Author Archives: Vrykerion

Cat Herding for Dummies – The Sims 4 Shakespeare Monkey Challenge #7

With the Great Fire of Episode 6 behind us, it’s time to hunker down and make some cash.  But with everything breaking, hunger setting in and sneaky house guests that just won’t leave…  It’s a bit like… what’s that saying?  Corralling dogs?

Additional Music:
Mischief Maker – Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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Mass Effect: A Funeral For a Friend

So I was not even halfway done with my ‘I finished Mass Effect Andromeda’ post (Not the final title, I assure you) when Electronic Arts announced that the Mass Effect property was pretty much dead.  Oh they didn’t use those words.  That would be dumb.  No, they said that Mass Effect – the entire franchise – is being put ‘On Hiatus’.  Which in all honesty means that they’re going to stick it on a shelf until there’s nostalgia dollars to be made from it.  Along with this news, we learned that Bioware Montreal was being gutted and the remaining staff would be support developers for other EA titles such as Battlefront or Project Dylan (the currently unnamed Bioware action game that rumors say is EA’s contender to go head-to-head with Activision’s Destiny series and The Division.)  The only development for Mass Effect: Andromeda moving forward will be bug fixes and multiplayer support.

How did we get here?  I mean, it’s not even been 3 months since the game came out.  Now there will be no DLC, no sequel for the cliffhanger ending, and pretty much an end to the entire Mass Effect idea and setting for the foreseeable future.

Well, I’m sure some people have a very good idea of how this happened.  I mean, the internet backlash was hitting this game before we even got to the release date because of the whole 10 hour preview that some people had.  Mixed that with streaming media so everyone could share in the initial reaction and boom! Great recipe for an instant flame war.  And I’m not going to sit here and hold those people solely responsible.  The game had problems at launch.  I’m not going to argue with that.  The animations could be goofy, there were issues with bugs and the inventory system was just screwy.  I mean, most of this didn’t bother me personally.  Nor did it bother a lot of people I knew personally.  But then again, I was raised on RPGs where “Facial Animation” was changing the position of an eyebrow on a 20×20 pixel head.  I remember it being a big deal when “mouths moving when they have lines” was a big advancement.  So maybe I’m a bit more forgiving of some silly animations.  Ultimately, the game was playable.  It was downright fun.  Right from launch.  The patches fixed issues as they rolled out and the fun got even better.  That’s the way I viewed it all at least.

There’s also the issue of the broken fan base over to make the game more open-world.  Right now “Open World” games are kind of a thing and its started to get some backlash against it.  That isn’t Andromeda’s fault, but it did release right as the genre’s popularity has started to decline instead of at its peak.  Really, I don’t think open world was much of a goal for the game as it was the side effect of the questionable overall design choice: An updated Mass Effect 1.  Everything from the open format of upgrading abilities, to the inventory system and ranked equipment (Ranks I-X just like ME1), and the big open worlds to drive around and explore were all pretty much just yanked from Mass Effect 1 and then peppered with some of the sensibilities of ME2 & 3.  Instead of moving forward from ME3’s gameplay, they went back and tried to revive the stuff that the second and third installments tried to push away from.  And for that reason, I imagine there was a lot of push-back from fans.  While there are some in the Bioware fandom that hold on to the classic Mass Effect as the last time the games were “RPGs” (a sentiment I disagree with. I view RPG as more of a choice of how one approaches and interacts with the game rather than a specific set of mechanics that must be followed) most of the folks I’ve spoken to over the years hold Mass Effect 2 as the pinnacle of the trilogy and many of them cite the choices to move away from things like the Mako sequences on worlds or the painful inventory system.  Going back may have made sense to the developers, especially in light of the emphasis on exploration, but I don’t think it was what a lot of fans wanted.

Speaking of the exploration, I am still gathering that there in lies the big disconnect with expectations vs reality.  Andromeda was set up to be a break off of the original Mass Effect trilogy.  The same setting but a different story, hence why it was never labeled – and Bioware heavily emphasized that it was NOT – Mass Effect 4.  Andromeda was about exploration.  Going to a new place never before seen and trying to establish a home.  This wasn’t the tale of a super-soldier trying to save the Galaxy.  This was just a random team of people who volunteered to travel nearly a millennium away from home and try to set up camp in a barely charted galaxy.  So it was a big step down in the important-ness scale.  Just as epic, but more in a scale way instead of a heroic way.  Because face it, Ryder isn’t a hero.  They’re the kid of an ostracized scientist who had greatness thrust upon them compared to Shepard who was a damn legend before the opening title dropped hence why Shepard was being considered for Spectre Status.  Ryder’s job before having the Pathfinder title dropped on their lap was Recon Specialist.  No rank, no record of glory, no nothing.  Andromeda was about new beginnings.  A theme that runs through out the game and is handled really well.  I just don’t think everybody was on board with a new beginning.

It’s one of those tough calls that you have to deal with as an artist in an entertainment industry.  Especially if your a AAA developer or working with a big movie studio.  You can make great art, but even then if no one is buying what your selling then you are just shooting yourself in the foot.  It’s the cruel reality, and not one that I personally like or support.  Electronic Arts supposedly dropped $40 million on Andromeda (That’s half of CD Projekt Red’s budget for The Witcher 3) to a brand new division of Bioware set up in Montreal to try and win back the fans that Bioware HQ in Edmonton put at risk with Mass Effect 3’s ending backlash.  They decided to dive back into the well and play it safe by retreading ground established by Mass Effect 1.  They developed a story that was easy for new comers and series veterans to get into with a brilliantly handled themes of exploring the unknown and establishing a new beginning.  They crafted a story that wrapped up both the ‘new beginning’ as well solved the primary conflict without giving everything away so fans could theorize and have something to look forward to in the future.  It created a villain with an interesting motivation (The Kett) and a mystery to ponder on without concrete answers (The Remnant). It ended the game with solving the issue of finding a home but gave a cliffhanger as to what will come next.

Mass Effect Andromeda was a good game overall.  A good game that stumbled at the starting line and it cost them big.  I honestly worry about Bioware moving forward.  After this, ME3’s ending, and The Old Republic, I imagine EA’s patience may be wearing thin.  Consumers on the other hand have higher expectations of Bioware than ever.  Things could be rough going forward for the Canadian RPG powerhouse.

A Trailer That Remembers the Face of Its Father

Which would be like…  a teaser?  The poster?  A synopsis?  I’m not entirely sure how parentage of a movie trailer works.  Anyway, I’m talking of course about the much anticipated – for me at least – Dark Tower trailer:

I’ll just say this now so you can either click away or tell me I’m wrong right away instead of getting to the bottom:  I. Loved. It.

Idris’ imposing charisma and gravitas as Roland, McConaughey’s sleazy and menacing presence as Walter/Randall/Man in Black, and just the amazing visuals of Midworld or the connection to the rest of King’s works all shining through in this short trailer.  It definitely delivers on everything I would want from a film adaptation of the Dark Tower series.

And I think that’s where there’s some debate going on about the trailer.  People aren’t happy that this seriously deviates from the source material so much.  People have had issues with the film focusing more on Jake, the movie toning down some of the more western concepts, or them being racists.  You know, pick your poison.  Overall, I wasn’t expecting a transfer of the books story to the big screen.  Because that would be terrible.  The story of the Dark Tower books barely fit into anything resembling a traditional narrative structure and more closely resemble a traditional saga where the characters go on a meandering journey to ultimate destination and have various adventures along the way (also see: The Hobbit.)  There is no easy way to break The Dark Tower into a simple beginning/middle/end.  Heck, one whole book is like 90% flashback.  Even the first novel, ‘The Gunslinger’ would work as a straight story namely because it ISN’T one.  The Gunslinger is five short stories that take place in a chronological order, but while each of the shorts have a roughly complete arc unto themselves, the whole of the narrative doesn’t.  Heck it doesn’t even really have an ending.  Not one that resolves any of the conflicts brought forth in the story at least.

