Monday, August 27, 2018

Ys Origin Preliminary Review

After having so much fun tackling Ys I & II as part of my “gaming shames” project, I decided to jump into another entry of the series, Ys Origin, the prequel to the first two games. Unlike the other games in the Ys franchise, Ys Origin ditches the main protagonist, Adol, and instead lets the player choose among two playable characters (with the option to unlock a third), each with their own unique plotlines. I’m writing this as a preliminary review because I’ve had the chance to finish the game with the two starting characters, Yunica and Hugo, but haven’t had a chance to try the third character yet. Here’s what I think of the game from what I’ve played so far:

  • The action is fast and fluid compared to most ARPGs; much of the moment-to-moment gameplay is closer to a hack-and-slash game.
  • Battles with giant bosses are the highlight. Having explosions and projectiles going everywhere creates enjoyable bullet-hell chaos. Sometimes battles can drag on a little too long but it’s generally quick to grind up a few levels to mitigate that.
  • Yunica and Hugo have distinct playstyles. Yunica is a close-up melee fighter like Adol (or Link) while Hugo is entirely based on ranged attacks. Yunica has more powerful attacks and combos but risks taking damage herself. Hugo is more about being methodical. Switching characters really does change how you play.
  • Dungeon design is much more interesting and varied than Ys I & II. Some areas of the dungeon are 3D reimaginings of parts of the tower from Ys I, which is cool to see as a fan of the series.
  • The story is pretty simple but has some emotional highlights (more so with Hugo than Yunica). Supposedly the third character's plot adds substantially to the Ys franchise lore, but I haven't gotten to that yet.
  • I really like look of the detailed 2D sprites on the simple 3D backgrounds.
  • The music is excellent, as one would expect from an Ys game. Many of the pieces are new arrangements of music from Ys I and II.
  • The whole game takes place inside one giant dungeon, Darm Tower, with cutscenes spread sprinkled in to break up the action. There are no overworld areas or towns. This makes the world feel more restricted than in other Ys games.
  • A few sections of the tower just consist of plowing through wave after wave of enemies which can feel a like a slog.
  • While the game’s character paths feature different plot perspectives, the gameplay covers the same dungeon and bosses with only minor variations. This means having to repeat most of the game three times in order to see the whole story.
  • Unlike Ys I and II, the game can only be saved at fixed save points. Sometimes these save points are spaced too far apart for my liking.
  • The inventory and equipment screen can’t be accessed during boss battles and hitting “retry” after losing a boss battle drops you right back into the start of the battle. Thus, if you walk into a battle with the wrong gear equipped, you must exit back to the title screen and reload your save.
My first two play-throughs of Ys Origin were a lot of fun and the game has been a welcome break from the slower turn-based RPGs I’ve been playing this year. That being said, with each run through the tower, the issues with repetitiveness and quality of life did begin to wear on me. For now, I’m going to set the game aside and play through the third character’s path after taking a break to avoid getting burnt out. If the final path, which supposedly shows the “true ending”, changes my views on the game, I’ll be sure to update this review or a write a follow-up post. However, based on the substantial time I’ve put into Ys Origin so far, I can comfortably recommend it to fans of hack-and-slash style action RPGs.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 20 hours (11 hours for Yunica and 9 for Hugo)

Update (Dec-16 2018): I went back and finished the game with the third character. This character's plot is definitely more emotional than the other paths and does more to tie Ys Origin into the rest of the Ys series. The gameplay is still mostly the same as the other two paths, except the new character is much faster and more agile than the others. I found it worthwhile to devote another 8 hours to revisiting this game since I enjoyed it so much the previous times, but the experience didn't really change my overall feelings on the game, so my preliminary review score still stands.



Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Managing the Backlog

While the word “backlog” is in the title of this blog, I haven’t really written much about my backlog and how I keep track of it.
When I use the term “backlog”, I’m specifically referring to games that I have either purchased or received as a gift but have not actually started playing. For games that I received for free as part of promotions or bundle, they only get put in the backlog if they’re titles that have already piqued my interest. In other words, the backlog represents my to-play list among games I already have but I don’t obligate myself to play every game I own (that would be insane based on my Steam inventory).
Everything that doesn’t make it onto the backlog falls into one of the following categories:
  • Rainy Day – Games that I own but am not sure I’ll ever actually play.
  • Wishlist – Pretty self-explanatory. Games I want to play but don’t own yet.
  • Gaming Shames – As I’ve covered in a previous post, these are significant classic games that I missed during their original release.
  • Mothballed – Games that I have started but set aside. I may get back to these one day.
  • Played – Instead of a list of classifying games based on whether or not I have beaten them, I use the Played list for any game that I have either finished or discontinued playing and am unlikely to return to.
You may by wondering how I keep track of all this, that’s were a tool called Grouvee comes in. In starting this blog, I tested out various backlog tracking tools, including popular ones like Backloggery and HowLongToBeat, but I found Grouvee to the most intuitive and flexible. With Grouvee, I’m able to categorize games easily and log my review scores. I also like that Grouvee features box art for every game and can be synced with your Steam account so that new game purchases are automatically added to the backlog. All this is to say, if you’re thinking about using an online tool to manage your game collection, I’d highly recommend trying out Grouvee.
If you’re curious what my backlog currently looks like, you can find it here: Capsulejay's Backlog
Also, while I’m recommending things on this topic, if you’re the kind of person that enjoys organizing your nerdy hobbies, I’d suggest listening to this episode of the Geek to Geek Podcast: G2G Podcast Ep #7. Part of my inspiration for this blog comes from this podcast.
Anyway, now when I mention “my queue”, “gaming shames” etc, you know where all that comes from. I’m interested to hear how other folks organize their game collection, so feel free to share you own backlogging techniques in the comments below!

If all this reading about backlogs and such has you in the mood to add more games to your own collection while also supporting this blog, consider picking something up from Amazon using this affiliate link: Amazon Video Games

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Steamworld Dig 2 Review

Ok, after my recent streak of personal and retrospective posts, it's time to get back to a good old fashioned review:

Steamworld Dig 2 was an acclaimed Metroidvania when it came out on Switch last year. I put it off after getting a little burnt out on the genre. Eventually, I got the PC version for free via Twitch Prime and decided to give it a go as a buffer between all the RPGs I've been playing lately.

  • Charming character and world design. I really liked the vibrant colors and quirky cast of NPCs.
  • The controls feel really good. Maneuvering Dot around is fun in classic Nintendo-like fashion. This especially true once you acquire upgrades like the grappling hook and jet pack.
  • The puzzle rooms add some clever challenges and let you explore all the different ways you can use your gear.
  • Exploration leads to collecting the items needed to upgrade your character, which opens up even more places to explore. This makes for a very satisfying gameplay loop.

  • I felt that the game overly limited exploration in the beginning. Having to frequently return to town to recharge the lantern and empty your backpack was kind of irritating. Thankfully, you can get upgrades after a while that ease up these restrictions.
  • Many areas of the game  are traversed by digging tunnels (think Dig Dug). This was a novel idea at first, but eventually, I found having to smash rocks all the time got a little old. This made me appreciate the freedom of exploring the open areas a lot more.
  • Metroid and Castlevania would break things up periodically with big boss battles. This game has very few boss battles and they weren't particularly memorable.

Overall Steamworld Dig 2 is a quality Metroidvania and I think any fan of the genre should check it out. However, I couldn't help but feel like it was over-hyped by the time I got to it.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 8 hours, 45 minutes

If reading this post has put you in the mood to pick up a new game while also supporting this blog, you can do so via this Amazon affiliate link: Amazon Video Games 

Monday, August 13, 2018

For Pinky

Well, here we are with another non-game-specific post. This one just felt like the right thing to do.

Those of you that have been reading my posts for a while or have been following me on Twitter or Twitch probably have seen my cat Pinky make some guest appearances. For the past several years she has been my faithful gaming companion, co-streamer, and assistant reviewer. In fact, in the over 100 posts I've written in this blog, she was sitting in my lap for the majority of them. Unfortunately, our time to say goodbye to her was last week, but rather make this a mournful post, I'd like to dedicate this entry to her and celebrate the time I got to spend with her.

In addition to keeping me company during gaming time, Pinky often liked to take an active role in the vanquishing of digital enemies. Based on her interest in batting at the monitor or mashing buttons while I was playing, I’m pretty sure her favorite games were Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser and The Witcher 2 (she was a cat with diverse taste). On the topic of taste, she also contributed to some of my hardware reviews by taste testing the peripherals. Pinky was also a presence on my Twitch streams, her color commentary was picked up on the mic during several broadcasts.

