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

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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

I’m Still Here

Hello, humans.  I know I’m interrupting your massive celebrations caused by my absence and apparent demise – but my death has been greatly exaggerated.  Or at least a little exaggerated.  I have, in reality, been feeling pretty shitty, and trying to get work done and helping out the people in my life that need takes all the energy that I have out of me.

I do find time for some games though!  I’ve finished Divinity: Original Sin and loved every minute, and now I’ve launched right back into Divinity: Original Sin 2.  These are both just prime examples of how to do so many parts of game development right.  Crowdfunding, significant content stretch goals, quality product on release, and a deep and immersive RPG story.  I love these games – I can’t say that enough.  I’ve also begun a weekly ritual of fourplay coop games with my sons and friends which has been a blast.

My writing and journaling has been sporadic as my pain levels allow me to find the energy to be creative.  My standup is much the same – whenever I can find it in my body to do an act, I’m trying to do so.  It is so fun, and I’m glad I can still find energy to write and perform!

And work is still a love both professional and personal.  One day maybe my love won’t break there, but heal full instead.  It is the same person that can do both, so hopefully a matter of time!

Pain Sucks and Other Wisdom

It’s been a while, humans.  While I would actually love to be able to say I’ve just been so busy that I haven’t had time to sit down with you all, unfortunately the reason is MUCH more of a pain in my ass.  Actually, it’s pain literally everywhere.  See, years ago I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.  Essentially, I hurt, everywhere, to varying degrees, all the time.  There are medications and treatments that they try to help mitigate the condition somewhat, but the bottom line is that fibro itself isn’t that well understood yet, and they can’t cure it or do much more than try to treat the symptoms.  Several months back, I started to experience significantly increased, debilitating levels of pain, along with increased frequency of migraines.  Dealing with that day in and out is, quite simply, exhausting.  So after months of testing to figure out what was wrong – as I have a family history of other issues that they wanted to rule out – it was finally determined that my fibro has advanced in severity and intensity, and in addition, my nervous system is actually more responsive and acute than most – top 4 percent of people, from what they’ve said.  While normally, I’d be thrilled to be in the top percentile of anything, when it means you feel exponentially more pain from your CONSTANT FUCKING PAIN DISORDER, it loses its charm.

All that to say…I have to accept a higher level of pain as my new “normal.”  And that has sapped most of my waking energy lately.  So the updates have been very sparse, and may still be for a while – but I promise they will keep coming when possible!

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But while I’ve been laid up I’ve found some ways to spend my time – like, for example, the digital crack that is Stardew Valley on the Nintendo Switch.  Yes, my cat Zero and I have started quite the cozy little farm, creating mayonaise and cheese and trying to win the love of the dark gamer girl Abigail.  Sadly, art imitates life – and she wants nothing to do with me.  Goddammit.

I also decided that, in order to fully immerse myself in the storyline of Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward, the ideal class to play was Ishgard’s own Dragoon.  So after some intense grinding to get my level up to snuff, I can say it was well worth it, as much of the lore and history of Ishgard and the Warrior of Light’s quest there is inextricably woven with the Dragoons themselves.  While by no means do you NEED to play as a Dragoon to appreciate the story, I’ve felt much more of a connection to the characters and their struggles as one of the high-flying dragon-slaying knights than I would have otherwise.  FFXIV remains my favorite MMO of all time – and I’ve played many – as well as one of my favorite FF games ever – and I’ve played them all.

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Getting tired (and pissed off for being tired) but before I go for now, one last tidbit that caught my attention, and that is that sleeper-hit SRPG God Wars: Future Past is getting a full story DLC expansion in Japan.  The main game made its way to the West on PS4 and Vita and was one of the best SRPGs I’ve played in some time, so here is hoping that the DLC makes it here (for Vita especially since that’s what I played it on) as well.

Now, it is time for meds and trying in vain to actually sleep for a while before giving up and playing a game while watching Dragon Ball Super all night and being exhausted tomorrow.  This isn’t a cry for help – it’s just my natural state now.  Actually…that might be a cry for help.  I don’t know anymore. – EWE

Sorry – I’m Not Dead Yet

I’m not going to apologize for being absent for a while, mostly because I’ve had pretty good reason.  I will say that I have greatly missed communicating with all of you – but I’ll try to make up for it a bit by filling you in on some of the reasons for my absence.

First off, as some of you may have noticed from the godawful fucking heat and humidity, it’s summer!  This has meant that my two little evil-mages-in-training have been on a break from their studies and been wanting to spend time under the burning flame ball in the sky, like this:

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DEAR GOD, WHY?!?!

But since not just MY family, but ALL SORTS of people are ALSO much more active during the summer months, my work as a public defender has been extremely busy as well – and the ratio of incompetent/insane clients has gone WAAAAAY up.  Let me tell you just exactly how mentally draining it is when you are trying to explain to someone that murdering ducks is, in fact, a crime, and they are fervently telling you that it’s ok because the five-faced devil told them to do it…

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Because listening to this guy is just a fantastic idea.

