Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas 10075

I apologize for the title -- I have no idea what came over me.

I found copies of Mirror's Edge and the new handheld Castlevania title under the tree yesterday morning. I have spent more time with the latter thus far for a variety of reasons:

  1. The first-person perspective of Mirror's Edge would trigger Sandi's motion sickness within seconds;
  2. Our television was largely occupied with the copy of Boom Blox I purchased for Sandi;
  3. The Sci-Fi Channel has been showing marathons of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Highlander for the past two days.

I have had to adjust to controlling Faith, as opposed to her puffy-panted inspiration. The ability to jump forward from a wall-run eluded me for the first hour or so, leading to many meetings with the pavement. I mistakenly assumed that a jump from the maneuver would propel me perpendicular to the wall, rather than wherever I happened to be facing. I suppose you live and learn -- and reload.

In the midst of surfing across my usual gaming sites today, I came across this little tidbit. While the game itself will be going away in a couple of months, someone looking for a roleplaying game set outside the realms of fantasy might find it worthwhile. I cannot say for certain, since I have not played the game myself, but Tabula Rasa seemed worth two months at some point. As is usually the case with me and PC gaming, my machine is about one generation of hardware beneath the minimum requirements, so the odds of my sampling the experience are quite low.

Game well this weekend, and may you find the time to enjoy everything that was in your stocking.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Awash in Metalloid Chivalry

Prior to a trip out of town last weekend, I put several more hours into Too Human -- an experience both exhilarating and exasperating. As a microcosm of the game's polarity, I went from cackling with glee as I bounced half a dozen robotic foes into the air to pulling my hair over a camera intent on showing me the enemy I ran past in order to eliminate his ranged support contingent. This shift in mood occurred within a single minute. I still consider the title's bright spots to outshine its shortcomings, but the spread in reviews of the game is more than understandable.

I finally took the time to begin another playthrough of Eternal Darkness while in North Carolina, and I am reminded why I put so much faith in the good folks at Silicon Knights. The sheer depth of the worlds these people construct boggles my mind. However, I ran into a bit of a snag while playing about the only horror game which has ever appealed to me. As I began one of my sessions, the opening screen and its timeless Poe quote was obscured by a disc read error. How long does one wait for a game known for messing with the player prior to punching the reset button?

In closing, I feel compelled to include this:

I wish I could explain why this song enthralls me so. Perhaps the fact that it took me weeks to actually hear the whole thing is responsible, or maybe the style reminds me of Michelle Tumes, for whom I always had a soft spot. Even with more remixes of this song floating through the ether than Square Enix re-releases, I keep finding myself returning.

Game well over the coming holiday, and may you always know when the game has started to play you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Wacky Coincidence

Early last week, my dog yanked at his leash and jammed my left thumb into our porch rail. Fortunately, nothing was broken, but the bruising made manipulating a controller somewhat . . . uncomfortable. Working a mouse and keyboard was still painless, though, so my laptop got quite a bit of attention. Since I was not in the mood to root around my disc collection, I decided to take Guild Wars Factions for another spin. I had managed to miss playing the Ranger character class when I played the game before, so I have had a somewhat fresh experience. I like the different spin on traditional fantasy the title presents, and the lack of grind and monthly fees is also appealing.

In the process of playing the introductory portion of the campaign (which, incidentally, has gotten me more than halfway to the level cap), I have received several invitations to join guilds. The longstanding tendencies of my gaming life have driven my responses thus far, combined with a sense of doubt inspired by most of the guild names. I have no idea if I will ever take the plunge on that front, but something tells me I need to do it at some point.

Game well in the coming week, and may each pull bring you epic loot.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Return to Yore -- of Sorts

I had to attend a commencement ceremony this morning, so I took my Game Boy Advance (the DS batteries were dead) to bide my time awaiting the procession. I dug out my Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls cartridge for the occasion, based on the logic that I could slap around some random encounters and save when it was time to roll. I have spent most of the rest of the day with the gussied-up version of the title that launched a thousand airships. In the process, I noticed a glaring example of a fact which 'serious' gamers have been lamenting for years: stuff ain't as hard as it used to be.

I plowed through the first half of the Earth Cavern today (I think the statute of limitations on spoilers here expired while I was working on my master's degree), and the dungeon is decidedly less deadly than I recall. Rather than facing flocks of petrifying cockatrices and squads of insta-kill sorcerors (my increased maturity now recognizes those abominations as poorly-masked mind flayers), I fought a small army of divers and sundry snakes, with a few of the sorcerors' weaker antecedents sprinkled into the mix. I also noted that my NES 'default party' of fighter, thief, monk, and red mage were at about level twenty-four; if I recall correctly, the old Nintendo Power strategy guide for the game recommended characters at level twenty-six to tackle the final boss. These levels occurred without a massive amount of grinding on my part, aside from garnering the money for equipment upgrades. A part of me recoiled at the game's re-re-release when I learned the the D&D-inspired spell system had been replaced with a modern mana pool, and this does alter the experience.

Do these changes 'taint' what my memory considers the elegance of an old favorite? My heart says no, as I still had fun smacking monsters about the face-analogues and neck-analogues. Perhaps I should rephrase the question: is the maintenance of essentially ancient mechanics necessary to enjoy a classic game? Would I forgive a modern title which clings steadfastly to those same ideals of 'challenge?'

Oh, wait -- I already did.

Game well in the days to come, and may you figure out why all the high-level attack spells seemed so much more important back in the day.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Is Anyone Out There?

On the whole, my experience with video games has usually been an island -- John Donne be darned. As a teenager, I lived too far from most of my friends to regularly engage in gaming sessions; this might explain my bent toward primarily single-player game genres such as role-playing and platforming. By the time I arrived in the waters of college, I had lost interest in most sports titles and nearly any game with a multiplayer component whose name began with something other than Street Fighter.

The advent of the Internet had the potential to shatter my perceptions of my pastime, but that has yet to occur. I dabbled with some online games based on anime series, but my budgetary constraints kept me from ever getting hooked on EverCrack or World of WarMeth. I did buy Guild Wars Factions a couple of years ago, and I enjoyed the game. However, I again ended up spending most of my time in instances alone. The game still resides on my hard drive, sitting next to its sarcastic cousin Dungeon Runners and hoping it sees daylight once more. More than anything else, part of me still lives in my NES mindset.

All that text is a foreword for this; Microsoft is making an attempt at changing my worldview. While I appreciate the effort, the list of games available does not activate my salivary glands. I do not have the cash for Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix at present, despite its wacky trailer videos. Apart from UNO and the free Aegis Wing, I would have to pay for the games to partake of the experience. Had Carcassonne or Undertow (titles, I might add, which were made available to Xbox Live Silver users for free in the past) been part of the deal, they might have seriously piqued my interest. Unless I have missed several free downloads, they are charging players to play games online for free. I guess it is a slick marketing move . . .

Game well this week, and may you always pull a Draw Four when you need it.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

An Opportunity Missed

We went home for the Thanksgiving holiday, and I had meant to take home a game to play with my family. However, I forgot to pack my copy of Bohnanza, the most entertaining bean-growing card game simulation ever designed by man or beast. In case it does not shine through my usual ramblings, I deeply miss the weekly tabletop gaming excursion I had while a graduate student in Virginia.

Over the summer, I saw some footage of Street Fighter IV, and my soul hungered for the experiences I once had with the venerable fighting franchise. While I in no way, shape, form, or fashion claim to be an expert at two-dimensional fighting games (or, for that matter, any game in any genre), I have had a soft spot for Capcom's flagship brawler since I saw it in a bowling alley arcade as a teenager. That desire might lead me to take a stab at Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix in the near future. It has been a really long time since I guided Blanka across the battlefield . . .

Game well this week, and may your combos pave the way to victory.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Death of Time

To occupy my sick wife's time while I am on campus, I purchased Animal Crossing: City Folk, as I mentioned last time. We played the original game daily for over six months before life drew us in other directions. The town of Dapslihp (have fun figuring out that name) still resides on my GameCube memory card, overgrown with weeds and bearing a memorial to a purple cat named Bob. I cannot bring myself to free up the space; I drew that much of a connection to my little sequences of ones and zeros.

Feeling somewhat like a traitor to my existing and neglected villagers, I created a character in the new town of Newrland. I had forgotten that any Animal Crossing title consumes lives in the course of play; hours slip into oblivion as I wander the fields searching for fossils or the recipient of a gift delivery. This is made even worse by the fact that since I am virtually always the last person to play the game every day, most of the special stuff is already gone. How can I spend so much time catching carp and picking up seashells? What is this insidious hold Nintendo has claimed over my leisure time?

Barely connected to the post title, I played some Tiger Woods golf last night at my brother-in-law's house. I scored a birdie on the very first hole of Pinehurst No. 2, and after that I commenced to drag the good name of Retief Goosen through the mud. I have a hunch the major-winning South African could out-drive a pair of girls not yet in high school. Make no mistake -- I think the analog swing is a vast improvement over the old-timey meter mechanics of previous generations, and I enjoyed playing the game despite my lack of skill.

