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Warhammer 40000 Space Marine Demo: These Boots Were Made for Facestomping August 25, 2011

Posted by emeraldsuzaku in Commentary, Video Games.
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Wow. It’s been what, almost a year since I last got off my ass and updated this thing? Damn. Sounds about right, I suppose. Blogging, as it turns out, is hard work. Particularly when one is trying to blog one’s way through a game.  Actually, that’s not entirely true. It would be more accurate to say that not blogging is disturbingly easy. This usually (for me, at least) manifests itself as a complete apathy toward taking notes as I play. It’s something I generally need to do—especially in longer play sessions—but it’s just so much easier to just not worry about it and play the game.

And that, ultimately, is what happened here. Not only did I totally slack on actually playing stuff, I didn’t take any notes or gather any thoughts on the things that I did play. The not doing any backlog-related stuff I can live with. I have other projects that won out for attention, so them’s the breaks. The lack of note-taking and writing about what I actually got around to playing is a bit harder to excuse. It pretty much boils down to “gee, if I don’t stop to write I can play more!” And that, in a nutshell, is more or less what happened.

I’m not going to post a big-ass update about everything I’ve been up to over the last ten months or so, but, as the post title already gave away, I am going to wax poetic about THQ’s Warhammer 40000 Space Marine demo. I played through both missions earlier this week and I can safely say the demo is awesome. There is an overpowering visceral thrill revolving around wading into a horde of Orks and delivering sweet, swift justice with a chainsword or a power axe. Admittedly the end result is not entirely accurate to the tabletop game, but meh. I can accept the trade when it involves STOMPING FACES in power armor. And there’s a jump pack. Which is also far too much fun.

The demo gives the player access to four ranged weapons (bolt pistol, bolter, sniper rifle, grenade launcher) and two melee weapons (chainsword and power axe). The full game will have even more weapons in addition to other Chapter skins. Gameplay is a straight up action shooter. There is no cover mechanic like in Gears of War—instead we’re back to the oldschool “stand behind stuff if you don’t want to get shot” method of not getting hit. Even better is killing everything that’s trying to kill you, which you can do either by shooting it in the face or by hacking it apart with a very fluid melee system.

While you’re shooting and stabbing and slashing things, you may want to mix in a few stun attacks. These stun enemies, allowing you to perform an execution. Executions are graphic and satisfying killing moves (and there are multiple animations), and restore a portion of your health for each one. You also have access to a fury mode. A gauge fills up as you mete out destruction, and once it fills you can press a key to fire off a mode wherein you regenerate lost health at a highly accelerated rate and do a whole lot more damage—at least, with melee attacks. In fury mode normal enemies die in one hit. I found no health packs or any such thing in the demo, and it appears that executions and fury mode are the only ways to regain health. Except when the game sometimes give health back between encounters. It should also be noted that you can still take damage in both execution animations and fury mode, and die as a result. So you can’t just go forth and mindlessly execute and fury everything in sight.

The jump pack, for which there is a short level in the demo, is just as much fun as everything else. It’s use is simple—press the space bar to trigger it, aim with your mouse, and click mouse 2 to do a very satisfying and brutal ground smash. This can be used to both gain extra horizontal distance from a jump and send packs of enemies flying. And you don’t have to gain a whole lot of air before you slam down, either; a simple hop will do. Hopping from one group of enemies to another seems to be a viable tactic, and any enemies that aren’t killed outright will be briefly stunned and set up for an execution. The jump pack level took away everything by my bolters and melee weapon; I don’t know if this will be par for the course, but it wasn’t much of an issue.

Graphically, Space Marine is quit pretty. It looks suitably dystopian for the crapsack universe of Warhammer 40000, though distant vistas don’t always have a whole lot of detail. Animations are fluid and really impart a sense of violence and power. And the sound—both voice acting and sound effects—get the job done. I don’t actually recall anything about the music, though that could be because I was too enthralled with the action to care, or because it’s entirely forgettable. I’m not honestly sure which.

