Fire Emblem Awakening: Taking it easy

So I'm playing Fire Emblem: Awakening these days, and I'm doing so in the most casual way possible. I found out that this game lends itself really well to very short playing sessions and is just the perfect game to fiddle with when you're stuck performing mundane, unescapable tasks — for instance, I polished off a battle the other day while I was cooking pancakes and it was a much welcome and pleasant diversion. Since then, I've been snatching ten minutes here, fifteen minutes there, for a total play time of roughly three hours. Playing Awakening in such a disjointed way obviously makes the task of keeping track of the story a tad harder; but I'm handling it well so far, mostly due to the fact that Awakening's story is more streamlined and less convoluted that Fates' one. And since I'm mentioning Fates, I must insert a disclaimer before going any further: since Fates was my first ever Fire Emblem game, my writing about Awakening is going to be brimming with Fates comparisons. With that said, on with the show!

To be honest, this game has a lot going for it. Apart from its aforementioned player-friendliness and streamlined story, I'm totally in love with the art style used in cutscenes, and I really dig the fact that the action flows without pause and that I don't need — at least so far — to waste some time taking care of headquarters and effectively playing a browser game in disguise. I'd much rather be prowling the land with a limited team of characters — although if Fates is any indication, I'll probably end up with a full regiment by the end of my playthrough. I also find quite interesting that my avatar is not the main hero of Awakening, but rather an observer of sorts that finds themselves embroiled in a conflict that seemingly doesn't concern them. Of course, if the opening cutscene is any indication, it will probably turn out that my avatar is deeply linked to Awakening's events after all and that their amnesia is due to time travel or something similar. But hey, let's play and see! I'm just here to enjoy what the game has to offer, from the smooth no-casualties battles to the striking no-feet character designs.

On the negative side, I could mention the fact that the cast is painfully transparent: they feel like unpolished beta versions of the colourful Fates cast, and the fact that they are all dressed in drab garb certainly doesn't help. The most interesting character, apart from my own avatar, has to be Chrom; but he's still dull and unremarkable compared to, say, a Kaze or a Silas. And since I'm mentioning Chrom, I'm pretty miffed that Awakening is actually sneaking in some romantic innuendos between him and Sumia. How dare you, game? As the resident hero and face of Awakening, Chrom should be my avatar's exclusive turf, period. I was planning to bag him up from the very start in the hope of unlocking interesting narrative developments; now, I feel like a homewrecker of sorts doing just that, and that's totally your fault, IS. To add fuel to the fire, those romantic innuendos between Chrom and Sumia are ten times more romantic and touching than the support conversations between the former and my avatar, which revolve solely about bumping into each other in the steam tent and thus forming a bond thanks to the shared experience of having seen the other naked — jeez, kill me already. Now that I think of it, Sumia is really lovely, and I sure would love to snatch her away from Chrom. Hey, maybe I'll just restart the game with a male avatar; I can afford to lose three hours, and I'm starting to get the feeling that Awakening's story would work out better with a male avatar, just like I got the feeling that the Fates story would work better with a female avatar back in the days. And if the chemistry between Chrom and my avatar — or complete lack thereof — is any indication, I won't miss on a lot of character and narrative developments anyway.

Well, I'll ponder that option in the next days; and at any rate, I'll see you soon with more Awakening goodness, dear fellow gamers. I can safely state that for now, I like Awakening much more than Fates, despite the dull cast and disappointing interactions between my avatar and the game's resident hero. Now that I think of it, my aborted romance with Azura in Fates was also quite lacklustre; maybe it's just a better idea to woo secondary characters than to make a pass at the cover character in Fire Emblem games. Until next time, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Pokemon X: The Delcatty Solo Run - Epilogue

I'm writing this post fresh from my Elite Four victory with Delcatty, a victory that was as unexpected as it was delicious. The fact that I can brag about being the Kalos Champion in my Skitty Solo Run of X can be attributed solely to Sieg, who judiciously reminded me of the existence of the TM Hidden Power in the comment section of my first Skitty solo run post. Hidden Power being a Move that's not affected by bloody Normalize in Generation VI, that meant that my Delcatty could effectively get her paws on a surefire way to get rid of Ghost 'Mons — providing, of course, that her Hidden Move Type wouldn't be Fight, which would be the worst stroke of bad luck ever. It turned out that my Delcatty's Hidden Power Type was Steel, which delighted me since I've not been using Steel Moves since my Piplup solo run of Platinum. Little did I know that Steel was possibly one of the worst possible Hidden Power Types in the context of my run — but more on that very soon.