Game well this holiday weekend, and may that big shadow not be another blasted sea bass.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Definitely Not Canon

Remember that powerful scene from Final Fantasy VII where Cloud and company slid Sephiroth under an office desk to bury him alive? It seems that I do; I had a rather vivid dream about that very vignette between snooze presses this morning. To make the affair even more ludicrous, Sephiroth's head and feet poked out each side of the makeshift cairn. He and Cloud were also chatting as if they were roommates, and if I recall correctly, someone had shot Cloud in the head. While I have not yet watched the copy of Advent Children that I purchased, I have the feeling that this scene was left on the cutting room floor. I hope so, anyway.

After a run on Dr. Wily's fortress in Mega Man 2 this evening, my wife caught a glimpse of the new Animal Crossing game for the Wii. She was instantly hooked by the combination of aimlessness and goofy charm that made the original a sleeper hit. The new fish probably helped, too. We will most likely be picking up a copy at our next chance to visit a store which carries games.

I still have to get familiar with the new Xbox 360 interface. While mildly irritated that the console demanded I create an avatar upon logging into my Gamertag, I am trying to keep an open mind about the shameless apery . . . er, new experience. Upon posting this, I will head back into the mines; if nothing else, I keep forgetting to download the demo for Pac-Man Championship Edition.

Game well, and may your updates be rapid.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

'Tis the Season . . .

In my case, I generally lay off game purchases during this stretch of the year to make certain I do not cut off too many holiday gift opportunities. Last year was a glaring exception, fueled by a combination of a mouth-watering slate of long-awaiting titles and a substantially larger income stream. Honestly, since I have yet to have finished most of the top-flight games I purchased last year, this is not really a problem. I can wait until Christmas morning for most titles. However, I might have to go pick up a copy of Tomb Raider: Underworld this week. I mention this because I may very well be the only man in the world who is told to go buy a Tomb Raider game by his wife.

I have pushed forward in Too Human, which has led to another of reviewers' favorite complaints. The game's polarity enemies and their status-inflicting explosions are a serious annoyance, particularly since I cannot distinguish the melee-only and ballistic-only versions on my television. This grievance is not a deal-breaker, thanks to the lack of a serious penalty for death, but I keep thinking that the design team assumed people would be playing their game on a high-definition display. This would also explain the bits of text I must strain to read. As much as I love my hobby, I find it unlikely that I will purchase a new and expensive television to replace a fully-functional standard model.

Game well this week, and may your targeting always strike true.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Patience Pays Off

This weekend, the demo for Mirror's Edge was finally made available to the unwashed peons who cannot or choose not to pay for Xbox Live Gold membership. I have played through it several times now, and I am still quite excited to get my hands on the finished product. As a first impression, DICE has found a way to make a first-person platformer quite viable. A statement like this sounds absurd to anyone who has experienced most of the horrific jumping puzzles which have plagued first-person games of years past, but the system in place makes things feel as natural as Altaïr's maneuvers in Assassin's Creed. Of course, this is based on a tutorial and a single segment of gameplay. Perhaps the demo level is a tightly-designed trap to dupe unsuspecting gamers into flinging sixty dollars at a subpar product. Time will tell, I suppose.

Before you make your purchase, though, I feel duty-bound to notify you that the game's perspective has the potential to make you very ill. While the camera is superior to the one from The Blair Witch Project, there is an awful lot of swaying, leaping, and somersaulting -- all viewed through the eyes of the protagonist. If your Constitution score is less than 16, Mirror's Edge might not be for you. At least, you should not be playing it without a hefty dose of motion-sickness medication.

Game well this week, and may your Runner vision lead you to your next checkpoint.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Matter of Perspective

I am almost through the first area of Too Human, and I enjoy the combat system as much as I did when I played the demo. The analog-based melee combat is the best scheme I have yet seen to translate the point-and-click mayhem of a Diablo-style computer title to consoles. The slide and juggle mechanics give the player ample opportunity to feel like a rock star -- not to be confused with, you know, feeling like a Rockstar. I also like spending minutes at a time piddling about the equipment and statistics menus; the nickname "Mr. Inventory Screen" has always described my approach to most games which involve loot. I eagerly anticipate the chance to kit out my character in stylishly colored gear.

At the same time, I can definitely see that the game is not perfect. With the right analog stick claimed by the combat system, the camera is more than a little flawed. I have already taken several missile volleys from foes that had been panned off-screen; that little fact has the potential to be infuriating in an environment where death causes a nice long pause in the action. The decision to only make healing available to a single class puzzled me during the demo, and time has not made it any more sensible. Also, the targeting is occasionally spotty, which can make a large difference when surrounded by enemies. Having thought about the mechanics in place, I have conjectured that Silicon Knights could have resolved the camera and targeting issues in a fairly simple way: make the game's camera view isometric, à la Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance or the Marvel Comics games by Raven Software. I always wanted more use out of those series' jump buttons, and I never got much use from their camera rotation. I think the Too Human combat system could benefit greatly from a mostly-overhead point of view. Of course, a decision like that will most likely never get past the initial design of a modern game, since there is clearly no future for titles that are not portrayed in three dimensions.

Speaking of camera complaints, I almost changed my mind about Tomb Raider: Underworld based on the demo. My wife's support of the game gave way to a mild case of motion sickness, thanks to the amount of manhandling I had to do to get a proper view of my surroundings. I finally found the auto-center technique, which helped to alleviate a great deal of my prior spinning, but the camera control seems a bit more touchy than Legend. Has anyone else noticed this?

Game well this weekend, and may your hit counter keep climbing.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

It Took Long Enough . . .

For all my desire to play Too Human, I will finally take a shot at the game after I finish writing this. I have become temporarily frustrated by Half-Life 2, but my consternation is self-imposed. You see, the game offers an achievement for finishing the Ravenholm area without using a weapon other than the gravity gun. Were I willing to forgo that, I would have finished the chapter a couple of days ago. However, the additional challenge leaves my nerves in a state such that I can only tackle an encounter or two at a time due to the need to preserve my limited ammo (and my state of mind).

While visiting the mall today, I picked up a copy of Zack and Wiki, a nifty little adventure/puzzle game for the Wii -- from late last year. While the massive amount of tutorial information you get at the beginning gets old really quickly, tackling the title's goofy challenges is fun in an old-school Sierra/LucasArts kind of way. While nowhere near as awesome as Braid, which is still my leading candidate for game of the year, solving puzzles is always a blast. I also took a look at Star Trek Legacy for the Xbox 360, primarily due to a yearning induced by Star Trek Online. I held myself back from making a purchase, because I wanted to check out some reviews before sinking the cash. The numbers look respectable for the price, so I will probably take the plunge at some point in the future.

Additionally, I downloaded some trailers for Tomb Raider: Underworld. I almost activated one of my Live Gold cards just to get my hands on the demos for that and Mirror's Edge, but patience won out on that one. After my wife saw the videos, she told me that we would be buying the game once it hits retail. This sort of declaration is rare, to say the least.

Game well this week, and may your loot all be golden.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Shortage of Time

Honestly, time has been a luxury for the past few days, so there has not been much gaming around my house. My focus has been divided between Half-Life 2, Mega Man 9, and Dungeon Runners. I am currently working my way through Ravenholm in Half-Life 2, which is fairly appropriate for the Halloween season. Creeping through a seemingly abandoned area can eat at your nerves, especially after a character looked toward its entrance earlier with nothing to say but, "We don't go there any more." Playing with the gravity gun is almost as cool as my Portal and Braid experiences; chucking boxes and barrels around the screen is great fun.

Star Trek Online has piqued my interest, because the developers (at present) seem to get the source material. If they can deliver on the promise of galactic exploration without typical MMO busy-work quests, I might have to pony up the cash to participate.

For the retro game fans out there, I found this blast from the past at the website for the Escapist. I played through the text adventure on Monday, and the puzzles require no Myst-style bizarro logic. While there, you might want to take a look at the site's "Unforgotten Realms" video series; the spoof of tabletop roleplaying is pretty entertaining.

Game well, and may you find all the right verbs.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Don't Call It a Throwback

While waiting for an update to Dungeon Runners to install last night, I gave Mega Man 9 a spin. The guys at Penny Arcade probably summed up the experience best here. For all intents and purposes, the game acts as a time warp back to the glory days of the NES, complete with its penchant for mind-blowing difficulty. So far, I have managed to make it to one of the game's bosses, and I was crippled when I arrived. To make matters worse, I doubt the weapon I will get from her will do what I thought it would do to help me through another level. In other news, I feel really politically incorrect in pointing out that my first triumph in the game will most likely be the series' first female robot master. In Mega Man 9's defense, concessions have been made to give mortals a chance at completing the adventure; you can purchase items like extra lives, energy tanks, and special boots that save you from one landing on insta-death spikes. A part of me feels like using this resource is cheating -- that I should conquer this new frontier just as I did in the olden days. If I fail to convince myself otherwise, could someone please make sure I eat occasionally?

I still totally rock at Mega Man 2, though.

Game well, and may you find the optimal pattern for tackling your stages.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I Neglected to Mention . . .

In case you failed to notice the shift in my drive contents, I completed Portal. I actually played through the game twice, because my wife is a ardent puzzle-solver who struggles with three-dimensional movement. I can honestly say I have not laughed quite so hard at a game since I met Frank the ninja in Shadow Hearts: From the New World. The song that plays during the closing credits (and the accompanying ASCII code which displays) is pure genius, but that is only evident if you have actually finished the game. What follows is only for 'through' gamers, so highlight at your own peril. While I have no reason to believe the point of 'Still Alive' is prophecy, the song may ring true, even in our world. Like Pac-Man and Tetris, I have a feeling that Portal may outlive all of us. The game's mind-bending experience should be a must for anyone who can avoid motion sickness.

