Friday Night Game Night – Samurai Spirit!

Greets, humans!

So another Friday is mercifully upon us, and that means that once again, myself, Dracollia, Beefer, Monkey, and our Special Buddy (along with Zero, our Feline Overlord) got together for our weekly gathering of gaming goodness!  On the slate for this week was Samurai Spirit from Fun Forge.  It’s a ton of fun, and unlike many of our card or board games, it’s cooperative (Editor’s Note: …ostensibly…) rather than competitive.  However, while the average play time on the game’s website lists 20-45 minutes, our group’s…more colorful dynamic resulted in a significantly longer session.  Also, I’m beginning to seriously worry that my son might be insane.  And not just because he’s my offspring.

Anyway, we gave a shot at a streaming client for a live Twitch stream, but it wasn’t working out, so we just shot the video for later upload.  And interestingly enough, even uploading it to Twitch didn’t work, so it’s a YouTube only week this week, unless you’d rather just watch below.

Next week, I’ll endeavor to either stream live to YouTube or have a working Twitch stream.  Unless I don’t have time – I do this for free, after all.  Much as I might like to do it for a living.  Until next time, kiddos! – EWE

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God of War – First Impressions

(Editor’s Note: While the following will contain spoilers for the previous games in the God of War series, there will be NO SPOILERS of anything not previously made public about the newest entry just released for PS4.)

Early on in God of War, there is a moment when Kratos’s son, Atreus, is despondent and unresponsive after a brutal battle.  “You’re in your head, boy,” remarks Kratos, “Close your heart to it.”  Atreus doesn’t respond, and so Kratos gruffly states “Then we return home,” before slyly adding, “A shame…to quit the journey so soon after we began…”  Atreus immediately snaps out of his shell shock, exclaiming, “What?!  No!  I’m fine!  See, here…I’m dropping the chain!  I’m fine now!”  It was a moment that made me, and would make any father or parent, smile.

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I am still early on in my journey through the Norse lands in God of War, but Sony Santa Monica has already taken a character in Kratos, who was once the poster child for one-note characters – literally just an anthropomorphic personification of rage – and transformed him into one of my favorite nuanced characters, and fathers, in all of fiction.  This isn’t an exaggeration.  I am a father of two sons myself, and perhaps that is part and parcel of why I find myself relating so, so much to the struggles and the strengths of Kratos in this adventure in these latter days of the demi-god’s life.

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It isn’t a spoiler to say that Kratos and Atreus are on a journey following the death of Kratos’s wife and Atreus’s mother – that much was made obvious from the prerelease trailers and campaign from Sony.  And yet, despite sharing this deeply personal loss, it is obvious in the early hours that Kratos struggles with the emotional bonds of fatherhood.  There have been several times where Atreus has appeared in need of comfort, while Kratos reaches an unseen hand toward his back, only to hesitate at the last moment and then drop the hand away.  Many have speculated that this is indicative of Kratos’s struggles with “adjusting to fatherhood,” but for me this misses the mark and overlooks a huge chunk of the character’s history.  He’s already been a father – and it came to a brutal, tragic end at his own, albeit unwitting, hands.  So it isn’t that the bonds and emotions of fatherhood are foreign to Kratos – instead, he is all too familiar with them, and knows the pain of having them ripped away, and thus has been torn between nurturing them with his new family or keeping them at arm’s distance to avoid the risk of repeating his tragic and violent past.

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While much has been made of how this game represented a “fresh start” and would not necessarily be tied to the prior games, but would still “honor” them, for me personally, the ties to Kratos’s journey through the previous games have been pervasive through the early hours of his new quest.  From multiple characters referencing Kratos’s past, to Kratos’s starting equipment referencing that it covers a “dark secret,” to a mysterious illness that Atreus suffered from as a child that Kratos seems to know more about than he is telling…and then there is the growth of Kratos himself.  Gone is the blind rage of Kratos rampaging through the Greek pantheon.  In its place is an older, wiser man, still capable of tremendous violence when challenged, but more focused on imparting reason and wisdom to his son than in engaging in the slaughter of all who oppose him.  He is a deeper, nuanced character that can be related to much more easily than in past installments in the franchise.

