Shipping Emblem: Conquest

Two down, one to go

Over a year after I had finished Birthright, I finally returned to Fire Emblem: Fates to finish Conquest.

*SPOILERS FOLLOW*

Initially, I had started Conquest pretty much immediately after finishing Birthright, but stopped because I kept losing units, because I was stubbornly attempting Hard/Classic. I don’t quite remember why I stopped, but part of the reason was so I could finish XCOM 2 (which had released the week before) and Skyrim (which I had started earlier in that academic year but had never finished).

In the time since then, I’ve heard people saying how Conquest is the best of the three Fates branches, both in difficulty and in story. With two out of three now under my belt, I can say that to be true so far. Corrin’s sacrificing of his soul and being for the betterment of both Hoshido and Nohr was a far more engaging story than the fairly simple frontal war experienced in Birthright. That being said, this game was damn hard. This time, swallowing my pride and really just wanting to get the story over with, I played on Hard/Casual, and even then found it challenging. As a matter of fact, I never even finished the final Invasion mission, failing at it several times before giving up to start the last chapters. The game’s difficulty made me prefer the Guard Stance, and as a result I ended up having some “commander” units that were maxed out; I even bought Effie an Eternal Seal to boost her level cap to 25. She ended up being pretty much a literal tank, with 48 Def that more or less ensured nobody could inflict any physical damage on her. My other “commander” units were Corrin, Xander, Leo, and Henry.

I only wish I could have connected my DS to the Internet. With no side missions to boost my ships supports, I ended the game with only three children: Kana, Midori, and Siegbert. Digressing a bit, I ended up marrying Kaze and Effie; their S-support log made me laugh out loud:

Confirmed: trebuchets are more meaningful than statues

As an aside, my three S-supports were Corrin/Nyx, Xander/Selena, and Kaze/Effie. I was planning on Mozu/Henry and Leo/Beruka, but the game ended before I could see those through.

At any rate, the lack of non-story battles made planning for my army a real pain. I was wary of buying any equipment that wasn’t discounted for fear of funds later down the road. This fear ended up being quite founded, as for the first time in any Fire Emblem game I’ve known I actually found myself having to sell some of my equipment to maintain my troops. Moreover, my requirement of survival made a severe and quite extreme level imbalance; my practice of keeping units in Guard Stance rarely allowed the supporting unit to gain any experience, and consequently many of my units went unused for pretty much the entire game. I know for a fact that I never even deployed Izana, and since I was unable to do any castle battles and thoroughly upgrade my fort I never had Flora join my team.

Then again, I reasoned to myself that I was really just going through the story. If I really wanted the supports, I can read them online once Revelations is complete (just to avoid any accidental spoilers). Conquest is quite a dark game, I must say. Perhaps not in content, but you can almost feel the oppressive Nohrian army on yourself as you play; parts of it were almost painful to go through. This being a Fire Emblem game, though, there were still some enjoyable and funny moments. The last CG scene has the Avatar bouncing off of Camilla’s chest (seriously, what’s with the implied incest-ness in Fates?), and the support logs are still amusing as all hell. I vaguely recall hearing people complain about the lack of story depth when compared to Awakening, but, hell, it’s still a fun game nonetheless.

Next up is Revelations, and then I’m finally finished with Fates. I’ve put in about two hours into the game; I had forgotten how Conquest tints the menus with a purple, and the ability to have side battles is such an underappreciated godsend. After this? Who knows – I’ve been writing a symphony and maybe I’ll actually put some good, uninterrupted time into that.

The pain…

:C

This sucks.

Yesterday, I lost my Halcyon 6 save. It hurts. I had put in some 12 hours this past week, hoping to actually complete a playthrough.

And I came damn close (I think). Tier IV ships, seven officers, the entirety of the starbase explored…all to be lost in a single go.

It’s disappointing, to be sure. Halcyon 6 is a fun little game. Though touted as a mix of FTLXCom, and one other strategy game that I can’t quite remember at the moment, it feels like it struggles a bit to live up to the individual expectations of each title. That being said, it’s fun in its own right; the sense of back-against-the-wall really does feel like some of XCom‘s toughest moments, and there’s something really satisfying about taking out an entire enemy fleet without taking any damage.

It’s too bad, really. I had started Halcyon 6 two or three times during the semester, but had never seen it all the way through. With ~12 hours down the drain, I just don’t feel like starting again now. Maybe later. For now, though, it’s finally time to finish Fire Emblem.

Assaulting the castle

What an extraordinary experience.