And that’s the Dark Tower in the nutshell.  It lacks the structure that a film demands.  So to expect any of it to make it to the big screen without some level of heavy adaptation taking place is naive of how media adaptation is supposed to work.  That and I assume you’re a big fan of The Last Airbender.  That was pretty much just copying plot point for plot point of the entire first season of Avatar to the big screen.  (Full disclosure: I loved the Last Airbender.  I have never laughed so hard at a movie.  It wasn’t because it was good though.)

The other idea put forth about the movie that solves a lot of these conflicts would only make sense to those who have read the entire book series so this next point may have some SPOILERZ in it for those who are interested in reading the books.  The idea being introduced and seemingly confirmed by both King and the filmmakers is that this story is another one of Roland’s cycles.  Referring to the idea that entire series has been repeated an unknown amount of times until Roland gets it right by bringing the fabled Horn of Eld to the steps of the Dark Tower.  When we last see Roland at the end of the last book, his journey has begun once again but this time he actually has the Horn in hand.  While the Horn of Eld isn’t seen in the trailer (photos on the set show a horn like object in Roland’s satchel however), it doesn’t mean that this theory is bust.  After all, it wouldn’t be the first cycle where Roland lost the Horn.  But even Stephen King has hinted on his twitter that this is the next cycle after the books and that this time we’ll see Roland blow that horn and face down the Crimson King.

The one point I like about this theory is that it doesn’t tie the film makers to the events of the books.  Mid-World is still there, the old familiar faces may come and go, but those are this cycle’s versions of those people.  In the same way that Roland remembers Cuthbert fondly instead of bitterly at the end of the last book, we can’t simply assume that the events before or during the course of Roland’s last journey to the Tower will play the same.  That means the film makers have full access to the names and ideas presented in the books, but don’t have to use them or even use them the same way in the film version.

Combine all that with the fact that you can tell from the trailer that the behind-the-camera team has a lot of love for the property, and this could spell a great time for King fans and non-King fans alike.

One final aside that I’ve been pondering on with the trailer:  In one shot we see Jake wandering through an over-grown forest in the remnants of an amusement park with a giant broken down sign that reads “PENNYWISE” and a dilapidated statue of a clown holding balloons.  Of course, this is easily a reference to Stephen King’s IT that is slated for its own theatrical movie here soon.  But something struck me as odd – Is this where the clown came from?  It takes many forms in the course of the novel – a werewolf, a mummy, Bev’s Dad – all conjured from the children’s frightened minds and of course Its final physical form of some Lovecraftian horror that could only be described as “Giant Spider-like creature”.  But none of the kids were afraid of clowns.  Heck, even little Georgie wasn’t scared of Pennywise when they first met.  So where did that form come from?  We know that It comes from the Macroverse, a place described in very similar terms as Todash Space in the Dark Tower, and Its natural enemy is the Turtle, which is a reoccurring guardian deity in All-World.  So perhaps this right here is a hint to where the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown comes from original.  Maybe this isn’t a reference to IT as much as IT is a reference to this.  Who knows.  Maybe we’ll find out in August.

Switching On To The Switch

So last Friday, I got my grubby mitts on the new Nintendo console, the Switch.  I didn’t camp out or anything like I did with the Wii.  After having that experience once, I am quite satisfied with just pre-ordering off of a website and waiting for the mail man.  I’m getting old. I ain’t a whipper snapper no more.

Honestly what confused me more so was that people asked IF I was going to get a Switch.  As if there would be some reason I wouldn’t?  I guess people just assume when they see my Wii and Wii U that I might have felt burned by Nintendo in the past with these “dreadful” systems.  Which only makes me laugh.  I have NEVER been dissatisfied with a Nintendo console.  Not once.  Heck, I thought the Virtual Boy was pretty awesome when it first came out.  I still think it was one of the most forward thinking consoles ever made along with the Dreamcast.  Go back and look at the Virtual Boy and tell me that thing doesn’t look like the equivalent of the Game & Watch devices for the modern Vive or Gear headsets.  Nintendo systems are always kind of this weird nostalgia trip anyway.  When they were current both the Nintendo 64 and GameCube were mocked for having small game selections that trended toward “casual” or “kiddy” games unlike the then rising star Playstation & Playstation 2. Nowadays?  People pine for the days of the N64 or ‘Cube.  People sing their praises now that they’ve passed into the realms of nostalgia.  But hey, I still loved those consoles when they were current.  My PSX was used for Final Fantasy.  Everything else? Nintendo 64.

So when people point out things like the weird gimmicks or the small launch selection, I can’t help but shrug.  The Switch is no exception.  It looked fun as hell and I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed.

The Console

The Switch itself is surprisingly compact.  Even with the JoyCons attached to the side of it.  It actually kind reminds me of a skinny Game Gear in that sense but with a bigger screen (Maybe a bit longer battery life).  It’s definitely not like the 3DS where I can just stick it in my pocket but it would easily fit in a backpack, messenger bag, or purse.  The stand on the back is NOT as flimsy as I’ve seen people complaining about, at least not in my experience.  I’ve used it in the kickstand configuration a few times and the only time I had trouble keeping it standing up was when I tried to do it on a non-solid surface like a sofa cushion or the bed.  The kickstand set up is probably my favorite configuration outside of putting it on the TV so far.  The JoyCons connect wirelessly so you can just have your hands in any position you want while playing.  I was at my sister-in-law’s hookah lounge/tea shop/gaming emporium (Check out the Lair of Abraxas if your ever in the Denver Metro area. #Plug.) with the Switch set up on the table and my hands crossed underneath and just playing away without a concern in total comfort.  It’s hard to explain why but something about the fact that the JoyCons fit in your hand and are connected to nothing just gives you a lot of freedom to play comfortably.

The biggest technical hurdle I’ve had so far was honestly getting my TV to display a decent picture, and that’s really more so the TV’s fault than the Switch so I can’t complain too much.  But if the saturation or brightness of the image seems too much or the anti-aliasing seems choppy on your TV, you might want to play around with the settings some.  For me, it turns out that Gaming Mode on our TV isn’t so good for gaming, but HDR+ mode makes the games look great.  So you might just need to fiddle in the settings until you find one that looks good for you.

The JoyCons

These things were my biggest worry when it came to the Switch.  I mean, they LOOK tiny right?  And they are.  Kind of.  My hands can fit around them easily enough that I can play without any discomfort or crab claw hands.  The buttons are about the size of the ones on a 3DS so if you don’t have an issue there, you won’t here.  I won’t really know what to say about them in terms of gameplay until probably next month when I pick up Mario Kart 8 Director’s Cut or whatever they’re calling it, but I don’t anticipate too many issues.  Regardless, I did get a Pro Controller to use just in case.

However, one thing that was both cool and weird at the same time is actually feeling the HD Rumble do its thing for the first time.  While I didn’t bother with 1-2-Switch, there are a few moments in Zelda that use it and its just kind of neat.  Feeling the water run down a stalagtite before dripping down as you watch it on screen is definitely a nice touch of immersion.  I’ll be curious to see how developers will use it moving forward.

The Games

I only grabbed two games at Launch: Zelda and I Am Setsuna, and over the weekend I only really played Zelda.  I was tempted to go for Bomberman as well, because I remember playing the heck out of BomberMan 64 back in the day, but I felt it was one of those wait and sees.  Meanwhile, the next Zelda game and a retro send up to Chrono Trigger style RPG?  Heck yes I will be playing those.

