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The Forbidden Codex of The Pink Beyond - A Sqrl's Journal

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September 22nd, 2018

11:44 am - Recordkeeping: Dragon Quest XI - Echoes of an Elusive Age COMPLETE
How do I even summarize this?

Dragon Quest is The JRPG Series. The original, from which all others came. It has changed and evolved significantly over the years, but it's always been basically Dragon Quest.

Dragon Quest XI then is The Most Modern Dragon Quest. It has the things you expect from a modern-day JRPG, it has a bright colorful world and a plot that isn't afraid to punch you in the emotions. You got your silent hero saving the day with a quirky cast of extremely likable characters, you got... well, it's a JRPG, man. I don't know. You either like this stuff or you don't.

I like it a lot. I loved this one, in fact, to the point where I stuck around 115-ish hours in for the postgame and then actually beat the For Real This Time final boss and finished the postgame, which is amazing and rare.

I never would've dreamed at the start of the year that I would've been playing a really good Dragon Quest here towards the end of it, but here we are. It was magical.

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September 8th, 2018

10:06 pm - Local Flavors - The Food of Dragon Quest XI
I got kind of inspired by Square-Enix's latest work and put together an imgur gallery on the various foodstuffs scattered around the towns of Dragon Quest XI.

Please enjoy, maybe. I'll post again when I'm done.

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September 5th, 2018

02:47 am - Munchkin with Woof and Sqrl
Woof: *draws card of unassuming robot carrying mop* "...and I face off in battle against the fearsome JANI-BOT! Level 1. I can beat it if you're not intervening."

Sqrlmog: "I am ABSOLUTELY intervening. Jani-Bot... IS YOUR FATHER. (*+10 level modifier card*) And he is ALSO ... The last of his kind! (*+10 level modifier card*)"

Woof: *stare at table*
Woof: *incoherent noises*
Sqrlmog: *incoherent giggling*
Woof: "How the fuck..."
Woof: "Those two cards should NEVER be played together..."
Woof, looking at race/class cards: "I'm not even a cyborg..."
Sqrlmog: *hysterical laughter, five minutes, unskippable*

Woof, resigned: "Well. I ... guess I scream "NOOOOOO" and throw myself down the nearest vent shaft." *rolls to run away, 6, success*
Sqrlmog, sagely: "Yeah that move ALWAYS works."

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September 3rd, 2018

11:28 pm - Recordkeeping: Broken Age COMPLETE
I think this suffered a bit from being broken into two sections. Somewhere between the first and second part, Double Fine possibly listened to a little TOO MUCH feedback or something and changed the course of the game drastically. That's the problem with Kickstarters, I suppose. So many hands driving the bus.

The first half of Broken Age is a lazy little romp through a fantasy world (which has a serious 'monster kidnapping maidens' problem) and a sci-fi world (which has a serious 'this place is run by patronizing parents' problem.) It's very easy and breezy and quick, you have a lot of wacky conversations, the animation is charming and the characters are likable.

The second half, particularly the END of the second half, becomes Myst Puzzle Nightmare, with the most heinous offender being a puzzle repeated several times where you're:

Wiring something.
What you wire it to matters.
There are six points and any connection between the six is allowed (but not necessarily correct).
The DIRECTION you run the wire FROM matters.
There is a trial-and-error element, you have to experiment to learn how the puzzle works mechanically.
It is randomized, so you can't use a walkthrough to solve it.

And perhaps most egregious to people who don't like adventure-game logic:
You have to use information gathered as one character to solve puzzles as a different character with no chance for them to in-character exchange information. It is entirely player-knowledge based.

That isn't a dealbreaker for me, but I've seen people get real angry at that in the past, so I figured I'd mention it.

Anyway two thirds of this game are QUITE easy and charmingly cartoonish and the last third becomes Puzzle Hell.
If that's what you're looking for, here it is.

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03:30 pm - Keeping Occupied
Tomorrow - Dragon Quest XI
October 5 - Assassin's Creed Odyssey
November 13 - Spyro Trilogy Reignited
December 7 - Smash Brothers Ultimate

The rest of the year looks busy.

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September 1st, 2018

03:34 pm - Recordkeeping: Heartbeat Demo COMPLETE
Can I really count beating a demo as a complete? Well, it did take me about five and a half hours, and that's longer than some actual games take to finish, so what the heck, let's go ahead and count it.

HeartBeat is an upcoming cutesy JRPG-style game in the Earthbound/Mother tradition of Cute But Weird. I dunno if it's going to spring the 'dark edge' of those games at any point, but so far there's not much sign of it.