The Hidden Power hack worked beautifully, and I was at long last able to wipe the floor with Ghost 'Mons; and boy, did it feel vengefully good after a whole run spent avoiding them, cowering at the though of encountering them and being gripped by dread when getting stuck in a battle against them. They still managed to be a bit of a hassle, mind you. Hidden Power doesn't hit that hard to begin with, and my Delcatty's Sp.Attack, while being respectfully high, was still much lower than her Attack; as a result, one-shooting Ghost 'Mons was but a distant dream that never materialized — all the less so as my Delcatty has already hit the big 100 level-wise when she learnt Hidden Power. Still, I could at least progress unhindered and reach the Pokemon League to engage in what would turn out to be one of the most challenging and nerve-racking Elite Four showdowns of my gaming career.

Trembling yet? Oh yeah, you should.
Oh boy, that Elite Four showdown. The least I could say about it is that it had a serious case of mood swings. Either I was one-shooting opponents at the very first turn or I was sweating and struggling and toiling for minutes on end. To ensure a smooth progression, I stuffed my Delcatty with Battle Items at the beginning of each face-off, and that worked nicely enough; however, I had stupidly forgotten to stock up X Sp.Atk, and that oversight would prove lethal against the Elite Four Ghost 'Mons. Because indeed, my Delcatty was pitted against more than just one Ghost 'Mon during that showdown: there were three of them, and they were all a pain in the butt. Chandelure and Gourgeist took a million turns to faint, with Hidden Power only taking a small chunk of their life bars at a time and their Trainers healing them at least twice in a row and ruining all my arduous efforts. But as annoying as these two Ghost obstructions were, they were small fry compared to their colleague: Aegislash, a.k.a. The Most Tedious Elite Four 'Mon I Ever Fought and Delcatty's Absolute Bane.

I never thought much of Aegislash, but that disparaging point of view certainly changed radically after facing him with Delcatty in the X Pokemon League. That fight necessited two attempts and nearly made me tear up with sheer frustration and powerlessness; and when I finally managed to wrap things up, it was after fifteen minutes of arduous fighting. Let me tell you: never had I been that relieved to wrap up a Pokemon battle. I let out a huge sigh, threw my head back and beamed in sheer relief, fervently wishing never to encounter an Aegislash again. Ever. Because my, that 'Mon was the biggest nuisance ever and a monstrous challenge to overcome. And I don't play Pokemon solo runs to have it hard: on the contrary, I play them to make things easy, mellow and smooth. I run solo to bask in the thrill of one-shooting my way through regions, drinking in the sights and chatting with NPCs without having to bother about recruitment, training, breeding and fighting strategies. I obviously relish the occasional challenge during my Pokemon solo runs; but oh gosh, was Aegislash a giant, tough bite to swallow.

