Thursday, December 29, 2016

Play Log: Downtime

I've been on winter break for the past few days, and I've mainly used that extra time to play a lot of Civilization V.

Civilization V
I don't love this game, so I don't know why I keep coming back to it, but I do.  Like The Sims 3 (which I actually do like, a lot), Civ is a game that I play intensively for a week or so and then forget about, only to inevitably come back to it some months down the line.  I'm not very good at the game, so I ended up playing at Warlord level (which is just a step below Normal difficulty).  What's engaging to me about Civ games nurturing an empire.  I always go for science or culture victories, and try to stay out of wars.  I find war in these games to be really tedious until you get air power, so it's not fun for me, even when I'm winning.  So when I get leaders like Askia and Dido, who want nothing more than world conquest, things get very unsatisfying very quickly.  Ironically though, in my current game as America I've become by far the most militaristic entity.  It all started when Dido decided to invade me for no apparent reason back during the Ancient Era.  I fended her off with everything I had.  Fast-forward to the Information Era, and Dido's long been conquered by other civs, while my military has become the largest and most advanced on the planet.  The last thing I did before quitting out was nuke Austria's capital to delay them from stealing my scientific victory.  They're the biggest country in the world in most respects, and their military is second only to mine, so I suspect I have a huge war in my future.  But for the time being, they were content to give me all of their luxury and strategic resources in exchange for peace and their capital.  If, after the peace treaty expires, they want a war, they'll have to come to me.  I wasn't ready for Dido, but I'll be ready for Austria.

Mount & Blade: Warband
The Mount & Blade games have always been a curiosity to me.  With the Steam sale on, I decided to try one for myself.  They always seemed to have a strong cult following, and now I can see why.  I'm not sure I've ever played a game quite like Warband.  Basically, you're a nobody who's decided to venture to the land of Calradia (modeled somewhat after medieval Europe) to make a name for themselves.  Calradia is a continent occupied by six factions, who are pretty much constantly at war with each other.  It's also infested with bandits, looters, raiders, and deserters.  What you do when you arrive is largely up to you; you can take up merchanting, sign on as a mercenary for one of the factions, fight in arenas, whatever.  But whatever you do, you'll want to have some followers to protect you, as Calradia's a dangerous place.  So you end up building an army.

Right now my group sits between 30-50 men.  It's a humble number, hardly an army, but most of them are really well-trained, some even elite fighters.  It's enough to make your average band of cutthroats flee on sight, and enough to lend meaningful aid to large-scale battles between lords and kings.  For the past couple months I've been operating in Swadia as a mercenary group.  I like Swadia well enough.  Eventually I'd like to own land there.

Invisible, Inc
Well, Klei's done it again.  I didn't like Don't Starve that much, but it was a well-made game all the same.  I feel mostly the same about Invisible, Inc, except I think I can have a better time with this one.  It's really tough, even on easy.  It's almost discouragingly difficult, to be honest.  I never really feel like I'm making significant gains, and mistakes are costly.  Still, I like the game well enough.

I don't know if I just suck at this game, or if my decks suck.  Probably both.  I rarely win.  But I'm still having a good time with it.

World of Tanks Blitz
They just started some sort of Winter Festival Event.  I got a day of premium time (which I used exactly 0 of), some credits, and a Tetrarch.  Kinda crappy.  All of my missions these days have been for Tier 6, which I only have my Cromwell for.  I love playing the Cromwell, but I'm still not sure how to play it successfully, especially in Tier 6/7 hybrid games.  The Cromwell's best-in-class mobility means it's often the first on the scene, but you don't want to first on the scene, because that makes you the center of enemy attention.  My best games so far are ones where I stay on the periphery, taking potshots and being a nuisance, or in the case of Supremacy, zooming off to take an unguarded enemy point.  And then everyone calls me a coward because I'm not jumping in the fray, guns blazing.  At least the 75mm HV packs a decent wallop.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Play Log: Mobile Gaming Strikes Back

Getting a new phone has motivated me to give mobile gaming another look.  Having finished Justice For All, it's about time I moved into the trilogy finale.  I really goddamn miss Company of Heroes 2.  Like, a lot.

