The Backlog Rewalk Files: Darksiders II Deathinitive Edition

“My brother, War, stands falsely accused of unleashing Armageddon upon the human race. His fate concerns me. Yours…does not.” – Death

Big brothers fix things, humans. It doesn’t really matter what else there is to a sibling relationship – when you boil it down to its essence, big brothers see their younger siblings in trouble and their first response is “what do I need to do in order to make this better?” So it is for the oldest brother of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Death – his little brother, War, has gotten himself into some deep shit, and so Death rides forth to try and fix things.

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Of course, sometimes fixing things involves breaking more things.

Darksiders II takes place at an interesting place in the series’ timeline. During the prologue/tutorial of the first Darksiders game, horseman War unwittingly brings about the doom of mankind by responding to a fake-out on the apocalypse and thus allowing armies of angels and demons to wage war across a woefully unprepared Earth. In the aftermath, War is killed in battle and some nebulous amount time passes with him passes with him being held in torturous captivity by the Charred Council before eventually being returned to life and sent to discover who had tricked him into riding before his appointed time. Darksiders II is set during this time of War’s captivity and torture, essentially making it an interquel between the prologue and game proper of Darksiders. Death, upon hearing of his brother’s plight, has a natural big brother’s instinct to fix things for his younger sibling. In this case, Death has decided that “fixing things” means resurrecting the entirety of the human race and basically invoking a cosmic-level “no harm, no foul” defense to the Charred Council.

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Yes, the Horseman Death spends the whole game trying to bring the entire human race back to life. Smell the irony…

The original Darksiders was a hit with fans and critics for taking the exploration and combat mechanics of action and action-adventure games like God of War and The Legend of Zelda, melding them, and building a dark fantasy world from the mind of comic book master Joe Madureira in which the armies of Heaven and Hell are in a kind of temporary cease-fire, maintained by the mysterious Charred Council and their enforcers, the powerful Four Horsemen. Feared and respected by all creatures in existence for their power, but seemingly easily manipulated, Darksiders II expands upon the background and origins of the Horsemen. They are not angel, demon, or human; they are the last of the nephilim, a cosmically overpowered race that conquered and destroyed countless worlds across the cosmos, threatening the very Balance that the Charred Council uneasily maintains between angels and demons. Four of these beings saw the destruction and carnage being wrought by their kind and began to sour on it; these four went to the Charred Council and were granted unbelievable power in exchange for their service to the Council and the Balance. The first task given to these newly-christened Horsemen was the complete and total destruction of their kind – a grim task which they completed. It was Death himself who struck the final blows of that battle, and as well it was only Death who seemed somewhat remorseful of the genocide they had perpetrated against their own kind. Perhaps it is for these reasons that now, millennia later, he cannot stand by and watch either the loss of another entire race in humanity, nor the loss of his brother War, one of the final four surviving nephilim.

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Behold, a pale rider…

For Death, the scars of his soul are reflected in his flesh – rather than destroy the souls of the nephilim, as he was instructed, he preserved them in an amulet that early in the game becomes fused with his very body, leaving a glowing green wound upon his chest and the cacophony of the souls of his brethren in his mind. As he pursues his goal of exonerating his brother War with single minded purpose, forces are at move in the universe that will pull Death in two between saving his brother or saving his own soul. It is a remarkably well told story that is made immensely greater by the fantastic voice acting. Death, in particular, is never, EVER at a loss for a deadpan snark. As a connoisseur of sarcasm myself, Death shot into the upper tier of my favorite game characters of all time. And he isn’t just fun to listen to; he’s a blast to play as well.

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Chill out, pal.

While War controlled with a sense of weight and power, as lumbering brute that devastated enemies with overwhelming power, Death weaves a fast-paced dance macabre in combat that takes everything that was great about the first game, eliminates the negatives, and accentuates the best parts. Instead of the gigantic sword Chaoseater wielded by Way, Death’s default weapon is his twin hand scythes. There are light and heavy attacks, as in the original, and as in the original these can be combined and strung together into various chains that result in combo moves of tremendous strength and fluidity. If you played the original Darksiders, you may have gone the entire game not realizing that War could actually block enemy attacks. Darksiders II seems to have noticed this, and in keeping with his faster-paced combat style, Death cannot block incoming blows – he must dodge them. The dodge mechanic is tremendous with an adequate window and sufficient enemy ques to make the dodging feel like a natural reaction. A successful dodge often opens up enemies to a furious counterattack, and before long you will find yourself right at home weaving in and out of a pack of enemies, slicing them to ribbons and crushing them with heavy attacks from secondary weapons such as a gigantic hammer or polearm.

