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JRPGs are Cozy Games

trailsinthesky-1313771692I’ve been streaming The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky and a friend of mine and I have been chatting about Japanese role-playing games and our history with them. One thing that came up is that JRPGs have put us to sleep. I’ve fallen asleep playing them, my friend has fallen asleep playing them and we’ve both fallen asleep watching the other one play them.

Does this mean I find JRPGs to be boring? Not at all! The Final Fantasy series is one of my favorites, with Final Fantasy VI being one my favorite stories of all time. That’s to say nothing of Xenosaga, which had cut-scenes that could last almost an hour long and still held my attention. If Persona 5 was on the PC, I’d be playing it NOW. I love that genre of video games.

But, how many other games could I say put me to sleep. It doesn’t happen when I’m in a computer chair, but that’s because I only play JRPG’s on a couch. They’re long commitments and I need to be comfortable. With a pillow. Low lighting. Oh, I get it now.

68-fddugfqI think JRPGs tend to feel like books. This is especially true with older games that don’t have voice acting and require a huge amount of reading. But, because of the pacing of the conversations, they don’t feel like thrillers or action-packed books. Instead, I might say, they’re more like a dense fantasy book with lots of world building. A book that, if read too long, will start to make my eyes close, even though I’m invested in everything on the page (or screen).

They’re comfortable. Cozy, even. Something like The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is a pleasant game, that’s fun and exciting at times, but for the most part, feels like the video game equivalent of a quilt. It’s the town music of these games, these gentle tunes that make you feel at home, sleeping under a sunbeam. It’s the ridiculously superfluous mini-games like playing cards or fishing.

9570000It’s the turn based fighting. You can be in the middle of a fight with a gross looking monster, but it doesn’t move forward until you issue a command. And while most battle music tries to be exciting or intense, there’s always that one track that’s a bit more relaxing than the rest. No, I’m not going to fall asleep during a boss battle or fight for my life, but a few mutated rats that just need one fireball? Yeah, I might be dozing off for a minute.

None of this is a complaint. I actually think it’s a great example of why so many people like JRPGs. They can be exciting but still are slowed down. No matter how busy the world is, or your work day, Final Fantasy IX is going to move at a relaxing pace. These aren’t action games that require every mental facet to be focused and alert. They’re photo albums or puzzles that you’re putting together as your head gets heavy.

Of course, this isn’t true for every game. As I said, voice acting changes the dynamic from book to movie (or anime) and some games are “louder” than others, such as Persona 5. But, they still have peaceful moments, long sessions of silence. I like it. In the book world, you might hear the term “cozy mysteries” and I think JRPGs are the “cozy” genre of gaming. It makes me excited to get back into those types of games, because I wouldn’t mind things moving a bit slower in my life.

You can watch me play cozy and slightly less-cozy games live at my Twitch channel!

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Let’s Play – Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

middle-earth-shadow-of-mordorMiddle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was just what the elven doctor ordered. I’ve been playing games like Far Cry  and Return to Castle Wolfenstein looking for some satisfying action and leaving unhappy. But Shadow of Mordor knew what I needed and delivered in spades.

What I needed was a game that made me feel like I was good at what I did. I needed a game that rubbed my shoulders and said, “You’re doing great, buddy.” I would play Shadow of Mordor and feel bad for the orcs I would happen upon, because I was death and they were not ready to die.

The action in the game is so beautifully fluid that I rarely ever saw pixels splash against each other. Every attack or block I commanded seemed like it was planned by the programmers and myself from the start. I actually found the combat to be better implemented than Batman: Arkham Asylum. Which explains why I never got tired of it.

shadow-of-mordor-3The highly praised Nemesis system held up to it’s reputation. However, I couldn’t get myself to exploit it like some people. The idea that I could let myself die and then get stronger orcs to fight, thus granting me better rewards, seemed to go against everything I believed in as a gamer. So, I didn’t have many returning foes. I fought to the death, but not to die. When I did die, I was happy to see the orc get promoted, but I couldn’t willing lose to them. Luckily, more often, the orcs I was fighting would retreat and that’s how my relationship with them grew. I liked seeing an old face who had escaped my wrath more than that of one who had killed me.