But enough fluff; let's get to the point and peel this most arduous battle against X's resident sword 'Mon. That formidable opponent had a deadly card up its sleeve: the Stance change, which makes it swing between being an mortal offensive powerhouse and a impenetrable defensive fortress. Oh, and did I mention it's resistant to Steel? Yep, the same Steel my Delcatty's Hidden Power TM belonged to. Here's how things unfolded: I was basically stuck in a vicious circle of trying to hit Aegislash when it was in the offensive Stance and healing from its destructive blows when it was in the defensive Stance, all this complicated by the fact that Stance changes are totally random. But wait, there was worse: prior to the fight against Aegislash, I had faced Klefki, which had left me with a nasty souvenir as it went down: a full-blown case of Torment. So on top of having to deal with Aegislash's random Stance changes, I had to juggle between Moves to be able to use my precious Hidden Power. Needless to say, a lot of blows went down the drain during that fight. Of course, Wikstrom healed Aegislash as I was about to finish it, forcing me to restart the whole process over again. That torturous fight's only saving grace was that I had miraculously hold onto three X Sp.Atk. until that point, which my Delcatty gobbled avidly and which undoubtedly played a huge part into making that fight winnable at all. I struggled and toiled and soldiered on through the pain and the drawbacks, and I finally managed to throw that cursed sword back into its pokeball. And I'll be damned if this wasn't my hardest Elite Four fight ever.

But you know what? All these hardships made my ultimate Elite Four victory all the sweeter. Ghost 'Mons were a huge thorn in my side during my whole Skitty solo run of X, and to manage to overcome these pests and thumb my nose at them was well-deserved payback. Needless to say, being able to salvage my run and snatch a clean victory from adversity's jaws was also immensely satisfying; I never like to give up on Pokemon solo runs, especially when they're going smoothly and chances of success are high. A big shout-out to you, Sieg, for the inspired suggestion that ultimately allowed me to wrap up this solo run! Having said that, I still want to tackle a solo run of White 2 with a Cute Charm Skitty; but maybe I'll warp things up a trifle to make said run more interesting, for instance by not making my Skitty evolve into Delcatty. My, wouldn't that be a blast to beat the Elite Four with a cute pink kitten? Until then, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Five totally random gaming anecdotes

Let's face it, dear fellow gamers: we all more or less play the same games, but what make our own gaming career unique is the mass of entertaining and distinctive little events that unfold around our playing. Without further ado, here are five random anecdotes lifted from different eras of my gaming life. Enjoy!

What the heart wants: 2014 marked the absolute peak of my collecting endeavours, as well as the release of Selena Gomez' single "The heart wants what it wants"; and as unlikely as it may seem, these two events are correlated in my gaming life. It so happened that one fateful day, as I was browsing the internet in search of games, the radio played Selena's freshly released forlorn love call; and upon hearing the song's chorus, I couldn't help but laugh at how perfectly the lyrics fitted my current situation. There I was, hunting for games despite the fact that a backlog the size of the Mont-Blanc was waiting for me — because, you know, the heart wants what it wants. After this episode, the song became my official Game Hunting Song for a couple of weeks, and I played it every time I looked for and purchased games online. To this day, hearing the song still stirs up memories of browsing through Ebay and Amazon pages along with a sweet, aching longing for games I didn't own yet.

Missing memories: I owned three consoles over the '90s: a Game Boy, a Game Gear and a Mega Drive, none of which I still own to this day. But while I can remember perfectly how I parted ways with my beloved Sega duo, I'm totally unable to conjure up memories of how my no less beloved Game Boy exited the scene. This is the weirdest thing ever, especially considering how extensive and precise my memories of the system are: I remember every single Game Boy game I bought or borrowed — up to very the last one, a broken mess of a game called Titus the Fox that made me give up on the console entirely. This was in 1995; and I have no memories at all of playing my Game Boy or even handling it beyond that year. Now, 1995 is also the year I got my Game Gear; and I reckon that the two events are actually linked. Although I have no memories of it whasoever, I'm pretty sure that I sold my Game Boy and its game library after the Titus the Fox debacle in order to get the necessary funds to purchase my Game Gear. That sure would explain neatly why my Game Boy seems to have disappeared from the face of the Earth after 1995, and how I was able to treat myself to a brand-new Game Gear despite the fact that I was still an idle teenager at the time.