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You wouldn’t think a blank-faced character like this would give you feels…and you’d be wrong.

Darksiders II retains its predecessors gameplay loop of finding new tools and devices to give you additional ability to explore the dungeons and world and find new secrets, but it expands by introducing a randomized loot system not unlike the Diablo titles. Every enemy slain or chest opened can explode into a shower of gold, weapons, and armor, with enhanced elemental or stat boosts.  This loot can range from being near-worthless vendor trash to epic or legendary named armor or weapons. Additionally, rather than buying skill upgrades from Vulgrim this time around, Death has two separate skill trees, Harbinger for melee damage and Necromancer for arcane damage, into which he can invest skill points gained from leveling up and completing some quests. This gives a game like Darksiders II tremendous replayability as you can experiment with different class builds and equipment loadouts. While the loot system suffers eventually from the same feeling of diminishing returns that is present in all such systems, all the elements come together to create a tremendous action-adventure-RPG.

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How many times do we have to teach you this lesson, old man?!

The Deathinitive Edition includes all of the DLC released for Darksiders II, adding several new full dungeons and quests, as well as the Crucible, a 100-wave series of arena battles that take skill and resource management to fully complete. It just adds even more value to an already content-rich game. In all honesty, mortals, if you played the first Darksiders and enjoyed it (and if you didn’t, it’s not the game, there’s something wrong with you) then you will absolutely love Darksiders II. One of the best games of the PS3 era that was perfectly remastered in the Deathinitive Edition and is a must play for anyone that likes fast-paced action and a huge world to explore. It is truly fantastic that the franchise was resurrected by THQ Nordic and I can’t wait to move on to Darksiders III.

Until next time, mortals! – EWE

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The Backlog Rewalk Files: Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition

“It shall be even bloodier than you hoped.” – Dorn Il-Khan

Love is a funny thing, humans.  Sometimes it feels so strong at first, only to burn out or fade over time.  But the best and truest love is the love that remains a bond; the love that, even when apart for a time, remains in your heart and can pick right back up where it left off when reunited.  (Editor’s Note: …who even are you?)  Shut up, I’m having a moment here.  I loved Baldur’s Gate.  I had always wanted to play tabletop D&D, but I lacked a very important component: friends with which to play.  So while I read as many rulebooks and companion materials as I could get my hands on and rolled character after character, I never got to take them on adventures and quests…until Baldur’s Gate.  So it was with some trepidation that I approached a fresh run through Beamdog’s Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition – could we pick up where we left off years ago?  In a word: yes.

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First things first: I adore what Beamdog did with the visuals.  They were never going to take an isometric PC RPG from the late 90s and make it graphically spectacular.  But as you can see above, they took the approach of function over flashiness, and it absolutely worked.  The Infinity Engine was a landmark interface for the genre, and Beamdog took into account widescreen, HD monitors and incorporated interface elements that would normally have required additional user effort to access right into the main play screen.  They also smoothed out and enhanced the sprites for HD resolutions.  But the classic look and feel of Baldur’s Gate remains unchanged.  This carries through to the sound as well – hearing Imoen tell me “I’ve done had enough of this” as I instructed her to pick a lock made me smile despite the fact that I knew I was going to hear it 1,000 more times.

For those that may be unfamiliar, Baldur’s Gate operates on the now archaic-sounding Dungeons and Dragons 2.5 Edition ruleset (Editor’s Note: For comparison’s sake, you may want to mention that the modern ruleset is 5th Edition.)  What?!  What kind of masochistic non-nerd would still be reading this and not already be aware of that?!  (Editor’s Note: …fair point.)  While at first seeming overly complex and strict when compared to more modern interpretations, once you understand the system there is a tremendous amount of freedom to be had within its confines.  So many multi-class and class kit options are available that are either no longer viable or not nearly as unique and interesting as they were under the older ruleset.  So, what does an Evil Wizard, Esq. do when creating his Forgotten Realms avatar?  Well, obviously…he rolls a half-elf Fighter/Wizard/Thief multi-class.  (Editor’s Note: I…don’t know how “obvious” that is…)  Hey, sometimes I want to stab mortals, sometimes I want to set mortals on fire, sometimes I want to steal all of their things and laugh maniacally into the night…I like options.

