Fire Emblem Awakening: I'm in deep

Did I mention that I absolutely adore this game? I'm quite sure I didn't, because that's a pretty new development. I started falling in love with Awakening in earnest a couple of chapters ago (around Chapter 12, if I remember properly), when the game suddenly opened up and I gained access to more Side Stories and complimentary battles than ever before. I obviously lapped up all that free grinding and polished off all the extra engagements that were offered to me, raising all my favourite units' weapon proficiency to A and their levels to the big 20 in the process. Everybody that could benefit from a Master Seal got a class change, and my force is now pretty much set and ready to follow my avatar till the bitter end. And talking about my force, I'm totally planning to write a post about my units of choice before I wrap up the game. Stay tuned!

Awakening is proving to be a much deeper game that Fates: Birthright, which only confirms that the latter is a truncated game and thus a complete rip-off. Maps in Awakening are ten times more varied than in Birthright, and the former doesn't need a browser game in disguise to keep players occupied. There's more than enough going on with the side stories, the complimentary battles, the recruitment, the refurbishment, the grinding to raise levels and unit closeness and last but not least, the romance. And talking about the romance, a couple more units tied the knot since my last post: Tharja and Libra, who go perfectly together as the brooding sorceress and the kind priest hiding dark secrets behind his ever-present smile; Gregor and Nowi, whose adorable relationship revolves around the latter crafting dragon scale outfits for the former; and last but not least, Noire and Morgan, whose hilariously silly love story involves the latter helping the former get rid of her fear of bugs.

I would gladly have worked on more pairings; but alas, my force's size is limited, and some units cannot marry anyway. I obviously went out to my way to recruit my units' progeny, even though they didn't join my force afterwards most of the time; the only offspring that's yet missing is Frederick and Miriel's one, whom I failed to recruit when I polished off the 'Shadow in the Sands' Paralogue. (But hey, how could I have known that a potential unit was in hiding in one of the villages? That's not fair, game!) And heck, I just don't want my playthrough to end yet! I'm relishing that game so much that I want to keep basking in more grinding and swift battles. But all good things come to an end, including amazing runs; and as my force is leveled up to the max, Master Sealed and pimped up with the best gear available, it's now time to tackle the ultimate chapters and find out if my avatar is indeed an unwilling traitor, as the game has been implying pretty much since the beginning. Brace yourselves, last chapters: I'm coming full force — in every sense of the word.

My only gripe with that amazing game so far is pretty much a pet peeve: to put it simply, I really dislike Awakening's soundtrack and voice acting. The former is just plain weird: if there's any such thing as martial elevator music, then Awakening's soundtrack is exactly that; and while those tracks have a way of getting stuck in my head, I just really, really don't fancy them. As for the latter, it's not really full-blown voice acting, just a couple of sentences thrown in here and there; yet those snipets have a way of not squaring with the characters' text nine times out of ten, effectively destroying the mood completely and preventing immersion. Complete silence would definitely have been a better choice, if you ask me.

With that said, dear fellow gamers, I'll leave you for the time being; I have battles to fight and a playthrough to wrap up. I'll see you soon with an exhaustive breakdown of my favourite units; until then, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Sonic Lost World and Sonic Generations: A miss and a miss

I admit it: the Sonic game I really want to play right now is Sonic Mania, the homage-heavy, long-overdue, critically praised 2D sequel to Sonic&Knuckles. Alas, Vita and 3DS owners were collectively denied the joy of playing that game; and thus I have to make do with erzatz such as Sonic Generations and Sonic Lost World to quell my Sonic thirst on the 3DS. Those two games have been sitting in my collection for, like, forever; it's thus time to give them an opportunity to prove themselves — if only to be able to sell them for good money while the 3DS is still supported in case they turn out to be disappointing. And as you may have infered already from the title alone, those two games were indeed disappointing; and we'll see right away how they failed to dazzle and impress the Sonic fan in me.

First is Sonic Lost World, the spiritual successor to the ill-fated Sonic X-treme on the Saturn. Resurrecting games that failed to come to existence is a great idea on paper, but it can easily go haywire; after all, those games failed to make the cut in their time for a reason, and that reason may or may not involve unpractical gameplay concepts. And in the case of Sonic X-treme and Sonic Lost World, I'd be more than tempted to assume that the former was indeed shelved because its gameplay proved unsatisfactory and that the latter shouldn't have existed at all in its current form. I've read horrible, horrible things about Lost World's level design and control schemes — a couple of levels being singled out and branded as pure torture tools prone to make even the most seasoned and patient Platformer aficionado ragequit. I couldn't verify this assertion myself, though, because I quit before the end of the second level. I didn't ragequit, mind you; I just quietly put the console down, quietly took the cartridge off and quietly put it back into its box, never to be touched again — all that because I wasn't enjoying the ride.

