Yakuza Like a Dragon – Business Management

Yakuza 0 introduced me to the world of remarkably deep, well-executed, rich mini-games. I adored the Real Estate Royale “arc” that Kiryu went on, and now it’s Ichiban’s turn. As soon as it unlocked, I completed the entirety of the Business Management game. Scattered thoughts/spoilers ahead!

Humble Beginnings – Early on the gameplay felt complex. I just wanted to get out there and make money. Trial and error were enough for me to thumb my way through the first few rounds. Once understood how all of the interlocking systems functioned, it became impossible to put down. Seeing numbers go up turns my brain into an endorphin factory.

Please Accept Our humble apologies – I LOVED the shareholder meetings. The numbers portion of the game is little more than a spreadsheet with a fancy UI (an enjoyable spreadsheet, but a spreadsheet nonetheless)… During the shareholder meetings, that was where I felt myself coming alive. Thematically, the nature of the “combat” style during these meetings fit perfectly in line with the game. I adored beating the crap out of my enemies in an exchange of wit, rather than a weapon. 

Climbing the Ladder – Progression feels good. I like progression. Getting a new office with a commanding view is a reward that I enjoyed. It felt earned. The further I progressed in this game, the wackier and wackier it got. From a Yakuza game, this is precisely what I want out of my experience. I am 100% here for the cheesiest of moments, and I brought plenty of senbai and wine. 

Bonus! – A few things I’m passionate about: JRPG fishing mini-games, numbers increasing, and flavor text. Two of these three are present within this game, which is more than enough to satisfy me. Flavor text brings me life. Each new hire has their blurb about their personality, as well as each real-estate location you can purchase and invest in. The amount of optional text here allows me to help build this world out in my mind. Yes, I have a grocery store run by an ex(?) weapons smuggler. Yes, that politician that kept falling asleep at debates during his tenure in Congress is now my most aggressive champion during shareholder meetings.

It took me around two days to complete this, across two very long sessions of play. I’m looking forward to going back at various points in the game to see how things are. I know there are more employees to find out in the wild I’ll continue to hire everyone I see. I didn’t mention this earlier, but I was genuinely surprised to see that Eri-chan would become a playable character! I think that’s a smart way to reward the player for participating in optional content.

By the end of the game, I was making so much money that I hired every single person available. Might as well bring everyone to the top with me. After all, I think that’s what Ichiban would do!

Continue reading Yakuza Like a Dragon – Business Management

Domain Expansion

I’ve been pushing the boundaries of my preferred interests. I read non-fiction now. I listen to K-pop. I’ve been playing *different* games, and I’m enjoying myself while doing it.

I’ve decided that it’s time to bring the barriers down, after all, I was the one who set them up. I’ve gone so long in my life with a predisposed disdain for things. Partly out of an obligation to “stay in my lane” of preferred interests (in a genuine effort to find more media that I enjoy), but also because I believed that these things define me. Believe*d* in the past tense because I’ve regained control of this. Instead of letting my interests and influences define who I am, I use them to define myself. There isn’t tons of difference there; it’s mostly me mentally returning control to myself to broaden my horizons. For example: instead of being someone who likes K-Pop, I choose to like K-Pop. If you just read that and thought: “that’s the same thing” or “this doesn’t make any sense,” count your blessings because it’s taken me a lot of time, effort, and reflection to convince my brain that this okay.

In the past, I’d steer myself clear of huge categories of media within a certain interest; I didn’t read non-fiction because up until this point I’d only read fiction, so I might not like anything else. I only listened to certain music because it’s the only type of music I knew. I only played specific genres of games because– you get the picture. I won’t say that I’m 100% free of boxing myself in with this mentality, but I’ve come a long way over the last year.

This post is about “old games.”

Something I’ve been (attempting) to work on, is self-admittance. I spent a lot of time with me, myself, and my thoughts in 2020 as did we all. I tried to meditate more, reflect more, understand more. A big part of all of those themes, and what became a commonality, was admittance. Admitting when I’m wrong, especially to myself. Admitting my failures, but also admitting and allowing enjoyment in my success. Admitting to myself “hey, it’s okay to branch out and try new things.” Especially when those things can only bring joy, and if they don’t add joy to my life, I can easily move on without any negative repercussions. I’ve grown. I’m officially here to say, to whoever wants or needs to hear it (myself included); I was wrong about old games.