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These changes to the God of War formula are immediately apparent in the gameplay itself.  Gone are the days of the zoomed out, fixed camera angles – instead we now have a controllable camera that is zoomed in over the shoulder of Kratos, making combat much more visceral, brutal, and tactical.  Every encounter, even on normal difficulty, has the potential to end your game if you just mash an attack button and don’t pay attention to your surroundings.  Enemies are brutal and intelligent, engaging in flanking tactics, adapting to your battle maneuvers, and attacking in well-balanced packs that require employing varying battle tactics to succeed against.

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But this isn’t to say that combat is in any way unfair – if you plan well, you’ll succeed.  Time your blocks, look for openings, call for Atreus to send in arrow strikes at opportune moments, and unleash hell, and you’ll be rending enemies limb from limb in short order.  Boss fights, however, are still tense affairs requiring you to observe and identify patterns and weaknesses.  Rushing in without knowing what you’re doing is going to get you quickly killed – and honestly, that feels right in a game set amongst gods and monsters.

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I spent all weekend and as much time this week as I could playing God of War and I still feel like I have barely scratched the surface – and that thrills me.  I don’t ever want it to end.  Everything about this game has amazed me, and it has been one of my favorite gaming experiences that I have had in a long, long time.  More thoughts will assuredly come as I continue my journey alongside Kratos and Atreus, but for now, all I can say is that if you haven’t begun your own journey at their side, you should.  This isn’t just a game – it is a piece of art, it is a timeless story that should be told and listened to and experienced.  Do not miss it. – EWE

Game Night! – Schroedinger’s Cats

Mortals!  So, you may have noticed that this entry and video are simply entitled “Game Night” rather than “Friday Game Night” as is my usual practice of getting together with my regular crew of miscreants.  This is for a very good reason – and that reason is God of War.  My entire crew and I sat enraptured on Friday night well into the evening as I began the opening hours of Sony’s absolute masterpiece upon it’s release.  As a fan of the previous God of War games, I don’t think I can stress enough just what an incredible achievement this new game is – it should be played by everyone.  Fans of God of War games, fans of games at all.  Absolutely everything about it has been stellar thus far, and I am enjoying absolutely every moment I spend with it, and am thoroughly excited to bring you my detailed thoughts on it as I progress further into the game.  All this is to say, however, that my crew and I didn’t get to our game stream until the following day.

But it was worth the wait, because thanks to my absolute bestie Malevolent Moogle and her hubby Absurdum taking a trip to PAX and bring me back some gifts, my crew and I got to play a new card game from publisher Ninth Level Games, Schroedinger’s Cats!  It was a lot of fun, and is a much quicker play than some other card games – so take a look and see if it looks like something you and your gaming groups might enjoy!  You can find the video at YouTube and Twitch, or just watch it below!

Hope you enjoy!  But seriously – go play God of War.  Now.  Right now. – EWE

EWE’s Insomnia & Gaming Part 2: Ys Origins – Hugo Playthrough

Ah, some sleepless humans have come to join me!  Welcome, fellow sufferers of eternal exhaustion.  This is the little corner of the blog where your favorite sleepless wizard, old EWE himself, tries to find a way to pass the hours before the sun comes up and he’s forced to go pretend that writing to all of you isn’t his real passion and calling.  So, what should make the cut for our slice of nocturnal gaming nourishment tonight?  I believe we’ve settled on Ys Origins, available on Steam and PS4.

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No girl like that ever says it’s a pleasure to make my acquaintance…

Ys Origins, as the name implies, takes the long running series of adventures by hero Adol and sets them back far before the time of Adol, or any of the other running characters in the main series and instead tells a somewhat more self-contained story that limits the scope of the world to one immense and expansive tower and the power it contains within it.  Two Goddesses have been kidnapped and are on the  run from the evil forces of darkness, and it is the forces of he traditional defensive order that begin to dictate how your character will approach the story unfolding.  You see, you can initially choose between two characters, a fairly happy-go-lucky young girl who is a wonder with her twin axes, or a haughty and arrogant wizard who believes that all lives, even his own, are fuel to be added to the equation  that leads to victory.  Only by mastering both of these paths can you unlock a secret, third playable character,

The gameplay is fantastic Ys action arcade RPG mechanics.  Even lesser enemies need some level of respect  so that they don’t respawn and decimate your party when you least expected it.