The world is inhabited by monsters called Mogwai (no, forget about Gremlins, this is different), all of which are pretty adorable but also ... well, monsters. As a Conjurer who bonds with mogwai, Eve goes on a quest...

...well, she kinda doesn't so much "go on a quest" as "make a bunch of friends locally and get dragged into their problems". Still, there's questing, mysterious factions dangled just out of reach of the player's knowledge, friendly fun times, etc.

What catches my interest to some degree is the worldbuilding. Mogwai have their own society, ruled by their own leaders and whatnot, but some are exiled or choose to leave and enter the human world to live among them. Humans see this as either invasive or welcome coexistence depending on their personal stance. Likewise, there are feral mogwai roaming the wilderness, with glowing red eyes suggesting something is Not Right about them... I'm curious to see whether this game has it in itself to embrace and explore the ethical questions it's already raising.

There's an air of mystery and friendliness to the game -- Eve is explicitly not killing anything, she's just defeating or making them surrender -- but her partner-mog is obviously not telling her everything. Likewise, the closest thing to true villains so far is your standard-issue Three Smartassed Jerks. (Team Rocket, Team Skull from Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, whatever.)

I'm seeing a lot of people call it a "Pokemon clone" and it's absolutely not, though. You do not throw capture items at stat-randomized monsters with limited move-pools, you have a party of set characters with a slew of moves each.

That's not Pokemon, guys! Words mean things!

Anyway this was ... generally pretty good and I'm almost certainly going to drop ten bucks on it when it's a full game sometime in September.

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August 30th, 2018

11:18 pm - Recordkeeping: Shenmue II COMPLETE
I was expecting Shenmue II to feel like a different game from Shenmue I.

I did not expect Shenmue II to feel like three different, distinct chapters in itself, all shaped like a Shenmue.

There is the Hong Kong chapter. This is a slower-paced tale of information-gathering and exploration in the big city. Ryo may finally be among fellow martial artists, but the road to pursuing Lan Di is long and there are many pitfalls and traps along the way. This is the slower, more adventure-game Shenmue style. Lots of asking directions and following routes to a goal, like the first game but more spread out.

There is the Kowloon chapter, which is finally the dramatic kung-fu-movie action/adventure film people have always wanted Shenmue to be. This is the most action-driven section of the game, but also somewhat the most tedious to a degree. The Shenmue focus on life-simulation rubs very hard up against the faster pace of things, you keep slowing down, speeding up, then slowing way down again. The pacing is erratic, but that is also Shenmue for you.

Then there's the final chapter, which I will say nothing about except that I now understand why fans have been screaming for a third game for over a decade. I too am screaming now, and I only have to wait a year.

There is nothing else like Shenmue, and Shenmue II isn't even like itself the whole way through.

What can I say? You're not going to play one game and not the other. It's a good thing both are sold together now.

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August 25th, 2018

10:12 pm - Recordkeeping: Shenmue COMPLETE
Shenmue is a strange, gently plodding beast of a game that we'll never see the likes of again. Even when Shenmue 3 comes out, it will likely focus on different things, different aspects of gameplay. Shenmue is currently gaming's one and only kung-fu small town life simulator, and that's commendable.

This makes the fourth time in my life I've finished Shenmue 1 and every time I've played it I've seen different scenes, talked to people and discovered what to do next in different ways. I've gotten different toys out of the capsule machines and won different prizes in the lucky-dip draws in the stores. The plot of Shenmue is the same every time, the way you work through that plot is different and organic.

Shenmue came with a disc on the Dreamcast called the Shenmue Passport. (Which sadly is not replicated in the Steam release.) The Shenmue Passport had every NPC in Ryo's hometown. Name, age, blood type, Zodiac signs. Every NPC follows schedules that make every one of them seem something more like a real person. You'll never know the name of that one blonde girl in the coat, but she'll happily tell you to stop asking her so many questions, because she's busy.

In other games, NPCs materialize from the ether whenever you're not looking in a particular direction. Those NPC do not have a story behind them. They're a random collection of assets: Hair, facial features, clothing, body type, that was generated ten minutes ago. They may be doing things but they were created two minutes ago when you swung the camera around and the game needed to populate the street.

The NPCs in other games are exactly as functional as Shenmue's NPCs. Doing all that work for Shenmue was, perhaps, unimportant and wasteful. Whether you think so or not kind of defines how you'll feel about Shenmue in total.

Shenmue is about drawers full of clutter you can pick up and look at. Shenmue is about hours standing in a vacant lot punching the air to rank up your kung fu moves, because Ryo is a martial artist and needs to practice his moves to get good at them. It's about playing Hang-On and Space Harrier in an arcade because those were arcade games around in 1986, which is when Shenmue takes place. It's about forklift racing every morning and Ryo being memeticly emotionally dead towards people he actually likes.

