So it turns out that occasionally you end up with enough time to either play games or write about games and not necessarily both. Probably shouldn’t have picked time management as my dump stat, but oh well.
I also got a chance to play parts of all the Kingdom Hearts games when they recently got released for the PS4, so if you wanted to find out what someone who knows nothing about Kingdom Hearts thought while playing them, you can take a look here:
So in the usual feast-or-famine way of things, “Mass Effect Andromeda” just came out, and “Mystic Messenger” is coming out with an April Fool’s DLC, and shortly “Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX Fight the Darkness” will be out, and sleep was for the weak anyway.
Before getting started on the behemoth that is the bulk of the whole Kingdom Hearts series, here’s an article I wrote recently for AllEars.Net about the last installment, “Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue” which I was forced to play before all the games in the series before it, because Square Enix released it for the PS4 out of order and they apparently hate me and continuity:
As you can imagine, playing the end of an eight-game series before the rest of it resulted in not a little confusion, but we should be in better shape for the rest of it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to put on some coffee…
Illustrations by Pablo Churin, Juan Frigeri, Gabriel Guzman, Fernando Melek, and Facundo Percio.
Publication Date: February 08, 2017 Price: $14.99
I would have to admit that I have never had a complete understanding of the resurgence of coloring book popularity. Are people actually coloring in the pictures? Personally, I have a complex about making any kind of marks in my books, so the idea of taking some sharpies to every other page of a previously nice book sets my teeth on edge.
(The fact that from childhood I’ve had all the art talent of a Rhesus Monkey may also have had something to do with it.)
Fortunately, you don’t actually have to go all Picasso on the recent “Dragon Age Adult Coloring Book” to enjoy it. The volume of 45 different line drawings is a fun look back down memory lane at characters spanning the length of the entire “Dragon Age” saga. Each character gets a two-page spread of a color-able drawing and one of their memorable or distinctive quotes.
The pictures are, by and large, incredibly detailed and the poses are pretty characteristic of their subjects: Mages are casting, warriors are fighting, Oghren is drinking, and Loghain is betraying everybody. Even some of the lesser antagonists like Branka and the Lady of the Forest make it in, as well as DLC teammates Sebastian and Tallis. More important characters may make several appearances, like Anders and Morrigan.
If there was one quibble I had with it, it would be that some of the depictions don’t really match with the mental image I have of the characters…but that’s probably just secondary to the difference in the mediums and their different resolutions, particularly looking at Thedas denizens from 8-year-old DAO.
Whether you enjoy coloring or just like the idea of perusing it as more of a scrapbook, the “Dragon Age Adult Coloring Book” should help keep you occupied while waiting to see when/if the next in-universe comic/game will come out.
So since there was a serendipitous overlap of a) me being wretchedly sick and b) #DatingSiMonth, I finally got motivated to finish off a game that’s been sitting in my queue for some time–Idea Factory’s “Amnesia: Memories.”
In “Amnesia,” you play a protagonist who’s had the misfortune of colliding with a spirit named Orion, who is now stuck in you. Even worse, Orion has managed to displace most of your memories (memories have mass?) so all you have left is your name and knowledge of activities of daily living. Starting off in a limbo-like state, Orion tells you to choose one of four world (Heart, Spade, Club, or Diamond) states which in turn determines the storyline and romance you get.
Once you begin, Orion, in a nice display of paranoia, advises you against telling anyone you have amnesia unless you absolutely trust them, because it would otherwise only result in them either locking you away in a hospital where you’d slowly go insane from sharing your mind too long, or taking advantage of your lack of memories for their own personal gain. The only way you can get back to normal is by having experiences that remind you of things–the influx of memories will have the effect of pushing out Orion and achieving separation.
Because the main person you end up interacting with is your romance interest (sometimes he starts off as your boyfriend, sometimes not,) there are generally three parameters you can track to see how well you’re accomplishing your charade of a relationship: Affection, Trust, and Suspicion. Ultimate failure at any one of the three generally leads to a Bad End, of which there are several per route.
