DQ9 - It has me

Having recieved a New 3DS during the latest yuletime period, I have been gripped by what can only be described as RPG-lust fever.  By perusing the new and used options on Amazon I have managed to amass quite the collection already; Bravely Default, Xenoblade Chronicles, Monster Hunter and Fire Emblem to name but a few.  

Er.. Heh.. *Ahem*

However, none of these games have recieved quite the attention I am sure they deserve.  This is almost entirely due to the 60-something hours I have put into Dragon Quest 9.  This game has a tight grip on me and does not want to let go.

Essentially, this game gives you a Dragon Quest universe, points roughly in the direction of the plot, then slinks off for a vacation whilst you figure the rest out.  Now this can be an issue - some games do not hold your hand at all, and it can be arrestingly daunting.  The first time I picked up Black Flag I played the intro and got to the first port, at which point the game presented me with about eleventy-billion things to do and I summarily turned it off, not knowing which one was important and why.  So if it does not hold your hand, nor stifle you with options, why am I enraptured by this game?

Well, for a start, it has the basic RPG fun elements down to a science.  Each town I reach has new items.  These items are expensive but I would like them, especially since each new item now displays on your party members during battle and on the field.  So how could I go about affording them? Well, money is obtained by winning battles and coincidentally so are levels and skill points.  Well shit, looks like I am back in the warm comfy grinding zone and 4 hours have passed. 

Aw yeaaaah

So far, so basic.

Character creation is fairly swish.  You customise your main character in a variety of Toriyama designed ways, the the option opening up a short way into the story to customise your class and learn new skills.  It was not entirely well described that you can recruit / design further party members, but apparently this is the DQ norm.  All in all, still pretty basic right?

However.  Things changed somewhat when I started to gain quests.  This is not out of the orginary for an RPG game surely, however I was a little surprised at their being 100+ side quests squeezed into this little cartridge.  My fondness began to grow further when I realised that despite my 60+ hours of game time, I had only completed 4% of the Alchenomicon - a log of your completed alchemy recipes.  For reference, I have completed 16 quests in this time.

That's not to say that the game is long or drags on in any way - you can set up options to ensure your party members simply make thier own choices if you wish, which speeds up battles significantly.  They make good decisions too, even using items in battle to cast spells rather than use thier MP pool on stronger spells.  Just be sure to turn it off when facing a boss though..

What a guy.

Combine this all with a pleasing aesthetic, a nice soundtrack and a well written script - as above - and well, you have a recipe for disaster.  My disaster to be exact, I can't get anything else done.  

Now go away, I have Metal King Slimes to locate.  

Go on, Shoo!


Why you should be watching AGDQ this week.

- You might see a world record broken.

These guys study their hobby harder than most people do their jobs.  Hell to some of them, this is their job, subsidized by streaming revenue.  If there is a way tocomplete a game faster, they will find it.  Often times, by sheer force of will.

24 Hours, 2 Buttons

- The people are entertainers.

Let's be honest, we've seen some old speedruns that were dull as dishwater.  People sitting on a couch watching one dude violently rub his character against a wall until he clips through it cannot keep us happy for hours.  Fear not, however, since some of the runners and their friends are incredibly entertaining.  There are some great runs out there with very funny couch accoutrements.  The following Link to the Past run sticks out in my mind as one I frequently watch, and whilst the skills are impressive, I stay for the commentary.

Them translation skills

- They often race, with explosive results.

I cannot personally think of many tasks you could set 2 skilled people doing, for 30 minutes, and expect them to finish within 1 second of each other.  However, this is exactly what happened this year when 2 runners raced to finish the classic, Super Mario Kart.  The ending is priceless.

Just one second

- Charity.

Events like this are rarefied. They unite people under a common banner - Charity.  We're playing games because we enjoy them, we're very good at them and oh by the way we're raising millions for charities around the world.  Some of these guys pull days without sleep just to keep the show going, to keep the entertainment pumping out, which keeps the donations coming in.  

Another great show has kicked off this January, so tune in and if you like what you see, think about donating.

Did I mention you can win a Pinball machine this year?


Xenoblade Chronicles Revisited

With an impending sequel now imminent, and the original available in handheld form, it is time to revisit this hidden gem and take a look into how it captured our hearts.  

Pictured:  Half of the world map...Plus some grass at the bottom there.

So what is Xenoblade Chronicles all about?  Well, it can be hard to describe.  It starts out with a playable introduction of Man vs Machines, of one confident man and an inexplicably powerful weapon. Through the use of this weapon he is able to defeat them, though he struggles to control it's power.  Of course, this is just to set the scene, an image of times gone by depicting a hero bravely fighting off an advancing robotic horde.  Well, that is one of the images shown, however the game soon revolves around the ability to control the aforementioned weapon - the Monado.