And just in case increased work, increased time with the younglings, and caring for my feline overlord Zero while gaming and reading wasn’t enough, I decided upon advice from my little sis, the absolutely hilarious Kate Quigley, I decided to try making people laugh the old-fashioned way – so I’ve started doing some open mic nights at local bars and coffee houses and doing a little stand up.  Well, I suppose some might call it stand up…for me, it’s kinda just group therapy, where I get to talk about my issues and not bill my insurance!

Of course, it can’t all be upside – about six weeks ago, my fibromyalgia went into (I thought) a flare up.  It happens from time to time, based on weather and pressure changes, and normally I just grit my teeth and within a few days it is back to its normal level of constant-but-not-totally-debilitating pain.  But this time…it didn’t.  After two weeks, I contacted my doctor, and she gave me a significant injection of steroids due to the fact that my fibro meds were having no effect.  If it was fibro alone, the steroids would likely have made it worse, but if they helped, then there might be more going on.  Well…they sure as hell helped at first.  For about two days, I was Superman.  For two more, I was, you know…normal?  But then I was right back where I was before the shot.  Now I was going on a month of mind-numbing pain, and my doctor was out of normal options, so I am currently scheduled and waiting to see a rheumatologist in September.  Needless to say, going through all of the daily activities I described above while wracked with physical pain is…tiring.  So many are the day I have come home and couldn’t even find the energy to game or read, let alone write to you all.  So I would perform my ritual worship of Zero and collapse into bed, where he would then sit on my chest in an effort to comfort me (or kill me, I’m not entirely sure).

But take heart – all is not lost!  First, I am finding time to engage in some reading and gaming, so I will have some opinions on those fronts coming soon!  Look forward in particular to my review of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, as it captured me even harder than the original PS2 game did, and that was one of my favorite PS2 RPGs.  And now, if I can FUCKING REMEMBER TO HIT RECORD, I can even now and then provide you with some footage from my open mic stand up gigs – you know, in case you don’t have enough to mock me for yet, irritating mortal fleshbags (Editor’s Note: That’s not nice; they’ve always been very supportive.)

EWE and Editor Return

So before I go, I wanted to give you one last thing – a bit of the old and the new all in one.  You see, I have not been able to do much experimenting in my kitchen of late – but I have needed quite a bit of caffeine.  And so I wish to recommend a particular purveyor of pure coffee goodness – Carpe Diem Coffee Shop, in my own hometown of Canton, Ohio.  Now, while I fully understand that many of you cannot travel to their actual location (which is a goddamn shame, because it is fantastic), you CAN order their absolutely amazing coffee right through their site to be shipped to you!  I in particular recommend the Blueberry Crumble – and by “recommend” I mean “until you have tasted this, your pitiful, meager lives are wholly incomplete.”

So with that, humans, I bid you adieu for the time being.  But lest you forget, as always, if you are a Trump supporter, I suppose you have something notable you can attest to – it took 240+ years for America to progress to the point that it had this past January, and it has taken Trump only six months to set it back in many ways to before it was ever founded in the first place.  Congratu-fucking-lations. – EWE

God Wars: Future Past Review

Greets, humans!  It’s once again been a minute since I was here last – I was under the weather the last few weeks, which after work and spending time with my sons and Malevolent Moogle, I have not had energy to do much more than crawl into bed and play some games or read a book for a bit before falling asleep.  But the GOOD news for all of you is that now I can bring you the good, the bad, and the ugly of what I’ve been playing while laid up.  Aren’t you all just the luckiest things?!

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Is that a grinning samurai bear in the corner?  Fuck yeah it is.

We begin with a title that I’ve been anticipating since I first saw that it was being localized for the Western market.  It’s not secret that I’m a huge fan of SRPGs.  So when NIS America, the purveyors of the amazing Disgaea series, began to show off their newest property, God Wars: Future Past for PS4 and Vita, I was giddy with anticipation.  Well, ok, maybe “giddy” isn’t a word that particularly applies to me…but I was looking forward to it with something approaching positive emotion.  While the title is available on PS4, my purchase and review were done with the Vita version of the game – because I will support the greatest Sony console of all time for as long as it takes until I get a goddamn Vita 2.  Are you listening to me, Shuhei?!

God Wars Gameplay 1
Mmm…cruncy, munchy stats.

Now, this isn’t going to be a deep dive on what makes up an SRPG.  Suffice to say, the name of the game is tactical positioning and planning, as well as class grinding to mold your individual characters into a well-balanced and complementary fighting force, to be deployed on various isometric, grid-based maps and engage in turn-based movement and combat with enemy forces.  That basic concept underlies the entire genre; but that said, SRPGs through the years have tended to gravitate toward one of two camps.  The first camp is made up of games with tough battles, deep plots full of political scheming and intrigue, and relatively little grinding outside of that needed to unlock new classes or purchase new equipment.  Some excellent entries here include Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions and Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together.  Those of you that have been here since the beginning of my little blog will remember that I reviewed Tactics Ogre once upon a time.  In the other camp, one populated by NIS itself on many occasions, are wacky, anime-inspired SRPGs which are the essence of the term “over-the-top.”  These games eschew dark political plots for comedic, barely necessary stories that are primarily there to get you on the grinding treadmill, which is the true star of the show – getting all of your stats to obscenely high levels in order to challenge god-like uber-bosses after the main scenario has ended.  In games like my recent review of Disgaea 5 Complete on the Nintendo Switch, the vast majority of the game doesn’t start until the “story” is over.