Upon completing Portal, I had planned to begin playing Too Human, but my plans have changed. My journey through Aperture Science was evidently some sort of electronic gateway drug, and I am now several hours into Half-Life 2. The game's pacing is brilliant, and it does NOT assume that you have made your own Gordon Freeman costume from cardboard and duct tape. I might pursue a PlayStation 2 copy of the original Half-Life eventually, just so I can get the full Black Mesa experience.

Game well, and may your next barrel take out multiple Barnacles.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Return of the Old School

Among some other purchases with the rest of my birthday funds, my wife succumbed to the adorable cover art of Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon for the Wii. I think the original plan was for her to play it, but that went by the wayside somewhere between the store and the disc slot on our console. I have to admit, though, that I do enjoy the title on the whole. Underneath the cutesy exterior (leave it to the good folks at Square Enix to mash every ounce of juice out of the Wii's rooty-poo graphics processor) beats the heart of such classic fare as NetHack. This, for those in the know, means that the game can be maddeningly hard at times. While not quite as punishing as NetHack, Chocobo's Dungeon clearly stands in defiance of the current trend of success-oriented mainstream games. There is stuff to love in here, but you must go into the experience prepared to fail -- several times. Why would I want to subject myself to this in your spare time? I can only point here for those who seek the answers.

We also found, after several months of fruitless searching, a copy of Wii Fit. While I do not really consider it a game per se, I figured the occasion merited mentioning here. It has taught me that I am virtually incapable of shifting my weight; I am, it seems, a mighty sequoia when my feet touch the earth. To my surprise, it makes me look pretty good at yoga, which does not require massive amounts of balance-shifting. I managed to bring my Wii Fit Age down to 33 today (from a staggeringly bad 46), and the hilarity that ensues whenever I attempt the slalom or soccer minigames is probably worth the price of entry.

Game well this week, and may your next level leave you right next to the stairs.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Could I Enjoy This?

I finished Braid last night, and the experience was more than worth the price of admission. As others have noted, the final (gameplay) level of the game is mind-blowing. Apparently, some people find the game to be more than a little self-important. Like N'Gai Croal, I disagree with that sentiment; Braid merely takes itself seriously in a realm not known for gravity.

Over the weekend, I spent some time with the non-campaign multiplayer of Halo 3 while visiting family. Since my brother-in-law's console is not connected to Xbox Live, this was restricted to local matches against him and his two daughters. I was rather surprised to learn that I enjoyed that more than the campaign. As I have noted before, this might stem from my lack of foreknowledge of the series' ongoing plot, or it may be a consequence of the game's indecision on how serious the campaign's tone is supposed to be. My time with the shooting and the smacking and the whatnot has left me wondering if I would actually like playing a shooter online. Make no mistake -- I have no intention of running to purchase Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4 to become a deathmatch junkie. However, since I already own Team Fortress 2, I may give that a spin when I fire up my Live membership cards.

Game well, and may your sights aim true.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Puzzles . . . The Puzzles . . .

Between Braid and Portal, I am up to my eyeballs in puzzle-solving, and I am loving every minute of it. The mind-warp the two games are combining to create may result in the spontaneous proof of the Riemann hypothesis for all I know, or it may rip the fabric of the universe and send us all into eternity. No matter what happens, I am in a gaming Shangri-La at the moment. Fortunately, the real world requires me to leave this utopia for work each day, which gives me the chance to do other important things -- like eating and sleeping. If you do not yet own these two titles, I cannot endorse them any more fully.

I promised a few closing words about Super Paper Mario, and here they are. As always, I rushed to the defense of Luigi's honor by using him in every situation possible. In many games I play, the motto 'speed is life' motivates my style; in a Mario-themed platformer, I amend that creed to 'jump height is life.' Without fail, the man in green is always the guy with the edge in that department. The overall tone of the game is, of course, pretty light-hearted, but it had a couple of serious moments. I was a caught a little off-guard by the ecological message of the Land of the Cragnons, although I recall laughing when a character mentions tossing garbage into a river at the start of the chapter. That continued a theme of games fudging the line between good and evil, and I still need to write up something about that trend. I had wondered about the romantic plot thread running through the chapter conclusions, and my suspicions were confirmed as the game progressed. I found something resembling an actual love story inside a Mario game refreshing, even though its ending is somewhat bittersweet.

Game well over the coming weekend, and may you time your rewinds perfectly.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

An Infusion of New Blood

Due to a beneficial convergence of circumstances (primarily my birthday), I was able to pick up a couple of new games this afternoon. I finally acquired a copy of Too Human, which will most likely trigger the use of my Xbox Live Gold membership cards. I also bought a discounted copy of The Orange Box, which stands as a gaming deal of Crazy Eddie proportions (five quality modern titles on a single disc). As is usual for a trip to the game store, I could easily have spent another couple of hundred dollars, but I suppressed my primal urges for the time being. I still have several important downloads to do . . .

At long last, Braid is within my reach. Additionally, there are a trio of games from the Mega Man series available on the Wii. I might eventually get back to BioShock, but it will be a while.

After my buying bonanza, I brought my shiny new Xbox 360 games through the door and promptly set them down as I fired up the Wii (what -- does this surprise you?). I finished Super Paper Mario tonight, but a review of the occasion will have to wait until tomorrow. An early morning awaits me, which does not fit well with a quality game recap here.

Game well in the week to come, and may your mushrooms not be zombies.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Plumbing the Murky Depths

I found a link to this article at Penny Arcade last week, so I thought I would link it here as well. I should warn you in advance that the site in question has a metric truckload of ads, so your browser will most likely choke for a while in its attempt to load everything. However, I found the information therein to be a fascinating (and accessible) look at the crumb trail which led to the Red Ring of Death phenomenon.

Last week, I downloaded the demo for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed off Xbox Live, and I finally got the chance to give it a whirl this afternoon. As a guy who has tried to use the Force to grab the remote or a soda more times than I can count, the game's concept has a intrinsic appeal to me. However, the control scheme is a bit unwieldy in my opinion, and I find the targeting quite finicky.

The plot of the title also gives me pause, as the protagonist is an apprentice of Darth Vader. This naturally implies that you spend at least part of the game doing . . . well . . . evil things. Recent gaming experiences have convinced me that I can commit a small number of acts which conflict with my core lawful goodness (more on that in a future post), but an entire game of villainy is more than my mutant conscience can handle. I have no quarrel with ethical choices in a game (see Knights of the Old Republic to the right), but if that choice is between self-important evil and subservient evil, my superego rises up in protest.

Oddly, I have a feeling that if I pick up Force Unleashed, I will buy the Wii version. I like the prospect of being able to play the game without fear of turning my console into slag, and I can live with lesser graphics for ten fewer dollars.

Game well in the coming days, and may your saber stay focused.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Return of the Tabletop

Before any video game exploits, I have to mention that I got the chance to play some games with real people recently. My department hosted a dinner for current and prospective majors this weekend, and (along with beverage delivery) my lot was to provide games for entertainment after the meal. We got in a few hands of Fluxx, one of which I won with an inadvertent assist, and we also played a game of Tsuro. My introduction of games outside the mainstream seemed to be a big hit. Go Team Obscura!

Of late, my electronic pastime has been Super Paper Mario. I find this somewhat ironic, because we originally bought the game for my wife's enjoyment. She absolutely loves the Mario roleplaying titles, but the platforming elements of the Wii incarnation of the franchise were a bit too much of a deviation for her tastes. I, however, fell head over heels for the game's style and sense of humor. The way the game skewers fetch quests still makes me chuckle. On the gameplay front, the Whoa Zone now ranks among my all-time favorite game levels -- almost as far up the list as the Milkman Conspiracy from Psychonauts, and that is high praise. I can say that I will most likely not see everything Super Paper Mario has in store, but it does have an enjoyable treasure hunting side quest. After buying maps from a shady dude, you have to go wandering through previous levels, which I find a good test of my memory. What? Do I question your ways of passing time?

Game well this week, and may your saves stand the test of time.

Friday, September 12, 2008

New Features Added

To the right, you will notice my lists of favorite games have been bumped down the page a bit. I have inserted a couple of lists of the titles I am currently playing ('In the Drive'), as well as the next discs I intend to pop into the tray ('In the Queue'). Now you can keep track of what exactly is filling my nights -- well, all both of you who were concerned.

I finally finished Shadow of the Colossus before sitting to write this. I stand by my earlier claim of the game's artistry, but that is not equivalent to saying perfection was achieved. I nearly quit playing halfway through the game because I grew weary of fighting the game's controls. The camera was the main culprit, since the thing seemed determined to sacrifice useful views for cinematic impact. My experience with Shadow of the Colossus felt akin to a game from the Legend of Zelda series; for all but a couple of the colossi, I was never in any real danger. The challenge lay in figuring out exactly how to go about my grim task. Unlike a typical Zelda boss, though, you are not continually collecting new toys you know are involved somehow. This is where my frustration arose -- for two or three consecutive colossi, I almost immediately recognized the solution to the riddle, yet I fought for what seemed like eons to execute my plan due to the game's control scheme. Either the software was not up to the design team's vision, or a conscious decision was made to remind the player that his or her avatar is no superhero. I enjoyed the game too much to accept the latter, as sacrificing fun for realism goes against my beliefs of what gaming is.

