty awesome.

This mode sucks!
Side note, I wanna jaw about the newest Call of Duty. Mop up on Aisle 7, there's been a spill of haterade. Boo on going to World War 2. I said before that Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was really awesome. I think it's silly that no one played the game because they were sick of the franchise, and then turn around and applaud the series switching back to WW2-era combat. Full disclosure: I am super biased against WW1 and 2 titles because the genre is saturated, I usually can't tell who's who (green vs gray), and the weapons all look and feel the same. CoD should have stayed in the future. It was more like Titanfall than Halo and the next Battlefield could have been that era, following up to 2016's title. The only real way to save the situation for me is if Battlefield's next game was futuristic. Like the franchises trying to one-up each other. Anyhow, that's not going to happen, and I'll probably end up playing it, and hoping to high hell that there is no zombies mode.

Anyhow, last update is that one of the titles on my 2017 Gaming Goals is on sale! I just bought I Am Setsuna for 40% off! I'll get around to it before the summer.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

April game showers

Finished up Bioshock Infinite DLC, which was a pleasure. 2 of the 3 episodes delve deeper into Rapture (Bioshock 1) and Columbia (Bioshock Infinite) and flush out some of the character details.

Dat's priddy.
Next on the list was Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, which was a pretty sweet short game, taking 5 hours or so to go through the main story and mop up. Gameplay is some pretty simple puzzles, and you control each brother with a different analog stick, providing some neat coordination. The story itself has an emotional doozy that sets it apart from other titles, but that's something to be expected with indie games.

A quick note is that I topped off Gems of War, which came out with a few more trophies along with its February overhaul.

I sat down to try Disc Jam, February's free title on PS+. It's a frisbee game that is all about timing, and my online record is 1W 20L, and I only started playing a week after it came out. It's hard not to let a horrible record like this color my opinion of the game, but it was free, so it had that going for it.

I also got to try Smite, a free-to-play MOBA that I'd been curious about for a while, and like it quite a bit. The problem is that Overwatch's April event, Uprising, is just so damned cool and taking a lot of my game time. While I'm talking about Uprising, Overwatch would be great except the players. As with every other mode, you really need to work at a team, and selfish players are rampant, trying to get as many kills as they can, forgetting about team composition and support. This is such an integral part of the game and leads to such frustration that I set much shorter match limits and game session time before I move on to other titles for the day. Fucking Overwatch.

I am Death in Reaper form...pretty cool.
Which leaves me with the last title that I have put 50 hours into, and have mixed feelings about. Darksiders 2 is an action adventure game with limited exploring, dungeons and fast-paced fighting reminiscent of God of War. I'd say it's a mixture of combat like GoW, exploration and puzzles like Zelda, and loot with stats like Diablo. It's violent, the watercolor graphics work well with the demonic tone, and the campaign is quite long and varied. So far, so good. However, the game has three things that piss me off to high hell.

Where the hell are the wrath potions? I'm at the end of the
story and there's just no
reason for this other than piss-poor game design
The first is that your character can hold 5 health potions and wrath (think MP) potions, but for some REALLY stupid reason, the vendors sell limited amounts of potions. Some jackass actually decided this was a feature of this game. So, occasionally, you'll want to top out your potions before a mission (or in the middle, you can actually fast travel in and out of dungeon rooms), and the vendor will only provide you 3 out of 5 potions, so you have to travel to yet another one to fill up your stock. Add in loading time, and the fact that some of the fast travel points are still a short walk away from the vendors and this is incredibly annoying. Especially, the Crucible. This is a 100 wave survival fest, where you have the option to take an item every 5 waves, and there are checkpoints every 25. However, there's no vendor in the Crucible, and if you die, the game saves your potion use, despite giving you nothing else. This so unnecessarily interrupts the gameplay that it's both stupid, and shows the developers don't respect their gamers. There's also a bug where you trade in this limited currency (boatmen coins) you find around the map, but if your inventory is full, or your reload to try again, you lose the weapon you traded this finite resource for. That frustration is a little less than the granddaddy of them all.

