Bravely Default Is Looking Super Fun So Far

So let’s talk about Bravely Default, aka Final Fantasy But Without The Name For Some Reason.

I haven't seen any chocobos yet either, come to think of it.
I haven’t seen any chocobos yet either, come to think of it.

Now this is a bit of a backwards case where the rest of the known universe managed to get this game before us Yanks did, much to our chagrin and to the rest of the world’s amusement. There is a free demo on the Nintendo eShop, however, and I recently downloaded it and then proceeded to spend the next four hours playing it nonstop.

As I said at the beginning of the post, it’s basically Final Fantasy, right down to most of the jobs and their roles as well as item names. If you’ve played any old-school Final Fantasy game before, you will jump right into Bravely Default with zero issues. Specifically, Bravely Default is a lot like Final Fantasies III, V, or in a way Tactics, because the focus is on jobs and doing fun things with job combinations. Then you go around and beat on things with a dragoon (“valkyrie”, but it’s the same thing) dual-wielding lances just because you can.

Cooler than you.  And everyone else, for that matter.
Cooler than you. And everyone else, for that matter.

There are a couple of new twists thrown in that are rather unlike previous Final Fantasy games. For starters, the first random battle I encountered included a cat in a wizard hat who promptly one-shotted one of my guys. (This resulted in me immediately exclaiming to Mister Adequate that “You need this game because it is the Dark Souls of JRPGs.”) Secondly you have a nifty little mechanic where you can either “Default” – hunker down, defend, and earn a sort of combo point – or “Brave”, where you spend those combo points to attack/cast something/heal/whatever multiple times. Timing these right can be part of your battle tactics, or alternatively you can just have your dragoon use up all his Braves and then destroy everything at the start of the fight. You know, it’s up to you.

It all sounds so simple, and yet it’s somehow very addictive, and anytime I’ve picked it up recently I’ve wound up playing for a lot longer than I expected I would. In short, if you like grindy JRPGs and giving your nondescript Heroes of Light all sorts of fun class combinations then this might be the game for you. Give the demo a try and see what you think. As for me, I think I’m picking this up when it comes out next month.

You guys need to play Guacamelee

So somewhere between the super catchy Mexican-flavored soundtrack, the gorgeous visuals and animation, the simple fun of beating up skeletons and a super clever mechanic which involves switching between the worlds of the living and the dead in order to get around obstacles (or ruse your opponents), I’ve decided that everyone needs to play Guacamelee.

Everyone.

Here’s the Steam link.

Here’s the non-Steam link.

And here’s a picture of a Nahua pony.

Would worship.
Would worship.

By the way, two-player co-op seems to be a thing. I think it’s only local, though, but I can only imagine how fun this must be with some couch co-op. SteamBox here I come!

Guest Post!: Valkyria Chronicles

Because Mister Adequate is busy being sick, and Pike is busy working on a writing project, we are proud to present you with a guest post from one of our very good friends. Enjoy!

I met Mister Adequate last year, and one of the first conversations we had was about the true definitions of the terms “strategy” and “tactical.” These were both terms he was intimately familiar with, and terms which I have no doubt I will use incorrectly throughout the rest of this article.

Title card

Valkyria Chronicles is the first installment in the series of the same name. Categorising this game is a challenge, as it seems to blend elements from JRPG, turn-based strategy and third-person shooter. The resulting mix is an enjoyable, anime-styled tale of a misfit group of soldiers who turn the tide in a war. For a game that is almost 5-years-old, Valkyria Chronicles has not only aged gracefully, but is also an example of how to innovate in an industry that, at times, feels very “samey.”

Plot-wise, Valkyria Chronicles is just a colourful reimagining of World War II. Set in the supposedly-fictional-but-way-too-obviously-inspired Europa, the game concerns a massive conflict (the Second Great War, would you believe?) between the East Europan Imperial Alliance and the Atlantic Federation, a coalition of allied democracies.

