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.

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.

I’m excited

All aboard the hype train

I just watched Nintendo’s Switch conference.

And damn, am I excited! I might have to end up breaking my “Never preorder” rule.

A few highlights:

  • The Switch releases on March 3 this year
  • It’s set to be $300 USD (a little cheaper in Japan)
  • New games!
  • Zelda 0_0 (IT’S A RELEASE TITLE)

I’m just really excited for Zelda.

Pokémon No

Why Pokémon Go failed.

I have a major problem with Pokémon Go. Namely, I think it’s a joke of a Pokémon title. The problem is, it doesn’t quite feel like a Pokémon game. Now, granted, there have been some stranger spin-offs (Pokémon Trozei! in particular comes to mind), but Pokémon Go, to me, is one of the biggest failures in gaming this year, because it fails to capture the essence of Pokémon, yet attempted to appeal to our sense of nostalgia when it comes to the memories associated with the main games (and, by extension, the anime). It’s not necessarily that it was a bad idea; no, I think it was an excellent idea. Unfortunately, it was undercooked and failed to live up to the Pokémon name.

But what exactly makes a Pokémon game a Pokémon game? What was it that attracted players of all ages – kids, teenagers, adults, what have you – to these stationary sprites on a handheld device? Was it the story? The music? The level grinding?

No, it was all of that and more. It’s not the story, it’s the specific events that transpire (like battling AZ in Kalos or facing down Red at Mt. Silver in Johto). It’s not the music, it’s the emotional appeal attached to that music (like I covered last time with Kindred Spirits on the Roof). And, most importantly, it’s not the level grinding, it’s the immersion into the world of Pokémon: the struggles of training and the bond with your Pokémon, until ultimately your long journey culminates with the defeat of the region’s villainous team and your ascension to the title of Pokémon League Champion.

Let’s look at this last point, because this, to me, is what Pokémon is all about. It’s about building the bond with your Pokémon, and all of the stories you create while heading for the Elite Four: the blood that pumps in a close Gym match, the bitterness of defeat, the attachment you develop to these pixelated sprites on a small, six-inch screen; HGSS even allows you to have a partner Pokémon that walks outside of its Pokéball. You find yourself relying on some Pokémon more than others, developing their personalities in your head. As the game’s region slowly unfolds and you reach new cities or towns, you take in your surroundings, remembering key events or key people along the way that help you on your journey. This is what Pokémon is all about: the bonds you develop with your Pokémon on a long journey.

Even most of the spin-offs got that part right. Mystery Dungeon removed the human/Pokémon barrier completely, where you become direct friends with other Pokémon, relying on them and their courage as you took on dungeons with endlessly hostile individuals. Pokémon Ranger‘s entire theme centers on seeing Pokémon as partners and not as servants.

So let’s go back to Pokémon Go. Its trailer was very well done (as all trailers tend to be), appealing to this attachment by reminding us about that sense of exploration and triumph. Trainer and Gym battles are depicted as epic brawls, with you sending your Pokémon out to directly combat someone else’s, where winner takes all and losers graciously admit defeat. It then culminates with a battle for the ages, as you team up with other trainers to take down a legendary Pokémon, trusting your best friend to do the job.

But that’s not what happened. Instead of partners, Pokémon in this game became stats. Instead of an epic battle, battles became rapid tapping excursions. Instead of appealing to the very core of Pokémon and its journey, Pokémon Go became a quick check of your phone for more powerful monsters to catch, without any modicum of the care you would put in for a real pet, or a real partner.

I so wanted to love Pokémon Go. I knew it was going to be nothing like the trailer, but I entertained the idea of going out to see the world with my Pokémon by my side. Instead, all we got was another mobile game: heartless and boring. Granted, the game does encourage exploration; you have to be willing to do some searching if you want to catch more Pokémon, but without that feeling of companionship that all of the main games afford, it feels empty – a waste of time. Maybe the idea was flawed in the first place, or maybe there was just no way to really implement these ideas into a mobile game. Maybe it may even be human nature that felled the title; in our inherent laziness, we developed apps that automatically locate Pokémon without even having to search for them. Regardless of the cause, Pokémon Go was a failure. In my eyes, it can’t even call itself a Pokémon game.