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I’m doing my first playthrough as Hugo Fact the Mage, who is…kind of a pompous asshole during the entirety.  That said, unlikability of Hugo aside, I have very much enjoyed sinking my teeth into the meaty combat system in YS.  Hugo definitely controls like a squishy mage in this type of action rpg – keep him away from the action and shoot away, and if the enemies close in, move away!  It is satisfying, in its own way, just as I am confident the playthrough with the melee character will as well.  Then we get to see who the mystery third character is going to be and play as.

Thus far in my insomniac playthrough with Hugo, I have overall been pleased.  As we have discussed, Hugo is not a pleasant character to have as an avatar, but his combat style is diversified, challenging, and rewarding.  My hopes are that playing through with the other characters will prove just as amusing! – EWE

Friday Game Night Stream – Cards Against Humanity

Salutations, humans!  Tonight it’s time for something a little different – for the blog if not for myself.  You see, every Friday night I gather together with my closest cabal of chicanery and celebrate the end of the infernal work week by reveling in some gaming goodness.  Now, while some of our exploits are certainly not going to win me any Father of the Year Awards anytime soon, it was decided that we should give a try to opening up our little shindigs to you out there.  Being the utter novice at video production that I am, I decided not to jump feet first into live-streaming, but instead recorded us playing one of our favorites, Cards Against Humanity – and oh, it was a good time.

So join EWE, his spawn Beefer and Monkey, sexy succubus Dracollia, adorable Special Buddy, and Zero the Feline Emperor for a decidedly NSFW evening of entertainment!  You can join us on YouTube or Twitch or if you’re a lazy bastard (Editor’s Note: Like him) then just watch it right here!

Hope you all enjoy, and please, while I never discourage people from hate, if you feel compelled to lecture me in the comments about my poor parenting skills, save it – my kiddos are well adjusted, brilliant, grounded (in the good sense), and happy.  And Special Buddy is just perfect!  Until next time, humans. – EWE

The Distinction Between “Favorite” and “Best” – Also, I’m Back, Fleshbags

Humans!  How long it has been!  Well, more for you than for me – I’m the timeless personification of darkness, so really, a couple of months is a catnap for me.  Though I suppose I’ve perhaps somewhat missed imparting my wisdom/seething misanthropy onto you, the select group of mortal meatbags that I don’t abjectly abhor.  So…I guess…maybe…it’s nice to see you again.  There!  I’m not repeating myself!  (Editor’s Note: Aww, you missed-) I swear, I will set your entire BLOODLINE on fire if you finish that thought (Editor’s Note: …nothing, nevermind.)  Damn skippy.

EWE and Editor People

So many things have contributed to my absence – physical, mental, emotional – and I’m sure over time some or all of them will bleed out into my writing, whether in bits or in their entirety.  But if I’d had the right words to tell those stories, I’d have been back before now.  So then, what finally made me able to pick up my pen – keyboard, whatever – again after being away?  Well, that would be, of all things, a Twitter poll from my fellow wizards of the written word over at The Well-Red Mage.  By the way – read them, listen to them, support them – they are each and every one an amazing writer and person.

And when you start reading those fairy tales again, you’ll realize just how horrifying the things we tell our children really, truly are…

The premise was simple:

Now, at first blush the only dilemma I had was that I felt torn between two decades, as the period from the mid-to-late 90s through the early-to-mid 00s was what I considered my perfect answer.  But then I saw a tweet in response that really got my inner-philosophical-gamer juices working.

And then another to further get me thinking.