The similarities are painfully obvious, but Valkyira Chronicles makes up for it in other areas. Our heroes are from peaceful and independent Gallia, a little nation rich in “Ragnite,” a material highly prized for its uses in medicine, technology and armaments. The Empire invades and Gallia struggles against them – I’m sure most people can figure the plot based on tropes. It’s presented through a history book, a concept I enjoy quite strongly.

Battles and cutscenes are all played out from this menu. It would be perfect if it didn’t ask you to reconfirm your action every freaking time you try to start a scene or battle.
Battles and cutscenes are all played out from this menu. It would be perfect if it didn’t ask you to reconfirm your action every freaking time you try to start a scene or battle.

The cast is mostly comprised of stereotypes, all the way from protagonist Welkin Gunther (idyllic country boy rises to the challenge) to the minor squadmate Marina Wulfstan, whose lone-wolf sniper personality is textbook – and the allusion in her name doesn’t go amiss either. The characters are fun and light-hearted, and Valkyria Chronicles goes out of its way to develop the backstories of the squadmates you can recruit in an attempt to get you to care whether they live or die. Some of the racism-related discourse is actually decent quality too, but it tends on the didactic side and it’s almost too in-your-face at times.

The true value in Valkyria Chronicles, the thing that really sets it apart from its rivals, is in the battle-system. Blending turn-based strategy and real-time shooting sounds confusing (explaining it is going to be an absolute bitch), and while it is hardly perfect, it works.

This is the command map. Pick your unit and send them alone into the firing line, you monsters.
This is the command map. Pick your unit and send them alone into the firing line, you monsters.

You’re given a set number of units (of varying skills and abilities) as well as a set number of moves. Moving units involves a transition into third-person and real-time, where enemy units will open fire, you can move (up to the extent of your movement points), take fire and attack. Multiple units can be moved on your turn, or you can move the same one multiple times.

After your turn, the enemy follows the same process, giving your units the chance to automatically return fire as the enemy approaches. Battles are simple “capture the flag” type affairs for the most part. It invokes feelings of Fire Emblem and Advance Wars, if Fire Emblem had guns and heavy-handed allusions to World War II and Advance Wars had units you were meant to give a shit about. It really is one of those things you have to see to understand.

Conveniently, I have a link. And yes, it takes 2 minutes for the battle to begin; Valkyria Chronicles isn’t for those who love fast-paced action.

It is far from perfect, however. Of the five classes, you only really need one – the Scout – with occasional assistance from the anti-tank Lancer units. After each battle you’re given a ranking. The only way to achieve a decent rating is to throw strategy to the wind and simply rush the objective, hardly an exercise in effective tactical warfare and one that punishes the careful commander.

At the end of the day, Valkyria Chronicles tries something new and half-succeeds. Even though it was far from a commercial hit, it isn’t a surprise two sequels have been made – though Sega really dropped the ball by releasing both on PSP and only one outside of Japan. Valkyria Chronicles is not only decent, it is a shining example of an attempt at something creative. While most innovation in the current day centres around narrative (as if injecting narrative into any game automatically improves it), it’s nice to see that some people are trying to do interesting things with gameplay too.

Today’s post was brought to you by the immensely talented and lovely Dakota “Jiro” Barker, who can also be seen at his own gaming news blog. Don’t forget to imagine everything in an Aussie accent when you read!

Sonic After The Sequel

The clever guy behind Sonic Before the Sequel (one LakeFeperd) has recently released another Sonic the Hedgehog fangame, Sonic After the Sequel. Set between Sonic 2 and 3 this game follows the oppressor Sonic and the heroic liberator of the proletariat Dr. Robotnik in the aftermath of the Death Egg’s destruction and as they notice Floating Island’s appearance. But the storyline is always tertiary at best in going fast games so that’s all I’ll say on that front. Let’s get down to brass tacks:

This is the best Sonic game since Sonic 3 and Knuckles. This is a genuine, bona-fide, old-school 2D Sonic game. If you took someone who had never heard of Sonic, had them play through the series, and inserted this between 2 and 3, I’d honestly be surprised if they could tell this is not a canonical Sonic Team game. The most important things to know are that Sonic handles near-perfectly and that the levels are extremely well designed. In a series which is famed for extremely tight controls this is obviously vital. The only handling flaw I can point to is that the spin-dash feels a little weak at times, but it’s a minor quibble and never actually causes any problems.