Mind you, things started nicely enough, giving me good hopes that I could indeed like that game. The controls were sleek and precise, the aerial-based gameplay instantly clicked with me and spiraling up and down the tubular zones was great fun. Sure, said zones were a bit too long for their own good, colours were a bit too dark for my taste, and the music was lacklustre; but I could perfectly live with that if the gameplay rocked. I cleared the tutorial and the first zone without too much hassle; then came the second zone, and I starting falling to my death. A lot. Those repeated falls conjured up horrible memories of Super Mario Land; and with that, the die was cast. I can tolerate tweaks to the classic Sonic formula quite good-naturedly, as my appreciation of Shattered Crystal abundantly proves; but having levels that are basically giant bottomless pits with a couple of platforms hovering around is where I draw the line. And mind you, those early levels are supposed to be easy and forgiving compared to later levels, which makes me think that there's no way in hell I could ever clear that game. I might as well save myself a couple of painful ragequits and spare a couple of good gaming hours by selling Lost World right away.

Then there is Sonic Generations, i.e. the game that nearly single-handedly made me purchase a 3DS back in 2011 — before I wisely decided that a DSi with Sonic Classic Collection was a better investment. This game is a self-celebratory monument of fan-service that tries its hardest to unite all Sonic aficionados under its banner and please older as well as newer fans — and fails utterly at it. The main issue lies in Generations' very concept, which is inherently flawed and a recipe for bombing. Offering flashy remade versions of old zones sounds like a Sonic fan's wet dream on paper; yet in practice, it's bound to disappoint basically everybody by sheer virtue of offering a limited selection of zones. It was pretty obvious that every single fan was going to be miffed that their favourite zones were not included and pissed off at the inclusion of some other zones they happen to dislike. Was I miffed and pissed off? Heck, you bet: I don't care whatsoever about the zones lifted from the 3D entries, but I would have killed to play remade versions of Flying Battery, Lava Reef and Dead Line — with a gloriously remixed soundtrack to boot. And was there really no better pick from the Rush games than Water Palace? How about Sky Babylon and its amazing theme track? And how about lifting Aquarium Park or Starlight Carnival from Colours, rather than the ultra-generic Tropical Resort? I could go on and on like that, just like probably every single Sonic fan that purchased that game. The only way to avoid such ramblings would have been to include every single zone created since the dawn of the series; and with a meagre seven zones for the 3DS version, the Sonic Team kinda missed the mark, if you ask me.

Mind you, Generations is a perfectly serviceable game with glossy graphics, sharp controls and a lovely celebratory vibe, and I polished it off nearly entirely, omitting only the irritating final boss; yet as decent as it is, there is no chance I'll ever touch it again. It's just too bland, too stingy and overall too unsatisfactory. What's the point of rushing through a measly selection of zones when I could just as easily replay the original games? Not to mention that the 'modern' 3D stages make me feel nauseous and that the Sonic Team managed to squeeze in a corny story that tries — and laughingly fails — to rationalize the presence of the two gameplay styles instead of letting zones flow and fans enjoy the game for the shameless fan-servicey treat it is.

With Generations and Lost World being dismissed as unsatisfactory instalments and on their way to the closest second-hand shop, I now find myself in the very weird situation of being able to bandy Shattered Crystal as my favourite 3DS Sonic entry. But hey, that's Sonic Team's fault for releasing experimental and half-hearted games instead of building upon the series' strengths. The DS entries did a great job at restoring the series' former glory; so why not expand on them, instead of resurrecting a dead unfinished game and wallowing in selective fan-service? Where is the third Rush instalment or the sequel to Colours, for instance? Heck, just because the 3DS has '3D' in its name doesn't mean that all games released on it have to go for full 3D, as the Boom subseries cleverly figured out. And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to curl into a ball in a corner and come to terms with the fact that I'll probably never get to play the flashy, shiny and lush Sonic Mania. Or will I? After all, I still didn't write off the Switch entirely, now did I? Maybe I'll play that game in a few years after all, if I follow my own plans and invest in a Switch towards the end of the system's lifetime. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Fire Emblem Awakening: Smooth sailing