Pinky may have been a small cat (~ 6lbs) but she had a huge personality. She will be missed and I’m very grateful for her companionship.

Farewell, Pinky, and thanks for all the wonderful memories!

One of her many peripheral taste tests (you'll see a theme here).
This blog doesn't cover non-gaming electronics. Pinky's work had a wider scope.

The Horipad was probably her favorite controller.
Here's some of that signature personality I mentioned.

Normally, this where the affiliate link would go. However, today, instead of buying stuff online, I encourage you to go hug your pets and tell them you love them.


Friday, August 10, 2018

The Sega Gap

Earlier this week when I talked about my history with gaming, I mentioned my “Rip Van Winkle period” from 2005 to 2011. However, you may have also noticed another gap in my history with game systems; with the exception of the Sega Dreamcast, I didn’t own any Sega devices. During the 90s console wars, I was always firmly on the Team Nintendo side of the schoolyard. Despite my juvenile biases, I couldn’t help but admire some of the interesting-looking content Sega had on offer that I didn’t have access to. For example, I watched Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons and read Sonic comics, but never actually played the games with a Genesis controller in my hand. Many years later, after the fires of the console wars had died down, I sampled a little bit of what the other side was playing via ports to other systems. Here’s a quick rundown:
  • Genesis – Sonic 1 through & Knuckles (via a Gamecube collection), Gunstar Heroes (Virtual Console)
  • Saturn – Panzer Dragoon 1 and 2 (1 via Panzer Dragoon Orta on Xbox, 2 via emulation)
  • Dreamcast – Sonic Adventure 1 and 2, Shenmue 1 and 2, Jet Set Radio, Soul Caliber
Since the whole point of this blog is to clear backlogs and address “Gaming Shames”, I feel like there’s a rich wellspring of titles here that I’ve largely overlooked. I briefly skimmed the Sega Genesis catalog some years ago with an emulator, but I found it hard to focus on any one title. At this point, I’m looking to dig a little deeper and work a few titles into my Gaming Shames queue. I have a few ideas of what I could play but would love suggestions from readers of some must-play Sega titles (especially from the Genesis). Depending on the game, I might stream some of these Sega games on my Twitch channel. What are your favorite games from Sega history?

If reading this post has put you in the mood to pick up a game or two while also supporting this blog, you can do so via this Amazon affiliate link: Amazon Video Games 

  • The topic for this post was largely inspired by chatting with some fellow Twitch streamers: Keyglyph, BogusMeatFactory, and HungryGoriya. Be sure to check out their channels!
  • This post is part as part of the #BlaugustReborn event. For more information about Blaugust, see this blog entry by Belghast.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Octo Update

After writing my impressions last week, I’ve sunk a bunch of additional hours into Octopath Traveler. At this point, I’ve now played through the first chapter for all eight characters, and have started the second chapter for the merchant, Tressa. Some additional thoughts now that I have a bigger picture of what this game has to offer:
  • The original demo featured the first chapter for Primrose the Dancer and Olberic the Knight. I think Square Enix made a wise decision showcasing these two characters when unveiling the game to the world. Of all eight characters, I found these two have stories with the most compelling starts, even upon second viewing. Their darker themes of revenge and justice are probably best suited to older players like me that were reeled in by this game’s resemblance to 16 and 32-bit classics.
  • The second tier of characters have less interesting stories but have likable personalities that keep me engaged. My lead character, Cyrus the Scholar, is a wannabe Sherlock Holmes on the hunt for a lost book of forbidden knowledge. There’s a mysterious air to his story that appeals to me. Also, his haughty attitude and devastatingly powerful magic make him a fun character to have as my protagonist. (I neglected to mention in my preview that the first character you play serves as your main character for the whole campaign). Tressa the Merchant is charming in a different way with her happy-go-lucky attitude and thirst for adventure. She’s also a highly opportunistic capitalist, like you would expect from a merchant, which works its way into her plot in fun ways. Her quest is also motivated by a book, so I tend to group her and Cyrus together.
  • Some of the criticisms of Octopath Traveler from major review outlets have been about “generic writing”. I think this shows a bit once we drop down into the third and fourth tier characters. I put Therion the Thief and Ophelia the Cleric in the third tier; they’re not especially interesting but I think there’s potential for their plots to go in interesting directions. In the Final Fantasy series, Square Enix has done interesting things with thieves (e.g. Balthier from FF12) and clerics (e.g. Yuna from FF10) before, so hopefully, that’ll end up being the case here.
  • In the fourth tier, we have H'aanit the Huntress and Alfyn the Apothecary. While these characters are pretty useful in combat, their dialog doesn’t do much for me. H'aanit speaks in a strange faux-Elizabethan English that seems off to me. If the game’s writers wanted to go this way with her script, I wish that they would have committed to it more fully. The strange half measure that they went with just seems awkward to me (think the original Dragon Warrior). As for Alfyn, he just wants to be the best apothecary he can be... and that's about it. Not too interesting.
  • As I had mentioned before, I started off with Cyrus and thus he's my team leader. This has worked out exceptionally well. His powerful area-of-effect elemental spells and his ability to detect enemy weaknesses make him exceptionally useful in every combat situation I've encountered.
  • I've only just started my first Chapter 2 quest and there's a noticeable difficulty spike. Many basic encounter enemies now feel on the level of mini-bosses. When I finished all the Chapter 1 stories, Cyrus was at level 22 and everyone else was in the upper teens. It feels like I'll be able to handle Chapter 2, but just barely.
  • I managed to figure out some of the side quests, but other than earning money, I'm still not sure if they matter much.
 Octopath Traveler continues to be a joy to play and it will probably keep me busy for at least the rest of this month. Since I'm increasing my posting frequency for #BlaugustReborn, I'll likely post one more impressions post before writing my review. Since this post was mainly about characters and story, the next will probably focus on combat strategy once I've gotten a taste of higher level play. In any event, I still highly recommend that any RPG fan give this game a look.