Now we come to my favorite part of the Enhanced Edition by Beamdog…added content.  When Beamdog developed the new release, they didn’t just port the original game and it’s Tales of the Sword Coast expansion.  They wove into the game new party members and quests, incorporated characters from the sequel into the first game to add backstory, and finally, created and released Siege of Dragonspear, a totally new expansion that bridges the story gap between Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II.  The new content is a masterwork – in particular the characters that were not originally present.  The original Baldur’s Gate assumed that you were going to lose party members – either to death or just utility loss – and replace them, so while it’s party members were often endearing in some ways, they were not particularly fleshed out.  Beamdog has taken the more modern approach of giving characters meaningful backstories and motivations, personal quests you can assist them with, and even possible romances with your character.  And these are not cookie cutter characters – they span the alignment gamut, with some being teeth-achingly sweet and others deliciously sadistic.  It’s tough to pick a favorite, but my party has included the half-orc blackguard Dorn Il-Khan, who gleefully gives the quote at the top of the page when asked to…do anything, really.  Even just walk to a certain point or open a door.  It’s amazing.

My time with Baldur’s Gate was taking a long overdue vacation with your best friend.  You both have been busy with work and life, but you still text and call each other.  When you finally are able to spend some time together, you still laugh at all the same things, you still finish each other’s sentences, and even when you disagree on something, it feels more of affection than argument.  My worries about the Enhanced Edition not living up to my nostalgic memories of the original were unwarranted – as soon as I got back into the game, just like spending time with an old friend, I was home again. – EWE

The Backlog Rewalk Files: Darksiders Warmastered Edition

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” – Charles Caleb Colton

The Four Horsemen. Just the name alone is enough to conjure so many images to mind – four larger than life forces of nature, carving a bloody path of destruction leading inevitably to the apocalyptic end times.

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Also these guys.

The very idea of four supernatural harbingers of the end of days has always, naturally, fascinated me. So the opportunity to play as one of the legendary Horsemen in a post-apocalyptic world designed by famed comic book artist Joe Madureira and inspired by the classic Legend of Zelda series sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? Enter the puntastically named Darksiders: Warmastered Edition.

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War never chang- wait, sorry, wrong game.

 

A graphically enhanced edition of the original Darksiders PS3 game released for modern consoles and PC, the game places you in the hulking, brooding form of War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In the universe of Darksiders, an ceasefire has been reached in the endless wars between Heaven and Hell, with the balanced maintained and enforced by the mysterious and creepy Charred Council, a weird collection of talking skull-rocks that won’t allow the heavenly hosts and hellish hordes have at one another until such time as the world of humans is ready to participate in the final conflict. In order to maintain the Balance, the Council employs the aid of the Horsemen, four mysterious siblings of unbelievable power.

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“Always” is a REALLY long time…

A catastrophic series of events leads to a massive upsetting of the precious Balance, and War is left to take the fall for it. Slapped with a sentient shadow that acts as both a restraining bolt and warden, War sets out across the ruined Earth to discover who is truly to blame for the upsetting of the Balance and cut that person to ribbons with his BFS Chaosbringer. But all is not as it seems on the remains of world, and War will need to explore puzzling ruins, acquire useful tools and artifacts, and make deals with several devils – and angels – before he can solve the mystery and get his revenge.

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Dude. You can’t tell me that every last breath mint on Earth has been lost.

The visuals in Darksiders are, in a word, stunning. Madureira’s character designs are spectacularly realized – War is a hulking brute of a warrior, with oversized boots and gauntlets that somehow don’t seem out-of-place at all. Surrounding him are fiery demons, packs of angels wielding both swords and laser cannons, and giant, tumorous monstrosities that look like nothing more than eldritch abominations. Colors are vibrantly contrasting, popping off the screen and giving you the impression that you are in control of a graphic novel published by Dark Horse.

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…I don’t suppose we could talk this out, could we?