This is how I look when I play this game.
This is how I look when I play this game.

The levels are many and have the typical Sonic variety, with the twist that there’s no annoying Carnival Night-esque levels that make you pull your hair out. No, every single level is interesting and fun, and often (as in Cocaine Coast Sugar Blast Zone) have gimmicks that are actually neat and fun to play with.cks that are actually neat and fun to play with. What’s more each of the Zones hides a special star which, upon collection, opens up a fourth, bonus act in that zone. The actual amount of content is pretty nuts and there’s a lot to do. Oh, and the special stages where you collect the Chaos Emeralds? I’d rank them as the best special stages in Sonic history. They’re perfect. The only objective is to Go Fast and it’s massively fun when you do so.

Special mention also has to go to the soundtrack, which was provided by a number of composers who clearly understand their videogame music. There are tracks here that rank among classics from the series and it’s just another example of how solid this game is. Basically if you want free Sonic of high quality, then download and play this game.

Get it here. And get it soon in case SEGA sends a C&D

Grim Dawn

Grim Dawn is an ARPG made by Crate Entertainment – largely refugees from Iron Lore, who made Titan Quest – which I have previously mentioned being excited for. Now that the game has reached Alpha stage it has been available to various backers and such, and having spent a decent amount of time with it now I’m ready to share some thoughts on the game. Do remember it’s still an alpha so nothing I say should be taken as absolute.

If you’ve played Titan Quest then Grim Dawn will immediately feel very familiar. The engine is the same and there haven’t been truly revolutionary changes in that regard. That said they’ve not been idle either and the engine is certainly a lot more impressive than it was in TQ. At first I was a little wary and wondered if I hadn’t just booted up a reskin of TQ, but Grim Dawn soon reveals that it has made a lot of changes from that game and the engine similarities aren’t indicative of the whole experience.

There are two major things I want to praise about this game. The first is that the pacing and character advancement seems to be spot-on, even though it’s still just an alpha. Leveling is far faster than the incredibly slow experience in TQ, where it rapidly became a chore. You similarly pick from a ‘Mastery’ – a skill tree – and can pick a second after a few levels to make a hybrid character. As you advance through these trees you obviously gain more powers and abilities, both passive and active, and there’s a pretty nice big mix of different things you can choose from. You can also spread skill points thinly or focus narrowly, and I’ve not played enough different characters to say for certain yet but it does seem both are viable in different ways. I never felt really overpowered unless I went back to older zones, and challenges were commonplace without being either overbearing or unreasonably hard. Basically GD has taken any criticisms and comments about TQ and worked to address them, and it has done so very successfully. Given that TQ is one of the better examples of the genre to begin with that says something about how GD is handling things.

This is the Demolitionist tree. It's not terribly glamorous but it does the job perfectly adequately. The Demolitionist herself is, however, both effective and explosively glamorous.
This is the Demolitionist tree. It’s not terribly glamorous but it does the job perfectly adequately. The Demolitionist herself is, however, both effective and explosively glamorous.

The second, and perhaps even more impressive achievement, given the genre’s pedigree, is that loot is damn well balanced. Not just in terms of giving you appropriate items, but inasmuch as you’re not inundated with tons of useless crap and vendor trash. You pretty quickly are able to graduate into only picking up yellow or better items for sale, and for my part I never felt like I was being punished because I wanted to get on and play instead of constantly warping back to town to sell stuff. On the other hand rare drops are indeed fairly rare, but they tend to come with stats that really do make them unquestionably better than anything else you’ll find at that level. Unless you get something for a totally different class it doesn’t seem likely that you’ll very often discard a new blue item because your current green is better. There does need to be a little more tweaking of the ‘gem’ equivalents in the game, I think, but nothing terribly drastic there.