Get used to hearing that name.  After discovering the protagonist, Shulk, can wield this, the story arcs in the sword's direction.  After peeling away at some obvious layers, and some less so, it moves along at quite a good pace.  The voice acting is actually very effective, and the interactions between characters can be quite believable at times.  You're even encouraged to view each of their interactions in 'heart to heart' areas, unlocked if you increase their friendship levels.

All of this would unfortunately grind to a halt, however, were it not for the excellent gameplay systems put in place.  The combat is an intuitive mix of real time movement and menu based action selections.  Think Kingdom Hearts but with a slower, more meaningful movement system.  

Pictured:  A leg.

This movement system really comes into play when considering the archetypes at your disposal - One character is quite obviously a tank archetype, and whilst you can choose to control him if you wish, new players with predominantly control Shulk, a heavy dps archetype.  It is not uncommon to find yourself in the position of facing a difficult enemy considering whether to attack from the side to inflict a debuff, or the back for major damage.  Do I knock this enemy over, or perhaps attempt to poison it?  Should I save my major heal, or burn it now and hope the cooldown is over by the time I need it again?  These are all decisions required in the heat of the moment, where getting it wrong will mean a restart.  However when you get it right, and your team of three work in tandem to down a rare spawn, it will feel very rewarding.

Rewarding feelings not good enough?  Well, luckily there is a fully fleshed out loot system, replete with rare drops, armour pieces and even gems to slot into your equipment for extra effects.  Collectable items sparkle in each zone encouraging the perfectionist in you to, well, collect them all. 

Pictured:  A Dance Apple... No I am not making these up.

I could go on.  I could extol the virtues of the break system, the tiered skill system that encourages party diversity, the post end game super bosses, the sheer massive size of the map.  Alas, the space available here and indeed the words within are not fully capable of describing this masterpiece.  With it now faithfully converted to run on the 3DS, there is no excuse to miss out.  Buy it.  Love it.  You're welcome.


Retro Archive I - Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

Here at IN we're hoping to make this a bit of a regular occurrence, so first on the chopping block we have a favorite of many - Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.  A classic GBA gem.

For me, at least, this game really opened my eyes to one of the best periods in gaming.  The GBA had a period in time where we saw multiple killer, must have releases. FFTA, Advance Wars, Metroid Fusion, multiple Castlevania titles, Golden Sun, multiple Pokemon titles.  A link to the past saw a release alongside four swords.  Alongside the backlit SP, this was an incredible time to be a gamer.  Somehow, though, FFTA managed to stand out against all of these releases.

We had seen FFT go before on the PS1, which sadly did not see a full release here in the UK, and whilst it had good reviews, in the FF community it was considered gold.  This game had incredible depth, even more so than desired considering people's ability to break the game with one Mathematician.  Now though, there was a GBA released on it's way.  Everyone immediately considered that this would be a port of the PS1 game, and whilst the SRPG style remained, this was much closer to a Tactics Ogre game, but with FF classes and lore rolled in - and this, it turned out, was no bad thing.

Upon firing the game up you're greeted by a short introductory battle, which shows you the basic system, then you're thrown into an alien world, given the ability to manage a clan, and the freedom to take missions.  These missions took the form of differing goals and requirements, but essentially boiled down to going to a location and battling bad guys until you win.  Sometimes you have to kill a boss, other times you're required to simply destroy all units.  Missions would have rewards and many times these rewards became requirements to open up further  missions.  Law's were introduced into battles to add a further layer of strategy.  Black magic could be banned due to a law in battle, so you were forced to work around this, and whilst that sounds like a restricting mechanic - it opened your eyes to the great collection of moves available on other classes.

It is important to note that less than a third of this game was required in order to complete the storyline.  You could, if you wished, simply fly through the game with minimal grinding.  Some party formation is required, like taking black mages to certain competition missions, but other than these requirements you could take on each story battle and do fairly well.  However, the real meat is to be found elsewhere.

Side missions could be taken at any point, with the completion of these leveling not only your units but your clan.  Each member of your clan could choose a class and learn abilities from items equipped, which in turn gains access to further classes.  Certain items gained from high difficulty missions, or achieving certain clan levels, gave access to very powerful spells.  The game turned from a story driven game, to a mission based hunt for items and levels, every time you powered it up.  