Like many of the above examples, my disdain for old games was born from a place of ignorance. “How could a game from 1995 be any good? Only games from [insert current year] can be fun.” Considering that my stance on solving almost any problem in the world is “diversifying” retroactively speaking, that should have been my first step. Instead, I opted to shove my foot into my mouth. I’m attempting to remove it now.

The 3DS provided me with a massive eye-opening moment. It was monumental in my journey towards understanding that there is enjoyment to be gleaned from older games. “I love this handheld, and it’s old. If these games are old, what about other games?” — a very simplified version of the thought process that allowed me to arrive at my current destination. Coupled with people (who I respect) online posting their genuine enjoyment with older titles made me curious about what I might be missing. So I went back, I started diving deeper into games from yesteryear, and realizing that some of my favorite games are old; it’s a simple matter of perspective. Now that I’m “enlightened,” I choose to see things from multiple perspectives instead of one singular view that I was forcing onto myself.

A happy coincidence to this newfound lifestyle is frugality. I’m not all that cheap, but trying to keep up with the blistering pace of twitter’s gameplay schedule is a surefire way for me to drain my bank account. Not that I did that before this, but it is helping curb the feeling of FOMO. I enjoy being in my world and allowing others to share in that world with me. Following the theme of domain expansion, I’m taking my time back from the internet and encouraging myself to create conversations around the things that interest me within a timeframe that works for me. Playing games to their fullest extent is my preferred way of playing, and it takes time. Even if I entertained the idea of remaining current with whatever is new, I’d undoubtedly fall behind from frequent stops to smell the flowers.

So yeah, freedom from oneself is a good feeling. It’s a strange thing to be confined by silly ideas, but I also try to understand that sometimes these thoughts aren’t something I can control. I am working on implementing this way of thinking into other areas of my life, always hoping to grow and challenge myself.

This is a lot of pretext to say: Earthbound = good.

PS: If you have been wondering, yes the title is a Jujutsu Kaisen reference.

Capture the Intangible

Have you ever tried to hold on to a thought? For me this process feels like I’m trapped in a riptide, white water rapids rushing me down the erupting river, and the idea appears as a small mossy stone. On the surface, it seems small, maybe enough to grab with one hand, but hidden beneath the chaos lies a massive body planted in the riverbed. As I get battered by the relentless flow, I reach out for the small surface with the intent to cling for dear life but, the moment my fingers graze it, I blink and I’m one hundred meters downstream.

Sometimes the river flows in a circle, and I see the same “thought rocks” repetitiously. I grasp at it every time I pass around, taking away a bit more each time. (Think lazy river, but instead of lazy, it’s aggressive. Aggressive river.) Sometimes the river flows in a straight line, sweeping me further away with each passing second, never to return to the same idea again.

I close my eyes, the darkness of the inside of my eyelids replaced by, what I’ve decided is, a visual representation of anxiety. I’m shown an overwhelming image, with too much going on to focus on one single thing. None of these objects represent anything, most of the time they appear as an extremely complex interwoven system of pipework, turning gears, or other machinery. This image is ever-flowing and changing, pipes extending, bending, and zig-zagging. All of this is happening at random, gears breaking or growing or shrinking, sometimes disappearing. With the pipes, there are so many that I can’t see where one starts or ends. Even if I could, I’d visualize it for a second before it morphs into something else entirely. These visualizations don’t want to exist in captivity; they want to act as they please. It’s almost like trying to quantify the results in some form of punishment. I don’t even try anymore.

When I try and represent my ideas and thoughts, I place myself as an outside observer, watching myself experience these things, but I’m also experiencing them. As I write this I’m hovering above the tumultuous river describing the events transpiring from a third-person perspective as I’m simultaneously experiencing them. I see a visual representation of me being boxed in by an ever-expanding complexly woven system of pipework all while feeling myself being overwhelmed and cramped.

