18/06/2018

Nintendo Switch: Two months, second thoughts - The hardware side


It's not secret that I bought my fair share of consoles over the course of my gaming life. That mass of consoles can be roughly divided into two categories: the much-wanted systems that ultimately failed to meet my lofty expectations, and the not-so-wanted systems that ultimately exceeded my meagre expectations. The latter category contains luminaries such as the Game Gear, a.k.a. my former Favourite Console Ever, the Vita, a.k.a. my newest Favourite Console Ever, and the DS and PSP, a.k.a the kings of portable RPG that masterfully blend the best of both retro and modern gaming. In the former category, we have the Game Boy, which I loved yet also came to resent because of how high-maintenance it was when it came to lighting conditions; the GBA, which I cannot play without getting some horrid hand cramping; the Mega Drive, which failed to give me the same sweet intimacy as handhelds; and, last but not least, the Switch.

It pains me greatly to admit it, but my initial love for the Switch is unfortunately wasting away. I though I had gotten my hands literally on a winner of a system and yet another first-class addition to my already respectable collection of handhelds; but alas, all the things that seemed so appealing when I was longing for the Switch from afar proved to be less than dazzling when seen up close. As the title implies, there are two sides to that coin of disaffection; let's start with the nitty-gritty of my hardware issues with the Switch, dear fellow gamers. (Also, because I can't be bothered to take pictures of my Switch, those posts will be adorned with XC2 screenshots.)


—The matte plastic used for the back of the Switch's tablet is literally the worst plastic I've laid my hands upon on any console, ever. It's like Nintendo went out of their way to handpick the material that would gather the most finger grease. I don't have particularly oily fingers, and I never snack when playing; and yet, after a mere two months and less than 200 hours of use, my Switch is already adorned with big fat greasy stains on all the places that come into regular contact with my fingers. Needless to say, all that unwelcome greasiness looks and feels utterly gross. Now of course, the Vita and the DS are also prone to grease staining; but rubbing the offending spots usually leaves your console clean as new. Not so with the Switch: you can rub all you want, the grease just. won't. bulge. This means that alcohol-based cleaning solutions are probably needed, which could be fatal to my Switch's coating not to mention that I have better things to do than put the thing through a special cleaning therapy every couple of weeks. And then we have the analog sticks: instead of gathering grease, they gather every fleck of dust, dead skin or random crap that happens to be on your fingers; and once again, once something is stuck there, good luck wiping it away. This whole situation is just infuriating, and it boggles my mind that such materials were chosen and used for the Switch.

—The Switch feels too fragile for my taste. Mind you, I'm not saying that just because my Switch's left Joy-Con happened to be a bit loose right out of the box; that fragility issue is inherent to the system's design. Joy-Cons are bound to get loose over time no matter what, until playing becomes really uncomfortable or (worse) connectivity simply stops working entirely. This means that the Switch might become unplayable on the long run simply due to its very design; and after a whole lifetime spend playing systems that were designed as monuments of solidity, that sudden reversal of gaming fortune really stings.


The Switch painfully lacks compactness and elegance. It just doesn't feel like a solid, real handheld probably because it's not a true-blue handheld. For all intents and purposes, the Switch is but a tablet with two controllers stuck on the sides; it's a weird and unappealing mix of different parts that doesn't feel like a wholesome gaming system. The handheld aficionado and veteran in me just cannot fancy that big, blocky, disjointed mess of a console that lacks all the grace and solidity of a genuine handheld. On top of that, the Switch is simply too large and heavy not only for my own taste, but also to qualify as a genuine handheld: sure, it's transportable, but it's definitely not portable.

—The Switch has a way of getting uncomfortably hot during long playing sessions, especially on the right side. I even had to give up on playing a couple of time and let the system cool down because it was simply getting too hot to hold. Needless to say, it's all but impossible to play the Switch when it's charging, as it gets even more searingly hot.