The gameplay can best be described as a glowing, polished love letter to the 3D Legend of Zelda games. War’s journey will take him from one dungeon to another, each one serving to introduce newer and more complex gameplay mechanics and often including new tools or equipment to assist War in solving environmental puzzles in order to advance. This gameplay loop builds upon itself in an immensely satisfying fashion, with puzzles and challenges incorporating and expanding upon the tools and solutions discovered in previous places.

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Well that glowing just CAN’T be good.

Boss fights are often puzzles in and of themselves, with each one serving as a culmination of the tools, tricks, and traps found in their environments to defeat. For all the power that War possesses, it is his – and your – ability to analyze and adapt to his situation that serves him best throughout the entirety of his adventure. That isn’t to say that every card up War’s sleeve is entirely useful – one might go the entirety of the game, for example, without ever even knowing that War is capable of blocking some enemy attacks rather than utilizing a well-timed dodge. Similarly, while War has access to a small selection of magic spells, I found only one to be something that I used more than once, and even then it’s use felt situational and more of convenience than necessity.

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You know, something about this thing seems important.

The sound design is equally polished, if in my opinion less memorable. While my youngest son insists that the soundtrack and battle music in the early stages is among the best that he’s ever heard, for me there is nothing of note to distinguish from one growling guitar background to another. That isn’t to say that any of it is bad – just that it is there and serves it’s purpose without ever truly standing out. One exception I would note is that the voice acting is amazing, particularly Liam O’Brien as War.

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This should end well.

After more than a few twists and turns, Darksiders’ narrative ends with a fairly obvious hook for further sequels – sequels which have since come to be. Would they pick up that story trail? I guess you’ll have to come back to my upcoming discussion of Darksiders II to find out! – EWE

Indie Corner: Last Dream

Welcome to mid-week, mortals!  You’re halfway to…wondering where in the hell your weekend went before doing all of this over again, for the rest of your natural lives.  BWAHAHAHAHA!  Ah, but I don’t bear all bad news – in your spare time, you could stumble upon spectacular little gaming gems like the one I’m about to tell you about!

This is actually a two game series that was funded on Kickstarter and developed by White Giant RPG Studios, and was brought to my attention by my very good friend and fellow streamer, as well as husband to my bestest friend in the world Malevolent Moogle, the one and only Absurdum.  Please, please, pretty please, find and follow him on YouTube and Twitch – he is very funny and talented and knows his games!  Last time we got together, I saw him playing what appeared to be a retro-RPG and asked what it was.  After watching him play it for a while longer and hearing from him about how much content the game and its sequel roughly contained, I pulled them up on Steam and found them to be on sale in a bundle for under $5 total – and you can guess what happened.

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I have not yet progressed far through the main story of the game yet, but that is primarily because I have been reveling in the comfort-food-feeling of the combat and leveling mechanics.  For those with fond memories of being able to lose themselves in an hour or so of fast-paced, turn-based combat with a relatively steady trickle of rewards in the form of skill points and gold for new abilities and equipment, you will be right at home, and the variety of character classes ensures that multiple playthroughs are unique in playstyle.

If these games are still on sale on Steam, and you have any fondness for old school JRPGs at all, this is a no-brainer from my standpoint.  If they are not on sale, this still feels like a pretty solid value, but the developer’s website appears to have a demo version available for download, so try it out for yourself and if you like it as much as I do, by all means, support an indie dev, 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

Rabbids & Smartphones & Dragon Balls, Oh My!

Greets, mortals!  I hope the evening finds you well…unless, of course, I hate you, in which case I hope the evening finds you fervently wishing that I DON’T FIND YOU.  Either way, welcome back.  Tonight I’ve got a few thoughts on a lot of different things for you, which is a bit of a change from normal.  I’ve found lately that, especially when I’m alone with my feline overlord, my mood and thoughts and emotions are scattered all over the place (well, aside from the constant overwhelming seething cauldron of hate for humanity…that’s pretty consistent), and consequently, I’ve been consuming media in a similar, scattershot fashion.  The good news for all of you, though, is that now you get to hear a bit about all sorts of good (or bad) stuff!  You may prostrate yourselves now.  I’ll wait.