[SPOILERS FOR PLOT CONTENT BELOW]
Each of the four routes ends up representing a different genre: Mystery, Fantasy, Romantic Comedy, and Horror, with an additional route only revealed after finishing all the others. In general, the beginning of each one deals with the heroine trying to figure out the mechanics of her life–where she works and goes to school and what her relationships are. Interestingly enough, although the player is free to choose to play the suits in any order, I found that playing them in the order listed actually made the most sense in terms of how they introduced these things. For example: In each world the heroine works at the same Maid Cafe. In the Heart route, a significant amount of time is spent with one character introducing the concept to the heroine and training her beforehand in what she needs to do there. In the Spade route, they show her having some problems and getting help at the workplace. In the Club route, it just shows her mastering her work by getting the manual and reading it at home, and by the last two routes there’s hardly any mention of her learning anything about it–she seems as familiar with it as the player is, by that time. There are also specific character relationships and pathologies that are revealed in both the Heart and Spade worlds that play important roles in the Diamond world. The Club world is largely stand-alone.
The major character, and the one that’s around you almost all the time, is Orion. I found Orion hilarious, in large part to the voice work by Hiromi Igarashi. Although the dialogue is all in Japanese with English subtitles, Igarashi is so animated and Orion so histrionic that in a lot of instances you hardly need the translation to get his reaction. Although sometimes of very little help and periodically a source of really bad advice, Orion is completely devoted to helping the player get back her memories, and is a fierce advocate for her in situations where he perceives she’s being treated unfairly.
The rest of the characters are pretty much the same in each storyline, although they change in their relationships to the heroine. One might be a boyfriend in one world, then an advisor in the next. Or a brother-figure in one world, and a boyfriend in another. Or a creepy stalker in one world, and…a creepy stalker in a few of them, actually.
While I haven’t had too much experience with otome games and their various conventions, the boyfriends in this game appear to have a lot of common characteristics found in this genre. Most of them have a touch of the tsundere about them, except for the ones that go full-blown yandere, which justifies the heroine’s mistrust of them until late in the game. For those unprepared, I can imagine that this might completely turn them off on all of the guys as each one has moments where they are, at best, rude and hypercritical of the heroine, and at worst, kinda rapey. Of the five, Ikkyu (Spade) and Kent (Club) come off the best as at least they are shown to each have a rationale for their behavior by the end.
[SUPER SPOILERS FOR THE DIAMOND END. DON’T EVEN, IF YOU’RE GOING TO PLAY IT AND HAVEN’T FINISHED.]
So if I was going to rank the different stories, I would probably go Club, Spade, Heart, Joker, and Diamond. This is largely based on both the appeal of the romantic interest and the ability of the story to hold up under the amount of repetition required to get all the endings. I have a fair amount of gaming OCD where I need to get all the endings and in some instances, that was a pretty grueling process.
The Heart route probably had the most involved plotting, although it was hard for me to take it all in, given that it was the first one I played and I don’t think I had a clear idea on what the end goal was supposed to be. My approach to these games is that I would play through once completely blind, and then go back with a walkthrough to get the specific endings I missed. As a general rule, I almost always ended up with the Normal ending when I answered on my own–these tended to be a result of the heroine never evidencing a sufficient level of trust in their guy, causing a end where the couple separates, but has hope of reuniting in the future. To me, the amount of support you had to show for the Good End towards guys who were often treating you pretty bad was fairly extreme, but maybe that’s why some of us were not naturally created to be otome heroines.
Kent’s story was most appealing to me, in part because at his worst he just seemed kind of stiff and unemotional as opposed to the full-blown psychosis some of the others demonstrated, but also because his route was relatively free of the unifying sub-plot that confusingly peeks into every world but is only explained in the last, secret route.
My least favorite world was Diamond–I found this one absolutely frustrating on a number of different levels. In the first place, it was the last one (of the cardinal four) I played, so some of the parts that seemed like they were supposed to be big mysteries were pretty apparent from the beginning, if you were familiar with all the characters from the other routes. In the second place, to get all the different endings in most of the others, you generally had to save and start from different points in the story, making different decisions or saying different things to move the story into a different direction.
In Diamond, literally the only difference between some of the routes was a couple of different choices close to the beginning, and then the rest of the game was identical, except for the ending. This means you had to play through almost the same game like four different times to get all the endings. Maybe this wouldn’t have been so bad except that you actually spend most of this world confined and totally passive (so passive that at one point Orion starts playing another video game just to pass the time) and…
Dude is a complete psychopath! Almost from the beginning, it’s obvious that he’s lying to you, and it just progresses from there to basically putting you under house arrest, then drugging you, then locking you up in a dog cage.