—The Switch's battery management is pure hassle. It's already annoying enough that the Switch has such poor battery life, forcing me to charge it literally every day; but that's not even my main battery-related issue. No, my main issue lies in the darn annoying Sleep Mode. Because the Switch cannot be completely turned off unless you go through a complicated and utterly unintuitive process, most of us will simply put their Switch in sleep mode and call it a day. But wait, there's a catch: sleep mode keeps draining your Switch's battery, and rather fast at that. So you didn't touch your Switch for a week after fully charging it? Too bad, now it's empty! Just say goodbye to your planned gaming session and go charge it again, sucker. (Yup, this is totally first-hand experience.) So, the GBA, DS and Vita can hold battery power for weeks on end, even months; but the Switch has to be kept on a constant charging diet. Not too convenient for an 'hybrid' console, methinks.  

Last but not least, I have a more general beef with the Switch, one that's entirely based on my collector's instinct: I feel that the Switch was not designed with longevity and perennity in mind, which is an absolute first for a Nintendo portable console and maybe even for a Nintendo console full stop. I've handled and played every single Nintendo handheld, from Game&Watches to the 3DS, and I could always genuinely feel the sheer solidity and robustness of those systems: they were designed to last years and endure enormous amounts of abuse from careless hands. The Switch, on the other hand, doesn't ooze solidity and robustness at all, but rather feels like a fancy toy that's bound to break before you're through with it. As a collector, I very much have an issue with that approach. I just don't want to invest my funds and affections in a console that was so obviously designed as a disposable, one-generation-only piece of kit something to be picked, played, used until it breaks and then ditched and forgotten as the newest piece of kit enters the picture. Granted, that approach has been running rampant on the home console scene for some years now; but I always thought (and hoped) that Nintendo would stay away from it and keep treating us to consoles designed to last. Alas, it seems they've been contamined at last by the industry's dirty built-in obsolescence ways.  


At the end of the day, I think reality simply caught up with me. As a handheld aficionado, I really wanted the Switch to inherit the 3DS and Vita's legacy and perpetuate the strong, long-running Nintendo handheld tradition; but alas, it seems that this dream scenario is not meant to be. The Switch is a home console after all; and as all current home consoles, it's flimsy, fussy and not designed to last. Well, fine; I was fooled once, but I won't be fooled twice. There won't be extra backup Switches for me; I'll use my current Switch until it dies, and then it's game over literally. But what about all those Switch games you were so excited about a few weeks ago, you may ask? Don't you want to collect them? Well, about that... Things have changed, shall we say. But that's a subject I'll cover in the soon-to-come second part of that Switch rant, dear fellow gamers. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!

05/06/2018

Not feeling it


Blame it on the messy weather, the bombardment of mind-blowing gaming news or the approaching summer, but I've been kinda dazed and lazy these last days. So dazed and lazy, in fact, that I cannot find the drive to blog for the life of me. Playing them games is hard enough, with my current playthroughs feeling like slogs; but writing about them seems damn near impossible right now. I have post subjects lined up, but I just cannot bring myself to sit in front on my computer and write a word. I spent the last few days trying to coerce myself into writing, but to no avail; as a result, I decided to call it quits and take a couple of days off. I'm just gonna lounge around and wait for my writing mojo to come back. See you soon for more gaming goodness, dear fellow gamers!

27/05/2018

Xenoblade Chronicles 2: 100 hours


I abandoned the story some 30 hours ago, somewhere at the beginning of chapter 8; and since then, I've been doing nothing but sidequests. It's nearly ridiculous how all the secondary stories about Blades and NPCs are ten times more engrossing and touching than the main story; but at least, that makes for really good sidequesting. I just love seeing regions develop and evolve, discovering my Blades' backstories and personalities through exclusive Blade quests and checking every now and then on NPCs I helped back in the early stages of the game. The main story might be the game's backbone, but the sidequests and secondary stories are undeniably the delicious, juicy meat around that backbone.

My plan for the time being is to grind my Rare Blades and fill up their affinity charts as much as possible. I managed to rack up a pretty decent roster, with only seven Rare Blades still eluding me. I'll be glad if they join the fray before I'm done with the game, but I certainly won't go out of my way to secure them not with the RNG being as unfair and screwed as it is in XC2. I already have enough to do with my current roster, trust me. I really love the variety of requirements for the Rare Blades' affinity charts: from grinding Merch Missions to killing exclusive monsters by the truckload (hello Zenobia), without forgetting collecting, quests and heart-to-hearts, there's enough variety there to ensure that you'll never get bored grinding your Rares.

