Tales of Symphonia – Game Cube, PS2, PS3

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A game so bland the best screenshot is the box art.

Some games end not with a bang, but with a whimper. And then some games end with a string of texted excuses why I can’t play tonight, but I promise to turn it on in a few days if I find the time, until eventually it just stops calling to me and I can move on with my life. Such is the way with Tales of Symphonia. Honestly, I’ve heard so many great things about the Tales series, that I really wanted it to turn into a heated love affair, but I felt like I went in expecting a blind date with Natalie Portman and ended up with Dora the Explorer.

Sconversation

Like many, I am often troubled by games that try to portray pertinent information in well-written moments within the story. Fortunately, Tales of Symphonia babbles on like a fucking schizophrenic on open mic night.

The story opens in the world of Sylvarant, a pleasant, green thriving fantasy world that apparently needs to be saved from wasting away. Colette is a young girl chosen to lead the quest to restore mana to the world, which will save it from a perilous lack of questing, if nothing else. But instead we’re going to follow her friend Lloyd, who has no major effect on the plot at least 75% of the way through the game, and doesn’t seem important in any way other than he’s voiced by the most recognizable actor. Together with a cast of characters too bland to be generic anime archetypes, Lloyd and Colette travel the world, fighting their way through…literal tourist destinations. (But don’t let that fool you. This is less “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Niagara Falls” and more “Visit the Mystery Spot: Exit 255 at Chernoble.”) Anyway, the whole quest turns out more sinister than the entire world believes and Lloyd, Colette, and company take steps to upend the whole thing. I have to be honest, I didn’t get to the end, but I’m willing to put good money on “the power of friendship” being a major theme at the end.

Yes, you heard me right. I couldn’t get through this game, even though it dangled enough potentially interesting plot lines to keep me invested like a Nigerian Prince asking for just one more good-faith payment. Unfortunately, the Chibi-anime art style makes even the adult characters look like ten-year-olds. Outside of pre-teen players, there’s a very special group of people who get invested in a cast like that, a group that includes Michael Jackson and Jared from the Subway commercials. One character I found particularly obnoxious, Raine, one of the few adults and Lloyd and Colette’s teacher. If you combine the worst qualities of a know-it-all pedant with the insufferable nature of someone who you know is just pulling things out of her ass, that’s Raine. Then make her a chronic child abuser who beats the shit out of her (actual) ten-year-old brother whenever he strings together enough words to best Groot in a verbal debate.

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So uh…we gonna do this or do I have to buy you dinner first?

Just when I thought I couldn’t despise Raine more, there was a scene that required the characters to approach a unicorn trapped in a lake. Now, having written my masters thesis on the significance of eviscerating a unicorn in T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King” (no, I’m not joking. You can look up the article), I happen to know what the game refused to state outright lest it lose it’s G-rating: only virginal women can approach a unicorn. By this point, the party had three female characters, Raine, Colette, and Sheena. Sheena, one of the side characters who ends up being the most important character in the game (even though they never acknowledge it or treat her as such) just happens to be the only character with even a little bit of charm or enough cleavage to still have a good time when everything below the waist is off-limits. She had just joined our party, though, so Raine knew nothing about her except she was a summoner and prone to clumsiness, and yet she still had the nerve to say, “Well, I can’t approach the unicorn because I’m an adult, and Colette is certainly not going to approach the unicorn alone.” So yes, ladies and gentlemen, Raine, in this children’s game, is now slut-shaming strange teen girls, all the while claiming that premarital sex is her personal privilege.

Sheena

Sheena, the only character in two worlds to own breasts.

Tales of Symphonia wears its influences on its sleeve. By itself, that’s not a bad thing. I’m a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, and he basically wrote Medieval fan fiction. The problem is, like everything else in the game, it’s watered down for a pre-teen audience. The developers just took Final Fantasy IX, X, a dash of V, and Xenogears, chucked them in a blender, then filtered out everything that didn’t fit into their juvenile, young-adult novelization schema of a video game. That would be like doing a remake of Silence of the Lambs where Hannibal Lecter is in rehab for his Kit Kat addiction and Buffalo Bill is sneaking up on farms and shearing sheep in the middle of the night. Yes, it’s kid-friendly, but if it’s supposed to be “disturbing and horrifying,” it kind of misses the mark…then flies hundreds of meters past it, nearly misses “comical parody” and buries itself by pure accident between the ass cheeks of “hackneyed mess of writing” and “just did this for a paycheck.” Why would anyone care about Final Fantasy X if we never had to worry about the value of summoner’s lives? What use is Xenogears if they cut out the question of humanity’s struggles and desires versus God’s arbitrary plans for us?