Bridging the gap between these two groups is a PSP original title that I absolutely adored – Jeanne d’Arc.  A fantasy retelling of the story of Joan of Arc, set in an anime-inspired alternate history involving beastmen and magic, it deftly combined the slick anime presentation and somewhat quicker combat of the Disgaea titles with the deeply political and historical plotline that would have been at home in a Final Fantasy Tactics title.  So, where would God Wars land – serious, wacky, or somewhere in the middle?

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It’s Japanese history, if every anime you ever watched were historical fact.

I’m pleased to say that much like Jeanne d’Arc, God Wars occupies a happy middle ground in the SRPG genre.  Imagine a feudal Japan in which every mythological god, goddess, yokai, spirit and the like were all present and accounted for, accepted as part of the fabric of the world.  In this fantastical history, Princess Kaguya is freed from imprisonment and sets out in search of her mother, who disappeared after being forced to sacrifice Kaguya’s sister to appease the angry gods of Mt. Fuji a decade before.  Along the way, she will meet and befriend a host of humans, demons, gods and goddesses, as well as master over twenty different character classes, each with its own skill tree and abilities.  Along the way, she will also help the common villagers she encounters by way of taking up requests from shrines – side missions that are repeatable and function as both sidequests as well as the grinding mechanic to replace random encounters on the world map.  This is a welcome change, as once a request is accepted, the party is transported directly to the battlefield.  Combat is standard, grid-based SRPG fare.

The story manages both lighthearted and serious moments, and treads the line of being serious without ever taking itself TOO seriously.  Likewise, battles are challenging, but never to the point of needing hours of grinding simply to proceed to the next plot point.  Each character may equip a main class, a sub-class, and has an inherent unique class, all of which determine the pool of abilities available to that character in battle.  The system is flexible enough to allow for a wide variety of builds, without suffering from the crippling feeling of having TOO MUCH freedom and being paralyzed by that freedom.

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That is a whole lot of brown…

The artwork in this game is what jumps out immediately and grabs hold of someone, and interestingly this beautiful aesthetic also serves to highlight one of the games biggest weaknesses.  While cutscenes, character models, and portraits are absolutely gorgeous to behold, they stand in stark contrast to the bare minimum effort that seemed to go into designing the levels and maps on which you will spend most of your time in combat.  A dull, brown rock quarry looks like the dull, brown mine, and you’ll quickly stop paying any attention whatsoever to the backdrop for your battles because it’s just so boring to look at.  The other primary flaw in God Wars is not a visual, but technical.  Despite having the entire game downloaded and installed on my Vita’s memory card, I still experienced far too many loading screens that went on for far too long.  Now, I’m no stranger to SRPGs and portable consoles – and had the load times been limited to transitions between the map and combat, I likely would have said nothing.  But a cardinal sin in gaming for me is when I press the menu button and am forced to endure a load screen just to arrive at the main menu.  This is compounded by a fucking load time when going into submenus for inventory or class management.  I understand this is a portable title with a lot of assets but this just seems like it could have been avoided with a little more work on the part of the developer.  Thankfully, the game is good enough that these irritants are minor and don’t detract from wanting to proceed through it.

God Wars Gameplay 3
When you see ??? instead of numbers for health and magic, shit has just gotten real serious.

All in all, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with God Wars: Future Past.  It has combined all the things I’ve enjoyed in other SRPGs into one slick, beautifully presented package – and despite a few technical hiccups and some bland backgrounds, is just an absolute blast to play.  It has kept me up more than a few nights saying “just one more battle” – and really, as gamers, isn’t that the ultimate praise we can give something?

EWE SAYS:

EWE Says God Wars

So that’s the verdict on God Wars!  Looking down the road, in addition to bringing you some more reviews as I get time (and more recipes if I ever find the energy to cook again), I’m also toying with the idea of doing a redesign of the look and layout of the entire blog.  As I’ve said before, I never thought anyone would ever find or enjoy my little contribution to the interwebs, but as some folks have and you all seem fucking crazy enough to keep coming back (boy do I wish you’d have a few words with this girl I know…), I want to keep things looking good!  For my fellow bloggers and writers out there, if there are any suggestions or favorite layouts that you would recommend, I’d greatly appreciate if you would leave them in the comments or find me on Facebook or Twitter.  Thanks in advance, and I’ll see you all again soon!  Unless that motherfucking maniacal mental midget masquerading as the US president manages to get us all killed by starting WWIII via Twitter somehow. – EWE