And since I'm on the Rare Blade subject, I have to admit that most of the designs disappoint me. A couple of them are really original and interesting, granted; but for the most part, they're really vanilla and too anime-ish for my taste. Also, why are there so many female Rare Blades, why do male Rare Blades look more often than not like they're not male, and why is Dromarch the only animal Rare Blade? That lack of variety really hurts the Rare Blades roster; it's hard to be enthusiastic about discovering a new Rare when you're 95% sure it's gonna be yet another luridly-clad female. Also, a piece of my soul died when I read aloud the name of Poppi's third form for the first time and realized the cheesy, corny, lousy pun lurking there. Oh, well. That's what you get when you play RPGs marketed towards gamers young enough to be your own children, I guess.

Thanks to all that questing, my party is massively overleveled, with everybody lounging now in the mid-80s. That sure helps tremendously for sidequests, since most bosses and rares monsters involved in said sidequests can only boast a puny level 50-60. Easy-peasy! If I had to nitpick though, I'd said that it pisses me off to see Rex stall behind and level-up slower than the rest of the crew. Is he the bloody hero or not? Is it because he's the youngest here? Oh well, nevermind; I don't care that much anyway, since I've been playing with Morag for the last 40 hours. Oh, how I wish she could have been the hero of that sorry story instead of virgin boy Rex. I'm gonna hang onto her as long as I can, let me tell you that; and if I can get away with slaughtering the last boss with her, then I'll sure as heck do just that. But hey, not now! I still have plenty of quests to polish off, and I'll get back to the grind as soon as I finish that post. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!

20/05/2018

Pokemon Ultra Sun: The Alolan Raichu Solo Run


It had to happen, dear fellow gamers: I had to put the sparkly face of the franchise, the most iconic and recognizable 'Mon of them all, through the solo run test. Or more like wringer in that particular case; but more on that very soon.

It pains me to admit that, but Pikachu is not good solo run material overall. In my personal solo run chart, he'd probably lounge somewhere on the mid-tier, around 'Mons such as Liepard and Rowlett — not horrible, but not stellar by any means either. Pikachu suffers from a bad case of limited offensive Move pool, so much so that I had to hang onto the same four Moves for most for my run — namely Grass Knot (Grass), Brick Break (Fighting), Psychic and Thunderbolt (Electric). Granted, that Move pool allowed me to dispose of most of the local fauna; but gosh, did it get boring to spam those four Moves after a while. Both Pikachu and Raichu are also afflicted with low HP and a truly abysmal Defense stat, which were a genuine thorn in my side during my whole run. I quickly lost count of the number of times my Electric lone ranger fainted, knocked out cold by a 'Mon with sky-high Attack. And it's not like he got to one-shot 'Mons with abandon, oh nooo: even in the late stages of the game and towering 15 to 20 levels above opponents, one-shooting was not guaranteed. I could never rest on my laurels with that most famous 'Mon of them all, and I had to strategize up until the last battle — which was interesting, but definitely not relaxing.

As for Alolan Raichu specifically, he's terrible solo run material — that is, in Alola. The entire issue stems from his double Typing: Pikachu gains the Psychic Type upon evolving into Alolan Raichu, which slaps three extra weaknesses on top of his Ground weakness. Those extra weaknesses happen to be Ghost, Dark and Bug, which is just the most unlucky setting ever in the Alolan entries. Because if you remember well, those games are the ones that took upon themselves to single-handedly rehabilitate those three often forgotten Types. We have a Ghost Trial and a Dark Trial, and then we have to fight Ghost Captain Acerola two more times — one of them being an Elite Four fight, thank you very much. And then we have bloody Guzma and his bloody team of bloody Insect 'Mons, fronted by a bloody powerful Golisopod that somehow always managed to strike faster than my Raichu. And oh, did I mention that we have to fight him three bloody times? I suffered a lot through that run, let me tell you that. To add insult to injury, Alolan Raichu's double typing doesn't even bring anything worthy to the table solo run-wise: he can only learn two offensive Psychic Moves, which is definitely not enough of a pay-off considering all the hassle caused by his Psychic Type. A truly indecent amount of Battle Items were gobbled during that run and dirty strategies were used, let me tell you that.