World of Tanks Blitz
The extensive amount of time I've put into the Company of Heroes games has gradually turned me into a light tank enthusiast.  I even ended up writing a term paper on British WW2 tanks a few months ago, and it was fun as fuck.  Anyway, I've been eyeing World of Tanks for a really long time, but never had the gall or spare moments to jump into it.

Well, I don't have a computer capable of playing World of Tanks, but I do have a lot of free time now.  So I opted to give World of Tanks Blitz a shot, which runs quite nicely on my Surface.  At first I tried it on my phone, and it's a functional experience there but kinda hard to steer.  Playing with a keyboard and mouse is way better.  I don't know how closely it resembles the main game, but I'm having a good enough time with it.  I played pretty intensively over the past two weeks or so, making a beeline straight for the Cromwell.  Now that I've got my nimble British cruiser, I'm content to just pop in once or twice a day and play some matches for the multiplier bonus.

And admittedly, I'm afraid my skills won't get me much farther, anyway.  Tier 6 is already pretty serious business, I can't imagine what 7-10 are like.  Nah, I'm happy messing around in tiers 1-6.

Michiko and Hatchin
The next anime I decided to watch after Chaika.  I'm on episode 18 or so as of this writing, and it's a damn good show.  Definitely one of those anime that even non-anime lovers can get into, and I think it deserves to stand shoulder to shoulder with shows like Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo.  The dub is also really good.  I might go so far as to say Michiko herself is dubbed better in English than in Japanese.  In Japanese she's kind of a cool, tough character in the vein of Major Kusanagi.  The English dub paints her as reckless, and quick to fly off the handle.  I think the latter suits her behavior a little better.

Hitman Go
I got this (and Lara Croft Go) on the cheap a couple months ago, just got around to trying it out.  I love the aesthetic and general concept, but it's way more of a puzzle game than I was expecting... I played the first several levels and wasn't really hooked at all.

People weren't kidding, this really is Hearthstone: Anime Edition.  And fuck it, I'm totally okay with that, especially because it seems every bit as mechanically competent as Hearthstone.  I've only dabbled in Shadowverse so far, but the thing I'm already enjoying about it over Hearthstone is that it has a lot of singleplayer content.  There's a central storyline, with voice acting and cutscenes, it's neat.  And the developer seems to give out card packs like nobody's business.

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse
Fun little game!  The gameplay's not that amazing, but the presentation is stellar.  The writing's fun, the animation is expressive, and the art's quite nice.  It's a game with a lot of character, even if its actual gameplay isn't anything to write home about, at least so far.  And hot damn, why does every female character in this game have to be smokin' hot?  The protagonists, the antagonists, the NPCs, the enemies, if it's female you can bet they'll be ridiculously curvy and voluptuous.

Kingdom Rush
I've played Kingdom Rush before.  Tower Defense is historically one of my favorite game genres, and so I was quick to give it a shot when people started talking about it.  I wasn't impressed.  I'm still not impressed.  I'd like to keep with it a little longer this time because it is a serviceable game and I want to see if it has anything more to offer than I'm seeing.

I got this for free from Ubi's 30 Days promotion.  I've never played a Rayman game older than Origins.  I don't know if I'm into it.
So, my Xperia Z3 Compact had a bit of an episode.  Being in a position where I can’t afford to not have a phone for an extended period, I promptly looked for a replacement.  Perhaps weirdly, the fact that my Z3c essentially died on me didn’t really stop me from looking once again at Sony first for my new phone.  The reason is that despite this incident, the Z3c really was a kickass phone.

Truth be told, I was getting ready to enter the market for a new phone anyway.  I loved my Z3c, but it was starting to show its age, and my finances were reaching a point where I expected I’d be able to replace it soon.  One of the potential successors I was already looking at was the Xperia XZ.  For the most part, it looked like a proper continuation of the Xperia Z-series, and not to mention was simply gorgeous.  But I had some reservations.  There were some things here and there that I felt Sony could improve on, and so my plan had been to wait until Fall 2017 and see what they had in store.  If their next phone hit all the bullet points, I would probably be able to afford it day one.  Otherwise, the XZ would have certainly dropped in price by then, and I would buy that instead.  This little incident forced my hand, and so here we are with a brand new Xperia XZ.  I’ve now been using it for a couple of weeks, and felt like writing some impressions of it, compared to my darling Z3 Compact.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Play Log: Ace Attorney