Collecting karma: In 2013, I imported a second-hand copy of Children of Mana for the DS for a couple of euros. Upon opening the box, I discovered that it contained an unexpected guest: in the GBA slot was nested a pristine copy of Pokemon Emerald in all its shiny and transluscent glory. The former owner of my Children of Mana copy had obviously either forgotten it or put it there to get rid of it, and I pondered what I should do with that surprise gift. And since I neither owned a GBA nor knew the Pokemon series at the time, I seriously considered tossing it away. Tossing. It. Away. A nearly brand-new copy of Pokemon bloody Emerald. I very nearly did it, and I shudder at the thought that I could have thrown away such a valuable game in such a careless way. But wait, I hear you say, couldn't that complimentary Emerald copy simply be a crappy bootleg that its owner didn't care one bit about? Well, this possibility obviously came to my mind after I became acquainted with the series, and I put the cartridge through a thorough examination. And guess what? This is the real thing. It's a totally authentic and legit copy of Pokemon Emerald, and I got it virtually for free. This was my biggest gaming stroke of luck ever, a splendid gift from the Universe; and it certainly repayed me beautifully for these early collecting stages when I found myself routinely paying way too much for games because I didn't know better.

Games before consoles: When the Vita was released, its "AAA games on a portable console" selling motto made me write it off as a system that was not tailored at all to my gaming needs and tastes. But at some point in 2014, I saw a trailer for New Little King's Story and my interest in the system was suddenly piqued. I set out to purchase a brand-new Vita; but to my utter dismay, there were none available in my area. However, a shipment was expected at some unspecified date in the near future; so I could rest assured that I would indeed net a Vita sooner or later. My collector instinct was fully awakened though, and I needed to unleash it and let it soar without delay; and that's how I found myself hunting for good bargains on Vita games on the internet while not even owning the console yet. And it so came to pass that when brand-new Vitas finally graced my local game store with their much-awaited presence, I already owned half a dozen Vita games. But the story doesn't stop here, oh no: it took me one more year to play my very first Vita game  which, for the record, was Sorcery Saga. And guess what? I absolutely hated the Vita upon first play. The analog sticks felt utterly foreign, the screen was way too big, the graphics were too sleek and polished, and the console left such a bad overall impression on me that I turned it off and put it right back in its box with a lot of huffing and puffing. Good thing I picked it up again a week later and managed to overcome my initial repulsion, or I would have missed on what turned out to be one of my favourite handhelds of all time  as well as on a ton of stellar games.

The rearguard: I happened to be part of the very last bunch of subscribers to the now defunct Official Nintendo Magazine UK: I subscribed in early 2013, only to see the magazine bail out in october 2014, a mere year and a half later. To see that publication edge closer and closer to its unavoidable retirement was quite an eerie experience, I must say. In true Nintendo-ish fashion, the publisher and writing staff didn't mention that ONM was slated for execution before said execution was nearly upon us subscribers; but one could feel that something was fishy many months before we were actually notified that our subscriptions were cancelled. The magazine's content was incredibly poor, with safe and boring interviews of Nintendo developers and dull previews and reviews of big titles that were published again and again under a slightly different form each time. There were no in-depth analyses, no retro features, no cutting-edge and informative interviews; in a nutshell, there was none of what I actually expected to find in a magazine devoted to Nintendo consoles and games. But when the list of staff members and contributing writers started shrinking literally every month, I knew that the writing was on the wall. I certainly didn't regret the magazine's half-baked and snooze-inducing content in the slightest; on the other hand, it was a bit of a nasty blow to be ousted from my own subscription. I had already missed out on the most famous gaming magazines of the '90s; and now that I could finally bask in the joy of being a gaming magazine subscriber, that long-awaited joy was taken from me after barely one year? Sheesh, talk about the Universe not wanting me to read gaming publications. Good thing I managed to unearth other interesting and  most importantly  thriving gaming magazines and to get a good subscription pool after that.

