Short Clips

I haven’t had anything long form to write about games recently because I have not been sufficiently in tune with my own sense of self-absorption to come up with much of an extended thought. But this does not mean I haven’t spent some time with the old electronic crack.

What Your Mother Will Never Learn

My parents visited over New Years. Mostly this meant my mom cooked and we ate a lot. Having run out of available DVD movies one night, I made the mistake of firing up Call of Duty multiplayer with my parents in the room. Now, I’m not good at this game. I die a lot. The experience is sort of like this:

1. Walk out on to map.

2. Get shot in the head.

3. Walk out on the map, hide behind a wall. Get shot in the head.

4. Walk out on the map, spy someone in the distance who is both in line of sight and not moving. Line up the… get shot in the head.

You get the idea. It usually takes me five or six games just to figure out how to even see where the enemies are, much less react to them in any sort of intelligent way.

Now imagine me playing the game while simultaneously trying to parse the scene before me for my mom the spectator. Now it went like this:

1. Walk out on the map.

2. “Are those guys on your team?”… “Yes”.. get shot in the head.

3. “Why do you keep dying?” “Do you control those guys?” “Why can’t you see anything but that one gun?”

4. Well, you see, it’s an Internet game, those guys are all other… get shot in the head.

I finally had to turn it off. Don’t be fooled by the current industry infatuation with the idea that games are a mainstream experience. There are still wide conceptual chasms that we are not likely to cross.

Levels “R” Us

I’ve been playing through Disgaea on the PSP. The PSP is great because it lets me put the game down whenever I want and get back into it later. Disgaea is great because it has distilled the nature of the RPG down to its essential essence. Behind all of the tactics, crazy gameplay mechanics, and shallow anime plot, what this game is really about is leveling. In fact, the most painless way through the game is simply to level the main character by some ridiculous amount and then just plow through a few dozen story maps. When you hit a wall, go back and play some of the side games to level some more.

Not leveling fast enough? No problem. Just win one mini-game and the level of the monsters on all the maps goes up. Then you can level faster.

Need better stuff? Travel through the item world and level your stuff up. This will also generally result in more levels for your characters too.

Even the game that lets you manipulate the “politics” of the game world is really designed to be a repository of harder monsters that let you level more.

This game could live in my PSP forever. Just open it up once in a while, gain a few levels, put the machine back to sleep. I’m sure at some point I’ll finish the plot, but what’s the point?

Rez HD

Back in the day, Pete showed me this game on his PS2. I forget where he scored a PS2 copy because they were notoriously hard to find. I remember staring at the TV and thinking “waaaahhh?”.

A couple of years later, some outfit on the Internet reprinted the game for the PS2, so I picked up a copy because I was in my extreme game shopping phase. I tried to play it a few times but I could never figure out what was going on.

So of course I had to pick it up on Xbox Live. After all, if you don’t connect with a game, you should always buy it again. You never know.

The new Rez is pretty much the same as the old Rez, but the jaggies are finally gone. I still don’t know quite what is going on. I also found the third and fourth stages to be punishingly hard. They were almost throw the controller at the TV frustrating. But then, I suck. Normally, I’d have just given up, but someone had told me that I just had to hold out for level 5.

That someone was right. The fight was worth it, and playing through the fifth level was a blast. It’s like they saved all their design juice for the end of game unlockable that they knew people who sucked would never find. This is because game designers hate us all. Still, work your way through it. You’ll have a good time if you can keep yourself from throwing the controller.

The Funeral Mini-game

After the cramps in my hands caused by Rez subsided, I was in no mood for any game that required reflexes. Therefore I bought Lost Odyssey. If you are wondering what this game is about, all you need to know is that it’s Final Fantasy 10.5, but in High Def for the Xbox 360. Here’s the checklist

1. Main character with weird hair and a big sword with no memory of his past: CHECK.

2. Annoying sidekick comic relief guy who whines a lot: CHECK.

3. Chick who fights in a mini-dress: CHECK.

4. Extended cut scene remix action: CHECK.

5. A-A-A-A-A combat system with a timing gimmick: CHECK.

I like it anyway. For the most part the game hits just the right mix of goofy JRPG combat, collection OCD, nice maps, and well-produced cut scenes to keep you playing. I wish the walkthroughs were more complete though.

I do have one complaint though. In the last half of the first disk, you are treated the most horrible nexus of cut scene and mini-game pain that I have ever experienced. It made Metal Gear Solid feel well-paced. As far as I can remember, it went like this:

1. Meet two new characters. Long cut scene.

2. Big bad soldiers show up. Another long cut scene.

3. Fight soldiers. Walk back to home of the new characters.

4. 25 minute major plot point cut scene that was so badly produced it reminded me of the horrendous Taiwanese melodramas my parents used to watch on VHS when I was a kid. Suffice to say, video game characters do not do crying well. It always looks more like they have a tumor growing on their eyeballs.

5. 10 minutes of “run through the map and collect 5 of these and 10 of those”. It’s not like they were even hard to find. You just had to run there.

6. A 20 minute funeral mini-game. I kid you not. You are controlling an auxilliary character who is in control of an ancient burial ceremony. You have to do this thing where you make the kid’s torch point at things on the screen. Only the hit testing didn’t work, so I sat there for half an hour trying to figure out how to make progress. I was sure I was doomed and I’d have to turn the game off and so this entire 90 minute sequence again.

Then, in a sign that I now must finish this game, God himself intervened and fixed the hit testing code so I could escape this circle of JRPG hell. It was a miracle!

7. 10 more minutes of cut scene before you get to make your way to the next dungeon. I have never been more relieved to be back in the random encounters zone.

If you can’t stand the J in JRPG, just stay away from this game. But, if you have ever enjoyed one of these games, this is the best example of the genre I’ve played for a while. Well, except for that 90 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.