I have to talk about the story's conclusion, so spoilers follow. You know what to do if you are willing to look.
Having to watch Agro fall into the canyon three times before I was able to complete the game nearly drove me to tears; despite my control complaints, Wander's faithful steed always did what I asked. I was completely off-base on what occurs during the finale. Certain that Wander would become a seventeenth colossus as payment for his wish, I smirked with satisfaction as his form distorted in the shrine. Personally, I would have been okay with his death, since he spends the game killing innocent creatures for what amounts to a selfish desire. Needless to say, the return of Agro warmed my heart, in spite of the limp. As powerful as I found the dénouement, I put nowhere near the thought into its meaning as the guy who wrote the story analysis FAQ at The horned baby seems an obvious link to ICO, which is part of what put that title back in my to-play list.

Game well this weekend, and may your memory cards not fail.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

B'Gosh and Begorrah!

Much to my surprise, I can actually access all our Xbox Live Arcade games again. I finally got enough time to call the support center last night, and the fellow to whom I spoke actually knew how to handle the situation. How sad is it that this amazes me, despite the thousands of people who have had this problem? If the licenses are not transferred by the time you receive your new console, you basically treat things like you had just purchased a new machine. Of course, there is a downside; the online license-switching tool says it can only be used once every twelve months. Let this be a warning if your 360 fails and you decide to upgrade to an Elite system in the same year. Beyond playing demos for Castle Crashers and Braid (yes, I played the demo again), we really have not used the thing for much since its return. Once I can acquire Too Human, though, I will most likely use the two free months of Live Gold membership to pull some online cooperative play.

I would write more, but only one colossus stands between me a game's conclusion. I ran out of time Tuesday night and must try again. I hope I can hold myself together to get back to the beast (if you have played the game, you know whereof I speak).

Game well, and may your wireless signal stay strong.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Shock and Dismay

As promised, my Xbox 360 arrived at the house last night. Inside the box with the new console, the good folks at Microsoft also included a free month of Xbox Live Gold membership. Along with a letter apologizing for the inconvenience of having a bricked console, I found some instructions for getting my Xbox Live Arcade game licenses transferred to the new machine. You know what would have been really swell, though? I would have loved for those directions to actually work.

Yes, good readers, for the second time in a calendar year, I cannot access any software my wife downloaded using her Gamertag. No Contra, no UNO, no Geometry Wars, not a single luxury -- like Robinson Crusoe, as primitive as can be. At the moment, I can only play Symphony of the Night, Undertow, and Carcassonne with my personal downloads; the pathetic part is that two of those games were given away for free by Microsoft to palliate the community for issues with Xbox Live service. I have not yet had the time to get on the phone with Microsoft's support staff to be told they cannot help me and to receive eleven thousand apologies. My expectations for the event are quite low, since I had called on the Better Business Bureau by the time my last situation was resolved. Given the rampant hardware failures suffered by the Xbox 360, I cannot help but wonder who decided the license system for Arcade downloadable games was a solid idea. Perhaps by this time next year, my fourth console will actually ship with my license information updated!

Wish me luck in my service call. Game well this weekend, and may your licenses get transferred when they are supposed to be.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Reunion Forthcoming

According the the good folks at United Parcel Service, I should have my new Xbox 360 tomorrow afternoon. Oddly, at the time of the hardware failure, the big white box was the only system getting that much play time, but since its departure, I have spread the love throughout the rest of my entertainment center. The PlayStation 2 has seen quite a bit of use for sessions of Final Fantasy XII and Shadow of the Colossus, and the wife has worked out the Wii with her birthday gift of Dragon Quest Swords. Heck, over the weekend, I fired up my original Xbox to play Jade Empire again! Other than Braid, I am having a hard time thinking about what will get played on the 360 upon its return. Too Human will most likely have to wait until my birthday, and nothing else out there screams for my dollars.

A couple of weekends ago, while I was in North Carolina, I had my first experience with the gaming juggernaut that is Halo 3. While I enjoyed the game, I fail to see the near-universal adulation the title received upon its launch. The campaign seems to assume that I am already passionately in love with Master Chief and his new alien buddy -- perhaps in a move to push more copies of the first two Halo games? What exactly did the gameplay do that BioShock and The Orange Box did not? I did enjoy the option for cooperative campaign play, as I find shooters more entertaining when coordinating maneuvers with a friend.

Game well this week, and may your consoles feel as loved as mine.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Blurring the Boundaries

Note: The following contains spoilers; highlight the blacked-out text at your own peril.

Over the past few days, my wife and I have spent a good deal of time with Final Fantasy XII. The pacing of the game's story reminds me at times of my first experience with Final Fantasy VII, where I wondered when I would finally get to see this world map the manual had mentioned. For a series with this many iterations, I find myself amazed at some of the conventions which continue to arise. An evil twin? Seriously?? At least there are no eyepatches in sight. Also, why do these later titles in the franchise always have characters at least twelve times cooler than the freaking protagonist? I think we are at about the fifteen-hour mark (with several lengthy stops for side quests) as far as playtime is concerned, and things are finally kicking into gear in the plot department.

In a twist, I find the combat system more engaging than I expected. Unlike many fans of the series, I was happy to see random monster encounters go the way of Laserdiscs. The option to simply run past an enemy you do not wish to fight without a separate combat screen is a blessing, in my opinion. Moreover, the ability to automate your party's actions when you pick a fight is a step forward from holding down the execute button until everything on one side of the screen collapses. I wish the game had a Mug command I could use rather than manually stealing from monsters, but that can be forgiven. The only real problem I have with the Gambit system FFXII employs is the availability of targets for your actions. Whoever decided that the Charge command (which restores some MP if successful, but drains it all away otherwise) has to be triggered manually for hours of early gameplay, unless you are content to end up with no MP at random during your journeys, has earned my ire. The loot system also finds an interesting way around one of the little issues old-school roleplaying titles had: namely, why did all these monsters carry around money?

The choices made during the development of Final Fantasy XII were an interesting move on the part of Square Enix, as they took the series rather close to the experience of massively multiplayer games. Heck, the game calls the items dropped and stolen from monsters loot! I have felt an urge to play for just a while longer on a couple of occasions, merely to try to scrounge up the license points for a shiny new ability -- similar to the 'grinding' style which emerges in most online games.

I will be out of town over the weekend, so Vaan and Penelo will have to wait until next week for a reunion. I think Eternal Darkness will get the nod for my take-out gaming experience, but the decision is not yet final. Game well, and may your batteries stay charged.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Revisiting the (Mostly) Forgotten

With my primary gaming console out of commission (again), I have taken some time of late to play titles I had downloaded via the Wii's Virtual Console. After a couple of hours of Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, I felt a quite a sense of déjà vu. Simon Belmont gains levels from collected hearts; he wanders an open countryside rather than plowing through strict levels; he buys and finds items which enable him to reach previously inaccessible areas. Sound familiar? It should -- this is the so-called 'Metroidvania' formula the series has been using since my beloved Symphony of the Night, apart from the countryside bit. I cannot help but find amusing the fact that the franchise abandoned this idea for a decade before completely and utterly embracing it a generation later.

What could cause such a shift? The most likely explanation is that Simon's Quest underperformed at retail, driving the series back to what succeeded in its original incarnation. I have always considered the sequel a graphical step backward from Castlevania; perhaps the American 'graphics snob' stereotype bit the game. This was also sort of an experimental period for games. We had Super Mario Bros. 2, which eschewed much of its predecessor's format; and The Adventure of Link, with its side-scrolling dungeons and health-barred bosses. Neither of those ideas took a permanent hold, so it might be fitting that Castlevania II follow the pattern -- except for the revisitation thing. Mario and Link never really went back to the style of the sequels, whereas Konami evidently saw something in Simon's Quest that merited a revival.

And now for something completely different -- Mega Man is now available for download. I never played the first game in the series on my NES, and I will finally get the chance once I can scrounge up five bucks. Between this and Ikaruga, I really seem to want my games to hand my head to me on a charger.

With school starting tomorrow, I need to head to bed. Game well, and may your load times be short.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Curse You, Red-Ring Baron!!

As I settled into my video rocker for a session of BioShock last night, my Xbox 360 froze during my attempt to log into Xbox Live. I turned off the system and, after a minute or two, I fearfully punched the power button again. Lo and behold, I have suffered the same fate as millions of other Xbox 360 owners. I had a Star Wars-esque bad feeling about the situation, since my console froze while I was playing the night before last. Moreover, the system has been making unusual noises of late whenever a disc stops spinning, the power is switched off, or a butterfly flaps its wings over the Beijing Olympic venues.

This will be my second experience with Microsoft's repair service, and I can only hope this journey will be better than the first. Curiously, the first send-off was not due to the Red Ring of Death; rather, the system kept etching discs. I received a refurbished console quite rapidly after I shipped out my first machine. However, I spent five months without my downloaded Xbox Live Arcade titles due to the ridiculous DRM system Microsoft has put in place. Once the licensing issues were finally corrected, I was 'assured' by the person on the phone that a new, more transparent system had been installed. I will believe this when I see it, which will hopefully be in a couple of weeks.