If you'd like to check out the world of Octopath Traveler for yourself while also supporting this blog, you can order a copy of the game from this Amazon affiliate link: Octopath Traveler - Nintendo Switch

If you would like to learn more about #BlaugustReborn or sign up to participate, take a look at this post from fellow game blogger, Belghast: Tales of the Aggronaut - First of Blaugust

Monday, August 6, 2018

Gaming Origin Story

While I generally don't like to talk about myself and prefer to keep this blog focused on the games themselves, it occurred to me that in two years of game blogging, I've never really gotten into my history with my favorite past time. In the spirit of #BlaugustReborn, I figured I should probably fix that. Here it goes:

My start with gaming came from an unlikely figure: my grandma. She was probably the only 60+-year-old lady hanging out in the dingy local arcade, but she could clear Pac-Man boards with the best of them.

Naturally, several years later, once I was old enough to hold a controller, she taught me how to play Donkey Kong on the NES, followed soon after by Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt. Three-year-old me was, of course, terrible at all of these, with the exception of Duck Hunt if I put the Zapper’s muzzle directly against the screen. None the less, I’ve been a diehard Nintendo fan ever since.

While I may have been a massive Nintendo fan, my 8 and 16-bit gaming was limited to genres like platformers, fighting games, and racing games. I didn’t come to appreciate other genres, some of which are now favorites, like RPGs and puzzle-adventure until many years later when my family got our first computer (we were pretty late to the party on that) and my sister bought a PlayStation. The PlayStation got me into RPGs; I literally emptied my piggy bank to buy Final Fantasy 7. The PC, on the other hand, accomplished two things: introduced me to genres that weren’t available on consoles at the time (e.g. FPS and point-and-click adventure) but also sparked my interest in computer hardware that continues to this day.

My journey has looked something like this overall:
  • Nintendo – NES, SNES, Gameboy Color, N64, Gamecube, DS, Wii, Wii U, 3DS, Switch
  • Other Consoles – PS1, Dreamcast, PS2, Xbox
  • PC – Dell Pentium desktop, HP AMD Athlon 64 Desktop,  ASUS i5 gaming laptop, Samsung i5 media laptop, self-assembled gaming desktop (current)
You may notice that there's a pretty large gap in my non-Nintendo gaming between the Xbox and the ASUS laptop (approximately from 2005 to 2011). Time and money were in short supply those years, so I missed the majority of a whole console generation with the exception of a few Wii games. I call this my gaming Rip Van Winkle period, and much of the focus of my backlog journey has been devoted to filling in that gap.

The past two years of taking that backlog journey with everyone in the world of game blogging has been a lot of fun! Thanks for joining me so far and happy Blaugust!