Between those two major factors already existing at this stage the game really seems to be refining the ARPG genre to a fine polish so I’m eagerly awaiting new content updates with the arrival of the beta. That all said there are a couple of things that could do with some improvement. The sounds in the game aren’t terribly inspiring and contribute to a niggling sense that your weapons and attacks lack ‘Oomph’ (the music is superb though). Guns especially feel like they fall short of this, and whilst guns in reality rarely sound like they do on the movie screen, these more subdued and realistic sounds in GD make the things feel quite weak. Similarly, although there’s not much you can do about it given the nature of the genre, attacks in general can sometimes feel rather lightweight regardless of the damage they actually do. It’s especially strange because I never really shared this feeling in Titan Quest, where combat wasn’t the most immersive ever but never felt like it fell short either in that regard. So I would say the one big area the game needs to look at improving over the coming months is that the combat needs to become more visceral, to feel like there’s more impact and power to blows, and a bigger bang with guns and bombs.

Despite those concerns the game is shaping up to be something pretty darned good, especially for still being in alpha. Due to the limited content so far I can’t really recommend the buy-in price for alpha access at this point ($50) unless you’re a huge fan of the genre and really jonesing for a fix, but if you want to hop on the beta bandwagon when that rolls around I’d be very surprised if you don’t get your money’s worth, and I’m confident that by the time release rolls around we’re gonna have a pretty damn good ARPG on our hands.

First-Person Pac-Man is 2spooky4me

Lovely readers, if you have a moment I invite you to click here and spend 10 or 15 minutes playing this gem of a game. It’s first-person Pac-Man. This sounds straightforward at first, but augmented with eerie music and ghosts that materialize out of the darkness or pop around corners when you least expect it, it quickly becomes an experience you probably weren’t expecting when you read the word “Pac-Man”.

Mister Adequate and myself couldn’t help but somewhat whimsically wonder what the gaming landscape would have been like if the first Pac-Man had been less cute and more spooky. Survival horror: survival horror everywhere!

Basically this.
Basically this.

The Old Gods

A few days back Paradox Interactive released the latest DLC for Crusader Kings 2, entitled The Old Gods. The primary focus of this expansion is the Pagans, most especially the Norse, hence the name. After eagerly snapping it up I’ve spent the last few days playing it pretty intensively and I can safely say now that it’s my favorite of all CK2 DLC and I don’t want to ever play without it again.

The big change you’ll see right away is the new start date – 867 AD, when Ragnar’s sons are leading the Great Heathen Army out of Jorvik and seeking revenge upon Ælla of Northumbria, the Pagan faiths remain mighty across much of Northern and Eastern Europe, the Umayyads control most of Iberia, Charlemagne’s descendants control the Frankish Realm, the Magyars are migrating westwards, and a few small territories cling to the ancient faith of the fire, still following the words of the Prophet Zoroaster. Given that the game used to run from 1066 to 1453, adding another 200 years extends the game time by 50%. The new starting date gives a completely different set of possibilities and the world can go in radically different directions as a consequence.

Even the words of Mani can revive. The AI did all this by the way.
Even the words of Mani can revive. The AI did all this by the way.

There are many new features to play with as a Pagan, especially the Norse, who got the most love in this expansion. Perhaps the most fun is the raiding mechanic. You grab your lads, toggle them into being Raiders, load them onto the longships, and then you sail off to find some rich, fat provinces to loot. You can claim a percentage of the province’s loot just by standing in it, or you can stick around to win the siege and you’ll get whatever wealth was behind the castle walls as well. It’s exceedingly powerful in the early game, especially as the Vikings can navigate major rivers. You can sail up the Elbe, or the Danube, the Vistula, the Rhine, and so on, and pillage inland provinces as well as coastal ones. However, as forts grow mightier, rivers start becoming impassable, cutting your options – and as provinces develop, they grow richer, but can summon larger armies in their defense as well.