Really, everyone who likes shooters owes it to themselves to check out this demo. It’s up on Steam, so there’s no excuse for not trying it. Additionally, I recorded playthroughs of the two demo levels with a running commentary. You can find them at my youtube channel:

http://www.youtube.com/user/EmeraldSuzaku.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do with this blog moving forward. I’m toying with the idea of recording some Let’s Plays in the future, and I think a blog as a counterpoint to the videos. Additionally, I still like writing about my experiences with various backlog-related things, and not all of that would work as well in a video—either because the content is just not suitable, or because I don’t have the means to record it.

That said, if I do decide to continue with the blogging, I may or may not continue on this blog. I am undecided if it would be better to relaunch on this blog or start fresh on an entirely new one. The fact that I’m not exactly swimming in followers would certainly make it a simple affair to pick up and move. And speaking of moving, I’m actually doing that myself over the course of the next few weeks, so whatever I end up doing won’t be happening until mid-September at the earliest. Though, it would be cool to have things sorted out by this thing’s two-year anniversary. We’ll see. There’s time.

 

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Tsukihime – Part II: We’ve Got Your Psychotic Dysfunction Right Here! October 25, 2010

Posted by emeraldsuzaku in Blog-along, Commentary, Video Games.
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So. Tsukihime is done. Completely. All the endings, and all those pesky CGs. Everything. And I’m tired. It was fun and amusing, and the characters kept getting more and more interesting as I went down more of their paths, but I’m rather glad it’s over. There are just so many scenes rehashing the same things over and over again, with just one or two small things that are different, and thus are not technically previously viewed. So the game doesn’t skip them. Even the same scenes in multiple paths get this treatment. Ick.

While it was fun unraveling all the mysteries, I have to say. The main character, Shiki, is pretty much an asshole. Everyone else at least had some interesting reasons for being crazy in the head, but Shiki is just a jerkass. But, hey, I guess when you have the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception, rape is love or something. And always remember, the only thing that matters is what you want. Never anyone else. Unless you don’t want to pilot the Eva. In which case, suck it up and do it anyway. And then bang the girl whether she wants you to or not. So, yeah. I pretty much liked all the characters except for Shiki. Even Yumizuka, which is a little hard for me to swallow.

As far as the story goes, it was pretty spiffy how the last couple of characters really wrapped everything up. They even filled in some stuff from the main story, even though they didn’t deal with any of those characters. Pretty cool. It was a very solid way to do multiple characters. In retrospect, I probably really shouldn’t have played through the whole thing like I did. It likely would have been better to space out playthroughs between other games, but meh. After Akiha I thought I would be able to knock out the rest of the game fairly quickly, which was totally not the case. Even though the last two paths technically had less scenes than the rest of the characters, they ended up being some really long scenes.

The only hang up I had was that after I had finished everything, I was still four CG images short of a full gallery. A couple of them were really quick to get, but I ended up stuck on one I was missing from Arcueid’s gallery (page 1, image 6). It turns out that it’s automatic on Arc’s path if one has near max affection at one point. Which I didn’t either when I went through it originally or when I went back poking all the options to try and get the last image. The weird thing about the CGs is that some of a character’s CGs show up in another character’s path, and it varies as to which character’s gallery they are placed in. Sometimes they end up with the character who’s path unlocked them, and sometimes they end up with the character depicted in the CG. Which is what made finding the stragglers interesting. At least it’s easy to tell if it’s an h-scene CG or not by where it is in the list.

Overall, Tsukihime was a good experience. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to try out the visual novel genre. The story and characters were engaging, even if Shiki got on my nerves. As one delves deeper, it becomes more and more apparent that everyone is really messed up in their own special way before eventually wrapping it all up at the end. Which was really cool. Any game that can still give me wow moments after that much play time and story iteration (and revelation!) is pretty special in my book.