Zelda is gorgeous and pretty much hits all the right notes.  The gleaming reviews are everywhere so I don’t think I need to sell you on the game, but I will touch on the highlights for me:

  • Exploring:  In what must be a send up to the original NES games, Breath of the Wild has minimal if any handholding when it comes to things.  How do I get to that shrine in the icy area without freezing?  Well, I picked up some peppers that said they could keep me warm.  Cook those up with some apples for a spicy stew and viola! I can make my way up to the shrine.  Or rolling a rock down a hill just to see it crush a bokoblin camp.
  • Collectibles: Three primary things to run around and find while you play (so far).  Korok Nuts that you can trade to increase your inventory, Spirit Orbs from Shrines to increase your Heart or Stamina meters, and Outfits that make Link fashionable and also give bonuses to stuff like Climb speed or Sneaking.
  • Shrines:  These are little mini dungeons that usually just puzzles with maybe a few enemies. Maybe.  But the puzzles have been SO FUN so far.  Easily my favorite part. I stumbled upon a later game dungeon fairly early by accident and it had a puzzle where you had to burn some vines to release a giant ball that you had to push a button at the right time to send it flying across the room to a spinning platform that you need to Stop Time on with your Stasis magic so the ball will roll and open the door.  That’s to open ONE DOOR in the Shrine.  LOVED IT!
  • The World is Huge.  It just is.  I was skeptical when I heard that Breath of the Wild was going to be on-par with Xenoblade Chronicles X in terms of the map size but uh…  I’m a believer.  Luckily there’s a quick travel system utilizing the Shrines and Towers and a few other points that you can zip around with.
  • The Game is that right level of hard.  Some people have been calling this the Dark Souls of Zelda.  I can see where they’re coming from but I don’t think this is quite that bad.  You will probably die a lot, yes.  But the game autosaves quite frequently to help prevent too much lost time and it’s never really unfair with it unless you have seriously wandered into a place where you are squaring off against much tougher opponents.  Then just use the quick travel system after you reload your autosave to skidaddle out (or be like me and just die over and over trying to outrun the crazy killer robot that’s twice as fast as me).  There’s no real punishment for dying beyond maybe having to replay a bit of an area, but it seems to remember things like what chests you looted already and what not, so the repetition is never terrible and it gives you a chance to try new strategies.

So that’s my early impressions of playing with the Nintendo Switch over the weekend.  Once I get an actual multiplayer game, I’ll probably post my Friend Code somewhere so you can friend request me or something.

FFXV: Vry vs The Pit of Eos Theory

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In case you’re not a Final Fantasy fan, there’s a bit of a hot topic spinning around in fan circles about the latest installment of the series, Final Fantasy XV.  It pertains to the bonus dungeon, Pitioss Ruins, that can be found after the game is complete by taking your flying car over the mountains and landing on a pain in the ass small strip of land.  From there you run up the hill and after the sun goes down you can enter the Ruins which has less to do with the rest of the game and more in common with games like VVVVVVVV or I Want To Be The Boshy joining forces with some insidious Little Big Planet levels.  Precision jumps, instant death spikes, tons of bottomless pits, and plenty of puzzles.  It’s a frustrating and yet suprisingly entertaining dungeon that had me less annoyed with each death and more so piecing together a solution or strategy.

However, the current “theory” or simply fan wank making the rounds right now is that this dungeon holds the key to understanding the entire game’s backstory and motivations for the villains.

Right…

To break it down simply, it posits that Ifrit, the second to last boss of the game, broke free of Titan’s imprisonment, ventured into the Underworld, traversed the Doomtrain to reach the afterlife, and freed the Goddess Eos who was locked away by the Astrals because she was pregnant with twin demi-god children (noted by the item the Genji Glove found in the statues belly button. Genji roughly translating to ‘Two Beginnings’.)  These twin children would be the founding members of the House of Lucis, possibly Ardyn and Izunia (The Izunia thing is a WHOLE other rant), and would eventually give rise to Noctis. (If you want more detail, there is a great video by Final Fantasy Peasant that breaks the whole thing down here. It’s also where I got the lovely image at the top.)

At first glance, it’s a great idea.  It explains why Ifrit turned against the other Astrals, Ardyn’s desire for revenge, why only the lineage of Lucis can use the Ring of the Lucii, and their connection to the Crystal.  Damn. What a great theory.  Boy is it clever.

I have a few problems with it though. (Shocker.)

A lot of the theory seems to be based heavily on Greek Mythology.  No surprise there. The game itself draws heavily on Greek Mythology to tell its story especially when it comes to names and themes.  However, the Pitioss Ruins theory goes beyond this and simply assumes at face value that if X happened with equivalent characters in the Greek myth, then the equivalent must be true in Final Fantasy XV.  So things like “Eos was imprisoned for loving a mortal and having half-god children” is based solely on the idea that “It’s how an Olympian God would react” with no basis whatsoever in the mythology or story of Final Fantasy XV.  There is zero evidence to back up the idea that the Astrals would be angry by this.  This is just slapping in frog DNA to fill in the holes of your dino DNA and saying that it was always intended to be like that.

Secondly, the theory throws in concepts that are wholly foreign to the game as if they were just matter of fact things.  For instance, the theory states quite plainly that Ifrit descended to the Underworld to find the Goddess Eos by riding Doomtrain.  Okay.  One, there is no “Underworld” ever mentioned in the game at any point as part of their mythology.  Two, no where is the contraption in the Ruins called Doomtrain nor is the concept of Doomtrain ever mentioned let alone as the ‘Sole means of reaching the afterlife’ in Final Fantasy XV.  This description from Doomtrain comes from other games, which is a bad practice since in no other Final Fantasy game is Bahamut a giant dude in a suit of dragon armor.

Finally, the Goddess Eos?  The Goddess that is central to this entire theory?  Not in the game.  She’s not.  Eos is the name of the world that the game takes place on.  Beyond that it’s even more fan theory based on random comments made by developers.  That the character in the logo is the ‘most important goddess’ despite never having a name and only appearing in the logo and one painting at the beginning (Oh, and after you beat the game it shows quite plainly who that sleeping figure is supposed to be, and she ain’t Eos.) So if there’s a super important goddess, and the world is called Eos, then that must be the goddess Eos right?  Sure, why not.  Except that nowhere is that backed up in the game.  We know who all six Astrals are.  We know that there were gods who left after creating the world and the Astrals but were never named.  So how do we know this is a goddess?  Well, mostly because this used to be based on the Fabula Nova Crystallis and in that there was a super important goddess named ‘Etro’ who was trapped in the ‘Unseen World’ (World of the Dead, Underworld.)  But all of that lore was scrapped and only used as a template for ideas (Bhunivelze = Unknown Creator, Fal’Cie = Astrals, l’Cie = Lucii.)

So this theory is built on another theory and uses more theories to fill in the gaps.  What’s actually canon to the game?  That there’s a dungeon called of the Pitioss Ruins and there’s some statues in it one of which looks like Ifrit. That’s about it.

But what’s the problem, Vry? I hear you ask.  It’s just a harmless fan theory, right?  Well, yea and no.  There are plenty of folks who are seeing this theory and turning around and shouting F#%& TABATA AND SQUARE ENIX FOR RUINING THIS GENIUS PLOT going along with the idea that if this had stayed Final Fantasy Versus XIII or that if Nomura had stayed on the project that this plot would have become fully fleshed out in the unknowable amount of time it would have taken to get finished (Don’t get me wrong, I like Nomura alright but the man is a hardcore creative and needs to some serious reining in if you want to put him in charge of a project or else he’ll just keep coming up with new ideas and trying to work them in).

So this theory is now being used as ‘Proof’ against the developers, and that’s where I felt like I should step up and use my corner of the web to try and remind folks that this is just a theory and one based on a LOT of conjecture.  It explains a lot, but that’s fairly easy to do when you construct the entire argument from random bits and pieces of unrelated material.  You can just as convincingly say that Eos was a Titan in Greek Mythology and Titan is an Astral, so Eos might be the mother of Titan as well. Which would make Noctis and Titan related, which would explain why they were mentally linked and the first Astral that Noctis forged a covenant with.  See! It all fits! It must be true!  Other than I pulled it out of my rump.

