Persona 3 FES Review

After playing Dark Arisen I was on a dungeon-crawler kick, and thus I now have about 3 reviews I want to do all related to Atlus games.  Persona 3 FES is a game available on the PS2 and the PSN store for around $10, and as a 100 hour game it’s very much worth the investment.  Persona 3 was the marked change in the series, where the addition of taking classes, joining school clubs and leveling up Social LInks livened up the dungeon crawling in a unique way.  FES was the somewhat better version with a few variations making the social links a tad easier if you chose to hit every single one in a single playthrough.  

1, in which we meet a dungeon and fall in love.

I love the games dungeon, even the disco has novelty.  If Buffy was “high-school as hell” Persona 3 is “high-school as a dungeon crawler.”  Tartarus is an enigma for Persona adepts, a type of randomly generated dungeon that while not loved by everyone definitely sets some sort of standard.  While it just seems to keep going up and up, by later sections of the game when you hit floor 100 or 200 you do feel as if you’ve achieved something.  

2, in which friends become our greatest enemy. 

The dungeons might come naturally, but making friends in a game can be challenging, getting a link almost to mastery, only for summer break to appear and leave being able to call that ultimate persona off for several months will leave you feeling somewhat terse with these challengers to your affection.  Though abandoned in Persona 4 the female Social Links, or girlfriends if you want to get technical, will reverse on you or break if you don’t spend time with them or cheat.  

A word of explanation on this entire idea-Social Links are relationships all tied to specific groups of personas, each classed by arcana.  Yeah, the game has a Tarot motif, which makes sense as the “Fool’s Journey” works as well as the Hero’s Journey for fulfilling an RPG dynamic.  As I was writing one girl might be the Lovers arcana, by leveling up this relationship by meeting with her and giving her gifts on dates you’ll eventually max the link, getting a big boost in experience for any Lovers persona, but also the ability to fuse a special persona-the Ultimate Persona.  

While some ultimate personas are so-so, many are the only ways to get the highest grade of spells, whether fire or healing, the game offers.  And given that the only way you can get these spells is by hanging out with your friends the game creates a bizarrely addicting dynamic-who should I hang out with that can help me out the most.  Yeah, feels more like University but whatever.  The time management aspect can be peculiar, downright infuriating to newcomers at the start, at lunch several people might walk up to you “I want to talk to you when you have some free time,” I might not have experienced popularity in my real high-schooling years but in a game world(where we all save universes and have our choice of beautiful, exotic counterparts) Atlus did something interesting by providing the problem of being popular.  

3, so what does it really mean?

Shin Megami Tensei games are notoriously tough.  Even if you read a review online for SMT IV, which isn’t really tough or grind-ey, you’ll see reviewers and their ilk pondering the games difficulty and need to grind.  While we can all question their gaming credentials on our own time, Persona 3 attempted to deal with that problem.  The Social Link system, when handled well, was a great opportunity to speed through many problems dungeon crawlers and RPGs of a certain ilk have.  Players might feel like grinding(near obsessive killing of enemies or clearing of boring quests to gain Experience Points for raising levels, and thus stats) is a necessity in many games(which might be a case) but Persona 3 attempted to temper that situation.  Yes, levels allow you to summon your personas, but your friends at school allow you to easily get 2 or 3 levels raised on them immediately, and the automatic 5 from maxing a link meant you would be able to create a persona, get it’s best skills, and immediately fuse it into one you wanted, to create your own ultimate personas.  

4, no seriously whats it all about?

P3 might or might not deserve it’s reputation as a dark game, but it is almost all about death.  From the uproar in the media when the game came out as the youths “called” their personas by simulating shooting themselves in the head(with evokers-basically plastic pistols) many people involved publicly with games had to go on TV and talk about the game.  It was a tough image of games as we all know the greater culture never quite knows what to do with the medium, much like comics more and more games aren’t meant for kids.  But each of the games Social Links had a story, with a preponderance of them dealing with death.  It wasn’t an inordinate motif, it was the theme of the game.  You can’t appreciate life without appreciating death.

A reason the developers started making these games in the first place was the fact that Persona allowed them to deal with certain ideas and philosophies because it was set in a high school.  Yes, while SMT deals with adults, Persona games use youths as their protagonists because not only the games get to deal with certain ideas but they retain a freshness.  Think about when you were young, ideas seemed important, you wanted to listen to peoples problems, you get older and it seemingly falls into the same problems you’ve always heard.  Persona cuts through that, one story revolves around trying to get an older man to make contact with the family he’s left, any adult would probably say if someone talked about leaving their family that last thing you’d suggest would be to go back.  Or the dying young man, listening to someone deal with dying isn’t easy but think back to the first time that happened, that’s the feeling the Persona games can get away with.

5-summation of the themes 

The game is a classic, not because it’s perfect, but it’s the first time they’ve tried something and they do it well.  Well, technically FES(the version I’m recommending) is a second attempt, but it’s even better.  The game is constantly trying to find ways to make your life somewhat easier, like at the end of a fight several cards appear allowing you to chose to raise the amount of money you get from the fight or the amount of experience.  And in the last month of the game you can get into an optional dungeon where if you can beat the tough enemies you’ll level very quickly and actually be able to use some of those ultimate personas you’ve worked to get.  The developers don’t let you do this right off the bat, but they from the inception of the game are doing their best to make a game that while hard at times is rewarding in both gameplay and story.  

6-Best part, The End

The game is pulling you to the roof of Tartarus from the first hours, and the payoff is worth the effort.  That’s really all I should say on the games direction towards an end.  If you enjoy RPGs and would like some sort of a challenge give it a shot, if you like it I’d suggest(if you really want a challenge) picking up SMT 3: Nocturne.  Persona 4 was released, again for the PS2, and made a huge splash.  Lighter theme, more relatable(i.e. dumber) characters, easier dungeons, in your face symbolism, it’s a bizarrely easy game yet I can’t finish it.  I’ve made it to the last month of Persona 4 and I don’t have a drive to finish.  This wasn’t a problem with Persona 3 FES.  Give the game a shot if you have some time to spare to a game that isn’t quite cutting edge graphics wise.  A 5 out of 5 as the flaws are easily outweighed by how much is right.

Dark Arisen Review: Yay Dragons again!