For some reason, Orion constantly gives you the worst advice possible in this one, and you’re not even given any options that make sense half the time. When you have access to your phone you don’t have the option to call for help, and when you get out, you’re never able to try to head anywhere but right back to where Toma is likely to catch you again.
The real finisher is the endings. A bad ending is where Toma winds up keeping you in the cage as a sex slave for, I guess, the rest of your life, while you get brain damaged from having Orion in your head for too long. This is despite the fact that at least one of your friends knows he’s keeping you in his place! WTH, Shin?!
The Normal end is where Toma actually tries to rape you, but you manage to escape and run out into the street in your underwear. You get rescued, but Toma leaves town and you are sad for the rest of your life because you never see him again, and apparently Stockholm Syndrome is a thing.
So at this point, I figure the Good end must be totally different right? WRONG, back in the cage again. The only difference between the Good end and the Normal end is that this time, when Toma tries to rape you, he accidentally reads your diary where you wrote that you were in love with him, and suddenly everything is cool and you just start kissing? The epilogue is that you wander off with him promising that you’ll stay with him forever, and he notes that you have the worst taste in men, and at least one of those two things is perfectly true.
The absolute kicker, however, is that when you get to the secret/Joker end, there is actually one part where Ukyo (your other psychotic future-telling boyfriend) warns you against oversharing with Toma. If you ignore that and make friendly conversation with him…SURPRISE! Back in the cage for the rest of your life again! At this point, you’ve spent so much time in the cage, it’s like you lived it real time with the heroine.
Toma aside, however, I actually did like this game quite a bit. The art was beautiful and just listening to the Japanese voice work made me crack up, even not understanding most of it. I would play at least half of it again once the immediate knowledge of it dies off…just not the Diamond world.
“Someone’s slicing our communications?” “Who?” Are you not even paying attention?!
Ha ha. It’s been so long, I don’t remember who all the later additions are.
Oh wow, the game suddenly remembered we were supposed to be romancing Theron.
Theron likes you, but not enough to want to go meet Arcann with you.
This seems like everyone is coming around to say bye. We must be nearing the end.
Great. I’ve been playing the Imperial Agent for the last month and barely remember how Consular fights anymore.
What…Koth has an anti-SCORPIO button? Why have we not used that before?
Man, you really have to get a lot closer to fight as a Jedi than an agent.
Well that was a lot of dying, but the Harry Potter magical shield of need really came in handy.
I’m not so sure I’d count Arcann out until I saw a body.
Vaylin never gets a break.
How did Senya take so long to get here, she missed the whole fight?
Koth better not be right about you, Senya. I’ve already had one betrayal this story.
Oh hi Valkorian. Did you not hear when Arcann was mopping up the floor with me to get your attention?
Nice of you to show up now.
Wow, I really don’t get SCORPIO’s deal. Why couldn’t she have accomplished this working with us?
Why would she give up all the power once she had it? So confused.
This quest with the TC-93 droid is hilarious. “TC = remembers Carina // Carina = obsessive + lonely + creepy”
These poor lonely women and their even poorer droids.
So I guess that’s the end of the “Fallen Empire” storyline.
On the whole, it was pretty entertaining and doable as a solo, which was my main concern when I started this whole thing.
The first nine chapters I thought were really engrossing, but then it seems kind of evident that the subsequent chapters didn’t get the same amount of funding or time and were kind of shallow.
The other thing that you notice is how all the class storyline missions were fully voiced and the worlds fully rendered, while most of the expansions your character was silent and transportation was handled as a “fade to black” and then reappearance at your destination.
Once I caught up with the chapters however, the game really weakened for me, since all the interchapter grinding involved the heroic flashpoints which I proved totally incapable of finishing.
At that point, there wasn’t really anything interesting for the whole month until the new chapter came out.
Additionally, the early entry into the chapters for the subscribers wasn’t a huge advantage, because a) the chapters started out totally buggy and needed patching to be easily playable, and b) the areas were so crowded initially, you could hardly find non-timed out objectives.
Like sometimes you’d have to just stand around in some enemy compound waiting for a Big Bad to respawn and then try not to accidentally poach someone else’s turn who had been waiting for it earlier.
The next segment will evidently deal with Vaylin, who was probably a much more interesting character than Arcann, anyway.