Fan Theories are great.  But they are theories.  They are not canon.  They are not backdoors into the game developers’ minds. Need I bring the Game Theorists’ “Sans is Ness” Undertale/Earthbound theory?  Great theory. So not canon.

But then why all the mysteries around the backstory of FFXV?  I don’t know.  Maybe because a lot of it wasn’t vitally important to the immediate situation.  My own theory on that (HA!) is that it might be a leftover concept from the Versus XIII days when the game was described as portrayed the affairs of gods through the eyes of a mortal.  Like war between the Astrals but only the given context of what a mere mortal would see or understand.  Do I know for certain?  Heck no.  But hey…  it fits, doesn’t it?

Diving into Dream Drop Distance

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So lately, I’ve been playing a lot of Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance HD as part of the 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue collection (And that’s a mouthful.) I tried to play it before on the 3DS but something about the strange and unfamiliar mechanics (I had never played Birth By Sleep when I tried it so the Command Board was weird, plus the Dream Eaters) and the smaller screen between the controls seem to just give me an all around hard time getting into the game. So I figured that now I’ve solved some of those issues I could try it again on my TV.  Turns out, it works a lot better.

Learning the Game

I figured since Dream Drop Distance introduces a bunch of weird mechanics that I’d share some tips that I’ve kind of figured out over the course of playing to make it easier.  The first of which would have to be the return of the Command Board.  A familiar installment to those who played through Birth by Sleep on the PSP or as part of the II.5 collection, the Command Board is pretty much all of your special attacks and moves be they special keyblade attacks or spells.  They each have a separate cooldown that is affected by your Attack or Magic Haste stat.  You start with a few slots but the list will expand as you continue through the game. The command board is your bread & butter in combat.  I generally only do normal attacks once I’ve put most of my attack commands on cooldown to fill the gap.  They do WAY more damage and have more Area damage options that your normal attacks. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find what attacks work better for your playstyle.  I tend to favor the “dive” attacks because they do area damage which is good for clearing out clusters of enemies which is very helpful when grinding.

The second big mechanic to keep in mind is the Dream Eaters.  Much like Pokemon Amie meets Nintendogs, you create these little spirits and can groom and pet them to your hearts content.  But why you would want to do so was confusing to me for a long time.  See, these little guys are more important than just being your fill in party members since Donald & Goofy are off doing their own thing during the adventure.  These little guys also give you your abilities.  Abilities being things like ‘Attack Haste’ or ‘Second Chance’ or ‘Magic Boost’.  How you get these is from a Dream Eaters’ ability link grid.  You spend Link Points to unlock nodes on the grid that grant Abilities or Commands.  And you get Link Points from leveling your Dream Eaters in combat, playing minigames or yes, petting them.  Petting them is especially important because petting or poking them in certain places can change their ‘Disposition’ (aka what attacks they use in combat) and a new disposition can unlock extra paths on the Link Grid (It’s the only way to 100% their grids.)

The other thing about Dream Eater abilities is which are permanent and which only apply when the Dream Eater is in your party.  Essentially ‘Stat Abilities’ (The blue ones on the ability screen, or the ones with the dream eater logo on the grid) only apply when that Dream Eater is in your party.  The ‘Support Abilities’ (Red abilities or Red Orbs on grid), ‘Spirit Abilities’ (Purple Abilities or Purple Orbs on Grid) and any commands (Wizard Hat & Key icons) you got are permanently unlocked for both Sora and Riku.

Flowmotion is the final mechanic and I don’t think I can really do it justice in text.  It essentially allows you to jump massive distances, up walls, and perform new attacks.  It takes get some used to but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to reach new areas, treasure chests, and skip a bunch of tedious jumping.  Don’t worry if you can’t get the hang of it though.  I’ve yet to encounter anything that you can’t get through normal jumping (or high jumping.)  There’s even some stuff like a friendly animal that you can ride on to reach areas in some worlds.  So you don’t NEED flowmotion, but it can make things easier/quicker.

The Pieces Fall Together

The other thing I’m really enjoying about Dream Drop Distance is that it is taking the time to finally start piecing the story together from all the various spin offs that the series has had since KH2 came out in preparation of well, the final chapter.  Tying in titles like 358/2 Days, Birth By Sleep and Re:Coded to the current going ons with Riku & Sora really helps to make the picture complete and help you to figure out how all of this fits together into a single story.  If you haven’t played one of the games, or you can’t remember, you’ll eventually unlock “Chronicles” which are text summaries of the events of each of the games.

However, the story isn’t flawless.  Mostly when it comes down to the individual worlds.  Of the first three ‘movie inspired’ worlds you go to – La Cites des Cloches (Hunchback of Notre Dame), The Grid (Tron: Legacy) and Prankster’s Paradise (Pinnochio) – two of them don’t put a lot of effort to weave Sora or Riku into the narrative of the ongoing plot like many of the other games did.  In fact, in the Grid it feels like our heroes aren’t even there half the time as the game just reenacts random scenes from the movies without context as Sora & Riku stand in the background.  Oh there’s scenes that advance Sora & Riku’s story as well, but they have little to nothing to do with the events of the world’s story.  Usually it involves Young Xehanort showing up with one of his many incarnations to taunt or mysteriously hint at things at our heroes before departing back to parts unknown.  I’m not going to say it’s a game breaker, but damn if it doesn’t just let the air out of any enthusiasm of going to the various worlds.

On that note, I’m not sure Square Enix quite understood the plot of the Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Because the random aspects they chose to focus on – and they are random.  Like the one scene with Pheobus & Esmerelda’s spontaneous romance with zero development that only makes sense if you’ve seen the movie – seems to imply that the writers were unsure of what the story was about.  Is it about Frollo hating “G–sies” for being ‘Free’?  Or Quasimodo overcoming his crippling fear of going outside not because of his visage but just because Frolo told him not to.  Heck, they have one scene about Frolo looking for the Court of Miracles that explicitly conveys the opposite intention of the original film (He WANTS to crush them ‘one by one’ instead of crushing them all).  It was just a weird world over all and nothing was given context.  It was like reading a cliff notes version of the Disney movie with half the pages missing.  Just weird.

Should You Get It?

If you’re a Kingdom Hearts fan and plan on playing the whenever-it-gets-done KH3?  Definitely.  Unless you already played it on the 3DS, because this version doesn’t add anything.  It removes some non-essential stuff like AR Codes and Photo Taking of the Dream Eaters (there IS a photo mode but it just removes the UI for screen shotting) but this isn’t a “Final Mix” incarnation, just a HD remaster of the graphics and ported to a console.  The follow up in the 2.8 collection, ‘Birth By Sleep 0.2 -A Fragmentary Passage-‘, also picks up literally right at the end of Dream Drop Distance’s Secret Ending, which might be spoilery if you haven’t played Dream Drop yet.

Final Fantasy XV: A Flawed Gem

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So I finished Final Fantasy XV, and by finished I mean I got to level 99, I ran through every dungeon, and I got every trophy.  I FINISHED it.  And like every Final Fantasy game I’ve played before, I had fun.  But the question is how much fun did I have?  Well, let’s break it down shall we?