Didn't bother to load or render the floor...I shortly
fell through and the game crashed after this.
This game crashes. All the time. I keep getting to 1 or 2 Crucible battles from the next wave checkpoint and the game will crash. This is not as bad during the main campaign, as dungeons have checkpoints every 5 minutes or so. However, between the potion thing, since the game takes the perverse chance to save your potion use and then crash, you are left with a huge waste of time. I absolutely can't stand games that are made to this poor level of standard, but am so close to the platinum that I will slog on. In doing the 100 waves of Crucible, the game has crashed 10 times in the span of about 6 hours of playing. That 6 hours would probably be 5 if not for crashing, and 2 if I didn't have to leave the area, loading screen, teleport to the potion vendor, loading screen, and then walk to the vendor, and teleport back, loading screen.

At least there are cool boss fights.
Darksiders 2 is what you get when designers and programmers don't attend the same meetings, and it's even more frustrating when a game is so good in other aspects but one. That spoils the milk, and I'm glad I'm renting this and didn't pay full price for it. It's truly hard to recommend unless you have the patience of a Zen monk or played the first title and it blew your hair backwards. Otherwise, play Zelda, God of War or Diablo, which are games that were actually playtested.

Next up: Odin Sphere, a 2d J-Action-RPG!
Take that Viking Robotnik!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

In March 2017

March: Zelda, Defense Grid 2, Ratchet and Clank, Overwatch, Far Cry: Primal, Super Stardust Ultra, Gems of War.

After some initial doubt about whether or not I could get Breath of the Wild, I finally nabbed it off Amazon a few days after release (for that sweet $48.)

However, I have sinned, readers. I played Zelda: Breath of the Wild for about 4 hours and put down the controller. However, let me redeem myself, cause this was just a case of bad timing.

I joined Gamefly this month, and they have a promotion for 2 games at once for 2 months for $20 total. My first rental was Far Cry: Primal: a sandbox game with hunting, stalking and crafting. Also recently released and on my list is Horizon: Zero Dawn, which has hunting and stalking. Zelda: Breath of the Wild also has a great deal of...hunting, stalking and crafting. So, I will hold off on journeying through Zelda until I put some space between other games that are so similar, to give Zelda the proper attention and respect. That said, let's get on with the latest game pursuits.

Far Cry: Primal was a super-enjoyable easy platinum that was just long enough. I'm not a big fan of sandbox games because they're usually too big. The nonlinear story was probably 5 hours, with plenty of distracting side missions and collectibles. Luckily, you only need to collect slightly more than half of all them, plus they give you XP to help you level. If any developers are reading this: do what Far Cry did and make your collectible items tied into the gameplay, and you get a permanent thumbs up from me: art galleries for finding 100 items are so anti-climactic.

Whatup, Sayla?
Also, the game is gorgeous. The terrain is very uneven, there are plenty of ways to get from A to B, but as large as the world is, there are very little obstructions: an unscalable cliff usually only takes 30 seconds to sprint around, which I feel encourages you to explore. Most other games would require a key, item or vehicle to let you access things like that. You can also slide down walls for most steep descents, which is another way to keep travel going smoothly. Finally, the game has almost no loading time, which is crazy considering how big the world is. It's hard to imagine that all sandbox games are this tightly constructed in that you don't need 200 hours to fully explore every nook and cranny to get dat platinum. Also, bonus: hot cavewomen.

Sweet, sweet graphics!
Next up is a rental I completed in 3 fun-filled days: Ratchet and Clank. These adventure platform games are always a win, with quality voice acting and funny scenes that aren't too intrusive to the gameplay. The levels have lots of enemies, explosions, and creative weapons that get stronger the more you use them. For example, instead of the freeze ray, the equivalent weapon pixellates enemies, turning them 2D. Instead of stopping, you throw a disco ball that pacifies enemies by making them dance, complete with music and all. These features, plus great graphics and sound design made my two playthroughs very very enjoyable.