In the absence of longform review posts, I figured I'd try and at least get the occasional blog out, with some blurbs about what I'm up to, in terms of anime, games, comics, and other things.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice For All - With almost every AA game up through Spirit of Justice loaded onto my 3DS, I've begun a quest to play through the entire series, one by one.  I've already played through the original trilogy (I've played the first game in particular twice), but in the case of Justice For All and Trials and Tribulations that was a pretty long time ago, and my memories of the cases are foggy.  I finished my replay of the first game last month, and finished the last case of Justice for All last night.  Anyone who's even dipped their toe into the Ace Attorney fandom will know that JFA is generally considered to be the worst among the original trilogy, and one of the poorer entries in the franchise, overall.  Having freshly completed it, I can understand why.  The only case in JFA that I can say I really liked was Turnabout Big Top, which had a really interesting mystery, fun characters, and one of my favorite villain motivations in the franchise.  The others...
  • The Lost Turnabout was just meh.  Not terrible, but really forgettable.
  • Reunion, and Turnabout was actually decent, and probably probably would rank below Big Top in my book.
  • Farewell, My Turnabout had a great ending and some thought-provoking themes, but was otherwise the most mundane and tedious case in the game.
Justice for All also had some minor changes across the board that I didn't like.  For example, there are a couple of instances during cross-examinations where you have to press statements repeatedly and in a specific, arbitrary sequence in order to move forward.  I also felt like Phoenix himself became a bit more standoffish in this game.  In the first game he would play along a bit with Maya's teasing, but JFA he was more likely to just shrug that stuff off.

And then there's Franziska Von Karma.  Though she has plenty of good moments, overall I think she's mostly just irritating.  There's nothing strange about prosecutors being assholes in court, but Franziska really pushes the envelope.

Anyway, at the end of the day I did enjoy playing Justice for All, just like I enjoy playing any Ace Attorney game.  It definitely doesn't quite stand up to the first game though, and I have a feeling it won't compare well to Trials and Tribulations, either.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Playing, Watching, etc.

This has been one of the more laidback summers in a while for me, so I've had some time to really start working through my backlog, particularly on PS3 and PC.

Spring 2016 was a pretty strong season for anime.  I only watched a handful of shows, but every show I did catch, I enjoyed quite a lot, and the general impression I've been getting from the community is that there were a lot of good (or at least engaging) series airing.

Flying Witch

Kind of the surprise hit of the season, Flying Witch is a real charmer.  One of those so-called "iyashikei", or "healing" shows, Flying Witch follows the daily life of Makoto, a teenage witch who is staying with her relatives in Aomori in order to experience new things and further her witch training.  Despite its magical premise, Flying Witch is a very grounded series.  Though many fantastical elements make their way into every episode (from screaming plants to flying whales), it still manages to across as being above all a show about a bunch of (mostly) normal people living and enjoying life.  To me, the most refreshing thing about Flying Witch was how realistically written the characters were.  Like any medium of fiction, anime is filled with character archetypes that you just get used to as you watch more and more shows.  These are characters that generally only make sense within their respective universes.  Not so with Flying Witch.  Every character in the show felt like a believable human being; even characters that aren't actually human.  This was very much in the writing, but also in the show's general aesthetic.  Characters look distinct while sporting realistic hairdos and outfits, and the environments and backgrounds are often rendered vividly.

Macross Delta

My history with Macross is pretty scattershot.  I jumped on the boat with Macross Frontier; I had little prior knowledge of the franchise, I just happened to see its OP on a blog one day and it was love at first sight.  Then I went back and watched Macross Zero and the Macross Plus OVAs.  At this point I don't remember much of Zero, but Plus was very enjoyable, and ultimately so was Frontier.  So I was naturally looking forward to watching Macross Delta, and so far it hasn't disappointed.  Like Frontier, Delta goes full-speed ahead on the musical aspect of the franchise, this time featuring a whole idol group that tours around the galaxy suppressing violent outbreaks with pop and circumstance.  I've always liked this grandiosity about Macross.  It's a franchise that ultimately comes across as a celebration of life and culture, and Delta is no different in this respect.  What is different though is the focus on inter-human (or I suppose humanoid) conflict.  The central issue in Delta revolves around the planet Windermere, home to a race of people who feel they were wronged by the UN Spacy in a previous war, and are now setting out to right that wrong by conquering the galaxy.  These guys fly variable fighters too, which means that Delta is 100% dogfighting.  Plus was naturally focused on dogfighting as well, but this is largely the first time we're getting a full TV series that's all about VF vs VF action, and it's very enjoyable.