But hey, good gameplay can make up for this second-hand, watered-down beer pissed out of a drunken game developer before passing out in his kid’s bedroom, right? Well, that’s true, but Tales of Symphonia doesn’t have any. Despite being an RPG, leveling up and equipment raise your offensive and defensive capabilities about the same as suddenly sprouting an eleventh fingernail in your armpit. At one point I realized I had been playing for three hours with a character who didn’t have any equipment, and I just couldn’t tell based on his performance in battle. The game throws a lot of information at you about combo attacks, techniques, cooking skills, switching active characters, etc, but skills and techniques take time to charge and cost tech points, so it’s literally always a better strategy to run straight at the monsters, mashing the basic attack like you’re trying to exact vengeance on the A button for murdering your family.

Stales

And yeah…here’s another screenshot. Look, I gotta be somewhere. We done yet?

Even exploring the map is frustrating. The camera zooms in close enough to bill your insurance for a colonoscopy, making navigation a little challenging. And it isn’t an oversight, either, since they’ve added a function for zooming the camera out to see where you’re going, but only if you find a magic rock in each area of the map. I’m sorry, but that much dick move from developers who are obviously closet pedophiles makes me just a wee bit uncomfortable. It’s like going 75 on the freeway and suddenly you realize a nest of wolf spiders are crawling out of the defrost vent of your car, it doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing, you really want out. Fortunately, Tales of Symphonia commits the cardinal sin of reminding me of a far superior game and makes me wonder why I don’t just go play that one…so in short, look out in the next few weeks for a review of Xenogears.

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A Link to the Past: Randomizer – SNES Rom Hack

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Fun Fact: Doctors developed heroin as a treatment for people addicted to morphine. And much in the way of attacking a post-op bulbasaur with a shivering, emaciated charmander who sold his tail to an old Chinese man in order to score some more horse, it’s super-effective! That’s back when doctors subscribed to the medical journal of Your Dad Making You Smoke The Whole Pack At Once, and fortunately, they’ve realized their mistake. Not so fortunately, they’ve unleashed the Godzilla of opiates for people who just don’t get the same rush out of King Kong; it’s not enough for them to climb a building and flip off a few airplanes, they’ve got to rip a city out by the subway system and knock the air force out of the sky like a major league baseball player with…I’ve forgotten where I’m going with this. Are we still on the drug metaphor, or have we moved on to kaiju? Eh. Who knows. Honestly, I make so many comparisons between video games and drugs that at this point I think my parents, friends, playground monitors, and pediatrician’s assistant were right all those years ago and that I should go check into rehab for my game addiction.

Screenshot from 2018-03-28 21-05-15

Beeeeeeees!

But if the massive wall of games and the 4TB hard drive of ROMS I own draws at least one apt comparison between games and drugs, it’s that the high wears off and you’re constantly looking for the next big game to get your fix. Long story short, nothing new on my shelf has been doing it for me lately. And since you can’t OD on video games (Unless you’re Asian, apparently), reaching your tolerance of awesome games like The Legend of Zelda or Super Metroid and then trying out Star Fox Adventure or Lord of the Rings: The Third Age is like building up a tolerance to heroin and then trying to top it with children’s Tylenol. Fortunately, someone out there has found a way to distill the essence out of the awesome games like the last remaining gelfling and feed it to us like some kind of uber-heroin!

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Samus apparently doesn’t mind that bug-catching kid sees her as a sex symbol.

For those of you who haven’t heard of randomizers, hackers will rig a game’s ROM to rearrange items, entrances, bosses, or what have you into random locations. So, for example, Link could hop out of bed and pull the power glove out of his chest instead of the lantern. It happened to me. It was awesome. Immediately after rescuing Zelda on my first randomized run, I had the gold sword, the red mail, half the heart containers, and absolutely no way to get into most of the dungeons. Even after playing through seven or eight different runs, there’s usually a point where I get stuck and end up wandering Hyrule aimlessly back and forth like a Jehova’s Witness who wandered into an urban ghetto. The randomizer has a pretty well-developed logic that should prevent you from getting stuck, but I’ve found that even if I choose the option for “no glitches,” sometimes it helps to be able to pull off some of the easier ones, like the Fake Flippers, or .