I’ve never written about this or tried to describe these images before. Some days it’s worse than others, some days I can manage it. I hope trying to describe this helps me to process it differently. I still get frustrated with myself when I am unable to hold on to something, but I’ve gotten better at coming to terms with that.

Monster Hunter Stories

Disclaimer: This is my most media heavy post yet, after the text wall I’ve uploaded the entire collection of screenshots I took within the game. That being said the actual post is very light on media in an effort to not be repetitive. If you’d rather just take a look at the photos scroll to the bottom and enjoy!

I’ve never played a Monster Hunter game before. Once upon a time, I gave Ultimate 4 a shot on the 3DS and found rather quickly that it didn’t grab my interest. It could have been the case of a bad demo, but regardless it turned me off from the series as a whole. I remember when Stories came out in 2017 to glowing praise and the promise of a unique Monster Hunter experience. I had a sneaking suspicion that Monster Hunter Stories would be my kind of game but like most other less prolific titles, it fell into the depths of the backlog. Monster Hunter Stories 2 was recently announced, and it was the final push to convince me to dedicate time to this experience.

Monster Hunter Stories is a coming-of-age saga. At the beginning of the game, your home village is attacked by a “blighted” monster, forcing you to become a Rider and set out and destroy the source of darkness. This simple premise drives most of the story, but it does intertwine new adversaries along the way. Honestly, the story itself is nothing groundbreaking, but the cozy vibes from each character you meet still make the game worth experiencing. The undertones of friendship, love, peace, and crafting strong bongs are all present and imposed upon the player throughout the story. The final 30% of the storyline is where things begin to pick up. Before this, I was content working through a story mission followed by 10-15 subquests, tackling another story mission, and repeating. A mixture of intrigue alongside wanting to finish the game after 60+ hours of playtime drove my desire to steamroll the remainder of the story missions. At times the story felt like it didn’t know where it wanted to go, but it finally realized its self-worth near the ending. If you are in the middle of this game and are wavering on the thought of completion, let me cast out any doubts. The final moments of the game are worth the payoff. 

Monster Hunter Stories has a handful of different components: monsters, monster dens, and resource gathering points. Wild monsters roam freely on the map, and engaging with them begins the combat sequence, so if you are the type that despises random encounters, fear not. Monster dens contain egg nests to pilfer, allowing you to hatch new partners to aid you in battle. The dens aren’t very long, so it helps stave away the repetitiveness of it. Resource gathering points allow you to harvest ingredients to combine into powerful items. Everything in Monster Hunter Stories has a rarity level, so there is a certain satisfying feeling that you get from stumbling across a rare den, knowing that you will likely find a worthwhile monstie egg inside. 

Monster Hunter Stories’ gameplay loop is primarily stat driven. In the beginning, this isn’t extremely important, but as you progress, it becomes more focused. For some players, min-maxing their battle party will be the primary driving force behind the gameplay. After reaching a certain point, you unlock the ability to transfer monstie skills from one monstie to another, gaining the ability to create and combine powerful allies with unique abilities. 

Obtaining new monsties and completing the monsterpedia intrigued me more than anything (at the time of this writing, I am at 87% completion). You get items every time you hatch a new monstie, and early on, these items can be beneficial. For me, I was most interested in seeing each monstie’s Kinship move (more on that later). 

At the core, Monster Hunter Stories is an easily accessible, turn-based RPG. There are three main pillars of combat, regular attacks, skill attacks, and kinship moves. I got a bit carried away with how in-depth I described each system, but I think it was well implemented and deserved focus. 