The pause in my current-generation gaming has given me the chance to revisit the rest of my console library. In particular, motivated by my recent mention of Shadow of the Colossus, I popped that title back into my PlayStation 2. I now remember why I did not finish that game before: what I was doing made me feel queasy. Not that this is news to anyone, but Shadow of the Colossus has you killing creatures that do not seem to be harming anyone. Despite some control issues (namely a curious decision to anchor your equestrian controls regardless of camera position), I have to agree with the statements of artistry that the game received upon its release. I had to show my wife the first colossus just to watch her face when the thing first crosses the screen. Once I have seen the quest to its end, I may take Eternal Darkness for another spin.

Game well this weekend, and may you avoid my predicament with flying colors.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A New Game Enters the Fold

No, there was no illicit acquisition of Too Human, and I did not yet fork out the cash for Braid, either. Today was my wife's birthday, and while we were at the mall for some other things, we took a trip into GameStop. Looking through the Wii software, Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors caught her eye. She enjoyed her time with the game today, and I will probably give it a whirl myself soon. The gameplay experience looks like a stand-alone Lord of the Rings game I bought during the movie merchandise craze; you swing the Wiimote to generate sword slashes on-screen. I cannot say right now if the story will hold up compared to either the massive scope of Dragon Quest VIII or the unbelievable cuteness of Rocket Slime, but we shall see. My biggest problem with titles in that series is that I have trouble bringing myself to beat on most of the low-level monsters. Akira Toriyama simply did too good a job of making 'enemies' like Slimes and Drackies adorable.

I downloaded the demo for Bionic Commando: Rearmed last night, and I was disappointed at its pathetic length. They cut out half of the first level, for crying out loud! Did anyone else notice that they changed the year in the intro? I thought the original date of '198X' was pretty nifty. On the upside, the new graphics look nice, and the new hacking minigame tossed an entertaining diversion into the grappling and shooting action. However, do I need a prettier and slightly retooled version of the game when I have a fully-functional copy of the original on Capcom Classics Mini Mix?

Game well, and may your terminals stay dust-free.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Personal Achievement Alert!!

I forgot to mention this when it happened, and I deem it sufficiently awesome that I will bring it to light now. As an aside, this is a benefit of not being a super-important gaming news site. On the afternoon of July 30, I unlocked the 'Bulletproof' achievement in the Xbox Live Arcade version of the classic shooter Contra. This, as you may know, means that I was able to complete the game on a single set of lives, without the assistance of the Konami code. The finale was a close-run thing; I finally took out Red Falcon's heart on my last life, surrounded by those weird scorpion things he exudes. I would have done better, but I lost my spread gun (undoubtedly gaming's first über-weapon) during the second tunnel in exchange for the flipping flame-thrower.

Half the gamers in the world would most likely shrug at me and say "Sure, but can you score a perfect headshot on Blackout?" or something else of a generally ephemeral nature. Keep in mind that Contra holds a somewhat iconic place in my gaming psyche. I traded my copy of the NES cartridge to a classmate for Rampage in the sixth grade, and I regretted my decision within a week. In hindsight, though, I got the better end of the deal, as I had played that poor game until its terminals were ready to disintegrate. With all my efforts, at the peak of my twitch-reflexes and pattern-memorizing abilities, I was never able to finish Contra without either continues or the Konami code. Was I subconsciously trapped by the presupposition that I needed those extra chances to reach the conclusion? Maybe the most famous cheat code in the history of the universe was, after all, at the heart of my failures back then. Perhaps the dangling carrot of an achievement was enough to push me past the bonds of those immortal button presses (which, hilariously, were initially told to me incorrectly by the guy at the video game counter).

Wow, that is the deepest I have pondered an old-school gaming experience since I wrote that essay on Crystalis in the tenth grade. Back to gaming; enjoy your Wednesday, and may your ping times stay low.

Monday, August 11, 2008

So, Yeah, I Am Ignorant.

It has come to my attention that the original Gears of War had a violence filter; the only new feature of the parental controls in the sequel is a retooling of the game's colorful metaphors. I can press a mute button to get around profane dialogue, but copious gore is a different matter. Now that I feel like a total schmuck for not doing complete research two years ago, I can at least take solace in the reduced price point if I choose to dive into the Gears of War franchise. Unlike the upcoming Too Human, Epic Games' shooter lost nothing by my delayed purchase back in the day.

Apparently I am not the only person who balked at Braid's price tag. After reading the comments off the Penny Arcade link above, I hate the company I seem to be keeping. The primary complaint seems to be the game's length, which I find more than a bit laughable. Suppose Braid clocks in at four hours of play; for fifteen dollars, this is roughly equivalent to the fifteen-hour FPS campaigns which festoon the current console landscape. I can see only two camps of true discontent here: hardcore roleplaying junkies, for whom less than forty hours of play is tantamount to high treason; and big-time multiplayer fans, who will struggle to swallow almost any straight single-player title by virtue of its lack of 'pwnage' potential.

This has been a personal struggle for me in the past. I bought Shadow of the Colossus at full retail price when it released; I feared it might suffer a fate similar to its predecessor ICO. The sad fate of Psychonauts made me rue my lack of an Xbox at the game's launch. Furthering the advancement of gaming as a medium can be tricky when you can only afford to purchase software once its make-or-break sales period has slipped away. Now I seem trapped between two games which I feel need my support, but I am unlikely to scrape together the funds for them both when they need the sales. Now is the time for that Mass Effect training to pay off, baby!!

In more upbeat news, I downloaded the demo version of Marathon: Durandal from the Xbox Live Marketplace last night. Playing a truly old-school shooter took me back to my days of freeware demos as an undergrad -- back when defeated foes rotated on the ground if you turned. During the firefights, my mind kept filling in cries of "Ach, mein lieben!" as the aliens fell. Good times, man . . .

Sunday, August 10, 2008

When Legends Fall

We completed Final Fantasy VII over the weekend, after pursuing some things I chose to ignore on my last jaunt through the game. The master magic and command Materia greatly simplify your party builds at the end, but neither my wife nor myself had the patience to accrue enough AP to obtain the master summon Materia. Most of the things I felt ten years ago still hold true now: Knights of the Round still breaks the game, even without W-Summon; the fact that you fight the final boss three times (granted, only someone with the intellect of a sea anemone could lose the last one) seems like overkill; and the closing scene still draws a little tear. We started Final Fantasy XII after the credits rolled and I had transferred the data file to my 'conquered' memory card. I know Square Enix likes to impress us with flashy opening cinemas; I recall the gunblade duel from FFVIII just as vividly as the rest of you. Seriously, though, my controller switched itself off between choosing 'New Game' and actually taking control. Could we not have controlled Basch during the battle at Nalbina Fortress? We stopped after a little more than an hour of play, and I have to ask one last question. During the first hunt quest, did anyone else find himself/herself singing the theme from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes?

I did not get the chance to play anything today, since I awoke with a headache clearly on the horizon. We will see what the next week has in store. Game well this week, and may your framerate stay constant.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Shameless Plug Time!!

While unwinding before bed last night, I downloaded a trial version of a game called Braid from Xbox Live. I really knew nothing about the game, but I recalled hearing positive things about it from Penny Arcade, or G4, or someone else. I immediately grew incredulous upon seeing a fifteen-dollar price tag for the full version. Remember that tagline at the top of the screen? As you may recall from my opinion on Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode One (that title is still eleven kinds of sweet), I hesitate to pay more than ten bucks for downloadable software. I must now say that were Braid to sell for typical retail price on a disc, I would most likely want to buy it.

When I started the game, it looked for all the world like I was entering a side-scrolling platformer like Cloning Clyde. This opinion was reinforced when I jumped on an enemy's head to bounce it from the screen, and it was further cemented after I was tasked with collecting three puzzle pieces in the first level. However, after that first stage, the game's true nature reared its head. Braid is, in fact, a devilishly clever set of puzzles built around a typical platform-jumping interface. I do not want to ruin the joy of figuring out the title's riddles for you, but you have the ability to rewind time (I discovered this after I mistimed a jump and ran into one of the demo's spherical enemies). What initially appears to be a Prince of Persia-like hinder-saver is actually an active part of Braid's puzzles. I got the image in my mind of the designers playing Sands of Time and thinking, "You know, there must be some proactive ways to use this trick!" By the time I had wrapped up the trial portion of the game, I was considering selling some blood plasma to cover the download costs.

To make a short story long, if you are a fan of old-school adventure gaming, then take the time to play Braid. If you enjoy platform games from the good old days, then play Braid. If your subconscious cries out for puzzle-solving, then play Braid. If you fall into none of these categories, then please go figure out where you left your soul. Once you have it back in place, play Braid.

Apparently Someone was Listening

Do you remember that little tirade I unleashed following the coverage of Fallout 3 during E3 last month? You know -- the one decrying the incessant slobbering we gamers seem to do over absurdly violent ways to kill people? Mere weeks later, word has surfaced that Gears of War 2 will ship with parental controls, which will eliminate blood and profanity while playing the shooter. With this little tidbit, another title might get added to my waiting list; I am sure my wife will love to hear that. I had considered picking up the original game, even though its plot and characters were widely considered as nuanced as a Pauly Shore film. However, the title's industry-typical approach to 'maturity' changed my mind. I can only hope this type of move becomes more standard for games going forward. Does that mean I can no longer claim to be 73h h4rdc0rZ? Oh, drat.