Defense Grid 2 is a tower defense game and easy platinum that took a bit longer than I expected. There are 20 levels, but to get the trophies, you have to replay a lot of them under different conditions. However, the are many ways to win, so you can play pretty creatively. It took me about 15 hours, and I finished 1/3rd of a season of Star Trek, so the repetition was easily overcome!

Everyone needs a game that cuts to the action, and Super Stardust Ultra is it. No story or cutscenes, SSU is a twin-stick shooter with awesome graphics and bumpin electronic music. Sometimes you're caught at a rough part of your main game, or a part of an RPG is just dragon on (yeah, that's not autocorrect). SSU scratches the itch and breaks the monotony, and playing it loud and inebriated makes it that much better.

Side note that a long-locked trophy on Overwatch finally popped for me. Since OW is completely online PVP, the trophies were easier to get when it first came out and everyone sucked at the game. Now that it's been out 9 months, between skilled gamers and Blizzard trying to keep trophy boosters out by constant rotation and strict idling rules, you have to git gud 2 git trophies. I had actually done what was required in the first month of having the game, but Sony didn't recognize it. Well, Can't Touch This is mine, now!

Gems of War is still free to play, and got another update and trophy package. Get you some!

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

February Game Buster

I used all 28 days in February to put in work on my Gaming Goals in 2017. First up: Axiom Verge. This game rules so hard. If you liked Super Metroid, you'll love this game. It's got a slick 16-bit look, complete with a fitting, atmospheric soundtrack, non-invasive storytelling and tight controls. My first play-through was on Hard, and I also wanted to collect all items, scattered throughout the map. There is no in-game indicator of hidden items, like Super Metroid/Castlevania's white map dot, or like Metroid Prime's item hum. Instead, you get a dot when you've collected all items in an area, which is really only handy when you're in the last parts of collection cleanup. All this took me 17 hours, and I was shocked that my subsequent play on a lower difficulty didn't feel much easier. The last thing I'll say is that the game is great in its own right, but the art, programming and music were all done by one talented Tom Happ. Bravo, mate!
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The second game went on sale for $5 (frugal fist-pump) the week after I wrote about wanting to play it: Life is Strange. This interactive story has very little action gameplay, as you primarily examine objects and talk to people. Whereas Mass Effect, Chrono Cross, and other choice-influenced narratives had a lot of gameplay and production value, this game has a much smaller scope, but is richly produced. For me, Mass Effect had scenes that fell flat because awkward voice acting, animation, or maybe I was just not in the right frame of mind. Plus, for all the choices to make, the handful of similar endings was infamously lackluster. Chrono Cross had 12 different endings which were vastly different, and may have been a better execution of an evolving story, but the 40 characters were too much to handle. Instead of saving the world or galaxy, Life is Strange wins significance for exploring a part of life that everyone can relate to: high school.
Rip it, Chloe!
This game is probably the most linguistically modern thing I've ever played. There is a lot of swearing, the collocations are alive and cracking, and the NPCs feel like real people. While you go through some pretty mundane experiences, like building friendship via friendly conversation choices, there is a hint of supernatural, and the end product is pretty compelling. It's definitely one of the easiest platinum trophies out there, but challenge wasn't the point of Life.

As a bonus, the last day of the month saw Defense Grid 2 go on sale for $1.50! This is another game from my 2017 list! (So, double-arm frugal fist-pump). Go-go-tower defense!

Lastly, one surprise is that I fired up the free-to-play MOBA Kill Strain for the first time in a while, just to get the 2 remaining silver trophies (and thus platinum) in one very lucky round! That brings a 6 month platinum path to a close.