The quest for new missions, secret characters and powerful items became all encompassing.  This was no longer a game with a storyline, which was at best generic rpg fare, it became a quest to better yourself and your clan in any way possible.  Hours would slide by as days gave way to Tactics days, which were infinitely more enjoyable.  Do yourselves a favor, if you have not already, find a way to play this game again, it is so worth it.


Guardians of Middle Earth - Doing it wrong

I can only assume the sales meeting was a singular occasion?  Filled with lines such as "They struck gold, but their market is saturated, we know people will pay for a triple A".  Scratch that, the meeting probably ended on a melancholy note after the decision had been made upstairs, and ended up with a bunch of genuinely talented guys feeling worried for their jobs.

Let me give a little more info.  Heading over to Steam for my bi-hourly check on titles and deals I couldn't help but notice a game in the 'Coming Soon' section.  Guardians of Middle Earth.  Now, I will be the first to admit I am not a huge LOTR fan.  I did enjoy the films, but the franchise holds no great water with me and as such, neither have the games.  People were reading the books at around about the same time I was sitting at home mashing as much JRPG into my face as possible. 

However, something about this game struck me.  It was a number - 85.43 - more precisely it had a pound sign in front of it.  You see, after a quick surmise of the 7 slots this took up on the coming soon list, that number is how much I now believe it will cost me to buy the game, with the initial outlay for the game being 13.49, and all or most of the heroes available for play.  Would you pay that for a game?  Triple A title?  I didn't think so, and nor would I.

So herein lies the doing it wrong section of my piece.  Now I will be the first to admit, I have probably dropped a load of cash on LoL, as I suspect many others have, but not like this.  When first asked by my friends to download League, I asked questions, and received answers.  Answers like, 'you can play the free guys and save up points' and 'sure you can buy them, but just save up, you get points by playing so it's all good'.  So I asked - is there a demo I can try?  'It's free, just download it and go'.

And where are we now?  30 million plus active players?  Dota 2 was fully released recently, almost a million people watched their International tournament and they recently reported 6 million accounts.  If you were releasing a moba into this market place, would you show 7 slots worth of cash requirements, asking people to drop almost a ton on it just to play all the heroes? 

Come on guys, wake up.  You're riding on the coat tails of giants here.  The precedent has been set and you're deviating.  Yes, I realize that you can probably earn the heroes through in game points, and if we were to add up the prices on heroes from other games you might be good value.  But they didn't shove it under our noses with a cash value on it, nor do they display a barrier of entry.  Further reading reveals that, according to the Steam blurb, I can buy items and buffs with that which I earn in game.  So.. can heroes be purchased in this fashion.. Or not?

I always feel bad slating a game who's fate has seemingly been decided by the suits upstairs.  I don't doubt that the game would be enjoyable, and that the development team put their heart and soul into it, but this is the wrong way to go about it.  The titular name may bring it some attention, but damage has already been done. 

Other moba give new players so many angles to get in, so many reasons to play.  Your game is showing up on a competitors platform, a platform that plays host to multiple millions of users every day, millions of potential customers always looking for new experiences.  There are 10 days until release on Steam, so perhaps it is not too late.  Alas, though, all I see are 85.43 reasons to stay away.

I thought we all learned these lessons years ago?


Indie Awareness - Terraria

Hoping to make this a bit of a regular thing, I thought I would take some time out to write about one of the games that has recently grabbed me once again.  Let me give a little history:

Last year my friends and I picked up this small game on Steam, +Terraria, very much riding on the coat tails of Minecraft, and figured we would give it a shot.  Little did we know it would consume our evenings and weekends for a good month.  Each night logging onto our own server to run around mining, creating, falling, getting up again, mining some more... We even discovered a 'hard' world, which came as a surprise considering the difficulty of a certain wall of flesh boss that we, in our pitiful gear and bow and arrow pings, had battled to the death many a time.  Our deaths, mostly.

We even built our own castle.  

Then shopkeeper's moved in, a jungle was discovered, and even a dungeon at the far end of the map.  We discovered new metals to mine, new weapons to make, new accessories and enemies to defeat.  This is indie, creative, open world heaven.  In fact it is so open to your whim, that we decided one day to dig directly down from our castle and create our own 'Hellavator' to reach the hell level in one drop.  Sure, we used a small fortune in explosives, spent hours removing the lava in our way, and there is a good chance you might die if an enemy gets in the way of your drop, but we didn't care.  It was, and still is, fun.  Besides, there's nothing quite like a small, insignificant low level bat ruining your well equipped, rich, high geared friend's day just by being in the wrong place.

I have recently played the game again and it has lost none of its shine.  There is something special about being dumped in a world that you can gleefully destroy and collect in the same breath, in whatever way you feel.  Want to live in a cave, run out at night to salvage and fight as much as you can, then retreat?  By all means, go ahead.  Want to get a group of friends together and build a castle, then rampage over the foreign lands laying waste to it all?  By all means.