Although that Alolan Raichu run was definitely not the blast I had hoped for, it didn't make me swear off the series' mascot entirely. In fact, I consider that I have unfinished business with Pikachu: technically speaking, I still have to run solo with regular Raichu in a different game, which could change the course of things entirely. Given Pikachu's distribution, that different game would have to be X&Y or Red&Blue; and knowing those games' forgiving difficulty levels, I allow myself to think that the resulting Raichu solo run would be much smoother indeed. And of course, I still have to play Yellow and see if Starter Pikachu can reach the Elite Four on his own. As for my Alolan Raichu run, as much of a trudge as it was, it was redeemed nearly entirely by Alolan Raichu's unbearable cuteness. Gosh, hearing his cute little peeps and seeing his adorable happy expressions in Pokemon Refresh totally made me melt every time. Outstanding solo run material he is not; but when it comes to cuteness, he sure as heck lounges in the top tier. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!

16/05/2018

Pokemon thoughts: The rumour mill + New solo runs


Since I've been playing US&M lately, I couldn't help but pay attention to the most recent Pokemon news; and oh boy, is there a lot of hype and excitement indeed on that front. Many a Pokefan is yearning for a Pokemon-related announcement at the upcoming E3, or a soon-to-come Pokemon Direct that would unveil the much-expected first Switch Pokemon instalment; and while such high hopes seem to be mostly wishful thinking, there are a couple of interesting rumours floating around.

The first one, and probably the most reliable yet vague of the bunch, was ignited by Junichi Masuda encouraging Pokefans to get their paws on a Switch at a recent Pokemon fan event. This seems to be confirmation, straight from the horse's mouth, that the series is indeed coming to the Switch. However, it's just that: confirmation that a Pokemon entry will be released on the Switch at some point, and that the series is indeed making the jump to Nintendo's newest piece of kit. And while it's nice to see Masuda confirm that Pokemon is indeed headed to the Switch, it's not really a groundbreaking piece of information. At that point, with the Switch being a viable handheld and a successful console, it would actually have been more surprising to see Masuda imply that the series was going to continue on the 3DS. Having said that, one cannot help but wonder why Masuda coyly dropped that comment in front of a horde of Pokefans. Is there really a Pokemon entry coming out in the next months, or is GameFreak trying to single-handedly increase the Switch install base so that the next Pokemon core game will fly off shelves as soon as it's released? Or is it just, indeed, a playful confirmation that Generation 8 will make its debut on the Switch? Well, I guess only time will tell.

Then we have Nintendo insider Emily Rogers "believing" that a Pokemon game will come to the Switch in 2018, and that this game will be an RPG and boast two versions. She also later stated that she didn't specify whether said RPG would be "a core game, a spinoff series, a remake of an older game or a Gen 8 game." In other words, this new pair of Pokemon games could be any of the aforementioned things. My guess is that if those games indeed exist and are in the pipeline, they will either be entries in a spin-off series or Gen 4 remakes. The spin-off series in question is most likely to be Pokemon Rangers or Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, if we assume that Roguelikes can be widely classified as RPG. The first two instalments of the latter came out in two versions, so there's definitely a precedent here. As for remakes of Diamond and Pearl, they've been hyped and demanded for such a long time that I can very well imagine GameFreak tackling them to try their hand at developing for the Switch, while at the same time giving fans what they want and not risking messing up and blotching a core game. Three birds with one stone! Of course, that mysterious new pair of games could also be brand-new spin-offs. Or it could also simply not exist, just like the western version of Mother 3 teased by the same Emily Rogers. Once again, only time will tell.

Then we have the most egregious rumour of them all, namely the Italian tranlastor 'leak' on 4Chan: a de facto announcement that a Pokemon core game is indeed coming to the Switch very soon, replete with story elements, new mechanics and artwork. Now this is nothing but a complete hoax, methinks. Making a living in the translation business is quite hard, and I cannot believe for a second that a translator who scored a gig with Nintendo would ruin their chances of ever working for them again, as well as their reputation in the translation business, by dumping crucial information about such an important game while simultaneously making themselves so easy to track down and identify. And talking about leaks and 4Chan, we also have the Starter 'leak', which features very cute and convincing Starter designs, but definitely wouldn't be the first occurrence of fake Starters gracing the internet. Then again, there were also genuine Starter leaks in the past years, so... Yeah. Once again, only time will tell if there's any semblance of truth in those flashy Gen 8 leaks.