If reading this post has put you in the mood to pick up a new game while also supporting this blog, check out this Amazon affiliate link: Amazon Video Games

I'm upping my blog posting frequency for the rest of the month in celebration of #BlaugustReborn. I'm aiming for at least two posts per week. If you'd like to know more about Blaugust, you get more info from this post by Belghast.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Octopath Traveler Impressions

After being enthralled by the Octopath Traveler demo last year, it was pretty clear that this classic-style JRPG would be right up my alley. The wait until the release of the full game felt long, but it has finally arrived. At this point, I'm about 10 hours into the campaign and have added five of the eight characters to my party. Here are some early thoughts on my time with the game:
  • The music and environments on display in the original demo really wowed me. Now that I've gotten to see a wider variety of what the game has to offer, I continue to be impressed by its artistic presentation. The dark forests, glittering coastlines, snow-capped mountains, and medieval towns all look great in Octopath's faux-retro graphical style. The color pallet of the game world is muted compared to a 16-bit RPG but it works well for the game's setting and tone. So far every environment has been accompanied by great music in the form of stirring orchestral pieces, somber piano sessions, or folksy tunes as appropriate.
  • While the environments themselves look lush and deep, largely due to the 2D-3D hybrid style, traversal through the world is quite linear. The side-scrolling camera angle means that there's generally only one path through an area with the occasional short detour to pick up treasure. In a sense, it's actually more restrained than the 16 and 32-bit games that Octopath resembles. Furthermore, if the player somehow does manage to get lost, the map and radar are marked with distinct green icons showing the location of the next quest objective. As a player that doesn't like spending a lot of time figuring out where to go next, I really like this design decision. However, I imagine that players expecting "open world" exploration may be a bit disappointed.
  • Another efficient design decision that Octopath makes is dividing each quest into short chapters. So far each chapter has consisted of a few cutscenes, a visit to a town, a small dungeon, and a boss battle with save points liberally placed throughout. This makes the game much easier to pick up and play for short bursts compared to other JRPGs. Most of my play sessions have been under an hour and in portable mode.
  • A minor gripe: there is no option to auto-advance fully-voiced cutscenes. In most games, I like being able to set the controller down while listening to the dialog with my hands free to do other things (mostly eating). This game doesn't let me do that since I have to tap the A button after every line of dialog. I've gotten used to it by now, but it still makes the conversations between characters sound a little stilted. 
  • There are side quests in this game, but I have no idea how to keep track of which ones I'm working on or determine what the objectives are for each. The game prompts me when I've met the criteria to start a new side quest (usually talking to the right NPC), but I have yet to figure out how to progress things from there. I'm not sure if this is a game design issue or if I'm doing something wrong. Either way, the side quests don't seem to matter much yet.
  • Every time you begin a new character's quest, that character joins the party at level one. I was initially concerned that this would make the game feel unbalanced, but that hasn't been the case. The level curve is such that the new character catches up quickly and the older characters don't become too overpowered. In other words, the difficulty curve has been smooth.
  • Some of the early bosses can take quite a beating before finally going down, however, I have yet to have one wipe out my party. 
  • Right now, the five characters I have access to are the scholar, the cleric, the merchant, the huntress, and the thief. Each one plays a little differently, but there is some overlap in their skill sets. For example, if a quest requires acquiring a key item from an NPC, I can either use the merchant to purchase the item off the NPC, or just steal it using the thief. I'm curious to see how each character's field skills work together once I've assembled the whole crew.
I was initially concerned about some of the early reviews I was seeing for this game, but I'm having a blast with Octopath Traveler so far. I'm thinking that the eagerness of some outlets to brand this game as "the next Final Fantasy 6" did it a disservice. Octopath is looking less like one grand quest with an ensemble cast like Final Fantasy 6, and more like a set of smaller stories that occasionally intertwine, a la SaGa Frontier. Thankfully for me, that's exactly what I wanted.

If you'd like to check out the world of Octopath Traveler for yourself while also supporting this blog, you can order a copy of the game from this Amazon affiliate link: Octopath Traveler - Nintendo Switch

This month marks the two-year anniversary of Tales from the Backlog! The event that got me started with blogging is called Blaugust and it returns this year as #BlaugustReborn! If you would like to learn more about Blaugust or sign up to participate, check out this post from fellow game blogger, Belghast: Tales of the Aggronaut - First of Blaugust