STORY

The story of Final Fantasy XV is deceptively simple.  By that I mean, the only reason it seems to be complex is the method by which its told rather the actual complexity of the events.  For instance, the actual purpose behind the majority of the actions in the majority of the game isn’t revealed until the end of Chapter 13 out of a total 14 chapters. It’s not uncommon for a Final Fantasy game.  Lightning Returns and Final Fantasy X both tried to do something similar to varying levels of success.  However, here it feels the deception is almost malicious in its intent.  When we meet the heroes, Noctis is on his way to get married and enjoying a bachelor party-ish road trip along the way with his closest friends and confidantes. Once we break through the games pseudo-prologue and the first twist happens (not much of a twist if you saw Kingsglaive first) where the city of Insomnia falls to Imperial betrayal, the road trip turns dark as the group swears on vengeance and begins to build power via Noctis’ birthright to command the weapons of former kings followed by forging pacts with literal gods.

We are given context to all of these events solely through the vantage point of Noctis himself.  Hence we discover the true reveal along with him.  We see the confusing messages that he struggles to interpret with him.  And we are forced to face the consequences of his actions with him as well.  It is a powerful way to tell the story, if your tale is simple enough to manage such a narrow point of view.  Final Fantasy XIII tried something similar as I have mentioned before and it bogged down into tons of extra reading or be very confused.  XV does succeed in the endeavor a bit more though there still are some confusing moments that feel like slapdash plot hole filling.  Where this approach suffers the most is in the development of characters that are not directly encountered by our protagonist:  Ravus, the Empire, King Regis, and sadly especially Lunafreya.  You only get glimpses of these characters who are such major players in this story because our field of vision is limited to what Noctis sees and interacts with.  You don’t meet up with Lunafreya until three-fourths of the way through the game.  Before that you only get Noctis’ flashbacks with her, their two sentences dog-texts (They both own reality warping dogs that deliver messages for them.  Yes, there is an explanation.  No, it’s not a great one.), and the brief visions given by the Gods.  This is all you get to figure out why these two who haven’t seen each other in years are supposedly “in love” (although Kingsglaive does explain the marriage idea was part of treaty.)  And yet, because we’ve seen Noctis interact with so many people that when he acts so out of character when he finally sees Luna, you get this feeling of knowing how much she means to him.

And that’s what the game does so very well with the story.  You may not know what’s going on, but you feel like you identify with the tale.  The story isn’t laid out in the most narratively pleasant order but it does a DAMN fine job of getting you emotionally invested in these characters.

Speaking of…

CHARACTERS

Our protagonist is Crown Prince Noctis Lucis Caellum, the sole surviving member of the Lucis Caellum line and a wanted fugitive of the Niflheim Empire.

I said before how a lot of the surrounding characters don’t get a ton of development and that is sadly true.  Lunafreya is shown to be a powerfully determined woman on a mission that won’t even make sense until the end of the game, but she is also one of the more kind hearted characters shown as well.  Her brother Ravus, despite building him up to be a big antagonist, gets next to nothing.  He is a character of many seeming contradiction tried together out of an extreme loyalty to family that comes from who knows where.  His story is mostly only told through journal pages you find late in game.  I can kind of see why they want to revisit Ravus’ story in a patch or something.

The main ‘Warriors of Light’ (Yes, that IS what the four are meant to represent if you missed the blatantly call back to the original Final Fantasy at the start of the game) are on the opposite spectrum.  You spend nearly ALL your time with your companions occasionally departing for a mission or two of the story before returning.  Ignis, the attendant of our prince protagonist and the caretaker of the group in charge of repairing damaged clothing, cooking meals, and driving the car most of the time.  Gladiolus is Noctis’ bodyguard and trainer who comes from a long line of Kingsguards.  Finally there’s Prompto the seemingly fun loving commoner that became friends with Noctis in high school.  The game does an amazing job making these three feel like they are your best friends.  You feel for them on an emotional level.  Which is important as the game progresses and starts using that affection and attachment against you.  Oh there will be drama. Oh yes, there will be drama.

Finally, there’s the supporting cast.  It’s a mixed bag of who you like and don’t like.  I found myself being rather fond of Gladio’s teenage sister Iris and her love of Moogles, the mercenary Aranea Highwind and her dry wit was great for a laugh on the mission she joined you, and I kept imagining Cor the Immortal having epic adventures off somewhere without me accompanied by either heavy metal or the soundtrack to Conan the Barbarian.  I was a bit irked that they changed “Cidney” to “Cindy” for the English release though.  I mean, way to kill the joke.  She’s still listed as Cidney in the credits along with her Japanese voice actress.  There weren’t any characters I downright loathed though.  Which is impressive for a big open world game like this.

Finally, we have our villain.  What? No. Not the Emperor. No one cares about Emperors. Haven’t you been paying attention since Final Fantasy VI?  No.  We have High Chancellor Ardyn Izunia.  Both pseudo friend and foe through much of the game, the main group immediately doesn’t trust him but also is forced to work with him repeatedly.  His goals seem to be at odds at times with his masters in the Empire, but it’s not clear what they are until much later on.  I’d go more into Ardyn but you really can’t without spoiling it.  I can say that he is easily on my short list for best Final Fantasy villain.  He’s so amazingly slimy.

WORLD BUILDING

I wanted to touch on this because as I had made mention of in my first reactions post a while back, this was one aspect that constantly surprised and frustrated me.  That the world of Eos is built up so amazingly well just using what you see, hear and interact with that very little exposition needs to be given about it.  You can tell how much of Lucis the Empire had controlled before the fall of Insomnia by the check points and military bases.  You get a feel for the vast gap between the frontier people and the people living inside Insomnia just by comparing the names “Noctis Lucis Caellum” and “Dave.” You discover that pretty much ALL women of working age work in the reactor by seeing them walk around the city in their protective work clothes.

How about the effects of a world where monsters and Gods walk among you?  You see the Hunters working to keep people safe, ultra bright UV lights at all points of civilization to help ward off monsters.  Duscae’s power infrastructure is based on the giant meteor that Titan holds in the Disc.  Altissia has statues and temples built to honoring Leviathan. All of these things and so much more end up coming together to form the world, and none of it is ever explained in depth.  It just gives you that feeling again that this world is actually coherent and thought out.

However, that lack of detail also just drove me crazy! I would read tomes upon tomes of the history of the world.  All we get is an art gallery at the start and a timeline in the strategy guide.  And the timeline only begins maybe 2000 years prior to the start of the game.  Everything beyond that is “Ancient Time” with no info.  Bah.

MUSIC

I kinda wish I could say more about the music.  It kinda of strikes me as similar to other open-world RPGs where the music kind of starts to blend into the background which in this kind of game I always considered a good thing.  I’ve had to turn off music or radios that tend to become annoyingly intrusive after a while as I explore (I’m looking at you, Fallout 4.)  The music alternates between pleasant and calm and bombastic and epic during the battles and especially the boss battles. The song ‘Apocalypsis Aquarius’ that plays during the battle with Leviathan is one of my favorites.  However, other than the titular song ‘Final Fantasy’ (known to some as ‘Main Theme’, ‘Prologue’ or for the very old school fans ‘The Bridge Song’) and some updated renditions of the ‘Prelude’ Crystal theme, there are very few songs in the game I could identify without looking at the track name and even then I probably wouldn’t be able to place them.  The music is good – of that there’s no doubt – but I can’t really say there are too many memorable themes or stand out tracks that immediately make you think ‘Ah, this is when X happened’.  Even the Leviathan battle song since every major boss battle is just a different arrangement of the same Apocalypsis song.  Great soundtrack for just playing in the background though.  I bought a couple of tracks I like to listen to while driving.

Of course, if something more iconic is your taste, you can get music collections from older Final Fantasy titles throughout the game that can be played through the car stereo or eventually a portable music player you can purchase.  The selection is usually about 5 or 6 songs per collection but some games have more than one “disc” that you can get.  For instance, Final Fantasy XI’s music has a separate collection for each expansion the MMO had.  There are some omissions though.  While multiple Dissidia and Type-0 collections appear, you won’t find many other spin off games or sequels (X-2, XIII-2, Lightning Returns, Revenant Wings, Tactics, or After Years.) Final Fantasy XIV’s music doesn’t appear either sadly, keeping this from even containing tracks from all the main numbered games. Still it offers a huge selection of songs from classic Final Fantasy games, so there is always that to take advantage of.