The battle mechanics rely on a “rock, paper, scissors” (power, technical, and speed) style system, and while this may sound simplistic, it can be surprisingly in-depth. You have limited control over your monstie; you can only explicitly choose how it attacks if you use a monstie “skill,” which requires Kinship energy. To gain Kinship, you need to “win” a head-to-head attack; for example, you choose a Speed attack, and your opponent selects a Power-based attack. If you are not utilizing skills, the monstie acts independently, choosing between regular attacks and skills as it sees fit. Each monster has a particular affinity toward one of the attack powers, so if you are fighting a monster that uses speed attacks, it would be beneficial to swap out your monstie to one that favors Technical skills. Using a Power aligned monstie will not only end up causing it massive damage but also fail to earn you any Kinship points. Riders also have some benefits to using Regular attacks. Depending on the weapon choice, you can perform combos and deal more damage than a standard attack. Executing combos is easy, and most weapons detail how to achieve them on the equipment page. For example, while using a Hammer, landing three consecutive power attacks will grant a combo bonus. Your combo breaks when losing a head-to-head, so be mindful of the enemy you are attacking. 

Kinship is redeemed for monstie skills, causing status effects such as dizzy or paralysis. Riders also have their own set of skills, mostly dependant on the type of weapon wielded. Monstie’s learn skills naturally through level advancement while adding Rider skills to your repertoire happens most frequently by completing subquests. While most Skills have no damage type, some skills also inflict Power, Technical, or Speed based damage. You can use these to have a greater level of control over your monstie. 

These attacks are showstoppers. Not only do they deliver massive damage numbers to your foe, but they also a unique cutscene for each monstie, most of which are hilariously over the top. Once the Kinship stone on your screen has filled up with enough power, you can ride on your monstie. You and your monstie now attack as one, delivering more overall damage while simultaneously receiving less. While atop your monstie, you are unable to use any skills or items. If you fail in a head-to-head twice, you will be knocked off of your monstie and forced to start the process all over again. However, you succeed during the head-to-head, you increase the power of your Kinship Move. The power can be increased twice, up to level 3, where it will deal the most damage. 

Using each facet of the battle system effectively will help to dispatch your combatants promptly. 

Monster Hunter Stories turned me on to the world of Monster Hunter. Seeing chibi versions of these terrifying fiends brought me tons of joy, and it gave me a point to latch on to for future Monster Hunter entries. While the gameplay might be vastly different from mainline titles, the emphasis on preparation (something I’ve heard is significant in the mainline titles) shines through here. The announcement of Monster Hunter Stories 2 was the push I needed to dedicate time to this game. Now, not only am I looking forward to fully exploring what the post-game has to offer here, but I’m excited for Stories 2 and even Monster Hunter Rise. If you are a Monster Hunter fence-sitter or have had trouble getting into the series, I’d recommend giving Stories a try. At the very least, it will charm your socks off, and at the most, it could give you an easy latching on point in the series. The soundtrack is terrific, the art direction is beautiful, and the gameplay is simple to learn but challenging all the same. 

Finally, below is a (mostly) chronological collection of over 230 screenshots from my journey. Please be aware that there might be spoilers for locations, story, monstie designs and other major events. Enjoy :3

Continue reading Monster Hunter Stories

Grand Knights History

Earlier this year, I played a few different Vanillaware games to pay homage to the game developer before 13 Sentinels arrived. The first among them was Grand Knights History. Grand Knights History is an obscure title for the PSP released in Japan during 2011, Vanillaware developed the game, and Marvelous Entertainment published it. It never made way outside of Japan. Luckily for me, a dedicated fanbase saw it fit to localize the game on their own.

You begin your adventure by choosing one of three warring factions. There is a small tidbit regarding each faction’s mantra and goals to aid in your decision-making process. Unfortunately, these factions seem to be worthless in the grand scheme of things. I believe their original purpose was to pit players against each other online. Since that functionality has ceased (and never existed outside of Japan), the faction decision is virtually worthless.

Movement in the world relied upon traversing a grid-like map. You move your piece as you see fit, and each time you do so, enemy pieces move as well. I did appreciate the stylistic choice to represent the player character and enemy characters as chess pieces. It adds a layer of artistic design to the overarching strategy theme of the gameplay, which was uncharacteristic for Vanillaware until this point in time.

The combat system in Grand Knights History is turn-based. You decide the action of each member of your party before the turn begins, and once you’ve locked in your decisions, everything plays out on the battlefield. Different attacks require a certain number of “Action Points” or AP. More sophisticated attacks, such as partner moves or attacks that target multiple opponents, require a higher cost. You begin the game with a set number of AP and accrue more for each opponent you defeat.