You can also do such things as taking captured maidens as concubines, raising runestones to yourself or your parents (and if you have the lustful trait you can insist the runestone makes reference to your massive cock), hold Blots at which you sacrifice people to the Allfather, find magical +2 axes that boost your martial score, and try to reform and standardize your faith in order to help it stand against the very convincing missionaries regularly sent by Christian rulers to try to convert you.

In short, with The Old Gods installed, Crusader Kings 2 becomes the greatest Viking Asshole Simulator ever put to code and if you like CK2, or grand strat games, or Vikings, or just generally being a massive troll to the Christian rulers of medieval Europe, this is the DLC for you. It also bears mentioning that Paradox are one of the few who get DLC right – you actually get regular, significant content additions for very fair prices, and the other stuff like portrait and music packs are entirely optional and in no way required for you to enjoy the game.

Waking Mars Is How to Make a Good Casual Game

Recently, a game called Waking Mars went on Steam sale for a steal (and it still is on sale, by the way!) Because it had “Mars” in the title, I decided to snap it up. This, my friends, was a very wise decision. This game is more than worth the $2.50 I forked over for it. Basically, this is how you make a casual game.

It’s sort of a platformer, except you have a jetpack. And it’s sort of puzzle game, but none of the “puzzles” ever leave you frustrated. Basically the game is about exploring underground Martian caves, learning about (and growing and breeding) bizarre alien species, talking to your AI bro, and in general being comfy. Yes, this is a comfy game.

We are gonna get comfy.
We are gonna get comfy.

This isn’t a triple-A title by any means and the game is easy to pick up and learn but this by no means makes it shallow. You actually have an neat little story going on that keeps you interested throughout, and between this and the research you can do on various lifeforms (and the subsequent notes you can read), the game has a surprising amount of depth for what it is. Humor is here too, thanks to your AI companion, and so is a certain amount of thoughtfulness thanks to the main character. Speaking of the main character, he’s Chinese, and the only other human character in the game is a black woman. This isn’t made a big deal, it just… is, like any other normal thing, and I like how it’s done like that. It reminds me of Star Trek and it’s nice to see some variety in games.

Overall this is a fun and extremely relaxing romp through a mysterious and alien world and I really cannot stress how much of a steal the current sale price is. The game is also available for Mac, Linux, iPhone/iPad, Android, and probably an old toaster too, so you really don’t have an excuse not to snag this game. I mean, really, look at this and tell me this doesn’t make you want to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before:

SignalChamber-Approach

Yeah, I thought so.

Buy it on Steam or at the website!

XBox One, but actually XBox three

Yeah I went to see Iron Man One recently it was a pretty great conclusion to the trilogy AAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGG WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU MICROSOFT. Anyway with that out of the way we’ve had our presentations on the next gen consoles, the PS4 and XBox FUCKING THREE. The WiiU also exists I guess but that’s “next gen” in a strictly chronological sense only. But don’t let that scorn mislead you – I’m not insulting Nintendo because I prefer one of the others. No no, this coming generation doesn’t seem to be offering an obvious place to plant one’s flag, and if you’re an idort who gets every console then you’re just getting suckered out of even more money – the difficulty choosing doesn’t stem from multiple excellent options. Quite the opposite.

XBox VI’s presentation a couple of days ago was maybe a little better than the PS4 presentation that took place awhile back, because they actually had a console to show and the whole thing seemed to hang together a bit more professionally than the Sony affair. Unfortunately they didn’t leverage that into provoking even the tiniest bit of excitement about the thing!

If you’ve not yet seen it, here’s the Microsoft presentation in full:

They did mention a sports game that wasn’t Cawladooty, but it was something weird called Quantum Break that provided no information whatsoever on what the hell it is. At first I actually thought it was some crazy successor to old-school FMV games which would admittedly be rad as hell, but the confusion doesn’t exactly serve to sell games or consoles.