   With the release of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen we see a little deeper into the growth of console RPGs. So I intended to continue this review a while ago, I moved to playing another game: Atlus’ PS2 game Persona 3: FES. This game had been on my Sunday playlist for several months, and in a few weeks I finally finished the experience. That lead to me hitting up Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, and finally the last 2 days where I’ve been playing Vagrant Story. Long story short, I now think Dark Arisen needs to be appreciated in terms of where console RPGs are.

One merely has to look at TV Tropes laundry list of “Console RPG Tropes” that there is definitely a history here that should be appreciated, and much of it comes from Japan. With Japan not quite getting anything similar to a gaming PC revolution, more a retro move towards handhelds, their developers were not afraid of creating primarily for consoles. While the current state of the nations developer population might be questioned their past is not. And in my estimation progression of the system is really key to this history.

Dark Arisen is a pocket of energy. Good, bad, Dragon’s Dogma was definitely a mix of fun combat and repetitive backtracking/dull storytelling. Dark Arisen is more focused by leagues. While the story behind Dogma seems to be that development realities only allowed a portion of the planned game to materialize. However, Dark Arisen actually used a stripped down experience to accentuate the experience. Using text to get atmospheric stories of pawns and arisen from the past, all called to the dungeon and finding themselves trapped on this evil island.

I guess I jumped past a few facts. Dark Arisen, the re-release of Dragon’s Dogma with a new dungeon is Capcom going back t the console RPG space. The game is unique, in that the new content isn’t really useful until you’ve leveled your character up enough in the original content. That original content so polarized people that it instilled a strong fan-base. Those that could play past the main quest and its fairly cliché sequences were able to open up the final dungeon and when the awesome monster fights were now constructed one after another the game created a unique tension and challenge most games inhabiting this sector, or genre, couldn’t match. This particular aspect is what fans demanded, and Capcom’s Dark Arisen is the answer.

With a dark sense to the new landscape new gear also arrives. While the addition of new skills was in reality just skill rings, the new weapons and armors continue the issue of power-creep in late game RPGs. The real problem with the original game was that eventually everyone leveled past any difficulty. Even with the new content’s inherent difficulty once I finished my first run through the dungeon’s 3rd stratum I didn’t have any problem progressing through all 3 stratum a second time. The new weapons and armor are all way more powerful than what the game had in before. While all the games gear has the same upgrade balancing, the better gear always requires more rare items from more dangerous areas with the new additions requiring players attempt many kills of the most powerful enemies in all of the game, the very act of getting the upgrade materials will level your characters up.

Granted, I like the ease to which players can advance with the new content. Where the original game would have players going on 20 minute hikes across the entirety of Gransys looking for a particular creature, like a dragon, the new content just introduces dangerous enemies randomly. The idea is that the air is heavy and monsters can smell the blood from fresh kills, but the reality is every kill slowly changes the probability that a monster appears. If one wants to just run past the enemies if the spawns are causing trouble.

The game, while not perfect, is an attempt to draw some fresh blood, see what I did there, into the console RPG scene. While many developers are attempting to create bigger worlds this team has instead focused on going deeper, creating an environment that requires players to explore and adapt to the subtleties inherent within the combat system. With this release I hope this team has cemented how to leverage environments to test mechanics because any further releases could surely be impressive. Lets just hope along the way their storytelling grows some too.  

Lead up to Dark Arisen

So I picked up Dark Arisen, the re-release of Dragon’s Dogma.  I wanted to try it out, but I didn’t use my old system-so no save data.  That means no infinite ferrystones-not as big a deal now that they’re 900 caps, but still, I had to start at the beginning.  

I’ve never really pushed myself this hard to get a playthrough of a game in, I had to really try to get to a decent level to take on the new content. Basically they “listened” to fan feedback and created new content for later in the experience.  One of the games core issues is that

the game isn’t set up really well for getting higher leveled characters.  What most people found playing this game is that if you made it through the vapid and poorly written main questline you had a chance to say “screw the pleasantries” and engage in really genuinely fun combat that was challenging in a portion of the game called the everfall-only open “post-game”.  

 

What happens is, once you actually choose to jump through to the next playthrough the enemies are still as difficult as the first time.  No bump in damage, no higher defensive stats-just killing wolves instead of hellhounds.  Good move if you are moving from a powerful and methodically crafted warrior into a magic class without any stats yet, bad for people who have built up their characters at all.  The new game plus spectrum is a serious let-down.  Though the main-quest was always a chore, with the plus that any gear you wear through the final dragon battle would become upgraded to the highest tier-Dragonforged.

Yeah, a lot of effort for that free gear.  So they made something to do while finishing your chores, a difficult dungeon filled with randomness and exceptional gear to roam ad infinitum while finishing any new playthroughs.  

I pushed myself to finish the main quest, quite early I thought, but still a bore-espescialy so when there isn’t any “wonder” in the situation.  One of the reasons this game reviewed so poorly was what it looked like.  It appeared to be an open world RPG on par with what many western developers have begun to create, like Bioware or Bethesda.  In reality the open world was just to make the battles free range.  In an attempt to ‘out Dark Souls Dark Souls’ the developers created a larger world with trappings like relationships and side-quests, all while forgetting to express the dungeon crawl mentality behind it all.  And to top it off the game was cheap.  What probably should have been a larger world, with more interesting quests and more dungeons to explore was often going back to the same places for a new quest.  Exploring lost it’s umph once a gamer realized there would always be a chimera here, a cyclops there, the randomness only felt like it because some monsters moved based on your quest progression.

Replaying the game this has been really apparent.  It’s kind of sad, a unique game so completely hampered, likely they didn’t really intend to create the end product but changes had to go in.  I don’t know, but one thing I found out is that a huge amount of quests, or side-quests I should say, are able to be bugged.  It never happened to me before, probably because I was attempting to do some of them, but if you skip a couple you won’t be able to do a lot of the quests later in the game.  

Not a bother now that there’s Bitterblack Isle.  This is the chance for the development team to do a dungeon crawling homage, this time with actual random battles, less rote story, and even less art assets somehow.  The modular level design is unique in it’s ability for gamers to feel like they know the best way to deal with a situation.  Considering that this area will be just like a previous one you can do things like scope out the situation stealthily even on your first attempt.  Unless your pawns get their own idea.