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It was a cliched and stormy night in Costa del Sol…

First up, we have the continuing adventures of Evil Wizard as he journeys through Eorzea in Final Fantasy XIV.  Although the new expansion, Stormblood, was released this summer, I’ve yet to venture into any of that story content.  In fact, I’ve only recently, finally powered through all of the story missions that served as the bridge between the original Realm Reborn storyline and the first expansion, Heavensward.  After having reached Ishgard, I decided to take a slight break from powering through story content to level and unlock some other jobs.  But that isn’t to say the story isn’t calling to me – truth be told, I honestly feel like Final Fantasy XIV is the best game in the main series since IX, and maybe even since VI, and that is saying an awful lot because I have a lot of love for FF XII.  But XIV has an absolutely massive amount of plot content and characters, and the overwhelming majority of them are stellar.  Honestly, I recommend this game to anyone that loves RPGs.  Not just MMOs, not just Final Fantasy – if RPGs are your thing, and you haven’t tried XIV at all, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

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It’s Mega Mario Metroid Man!

Next up, I’ve got the Switch game that up until E3 a couple months ago literally nobody knew they wanted.  Seriously, the Rabbids are the most goddamned annoying fuckers this side of the It’s A Small World ride at Disney World, and when Nintendo and Ubisoft announced  a crossover between them and the world of Mario you could hear the entire Internet give a collected groan.  Then around came E3, and with it the revelation that this would be a turn-based strategy game with some RPG elements – essentially X-COM lite but with Mario & Co. taking on Ubi’s insane vermin.  After spending several hour with it since launch and getting through the first couple of worlds, I can easily say this game is the biggest surprise of the year for me, and that’s saying something with a Mario game.  The X-COM style cover-based gameplay is fantastic, though in the early stages the difficulty seems significantly less than the sci-fi masterpiece.  This can likely be chalked up to the game being aimed at a much larger target market on the Switch than the decidedly older audience that X-COM attracts.  My understanding from friends that are much further into the game is that there is a definite difficulty spike later on, so I am greatly intrigued and thus far highly recommend Mario x Rabbids: Kingdom Battle to anyone with a Switch and a love of X-COM.

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Hooray Job Systems!

Next up, for when I’m stuck with nothing but my phone or it’d be impolite to just open a book or Vita and blatantly ignore everyone around me, I’ve found myself diving back into Final Fantasy Dimensions.  I found myself drawn back in after talking about it for a bit with intrepid Michael “FinalMacstorm” Cunningham of #TeamHandheld.  I’ve been away from it for a while and am still getting back into the plot, but since it’s heavily patterned on the 16-bit Final Fantasy’s of old, there isn’t too much complexity to worry about.  I do now remember that the slow influx of jobs is made a bit more irritating by the fact that you can’t max them out – at particular beats in the story, you are granted a small pool of points that allow you to increase the max level of whatever jobs you choose for each character.  While I don’t believe this to be a monetization of the system – I don’t think you can purchase more of the points using real money – I haven’t yet reached the point of being able to know if there will be enough of these points to max out all jobs for everyone, or if not, how many each character may be able to fully develop.  It’s tough because it doesn’t let you really know if you should be specializing particular characters or what, and a somewhat incongruent party split can exacerbate matters somewhat.  Still, it isn’t anything that can’t be overcome with a bit of grinding, and I’m a complete whore for grinding in an old-school job system RPG.  Not going to say I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone yet, but if you are older than time as I am, and love Final Fantasy V’s job system, you’ll likely find this worthwhile.

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Ka…Me…Ha…Me…

Last, but assuredly not least, I’ve also been catching up on Dragon Ball Super.  DB is one of those series that I watch in spurts – I’ll binge a couple of dozen episodes and love them, then hit a saturation point and put it away for a while.  I’ve reached the point where Goku & Friends have been confronted by Black’s Super Saiyan Rose, and I must say that one of the features I love about this show is that every once in a while they show a flashback to events that occurred in prior series such as the seminal Dragon Ball Z, and the contrast between the quality of the animation in those and the gorgeous HD animation in Super just can’t be fully described.  Akira Toriyama’s character designs are world-renowned and timeless, and for as much as I love his work in the Dragon Quest series, this is the apex in terms of the quality animation.  As for the series, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much Dragon Ball has grown up – even in a series where death is often cheapened or worked around, there has been some genuine moments of tension and loss, and I feel like the experience gained by reworking Dragon Ball Z into Dragon Ball Z Kai has helped the studio to get a better grip on balancing fights with character development.  So no more 17-episode buildups to seeing Goku throw one Spirit Bomb…and that’s a very good thing.  If you’ve ever been a fan of Dragon Ball, you should check it out.