I had originally planned to move onto the stuff on the PLUS+ Disc and Kagetsu Tohya when I finished Tsukihime, but for now I need a crazy departure from visual novels in general. Even Atelier Annie is not looking very appetizing at the moment. I’m sure something will tickle my fancy at some point this week. Right now I’m trying very hard to not buy Fallout: New Vegas. And I’m pretty sure I’m failing miserably.

Tsukihime – Part I: Blood, Boobs, and Vampires October 22, 2010

Posted by emeraldsuzaku in Blog-along, Commentary, Video Games.
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As I mentioned in the last post, I’ve been spending a large chunk of time with Tsukihime lately. Partly because I’m enjoying the break from conventional games, and partly because it’s easy to play through while watching football. Oh, and it also has a decent story.

The plot is fairly straightforward—at least, initially. You take the role of the main character, Tohno Shiki, who is returning home for the first time in 8 years after being fostered by another family. The head of the Tohno family has died and named Shiki’s sister, Akiha, the successor. It is she who invited Shiki home. At the same time, there have been a series of nighttime attacks around town, and the media is talking about a “vampire killer.” Which is a mystery you’ll unravel as the game progresses. There are other secrets—every major character is hiding something, it seems—and those become clear as you progress through the different paths.

When I talk to people about Tsukihime, I usually get one of three responses:

  1. “Isn’t that a porn game?”
  2. “Didn’t that spawn Melty Blood or something?”
  3. “Tsuki-what? The hell is that?”

The answers to the first two are “sort of” and “yes” respectively. Tsukihime is an eroge (erotic game), but unlike most hentai games that is not the focus. In fact, the time spent with the hentai scenes is but a (very) small fraction of overall play time. With one exception on two of the routes, you only run into them in an interlude towards the end of the game.

Tsukihime tells a story on two different levels. First, and the most obvious, is the overall plot of the game. The first time you play through the game, you have no choice but to go through this. But just playing the game once will not answer all the questions the game raises—that’s where the character stories come in. As you play through the game, you are not only unraveling the larger plot, but you are also getting to better know the game’s main cast. The choices you make affect your affection level with the female cast, and dictate which path you take through game.

There are five main characters, each with their own path. These paths are further divided into the Near Side and Far Side routes. The Near Side route consists of Arcueid’s and Ciel’s stories, and must be completed once before the other three paths—those belonging to Akiha, Hisui, and Kohaku—become available. The Near Side route follows the game’s main plot, though each individual path provides different information on the characters, and grants a bit of a different perspective as to what’s going on. The Far Side route keeps things closer to home, and focuses on the Tohno family itself and the three girls at the mansion.

The writing is decent enough, even if it has nothing on actual novels, and the game definitely keeps an edge of suspense throughout. Much of this is dulled by the time you’re on your third playthrough, but even once you know what’s going on there is still an air of drama to the story, as there is seemingly always another mystery to unravel. And it is these mysteries that keep me coming back, even after I’ve seen the same bit of story from three other angles already. Until you’ve finished all the routes, there are still things to uncover.

Naturally, Tsukihime is designed to be played multiple times. To aid this, there is an option to auto-skip scenes that you have previously viewed. While this is an excellent option when you have to run through part of a path multiple times to get to a different branch, the game can be somewhat annoying as to what it views as the same scene. If you have a scene that takes place after a path split, but is in both paths, viewing one does not let you auto skip the other—even when the scene plays out the same way. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but this happens quite a bit over the course of the game. Luckily, there is also a fast forward key, as well as a key that displays an entire page of text at once.

When it comes to actually taking different branches, you do have the option of loading up a previous save and simply making a different choice. The game allows you to save anywhere, and has 20 save slots, so this is a viable option. And once you’ve cleared a scene, or gotten a particular ending, it stays recorded even if you reload to a previous point. So you don’t necessarily have to replay the entire game just for a minor branch.