The story, however, did not impress me. Talion isn’t much of a charismatic lead. Ratbag, the orc you team up with, was such a fun character that when he was replaced with a boring hunter halfway through the game, I was almost angry. There was melodrama, but never compelling drama. The music sounded like the Lord of the Rings films, but never as memorable. But, that’s fine, because it was the combat and stealth that made the game such a joy to play and I’d rather it that way than reversed.

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I think I lost steam during the second half, when the new map was introduced. By that point, I had already cleared all the artifacts and glyphs and outcast missions from the first map and seeing them all over again, albeit in a new area, left me feeling exhausted. Plus, I was too strong to die often enough for the orcs to leave an impression and that second half felt lonelier. Even with branding, I wasn’t experiencing the personality the game had during the first half. And the less said about the end is still more than was put into the game.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was a great time that ran out of steam near the end. If I were to ever replay it, I can’t imagine I would chase the collectibles again, nor tackle the second map. But, my first playthrough was a great time and fully recharged me in a way other games haven’t in a while. I was excited to start each session and shoot beehives on unsuspecting orcs. I was excited to free slaves and unlocked new abilities. It’s a great game and I’m glad to have tackled it.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

 

 

Let’s Play – Far Cry

8b363ca59d94c2aca70a18588187a678-cool-games-pc-gamesSince Return to Castle Wolfenstein didn’t scratch that first-person shooter itch I had, I decided to keep going through my collection of unplayed games. Since I’ve been working through these chronologically, 2004’s Far Cry was up next. It’s another game I bought for less than five dollars during a sale, and one I missed when it was first released. And I had a vague memory of there being dinosaurs in the game. There wasn’t.

All I wanted was a fast paced shooter with some run and gun action. That shouldn’t be so hard to find! But Far Cry was not the game to satisfy that desire. As I would find out, the game wants me to stealth most of the time, to sneak and avoid danger. Sure, the stealth elements aren’t great and it still puts road blocks full of enemies in my way, but the game wants what it wants.

I was also unaware that the game was considered harder than normal back in the day, so when I chose “challenging” as my difficulty, I was pretty confident in my skills. Unfortunately, doing so severely ruined my fun. While I got away with quick saving my way to victory in Return to Castle Wolfenstein, there was no such ability in Far Cry. Instead, I was stuck dying and reloading checkpoints, creating a Sisyphus-like experience for myself. It was hard and, because of my difficulty selection which can’t be changed, it stayed that way.

p-txtNow, I doubt I would have lowered the difficulty in the first place, as that would have felt like defeat after playing a few hours on one setting. And, I was completing levels, despite the challenge. But, the problem was, the challenge wasn’t satisfying. It was frustrating to have to replay the same mission over and over again, especially for a game of this length. The gun play isn’t always satisfying, the enemies seem to have perfect aim and their bullets can go through walls like paper. There were times when I would just and sit and stare, having no clue how to avoid being shot and killed.

For some, that difficulty would be welcomed. While I was streaming, I was visited by a few players who had beaten Far Cry on the highest setting, “realistic”, and I can’t imagine doing the same thing. The brutality of it all would have destroyed me. Every now and then, I feel embarrassed by my skills. When other players brag about a pistol-only play through or max difficulty settings, I just nod and accept I’m not that good. With Far Cry, I felt like there was some bad game design working against me as well. I can accept I’m no good at game, but it’s harder to accept being bad at a game with some obvious flaws.

farcry1To be fair, the game is still pretty for its age. And there were moments when I felt like Rambo and a sniping machine. But most times, I just wanted to be done. I just wanted to be able to blow some stuff up and move forward. I never felt like I had momentum. The vehicles felt like a punishment. The mutants that show up start feeling like Doom clones. And the shotgun never felt hefty. A bad shotgun is one thing I can’t forgive.

And the voice acting? Ouch.

Will I keep going with this series? I doubt it. I’m not the biggest fan of open-world/sandbox games because they lack the direction I need to stay invested. I’ve heard good things about Far Cry 3 but there’s plenty of games for me to play that I think I will enjoy. I experienced the same issue with Hitman: Blood Money. About halfway through, I realized I wasn’t enjoying the game and that I didn’t care what the end looked like. That’s not a knock on that game because I just don’t like that sort of challenge. Stealth-ing is all stress with no relief and very little inertia. For some, that’s fine. For me, it gets old real fast.