Though I will mention one thing about the ‘portable music player.’  It does NOT work in combat.  The normal combat music will always play and turn off the music player.  Big minus there.  Would love to beat up monsters while listening to ‘Sunleth Waterscape’.

GAMEPLAY

While the game has transitioned heavily into a ‘live combat’ style that feels almost closer to Secret of Mana then what one may associate with the Final Fantasy franchise, the combat system is quite fun.  There is a Wait Timer that while takes some getting used to at first, grants access to things like Libra that can be further buffed via the upgrade-able Ascension trees.  Speaking of the Ascension trees, they are used like Sphere Grids or the Crystarium in the previous game with the exception that the entire party shares a single set of Ascension trees.  Some branches of the trees will unlock or upgrade follower abilities and some will grant new ways to gain Ability Points to spend in the Ascension trees.  It offers a good level of choice with nothing feeling ‘Absolutely Mandatory.’  The costs increase exponentially as the branches go further and ultimately culminate in nodes that cost 333 or 999 AP to unlock.  Which is a lot when you realize you’ll be averaging about 2-4 AP a battle unless your actively farming it.  Luckily, you don’t need to get all of the abilities.  Not even in the end game.  So it’s kind of just another to work toward to if you want to and there are all manner of AP farming guides out there to help ya.

The one thing to keep in mind is that certain things and areas will take time to unlock.  You won’t have the car right away, and then you won’t have chocobos right away (And if your wondering why take a chocobo when you have a car, chocobos can off-road and the car can’t),  huge sections of the map are opened a piece at a time and there are a ton of things to do in each of them: Sidequests, Helping fix broken cars, Hunts picked up from food stops, treasure hunting, and dungeons.  Dungeons can be incredibly painful early on because while each has a ‘recommended’ level, there will often be monsters deep within (or right inside the door) that are much higher level than that.  I did a dungeon that was supposedly a “level 15 dungeon” that also had randomly spawning level 40 monsters that could petrify insta-death you.  Don’t be afraid to GTFO and come back more prepared with accessories or weapons to counter the enemies inside.  There’s an option on the map screen to warp back to the entrance for a reason.  There’s also a few dungeons you won’t be able to complete until the ‘post-game’ just simply because the means of accessing them aren’t available until then such as a specific quest or the flying car.  Yes. There’s a flying car in the post-game.  And landing that thing is the bane of my existence (you game over on a bad landing or crash.)

Once you reach a certain point – the end of Chapter 8 – the game shifts and the open world more or less leaves the game for a much more linear experience.  Altissia in Chapter 9 is a bit open but there’s not a ton of space to explore.  Once you reach the train however, the plot is literally and figuratively on rails until the end.  Luckily, you don’t get locked into this.  At any Inn/Lodging you can call one the previously mentioned reality-warping dogs to take you back to a previous section of the game.  So if you want to go level up on hunts, or find a Fire-imbued or Light-imbued weapon you can (The Light-Embued Weapons are at the Megiddo Hunter HQ in the North. Buy them.  They deal an extra 50% damage against daemons.)

As for the infamous Chapter 13?  I still stand by what I said before.  It’s not as bad as people make it out to be.  I found it to be quite an experience that made for an intense little bit of gameplay.  The only problem would probably be how poorly the story surrounding the ‘boss battles’ was handled.  But the mystery, the desperation, the frustration, the fear?  All just seem to help propel the story and create empathy with the characters.  I LIKED Chapter 13.  It was probably the most memorable moment in the game for me.

FINAL THOUGHTS

At its core, Final Fantasy XV is a great game.  At no point did I ever stop having fun with it.  Heck, I still have fun with it.  I logged back in to explore that weird Chocobo Moogle fair that’s going on and just running around was a blast and the humor still gets me.  But I won’t lie.  There’s some problems with the game.  The story truly feels like it suffered from one too many complete tonal changes in direction to the point that parts of it seemed to have become rubbed plain.  Assets re-purposed for the new narrative seem out of place and no one was sure what to do or how to handle certain characters.  The narrative suffers from being told from a single point of view much like Final Fantasy XIII, but unlike XIII it tries to compensate for that.  Honestly, I’d rather them just be willing to cut away to other places and people to progress the story or be willing to drop more exposition early on.

However, what shines in the game beyond the sometimes directionless feeling and the lack of development in the plot is the emotional core of the game.  You will find yourself completely enamored with these characters.  When bad things happen to them, you will feel sorry for them.  You’ll want to give them a hug.  And most importantly, probably driving the story more than the actual apocalyptic scenario, you want them to have a happy ending.  I can say that I have played many games that have better crafted stories and more finely tuned gameplay than Final Fantasy XV.  But I can’t say that they drew me in emotionally the same way.

Walk Tall, My Chocobros.

FateStone Development Journal: Planning

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I’ve been tinkering with some of my work on FateStone again recently and it got me thinking that maybe since I do have this platform, I could share some of my notes and thoughts about working on the game with all of you.

There’s a lot of ways one can go about coming up with an RPG Maker game.  Some folks just dive in and start creating, building as they go, some start with a story they’ve wanted to tell, and others begin with the characters.  These are all valid ways of exploring the creative tools that something like RPG Maker MV offers up.  Me though?  I’m a planner.  Always have been.  I would keep lists and figures of milestones and objectives written down or in my head.  I may not have ever gone as far as full blown theorycrafting in my WoW Raiding days but I did keep a list of drops I needed to work toward to get hit capped (Hit capping for the newer WoW players was a god awful mechanic where you needed to prioritize a now defunct ‘Hit’ stat just so you wouldn’t spend raid fights missing with every attack.)

So when it came to sit down and try to make an actual game, I didn’t open RPG Maker – I opened Google Sheets.  My Google Drive is full of documents and spreadsheets all around creating a basic layout for what the game I want to make will entail.  From how the crafting system will work, to a spreadsheet breakdown of items, crafting components for those items, effects for the items, and naturally the item id.  I’ve done the same work for class skills, which is an impressive list of hundreds of skills for FateStone’s currently planned twenty classes. I mean, I just like to have everything down on paper for easy reference once I begin, regardless if a lot of stuff I’ve been working on is for later ‘phases’ of the development.

Currently, Phase 1 is just planned to only be the single starter city and the quests that take place there in.  That includes a 3-floor dungeon built around the City Sewers and an ancient forgotten temple full of ghosts and skeletons hidden beneath the city, three city districts and the castle where the king lives.  Because of course there’s a castle where the king lives.  There’s a total of 5 recruit-able characters, namely because I wanted there to be some exploration of the ‘morality’ system and have different paths through the prologue based on your decisions. The Positive or “Astral” Path features the ability to recruit the Princess (Bard class) and a Knight and the Negative or “Chaos” path will feature the Rogue and the Mage NPCs.  The others will be eventually recruit-able, but I wanted Phase I to have a full party by the end of the Prologue.

So just there alone that’s seven areas with subzones of buildings, etc. Five NPCs featuring an array of five different classes, not to mention your starting class that brings the total to six. Two branching paths with different quests.  A half dozen or so different monsters of varying difficulty. Then items and shops to put them in.

…THAT is why I tend to go for the planning approach to things.  Just this small prologue has so many different things to keep track of in terms of IDs, variables, values, and so on and so forth.  I like being able to just flip open a spreadsheet and go “Ah, yes. That chest should have Item #52 in it.”