A couple of extra hours of play under my belt since my last post, and I'm still enjoying Awakening quite a lot. The ennui that viciously gripped me during my Fates playthrough is nowhere to be felt now, and I sure hope that things will stay that way until the end. I finally decided to stick with my female avatar, leaving an hypothetical male run as an option for future runs; and while I was at it, I got my claws into Chrom and made him my avatar's husband. I seriously doubt this romantic move will unlock anything interesting, but better safe than sorry. It's not like there were a lot of interesting bachelors anyway; the female characters are definitely more alluring, and I'll sure have a hard time choosing my mate when I replay the game with a male avatar — although I've already set my sights on a couple of ladies. But I digress; let's move back to my current playthrough and its unexpected developments.

Or maybe not so unexpected; because let's be honest, Fates had already pulled the exact same trick on me — and I fell for it once again like the FE debutant I am. I'm obviously referring to both games' propensity to offer powerful new units on a silver platter as chapters go by, prompting the player to ditch their overpowered old units without a second thought to focus on the flashy newcomers. That's how I found myself dropping newly wedded Vaike and Sully as well as Lon'qu and Lissa when Libra, Tharja, Gregor and Nowi joined my force. I feel a bit guilty about virtually abandoning the former on the highway after they served me so dutifully since the beginning of my run; but hey, what else could I do? The new units are just ten times more colourful and entertaining, and they are incredible assets on the battlefield to boot. And with Libra joining the fold, I now have three Healers on my hands, and that's definitely one too much. I love Maribelle too much to let go of her, and Libra is such a perfect embodiment of multitasking that I cannot think of parting with him for the life of me; so Lissa has to go, despite the fact that she's one of the main players in the story. And if Lissa goes, so does her husband Lon'qu — heck, the guy has a ridiculously tiny move range anyway. As for Sully and Vaike, they were always pis aller units that I used to fill up my force, so I certainly won't miss them too much.

Having said that, I'm a bit miffed by Fates' and Awakening's propensity to force planned obsolescence on the player by making newer units more attractive than older ones — or rather, I'm miffed by my own propensity to fall prey to that trick and lavish time and energy on units that I don't really fancy and won't keep in my roster till the bitter end. That's a full-blown case of sunk cost fallacy if I ever saw one; yet I cannot help but being salty about all that lost XP that could have been used to power up my absolute favourite units. Now, my own naivety and lack of insight in all things unit management are perfectly forgivable given that I'm still a complete FE noob; but let me tell you, I won't be one forever. I'm currently experiencing burgeoning yet irrepressible impulses to play it my way, taking a page from my own serial solo runner book and focusing exclusively on my very favourite units, even if that involves taking less characters along for the ride than the game actually allows. My next run of a 3DS FE game is definitely going to follow that pattern, and I'll bend the genre to my tastes and make it ten times more enjoyable in the process.

Never were deeper words of love spoken.
And since I've been referring to my favourite units over and over, I might as well introduce them right now. We have the Miriel/Frederick pair, two powerhouses with a really lovely and totally believable love story; and then we have my absolute little darlings, the Ricken/Maribelle pair, whose love story is so sweet and utterly perfect that it made me all mushy inside. Ricken is ridiculously strong despite his tiny stature and young age; and while Maribelle is not that useful on the battlefield, the idea of parting with her just tears my heart out. Then you have the quatuor I mentioned earlier, which made quite an impression, as well as new arrival Anna, which I may or may not intregate into my force depending on her performances on the battlefied and on the evolution of my feelings towards her. I mean, I was initially quite fond of Panne and Cordelia before their mediocre fighting performances and transparent personalities prompted me to ditch them without a second thought.

With that said, I'll see you soon with more Awakening reports, dear fellow gamers! There will be blood and romance, new recruits as well as new romantic developments. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Pokemon Black: The Scolipede Solo Run

Until very recently, I was under the impression that I still had to run solo with a great many Pokemon Types; but lo and behold, it turns out that I've actually covered most of the Type spectrum — all the more so if double Typing is taken into account — and that the Types I've not dabbled in yet can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The 'Mon du jour, i.e. vividly coloured, blasé-eyed Venipede, is taking me not just one, but two steps closer to full Type coverage with his double Bug-Poison typing. I've been fond of Venipede ever since I encountered him on the Route 6 bushes in Kalos (and I'm not the only one, since a Venipede run was endorsed enthusiastically by faithful readers Sieg and Kumiko). There's something endearing about that garish insect that I just can't explain with words; and while his middle form is a bit, shall we say, inexpressive, his gigantic final evolution manages to be all at once baddass, hilarious and adorable. What's not to like about a nonchalant giant magenta centipede, seriously?