Shenmue is about Ryo taking one last walk down the street before leaving his hometown, before his adventure even truly begins, and the dull aching realization that you know every face he passes. Maybe not the names (or the blood types or where they live) but you know those people and it's time to say goodbye to them, just like Ryo is.

It's Shenmue, and there's never been anything like it since. I'm about to move on to Shenmue 2, which is Ryo as a fish out of water in Hong Kong. I've never actually played it before.

There may not be anything like that out there either.

I'll let you guys know.

[EDIT] - This Eurogamer article says the same thing I did, but better.

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August 21st, 2018

10:01 am - Recordkeeping: Queen of Seas 2 COMPLETE
This was an interesting little game. As usual, the plot is completely disconnected from what you're actually doing.

The plot is that as a good member of your village and a true believer in the goddess Yemanjá, you want to help prepare for a village festival but the entire village is traumatized by various losses and deaths. You take quests from them, solve their problems and get them back in the festival mood.

You do this by, uh, platforming underwater. You put on a big clunky diving suit and stomp around underwater a while, collecting coins and pages of ... something? possibly your motivational speech? ... and then you come back up out of the water and deliver the speech when you have all the pages.

It's a relaxing, soothing sort of game with some very chunky DOS-game-esqe pixel art. If you have fond memories of shareware titles of the mid-to-late nineties, you're probably going to enjoy the visuals and music here. The game starts out feeling quite difficult, but upgrading your suit soon has you zipping around the seafloor double-jumping and throwing nets over sea life and just generally storming the levels.

There is a bug or glitch you can exploit, where if you take a quest and then use your "memories" box in the ship's hold to replay an earlier level, you finish the quest you were on. This can be useful if you're stuck on a harder level -- just pop down to the hold and replay an easier level instead. It can feel a little cheaty and it might get patched, but I'm not here to judge anyone. It's not your college exams or resume. You're not hurting anyone. Cheat as you like.

Anyway I found this pretty engaging and it gave me a morning's worth of entertainment plus it got me researching a goddess I'd never heard of while music from the game looped in my head. All missions accomplished, I think. The devs can be proud of this one.

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August 17th, 2018

01:34 pm - Recordkeeping: The Eyes of Ara INCOMPLETE
The Eyes of Ara has defeated me, which feels really good actually. I haven't had my butt kicked by a puzzle game this sharply since The Witness. That means it is the Hard Stuff, and I cannot help but respect it.

Enough about me, what is this game?

You're an Ageless Faceless Gender-Neutral Culturally-Ambiguous Adventure Person who is hired to go into an old castle and find out why it's interfering with radio waves. Inside you find a lot of cryptic notes and like fifty journals (did they buy these in bulk?) from the family that lived there last. The mom was paranoid, the kids were fond of exploring and into everything, and the uncle was doing weird experiments up in the tower.

This neatly dovetails into why the place is such a honeycombed mess of puzzles and puzzle hints, y'see. Uncle who invents lots of things including security systems, plus a very curious girl trying to solve all those security systems, plus a brother with a touch of kleptomania who loves to hide loot like a fricking ferret, equals a bunch of security systems with bits missing and handwritten clues everywhere.

Look, it's a framework. There's a lot of handwaving and glue.

So, puzzles. Most of which are good and clued. A few of which use the same clues for different puzzles in different ways, and that's very good. As always, take notes or screenshots. Experiment, get messy.

That said, there's a few minor problems, the puzzles get SHOCKINGLY hard by the time you're in act 3, and...

Okay, this may just irritate me. And it's not a bad thing, I want to say that going in, BUT if I have one main complaint about The Eyes of Ara, it's this: There are collectibles too, loose coins and photographs and whatnot. Sometimes, you'll do the legwork to solve a tough puzzle and instead of anything remotely helpful you'll open a panel and three lousy coins fall out.

You never quite know WHICH puzzles are optional "three lousy coins" puzzles and which puzzles are major "that key you need to get to the next room" puzzles.

Like I said, this isn't inherently bad! It allows a lot of reuse of puzzle material, there's optional stuff to challenge yourself with (even if you don't know it's optional) and allegedly there's a secret extra something if you collect all the dinguses. It is FRUSTRATING, however, to expect progress and get tokens.

They're good puzzles, though.

Anyway, I hit my limit late (probably) in chapter 3, with a rotating wheel of artwork divided into linked sections that turn at different speeds. Solve that and you're officially Better Than Me and earn the dubious prize of my respect and awe.

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