This is good because there are a lot of branches within paths. Four of the five characters have two endings. Kohaku only has one. Which of a character’s endings you receive depends on the final choice you make on their route, so you can just reload that save after seeing one ending to see and get credit for the other as well. Arcueid requires you to have cleared the game once to get the choice to her “Good” ending, so if you’re doing her first, you’ll have to reload a couple choices back after getting her “True” ending. The rest of the characters do not have that requirement.

Thus far I’ve cleared Arcueid’s, Ciel’s, and Akiha’s paths. I’m currently working on Hisui’s. I did Arcueid first, and her True Ending appears to be the canon ending to the game—especially looking at Melty Blood. Her character development is probably the most natural in the game that I’ve seen so far, perhaps tied only by Ciel. But that’s probably only because Akiha’s felt a bit forced. I’ll have to see what happens with Hisui and Kohaku.

I will say that I have been quite happy with the way that the mysteries surrounding the characters have been set up and resolved, though—especially across paths. Ciel, for example, shows up in a bunch of paths. Like, all of them, as near as I can tell. I was introduced to her in Arcueid’s path, and there were some questions generated about her that were never answered. Then I pop on over to her path, and get the answers. And then I play through Akiha’s path and get a few more answers about Ciel. Which was pretty cool. It’s nice to continue learning about certain characters outside their own paths.

The one thing I did have an issue with was an inconsistency in character art for a particular (non-Ciel) character that shows up across multiple paths. The Near Side art is drawn one way, but the Far Side art gives the character a totally different look. It’s a bit awkward. There are also some odd continuity questions as to why certain things do or do not happen on certain paths, but those are relatively minor, and don’t really get too much in the way of getting into a character path.

All in all, Tsukihime is a decent game with a pretty good story. If you find yourself wanting to try out the visual novel genre, want to see what the heck is up with those crazy Melty Blood characters, or are just looking for a change of pace, check it out. Mirror Moon has translated the entire thing, and done a bang-up job on it. I highly recommend their excellent patch. Not only did they fully translate the game, but they also have an option to disable the erotic scenes, if those aren’t your thing. The game certainly stands on its own without them, so they’re entirely optional.

Now, back to affectionizing some maids….

Of Princesses and Dragons February 9, 2010

Posted by emeraldsuzaku in Commentary, Video Games.
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Yeah, it’s been a while. Sorry about that.

At any rate, I recently bought a Super Famicom and a bunch of games for it. I thought it fitting that I christen my new system with the first Dragon Quest game. I fired up the Dragon Quest I + II cart and realized that I hadn’t thought of a name for my hero yet. Looking around my eyes settled on my beer bottle. Inspiration struck and Ansel, descendant of the legendary hero Loto began his journey to glory.

I chatted with the king, looted the chests, and set out exploring the castle. There really wasn’t much to do, but I made sure to find the old guy who restores MP. He’ll come in handy later when I learn Hoimi. I bought some equipment at the town of Radatoom and proceeded to slay each and every slime I ran across for several levels. I made some money, bought some more equipment, moved up to Drackies and Ghosts, leveled up more, bought more equipment, then hit the cave with Loto’s grave. I had forgotten that there were no enemies there. Oh, well. It was less levels that I had to get later.

This being Dragon Quest, that was pretty much the entire game. I did manage to get through the entire thing without dying, which was cool. Exploring the world was fun, even having done it all before. There was a bit more exposition from the NPCs this time around, too. I’m not sure if that was new to the SFC version, or if there was just a ton lost in translation in the versions we got in English. Either way, the world felt more alive than in any of the other versions.

Three things struck me after I finished the game. First, the original DQ is in no way difficult by today’s standards. Yes, there’s grinding to be done, but as long as you have the best equipment at any given time, you don’t really have to worry too much. This is helped by thing number 2: all of the spells are useful. I used every spell in the game, and can safely say that, with the possible exception of Begira, I would not want to be without any of them. Sure, it’s a small spell list, but it’s a really useful one.