PA Works is a studio that's had their highs and lows as far as I'm concerned, but with Kuromukuro I decided to give them another shot.  I love the way they draw female characters (they always have this adorable baby face), and the genre mix seemed right up my alley.  I'm glad I did, as the show has been very enjoyable so far.  Kuromukuro follows Yukina, a teenage girl with few aspirations in life, who finds herself mixed up in a conflict with aliens that somehow dates back hundreds of years ago.  To seal the deal, she has to pilot a mech alongside Kennosuke Tokisada Ouma (Ken for short), a samurai who's been in cryostasis for 450 years.  As you'd expect from the premise, it's a show that's very wacky at times.  It has its serious moments, but for the time being it's the characters that have kept the show entertaining for me while the plot finds its footing.  Yukina's a fairly normal, if timid girl; she's prone to nagging and pouting, and easily spooked, but caring and surprisingly passionate about science and astronomy.  Ken's antics as a feudal-era samurai suddenly living in a world of cars, TV and the Internet is very fun to watch.  And the show's many supporting characters are all rather colorful, too, rranging from a veteran soldier who is constantly talking shit to the councilor at Yukina's school who just wants to be taken seriously (but can't because she's too adorable).  Oh, the other thing that's nice is that the mecha battles, despite being full 3D CG, are actually pretty good.  They kinda have that Pacific Rim vibe, where the mechs have a palpable weight to them and the battles tend to result in a lot of destruction.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, or Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is a post-apocalyptic show taking place a slightly steampunk version of Meiji Japan (it's actually called something different in the show, but it's obviously Japan) that has been overrun by zombie-like creatures known as "kabane" (corpse).  At least initially, the main factor differentiating a kabane from your run-of-the-mill zombie is that the only way to kill them is to shoot them in the heart; theoretically that shouldn't be difficult, as their heart is constantly glowing.  The trouble is that kabane hearts are encased in a thick layer of iron, which most weapons have difficulty piercing.  By the time the show begins, the remnants of civilization are living in a bunch of scattered settlements, called "stations" because they're connected by an extensive railroad network and protected by large metal walls to keep the kabane out.  Our main character, Ikoma, is a train engineer who is forced to board the "Iron Fortress" (a heavily fortified train) and flee his station along with other refugees when it is overrun by the kabane.

Kabaneri's main attractive qualities lie in its presentation.  It features a unique visual aesthetic that seems to be inspired by 80's anime.  This art style permeates every part of the show, from the characters to the animation.  It also has a nice OST by Sawano (though I still don't think it tops his work for Unicorn).  I had high hopes for Kabaneri going in, and while it did not disappoint it has been gradually leveling off over the past couple episodes, as we head towards a questionable finale.  Still, it's been a fun ride.

Video Games
Company of Heroes 2
I'm kinda always playing this game.  I think I have maybe 300 hours in it at this point?  They put out a big balance patch for it a few days ago, that I approve of for the most part.  The Universal Carrier's getting a bit more survivability, the Firefly's getting more versatility and a slight buff, and the Oberkommandos are being reworked again.  Not to mention the US gets a shiny new mortar team.

Ratchet and Clank Collection
In my attempt to get through my PS3 backlog, I've been playing through my Ratchet and Clank games.  I've already played most of them, but I haven't played Into the Nexus (which I own) and it's been a very long time since I've played the original trilogy and Tools of Destruction.  So I figured I'd do a bit of a franchise tour.  I'm on Going Commando now and it really is remarkable how much it builds on the first game.  There's more of everything, more activities, more guns, more upgrades, and probably more planets.  It's actually funnier, too.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel
I put about 6 hours into this game when it first came out last December and wasn't impressed by it.  The combat was boring, all of the characters were walking cliches (though not unlikeable), and the story felt like (and technically was) tedious busywork.  I put another few hours into it yesterday and finished Chapter 1.  I'm still not sold on it yet, but it's just barely engaging enough that I'll keep at it for the time being.