Despite it’s faults and my lack of skill, I did finish Far Cry. I felt more relief than excitement, but I can say I powered through it. But, I’d rather find a game I enjoy next time.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

 

Let’s Play – Firewatch

16020907294366307Firewatch came to my attention because I pay even a little bit of attention to the world of video games. It looked beautiful, but not photo-realistic. I always appreciate graphics with character, like most of Blizzard’s games. Firewatch is colorful and it stands out. It’s not a brown wasteland or grey war zone, it’s a forest with personality. Even just a few screenshots are so eye catching that it was no surprise that the game ended up in my wishlist.

I’ve heard the game called a walking simulator and, if so, it’s the first one of those that I’ve played. But it doesn’t seem any less complicated than Telltale’s The Walking Dead. If this had come out years ago, we’d be calling it a point and click adventure game. Except, it’s short enough to play in an afternoon and it doesn’t break my brain with puzzles that only The Riddler would find fun.

firewatch_150305_06I played the game over the course of two days with my wife, Kendra. She’s one of those weird people who is perfectly happy to watch someone else play a game. I don’t know if it’s conditioning from being a sister to a gamer or just a Totoro like spirit. Because of her enjoyment of watching there are some games she requires her presence. Bioshock Infinite will be one of those, as will The Wolf Among Us. I think she found the trailer for Firewatch interesting, because it was added to the list.

So, the first day we played, everything went fine. Easy streamy, lemon squeezy. The second day… well, I’m an idiot. I had the mics muted the whole session. Which is too bad! Because, near the end of the game, the music gets nice and atmospheric and I started singing a great song. Kendra would tell you that the song was just me saying the words “fire” and “watch” over and over again, but there’s no video proof of that! This is a case of the Tenecious D’s “Tribute”!

ub3gfzt3vo6muca8jcy1But, that’s okay, because we both liked the game. Not the ending so much, but the whole experience was fun. It was stressful at times, funny and just a new type of game for us. The story was depressing at times, which is why you sometimes need someone there to lighten the mood. But the excellent voice acting really did take this game up from just being scenic to actually being immersive.

Also, I like shorter games. I don’t need them all to be four hours like Firewatch but gone are the days when I want all my games to be fifty hours or more. I liked Xenosaga lasting eighty hours because I was fifteen and all I did was game. Now that I’m older and have less time to play a game taking a weekend isn’t the worst thing in the world. And something the length of Firewatch or Limbo can really leave a strong impression. Especially compared to the opposite situation, like when I was praying that Fallout 3 would just end.

In conclusion, the stream might not have worked out because I’m a dope but the game is a good time. I recommend it easily, especially if you’re looking for something different or to play in front of someone who just likes watching. I might even revisit it someday and it won’t be a crazy commitment to do so. Plus, you can take pictures of trees!

You can find my previous streams and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Let’s Play – Return to Castle Wolfenstein

12597-return-to-castle-wolfenstein-collector-s-edition-windows-front-coverReturn to Castle Wolfenstein is a game that I never played as a teen. I didn’t buy my PS2 until the summer of 2002 and I didn’t go looking for many of the earlier games for the system. That means a first-person shooter from 2001 that was part of a series I never had any attachment to was ignored.

I think I first heard of the game when it was ported to the XBox but, again, I never went back to find it. Many years later, more than a decade even, I saw the game on a Steam sale and picked it up for about a dollar. I can never know when I need an old school shooter to pick me out of a funk.

As I mentioned in another post, I just played the Mass Effect for the first time. It was fun, for the most part, but near the end I was getting impatient. I decided during the last few hours that my next game had to be faster and have more action. Since Return to Castle Wolfenstein was one of the oldest games in my collection and some gameplay footage I watched looked just right, I gave it a go.

2863876-return_to_castle_wolfensteinThe game taught me that I’m not as good at older shooters as I used to be. Where once it was my genre of choice, now it feels like I’m an old man wondering where the bullets are coming from. I’ll admit, since there’s video evidence proving it, that I quick saved like a maniac who gets an electric stimulant whenever he presses F5. It’s the only way I was able to beat the game in a reasonable amount of time because it was tougher than I expected. I was a bullet sponge with no aim.

