31 March 2015

D&D vs Otome

I've played far more D&D based games than otome games (otome is a Japanese term for 'girl').  The majority of otome games I've run across are variations on visual novels, where you mostly endlessly click Next, with very occasional decision moments.  There are also massive amounts of games in Japan that have no official English language release and which I'm far too unmotivated to try and play.  Some of these seem to be quite dark.

The otome games I have liked tend to be a combination of "life simulation" (where you raise skills) and some kind of fantasy or SFF plot (like God Save the Queen).

So, anyway, last weekend I downloaded on Steam both a D&D game, and an otome game...and the otome game was better.

The D&D was Pillars of Eternity, a kickstarted revisit to a classic period of D&D gaming - if you played Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale you'll have met this sort of game before - you control a little party, running around various maps, killing stuff, exploring dungeons.  These games were a precursor to what we have with Dragon Age today - an early level of party banter and epic plotting, but without quite the level of detail.

Pillars of Eternity was neither brilliant nor entirely bad. But along with the things that were really good about this period of games, it also features some of the more frustrating problems - boring trots slowly across the map, giving the gameplay a feeling of crawling through mud, and combat that simply isn't fun.  I don't entirely dislike games with tough combat, but PoE requires a level of micromanagement to survive even minor battles on the easiest setting and, yeah, maybe I'll grind my way through this game eventually. Maybe I won't.  Hopefully the other game of this type I backed on kickstarter, Torment: Tides of Numenera, will balance all this more on the side of 'fun'.

On the other hand, the otome game turned out to be a lot of fun.  With the rather unwieldy name of 1931 Scheherazade at the Library of Pergamum, this offers the usual harem of bishounen for our intrepid heroine to stumble across (yes, including a mummy), but is just as strongly focused on Scheherazade (or Sadie) carving an Indiana Jones-esque path through a half-dozen historical locations in between studying at university in 1931.

The archaeology and mythology aspects are remarkably detailed (though with a rather hilarious trip to Australia to track down Mary McKillop's relatives), and the dialogue is often rather amusing.  The skill management, once I figured out how it worked, was challenging, but not impossible and it even makes me interested in doing more than one play-through (with judicious fast-forwarding), to see through some of the other character plotlines.

So, yes, still not doing much writing - in part because there is so much I want to write - short stories, Tangleways, and the siren call of my Singularity SF series.  Pyramids has had a rather quiet launch, but one of the true strengths of self-publishing is that I can keep writing what I want to write, without any pressure to kill myself jumping through promo hoops out of fear that the series will be dropped.

25 March 2015

Various games

The Swapper

Of the various puzzle games I've recently purchased, The Swapper is the most playable.  It's a relaxed pace platform puzzler (my preference since I don't like the ones where you have to constantly run) and starts with you, an identityless, voiceless figure in a spacesuit, wandering about in the aftermath of a disaster that has left a mining installation abandoned.

The plot is mildly interesting, but the strength of this one is the puzzles, which involve getting into difficult places by creating a clone of yourself, transporting your consciousness into the new copy, and abandoning the old body (or positioning it strategically on switches).  The atmosphere is also nicely spooky, and I've been working my way steadily toward the end.

Never Alone

Never Alone is both similar and virtually the opposite of Swapper.  It's another puzzle platformer (with some required running, but not constant momentum).  Again it's very atmospheric, and relies on working together to get through, but the puzzles so far are not as compulsive, and the main draw is the sheer cuteness of your arctic fox companion, and the slow discovery of Alaska Native culture.

It doesn't have the same forward drive as Swapper, but I'll continue it on and off to the end.

The Unfinished Swan

The Unfinished Swan combines a fairytale story book narration with a mechanic that involves throwing blobs of paint in all directions to reveal the location of walls/floor/objects.

This is very cool for the first couple of rooms, but then begins to pall a little and even though they mix up the paint-throwing mechanism later, there's no real narrative or puzzle interest to pull me through.

I may finished it.  Maybe.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2

I've played a lot of different Resident EvilsThis one takes Claire Redfield, pairs her with a less kick-ass girl, and gratuitously kidnaps them to some sort of experimental facility where someone appears to be channeling GLaDOS, but without the entertaining passive-aggressive snark.

I'm only at the beginning of the first episode of this, and not sure I'll buy any more.  [One advantage of these chapter by chapter game releases is you save money when you discover you don't find a game interesting.]

Final Fantasy: Type 0

A pity Final Fantasy: Type 0 hadn't been released on a chapter by chapter basis!  This is a remastered PSP port, so I expected low-rent graphics (and got them).

You sure do get a lot of different characters to play with - you're an entire elite classroom, named for a deck of cards.

Unfortunately the gameplay is entirely uninteresting, and the story not much better.  I doubt I'll play more than I have.

Final Fantasy XV (Boyband): Episode Duscae

Type 0, however, came with a demo of FF XV, set in a region called Duscae.  XV has been in development for something like six years, and was long considered vaporware until the past year or so, when new trailers and now this demo have been released.  And, from the demo at least, it's a solid step forward in the franchise, leaving behind the turn based gameplay for a quicker, smoother experience.  Timefillers like the way FF combat traditionally started and ended have been removed, and the process of finding and embarking on quests is much more fluid.  And there's some funny additions, too, like cooking for buffs.

The game is also unutterably beautiful.

Of course, being Final Fantasy, there's some inevitable negatives.  I call this "Boy Band" for a reason - all the known playable characters are male (breaking a long tradition of having at least a female healer character) and during the demo the only female given any time on screen might be a mechanic, but she's a mechanic in Daisy Dukes, suffering from camera angles focused on her hips and cleavage.



 However, at least one promo image suggests there are two important female characters in the game, and while one is the typical FF ingenue, the plot outline suggests that she's an ingenue that can match the main character in battle.  [Inevitably to be defeated, of course.]

Anyway, I was already interested in playing FF XV.  I've now moved it to the top of my list of games I'm looking forward to.  The demo was that good.

08 March 2015

Life is Strange (game) - minor spoilers

I'm using my post-release break to play a few games.

Life is Strange is an episodic adventure game about a photography-obsessed girl name Max who has returned to her home town on a scholarship - and discovers she has time-rewinding powers.  Into Max's life we introduce a rich boy with a gun, an old friend with problems, a security control freak, a new friend with white-knight tendencies, and a disappeared girl.  And many varieties of bullying.  And a coming mega-tornado.

The production values are very high, and it's a nice, playable game, with puzzles that revolve mainly about choices leading to social consequences.  And I enjoyed playing the first episode of this game, and liked Max, and I'm probably not going to pick up the rest of the episodes.

Two issues - there's so much powerlessness going on here, so many different vortices of bullying, that I just feel no anticipation for the play experience, even if the likely end result is vindication or escape.

And - particularly in a game where the main character runs around taking photos of everything - I kept having to keep myself from shrieking "Take some video!  Gather evidence!  Video the creepy home surveillance system.  Video the rich boy with a gun!  Video the bullying security guard!"

The mega-tornado also feels weirdly unnecessary given all the other stuff going on.

Anyway - I do recommend this game to anyone with higher tolerance for this kind of story.  It's very atmospheric and interesting.  Just a not-for-me game.

Mildly spoilerish bit..
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Willing to bet that the all-around-wonderful photography teacher is a creepy murderer and video-taper of girls.