*Spoilers follow for Breath of the Wild*

I finally finished Breath of the Wild over the weekend. With all Divine Beasts freed, all memories unlocked, and the Master Sword in hand, the only thing left for me was a full-on assault against Ganon. Earlier, I had explored the rear entrance of Hyrule Castle briefly (based on the advice of one of the NPCs), and accidentally found myself the Hylian Shield, but upon realizing how badass the music was – infused with Zelda’s Lullaby and the main theme as it was – I felt morally obliged to take on the castle in a single sitting.

And that was a great idea. Hitting the castle from the front, taking the obvious path outlined on the map, fighting Ganon, and watching the credits and cutscenes took about an hour. The music invoked a sense of inevitability and duty, and taking on the Guardians one by one let me feel a real sense of progress as I made my way up the structure. The ending itself was more emotional than I was expecting; seeing the four Divine Beasts unleash their power against Ganon made me realize the enormity of Link’s task, and fighting the multi-limbed creature in the castle’s sanctum was exciting for the battle’s entirety, despite its simplicity and reliance on skill more than abilities.

But little did I know, that was not the boss battle. No, the real boss battle – the final battle – took place outdoors, in as beautiful of a setting I could ever imagine. The soundtrack called back to the main theme revealed in last year’s E3, sprinkled with almost senseless and grating piano lines, and yet had an overarching sense of elegance that was at times both harmonious and conflicting with the Bow of Light and the battle’s location in Hyrule Field. Taking on Ganon astride my trusty blue steed Thunder (I actually underused the horse mechanic in this game, preferring to do my travelling by foot; I am curious as to how this final battle would have panned out if I had never domesticated a horse) with Zelda’s voice in my mind, I was finally struck by the game’s duality of giant scale and great, intense focus. Through looking things up after the endgame, I realized I had achieved the true ending through completing all of the main quests, and that ending really made me feel empty once I realized the game was over. I only wish there was a playable epilogue that detailed Link and Zelda’s journey to restore Hyrule; perhaps in one of the planned DLCs.

In conclusion to an amazing game and extraordinary experience, Breath of the Wild left a lasting impression on me. Everything was possible; I just had to have the right mindset and the right strategy. The story, if weak and a little simple, was fulfilling. Maybe I didn’t finish all of the side quests – and it’s entirely possible I haven’t even found all of the side quests – but Breath of the Wild has already taken its place as my favorite game of all time.

Breath of the Wild: a breath of fresh air

How Zelda is both new and old.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

You’ve probably heard some things about Zelda‘s latest title, a little thing called Breath of the Wildreleased for Nintendo Switch. No biggie.

It’s been covered to death, and ever since seeing the E3 2016 trailer (somehow I missed the first 2014 one…?) have been very excited for the game. You may remember the Twilight Princess reveal, one of the most genuinely enthusiastic responses of a video game I can think of; when BotW was revealed last year my friends and I basically lost it in a similar fashion.

As of writing, I have yet to finish the game, but I’ve put in enough time to free all of the Divine Beasts and reclaim all but one of my memories. I have also done a little over 50 shrines and unlocked the entire map. Before the summer ends I should be ready to fight Ganon; the only reason I haven’t done so is because the lead-up to Hyrule Castle has such a heroic soundtrack that I feel morally obligated to do the entire thing in one sitting.

Anyway. It’s tough to say whether BotW is the most like Zelda or the least like Zelda. On one hand, it takes a stark departure from the somewhat linear progression that the Zelda series has used in the last few years; on the other hand, it’s so close to the original Zelda that one might consider it the ultimate Zelda game.

By which I mean its completely open world. If you recall, the original Zelda game had no instructions whatsoever; you were allowed to go in any direction from initially spawning – technically you didn’t even have to grab the sword. You could tackle the dungeons in any order you desired and secrets were unlocked by using your brain. Conversely, Skyward Sword infamously had Fi, who held your hand at every corner and turning the game more into a list of chores to do.

BotW takes the best of the original Zelda and supports and structures it with modern technology. People drop hints but never tell you explicitly how to achieve a goal. The search for the Master Sword was particularly good; through talking to four or five people, you eventually synthesize information to realize it’s hidden in the Lost Woods, and in order to navigate the Woods you need to watch the wind.