ALttP - VT_no-glitches-29_normal-standard_uncle-ganon_367235787-180324-213521

That sums up my feeling quite nicely.

Even aside from the glitches, playing the Link to the Past Randomizer has helped me learn more about a game I thought I knew well. For instance, I learned there are a total of 216 special items hidden throughout the game. Furthermore, whenever I just needed the hookshot or the mirror or the fucking lantern, I learned just how many of those items are goddam useless-as-fuck rupees, bombs or arrows. I also learned just how long I can spend in a dungeon before realizing that the randomizer’s logic put that last key I need to open the door to get to the final chest inside that final chest, behind the locked door that the key opens. I also learned that the pegasus shoes aren’t considered an item of vital importance, and without them the game kind of crawls along like a sloth on Ambien drowning in a pool of Jello shots.

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Hmm…didn’t Link tell me something about bombs and chickens?

But while I necessarily point out the comical flaws for the sake of humor, most of these problems resolved when I discovered a treasure chest I never knew about, a new trick I could pull off, or (more frequently) an embarrassingly obvious item location I walked by six dozen times and just assumed I had already picked it up. But hey, at least I’m not as visually impaired as the boss, Blind, who I learned can only be damaged by the sword or the game’s two canes. That’s our eponymous hero! Bludgeoning the disabled with their only tool for tactilely seeing the world.

So I thought I’d play through once or twice to get a feel for how the game handles when randomized and I thought I’d fill in my off-week with a quick update. Then after about 50 to 60 hours, putting off Tales of Symphonia, neglecting about two weeks worth of classes (hey, I’m just a sub! It’s not like they needed my attention!), skipping several meals, showers, and subpoenas, coming up with a very creative excuse for why the government should accept my taxes in August rather than April, and forgetting what natural, full-spectrum light looks like, I figured I might as well give you a full entry on it. I’m not quite good enough yet to compete in the Zelda randomizer tournaments, but I still highly recommend giving it a shot, especially if you have a close friend and/or Ambien sloth to race against.

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…no comment.

The Randomizer
Japanese 1.0 ROM

Mega Man X4 – Playstation, Sega Saturn (PS2 and Game Cube as part of Mega Man X Collection)

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Let’s add “fire-bot and ice-bot” in same lineup to the list of things Sigma probably should stop doing.

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Why, praytell, would a robot need shapely breasts? Unless that’s a special place to store her double-D cell batteries, I’d say the real drama behind the X series is the use of sexbots, hereafter known as “sexploids.”

I haven’t reviewed many Mega Man games, even though I talk about them I’m bringing up an old flame to make the games I do play frequently jealous. Truth is, they’re wonderful, but a little difficult to write about. For the purposes of a humor blog, the games are comic gold. Dr. Wiley, one of the most brilliant minds of all time, has a distinct recipe for his schemes—build a team of eight robots, each with a rock-paper-scissors Achilles heel that will rip each other open like a pinata in a batting cage—and he refuses to deviate from that plan for fear of breaking his streak of inevitable failure. A hundred years later, the ultimate reploid Sigma shows a sense of learning from history rivaled only by the United States Congress, and launches his wars against X using the exact same tactics. Still, writing these blog entries entirely with the copy-paste keyboard shortcut feels a bit like cheating, hence the reason I’ve avoided most Mega Man games.

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No, no. It’s totally reasonable that you want to build a ten-meter tall robot with giant hulk hands out of solid gold. Aren’t the practical applications obvious? Oh, wait! Let’s make him fly!

Mega Man X4 tackles the familiar formula with the free thought, creativity, and the deviance of an 80-year-old woman attending mass on a Tuesday morning. The game opens with a cut scene introducing Repliforce, an organized militia of Reploids designed to hunt Mavericks. Perhaps if you live in a world where reploids tend to turn maverick and become threats to humanity, it might not be wise to let them unionize. In the first stage, Sigma hijacks some Repliforce soldiers, pulls a false flag attack on the Sky Lagoon. Again, I have to question the wisdom of the people who welded a handful of battleships together and suspended them over an inhabited city like an anvil over Wile E. Coyote’s head, but perhaps in the future, Congress has passed some sort of MacGuffin Act to move plots along expediently. The Repliforce Colonel shows up in the wake of the attack and decides that rather than disarm and sort out the confusion with reason, diplomacy and grace, he’ll spit out some NRA “cold dead hands” vitriol, thus dooming the entire Repliforce to be branded as Mavericks. Even so, the General decides to peacefully take his army off-planet to found his own colony where they may live in peace, stressing that such an act is neither about rebellion nor insurrection against the humans. So naturally, the maverick hunters do the only logical thing and hunt them down to wreak bloody, bloody justice on their rusting corpses.