Now that you've been reading these anecdotes and hopefully enjoying them, I have a favour to ask of you, dear fellow gamers. See, what I enjoy even more than pondering all the little quirks of my gaming life is to learn about the little quirks of other gamers' gaming life. You guess where I'm going with that, I'm sure: I'd like you to tell me some gaming anecdotes of your own in the comments, dear fellow gamers. Numbers don't matter; just feel free to tell as many or as few stories as you wish, and I'll read them all with great delight. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Pokemon X: The Delcatty Solo Run

Skitty is the mysterious 'Mon that nearly single-handedly made me give up on my planned Eevee solo run. When I encountered him in Castelia City, I was instantly reminded of my delicious playthrough of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky and the great time I had had handling this lovely pink feline, and I wondered why the idea of tackling a Skitty solo run had not dawned on me earlier. The time was more than ripe to address this oversight, and I decided to do so in Pokemon X instead of White 2/Black 2. For one thing, I was getting a teeny-tiny bit tired of cruising Unova; for another, Skitty appears right after the first Gym in X and I wanted to cruise with him as early as possible; and last but not least, I was dying to pet and feed the adorable kitty into oblivion in Pokemon-Amie.

I was expecting that run to be business as usual, but things didn't exactly unfold as planned. Skitty is great solo run material on paper, with balanced stats and a decent offensive Move pool that guarantees an efficient Type coverage. I was struggling a bit in the early stages of the games — the first fight against Lucario being an especially gritty point — but the discovery of a Moon Stone and my Skitty's subsequent evolution into Delcatty gave me a welcome stat boost and some much-needed room in all things fighting. I was set for a smooth ride, or so I thought; but the game had other plans for me. I started sensing something was amiss when none of my Skitty's Moves was able to scratch a random Ghost 'Mon. Now, I fully expected Return and Wake-up Slap to be unefficient; but Dig and Feint Attack? By all accounts and to the best of my knowledge, these last two Moves should have taken care of Ghost 'Mons allright, and yet they were entirely useless, making my Skitty powerless and unable to dispose of Ghost 'Mons. At first, I could rely on my crew of HM slaves to take down these irritating ghostly obstructions; but as the game progressed, these HM slaves became underleveled and I had no choice but to swiftly run away from random battles and carefully avoid all Trainers armed with Ghost 'Mons. This was manageable, if only a tad irritating; but it didn't explain why my Ground and Dark Moves were suddenly unable to pummel Ghost 'Mons into oblivion.

It took me a while, but I finally uncovered the very logical reason for my Skitty's powerlessness against the Ghost crew; and that reason is none other than the Normalize ability, which transforms all Moves into Normal Moves. While this gives a welcome boost on the battlefield thanks to the STAB, it also makes the Normalize version of Skitty a genuinely unfit candidate for a solo run — the first I've encountered since I started soloing Pokemon games, en passant. Because indeed, Skitty comes in two versions ability-wise: the one with Normalize, and another with Cute Charm. It was my bane to get a Skitty with the former; had I gotten a Skitty boasting Cute Charm, I would have blasted through the game without noticing anything. And I would now be crowned Champion instead of stalling at the entrance of Victory Road.

Because indeed, I didn't reach the Elite Four. By the time I polished off the eight Gyms, my Skitty's lack of bite against all things ghostly had grown into a regular and unavoidable issue: at that point, I was basically unable to dispose of Ghost 'Mons, be it with Skitty or my HM slaves. I didn't want to tackle the Elite Four without a fair bit of checking, knowing that a mere single Ghost 'Mon could stop my Skitty dead in her tracks. And lo and behold, it turned out that there was indeed a Ghost 'Mon in the Elite Four roster: Chandelure, a dual Fire/Ghost 'Mon handled by Fire Trainer Malva. That put an end to my lofty Elite Four dreams, and I gave up on my run after roughly 17 hours of play. Now, if I ever tackle a Skitty solo run again, I'll obviously make sure that I recruit a creature with the Cute Charm ability. I'd like to cruise Unova with a Skitty, if only because I like the kitten's sprite in White 2/Black 2; so a Skitty solo run redux is not entirely out of the question. The lovely feline didn't get to prove herself fully, and I want to let her strut her stuff on the Elite Four grounds. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Pokemon Black 2: (Proudly presenting) the Boldore Solo Run