Unfortunately it also deals with SCORPIO who I think was one of the weaker characters–pretty one-note, and one of those who makes your character look like kind of an idiot for constantly helping them even when they flat out say they’ll betray you at the first opportunity.
All the new characters were pretty interesting, but after the first nine chapters they were mostly done talking at length to you.
The chance to romance either Theron, Lana, or Koth was nice, but having to lock it in with one of them right in front of the other two was a little awkward.
Plus it wasn’t like the other person ever mentioned it again until the very end, so it made virtually no difference. I liked how Dragon Age Origins made it so the characters at least changed how they routinely addressed you by how much they liked you.
Although it’s not very supportive of the game, if all you’re interested in is the new stuff, I’d probably hold off subscribing until all the chapters are out, because I found the time between them kind of tedious.
Part of it could also have been the Jedi Consular itself, because after starting an Imperial Agent character, I found that storyline to be much more interesting.
Even though the basic class stories are free, if you suck at combat as I do, it’s a huge advantage to subscribe and be able to have unlimited medical probes. Otherwise, you wind up constantly having to march all the way through a level every time you die in a boss fight.
Ah, Seattle. Home to PAX West (9/2-9/5,) which used to be called PAX Prime, for which I had been trying to get tickets for the last couple of years. I had actually really wanted to go because of all the BioWare content it had in the past, and this was the year I finally scored passes! Unfortunately, it was also the year that BioWare was between games and did almost nothing! Oh well.
Because I waited until the last second to get flights, the only ones that were not exorbitant were at horrific hours, so I wound up getting into SEA at 2am (boo!) and hobo-ing around the airport until the trains started running around 5am (boo!) I had discovered that the metro ran directly from the airport to a station about a block from my hotel (yay!) so I took that uneventfully and they let me check in some ten hours early (YAY!) After heavy napping, I staggered off to check out Pike’s Place Market and the first Starbucks, and the first of many macaroni and cheeses from Beecher’s.
So the next day PAX started, and I’d have to say that PAX is maybe one of the more interestingly run cons that I’ve been to in awhile. For one thing, many of the panels and events are broken up into several hotels and theaters around the convention center, but unlike SDCC where the hotels are generally right next door, these hotels could be some distance away. I think the major…panels? Shows? Took place at a main theater location that looked like it was around ten blocks away from the convention center, so I never actually went there. They did have a shuttle that went around the periphery of the further locations, but it started up about an hour after the con started for the day, and ended about an hour after the floor closed, so it was almost never convenient for me to take it.
As I walked over to the convention center, the first sign that I may have underestimated what would be involved, was all the guys walking over carrying portable camp stools. These were really smart guys, because boy howdy, were there lines for everything. When I first entered, the first location I found was the BioWare Base, which was offering Systems Alliance Recruitment.
The line didn’t look too long, so I got in. After nothing moved for awhile, I asked an “Enforcer” (PAX volunteer) for a rough estimate of how long it would take, and she said maybe 90 minutes. As it turned out, it took around 90 minutes to get to the DOOR, and then there was a line that snaked back and forth inside the door that took about another 60 minutes. By the time I left, it had been over 3 HOURS.
As it turned out, the process involved teams of two people undergoing three tests–Biotics, Combat, and Tech–to see what area you should be placed in. If you passed all three, you got to go on to the fourth test to achieve N7 status. Unfortunately they only had one station per test, and each test took roughly 4 minutes, so it took them something like 20 minutes to finish 8 people, which made this a pretty low-capacity attraction, as we say at Disneyland. While my team rocked pretty hard at Biotics and passed Tech, we were unable to complete Combat, so we did not get to try the N7 test. Your reward for all this? A ribbon for your badge with the designation you tested into.
For the rest of the day, I mostly rambled about the exhibitor’s floor (actually two different non-consecutive floors) buying the occasional pin and Grunt plush, and admiring the various booths.
The most exciting thing for the day was that I lucked into a last-minute VR demo of “Star Trek Bridge Crew,” which was amazing. I don’t know why anyone spends anytime doing anything else. I got to run the helm and aside from some difficulty grabbing onto the levers during moments of duress (those exploding stars are nerve-wracking!) It was terrifically fun. The worst part will be trying to convince three other people to invest in the VR gear, because you can only play it with four.