On the other hand, I can see why some gamers may be worried about something of this nature. Gears of War 2's online multiplayer modes, which I am sure are a large selling point to many Xbox 360 owners, might be even more infested with profanity-spewing, bigoted thirteen-year-olds than past titles, thanks to parents who are talked into a purchase by children touting these filters. This, of course, is a real pain to the profanity-spewing, bigoted seventeen- to thirty-year-olds who play these sorts of games on Xbox Live after a legitimate purchase. While I am clearly stereotyping older online gamers for quasi-comedic effect, I cannot help but find the irony of complaints like that hilarious.

In gorier news, Fallout 3 is collecting several best in show awards from the gaming media. Pardon me if joyous dancing and revelry does not commence.

If I Were a Game Designer . . .

I would most likely be Tim Schafer, founder of Double Fine Productions and creator of adventure games such as Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle. While I did not own a computer during the heyday of adventure games and thus missed these classic titles, I did get the chance to partake of Double Fine's first release, Psychonauts, which stands as one of my three favorite games from the last console generation. Sadly, the game also won the highly-uncoveted 'Best Game No One Played' Award from Gamespot in 2005. I urge you to find a copy (from someone who is not me -- that baby does not leave my house!) so that you can experience the most genuinely funny game script I have ever witnessed.

Considering I compared myself to Tim Schafer at the start of this post, you may think I have a pretty high opinion of myself. You would be, to coin a phrase,


Make no mistake; I do not claim to match Schafer's creativity or sense of humor. However, follow the link to Double Fine's website, and try not to imagine me saying most of what you find there (particularly the Frequently Asked Questions). Seriously, the company's current project, Brütal Legend, was feared canceled, and the company announces its status via mouseover text on a picture of a dead weevil. How awesome is that?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Of Grinding and Revisitation

Over the weekend, my wife and I have played a metric truckload of Final Fantasy VII, although we have done very little to move the game's plot along its sweeping path. We are now pretty much past the point of massive spoilers, and the road to the conclusion is more or less straightforward. However, like any game made by Square (with or without Enix), hours upon hours upon hours remain to be spent tying up the loose ends of side quests. Sandi has really gotten into Chocobo breeding, which can be a rather time-intensive process if you want high-caliber racing champions. I always wondered why the developers chose to place mandatory wait times on breeding with newborn Chocobos; for some reason, one bird we bred was not yet ready for breeding herself, whereas another born minutes earlier was. Perhaps the idea was for players to go do something else in the meantime -- like, say, grinding out the zettaton of AP required to unlock all the game's spells and abilities. Fortunately, my wife is even more gung-ho for this sort of thing than I am, so we have more mastered Materia than I ever did in my previous two runs at the title.

Once I am the only one left awake in the house, I have been diving back into the world of Rapture (or playing BioShock, for the uninitiated). I am still not a huge fan of first-person shooters, but the atmosphere of Ken Levine's last brainchild is tough to top. I put aside the game last autumn in favor of Mass Effect, unaware at the time that I would spend the better part of six months playing through that title using various character classes. Unfortunately, BioShock may suffer the same fate a second time if I fail to complete it in the next couple of weeks, since I hope to finagle myself a copy of Too Human on its release date such that I can finally activate this free month of Xbox Live I got with my replaced console and dive into some cooperative play. Well, that, and classes start back later this month.

Enjoy the coming week, and may your laser lenses stay clean.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Lag Beast Striketh

During a session of Dungeon Runners last night, I experienced the bane of many online gamers. While in the midst of my thirteenth quest to defeat [fill in a number] of [insert monster type], I found my character unresponsive to my commands, whereas the monsters he had attacked a fraction of a second earlier were quite active. Yes, lag had bound my poor hero in place while he was decimated by a swarm of creatures who had no business killing him. At least at my current level, Dungeon Runners seems to have no death penalties, since I merely respawned in town and found myself unfettered by my previous demise. Anyway, I need to log back into the game tonight to finish mowing down whatever fiendish thingamajigs I missed yesterday.

On the console front, my wife and I have spent a good many hours playing Final Fantasy VII over the last few days. We are now past the game's most famous spoiler, which makes my life much easier. I can freely talk about the game without censoring myself upon the mention of important plot points. As an old-school roleplaying fan, though, I still find myself surprised by the malleability of FFVII's characters. The Materia system, while madly customizable, ends up making your rock collection more important to combat than who you bring with you. I suppose this tends to soften the blow when a 'critical' member of your party leaves for some reason or another; the loss of your only healer would greatly complicate things for the rest of your party. However, does anyone else see any irony in a game with such an epic, sweeping plot forcing you to say, "Well, what did s/he have equipped again?" several times in quick succession and placing the exact same stuff on someone else?

I saw a couple of new trailers recently which may complicate my gaming budget during the holiday season. Tomb Raider: Underworld has a teaser on Xbox Live which left me scratching my head. The video begins with what I thought were Lara's trademark pistols underwater. Well, they turned out to be dry, but everything after that is where things go bonzo bananas haywire. I will leave you to form your own opinions, but I must say that Eidos and Crystal Dynamics accomplished their mission of getting me intrigued by the goings-on. I also downloaded the Prince of Persia gameplay montage, which has some really good music. Seriously -- the ethereal, yet mournful, tune accompanying the trailer left me with a tear in my eye earlier today. I am also a big fan of well-done cel shading, so the art style scores massive points in my book.

Well, off to track down whatever those silly things were. Take care, and keep your controllers charged!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Secrets Nobody was Really Trying to Keep

In all my Too Human gushing and Fallout 3 bashing last time, I forgot to mention a couple of other titles which have kept me occupied over the last couple of weeks. I downloaded the trial version of Ikaruga from Xbox Live, and I have spent a solid couple of hours on the one level which is playable. Seldom do I find myself returning to a game which smacks me so soundly about the face and neck; my friends and family can attest to how well I handle personal failure. However, a part of me knew Ikaruga was going to rake me over the coals of shame. I think that foreknowledge of the game's brutal, yet fair, difficulty somewhat ameliorated my typical fits of worthlessness. Come on -- the very first thing you see in the game is a goofy quote about dying! I have been playing vertical shooters since the NES, and Ikaruga is a joyous return to those pattern-memorizing, button-firing days of constant explosions and continue screens. I particularly like the 'battle report' screen which is displayed after a level is cleared. After over a dozen runs through the demo level, I have yet to achieve a rating better than C++. Clearly I need more practice.

I also downloaded Dungeon Runners, a free-to-play online RPG published by the same folks responsible for the Guild Wars franchise. I have been asked by several people through the years why I never got into World of Warcraft, EverQuest, or other massively-multiplayer games. My short answer is that I cannot get over the hurdle of paying someone every month for continued access to software when new games are constantly being released to draw me away from whatever PC time-sink is the current rage. I know that servers must be maintained and all that, but I have such a limited gaming budget that any online game will most likely become the only gaming experience I can afford. Anyway, I heard about Dungeon Runners while watching G4 a couple of weeks ago, so I downloaded the game and created a character. The gameplay is all right, but I find the main draw is the satirical take on roleplaying at large. From every item carrying absurd descriptors to townsfolk who poke fun at their own lack of motion, the game can never be accused of taking itself too seriously. My personal favorite quote came from the first merchant, who said upon my approach, "You know that town where everyone acts like they're in the Renaissance? Yeah, those guys suck."

Enjoy your weekend, and may your routers not require recycling.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

When Full-Priced Software Beckons

I did some counting, and I bought five games at their full retail prices last year: Super Paper Mario, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Bioshock, Mass Effect, and Assassin's Creed, in chronological order. That is quite out of the ordinary for my cash-strapped self, who usually gets a console toward the end of its lifespan and picks up tons of games at discount rates or as pre-owned titles. For example, my original Xbox was purchased after it had been declared dead by Microsoft, and I paid no more than thirty dollars for any of my games for the system.

I do not foresee that sort of outburst this year; I had followed all but one of last year's acquisitions with impatience since their respective announcements. My wife also no longer works for a major retail chain, which means I do not pass a shelf of games whenever I meet her on her lunch break. However, there are a couple of games which are calling to me. One is Too Human, Silicon Knights' cyber-Norse action RPG. As an Xbox Live Silver member, I was finally able to download a demo of the game, and I have enjoyed my time with the game immensely. While it took some time getting used to the controls, the feel of combat is pretty intuitive to me, even with only one character class playable. The unique twist on a grim mythology is also a draw, and the negative press the game is drawing for its long development cycle makes me want it to succeed. I am also intrigued by Mirror's Edge, which I can honestly say Electronic Arts has been unable to do since the first Lord of the Rings game. On paper, a first-person platformer sounds like a recipe for disaster, but the chance to look through the eyes of a person pulling off Prince-like acrobatics has me chomping at the bit. Speaking of puffy white pants, the new Prince of Persia game also whets my appetite, but I think I can wait a while for that one. It most likely will not need purchase numbers to speak in its defense as Too Human very well might.