Yes, the big “advancement” of the game really falls on it’s face in this expansion.  The pawn AI, the characters who you create, choose a class and skills/spells, and loan out/rent from friends, that AI has real problems with this new content.  Being that the new content has new monsters a huge amount of people whose pawns you pick up don’t have the content, so they haven’t “learned” anything about the new monsters.  This means they choose less than ideal tactics constantly, all the while spouting off about aught and naught, et al.  

Whoever decided on this voice acting direction is just a bad person.

While the new content is difficult, it’s the pawns that give you a huge headache.  Unless they are just uber-powerful it’s quite difficult to keep them from killing you.  They don’t work well with the new smaller environs, and when they start dropping you constantly find yourself trying to keep everyone from dying.  The idea that only the main character can revive the fallen AI allies makes less sense in this dungeon than ever.  

As well the “new skills” are actually rings.  Randomly generated rings, so if the skill you want doesn’t come up you can’t use it, and often you have to choose between one skill or another at the cost of lowered debilitation resistance.  And whoever decided that debilitations or status ailments should be such a big part of the game should have made a few quests detailing the way to deal with this stuff.  I have, from my last playthrough, found so much of my carry weight comprised of medicine to heal one debilitation or another I barely have the average weight limit.  

While the new gear does fundamentally change how people play, where you used to need to balance what classes you played as to have decent health and stamina, or health and magic, you can now(if you get the right rings/armors) just push for what you wanted in the first place be it huge stamina and attack or health and defense…But this is all super random.

While people perfected finding the right box to get their “loot” in the Everfall dungeons last year, now your items are vouchers.  Cursed loot needing to be purified at the start of the dungeon, so get your items however and reconvene with Orla to purify your gear and possibly get that ring, that sword that allows you to deal without he new super damaging enemies.

The first breakthrough for me was that you should probably not kill every enemy.  For one thing I was too low level to kill many enemies when I first entered, but after several encounters with Elder Ogres I can say that I can’t beat the things and they only show up if I have a pile of corpses around.  That’s another element of this dungeons randomness, every corpse raises the odds that a powerful enemy will spawn.  So, it took me a while to realize that this ogre that was grinding my gears wasn’t a permanent part of the level, he just showed up because I killed some enemies I should have ran past. 

For the long term players, the level 120s or 180s, this isn’t a problem, in fact it’s music to their ears considering the ONE SAVE FILE POLICY.  Yeah, they haven’t been able to enjoy a challenge, outside of the original games online boss, for a long time.  Considering a new game would mean no playing around with all the gear they had found it would be a huge waste.  

So, while I have’n finished the title, I can say it is a unique venture.  Shining light on the pawns means the stress and wear of the system shows.  Expanding the difficulty means there is a long time new players have to play before the new content is available, and many early adopters still won’t find it as challenging as expected.  The new skills and gear aren’t what they seemed, but it’s Capcom, so…

Capcom took a unique venture with this game, and pushing out this new content means they must have future plans regarding role playing.  Or that they wanted to turn a planned sequel into a re-release and give up.  But based on the PS4 demo titled “Deep Down” with a dungeon crawl motif I feel they want to continue down this path, whatever the obstacles may be.  

Dishonored, Bioshock: Infinite, and Critical Reception

So I’ve been playing Dishonored again.  This is my first playthrough since the original run of mine from when the game first came out.  I have to put my cards on the table, I think the flooded district level of the game is a mini masterpiece.  Really, a lot of the levels are like that, the game is somewhat short because it didn’t re-play it’s hand.  Why force people to do things over and over just for more story?  As much as that line of thinking can make for good gaming, for some gamers it would have been more time trying to choke every single guard out versus trying new things.  OK, explanations are in order if that didn’t make sense.

The game is a stealth game, meaning that the player has the option, as well as abilities and information at their disposal, to avoid direct combat.  Stealth games usually have to build up a sense of coding, letting gamers understand the systems at hand.  A game like Far Cry 3 used pissing.  Yeah, apparently there was some sort of UTI or STD, but every man on the island would walk away from his group to urinate, and this was a great chance for the player to deal with these menacing human-trafficers without alerting the group.  Similarly foliage provided visual cover and some weapons provided safer, more quiet solutions compared to others; at the same time you were being given information letting you know if you had been stealthy, really stealthy, or alerted everyone.  For Dishonored this feedback loop was also there, every level would end showing you your “score” but also things like alarms and symbols on enemy heads informed players that they were or were not being stealthy.

What stealth games breed is a sense of mechanics not found in many games now.  So, what pulls people into a game isn’t really a story, or some great voice cast, or even a great look but really engaging mechanics.  That’s one of the reasons games seem to fall into genres so distinctly, if you like certain types of games you can be sure others of that type will be easy to get into.  

For Dishonored the stealth was great, somewhat random, sometimes wonky, but it was an irreplaceable way to give the game another layer of character.  Similar to that the game also had a disturbing world the player would slowly learn about.  This world was one of science and technology mixing with mysticism and witchcraft.  The idea of an industrial and scientific revolution taking place in a world that could have been a Skyrim, or a Middle Earth, created a sense of a world moving into a territory it wasn’t supposed to.  This world, like all fantasy kingdoms, was meant to tell stories about magic and mysteries, but it overstayed its welcome and the magic and the mysteries don’t like the new order.

Enter The Outsider, the Deus Ex Machina of the entire thing, deciding the character of Corvo is important he imbues him with powers, special powers for a special person and everything falls into place.  While the game could be seen as a post fantasy world, I think in many ways it’s really Lovecraftian.  Lovecraft often built a modern world looking like our world on top of a chaotic and supernatural world.  A house built on top of a giant, monster-infested underground empire, a lost to time alien civilization in the snowy mountains, a normal city street whose inhabitants are all part of an aeon old evil conspiracy.  For Lovecraft the modern world was barely, but importantly and humanistically, concealing the awful barbaric past.

Though this is a huge aspect of properly reading this stellar game, most reviewers didn’t seem to really explain this.  The world you inhabit when you enter this game is astounding: the Empress is killed, Corvo is jailed, and the rest of the game is you slowly descending into the bowls of a society unravelling the narrative of a culture falling apart at the seams.  Whereas there are different types of stealth games, like modern military stealth, this game is an improvement in so much as the stealth-which grounds players and forces them to listen and study the world, allowed gamers to be carried though a dark narrative in a dark world.  While story doesn’t have to exist in a good game, Dishonored has a place in my heart as a game that can do both, though not always in a linear fashion.