I think the reason I love BotW is how it strikes a balance between abilities and mechanics. When you think about it compared to other open-world games, it actually features fewer skills that empower the player; much of what makes the game tick is under the hood. Tiny little details, really. Temperature, weather, a true, loading screen-free open world (save for dungeons and shrines), the ability to set things on fire, etc. etc. etc. Moreover, the game puts a higher emphasis on skill. People claimed that BotW took points from Dark Souls; the Souls guys replied by saying that they’ve been taking points from Zelda. While abilities help you solve puzzles, get around, and sometimes fight enemies, much of the game is based on your personal ability as a gamer to react, empowering you and making you actually feel like the hero of legend – especially if you elect to go with the reduced, “Pro” HUD (in settings). This is further seen in the different ways you can attack a challenge. With all four abilities plus the paraglider unlocked in the first half hour, failure at a challenge means you can hit from a different angle. Maybe a head-on rush against a monster camp doesn’t work, so try swinging giant metal boulders around, or gliding in from above, or lure a Guardian over or something.

That being said, I do have a minor complaint. Where is Hyrule? There’s a massive castle in the center of the world, but what is it ruling over? I realize that there are town ruins in the vicinity of the castle, but there appear to be very few citizens. It just seems strange to have a very large castle ruling over a very small amount of people, the Calamity notwithstanding.

Though I feel BotW would have been an incredible game no matter when it came out, I think it was released at a great time. AAA gaming is taking a far more businesslike model, and each day I’m losing confidence in the entire industry as a whole. I’ve long lamented how big developers seem to be putting in features for the sake of putting them in and not for fun (looking at you, Assassin’s Creed collectibles), but in BotW everything plays a part on the overarching story of Link trying to save a kingdom on the brink of destruction. Nintendo is usually seen as being somewhat conservative and backwards in terms of game development, but ever since Iwata’s tenure as president the company has almost always been experimenting with fun. They don’t always succeed (see: Star Fox Zero), and yet they are unique in their way of at least putting that first. In that sense, Breath of the Wild really is a breath of fresh air.

War Thunder 1.67

Get your Wagner tape ready.

War Thunder‘s 1.67 update “Assault” came out last week, and I’ve been having a blast with it.

The update introduces the eponymous game mode Assault, which sees players playing cooperatively against waves of enemies. As of last time I checked (yesterday), Ground Assault is yet to be released, but Air Assault is all sorts of fun.

In Air Assault, which is currently at an Arcade Battles difficulty, eight players defend a ground target against waves of enemies. The difficulty of the AI is based on the highest battle rating (just like in PvP), and the enemy waves consist of different plane classes (dive bombers, fighters, high altitude bombers, etc.), though sometimes you’ll have to take out Howitzers on the ground. I believe there are a limited number of waves, since there is a red number in the bottom left of the screen that decreases with each wave, but I have yet to win a battle.

At any rate, Assault brings an entirely new sort of fun into War Thunder. While battling it out with enemy players is good and all, Assault allows your game time to take on a sort of story. The separation of a narrative versus a player-created story is something I’ve alluded to in the past, but in short it’s the difference between a plot created by a writer and the random events that happen within a game that define your own experiences with the game. Anyway, what I love about Assault is how much it doesn’t feel like a game at times. In Arcade Battles – or player battles in general – it’s a little difficult to really appreciate the grand scale of warfare when you realize that SPAA is actually an 8,8 or you forget what the controls are and accidentally bomb a friendly unit. The first time I played Air Assault, however, I was a little intimidated by all the enemy bombers flying in formation. There was something sobering, something epic about the scene. Now each wave of enemies spawns about 10 – 14 kilometers away from base, which means you have about that much distance to gain speed. When you enter their sights at about 700 meters (I currently use Tier II planes), the air explodes with fire. I like taking the leader head-on, then weaving through the formation to the side. Seeing those bombers not break formation and my plane whooshing past them with meters to spare is exhilarating. Then, of course, with all of the gunners at the rear of each plane, suddenly you have to contend with way too many angry machine guns, and it becomes a desperate balancing act of survival and duty; when do you keep engaging the enemy, at the cost of your own plane? When do you back out and repair for the next bout?

As fun as the individual moments of chaos are, though, the entirety of Assault gets somewhat tedious. The constant crush of defeat after defeat gets a little bit boring, and it feels a little unbalanced towards the AI (which I get is the entire point, but still). I still love engaging an entire formation on my own, and it’s fun competing with friends, but I just wish it was slightly easier to win; that way we’d be able to tell our own stories. At any rate, though, Assault is still fundamentally fun. I happen to be more of a tank person, though, so here’s hoping that mode comes soon.

Quantum Break

Literally running out of time.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

When Quantum Break first came out, I heard some iffy things about its technical difficulties and it kind of dropped off my radar, especially because at first I thought the main character was just some unassuming middle-aged white dude (I mean, I did get two of those three correct). I didn’t really look into it too much; all I knew about it was that it had something to do with time, and that its PAX East 2016 exhibit was pretty cool.