This is a brilliant little game.  No other game offers this value for money either.  You can get it for pennies on Steam now.  You waste more money than you'll pay just thinking about games good enough to spend money on.  Pick this one up, you will not regret it, and I'll see you in a month when you get out the other end.


FF7 on Steam - Square dipping their toe for a reason?

As I am sure most of you are aware, recently +Square Enix released Final Fantasy 7 on Steam.

I for one loved the game at release, so much so that I refused to complete the game many months after most of my friends had done so.  I did not buy it day one of release, since money was not an object in good supply during my youth, but my mother did her best and bought me it for christmas of '97, and after waiting through people talking about this great experience - I was not about to let it end quickly.  I ground like a madman around the map, refusing to take part in the storyline until I had discovered everything.

I did not fight Reno for the first time until I had Bolt2.

Back in the now, though, and we see this as the first Final Fantasy released on Steam.  Could this be a portent of things to come?  We are all aware of how popular the platform has become.  From the messy client I was forced to download just to play CS 1.6, I now login every single day to check on deals, see if my friends are online and check up on community news.

Granted, the release was not entirely smooth.  There were complaints about the music, you still actually need a Square account and the lack of a full graphical overhaul does remind you just how constrained they were by the PS1.  Regardless though, this is a big 'FF' title on Steam, which is a step in the right direction.  Could we see Realm Reborn on Steam?  More classics from the archives? 

These epic RPG experiences are why I buy consoles at all, but if they're available on Steam, and handheld devices, well...  Is there really much point in that box under my TV any more.

Rogue Legacy

I did have a weekend planned.  It contained many things.  I intended to watch thousands of people watching smaller numbers of more skillful people, virtually jousting with each other at MLG.  I even considered visiting family.

Clearly, I had forgotten that this weekend was Rogue Legacy weekend.  It has taken over, spread it's wings upon my time spent doing anything else.  I will get little else done this weekend, but I do not care, not when it feels so warm under here.

It never fails to surprise me.  Just when you think the Indie scene is going somewhat quiet, that their games have lost their shine somewhat, one comes along and reminds you how in touch they are.  Rogue Legacy is a fantastic little game, and one you can sink many, many hours into.  It rewards you for winning, and it rewards you for failing.  If, like me, you're a little put off by that notion at first well, fear not, they have done well.  

Let me explain the process you will go through when you first start to play.  Almost immediately you will consider Castlevania, and rightly so.  There is a castle, it can be explored and there are secrets to discover.  Treasure chests litter floors laced with traps and unfair mobs only too happy to end your characters life with relative ease.  You will not find health pots in every corner willing to hand hold you through the next room.  It's pretty much you, that health bar, a jump button and an attack button.  Well we all know how this is going to end, and pretty soon it does.

After a short amount of confusion upon being whisked back to the title screen after a measly ghost finished me off, you get to choose an heir.  Granted, I had been told about this feature prior to my purchase, but I did not realize it would be handled so well.  You choose an heir from a small selection of characters, each with their own slant on life in the game.  Pick an heir with Vertigo and well, you'll be playing the game upside down.  Pick one with gigantism and yes, you've guessed it, your character is larger than normal.  Dwarfism?  Smaller than usual, ADHD?  Your character runs faster.  Colorblind?  You play in black and white.  This is tongue in cheek game design, and were it that alone it would all come crashing down.

The hook, though, is the system of keeping what you've earned.  After all, the castle is different every time you enter, so you're never keeping your exploration.  Instead of this, or keeping a single character for the gamer to get attached to, you're allowed a few concessions.  You keep the gold you've earned when you die, to be spent on your heir or lineage before the next voyage.  There is a talent tree-esque system of building up your power.  You spend gold on talents, they give you more health or mana, your next trip is a bit safer.  You can spend gold on weapons and equipment you find blueprints for within the castle, which carry over onto each heir.  

It can and will become compulsive, getting enough gold to create the first set of items at the Blacksmith, only to find that you still die in a very similar fashion, but on your way to doing so discovered the blueprints for a new weapon and well shit, here I am back on the road again.

I have only touched the surface here really, on what is a fantastic and affordable little game.  Sure the controls arent quite SOTN tight, and some will not like the fact that skill level means nothing when faced with a puzzle only an heir of a certain type can solve.  Nevertheless, this is a game sure to keep you entertained for a few weeks, and given the amount of times I have thrown to the gutter full price purchases within a few hours, I am pretty happy with this little purchase.