Another game that, more recently, included a fascinating world was Bioshock: Infinite.  The Boxer Rebellion plays a tangential event in the story.  The event was a situation where mystics fomented xenophobic rage in China as the country was beginning to be full of foreigners in some areas.  This is an incredible simplification, but it’s part of what happened.  Columbia, in Infinite, is a magical floating city, fueled by Quantum Entanglement the city and story are beyond impossible, but are in some ways very allegorical to a desire people felt in places like America at the turn of the last century.  Utopianism, the idea that people can push to achieve the impossibly perfect arrangement. Be it communities with loose sexual identities or stern religious ones many groups have attempted to create micro-utopias.  Comstock, the man who runs Columbia, designed a world where people could live a life as close to heaven as possible, but he needed the labor to create this dream.  A major element of the story is narrative, part of the reason for the infinite worlds idea getting integrated into the story I imagine.  Whereas the first Bioshock was an attempt to look at how peoples philosophy might integrate into the world, Infinite attempts to show ones narrative.  

Narrative is a funny thing, right?  It decides why I vote one way but my neighbor votes another, and why we read different blogs on top of it.  We can all be living in this same world but we all think it’s for a different reason.  Again, this is a topic not often found in a game, but Bioshock: Infinite builds this world in a stunning fashion.  Though I think many rush through the game too quick, part of the way they get people to learn about the world is to get them looting.

Looting becomes a major facet of the game as more weapon upgrades and powers, or vigors, are unlocked.  Every kilometer or so theres a couple of vending machines which allow one to enhance their weapons and vigors.  Theoretically normal people only used these sparingly but Booker Dewitt’s one man war on all of time and space has him using them in earnest.  The games weapons have this great design, since they’re all before much of the military upgrades of the World Wars came along they’re sort of clunky, tough looking gear.  Nevertheless, Booker needs this stuff to survive the fire fights, so players begin looting everything.  It becomes a habit, enter a room fight baddies-finish of baddies loot their bodies, loot the drawers, loot the floors-enter another room.  However, if you find a piece of a story hook along the way you look at that, since the looting would get boring if you didn’t have a story to listen to.  

I know many people felt the games combat was too relentless, but it seems like they wanted to make sure people were looking everywhere so that they alway found the story hooks.  How important was it to understand why a Beach Boys song was played by a barber shop quartet?  While not seeming to be too weird(for a game) eventually one learns this explanation(thanks to Cyndi Lauper) and that story explains more about the quantum situation which in turns explains the ending.  As much as anything might explain this games ending.

While people will tear apart and praise this ending for years to come I really loved the process of the ending.  It felt like a wonderful ride, pulling you through this games world at an epic pace as all the high-weirdness began to fall apart and at once come together.

But is this an easy thing to review?  Similar to Dishonored there are games that seem to be able to do well at reviews and games that don’t.  I think Bioshock: Infinite achieved better reviews all around but was quite similar to Dishonored, while the latter was cloaked as stealth and the former an intellectual FPS they were, at heart, both about examining these incisively envisioned worlds.  While Dishonored had 2 separate “ending reels” Infinite provided 15 minutes of walking through this conclusion-definitely feeling like something you could yell to others in the next room “come in, its the ending, you don’t want to miss this mind-fuck”.  

The thing about these games is, as far as being self-supporting narrative wise, as in creating a concrete world, they are equal.  As far as developing a narrative with meaning they’re equal, so to speak.  They have something worth exploring and do so.  But game reviewing isn’t a criticism about getting to the heart of the matter, it’s about examining the subject of mechanics and whether these things work.  Yet, at the end of the day, people like what they like so reviews are not a valid comparison to experience.  Just remember metacritic.  As stated, one who likes FPS knows what sort of games will most likely be worth their disposable income.  

So there is a concern I’ve developed for the way reviewing is going on.  it seems difficult to truly understand whether a game is worth buying. I know the big games will be reviewed, they’ll be so intently reviewed it will be difficult to truly know if they’re worth the time.  But the games that don’t have that mind share, or that already came out years ago, they might not get the credit they deserve.  Bioshock: Infinite had a 10 on Metacritic(or is it 100?) but a near perfect evaluation-meanwhile Dishonored less than 90.  Obviously metacritic is fucked beyond belief, but I think something of note is discernible as concern over violence became more of an issue for Bioshock: Infinite.  Suddenly review sites decided they had a problem with violence in a game where a revolution is taking place.  As bizarre as that is, it didn’t seem to get noted in changing their reviews.  

Critical reception for games is, in my estimation, about how well a game fits into a box.  The reviewers aren’t examining aspects of a games world or what it’s mechanics might mean, but whether consumers will find a problem with what the experience of the game is over the advertised expectation.  This is inherent as this sort of reviewing is more about consumer focus than, say, industry focus.  When people got upset with the violence they forget that the game is advertised as FPS and for many there’s a level of violence expected, or at least reasonable. I didn’t find the violence a problem, it was supposed to be a terrible world, but God, everybody willing to give such high scores to the game was somewhat absurd.  If anything I think that really points to release timing. People can take a game or leave it during the holidays, but whenever March rolls around suddenly it’s back to just appreciating a fun experience.  But I think that’s what most reviewers should be doing, it’s not a bad thing, just there’s not enough interest in the other aspects of a game right now.  

GTA 5, I mean 4

So, I haven’t been keeping up with GTA 5, but Rev3Games did an impressions video, then Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo did his thoughts, both based on a recent demo, and it got me interested.  Supposedly this game will allow for these heists, giving you some sort of goals, where one character needs to get, say, masks and another might do the job to procure the get away vehicle…it all seemed really interesting, right?

So I decided to purchase GTA 4, and this is my first impression.  Supposedly the new game will have better firing mechanics, it better because GTA 4 is unworkable.  Similarly driving is such a problem for those games, while other franchises can provide a consistent experience with driving GTA is really the odd man out with it’s insistence that there be lots of terrible cars to drive, and few decent vehicles.  This is making me feel like in all likelihood there really isn’t any way for GTA to survive in the modern gaming world.

When I was younger, high school age, GTA 3 & Vice City came out.  These were fun, but problematic, gaming GTA experiences.  Back then there really wasn’t anything else in the console market like it.  Obviously that isn’t the case any more.