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X gets this weapon after beating Grady in the Overlook Hotel.

That is, for those of you keeping score, more story than in the entirety of the classic Mega Man series, and also a wonderful justification for never having attempted anything more in-depth than “mad scientist steals robots, programs for evil, hides in castle.” Fortunately, it doesn’t have to have a strong story; it has to be a good game. And Capcom sticks to its Mega Busters on this one, with the tried-and-true formula of an octet of rampaging robots running weaponry hardware that is 100% compatible with X’s systems. You’d think they’d learn and switch from Mac to Linux. It might run a little more successfully, cost less, and at the very least force X to program his own drivers. I suppose they could switch to Windows, but X would have to read the EULA before each boss fight, and they’d only get one or two good shots on him before crashing and needing a hard reboot.

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Zero got this technique after defeating my garage roof in February.

X4 adds its own unique touch on the formula, though. Rather than having Zero make cameo appearances as a playable character, the player can choose to play through the whole game as either X or Zero. X does his normal routine, blasting his way through an army of small robots who, I don’t think we’ve ever established, may or may not be sentient, and also searching for the upgrade capsules that Dr. Light spread around the planet like his own Gap chain. Zero, however, functions differently. Rather than gaining mobility through capsules and weapons from enemies, each maverick defeated augments either abilities slightly through the use of special moves. It’s amazing how such a minor change can make it feel like X4 is essentially two games, with the same bosses requiring different weaknesses to beat, some becoming easier and others harder, and level order requiring new strategies and opening new possibilities. In this, X4 introduces a brilliant new feature to the series that cracks the series formula wide open, adding layers of depth to the old formula heading into the future! So naturally, Capcom never did this again.

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Dying reploids look an awful lot like a spyrograph design.

Lord of the Rings: The Third Age – PS2, Game Cube, XBox

LoTR Watcher

Batting cleanup for Gandalf, who really needs to employ the “double tap” philosophy. No use being stingy with ammo when fell beasts roam the land.

Movie licensed games are like hot dogs; absolutely fucking disgusting and probably lethal if you have more than two or three per year, but somehow they still sell enough that the industry thrives like cockroaches. And yes, in spite of my declared hatred toward them, a quick glance through the menu to the right reveals that I do, occasionally, indulge in these games myself (notably unlike hot dogs). So clearly, you can swallow gold dust and shit out something sparkly enough to catch my attention, but I’ve stepped in enough piles by now that it takes an exceptionally shiny dump to get me past the smell. Clearly I’m writing about a Lord of the Rings licensed game today, so something must have gotten me to stifle my gag reflex. Whatever could have inspired that, you ask? Turning the game into an RPG. But much like a Tide Pod, it turns out that swallowing a tasty-looking package might leave you with horrible, life-threatening internal chemical burns.

LoTR Balrog

My bet? Gandalf Plows past Balrog, but loses to M. Bison in the first two rounds.

So if the thought of liquefying your organs hasn’t dissuaded you from playing Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, let me explain the story, which as best I can describe, is the J.R.R. Tolkien equivalent to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Except with out the witty dialogue. Or compelling storyline. Or philosophical overtones. In fact, it’s less like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and more like you’re playing as Gandalf’s cleanup crew. The action opens just after the Council of Elrond names the members of the Fellowship of the Ring—not in the same place, of course. God forbid you have any outcome on the plot. After Gandalf gets a commitment out of the Fellowship and puts a ring on them, he immediately starts two-timing the party for Berethor, errant knight of Gondor, contacting him psychically, telling him to follow the Fellowship so the wizard might meet him on the side. And while he entrusts Frodo with no more than a single quest—save Middle Earth and the world of men from magical enslavement by destroying the final vestige of the Lieutenant of the evil god Morgoth—Berethor gets countless tasks such as “kill three wargs,” “find a dwarf,” “rescue five elves from Uruks.” Clearly, we know who the important party is here. Especially when Gandalf faces the balrog, the foe beyond the abilities of any of the indispensable fellowship, he beckons Berethor and company to stand beside him in slaying—and getting slain by—the ancient evil.