In other news, this past week's E3 coverage has revealed two more games which make me regret my lack of a PlayStation 3. LittleBigPlanet looks awesome, and the community aspect of the game has enormous potential that has (in my opinion) not been available for a console before. I am also itching to see more of inFamous, Sony's upcoming open-world title. Most sandbox games would appeal to the explorer in me, but they tend to either cast me in the role of a decidedly non-lawful, non-good protagonist or feature so much violence that I get turned off. By this time in 2010, there might be enough games out there to warrant a new system purchase -- assuming someone has yet to force a new console generation on us by then.

I was not expecting this, but one game I was looking forward to playing has fallen off my list thanks to what I saw at E3. While gamers the world over were slavering in response to the Fallout 3 footage, I found the over-the-top gore on display unpalatable. Before anyone comments, I did play the first Fallout, and I am aware of how violent that game was. I am evidently in the minority of gamers who are satisfied that a defeated opponent simply falls to the ground. Blood spilling from a gunshot wound is realistic, whereas human beings falling apart from a sniper rifle shot is unnecessary. I cannot say how much of the carnage in the demo was due to the Bloody Mess perk/trait that apparently everyone who is not me will grab at the first opportunity, but bodies exploding into pieces repeatedly does not make me want to buy a game. Although taking someone out with a projectile teddy bear is hilariously awesome, I simply do not need another game I have to wait to play until everyone else in the house is asleep.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Deus Ex Mardaneus

The only gaming in my house of late (besides my wife's Dragon Quest exploits and a few pitiful runs of Geometry Wars) has been Divine Divinity. I was really struggling with the early areas as a Survivor (what you would call a Rogue outside Belgium) because I could not, for the life of me, obtain a decent bow or dagger. Wielding a dirk in the midst of swarms of skleletal warriors is nearly the epitome of inefficiency. However, once I scored a sweet composite bow of swiftness, I was dropping skeltons like it was my life's calling. This should seem as weak as, if not weaker than, my previous stabbing exercises, but the experience is still awesome.

I reached a particular part of the game, though, which really irritates me. Without dumping spoilers all over you, your character finds himself (or herself) surrounded by a number of enemies roughly equal to the gross national product of Albania. To sweeten the pot, some of these foes are capable of conjuring even more monsters, and one of them summons monsters which can -- get this -- summon minions of their own. Now I get why summoned baatezu in D&D cannot use their own summoning powers. Anyway, my wicked awesome bow and I successfully eliminated every creature in the room except the aforementioned conjurer summoner, who could cripple my guy in a single shot even without his instant army. Needless to say, I died in quite an ignominious manner. After reloading, I made a run for the room's exit once I cleared a path from myself to the door; I was basically desperate for some sort of terrain advantage I could exploit. When I reached my destination, an NPC marched into the chamber and promptly annihilated the rest of the room's inhabitants.

I am definitely one of the last people on the planet to assign my opinion to others, but who plays games to watch other people do cool stuff? If I wanted to relish someone else's exploits, I would grab a novel or a movie. Or cast Bahamut Zero or Knights of the Round. I have always had a soft spot for running away with my tail between my legs while the real heroes ® deal with whatever problem I have caused. Remember how Drizzt tells you to get out of his gnoll-killing way in Baldur's Gate? Of course not -- that would sort of suck the heroism from your party at roughly the time they start getting strong. In an action-oriented game like Divine Divinity, I claim that moves of this sort are even less forgivable, since much of the game's appeal is seeing how effective a killing machine your character really is.

I guess I could claim some kind of moral victory in my near-clearing of the room, but I cannot help but escape the feeling that the designers meant for that last guy to hand the player his or her head on a charger. This will possibly weaken the rest of the game for me, since any defeat will make me wonder if I should bail out because the fight on my hands is supposed to be too much for me. Cue the Monty Python jokes, people!

By the way, if you got the rather obscure reference in the first paragraph, you are officially eleven kinds of awesome.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Clicking Finger Itches

With all the Diablo III hubbub flowing about the gaming community, I find myself craving the point-click-kill experience treadmill pioneered by the good folks at Blizzard -- sorry, Activision Blizzard. I was never really able to enjoy the original Diablo to its fullest, since my poor 100-MHz 486 machine ran the game way too slowly to be any fun. By the time I bought another computer, however, clock speeds were such that any attempt at playing the game resulted in near-instant death. I never played Diablo II, and I have no idea how my current computer would handle the software. However, it runs an even older game superbly. How much is that Battle Chest again?

On the other hand, I have a solution that does not tax my wallet in the slightest. A year or so ago, I picked up a $9.99 copy of Divine Divinity at Target, but I put the game away after a couple of play sessions. I enjoyed the game; it simply fell victim to the classic 'I have too many games to play at once' syndrome which befalls so many of my titles. I think I will dig that out of the basement and give the disc another whirl. At the very least, it buys me a few days before the itch overcomes me . . .

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Cheese Stands Alone (In a Perfect World, Anyway)

I believe I may have figured out the cause of my abandonment of Sands of Time. The last few sections of the game leave you without the ability to rewind time, so mistakes become much more annoying. The next-to-last combat in the game is also fairly lackluster, since it all but requires you to keep hitting the same two buttons in the same sequence until you are the only thing left moving. However, I can see now that the rest of the game more than makes up for that slightly irritating segment. The game's sequel, which took the combat system and injected enough steroids into it to kill a sperm whale, was much less immersive. I still need to finish Warrior Within, but Sands of Time definitely left me wondering why the game industry feels a need to franchise every awesome title which comes out. While I candidly admit that I have not fully experienced the storyline of the second and third games in the series, I can say that the first game would have stood brilliantly had it been the only title.

This week, I hope to get more of a chance to play some Deus Ex. I might also pop Warrior Within into the Wii; at the very least, the poor thing needs to be reminded I have not forgotten it.

Have a great week, and may your discs dodge the dust like they have their own dodge buttons.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Three Notes from the Fourth

This post's material actually began last night,when my wife celebrated the lack of work today by staying up late playing Dragon Quest VIII. This left me bereft of my usual entertainment source, so I fired up Baldur's Gate for the first time in a week and a half and pushed through a few side quests. I am now almost out of things to do before attacking the main quest of Chapter Three. Well, I could go back and clear out the bow-wielding hobgoblins from whom I had to retreat, but I find missile-launching enemies to be one of the banes of the Infinity Engine. Honestly, monsters with bows, crossbows, throwing daggers, and so forth tend to be more trouble than they are worth. My trip back into the second-edition D&D rules has convinced me that save DC's for spells are a good innovation; having an opponent blow through my web spell regardless of how well my mage does her job is just stupid.

After Sandi hit the hay, I worked my way through the training mission of Deus Ex. I like the game mechanics, but the controls will take some acclimation. I struggled with disarming mines because I would either take too long reaching them or let the cursor slip past them. PC gaming gurus will undoubtedly take this opportunity to climb upon their soapboxes about the superiority of mouse-and-keyboard controls. They may be right, but I struggled to aim with a mouse as far back as Dark Forces. Perhaps my years of console gaming have dulled my catlike reflexes. Maybe my hyperactivity makes it impossible to get the targeting reticle to move with the precision I hear lauded at every turn. In any case, I will take a whack at the actual game later tonight.

This afternoon, we finished playing through Tomb Raider: Legend. In the interest of keeping things spoiler-free, you may highlight what follows. For starters, Lara Croft has the most deceptively powerful arms in the universe, given the ease with which she whips a freaking falchion off her back. The plot was fairly involving, but it could have left fewer questions at the end. How did Amanda know so much about the sword and its powers? About what exactly was Lord Croft 'right' for so long? Perhaps I am lost here due to my lack of experience with the Tomb Raider franchise, but I consider that a poor defense of the story department. More likely, the conclusion was meant to lead into a sequel. In closing, that pistol-whip at the end looked particularly painful.

The platforming and puzzle-solving of Legend really seemed to pique my wife's interest, so I suggested we take Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time for a spin next. Upon playing the game again, I find myself wondering why I have not revisited this game since finishing it in 2004. The storytelling still enthralls me; the level designs are slick; the combat, while not outstanding, gives me the chance to feel awesome on a frequent basis. I can only conjecture that I hate having to disconnect my DVD remote's sensor from the system. For some reason, it always freaks out the game's main menu. I remember taking back my first copy of the game, convinced it was defective. At some point, I really should complete the other games in the series, but that only tacks more games onto my playlist.

Have a great weekend, and may your consoles be red-ring-free.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Digging for Treasure

Apart from a Baldur's Gate marathon Wednesday night, I have spent precious little time gaming lately. I have gotten in quite a few hands of Texas Hold 'Em and completed a few of the game's single-player scenarios, though. Strangely, I tend to do better when I pretend I am playing against real people. Most people would probably not think that unusual, but I tend to lock myself into a metagame of sorts, where I look for ways to exploit a game's coding to the exclusion of the game itself. I have noticed that the 360 title's AI tends to assume raises mean a strong hand, so I can thieve quite a few chips by simply making sure I am the first player to raise the stakes in a pot. However, I zero in on finding the magic raise amount which will drive opponents away. Pretty much anyone can see the flaw in this scheme; if someone else has a strong hand, they will not throw it away just because some schmuck keeps flinging money at them. I finally won one of the game's tournaments when I remembered that I am playing poker rather than merely number-crunching. Make no mistake -- I am still quite aggressive, but I am more likely to fold a weak hand than doggedly push my way into oblivion.