And that’s that for tonight, kiddos.  But before I go, just a piece of advice…I guarantee that most, if not all, of you humans have someone close to you that is likely suffering from depression.  You probably don’t know it, because they probably don’t say much if anything about it – ironically enough, because they already feel like a complete burden to those around them and don’t want to make it any worse.  But while they may be able to smile or crack a joke, inside they are very, very alone.  You humans have but a short time on this earth, and in that time, almost everything costs something…but kindness is free.  It can be given away to all that you care about with no real cost to you.  And while it might seem like little or nothing to you at the time, I guarantee you it means the world to someone.  Not that I care about the happiness of you pathetic mortals. – EWE

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age Review; and Happy Evilversary!

Greets, mortal creatures!  Can you believe it’s been an entire year already?  One year ago, while wandering very lost and alone, I came upon this small little corner of the internet, and honestly my thought process then was something akin to “well, I can kill myself, or I can start imparting my nihilistic rants and ramblings on the web for nobody to give a damn about.”  I decided to go with the latter, and much to my surprise – many of you DID in fact give a damn, and came to enjoy my modest blogging efforts.  Perhaps more importantly to me personally, you gave a damn about me, and I found not just fellow bloggers or followers, but a new circle of friends – which for someone like me, that struggles mightily to find friends at all, has been very special.  To those of you who have chosen to share this journey with me, to help me along in my efforts to find my voice in my blog, and to share in my struggles that have led me to where I am, I thank you.

EWE and Editor Anniversary

And what better way to celebrate than to also celebrate the HD revival of one of the most unsung, amazing Final Fantasy games of all time – Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age.  Originally released in the dying days of the PS2, Final Fantasy XII was the poster child for a late-console-cycle video game – Square Enix squeezed every last little bit of power possible out of the aging PS2 architecture, and it showed in every aspect of that game.  The visuals were absolutely gorgeous, outshining many PS3 games – and depending on your views of art direction, even many modern games.  The gameplay systems were incredibly ahead of their time – a blending of classic single-player Final Fantasy RPGs of days past, and its MMORPG predecessor Final Fantasy XI.  Its plot returned players to the world of Ivalice, previously explored in the seminal Final Fantasy Tactics – another first, as it was the first time a Final Fantasy world – Ivalice – was home to multiple games.  But it wasn’t without its detractors – its massive world consisted of large, sometimes empty feeling zones, which could lead to long stretches of time spent simply traveling from one point to another.  Character progression was conducted via spending AP on a massive License Board, shared by all characters, which unlocked all weapons, armor, skills, and spells.  Because the entire board was open to all characters, it led to most of the party characters eventually feeling relatively indistinguishable from a gameplay perspective, as it was relatively easy to give all of them all of the “best” equipment and abilities.

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As far as the original PS2 release of the game, I come down squarely in the camp of it being one of the greatest Final Fantasy games of all time.  The story of a small band of rebels, each with their own personal motivations and brought together by circumstance, standing against the overwhelming might of an Empire bent on dominating all of Ivalice may bear more than a few similarities to Star Wars, but the plot and characters are masterfully written and developed, showing their own small part in a greater overall struggle.  For me personally, I rank it essentially 2nd/3rd all time, with it and FF IX flipping back and forth depending on my mood (VI is 1st by a mile).  But that said, I recognize the flaws in the game as described above – I remember much of the hours I spent with the game spent running all over creation, and I am guilty of turning every character into an overpowered clone of each other.  But I’m here to say that The Zodiac Age enhances everything I loved about the PS2 version, and improves every weakness.

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As with any HD remaster, SE has brought the already beautiful visuals of Ivalice up to modern PS4 standards.  Previously blurry or softened textures are sharp and crisp, and the game puts many, if not most current generation games to shame with its gorgeous art direction.  There is a fly in the ointment – some textures, in particular Vaan’s face during the in-engine cutscenes, didn’t survive the upgrade so well, and appear a bit…wonky.  But this is just nitpicking – overall, this is a stellar graphical upgrade for an already lovely game.