My Venipede and her evolutions — collectively known as Venin — did a stellar job on the battlefield, despite rocky beginnings. The main issue was Venipede's and Whirlipede's low Attack, which made one-shooting opponents a distant dream; fortunately, I was helped on the offensive front by my Venin's awesome ability Poison Point, which helped me eliminate more than one assaillant. As soon as my foe was poisoned after a hit, I would spam Protect and let the poison do its work and dispose of the obstruction for me. That sure is a roundabout way to win, but it certainly did the job; however, Poison Point's magic became virtually unecessary after Venin crossed the ultimate evolutionary threshold, gaining sky-high Attack in the process. I got hold of a couple of neat Moves throughout my run; and by the time I reached the late stages of the game, I was pretty much set on Poison Tail (Poison), Bulldoze (Ground), X-Scissors (Bug) and Facade (Normal). The latter was more or less a pis aller: I wanted my beloved Return, but alas, I didn't find it during my run, nor did I find a more powerful Physical Poison Move than Poison Tail. Nonetheless, that Move quatuor was more than powerful enough to wreak havoc on the battlefield — at least, it was so until the first Elite Four showdown and rolling of credits.

I'll be blunt: even after three runs of the Black/White pair, I still find the forced double Elite Four showdown just as hard to swallow as when I was first confronted to it. In fact, I find it even harder to swallow after having been acquainted with the awesomeness of Black and White's direct sequels, the Black 2/White 2 pair — a.k.a. the games that single-handedly made me fall head over heels in love with generation V. Compared to these sequels' swift, smooth and near-perfect pacing, the pacing of the prequels sucks, with their abrupt ending, overblown postgame and Elite Four force-feeding. Technically, everything that happens after beating N belongs to postgame territory, since we get a credit roll after that victory; and yet, beating the Elite Four a second time triggers another credit roll while at the same time not ending the game for good, which is the clumsiest setting ever. How many postgames does this game have, exactly? I'm also not fond at all of the massive difficulty spike that occurs after the first rolling of credits, which I deem totally uncalled for. I swear that Moves that could one-shoot opponents with ease before the fight against N were suddenly rendered unable to knock out anything cold after the credits rolled, and that seriously hampered my ride. Let me enjoy my overleveling in peace, dang it!

Now, I can appreciate how GameFreak tried to break the mold with these games. The idea of making the resident Champion fail and be beaten by N, only to make you the Champion in all but name when you wipe the floor with the latter, was a really innovative idea that introduced a welcome modicum of drama in the franchise. Having you fight the Elite Four a second time to become the official Champion once the Team Plasma menace is more or less eradicated was also a thrilling challenge, and so was the scouring of Unova and hunting of the remaining Seven Sages led by Looker (which, for the record, I have yet to endurtake). All this was really neat and exciting on paper; but unfortunately, the execution is flawed. The first rolling of credits comes too early in the game and way too abruptly, leaving all at once too many places to explore and a sour feeling of unfinished business; and the unneeded difficulty spike that ensues makes the task of exploring said places and finishing said business all the more tedious and wearying. Reaching the Elite Four the second time around is busy work, and I have no qualms about admitting that I did it solely to get a celebratory post-victory snapshot with my Venin and that she gobbled more dope than a Tour de France rider in order to be ultimately featured on said snapshot. Lazy and vain gamer is lazy and vain!

But hey, the first part of that run was pure delight, and it was a satisfactory experience overall. Having said that, I'm not too sure I will replay Black and White too often after that, lest they host an exclusive 'Mon I really want to run solo with. Black 2 and White 2 are so much more polished, so much more rewarding and so much better overall that I declare them henceforth my reference games and go-to entries for generation V. And with that Venipede solo run under my belt, I'm now inching closer to full Type coverage. Ground, Ice, Electric, Dragon and Fairy 'Mons, you're next on my To-Run-Solo-With list! Until then, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!