The really standout experience for me was a race, early in the game there was a race, I couldn’t beat it….so I couldn’t progress the story.  That was probably lucky for me, GTA stories suck.  But thanks to the codes I could still get the weapons that wouldn’t be available until the end and rampage through the streets.  I don’t know if any other game franchise got so much good will due to cannabis, but GTA was definitely helped by that.

A major problem for the GTA series is that “sandbox” isn’t quite as unique as it once was. Fallout or Skyrim are technically sandbox games, while Far Cry 3 also achieves this standard, but in these games the actual mechanics genuinely work. Skyrim has an entire magic system, upgrading system for weapons, all that sort of stuff, Far Cry 3 has only a few vehicles, but they’re all great, with only 2 or 3 vehicles that suck on purpose. These games have an open world where everything works, GTA doesn’t really have that.

 

Playing GTA 4 is really depressing for me, on a personal level. Shooting is terrible, driving is terrible, missions are the worst kind of boring. In the beginning of the game every mission is a tutorial for something, like say climbing a ladder, but the game’s ability to decide you’re trying to climb a ladder is so bad I wonder how most of the skyscrapers were built that dot the landscape. The game’s controls are terrible. Layouts for driving vs. on foot, different controls for combat using melee or ranged fighting, it’s just a mess. The game falls apart under the weight of everything.

 

So it drives me nuts when I look up GTA 4 on IGN and it’s got a 10/10. I understand the graphics were considered fine at the time, but having somebody give me a negative reputation because I don’t answer the phone because I just got to where a mission is, that’s not 10/10 material. Rockstar is one of those companies that’s a vestige of when consoles first had disc drives. Sadly, they continue releasing new versions of games like Max Payne, which weren’t that good at the time and don’t deserve un-skippable cut-scenes now.

 

As I started playing GTA 4 the relationship system hit me first, well that and the cel phone they give you, and the internet cafe stuff, that wouldn’t be working in a game now. But, they give you a phone and say call your friend, who happens to be awful, and hang out. That’s Grand Theft Auto, building up rep with people. Next, it started in with the “missions” and I have to say this is a detriment, GTA has never met a mission it didn’t like. What, you don’t want to keep doing tutorial missions? Too bad, we’ve got 6 more. It happened in the older games and it will continue.

 

So when I see these interviews and impressions from demos they are giving for GTA 5, it’s even more underwhelming. I never cared for GTA, like I said after the mission I couldn’t get past there was no real need to sign up for that torture over again…Trying GTA 4, it’s a clusterfuck. Now the landscape is dotted with open world games, sandbox games, all sorts of games that have already taken the crown from Rockstar. The idea of doing heists, that the game will some how transcend having to drive through traffic multiple times to complete missions, that’s not really that interesting. In a way GTA is like paying to drive through traffic, yeah you get to speed and pass red lights, but that only matters because they have the stupid traffic in the first place.

 

On another note, the games are full of radio stations and skits on these stations, or music…basically the type of thing thats interesting for a day, but gets old quick. I doubt the new game will be that much better. I think, with regards to GTA 4, they made a lot of mistakes, from an ugly interface to terrible tutorials, to bad mission flow and a dumb main character/silly world. Instead, the next game will probably have 3 dumb characters, probably won’t ditch the interface, but…well…Vinewood is LA, it’s going to be an even more silly world. With 3 main characters there’s a chance one of the guys will be likable, so they have that. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be a GTA game, a game that doesn’t have mechanics easily tested and developed. A lot of their missions are hard because of the traffic, and my playthough of a mission might be worse than yours because of this. But if they actually do have decent controls, that would solve a lot of problems with regards to combat…

Dark Souls Magic Guide

I don’t know everything, but I wanted to give this a shot.  Dark Souls guide for Beginners Magic.

There are 3 types of Magic: Miracles, spells/sorcery, and pyromancy.  Miracles grow based on Faith Stat, Sorcery Intelligence, and Pyromancy is like a weapon where how many upgrades you’ve placed on your pyromancy flame, that 0 weight glove, governs it’s effectiveness.

Why use magic?

Many classes start with room for one spell, with just a few points you could begin adding ranged magic, weapon/shield buffs, or healing spells to your arsenal which greatly increases your chances in the challenging world of Lordran.

What is right for me?

Miracles are for those with faith, the sort of white mage identity.  Whether a paladin or a true white mage this class focuses more on survivability and slowing or moving the enemy over damage.   Though there are several useful exceptions.

Sorceries are used more for damage, whether a ranged “soul arrow” type spell, or a weapon buff.  Though there are many spells of circumstance that are very useful, though only in several instances.  These are spells like fall control or light, or even the spells around stealth.

Pyromancy is newer to the series and more controversial, while many will choose to boost faith or intelligence for their magics pyromancy only requires points into attunement and upgrading your flame.  Definitely considered the cheap man’s magic it can be a great benefit to players who have started creating a character and found they might not be getting as much out of their character as they wanted.  But, if you really plan ahead pyromancy is a great benefit and often favored by speedrunners.

What type of magic do you want?

Paladin’s are white knights, following a set of rules they are like a magic knight.  They love fighting the undead and entering catacombs, often wielding armor with great poise.

Magic knights are basically knights that use buffs or spells as an addition to their fighting prowess.

Spellswords, these are the real half and half, using sorceries like homing soulmass so they can keep up a shield and maintain pressure on the enemy close up or from a distance.

Pure mages-light/cloth clothing, using magic with a light shield, Big Hat Logan is a pure mage.

The Ninja, using magic to enhance their stealth, they engage in reconnaissance on the enemy first then might even use undead rapport to bring in a friend for a moment.  They use every “trick” in the book and don’t care.  Light weight, ninja-flipping ninja.

 

So, obviously these are sort of vague, not necessarily all of these classes can’t be considered part of another one-what really is the difference between a Magic Knight and Paladin outside of D&D style gaming? Besides paladins using miracles and magic knights sorceries in Dark Souls? Not much.

You can design a class however you want.  Black Knight gear with pyromancy? Fine.  Ninja style but only miracles? Cool.  But in reality the constrictions are what the game creates.

Levels and such

You might want to use a spell that requires 16 intelligence, if you spend any points on your character to get this state those points can’t go into miracles(faith).  This is the real thing keeping people usually on just one path, Obviously you can mix and match lower level spells-but people really want to use those powerful upper-tier spells.