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SE solved the problem of the License Board some years ago, actually.  Shortly after the original PS2 release, SE release an updated PS2 version of the game entitled Final Fantasy XII: International Zodiac Job Edition.  This version of the game never saw official release in the US; however, SE took the Zodiac Job system, improved it even more, and incorporated it into The Zodiac Age.  In this new system, the License Board has been sundered into 12 separate “jobs” – combinations of equipment, skills, spells, and stat growth that fulfill different roles within an overall RPG party.  For example, White Mage has almost all the healing magic, Black Mage gets the nukes, Archer rains physical damage from afar…you get the idea.  Each character in the party gets to choose a total of two of these Boards, thus locking them into the character roles those Jobs represent.  There is some overlap – Knights can unlock some white magic skills, Red Battlemages unlock the same heavy armors as the tank classes, etc. – so players with some foresight and planning can create complementary Job pairings for their party.  But even then, having the right roles filled at the right times against the right enemies is MUCH more prevalent in this edition of the game than it ever was in the original.  Some creatures are highly resistant to physical damage – so you’ll be swapping out your Knight and Bushi for your Black Mage and Red Battlemage.  Other fights are just wars of attrition – and you’ll be well prepared with a White Mage, and a Time Battlemage to keep the party alive and kicking while you whittle away at the opponent.  This adds an entirely new element of strategy to the game that just wasn’t present by the latter stages of the original, and it is a very welcome improvement.

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But THE improvement, the one that absolutely changes the face of RPGs, and maybe gaming as a whole, is the one that I’m sure SE thought was just a tiny afterthought, thrown in as a bone tossed to people playing through the game again after enjoying it on the PS2.  FAST.  FUCKING.  FORWARD.  With a simple press of a button, you can cause the entire game – everything – suddenly shifted to 2x or 4x speed.  I cannot possibly overstate what an incredibly goddamn fantastic feature this is.  As the combat is a hybrid real-time/turn-based system that mimics MMO combat, and traversal across large, open zones is the basic mode of gameplay, being able to double or quadruple the speed at which everything is happening is an absolute godsend, not just for returning veterans, but for anyone who is crossing the Ozmone Plains for 243rd damn time on the way to track down the next optional Hunt side-quest boss, or exploring the labyrinthine Barheim Passage, or perhaps most crucially, grinding away at trash monsters to level and accrue AP to improve your party.  The amount of time this saves is quantifiable, but the level of frustration it alleviates is not – even if a four-minute trip is only cut to two, it feels so much faster.  After playing the game with this feature, I quite honestly think that any game developer, particularly a RPG developer, that does not shamelessly rip off and incorporate this feature into all their future games is just flat not doing their job right.

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A few last things about The Zodiac Age – if you have a Vita and have ever lamented that the Remote Play feature between it and the PS4 was just kind of left on the vine to die, then first, good job owning a Vita, (#TeamHandheld); and second, this might be the title that renews your faith.  I have Spectrum broadband internet, allegedly at 70 Mbps, but in practice somewhat slower due to living in an apartment building with a LOT of conflicting signals in close proximity.  My PS4 is plugged directly into the modem/router in my living room, and in my second floor bedroom, Remote Play on my Vita is absolutely silky smooth.  The controls map perfectly, there is no discernible input lag – JRPGs and turn-based games will always be the best choices for Remote Play for those very reasons, but even in some of the more fast-paced and hectic boss battles, I experienced no issues that I would chalk up to being due to playing remotely on the Vita.  While an actual Vita release would have been GREATLY preferred, this is absolutely the next best thing!  Finally, this game has firmly convinced me that Ivalice is quite possibly my favorite setting in all of gaming.  Please go back to it, SE.  Preferably in a true Final Fantasy Tactics II.

Before I go, kiddos, I’ve been avoiding commenting on Charlottesville and the response to it by the walking clusterfuck of mental illness currently disgracing the Oval Office.  Not because I don’t have strong thoughts on it.  Not because it isn’t important.  But mostly because of this – I shouldn’t have to.  I shouldn’t fucking have to.  It is 2017 for fuck’s sake.  If I need to tell you that being a white supremacist Nazi is a BAD FUCKING THING, you serve literally no purpose on this planet, and I should save my breath, time, and sanity, and just lob a meteor at you.  – EWE