Third, and most interestingly, there are only three bosses in the entire game, and one of them is optional. You have the Dragon guarding the princess, which does show up as a normal enemy later on but gives boss-level XP and gold upon defeating it. Then there’s the Golem, but he’s actually entirely optional as you never actually have to go to Merkido for anything. And there’s the Dragonlord. Yes, there is that required battle with a Demon Knight if you want to get Loto’s Armor, but it’s a regular enemy with normal stats and normal rewards, so it doesn’t count. The game is really more about exploring the world than going from boss to boss. You go through the tunnel to get to the other side, not to defeat some big nasty. It’s an interesting concept, and not something that you really see too often anymore. I would wager that Dragon Quest has less bosses than any other game even remotely resembling an RPG.

I’ve had a general like for the Dragon Quest series for quite a while now, but going back through Dragon Quest I has kindled an appreciation for the games that I had previously not had. It’s short and sweet, but the ride is really, really fun.

Mobile Suit Turn A Gundam – Commentary September 6, 2009

Posted by emeraldsuzaku in Anime, Commentary.
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So I was all geared up to start a post on Turn A Gundam the other day, but decided to watch the last few episodes first. Which was probably a good thing. Maybe. Given that I haven’t really been taking notes or running a blog-along of the series, this is going to be a pretty weak commentary. But, hey, at least it’s something!

The series starts off normally enough, with several characters’ arrival on Earth. After a few minutes the series jumps forward two years and starts laying the groundwork for the plot and the rest of the characters. And this is where Turn A diverges from pretty much every other Gundam series.

Turn A primarily focuses on its plot and characters, sometimes to the exclusion of any meaningful action. Sure, every Gundam series has tried to be more about substance than style, but Turn A takes this to the extreme. The result of this is inconsistent pacing as the series goes from plot point to plot point, but where the intervening episodes tended to drag. When one runs into an episode of Turn A in which nothing happens, it really is a case of absolutely nothing happening.

Because of its focus on plot and political drama, Turn A focuses on characters on both sides of the war. This is actually quite interesting, and while it’s nothing revolutionary it’s still nice to get more insight into both the Moonrace and the Earthrace–particularly because the series likes to try and keep the viewer guessing as two who the bad guys are at any particular point in time. The problem with this is that when the setting turns to space roughly two-thirds of the way through the series, half the cast is abruptly forgotten because they remain on Earth.

The ascent into space proves to be a turning point in the series (as it generally is in most Gundam iterations), and the pacing picks up to something more reminiscent of the series’ namesake. Unfortunately, the plot points start coming more and more abruptly as the series rushes towards its conclusion, and it can be difficult to keep characters, motivations, and alliances all straight. Luckily there’s a short recap of the previous episode’s events at the beginning of each new episode, but it shouldn’t be such a necessity as it will be for some viewers.

This confusion is even more sad when one realizes that the war–the overarching backdrop for the entire series–doesn’t actually go anywhere. Every time it looks like something is going to happen, things very quickly go back to te staus quo. So we get things blowing up with no real effect, battle plans that don’t really do much, and the main characters getting into the right place at the right time to take down a single character (who isn’t even in most of the series) to finally and very abruptly end the war.

One interesting moment in the series involves the creators trying to use the Turn A to tie all the different Gundam series together. It’s an amusing idea, but rather lackluster in its execution. The fan service prevalent throughout was pretty fun, though. Turn A made Zakus awesome again!

In the end, Turn A is not a complicated series by any stretch of the imagination. Its perceived complexity is simply the series taking abrupt left turns for no real reason, and then not bothering to relate what is going on to the viewer, even though the characters seem to mysteriously understand right away without any form of exposition. It’s completely forced and unnecessary, and really hurts the series as a whole. The last ten or so episodes were exciting, but the ultimate villain came more or less out of nowhere, and didn’t have much (read: any) development.

As anime involving mecha go, Turn A isn’t terrible. As a Gundam series, however, it leaves a lot to be desired.