Review: Knights of the Eternal Throne

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So I finally got around to trying out the latest “expansion” from BioWare Austin’s Star Wars: The Old Republic.  And I’m sure you can tell from the use of those sarcastic quotation marks that I may have had some issues with the expansion and I will get to that.  First off, I just want to say that this is a review of strictly the “chapters” portion of the expansion.  I don’t do uprisings and I don’t do endgame. I have other MMOs for those.  So you won’t find an in-depth critique of the Eternal Command system or the new Uprisings content because quite frankly, I don’t bother with them.  All I will say about the Eternal Command system is that I’m not sure borrowing – of all things – Overwatch’s systems lock-stock-and-barrel is maybe a good solution for a MMORPG.  Just a thought. Heck if I know.

The Not Expansion

First of all, this isn’t an expansion.  Oh they’ll advertise it that way. And it ups the level cap.  But it’s not an expansion. Not in the traditional sense, and not in the way that SWTOR has offered expansions before.  Until KOTET, each expansion has been a self contained story.  Nothing in Shadows of Revan was connected to the events of Rise of the Hutt Cartel.  With KOTFE they actually sold you the ability to skip the prologue and first 5 chapters of any story and go straight to the new stuff it was so minimally related.  But KOTET isn’t like that.  This isn’t an expansion on SWTOR’s story.  This is the last half of KOTFE.  There is no reason this should have been even been marketed as a separate entity. From the moment it starts, to the moment it ends, it is unquestionable Chapters 17-25 of Knights of the Fallen Empire’s story.  Most of it only makes sense if you played through Knights of the Fallen Empire.  Because of that, I cannot recommend that you use your freshly rebranded “Outlander Token” to boost to 65.  It just doesn’t make sense to me that you would skip all the decisions and story of this first half.  Not worth it.

I guess I can’t complain too much.  It’s not like they charged you extra for KOTET. It just seems weird to me that this wasn’t just released as KotFE Chapters 17-25 instead of KOTET Chapters 1-9.

The Actual Story

BioWare Austin wasn’t pulling any punches after the barrage of complaints that followed the monthly chapters and most importantly the conclusion of Fallen Empire.  For the actual conclusion of the story they brought back Drew Karpyshyn, the writer that worked on Mass Effect 1 & 2 as well as the original SWTOR, from semi-retirement back in 2012 (he wrote novels). However because of this, more so than any expansion material before it, KOTET feels like an active part of the The Old Republic universe.

For instance, the opening chapter places you on Voss where you find Senya trying to heal Arcann while the newly… bathtowel turban-ed Vaylin is firebombing the planet to ash.  Right away your getting Valkorian making references to your class story, you get Senya utilizing Voss healing techniques including the life force draining one that appeared in the Sith Warrior Class Story.  Not to mention you actually get a slightly different series of quest objectives depending on your conversation choices and not just altered dialogue.  The first chapter is also the first time – but far from the last time – you can kill someone permanently this expansion.  In fact, you can kill at least five different characters.  One of which is unavoidable as Drew decided to draw on some of his Mass Effect background and presents you with the Virmire choice once again.  Choose who lives and choose who dies.  Even the most light sided person will have to face the Virmire choice.  Does this make sense?  Not really.  Since at the time and place in Mass Effect, you literally could only reach one or the other and here…  well, it happens on Odessan.  The Base of Operations for the Alliance.  That means you have theoretical access to your entire army right now.  But the choice is presented as NO ONE BUT YOU can fend off a half dozen Skytroopers to save one of them.  It stretches the believability when you can’t send troops to back up the other party. Or you know, send one of your 1-3 Jedi/Sith Alliance companions to go help them.  Thanks for the help Arcann & Senya, could ONE of you stop following me around to go help the other person?

Beyond that there’s some actual variety in the chapters.  For instance, one chapter features an elaborate puzzle as you Ocean’s Eleven your way into an extravagant Zakuul party.  You actually go back to Dromund Kaas to find out what has happened to the Sith Empire and get into a power struggle with a former chancellor of the Republic.  There’s also two new worlds but they are only featured for a single chapter each.  Ioketh is a machine planet where all super-technology comes from (The Eternal Fleet, The Gravestone, The Geminis, AND Scorpio) and the other is Nathema which is where Vaylin was imprisoned in a “sanitarium” and is also implied to be the original home world of Valkorian/Sith Emperor/Tenebrae that he apocalypsed to become immortal.  Nathema is pretty uninteresting visually. It’s a red/brown Ziost post-destruction. Ioketh is kinda cool looking and has a lot of potential for future expansion hopefully.

The whole thing ends with a fairly predictable twist.  I won’t reveal it for those who haven’t seen it yet, but it doesn’t exactly come as a shocker.  Though I will say that I think it’s impressive that in an MMO that the devs would let you – the player – do something so radical and situation changing as ‘Claim the Throne’.  Which you can.  You absolutely can.  It does deliver on that.

Choices That Matter

One of the repeated advertising phrases that Bioware Austin likes to use is that “This time your choices matter”.  Now how effective that has been has been up for debate since the games launch five years ago, but it was a major argument thrown back in the developers faces after the ending of Knights of the Fallen Empire when – despite having the ability to choose ‘Kill Arcann’ several times – Arcann always escaped.  I can happily say that the issue of people not dying when you choose to kill them has been rectified.  You can actually kill quite a few people: Senya, Arcann, Koth, and Scorpio.  Some characters will die no matter one, such as Vaylin and whoever you don’t choose in the aforementioned poorly handled ‘Virmire Choice’.

Sadly, while these choices do have consequences that play out to their fruition, all it usually results in is ‘less story’.  Cutscenes get skipped over, or another character fills the same role with nearly the same dialogue.  Heck, Scorpio’s death comes right at the point where she was about the leave the story permanently anyway so the result is the same except hey you killed her.  There is one however that gives you a different mission entirely if you choose it and that’s how you choose to deal with Senya when she reenters the story.  It not only affects how the next section of the chapter plays out game-wise but also affects things several chapters down the line when it comes time to deal with Arcann.  It actually changes the outcome depending on your choice, and not just swapping out actors for lines like stunt doubles.

Of course, how satisfied you’ll be depends entirely on what you expect from ‘choices that matter’.  If all you want is a level of recognition that a choice was made, this expansion has you covered in spades.  If you were hoping for something a bit more impactful, then you’ll find satisfying choices few and far between.

A Visual Experience

With the new expansion all comes with an assortment of visual upgrades to the game to make things all pretty.  I won’t lie, I was blown away just seeing my character on the selection screen when I first installed the expansion.  The way the game handles shadows and lights now adds a ton of more visceral detail to the game and especially to the cutscenes.  However, some of the updates to the character models seem kind of off too.  Like Senya and Lana especially.  Like their character model was upgraded, but the animations weren’t ever revisited for the new models, leading to weird issues with facial expressions that cause Lana’s eyelashes to clip through her head and Senya to look like a kabuki mask.  Overall though, the graphical improvements were very welcome.

Dramatis Personae

So, big new expansion. New story.  Bet there’s a bunch of new characters to enjoy, right?  Maybe like a snarky half-robot ewok or something?  Yeah, no.  As I said earlier, this is pretty much the last half of Knights of the Fallen Empire and it is pretty much determined to wrapping up all the storylines from that.  As such, your main cast of this expansion is as follows: You, Lana, Theron, Valkorian, Vette, Theron, Scorpio, and the Eternal Pain in the Rear Family (Senya, Vaylin, Arcann, Valkorian).  Heck, Gault, Aric and Kaliyo only get minor lines in a few spots and are otherwise reduced to screen filler.  So not even everyone from KotFE is involved in the plot.  The only new characters we get are one-chapter one-shot villains like Scorpio’s rival Aries and the Sanitarium’s lead…  well, I have a hard time calling him a Doctor given the things he does.  We also meet Lord Dathemar at one point.  He was Valkorian/Vitiate/Tenebrae’s father a long time ago and whose soul is now trapped in a box.