A.k.a. The Run I Would Never Have Dreamt of Tackling in a Million Years. The very existence of that unlikeliest of runs can solely be attributed to a tease from faithful reader Sieg, who innocently dropped a little bomb in the comment section of my Tepig Solo Run report going as such: "If you ever solo Pokémon BW/BW2 with Roggenrola, I have to admit you have some top-quality gaming caliber!" Oh boy, little did Sieg know what he had stirred there. I'm a sucker for playful challenges and a serial solo runner who needs but the slightest excuse to tackle new Pokemon solo runs; and once I read that tongue-in-cheek suggestion, there was simply no turning back, and I was more than thrilled to take up the gauntlet and dive head first into that new and most unexpected endeavour.

Mind you, I did my homework beforehand. Endurtaking exciting challenges is all well and nice, but I had to make sure that a Roggenrola solo run was even possible at all before digging up my cartridge of Black 2 from my precious collection. I pored over the little rock's Stats on Bulbapedia; and lo and behold, it turned out that Roggenrola actually had a couple of cards up his sleeve stat-wise — cards that could make him more than fit for cruising solo. For one thing, he boasts a stellar Attack stat, which means guaranteed one-shooting; for another, he's blessed with high Defense and loads of HP, which allows him to be a damage sponge and take hits comfortably. This automatically took care of the cute geode's crippling weakness, i.e. his abysmal Speed stat: even though I never got to act first in battle, I would still be able to stomach my opponent's hit before unleashing my own devastating moves. Last but not least, Roggenrola's Sturdy ability ensured that my little rock would never be one-shot at the beginning of a battle. There was definitely some potential there, and good hopes that I could indeed succeed and pull off a Roggenrola Solo Run.

As you probably guessed already, I did indeed succeed and took my Roggenrola affectionately renamed Geode all the way up to the Elite Four and beyond. And guess what? It wasn't even that hard. In fact, I dare say my Roggenrola Solo Run was easier than my Snivy run of White 2 and my Rowlet and Litten runs of Sun. That was wildy unexpected all the more so as I didn't even get to benefit from Roggenrola's final evolution, which can only be triggered through Trading and believe me, I relished the surprise and the whole ride that came in its wake. Despite Roggenrola's many elemental weaknesses, I was never in real trouble in any of the Gyms nor in the Elite Four, for that matter: my ample amounts of HP and sky-high Defense allowed me to take damage while biding my time, and a couple of Battle Items took care of padding my Geode's lousy Sp. Defense when necessary. Cherry on the cake, Geode managed to overcome his natural limitations on the Speed front through overleveling: in the late stages of the games, I got to strike first in roughly one third of all battles, which was a most pleasant development. Now obviously, I did endure a lot of first hits and thus a lot of damage through that run; but that gave me the opportunity to stock up on healing items and use my mountains of cash, which usually remain mostly untouched during my runs. On the Move side, I spent most of the game wielding Rock Smash (Fight), Return (Normal), Bulldoze (Ground) and Rock Slide (Rock) and managed to take care of all battles situations with that powerful quatuor of Physical awesomeness. Rock 'Mons may have a lot of weaknesses allright, but there are sure many Types that are weak to Rock in return: Rock Slide was by far my most used move, a terrific one-shooter that could send Flying and Dragon 'Mons crashing to the ground just as readily as knock out Ghost and Psychic 'Mons into oblivion.  

So you have it: the unlikeliest solo run of them all, presented by yours truly and kickstarted by a playful comment. This is actually the second time a comment by Sieg prompts me to undertake a Pokemon solo run I would never have thought of in the first place, and I'm starting to think that we share some kind of cosmic Pokemon connection. At any rate, here's to you, Sieg: a solo run that proves once more that valid candidates for Pokemon solo runs come in all shapes and sizes and that even the occasional crappy, crippling stat can be overcome when the rest of the numbers are in all the right places. And now, after four solo runs in a row, I'm taking a break from Black and White 2 but not from the series. I still have a couple of runs to get out of my system right now, and I'll keep gorgeoing on Pokemon until my itch is fully scratched. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!