The highest level magic spell isn’t worth it, so don’t upgrade intelligence over 40, kill the Hydra to unlock Dusk, and use the Oolocille catalyst, then the starter “sorcerers catalyst” when it’s scaling kicks back in at 27 or so.  Dusk’s catalyst weighs way less, but beyond low level intelligence it just get’s outclassed.  Eventually Logan’s catalyst is the real deal, but you might not even decide to raise your intelligence to that level.  Still-he drops it at the end of his quest line and you probably want to pick up all of his spells just for the trophy/achievement. He’s located in Sen’s fortress-sells spells at Firelink for a while, then you have to rescue him from the Duke’s archives-where he will then start selling the high level spells.  Obviously the wiki has more information.

Similarly miracles pull you into the Way of white early-a covenant trying to deal with an expedition to the catacombs.  There’s a low level spell dealer at firelink, then provided you save her during the catacombs/tomb of giants escapade a trainer in the church at the top of the elevator from firelink.  Warning-buy her spells all at once, or in two trips, this is worth busting those brave warrior souls out for.  She will be killed and you won’t be able to get the rest of her spells until the next playthrough.  Damn, way of white is harsh.

Pyromancy is started by a trainer you save in the building linking lower undead burgh w/ the depths-if you’re not-NOT- a pyromancer he will give you a pyromancy flame every playthrough-these can be upgraded to the point of being ascended 1 time and traded w/ snuggly for a red titanite SLAB once a playthrough….then the better pyromancy comes from Quelana of Izaleth in the area of blight town right before queelag’s domain(sp?). She only appears after defeating the flame-puking naked-spider woman.  As well the covenant of chaos, located past the 2nd bell, will give you pyromancies for leveling up via feeding the leader(spider woman 2) humanity.  Possibly the best pyromancies come from this covenant-as well as a short cut  but that’s not this post.

So there’s way more but not for this beginners guide.  Just Check the wiki any time your in an area to make sure there aren’t any spells you should find.  Great magic weapon is in Anor Londo during the beam walking part and it’s a great upgrade over the basic magic weapon spell.  However Logan’s Crystal Magic Weapon spell is the real thing-that’s the spell that decimates the first playthrough.

About buffs-these don’t work like scaling but are a base number added to your normal damage.  There are magic and enchanted weapon upgrade paths-I’m only just trying them out-but enchanted is for higher intelligence, magic for low level.  Weapon buffs are great because your scaling from upgrading dexterity or strength still kick in, but the buff gives an extra amount of damage.  While buffs take up an attunement slot, the ability to add this extra damage on the fly is a great value.  As well, of the rings the original magic trainer sells for 20k souls a piece, one boosts sorcery damage, one boosts the length of buffs or similar effects.  If you’re just using magic for buffs and circumstantial magic this is the ring for you.

Basically all high level magic builds will have you pushing for certain things-headgear that boosts magic and rings that boost magic.  As well, the highest catalysts will halve your spell casts while doubling the damage power.  This causes a lot of problems for those that don’t understand well. So a bit about both.  I watched someone fighting Artorias, they had over 40 intelligence(already dumb) as well as a catalyst that doubled the damage but halved their casts.  The thing is Artorias is quick and when they missed a shot that meant they missed a lot of damage. It would have been more sensible in the long run to have used a normal catalyst because even if you missed sometimes it’s better to get some damage than none.  As well, if you are going to use the powerful catalysts for  a fight like that hang back, wait for a chance to strike, you don’t want to waste the chance.

As for the gear, dusk’s crown and Gwyndolyns head pieces raise magic damage at the cost of lowering magic defense.  I usually travel light at the point at which the numbers matter so much I switch to the head gear, but be careful about that.  I prefer to be able to roll and dodge the attacks, but if you decide to just put the crown of dusk on and try it out remember it’s effect because it does cause a lot of deaths.  A major part of offensive magic is making sure that when you can strike you do maximum damage.  In the beginning magic is about survivability, making sure you have health to keep fighting through ambush after ambush, or allowing you to kill from a distance with impunity not setting off these ambushes until you want to.

However, magic doesn’t automatically allow you to win.  You still need to understand the basics of timing and movement during combat.  Everyone’s seen the videos of a guy pulling up his catalyst and getting smashed by the enemy, or knocked off a cliff.  This is timing.  The only thing that helps is the dexterity stat, which increases casting speed.  This is why many who use magic choose a Dex based weapon, they get the most out of this boosted stat.

Spells of circumstance

There are times in this game when you need to disappear, or become somewhat impervious to flame, or create a noise to distract the enemy.  These spells are really useful, just make sure you pull them out of your attunement slots once you’re not using them, as there is nothing quite like pulling up a catalyst trying to get that soul arrow out and then noticing you’re glowing with a light on top of your head.  Yeah, that’s going to make running away harder too now, huh? The only other thing to mention about circumstance is the little white rings you see on the ground-that’s where somebody has cast a miracle recently connected to you in multiplayer.  Why does the game show that?  It allows you to cast a miracle there and get a 10% boost to power.  You usually see these before a boss fog, or right after, if you see one use it.

 

Covenant magic

Some covenants give out “powerful” magic, some of which only works while in the covenant.  Know which is which before going for that particular covenant because it can take a long time to rank up in some covenants.  Also a number of covenants give out the great faith based magic…If you have a character that is probably going in a faith way it would be of benefit to really spend some time researching which covenant works best and then attempting that group’s ranking process.  Almost all are based around multiplayer, or intended to anyways.  Sunlight blade is a very useful miracle, but do you want to spend the time on it?

 

Weapon selection

I am not a huge fan of new players trying to use builds, or trying to get specific weapons.  However, if you are going to be doing certain types of magic it wouldn’t hurt to know what the stat requirements are of the weapons you would want to use.  Though this all sort of rolls into the upgrade system in Dark Souls.  While not the best for experimentation, if you stick to the normal upgrade path for most weapons you can always throw a buff on the weapon.  If you try out weapons created with boss souls demon titanite will upgrade them, and there is a titanite demon you can farm in the game, so try these out if you want to.  Remember, in Dark Souls if a boss has a tail, cut it off.  If you are playing blind you can always look at these weapons after you pick them up/cut them off.