As for how the characters are portrayed?  Well, Vaylin is pretty much the stereotypical ‘mad person with unlimited power’ complete with classic catchphrases like “Burn the planet to ashes, then bring them to me. I want them for my garden.”  Just imagine Vaylin in the original KotFE but turned up to 11.  Arcann’s personality is really different depending on whether you try to heal him or not.  I’ll be the first to say that hearing THAT voice try to give this zen-like Jedi sentiments is wholly disturbing to me though.  If you don’t heal him, he’s pretty much the same as he was before.  Valkorian FINALLY gets his crap together and figures out what he’s been plotting.  I mean, it all fits. Sure.  In fact, a lot of people probably called it back at the start of KotFE. It’s not hard to guess.  He continues to play the shrewd manipulator, even when it flat out doesn’t work (Like trying to convince you that Lana and Theron will try to steal the Eternal Throne right before you get to the throne room).

Scorpio’s motivation on the other hand is all over the place and constantly changing it seems.  In KotFE she wanted to give the Gemini units freedom. So she did. They can do anything now.  That one chose the stars.  The rest it seemed were perfectly content to continue working for Vaylin.  Then she wants to help Vaylin rise above her station because she too has served ‘lesser creatures’. Okay.  Then they hijack the Gravestone for some reason and Scorpio learns about Iokath.  Her motivation is to now learn about where she came from and forces the Gravestone and all the Gemini units to come with (Freedom!) Then on Iokath she reveals that her motivation all along was to kill Aries and usurp his place as essentially the MCP from Tron of Iokath?  So, nothing to do with the Geminis or the Gravestone or Vaylin.  Right, whatever C-Scorp-30. Go live in your tin can.

Finally, the last noteworthy character to talk about (since the others don’t really change or develop much at all) is Koth.  I don’t think Bioware Austin wanted you to keep Koth.  I think if their writers had their way he would have jumped ship and stolen the Gravestone no matter what back in KotFE.  Why do I think that?  Well, because until your chance to re-recruit/kill him, his appearances only make sense when he’s not on your side.  “OMG! It’s Koth!” Lana says as the Gravestone appears over Voss.  Now does that reaction make more sense if A) Koth had taken the ship and ditched you OR B) He was still working with you and was just arriving as expected with your flagship.  When Arcann runs away, you ask Koth to stop him.  His reply when he’s not on your side is “I’m here to save people, not clean up your messes.” versus “Oh no! I can’t commander. I’ve taken some damage and must now leave unexpectedly!”  Heck, even Vaylin and Scorpio hijacking the Gravestone makes more sense since they do it when Koth is out cruising in the yoda damned Gravestone looking for people to help out which would make ZERO sense if he was still working with the Alliance.  Since I’m pretty sure no one would let Koth take the ONLY SHIP CAPABLE OF FIGHTING THE ETERNAL FLEET joyriding.

Mechanical Malfunction

I know I wasn’t going to talk about the Eternal Command, but I figure you should know if you were looking to see if the expansion was worth it for you.

This idea is dumb.  The Eternal Command is a brand new way to replay the exact same content over and over again.  Just like they tried to do with Heroic Missions in KotFE, and the Dark vs Light event.  This is them stretching out the existing content as long as possible.  In essence, once you hit Level 70, you start gaining CXP or Command Experience.  You get this from doing everything and anything: repeating chapters, heroic missions, flashpoints, operations, warzones, starfighter and the new Uprisings (Shorter, less story filled, action intense Flashpoints for 4 players of any specialization).  In other words, out of all the ways to earn CXP, the only one that isn’t repeating pre-existing content are the Uprisings.

When you gain a new ‘level’ of Command Experience, you get a loot box.  The loot box has three random items in it.  It can be gear (which can further be broken down into ‘Empty shells’, ‘Static Stats’, and ‘Fully Modded’ variations) or companion gifts.  There’s no way to know for certain what you’ll get which ensures a nice long grind.  From my own observations, purely anecdotal mind you, I averaged 1 empty shell gear piece, 1 static stats gear piece and 1 companion gift in the small offering of crates I earned from just leveling through the story.

I think you can see where I got the earlier Overwatch comparison.  Grind out a bar, get a box of random stuff, and then do it again and again and again.  Except this isn’t just skins or emotes.  This is THE method of endgame gearing in KotET. It’s a bit understandable why some people are a bit upset about this I think.

Final Judgement

So is it worth the one month sub to get access to all 9 chapters?  Sure.  I can think of worse things to do with $15 bucks.  It’s not perfect by any means, and I miss not getting old companions back – especially ones like Kira or Scourge who really should be there for the showdown with the Emperor – but it’s always a really satisfying conclusion to the story started in Knights of the Fallen Empire.  Just be aware that this isn’t a standalone expansion like I said.  Beyond that, a lot of the issues with the writing come down to probably the struggles of trying to tell a Bioware-style story in a MMO setting.  Heck, the ending of this expansion throws expectations out the window.  You can be the Emperor.  Of the galaxy.  Hot damn.  I wonder where they’ll go from there.  Because they do sequel-bait during the credits that both the Sith Empire and Republic and getting ready to start sith again and the Scions send you an ominous message about you fulfilling the prophecy but your darkest hour is yet to come (which makes me think… Unicron?)

If this were a full $40 expansion or something I would definitely say it’s only for those who really enjoyed the Fallen Empire story because it’s really more of the same but with the ability to actually kill people this time.  But for $15?  If you dig SWTOR and you don’t like mind how the stories are told in it? Go for it.  Flaws and all, it’s worth $15 bucks.

Welcome the OddCraft Archive!

Basic Campfire Makes A Simple Statement

Long ago, in the distant past of 2008 – almost ten years now – I started blogging.  I did not however start with this blog.  The Land of Odd wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye back then.  When I first began, I had another blog titled “The World of OddCraft” or simply “OddCraft”.  It was a collection of thoughts and observations about the World of Warcraft which was pretty much the only MMO I played back then (I had a Mac, my options were quite limited.)   OddCraft slowly evolved into a series of “Oddities” that I had found in the World of Warcraft: References, strange details, weird doodads placed around the world, and unusual NPCs.  All of them organized by location, expasion, faction, etc.  Although page views rarely broke into the triple digits, I was quite proud of it and I had a small following of regular readers and commenters.

However, as time went on and more notable I grew disillusioned with the Cataclysm expansion, I withdrew from WoW and focused on other things.  Naturally, OddCraft didn’t update as much at that point.  I would still do posts here and there and it did eventually lead to the creation of the Original Version of the WoW Ironman Challenge (We didn’t include a ‘No Death’ clause.  Mostly because we were curious about what you could accomplish with the bare minimum, and the No Death thing seemed to encourage playing it safe over experimentation).  But yes, the original version with the original rules that were first laid out on Twitter by myself, Psynister and a few others were laid into stone on the OddCraft website.  It was also where we did the Warchief Election when it was announced that come Cataclysm the Horde’s leadership was gonna be shaken up.  Six different notable faces ran campaigns and debated on the blog and it ended with a big vote to decide who won to become the new Warchief of the Horde.

Ultimately, OddCraft was sadly more or less abandoned when I decided I wanted to write about far more than just Warcraft and the Land of Odd was created in its place.  But I never forgot about that old site that started things out.  That’s why I am proud to announce that we have officially imported all of the old OddCraft content right here on the Land of Odd in the ‘Warcraft’ section of the blog under ‘Oddities’.  All the old categorization still applied, and I’m working on fixing any images that were lost in the transition.  The old site isn’t gone, but this way my entire blogging history is now under one roof.

So fans of Warcraft, funny things or just people who take interest in some of the weird stuff that pops up in a big MMO, I welcome you to take a gander at the OddCraft Archive, now hosted locally on the Land of Odd!

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