The next day was the major one for panels for me. Some of the ones I attended: “For Honor Panel and Gameplay” with developers and voice actors, including Jennifer Hale, voice of Commander Shepard…
“Making and Promoting Non-Traditional Characters in Games” with BioWare writer Patrick Weekes…
And “Romance in Games,” with BioWare Lead Designer Mike Laidlaw.
All the panels were pretty entertaining, however it was strange that the super crowded panels generally tended to be in smaller conference rooms, while I attended others that had like thirty people total in the room, and were put in huge ballrooms. I did try to get into a few that I knew would be popular like the Final Fantasy ones, but they filled up pretty fast. The official PAX app had a line estimator part that was pretty handy, as it depicted how the rooms were filling up by an increasing bar graph, but the rooms dropped off the app after the start time of the panel, so it was hard to know if it was worth it to try to get into a room once it started.
I also made it to the “Swag Bag Room” at one of the hotels. This was pretty odd, as it was clearly sponsored by Reese’s Puffs cereal and featured a huge ball pit into which people would dive to find Magical Balls that held prizes they would then play games to win. It seemed like quite an ordeal.
The swag bags were also puzzling–they seemed to be a plastic bag that held about five postcards advertising different things. I actually had to ask someone if that’s what they were, because frankly, it seemed like maybe someone wasn’t really familiar with the concept of “swag” as I know it. At least they gave you free mini boxes of cereal.
For dinner I managed to hike a half-mile over to “Pie Bar” which had some quality pie. It’s a tiny, tiny place where people wait outside for large quantities of time to get their pie from a window, but I lucked out and a table for one happened to open up just as I got there. Would patronize again.
I spent most of the third day investigating more of the booths on the floors and playing demos for Final Fantasy and Phoenix Wright.
I did get to one panel on “Women in Games & Tech” moderated by BioWare producer Melanie Fleming.
This evening, Bethesda threw a “Dishonored 2” party open to anyone at the wharf, around a mile away from the convention center. There was a streetcar that went directly there from my hotel, but it had stopped running early because it was a Sunday. Whomp whomp.
This was pretty interesting–the area was dressed up as an in-game environment, with people roleplaying characters and a mystery you were supposed to solve by running around and playing cards and interrogating different actors. Unfortunately, by the time I got there, I was advised that all the tokens for the winners (dice? Silver cups?) had been given out already so the game effectively had no end for people who came afterwards. Regardless, they showed some new gameplay footage and had some limited food and drinks available, and a cool print-to-order shirt station that was also totally inadequate for the volume of people who showed up wanting shirts. It was really well done, I thought, with the caveat that they probably needed to expect about three times the people they ended up having.
The last day was pretty minimal for me–I needed to pack up and check out of the hotel and then store my luggage with the bell desk as my flight didn’t leave until 0730 the next morning (I SAID I had terrible flights.) I ended up watching a table-top RPG game for most of the afternoon (I’ve never played–seems very involved!) and then did a little more shopping before PAX West closed for the year.
In retrospect, although I enjoyed PAX, I’m not sure if it’s an essential part of my con schedule at this point. At least 50% of it is table-top games, of which I know nothing and have little prospects of playing with any regularity, since you need other people for them. Additionally, most of the major draws in terms of panels seemed to be various podcasts and YouTube/Twitch shows which I hadn’t seen. Probably the strongest suit was the many demos and particularly the extensive VR set up, but the lines were pretty extensive–usually over an hour, which isn’t necessarily bad for something like E3, but sometimes over two hours, which is getting up there. The difficult part of getting to some of it was that no one seemed to know the hours of a lot of the off-site installations, so the thought of walking all the way over there to find out that it was closed wasn’t that enticing.
The main thing is that most activities simply didn’t seem to be set up for the kind of traffic they were getting. The Final Fantasy booth offered a different shirt everyday that was only available by playing the demo…but the demo was an hour long, so it was only available through appointment only. This meant that people who wanted in were lining up sometimes around 0700 for a floor opening time of 1000, and that all tickets for the day were given out in the first three minutes. I go to a lot of conventions, and routinely you hear from companies “well, we didn’t know if anyone would show up.” Maybe it’s just what they’re telling people, but if it’s not…Seriously guys: If you Build It, They Will Come. Plan for a lot of people.
So general thumbs up to PAX West, and in particular to the Mayflower Park Hotel who put up with me and my hobo flight hours. If Mass Effect Andromeda decides to make a big showing next year, maybe we’ll be back.