Final thought

Dark Souls can be punishing, especially if you create a character without putting some thought into it along the way, from accidentally using slabs on dumb things, to points in resistance you’ll never get back(every point will increase these stats AS WELL AS SOMETHING ELSE).  When you start a new character and haven’t tried magic, check out the trainers(or merchants) who show you what spells you can purchase.  If a low level one seems useful give it a try, and if you find an area is giving you a hard time early on see if one of these trainers might have a spell that could help.  While Dark Souls can seem quite a bit of a game without a guideline early on trying to figure out the magic system might be an easy way to figure out the rest of the game.  That said, in Dark Souls magic really is of the world, it fits with the setting and reading about the spells in the shops will give you a better idea of the world.  It’s fun to charge into battle knowing only your faith or intelligence stands between you and certain doom.

While learning the basics of magic might seem difficult in the beginning, it isn’t that much more difficult than the basic combat, and very rewarding if you crack this code.  That said, you might want to keep a bow handy.  Or several, poison arrows and everything.  using magic will make a lot of your damage be magic damage-some enemies are less susceptible to magic damage so a bow with a lighting upgrade or poison arrows can give you a different form of damage that might tip the scales since your magic output might not.

Rules-Always make sure you have physical damage weapons ready, experiment with what works for your.

Try to find what sort of magic works for you, then go after it whole heartedly.  It not only gives your character a sense of personality but another layer of survivability.

Finally, work with what you have.  This game doesn’t drastically change, you still have challenges you have to face and as always you need to figure out the best path-magic doesn’t change that fact, but it helps.  Know the rules, know the stats you need, and you have a goal to follow.  In a game as oblique as Dark Souls a goal can be a very powerful weapon.

Dark Souls 2 & a little bit more Final Fantasy 7

I made it to the final disc(final dungeon, really) of Final Fantasy 7 and it’s drawing my attention to what people seem to say about the game: that it gave rise to a problem with visual fidelity being more important than gameplay, that cut-scenes were now a necessity.  I have to be honest these don’t seem to be why the game succeeded.

   The amount of time true cut-scenes as we think of them today, CG/no control/”directed”, take up in the game is probably less than 3 or 4 minutes at most.  Though there are longer sections where gamers watch the weird polygonal figures interact this was an outgrowth of where Final Fantasy games had gone in the past.  The real reason the game seems to have succeeded was the fact that you could play it however you wanted, as well as the differences in kind.  

   Whereas many games slowly raise the numbers on enemies and weapons/armor over time, which is a necessity to some extent, the game loves differences in kind.  From the variety of weapons to the different games found within the larger game the story constantly  pushes people to do things besides the main combat.  This might be the real problem with the game, you can only get people interested in towns or mini-games so much until eventually this original combat problem is recognized since many other games have moved on from turn based systems.  

   But I bred a Golden Chocobo.  I’ll never get that time back.  Seriously though my real goal is to beat the weapons, the optional bosses with huge amounts of health.  But the problem is that if you build your team up to take these optional bosses out you’re probably going to destroy the actual final dungeon.  Honestly, I probably passed up that possibility a while back.

   Though what I’ve been keeping up with is Dark Souls 2.  Eagerly anticipated, however you look at it, to either achieve or fail to live up to fan expectations.  While Demon’s Souls was really a dungeon crawler but Dark Souls expanded this idea into something better than it’s simple roots.  The parts of Demon’s Souls that worked were advanced into something quite unique but also all things to all people.

   Those that didn’t like it felt it was too similar, and too hard.  Those that liked it often had problems explaining to others why it was such a standout experience.  The game had it’s problems, from modded accounts ruining your day in PvP to trolls in PvP(notice a pattern) the real selling point of the game was the intriguing multiplayer component where summons could join your game(whether just for a boss or for a stretch in a level) to phantoms who invaded and caused havoc until someone died or the invaded bit the bullet and jumped through the boss fog.  Getting the game for the PS3 has been pretty stark.  Every time I’ve turned into a human, thus been able to be invaded, I’ve been invaded by someone with way better gear than me.  Low level invasions are the real problem with the game, since some people can fight through the difficult parts in the beginning and get to the better gear later in the game while others don’t even have their stats in suitable condition for multiplayer.   I’m more the latter, always willing to let my health slide so I can put one or two more points into magic or dexterity.  When I finally get my character’s other stats right then I finally pump the health, though this also allows for some real challenges on the bosses I decide to deal with before this.  

   However, when I first thought of getting the game I wondered if there would be people doing the weird, asymmetrical experience, would it just be me alone?  That’s been the real driving force behind this game, even months later people are still playing it, possibly for years.  I thought just because I didn’t play in the first 6 months the audience would dissipate like many other online audiences, but the Souls community doesn’t dissipate.  

   The community has in fact elevated, from the two English Wiki’s and at least one Japanese the community has spawned countless youtube videos and posts on every message board with even the slightest gamer culture.  This is a game that came out in 2011 and it’s still growing.  

   Part of this is due to the PC release, which when tied to a magical mod that allowed the game to run well, compared to how it ran on consoles, the people who had been posting youtube videos could now make really good looking videos meaning people could appreciate more about the experience of the game.  From actually being able to appreciate the environments to the games few NPCs, there was a renaissance in the souls community as more people realized this game was something they would like.

   Who were these people though?  Part of me thinks they had my path, Dark Souls coming out in 2011 one of the biggest years in gaming ever, it was easy to miss coming out within a month of Skyrim.  But the “slump” that was 2012’s first 2/3 allowed for some much needed re-examining of less popular titles from the year that brought us Skyrim, and I think Dark Souls really stood out in that market.  The audience that had played things like Skyrim were looking for something different, nothing would ever really get at what Skyrim could do, but the field was open when dealing with what Skyrim got wrong.

   Dark Souls was everything Skyrim got wrong.  From fast and fluid combat with real danger, to sparse and atmospheric areas interspersed with dungeons.  The first few minutes of Skyrim were all fanservice to Elder Scrolls fans, more or less, the first few minutes of Dark Souls showed an entirely new panteon rise, and then fall, before the player has any control.  Yet, this information has very little context within the first 1/3 of the game, basically not being brought up.  As well the game purposefully tries not to give players too much information about the world, allowing for a picture to form somewhat but not fully realized.  Though there are only a handful of NPCs in the game each is in the last legs of their journey, all approaching their death, or undeath if you will.  