Microsoft did announce 15 exclusives in the first year of release, of which fully 8 are new IPs – and that part is interesting and positive. Perhaps among those will be some good games that make genuinely innovative used of the new hardware. But between the pseudo-always-on requirements and the shenanigans to fuck over used games, I’ve got very very little interest in getting one of the things. I’ve got very little interest in any of the new generation in fact – someone’s going to have to impress me at E3 if they want my moolah because otherwise I’m just going to upgrade my PC.

What do you folks think about it all? Am I being too harsh on the next generation? Are you similarly dissatisfied with the state of console gaming today? Do you, like me, already have an XBox One sitting right there in your house WHAT ARE YOU DOING NO MS I WON’T CALL IT THAT, I WON’T

On Game Development and Rusing

A small game which came out recently hit the headlines for a reason that wasn’t to do with the game itself so much as the game’s response to piracy. It’s pretty hilarious! But let’s have a word about the game itself before we get into that.

Game Dev Tycoon takes its cues from Game Dev Story, an iOS/Android game wherein you control a videogame development house with the intent of making money and great games. I’ve not played GDS but GDT is a very enjoyable little game that’s well worth the few bucks it costs to get – in fact it’s got one of the better money-to-time ratios of games I’ve recently shelled out for. The game starts you out in around 1980, working out of your garage, making games for the C64 era – you decide on the theme and genre, hopefully ones that go well together (Although I did once put out a Fashion RTS that sold surprisingly well) you choose various base options such as whether the game will be text based or 2D or what have you, and then you assign time to various aspects of development, so you can spend loads of time writing backstory at the expense of graphics. Then you watch your little girl or guy beaver away as the game gets made, and it gets sent out for review and release – your choices in development influence how well it does, and high review scores translate into high sales, and that means money – allowing you to invest that much more into your next game!

Where GDT triumphs is that it is constantly tantalizing you with some new aspect you can work with in your games. Your first few games will be very simple affairs but soon you’ll be able to knock together an engine that affords you more choices, better graphics and sound options, and so forth. New consoles will start to come out, loving parodies of real ones such as the Vintendo Super TES, and different systems tend to appreciate different genres and so on. Then you’ll move into a small office, which is where the game really opens up as you can hire new staff, train yourself and them, and start making bigger and better games. Ultimately you can create MMOs, put out your own consoles, invent a Steam-equivalent, and spend tens of millions on Triple-A games that take your team a year to make only to result in 5/10s across the board and imminent bankruptcy.

>mfw upon being offered a loan with a 100% interest rate.
>mfupon being offered a loan with a 100% interest rate.

Indeed, the main failing I can point to in this game is that there’s just not enough of it, which is hardly fair to say of something made by a two-man outfit and is faint damnation anyway. But I do hope they think about an expansion pack or at least some more patches, just to increase your choices and options. Anyway as I said it’s an enjoyable little game and if you’ve got a few bucks and want something that doesn’t strain the brain but will keep you engaged for awhile, there’re worse choices than this.

Now, let’s talk about how I heard about the thing – as an indie game it’s obviously going to struggle to get much media attention, but a very clever little play on the devs’ part got it out there like whoa. See, the devs – brothers Patrick and Daniel Klug – were well aware they would suffer from piracy when this game hit the torrents, but rather than making a lot of bluster or seeking out an attackdog lawyer they did something subtler and cleverer. What they did is upload the thing to torrent sites themselves. Crazy, right? Well the thing is the version they uploaded played normally up to a point, but after awhile in-game you would start getting messages about how all your games are being pirated and you’d start losing money due to it no matter how good your games are. You wouldn’t be able to finish the game due to this, instead going into ignominious bankruptcy.

So, this is a pretty neat solution anyway because it’s essentially a fairly decently sized demo that might encourage a few purchases they wouldn’t otherwise get. The real comedy gold started when people on the forums began to complain about the pirates in-game, as apparently self-awareness is something some people utterly, totally lack. Perhaps the greatest line I’ve seen written is the simple, plaintive question, “I mean can I research DRM or something?” Beautiful. You can take a proper look at the whole story on the dev’s blog here if you’re interested, it’s well worth a read if you want a laugh!

Disregard Life, Acquire Video Games