Update: I made a video about Kill Strain!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

My 1500 cents

Call me naive, call me a lunatic, but more businesses need to pay more than market minimum. Workers are more productive than ever. Think about that drive-thru employee is listening to your order while transacting with the person ahead of you. Now that that's in your head, do you remember what it's like to talk to two people at once about different things? Granted, you're not exactly discussing the merits of universal healthcare and basic income with the drive-thru associate, but multitasking in that way requires practice. Now, add money handling and some spot reading for entering these items into a console. Is that skill really only marginally valuable? Is that really what fast food workers did 20 years ago?

What about clerical work? It's true that certain types of knowledge are left to your supervisors and co-workers, like processes, policies, and management. However, so many questions can be Googled verbatim and avoid the labor of old school research. During my telephone customer service job at Zumiez, 15 of us (in shifts of 8-10 people) handled website issues, orders and store feedback for 600 stores across the nation. One phone call could have me using up to 8 different applications. This could not have been done at this level of efficiency 25 years ago, plain and simple.

Most of those store owners and CEOs didn't have to work at that capacity in that position in their time. I'm not saying they didn't have their challenges, but there needs to be a lot more empathy for raising the wage floor. The workforce asks a lot of their employees, and it's insulting to argue against raising minimum wage.

Obviously, opponents of raising minimum wage aren't against paying employees more. You'll hear reasoning that higher wages mean higher prices in general rising. Well, maintaining the status quo has screwed us over. Also, products aren't going to cost $6 per hour more. That is impossible. People might have a few years of tight wallets while the markets adjust, but I am positive about the outcome. Hopefully some opportunists will sock away their extra funds in this period of adjustment.

A restaurant in Seattle did away with tips after making the change in wages. So, while their menu prices have gone up, customers who are satisfied with their servers making a living wage won't be shelling out that much more to eat. Of course, frugal peeps like you and me say they should be cooking at home, and that this is a luxury anyway! However, I don't want that to detract from the case I'm building that the conscientious customer force is growing; there are lots of people who pay more because they know workers get more. This doesn't have to be just restaurants. Consider the consumers who make an effort to buy products made in America because the goods are likely produced under fair work conditions. Whole Foods and Costco don't show any signs of slouching on prices or employee pay. These businesses are certainly targeting those who have the money for it, and the $15 minimum would welcome some people into this group. That oughtta do some good, eh?

Then there are others who currently make under $15 and more than minimum wage, and fear they'll suddenly be out-earned. Are you kidding me? Do you really think your profession's unions and employees won't demand more once they see the world still standing after such a dramatic change? If not, quit your job and apply for the new minimum wage!

One last common argument against raising the minimum wage is that there will be less work to go around. Automation is coming anyway, and businesses have long been shafting employees of benefits by keeping them under full-time status. Also, I've stitched together 3 jobs to make a living before: this new minimum may mean people in that position only have to work 2.

So that's my 1500 cents on minimum wage. Cost of living is going up anyway, and we all work hard and so deserve it. If you are in Seattle, you're all set cause it's coming. Maybe we can next focus on the stingy bullshit 2 weeks annual vacation, or ridiculous heavy-handedness in giving managers bonuses that they don't pass on to their underlings next. Maybe we can abolish or limit exempt (overtime without pay) and keep the deserving managers a little happier.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Gaming Goals in 2017

Part of my frugality includes my 2 games beaten, 1 game bought policy. I didn't do very well last year, achieving 1.4 games beaten for each new one I spent money on in 2016. Well, why not make a plan this time? This list of games I want to play in 2017 is an attempt to balance newly-acquired games and ones that have been sitting around for longer. While I'm at it, I might as well talk about em!

1) Axiom Verge. I saw a preview video a year or so ago, and just got it now cause it was on sale.

2) Infamous 2: First Light. Really fun, if ridiculous, game, and a solid, quick platinum trophy package.

3) Funk of Titans. This looked like a neat platformer of which I only saw a snippet.

4) Defense Grid. I love tower defense games, and haven't seen anything I liked for the current generation of systems. Hopefully this scratches the itch!