   To hell with the Nords of Skyrim, a gamer might say having tasted their first well tested victory against a difficult opponent in Dark Souls, this is the real Viking bezerking.  But like I said, most of this audience grew over time, and over time the game began to be hailed as a classic, not a game that was too difficult but something for a select set of video game fans, those with time and possibly youth.  However, I really wonder if Dark Souls 2 can handle this new audience. 

   Are the first few minutes of Dark Souls 2 going to be full of fanservice to their community?  From the first advertisement played during the VGAs last year the Souls community has been mirred in tiny debates about tiny things.  Some dumb-like the fear that the player character won’t be a blank slate- some actually bothersome-like that the game is going to falter with a new director or that the ending of the original game might not really leave much room for…well…that’s not the type of blog I’m writing.  What matters is that this community that usually spends their time figuring out what katana is best in the game, or how to defeat a boss at the earliest possible time, is now dealing with something much tougher to talk about-there’s a game being targeted for at them.  

   It’s easy to decide you’re the “alternative” person.  TV and other media designed for most people leaves you feeling like an outsider, your views don’t fit with the majority, but those who are outsiders tend to find each other.  In some ways that’s what happened in the Souls community, everyone was connected because at one time or another they played these games and felt something, whether a charge of energy from defeating a difficult boss to noticing the little details developers scattered through the environment.  

   When Dark Souls was developed the success it was following was Demon’s Souls, a sort of advancement on a known quantity, but Dark Souls 2 is something else entirely.  Expanding on the core design components of the first game won’t necessarily mean this next game has the same popularity as the first, or that it’s considered a classic.  And I think there are a lot of people in the Souls community worrying that somehow any shortcomings of Dark Souls 2 will reflect back on Dark Souls.  That’s what I’ve been wondering about, obviously the adage that “George Lucas ruined my childhood” doesn’t make sense-if you have good memories in the past they can’t be unmade like that.  But I think some people are worrying that what was great about the game is a bit like a ball of yarn, they’ve built it up and if the new game starts pulling at it the whole fantasy of the first might come apart.  

   Honestly, I had a lot of problems with Dark Souls.  People have said that the game has a story, it doesn’t.  Hear me out, please.  Video games aren’t books.  They don’t work like a novel, needing certain things like characters and plotting and a world.  What Dark Souls has is meaning.  The game is a “mechanics as meaning” story, while I already stated I won’t spoil the game the 2 Souls games have final bosses that are that sort of thing.  These villains have stories, they have a world, our character supposedly comes from that world and spends the entirety of the game encountering and experiencing the problems of that world, but the story isn’t really changing you’re just defeating obstacles-most of which exist because the main villain created them/put them in motion.  

    This is what really makes Dark Souls stand out against the backdrop of so many other games.  Skyrim has a story, you’re the dragonborn, you meet up with a former member of the blades, go to the greybeards monastary, pick up an older guy who takes you to the blades old diggs, the Dragonborn holds a summit for the civil war in Skyrim, then captures a dragon and uses it to enter the afterlife to party with Olaf One-eye.  Yet, as a role playing game there are problems, you don’t really see the world change that much, nobody really realizes you’re different, you just don’t feel things change that much.  Yeah, you get way more powerful, calling a dragon whenever you want pretty much ends any conflict you get involved in.  But the point of the matter is not that much changes, dragons continually try attacking the character, and the realities of life in Skyrim continue.  Dark Souls works because you aren’t doing that much to change things, NPCs move from place to place, you enter into covenants, but the game doesn’t force any of this down your throat.  I remember in the Witcher 2 there’s a decision you make at the end of the first chapter that completely changes what happens in the game and the world actually looked completely different, a hint would be that it was on fire.  But your choice drastically affected the outcome of this section.  While Dark Souls didn’t give the player as many options as Skyrim, it didn’t pretend to either.  

   The other great aspect of souls games are the quests.  While Skyrim(not to pick on them) had a tab just for all the quests you’ve picked up a souls game doesn’t really tell you you’ve started a quest.  Often they take a long time to finish, but really they’re stories.  By keeping tabs on characters and seeing what happens to them you finish the quest, often rewarded with unique gear or upgrade materieals.  Though Skyrim has a plethora of very well done quests, and great quests that were stories, Dark Souls had some really interesting quests.  Exhibit A: The Onion Knight.  

   Siegmeyer of Catarina is is a knight.  Though most laugh at the “onion-like” shape of their armor, Catarinan armor is very sturdy.  The man is first noticed waiting outside a giant gate, a very stark image as every path in the game so far has lead to a lot of danger, but next to a church is a path that leads to a giant closed gate.  You can tell on your first game this is important.  When you ring the second bell the gate opens and you continue to run into him from time to time, every few time you meet he gives you something.  However, when you are in the Duke’s Archives you find a golden crystal golem, these are unique because people are imprisoned in these golems.  Breaking it open reveals Sieglinde of Catarina, his daughter.  She is on a quest to find her father, and this begins the B-story of this quest as you keep running into his daughter.  While Siegmeyer has a way of seeming at once ready to tackle the problems of this world and at the same time expressing a need to be very careful, Sieglinde is all business as finding her father is important.  The reality, as you come to understand, is that he’s going hollow, he is slowly losing his humanity.  Expelled from these knights his daughter is chasing him down, possibly to spend some time with him before he’s gone, possibly to end his plight, possibly on a blood mission for the knights of Catarina.  However, Siegmeyer has progressed to Ash Lake, the entrance to the Way of the Dragon covenant, joined by those attempting to find the secrets of the immortal ancient dragons.  Presumably Sieg was going to lay himself before the Dragon if possible, and find a way to survive.  But when you make it to Ash Lake Sieglinde sits next to his corpse on this likely last leg of her journey too, now, if you’ve been as helpful as possible to Siegmeyer you get her Titanite Slab and can now smith the highest tier of weapons or armor.  I think it’s a double meaning, not only is she giving you this as a reward for paying attention, but she’s giving up on using it herself, without any family, and far from home, she’s possibly not going back to Catarina.

   That’s the type of story you get from a quest that happens in Dark Souls, and it’s entirely interpretation, I am right about some of it, but so many things, like where is Sieglinde going and why Siegmeyer ended up in this game, leave you scratching your head.  I really hope Dark Souls 2’s development team understand how important stories like this were in giving meaning to the original game.  That would really have me excited.