Ohohoho, now we had a full-blown bout of navel-gazing going on inside my head, minions!  What was my Well-Red (and Read) friend actually asking – for an objective “best” era of gaming, or a subjective “favorite” era of gaming?  What was the distinction between them?  IS there a distinction between them – and even if such a distinction were to theoretically exist, can we ever truly grasp it, as we are inherently colored by our own perceptions of our own individual realities and experiences?

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The first issue that occurs to me is that while I truly respect the opinions and thoughts of all the individuals involved in that particular Twitter discussion (Editor’s Note: This is no small thing for him to admit – he works daily around judges and magistrates that he considers barely worthy of continued intake of oxygen, let alone actual respect), I believe that the concept of an “objective best” is impossible.  The term “best” is inherently and inescapably subjective – it is brewed from all manner of differing criteria depending upon the evaluator, steeped in one’s own personal preferences and pet peeves, and filtered through the time, place, manner, and setting in which we each experienced things for the first time.  There are times when, under certain circumstances, we may attach a more objective modifier to “best” – such as associating “fastest” with “best” when discussing race cars – but even then, it presupposes this connection between the objective term (“fastest”) and the subjective “best.”  As soon as someone decides that perhaps handling is a more important consideration than raw speed, suddenly the illusion of an objective “best” race car is shattered.

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Also, steering.  Steering is important.

So then is “best” – without the attachment of some more objective modifier – simply synonymous with “favorite?”  Not so fast – it isn’t that simple at all.  You see, “best” may be inherently subjective, but it is still something that invites debate.  Advocating for or against an interpretation of what is the “best” – trying to convince others as to why they should also adopt what you see as the “best.”

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“Sasuke-kun’s brooding narcissism is his BEST feature!” “No, Sasuke-kun’s psychotically hate-fueled obsessiveness is his BEST feature!”

But “favorite” isn’t just a subjective concept – it is inherently, indelibly personal.  It isn’t so much a debate or attempt to convince others as to the correctness of your point of view as to simply express your own opinion.  You “favorite” can of course change – but the reasons will always be internal, personal – singular to you, not the product of debate and analysis by a wider audience.  My “favorite” Final Fantasy is Final Fantasy Tactics.  The Shameful Narcissist’s “favorite” is Final Fantasy VII.  LightningEllen’s “favorite” is Final Fantasy XIII.  The three of us can debate endlessly over which of the three – or perhaps even another – is the “best” Final Fantasy.  But there is no debate over our “favorite” – because it is just that…ours.

I suppose this little tirade is in part a response to another point made by my feathered-hat-wearing compatriot.

This statement, made far too often in gaming journalism, is part of the conflation between “favorite” and “best.”  I in no way am suggesting that reviews cannot be subject to the personal interpretations of the reviewer – that’s impossible.  Any critique, no matter how much the reviewer strives for objectivity, is going to be influenced to some degree by their subjective views.  But an analysis that is supported by sound reasoning (“the ATB battle system is the best RPG battle system because it balances the tension of quick thinking and decision making with the strategy and planning of traditional turn-based systems”) is completely different from a blanket qualitative statement based upon nothing but a vague, unspecified dislike (“the combat in this game just doesn’t work”).  The only time the phrase “just doesn’t work” should be used is when the aspect of the game to which it refers LITERALLY DOES NOT FUNCTION.  As in, every time a battle is triggered and the combat engine tries to load, the entire game crashes.  Otherwise, it is just a lazy cop-out to substitute “I just don’t like this” for a critical analysis of a game’s virtues and vices.  Does this mean a reviewer can’t simply express dislike?  Not at all – but they need to add two very crucial words: “This just doesn’t work FOR ME.”  Suddenly, as in the difference between “best” and “favorite,” the expression is clearly personal – not right or wrong, just a statement of opinion individual to the reviewer.  It isn’t an argument for or against the overall merits or flaws of the game – those can be made but must be supported with reasoning.

Whew – quite a winding trail of babbling, wasn’t that?  If I were one to ask for understanding, I might point out that it has been a while, and I’ve had some pent-up literary expression brewing…but I’m not, so I won’t!  Regardless, I must say that it is quite agreeable to be conversing with you mortals again…I think I shall try to do so with greater frequency.  Until then, my friends! – EWE