I was finally able to acquire a PlayStation 2 copy of Deus Ex this weekend. I have yet to play it, and I will not get the chance until at least tomorrow, but I was shocked in one respect. Either this copy of the game is brand spanking new, or the person who owned it before me took more immaculate care of their discs than I do. Ask around town, and you will find the latter is well nigh impossible.

My wife spent this afternoon playing Dragon Quest VIII after our television service lost our coverage of the European soccer championship final. She pulled a true Phil, starting from scratch rather than picking up her last save file. I never would have guessed when I married her that she could spend several straight hours with a Japanese roleplaying game. Forget Lou Gehrig -- I am the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bachin' It

My wife went out of town for a work-related class, which leaves me at home with the pets for thirty-six hours. We had originally planned for me to go with her, but no one would have been here to take care of our dog. In hindsight, this is probably for the best, since her room is directly across the hall from a game room with a Ms. Pac-man cabinet. Had I been with her for two full days, I most likely would have spent approximately the gross national product of Burkina Faso in quarters. Other than the previously-mentioned massive backlog of reading, little was left on my agenda for today and tomorrow. Well, aside from watching the semifinals of the UEFA European soccer championships.

I still have a problem with situations like this, though. When confronted with a schedule this open, I have a nasty tendency to do, well, absolutely nothing. The first gaming idea that comes to mind is to pop Baldur's Gate into the DVD drive on my laptop and pretend I just cast Time Stop. However, I then look at my game shelves and recall all the titles I have yet to finish. BioShock . . . Assassin's Creed . . . Invisible War . . . Corruption . . . the list goes on. Heck, I have even thought about tossing Lego Star Wars II into my 360. Never mind my back stock of fantasy novels or the temptation to just surf the Internet all night.

Of course, many gamers would kill to be in my position. I seek no pity; I just dread the indecision which swarms over me whenever I get a chance like this. Wish me luck!

Monday, June 23, 2008

When Life Hands You Forty-Five Seconds

Due to a gimongous backlog of reading that absolutely must get done, I have not had much time to play any games lately. What precious time has been available has not been enough to further gad about the Forgotten Realms. I suppose this is all right, though, since it gave me a chance to actually use my consoles for the first time in about two weeks. I had mentioned before that I tend to 'zero in' on a single game for long periods.

Mostly, I find I can spare a few minutes to get in a few hands of Texas Hold 'Em (should I capitalize all those words or not?), which enabled me to unlock another achievement tonight. In other news -- go Team 2500 Gamerscore!!

For the past couple of evenings, my wife and I have put several hours into a replay of Final Fantasy VII. I read on Kotaku a couple of months ago about rumors of a PlayStation 3 remake of the Japanese roleplaying classic, and I felt the itch to revisit one of my fondest gaming memories. While time has made me chuckle at the fact that I used to rave about these graphics, and the localization was pretty rough, I still find the storyline interesting. My exposure to games made by Bethesda and BioWare makes me very reluctant to attach the term 'roleplaying' to games in the Final Fantasy series, since you can do virtually nothing to alter the roles of the games' characters except decide who uses what abilities in combat. However, I am still able to enjoy what the characters do during the course of the plot; honestly, very few games enable you to do more than choose how your character goes about dispatching the obstacles in his or her way.

By the way, go call your gamer friends and see if any of them just felt an inexplicable urge to argue vehemently how much better Final Fantasy VI is than its successor. Final Fanboys seem to have some sort of Jedi awareness of discussions of their passion.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

New Editions, Fleecing, and You

I had a few minutes to spare this afternoon, so I went to my local bookstore to check out their stock of roleplaying products. I know, I know -- I need to find a hobby shop in my area instead. Anyway, the store had an endcap displaying the new fourth-edition Dungeons & Dragons core rulebooks. I looked as much as my conscience allowed (I have a pretty narrow interpretation of what constitutes grazing), after I perused what remained of their third-edition merchandise. Before I delve into my thoughts on the contents, I ask you to indulge a somewhat quick aside on the history of D&D.

According to Wikipedia, the original D&D set was released in 1974. The second edition of AD&D hit the marketplace in 1989, fifteen years later. After the fall of TSR, Wizards of the Coast unleashed the third edition of D&D in 2000; this gives a span of eleven years between editions. Now 2008 sees a fourth edition of the world's most well-known roleplaying franchise and/or corrupter of impressionable youths. Notice that the timespan between editions keeps decreasing by about four years, or, more accurately, the span difference shrank from four years to three in the last edition jump. Suppose Wizards of the Coast follows this pattern a couple more times, such that the sixth edition of D&D is on the shelves in the same amount of time it took to go from the third edition to fourth. Does this model sound familiar?

It should if you follow collectible card games, since it smacks of the setup used in Magic: the Gathering, the mother of all CCG's. Every couple of years, a new core set of cards outmodes everything which has come before it. I have no real quarrel with this structure for a game like Magic, primarily because I think it is necessary to prevent outlandish power escalation in card design as well as deck type stagnation in the metagame. Should a model like this be used in roleplaying products, though?

Being the cash-strapped lout that I am, I was compelled to look first near the UPC bar to check the price on these new books. The three core manuals now cost $34.95, as opposed to the $29.95 price point of the previous edition. I thought to myself, "Self, what could have caused the price increase? Did the good folks at Wizards of the Coast still need to replace some of their sterling silver toilets with gold ones? Are they trying to buy up all the copies of Skullclamp they let loose a few years back in some Orwellian attempt to retroactively deny it ever existed?" Perhaps an explanation lay in the pages of the player's handbook.

I thought this might be the case due to a sidebar from my version 3.5 manuals which attempted to explain the motivation for the revision to the third edition (well, besides 'to make more money'). I took what it said with a grain of salt or forty-three, but at least there was an effort at justifying the publication of new books after only three years of the last batch. This time around, I saw no such effort. I did, however, see that this new edition is 'bright and shiny.' I kid you not -- those words are really in there. I suppose that could explain the price hike; the extra money is going to brighten and shine the books. I always thought my manuals needed some extra luster.

I will post further feelings in the future, once I have had the chance to actually look at the material contained within the new edition. For now, it suffices to say that I will use the third-edition resources I already own for my upcoming campaign, solely because I already own the products.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Backtracking and a Fetch Quest?!?

After my workshop, our vacation, and a somewhat improvised trip to North Carolina this weekend, my life is finally settling into the comfortable rhythm I was expecting for the summer. Except for the day-long trip to Knoxville I will be taking on Friday, that is. However, the voyage home gave me the opportunity to collect some long-lost relics.

Most importantly to me, I found the manual to Baldur's Gate, which I had stupidly placed underneath some Christmas decorations in a closet, along with most of the reading material I stored in the home country. "But Phil," you say, "why would you need the instructions to a decade-old PC game? Do you not know the interface by now?" I do, in fact, but I wanted to dual-class Imoen into a specialist mage (my created character is a thief), and for the life of me I could not remember the flipping opposition schools from two D&D rules sets ago. Then I remembered that BioWare took liberties with the actual opposition schools anyway, making the manual doubly important. Beyond that, I am one of the stark minority of gamers these days -- a manual reader; having the game but not the book in hand was eating at my psyche.

I also recovered my copy of Deus Ex: Invisible War for the Xbox. Due to a few ridiculous twists of fate, my mother-in-law's house in North Carolina is equipped with an Xbox and two GameCubes, and I had taken some software home for weekend jaunts, Invisible War among the pile. I have always been proud of my acquisition of the game, since it has the highest Game Rankings score to purchase price ratio of any title in my collection (I picked it up for three dollars at a GameStop a couple of years ago). I wanted to indulge the stealthy side of my gamer id, free of the required violence Assassin's Creed ends up entailing. A local used games store has a copy of the PlayStation 2 original, which I intend to claim once I can free up the cash flow and the time to visit the store.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Approaching the Wall

This afternoon, I managed to complete the second chapter of Baldur's Gate. If memory serves, this marks the third time I have collected Mulahey's letters and set off to find the bandits mentioned therein. Both times previously, extended periods away from the computer on which the game was installed kept me from advancing any further.

While taking care of my duties around the house this evening, I started to think about various 'walls' I have hit in video games. The aforementioned chapter boundary in BioWare's classic is one of the three biggest examples I can remember. I have yet to complete the first chapter of Neverwinter Nights, after a few distinct attempts. The last occurred in Final Fantasy X, where I managed to run out of steam on the game three separate times upon arriving in the Calm Lands. As any Final Fanboy can tell you, this is doubly creepy, since the Calm Lands are a place in the game's world where many journeys like the one your party is undertaking come to an end. Cue the eerie music . . .

Why do I have issues like this with games? Most of it (I think) comes down to my desire to follow a game's narrative. Like most gamers, I play several different games at once. However, I also tend to get absorbed by a single title, so it is not unusual for me to play, say, Oblivion for almost a month, to the exclusion of every other game I own. I then recall the thirty other games sitting on my shelf awaiting play and spread the love again. For games like the Elder Scrolls series, this poses little problem, as the main storyline is approximately one twelfth, if that much, of the game's true appeal. But for stuff like Japanese role-playing games, the story is the main draw, and a disjunction of several weeks or more drives me to start over rather than try to remember the nuances of what is going on in my existing save file.

Time will tell how I handle the remainder of Baldur's Gate, but I intend to see things through the end this time. Besides, Xan the enchanter cracks me up. 'Our quest is vain' . . . what a crack up!