LoTR Drums

Berethor breaks up his neighbor’s cave troll drum circle, complaining of the noise, but we all know it’s just him being racist.

At the very least, Berethor and his lower-case-f fellowship are like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in that they’re completely expendable and inconsequential to the main story. But Berethor doesn’t even seem to have a story of his own. The game forgoes traditional character conflict and development in exchange for Gandalf filling Berethor’s head with bad student films cut from the original film and dubbed with his own Tolkien-esque voice overs. Dude, even Michael Bay shows more generic diversity than you. If you’re going to do 108 short films, why not throw in a cut from Star Wars or Pulp Fiction or something? Or better yet, explain why the hell we care about the characters we’re playing as. If Frodo manages to get to Mt. Doom without his help, is there some reason to focus on Berethor? Was he pulling strings behind the scene? Did he struggle to find his purpose in a world torn by inter-species war? Did he adventure with the Eagles to the edge of Middle Earth to keep Voldemort from teaming up with Palpatine and George W Bush in order to invade the Shire while the hobbits were away? Nope. In fact, he seems to change tasks, warping from place to place like Doctor Who in Middle Earth.

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I’m not sure this is what they mean by “bow legged.”

It turns out there’s a reason the story sucks more than a battle between a hoover and truck stop whore, as EA Games did not hold the legal rights to use anything from Tolkien’s books that were not explicitly part of the films. And since fans’ idea of “enforcing the canon” means they feel that any deviation from the story means they get to shoot you with a canon, this story was received about as well as a gay nephew coming out at an Alabama Thanksgiving dinner. But hey, lousy stories can easily be overcome by good gameplay, right? Spoiler alert: not in this case.

LoTR Discount Characters

Discount Aragorn talks to second-rate Boromir, while shoddy immitation Arwen looks on.

For a company so worried about copyright infringement that they’d crap out a story like this, it’s surprising that they lifted the battle system so blatantly from Final Fantasy X that it’s a wonder they didn’t name the characters Yunalas, Kimharimir, Gimlulu and Wakkagorn. On the surface, I’m fine with that. Final Fantasy X was an awesome game and the combat was part of the reason for that. But while battles in FFX were fast-paced and zippy, Third Age animations are reminiscent of yoga instructors on Ambien. Characters are sluggish, skill points are awarded like birthday money from your grandma who hasn’t adjusted for inflation since 1953, and attacks connect with the striking accuracy of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra keeping time using an incoming Morse code signal.

LoTR - MoreLembasAnd…that’s it. That’s all there is to the game. There are no towns. No NPCs to talk to. No shops to buy items or equipment. I’d say there are no safe zones at all, but the game has a method for random encounters that feels like you can’t bribe enemies to attack you if you waved a raw, juicy shank of man flesh under their noses. So the game gives you a series of disjointed locales with the occasional story battle that takes place in a pool of clam chowder. The lack of shops means treasure chests inundate you with basic healing items, but since leveling up and saving both restore full HP and AP, you end up with a backpack full of lembas bread in full fungal bloom. There’s also a crafting system wherein you can make items—but only in battle. Personally, I’d like to tell my dwarf that facing down a hoard of murderous Uruk-hai may not be the best time to knead your dough and wait for the loaf to rise, but the game tells me I have to bake 125 loaves of lembas bread in order to gain the eloquently named “elf medicine,” then I’m just going to have to take out Saruman’s hoards with delicious bread smells. I haven’t been this bored since role-playing as the merchant in Dragon Quest IV. But maybe that’s it…maybe The Third Age wants you to role-play as a baker. God knows that’s exactly why I’ve always wanted to live in Middle Earth.

Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade – GBA

 

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Quit poking me.

Oh god, when does the Fire Emblem madness end?

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What the hell, dude? I just asked if you could tell me how to get to Sesame Street!

Now. It ends now. I have Path of Radiance sitting on my shelf, ready to go, but like for firearms, it might be a good idea to impose a mandatory cool-down period, lest I totally flip my lid, fling the disc in the air, shoot it like skeet, then use its shards on a murderous rampage. But knowing Fire Emblem rules for weapon degradation, it’ll probably do enough damage to leave an unbleeding flap of skin on my first victim’s thumb before the disc completely disintegrates, leaving me defenseless against the inevitable counter-pummeling I’d then receive. Damn, I know Fire Emblem games have a reputation for being hard, but I’ve played six of them now, and the Binding Blade is easily the worst of them all. This game is more punishing than growing up with an ex-military hockey coach dad and a rampaging tiger mom (And trust me; growing up with just a hockey coach dad, we had our own gulag set up in the basement for bringing home any grade lower than a B.).