The bosses weren’t tough, but the levels took forever for me to get through. There were many sections where I was repeating the same corridor fight like a digitally violent version of Groundhog’s Day.

In the end, Return to Castle Wolfenstein was the type of game I was looking for, but it was a frustrating time. I wish I had been better at it, but I’ll excuse myself for it being an older game. I guess I’m now moving through first person shooters that I missed in chronological order, continuing with the first Far Cry. And there’s a bunch more after that, so maybe I’ll get better as I go along. I doubt it will be the same as when I was a teen. Gone are the days of playing the same game through multiple times for hours at a time. Now is the time of praying for body armor and checkpoints, just so I can finish the game at all.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Streaming Makes Games More Fun

250px-masseffectWhen I say I’m behind in the world of video games, I’m not kidding. I just beat Mass Effect. The first one. From 2007. For those keeping track at home, that’s a decade old.

I could review the game but who needs that? Most have heard of it, played it and moved on. You’ve had ten years to find reviews, you don’t need mine. Well, fine, if I must. Combat is fun until you’re too strong, the story is entertaining until it gets in the way of it’s own momentum. The driving sections are the most frustrating “adventureing” I’ve ever done. I’m sure my opinion has greatly affected your purchase of this game.

But what I wanted to focus on was how this is now the first game I’ve streamed on my Twitch page from beginning to end. See, I’ve streamed before but never a whole game. On my YouTube, I only have the last three episodes of the second season of Telltale’s Walking Dead. As long as I keep playing the first Pillars of Eternity and recording it, that one will join the “complete” club, but I’ve only got two videos of that game out.

In the past, I’ve only streamed pieces of games. Some Knights of the Old Republic II or Doom 3. A lot of Hearthstone and FTL: Faster Than Light (why the abbreviation then?). But, again, it wasn’t a start-to-finish event.

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During Mass Effect, I had some people visit, mainly my wife and a few friends. But, what happens is, I keep talking and joking while playing the game, even without an audience. Just turning the camera on switches something in my brain. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter if I’m alone or not, I’m “on”. It might not make sense to others, but it makes the whole experience a bit more fun.

It makes me interact with the game more, like I would with friends around. If I’m playing alone and not streaming, I’m silent, just staring at the screen and passively thinking about the game. If I am streaming, I talk back to the characters, even if I have the same option to converse with them in-game. I make fun of the game, make comments on something being cool or impressive. I’m more likely to laugh or get angry. It sounds silly, but even pretending there’s an audience makes me more engaged in the game.

Which is good, because I think that explains a quarter of the enjoyment I got out of Mass Effect. Again, it’s a fine game but I think I would have become bored with it as I went along. The pacing might have been too slow, or the planetary exploration might have been too frustrating. Turning it into a performance, even slightly, made the game easier to get through, especially during the rough patches.

mass_effect_1___07_by_gelvuunIt also creates a sense of responsibility, if that makes sense. It puts a reminder in my head that, yes, I need to keep playing so I can keep streaming. I don’t want to miss a part of the game off-Twitch and have a gap in the play through. It’s not an addiction, but it does activate the completionist in me.

And by exporting my Twitch videos to my YouTube page, I can save them indefinitely (until the internet collapses and we’re hunting with packs of wolves in the dying twilight of humanity). It gives my YouTube a new life, a new sense of purpose. It means my old videos that I made with my friends can be surrounded by new material, whatever the form. I means I can share the playlist of all ten videos of me playing Mass Effect. 

The whole process made the game a better time. And when people do show up and talk about the game, it makes it better. I’m glad I had the few viewers I did during those driving sections. I’m glad I had someone else to talk about how annoying the characters could be or call me Neo when I tore an enemy force to ribbons. So, I’ll keep going. I’d like to record more games from beginning to end. If you’d like to see that happen, head over and say “hi”. Or stick to the Youtube and watch from there. Or I’ll just post finished playlists in their entirety here, since that was the point of posting a blog that was planned to to be much shorter.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!