Let's now move on to a favourite subject of mine, dear fellow gamers: Pokemon solo runs! A whole new avenue suddenly opened on that front, as I managed to successfully trade 'Mons between my copies of Ultra Moon and Ultra Sun. Combined to Ditto-based Breeding, this means that I can technically run solo with any Alolan 'Mon that can breed, including late-gamers that were not an option until then. On the other hand, things are not so straightforward, because the obedience issue must be factored in in solo runs starring traded 'Mons. I would have to monitor my lone ranger's levels carefully, which could be all at once a challenge and a hindrance: what if I hit a typing roadblock that requires leveling-up just as I'm about to reach the current obedience cap? Would Battle Items be enough to take care of matters, or would I have to risk desobedience for the sake of added power and pray Arceus that my 'Mon heed my orders in battle? Mind you, this wouldn't matter so much if S&M and US&M weren't the hardest entries in the series when it comes to all things battling; but being the tough nut to crack they are, I genuinely fear being completely stuck mid-run with a traded 'Mon. Well, I guess I won't know until I try the deed, now will I? Bring on that Ninetales Solo Run I've been fantasizing about for years! And with that said, dear fellow gamers, my Pokemon thoughts of the moment end here. As usual, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!

12/05/2018

Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Redux


I restarted XC2 a couple of days ago, and I've already poured 40 hours into that new playthrough. Addictive game is addictive! As I expected (and hoped), that second run is infinitely more pleasant and engrossing than the first: I get a real kick out of knowing exactly what to do and being able to anticipate roadblocks and successfully circumvent them. Without further ado, here's a quick rundown of the activities I decided to focus on during that second playthrough.


Common Blade Grinding: Things are working pretty neatly on that front. I rotate my Commons in Merc Missions and have teams dispatched at all times; as a result, I've been able to rack up a number of Field Skills that I could only dream off during my first playthrough. Which leads us to...

Using Field Skills: I've been able to access a variety of places locked behind Field Skills this time around. The pay-off is not always stellar, mind you: most of the time, I'm only granted a safe or an item for my efforts. The pay-off doesn't matter, though, because the thrill lies in the act of exploring the world and uncovering secrets. Which leads us to...

Exploration: I want to leave no stone unturned this time: no matter how long it takes, I'll explore Alrest's every nook and cranny. Nothing compares to the thrill of discovering a hidden tunnel or being able to reach a cliff that seemed inaccessible at first — and let's not even talk about all those "Secret Viewpoints". I have a soft spot for Mor Ardain, which literally bristles with hidden areas and tantalizing places that challenge you to reach them.


Side Quests: Since I've been harnessing Field Skills, I can tackle side quests much more easily this time around. I've also been careful not to dive into questing too fast: first I explore, progress the story and level up a bit, and then I come back to formely explored areas to take care of quests. That tactic works like a charm, and I have a good number of cleared side quests under my belt as I'm writing this.

Area Development: I managed to make some good progress on the development front, mostly through trial-and-error. (Want to develop Gormott? Just shell out 500,000 golds for the Inherited Core Crystal at Margia's Odds&Ends in Torigoth!) Overall, area development seems to be tied to a mix of investing money — heaps of it — into local shops and clearing side quests, with a couple of extra arcane requirements thrown into the mix. I'm determined to Develop on my own and not resort to FAQs, because it's more entertaining and rewarding that way.


Affinity Chart Grinding: I was reluctant to grind Blade Skills during my first run, mostly because it screamed 'micromanagement' to me and I was already quite overwhelmed by the game's many features. However, raising Blade Affinity is actually quite fun and really not that demanding once you get the hang of it. I just use Merc Missions to grind all the Blades that can be dispatched, which leaves me ample amounts of time to pore over Pyra's, Dromarch's and Poppi's charts. And talking about Poppi, I was really determined to customize her this time around, but... I can't even beat the first stage of Tiger Tiger on easy mode! Why does that game need to be so hard? It's just an optional mini-game to obtain extra parts for a Blade that doesn't even really need them in the first place, darn it! Oh, well; screw Tiger Tiger, my Poppi is doing just fine as she is.