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And I am conceited.

So first, some background on the Binding Blade—or “Fuin no Tsurugi,” or “The Sword of Seals” or “The Sealed Sword”–was never released in the U.S. Naturally, Fire Emblem was only released in the U.S. at all on account of Marth and Roy appearing in Smash Bros., so why Nintendo’s refusal to release Roy’s game is akin to a drug dealer lacing a joint with crack, and then selling you nothing but Xanax and Advil when you come back for more. So the Binding Blade is only available as a fan translation. Now, I’ve played some great fan translations before, but back when I was listing off the different titles, you may have noticed that “The Sealed Sword” doesn’t quite mean the same thing as “The Sword of Seals” and “The Binding Blade.” Personally, translators who can’t tell the difference between the genetive and a participle (which, for non-grammarians out there is like not knowing the difference between a 4th-grade Valentine card and a restraining order) probably should be kept far, far away from a Fire Emblem story. Even the well-translated games read like someone chucked Game of Thrones fan fiction through a wood chipper. The Binding Blade feels like after they did that, they threw it in a hot bath with a Risk board and some discount Anime figurines named after T.H. White characters.

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Kage bunshin no jutsu!

Aside from writing that flows naturally as a story arc for Wheel of Fortune, the gameplay hits one of my battered, raw RPG nerve endings—low accuracy rate. Missing needs to be an option for video game combat. It adds a random bit of chance into battles, a little flavor on top of mathematically predictable fight scenes. So if missing is the spice to add flavor to battle, the accuracy rate in The Binding Blade is a full-on turmeric overdose. Rather than trading blows in a nice, even manner to progress the game, characters stand on opposite sides of a tornado and chuck Nerf darts at each other. Using save states, I actually began to manipulate the RNG just to get through the game, and it seems like some weapons are glitched to hit far less often than their accuracy rate, and there is little that can make a game more tedious than rushing into battle with Ray Charles, Helen Keller, and the entire pre-op ward of a cataract surgeon’s clinic.

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Murdock has overcome great adversity, not having any arms sprouting from his giant shoulders.

Low cash flow, breakable weapons, and few chances for experience are staples of Fire Emblem games, but again, the Binding Blade expands this to the absurd. There are inner-city school districts with more funding than Roy’s army. So even though the game quite regularly springs for an extra hoard or two of enemies halfway through each battle, units have to lie on their resumes for experience. This is becoming a constant theme on my blog, but if I wanted to live surrounded by shoddy items, less financially solvent than most crows, fighting a futile battle to get more experience to change all that, I’d just shut off the goddamn game and write a few cover letters.

FE - Animal House

These are getting a little lazy. Rutger…filed his income tax. Marcus…had cake for breakfast. Roy…I don’t know. Went to bed early or something.

I feel at this point, it’s still not clear just what kind of a blinding rage this game threw me into, so let me make this point: in order to finish the game on a reasonable timeline—which still took probably more than 50 hours—I had to use over 280 save states. That’s right, the sheer number of save states I used to get through this Fire Emblem game would have caused binary overflow on an NES. Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier I had to learn how to manipulate the RNG. If I have to go into full research mode, read what people have written about the game mechanics, delve through the game’s coding, run controlled experiments with each unit on each turn and (optional) publish a dissertation on my findings, chances are this will be a difficult game to enjoy, to say the least.

FE - Report Card

I haven’t been this pissed off over a report card since I got a C in 8th Grade English.

Okami – PS2, Wii, PS4

OkamiTitle
Sweet Jesus’ dildo, do you know how exhausting it is to write about every damn game I play? Here’s my latest: Okami. The story of how the great Shinto goddess, Amaterasu, transcends to the corporeal plane to cleanse the evil plaguing us, and chooses a form that immediately gets scolded for dragging her butt across the carpet. Okay, okay. I get that Okami is a pun that both means “great god” and “wolf” in Japanese, and I also get that I’m coming at the game from the perspective of someone who is so much a cat person that you might expect my closet to be lined with white linen hoods with whiskers and double peaks for ears, but still, in a game renowned for it’s beautiful art style, why would Capcom so prominently animate Amaterasu’s sphincter? I guess the trail of flowers that bloom in her wake sprout up less as a result of her divinity and more from the constant spray of Miracle Grow, warning you to watch where you step as you traverse the fields of Nippon.