But a few months ago, Target had a buy two, get one free deal on games so I decided to pick it up on a whim; and I’m glad I did.

Because Quantum Break has one of the most gripping narratives I’ve experienced in a long time. Its focus on time travel and loops – specifically, causal loops and Novikov’s self-consistency – helps in telling a story about sacrifice and hope. It departs from a lot of major shooter titles in its protagonist/antagonist structure; whereas something like Call of Duty might have some I-want-to-kill-everyone-to-make-a-statement guy, one can’t help but sympathize with Paul Serene, and even make you wonder whether or not Jack Joyce is really the bad guy. The way that gameplay elements would interact with the included (ish) live-action show was a breath of fresh air in the way media is handled, and the way that the game explains and deals with causal loops (albeit without referring to them explicitly by name) was simple enough in my opinion, and the way the game closed every single loop without creating any paradoxes for the sake of a happy ending appealed to my inner nerd. I particularly liked how much of the narrative was hidden throughout the world (though I hate collectibles in general), allowing for an entirely missable layer of background and lore yet still allowing the main story to come through. As Microsoft’s new IP, it was also very amusing to spot all of the Windows products in the live-action show (Windows Phone, Surface, etc.).

Gameplay, initially, was interesting enough. You’re in a normal-enough third-person shooter, but Jack Joyce has temporal manipulation powers that grant him an edge. This somewhat addresses the ever-present problem of ludonarrative dissonance, and justifies Jack’s superiority over hundreds of well-trained, elite Monarch soldiers.

By the way, can we talk about “Monarch Solutions”? C’mon, couldn’t you have picked a less villain-y company name? Jeez.

Anyway. That being said, by early to mid-game the shooting sequences started becoming stale, both in gameplay and in narrative. The introduction of soldiers equipped with chronon harnesses made the actual usage of powers a little more tempered, and made one wonder how Jack ever bested them (though, to the game’s credit, it does appear that such soldiers have less of a grasp on time than Jack does). The combat arenas had little functional differences between them, and save for introducing new enemies it felt as if once you learned how to deal with a group of enemies you could just rinse and repeat.

Which leads me to the final battle against Paul Serene. I have a love/hate relationship with this battle. On one hand, Paul himself is perhaps the most boring enemy in the game. After his display of power early in Act One you’d expect some sort of epic hand-to-hand showdown across time, but all he does is stand in two different places and have AOE attacks that are pretty easily avoided once you get the hang of them.

On the other hand, though, his instakill AOE attacks force you to move around the map, and in doing so makes at least the final battle somewhat different from every other encounter. It’s not a great mechanic when compared against other boss battles, but at least it’s different within the scope of Quantum Break.

Honestly, as a game I’m not a huge fan of how the shooter mechanics tied into the game. It’s undoubtedly a gripping narrative, and its fluid/broken timeline lends itself well to some really gorgeous moments onscreen, but I felt that if would have worked better as solely a live-action show. Yes, the way the game interacted with said show was unique and interesting; but I wonder if Quantum Break would have benefited more from a more focused TV perspective.

One final point I want to bring up: according to my Xbox, I’ve spent 9.5 hours in this game. Of those, some 90 minutes were spent watching the live-action sequences. I can’t remember exactly, but I spent between $30 and $60 on this game. Regardless of how much I did spend, that raises a question of how much value I got out of this game. In general, I start off with saying that $2/hr is a good value for a video game, then adjust that rate depending on my opinions on the specific title. Going by this benchmark alone, I’m already spending more money per hour spent in the game, and if I want to consider this a well-valued game, I’ll have to come up with some reason that justifies its price point.

The problem is, I can’t. At the same time, I can’t not. This is one of those titles where I can’t decide whether or not it was a good game for its value. Was it pretty? Yes. Did it work? Sure, apart from the annoying long load times. Was it a good game? …I don’t know. I loved its narrative. I loved its show. But I disliked the way that the actual gameplay mechanics felt a little like an afterthought, despite them being slick and intuitive. I’m not entirely sure why I feel this way, but regardless this makes Quantum Break not feel like a good game; more like a dressed-up, interactive TV show. In that sense, is it worth $60? $50? $40? I don’t know. Now maybe if I were to go back and choose other Junctions, or finish the collectibles, I’d change my tune as my price/hour ratio went down. But I don’t really see an incentive to do so, mainly because – in the theme of closed loops – I know that all choices only bend the story, not change it completely. And, as I stated earlier, I hate collectibles. So I don’t have any reason to go back and play more, meaning that I’m stuck with thinking about whether or not this game was worth my money. I might write something about this issue later, but for now it’s just something to think about.