Miscellaneous: Remember when I said I would rewatch all cutscenes with the english dub? Yeah, about that... I found out that I just cannot bring myself to sit through them again. So I'll just resume where I left off, i.e. at the end of chapter 7. On the graphical front, I cranked up the brightness to the max in a flash of anger, as I was yet again stuck in an infuriatingly dark building; and not only could I suddenly see much better, but I found myself really liking the result. It gives the game a subtle cell-shaded look reminiscent of Breath of the Wild; and as a gamer who laps up stylized aesthetics in games, I can only approve of that new look. 


In a nutshell, that second playthrough is infinitely more enjoyable than the first, which confirms that this game does have indeed a lot of replay value. I was in a bit of a rush during my first playthrough, but I finally understood that XC2 is meant to be an epopee à la Dragon Quest IX, in which you take all the necessary time to build up your character and fully explore the world. That's exactly what I'm doing now, and I'm deeply enjoying the ride; and with that said, dear fellow gamers, I'll see you soon for more XC2 tidings. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!

08/05/2018

Collector's Delight: (Giddily) presenting the New 2DS XL


I finally took the plunge and got hold of a New 2DS XL, a system I've been coveting for months on end but was reluctant to buy because of the ridiculously high number of 3DS I already own. But holy cow, was that a most inspired purchase indeed! In fact, I had such a massive crush on the system that I felt compelled to write a post about it without delay. Feast your eyes on the gorgeous Pokeball Edition of the 3DS' last iteration!


Let's face it, Nintendo released way too many 3DS models over the course of the system's lifetime. The way they kept churning out new iterations with increasingly confusing names, each one arguably better than the one that preceeded it yet bound to be topped by the next one in line, was both silly and maddening. They released no less than SIX bloody 3DS models over the last six years; factor in the region lock, and you get a true collector's nightmare. I own way too many 3DS for my taste, and half of them have been made redundant by their younger siblings. And yet, I'm ready to forgive Ninty for all their 3Ds meanderings; because oh dear, did they top themselves indeed with the New 2DS XL. Not only is this by far the sleekest and most gorgeous 3DS model, but it's also one of the best handhelds they ever created — period.


That piece of kit may lack 3D, but make no mistake: it vastly improves on both the regular New 3DS and the New 3DS XL on nearly all counts. Here's a quick round-up:

Screen: Oh boy, is that thing gorgeous. It's miraculously mammoth compared to the system's overall size, and it boasts strikingly vibrant and vivid colours that really pop out. Coming from the regular New 3DS, I definitely saw the difference — and mind you, the regular New 3DS already improved a lot upon the original 3DS in that department. The screen's black borders make immersion into games easier, and give the console's upper part a neat smartphone look to boot. The touch screen is also huge, just as large as the New 3DS XL's one.

Weight: The New 2DS XL is mercifully light. I weighed mine; and at 265 g, it's a puny 10 g heavier than my regular New 3DS, and an enormous 240 g lighter than my New 3DS XL. My wrists are definitely going to love that console, oh yes precious.

Looks: This is arguably one of the fanciest 3DS models, if not the fanciest. The elongated shape gives that ultimate iteration a really sleek and classic look. All four editions boast a pleasantly sober dual colour scheme, in striking contrast with the regular New 3DS' rainbow buttons and many faceplates.

Price: Although I'm not one to nitpick about prices when it comes to all things gaming, I'm also not one to sniff at a good deal. Being the cheapest New 3DS model out there, the New 2DS XL is definitely the piece of kit to go for if you don't care about the 3D. Considering that it comes with an adapter, unlike its two predecessors, this is definitely a bargain.

New 2DS XL vs regular New 3DS.

Of course, the New 2DS XL isn't perfect — no console is, after all. The stylus is a bit too small, the sound quality is lacklustre, and the mate finish looks a teeny-tiny bit cheap and gathers finger grease a bit too enthusiastically; but overall, we're still dealing with a darn good piece of kit. Nintendo managed to wrap up the 3DS line in a most glorious way with the New 2DS XL. It sure took them a long time to reach that level of perfection, and there was an awful lot of meandering along the way; but better late than never, right? In a nutshell: the New 2DS XL is awesome, I'm gonna get my paws on more of them — and I warmly encourage you to do that too. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!