I have no idea what this game is about...
5) Sideway. This street-art-style platformer has been sitting on my PS3 for years, and has a very easy trophy rating. The perspective reinforces that you are a 2d sprite sometimes, just like the 3ds Zelda game, so that's cool.

6) Danganronpa. I saw it as a recommendation for a fun-and-easy platinum list.

7) Oceanhorn. I bought it in January, and this top-view adventure game is going to be dope daddy dollars! There have been comparisons to Wind Waker, and that is a good thing.

8) I am Setsuna. I missed TWO sales on this classic JRPG with Chrono Trigger-style combat, with the rationale that I'd buy it after I did more damage to my backlog.

9) Any Final Fantasy titles because Final Fantasy rules.

10) Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild. Ditto for above.

I look forward to experiencing these titles, and will of course let you know the skinny on how these games treated me. First up: Axiom-Verge-a-go-go!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Games of 2017: January's Task

Happy New Year! 2017 has gone off to a good start: I'm back into Overwatch, and doing a pretty well, after a frustrating Fall. Mei is still overpowered, but some recent tweaks, such as making more loot chests, an extra map, and Mystery Heroes has revived my interest in the game. It's just too bad I still get shitty loot boxes. In related news, January 2017 was my most platinum-trophy-productive month ever! Added bonus: 3 out of 4 of these games were free via PS+.

select item, select action, figure it out!
In the first week of January, I'd already gotten two platinum trophies! Day of the Tentacle was this month's free PS+ download, and I did everything in one session. The actual game is an old-school LucasArts adventure game with tons of light-hearted comedy that totally fell flat on me. The puzzles and barriers in games like this are often obscure and require an extensive memory, so I usually use guides to blaze through. Luckily, kind souls out there write spoiler-free guides so that I can get both the experience and the goodies.

Zap da giant 'nukular' ants
The other game was recommended by my friend, Damon of Videogames and Sushi, and is called Deadly Tower of Monsters. This is a beat-em-up action game that's gimmick is that it's supposedly a cheesy low-budget 70s-style sci-fi flick. The obnoxious director narrates, and the game's setting gives it plenty of permission to be totally random. It was the perfect length at about 5 hours to platinum, start to finish. Luckily, only an hour of that was backtracking, so that's just icing on the cake!

Third on my January platinums list was my favorite game in a while: Stories: Path of Destinies. This game has a lot going for it, including a hilarious narrator that tells the whole story, twists, jokes and all. It's laid out like a book, and throughout the 45-minute game, you get to make 4-5 major choices in the story, resulting in some 25 different endings. In most of the endings, main characters end up dead, and there is pretty much only one happy ending, which you have to piece together the right choices. You'll end up playing the same linear levels, with slightly different goals, and there are parts where paths split, too. However, Reynardo the fox, your badass hero, is quite the menace to his enemies.
Take that, ravens!
The combat in this game flows like the Batman games in that you're surrounded by enemies and take them down, one move at a time. You level up and learn additional combat skills, and I would recommend this game to anyone!

This gun provided a...riveting experience
The caboose on my platinum trophy train was Bioshock 2 on the PS4, which was my first time playing the title. I thoroughly enjoyed this game. I think the warnings I'd gotten about the game were due to the PS3 version's multiplayer, which was cut from the remaster. The trophies are merciful in that you only need to get most of the collectibles, and as long as you stay on your toes, you won't die very often. Even on the highest difficulty, I found myself overloaded with ammo and money. My favorite part of the game was early on, you get to walk through a broken amusement park built by Andrew Ryan, with animated dioramas that show how "the parasite" (government) always steals from the common man's hard work and brilliant ideas. This series' world-building is the best in the biz, and you should definitely try it out, if you haven't!

There you have it, 4 platinum trophies in 31 days. What was your most productive month ?

FFXV DLC: F MINUS and other stuff