OkamiOrochi

The first step to solving your drinking problem is for all eight of your heads to admit they have a drinking problem.

The game opens in the most engaging way possible; a 30-minute long epic showdown between the great hero, Nagi, his lupine astral companion, Shiranui, and their arch-nemesis, the octocephaline serpent, Orochi. It’s such an exciting scene that my only real complaint with it is that instead of thrusting the player into a high-stakes tutorial level, they decide to narrate it with still-images in the style of traditional Japanese sumi-e and text that crawls slow enough that even Dick and Jane would get bored, read something else to pass the time, and learn how to discuss the finer points of Herman Melville by the time the cut scene ends. In all fairness, though, by the end of the game the last thing I wanted was yet one more identical boss fight with Orochi. Okami knows it has excellent boss fights and forces you to replay them over and over, much in the same way that the pretty girl who knows she’s pretty will constantly throw you into picking a fight with the manager of the restaurant; in both cases, they know if you leave, you’re not likely to get something quite as attractive on the rebound.

Okami2

Yeah, it’s a beautiful game, but it KNOWS it’s beautiful. Just look at that dog sitting there, watching it.

At the very least, Okami can pacify some of the hardcore jackassery that associates video games with violence. Amaterasu doesn’t level up by fighting monsters. Instead, she earns experience by feeding animals, doing favors for people, and bringing dead things back to life. Pretty much the only thing fighting monsters is good for is looting their corpses for spare change, and since money in Okami is as useful as the brown chunks of ice you kick off your tire wells in the winter, enemies are little more than minor obstacles to dodge as you rocket through the world map. Combat is relatively simple—no matter your level of experience or the amount of skills you purchased, half the time all you have to do is waggle the Wii-mote until carpal tunnel sets in and the battle is as good as won. Most of the weapons and items I collected along the way went unused, and are now probably just gathering dust in the sun goddess’s basement, along with a dozen boxes of ammo from Silent Hill, a small habitat of jinjos from Banjo Kazooie, and an old Triforce that I lost the instruction book for and can’t figure out how it works.

Okami4

Amaterasu teams up with Japanese Popeye

Funny though that I should bring up Zelda, as the game feels very much like a unique take on Nintendo’s tired old formula. Instead of Hyrule, it’s set in a fairy-tale version of Japan. Instead of a Peter Pan cosplayer, it stars a dog that moves forward via the power of foliage flatulence, and instead of collecting a small hardware store full of junk, you carry a magical paintbrush and work on becoming the Van Gough of cell-shaded canines. Before I continue, you may have noted that I played the Wii port of the game, not the original PS2 version. Makes sense, right? A game with a painting mechanic should let you take full control of those natural brush strokes, only possible through the Wii’s motion control. Now let’s just take this game that requires precision technique and put it on a system that emulates the feel of being an epileptic toddler in a 7.2 earthquake.

Okami3

Just your average sun goddess dog flying around on a sword to fight an evil nine-tailed fox. God, I don’t know what they smoke in Japan but I want some.

The celestial brush techniques take the place of Zelda’s items, and had the potential to make the game great, but as it turns out, most of the thirteen techniques you learn are some form of draw-a-circle-around-a-thing or connect-the-thing-to-the-thing. It’s a bit of a letdown to realize you’re going to be granted lightning power, to hope that you’ll get to draw a zig-zag to rain down the wrath of Raijen upon your unsuspecting demon foes, only to realize that all you do is find a source of electricity, then draw a line to what needs to be powered like some sort of divine Shinto electrician. The fact that this is exactly the same as your water power (divine Shinto plumbing) your earth power (Shinto gardening) and your fire power (apparently Amaterasu moonlights in arson), kind of gives the impression that you’re less of a holy being and more of a hardcore DIY-er on a fixer-upper spree through feudal Japan.