Tales of Graces f
Once upon a time, I resolved to platinum Tales of Xillia.  That still hasn't happened, not because it's an especially difficult trophy but because it's a time-consuming one.  And as much as I like Xillia's combat, even with Grade Shop bonuses it's just not enough to keep two playthroughs of that game interesting.  What's worse is that I'm so tired of Xillia's combat that I have no motivation to start Xillia 2, even though I'm aware that it improves on its predecessor's systems.  I saw a buddy of mine playing Tales of Graces f, which was enough to make me pop that in and resume my own NG+ playthrough.  Man, playing Graces is like slipping on a comfy pair of slippers.

Okami HD
Okami is a highly praised game that I've never played.  I bought Okami HD a long time ago for pretty cheap, and it's been sitting on my PS3 for a long time.  Decided I'd finally give it a shot.  I played it for about 2 hours and was pretty bored, but I'll give it another shot later.

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin
The fervor around Dark Souls III motivated me to finally get around to playing Dark Souls II, which I had bought for my PC some time ago but never got around to playing.  I've played through Demons' Souls and Dark Souls, but after them my interest in the franchise cooled considerably.  I'm pretty far into Dark Souls II now, and I can say that I overall like it better than the previous two games in the franchise.  There are things that it does that I definitely don't like; I think Soul Memory had good intentions behind it but is overall a poorly executed mechanic, and while Dark Souls II has remarkably more bosses than any Souls game before it, the majority of them are less interesting than the ones in previous games.  I also think that the re-introduction of fast traveling allowed From to get lazy with the world design.  Where Dark Souls took place in a setting full of intertwining locales, the places you visit in II feel very disconnected, and there are more "dead end" areas than I feel like there were before.  But for every criticism I have of Dark Souls II (and there are more than I explained), there is something I found to be praiseworthy, and then some.  The weapon variety is much improved, summoning mechanics for both PvP and Co-op are expanded across the board, and I personally just really like Majula as a central hub, more so than Firelink or the Nexus.  Not to mention, the ability to respec your character is a really big deal.  I won't be playing Dark Souls III any time soon, but I'm glad I took the time to give II a shot.

Xenoblade Chronicles
Xenoblade Chronicles is a great game, but it's such a long one that I'm not 100% sure I'll ever be able to finish it.  I resumed a 35hr save a few days ago.  The plot and setting is memorable enough that I still have a general idea of what's going on and where I'm going, but I have to say, I'm not sure I'm interested in doing another couple dozen hours with this game's combat.  It's decent and suitably deep in terms of mechanics, but it just gets tiresome after a while.  I'm constantly switching characters because I can only stand to play a given character for an hour or so before I get bored.  The three-character party limit is rough too, because while you could feasibly blaze through mob battles without a healer, any sort of tough opponent will require you to have a support character like Sharla or Melia around.  That leaves only two slots for damage dealers, which can turn longer battles into a real slog.  I'm realizing more and more that no matter how fascinating a JRPG's plot may be, I just can't stick with it if the combat's not engaging.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Happy 2016!

Hello again!  It's been a while.  Hard to believe this blog has been around for over five years.  In that span of time, I've apparently written well over 100 posts.  When I first started this blog, it was out of an interest in writing, and practicing how to express my thoughts on the entertainment I consume.  I often look back over the writing I've done here and am mildly embarrassed by it, but it was a good experience.  I don't expect that I'll be reaching the output I used to have anytime soon, but I haven't closed this blog because I like having it around.

This would be a good time to write a "Top Ten of 2015" list for games, but 2015 was an incredibly busy year for me and as a result I don't even think I could cobble together a top five list, let alone top ten.  Instead, I'd like to look ahead at the stuff in 2016 that I'm personally interested in.  I don't have a PS4 yet, but I'm officially in the market for one, so I'll also be including games for that platform.