After a while I did figure out a few tricks for brush techniques (draw spirals to activate the wind, rather than loops, and the Z-button helps drawing straight lines, albeit with the practiced grace of a seasoned drunk driver), and the game actually became pretty fun. Boss fights used techniques well, and didn’t hold you to repeating a technique ad nauseum once you’d figured out the trick, even if it did somehow ask you to repeat entire boss fights as though Amaterasu was a transfer student whose transcripts got lost in the mail and had to repeat entire grades on a technicality. The final boss, I though, was exceptionally brilliant, in that it asked me to utilize every single technique I picked up throughout the game, while still giving me a few options to feel like I was fighting creatively. Granted, this doesn’t mean I want to get to the end of a Zelda game and have Gannon checking off my report card to make sure I can bludgeon him just right with my boomerang, fishing pole, and spinner, and to make sure I’m not blowing any flat notes on my spirit flute.

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Dog.

I enjoyed Okami. Maybe not to the point where I think it deserves to be polished by critics until its steaming dog droppings sparkle like a pearl, but it was pretty good. The game did suffer from pacing, most notably the text speed which said “I have a five-year-old reading level” even while the sexual overtones said “I have a seventeen-year-old’s hormonal lust” to the point where the comically cartoonish women said “I’d jack off to a mannequin I found in the dumpster behind the Gap if one were available.” However, the more people I meet, the more I suspect Okami may have finally nailed the U.S.A. as a target audience.

Fire Emblem Awakening – 3DS

FEA Marth

Doesn’t quite have the same ring as “Ishmael.” On the other hand, Moby Dick never inspired me to read anything Melville wrote, let alone play an entire series of games.

Oh god…this is what happens when you play too many games from the same franchise. Fire Emblem Awakening plays so much like a rough draft of Fire Emblem Fates, that I seriously considered just posting a draft for my article on Fates and calling it a day. Fortunately for you, I’m so lazy when it comes to blogging that I never revise, and therefore already posted my draft a few weeks back. Even more fortunately, I’m lazy enough to have written two paragraphs, put it aside for several months, and then just gave up when it came time to schedule the post. So here’s a mini-review, more to add a notch in my belt of games on this blog than to actually inform you of anything.

FEA Squares

It’s a good thing the natural world created so many zones of colored tiles for them to work with.

Awakening follows the exploits of the player’s avatar, defautly named Robin, and his/her own personal Batman, Chrom (possibly named after the personal god of Conan. The barbarian, that is, not O’Brien.). Chrom first encounters Robin passed out in a field, having blacked out most of his own personal history, save for his name, the ability to speak English, and a Ph.D.-level education in fantasy medieval tactics. Shortly afterward, an army of zombies from the future shows up. Even in a fantasy world, this is about as commonplace as, say, sentient carrots from outer space slaughtering our millionaire class for the purpose of overhauling our methods for packaging retail items, so their appearance coincidentally creates a job opening for a tactician in Chrom’s armies. Personally, I immediately felt a connection with Robin, not only because I personalized him as my avatar, but also because he set up realistic expectations of what has to happen before someone will fucking give me a job. The first battle with these future zombies, though, proves to be too much to handle even for Robin, and Chrom’s forces have to be bailed out by fucking Trunks from Dragonball Z. What follows is a wacky, zany tale filled with convoluted political intrigue, Dragonball time-travel rules, and an entire army fornicating on the job that doesn’t somehow turn out with more sexual harassment scandals than the American political/entertainment world.

FEA Harassment

That’s sexual harassment, and I don’t have to take it.

Later seen in Fates, Fire Emblem Awakening introduced the series to the philosophy that the family that slays together, stays together. Upon realizing just how many extra battles are available should I choose to play the game less like a military campaign and more like medieval Tinder (which, from experience, is no less brutal than feudal warfare), I decided to play matchmaker and pair up as many characters as possible. Also like Fates, each marriage between characters produces a child for you to press into service like your own personal Khmer Rouge. Still, even without the genocide, to say that marching into combat with an army of adolescents is a morally gray area is like saying we might want to consider the ramifications of exposing food to raw uranium before installing nuclear kitchens in every elementary school in the country. (And yes, I know that in the middle ages, the age of adulthood was 12 and that the leper king of Jerusalem had reached the pinnacle of his military career by 15.) Awakening solves this dilemma (…three years before Fates introduced it) by sending all your children back from the future as fully grown adults. Honestly, the only disappointing thing about this is that while Fates gave you the Lannister/Targaryen incest option to marry your siblings, Awakening passed up a perfectly good Back to the Future vibe by denying moms the chance to woo their sons.