If you find yourself struggling to beat a formidable foe and decide to flee from battle, your “Bravery” will decrease. If your Bravery falls too low, your team’s lack of morale will cause your starting AP to be less. Moves you rely on might become unavailable due to the lack of AP.

Grand Knights History features a variety of different encounters, some good and some bad. All potential encounters can be seen plainly on the map as you move your characters around, so while the events themselves may be random, stumbling upon them is not. The “story” encounters (as opposed to battle) are bite-sized procedural interactions that usually impact the player’s party. For instance, you might stumble upon a Merchant that sells goods that aren’t available until further along in the game, or you might find someone selling apples, and they offer to heal your party. These provide an excellent opportunity to spend some hard-earned cash to gain a small advantage on your foes. While they are nothing groundbreaking, it does add a bit to the charm and help break up the monotony of battle.

Enemy encounters exist as a black chess piece on the map, but sometimes they are also hidden on random spaces. They are always moving around, so it’s essential to plan your path to avoid potentially problematic enemies. Once you cross paths with one of these pieces, a battle begins.

The barebones story, which never saw a western localization, hinders the game’s overall experience more than it adds to it. The fan translation is impressive, but it seems that there isn’t much of a narrative in the first place. The clear intention here was the focus on online play. There isn’t much here, which is disappointing, considering some of my favorite stories ever told come from Vanillaware titles.

The game remains a very cool concept, even more so for the PSP era. I’m a massive fan of the art (obviously), and the gameplay is unprecedented for Vanillaware; they haven’t dabbled in turn-based combat since GKH. 13 Sentinels takes some cues from a turn-based system, but it’s not as strict as this.

Some of the game design choices leave you questioning what they were thinking at the time of development. In the single-player campaign, you have a limited amount of time to “train” your squires. Once they pass the time limit, no further training options are available. I guess the goal is to send them to the online-centric “War Mode” to duke it out with other players for territory and prizes. This mode was unavailable outside of Japan and will exist for all eternity in the state that it was in during its last week of server uptime.

I am glad to have experienced this game. It is a fun and obscure piece of the overall Vanillaware story. I wonder what my thoughts would be surrounding GKN if I had lived in Japan during its release. Another lifetime perhaps.

Continue reading Grand Knights History

New Little King’s Story

New Little King’s Story is a retelling of a 2009 Wii game with almost the same name. (Old?) Little King’s Story is a cult hit and seems to be a hidden treasure of the Wii, obfuscated by shovelware. Unfortunately, the Vita version does not share in the original’s cult status; in fact, many players feel only contempt for this “updated” version.

My history with this game is simple. It’s 2013, and I’m lying in bed, browsing the PS Vita store looking for a new game to play. New Little King’s Story seems pretty promising, but reviews were mediocre, so I passed on it time after time. Fast forward to 2020, and I finally decided after a random burst of spontaneous thought, “I’m just going to sit down and play this game.” Much to my dismay, I learned the game no longer existed in the store (more on this later), so I turned to alternative methods.

I’m not entirely sure how to classify this experience. I did enjoy the game, yes. I completed the entirety of the main storyline, all of the subquests, and fully upgraded every branch of my kingdom. It isn’t a 100% completion, but it’s pretty dang close. The gameplay and my curiosity to see if the story would go anywhere (or pick up at all) kept me returning.

It plays a lot like Pikmin, with some very primitive RPG elements shoehorned in. My biggest frustrations with the gameplay lay within the addition of the RPG-like system. Each unit levels up individually, and you can outfit them with various weapons, armor, and hats, all of which employ a certain charm the game tries to force on you. There is no easy way to reclaim weapons from units that you no longer travel within your “Royal Guard,” and there is no easy way to equip your soldiers at all. The menuing in this game is borderline unforgivable, with frustration and copious amounts of DIY-learning. The game does nothing in terms of favors regarding tutorials, most information being crammed into yet another menu, filled with even more word-vomit and text so small, ants would have to squint. Most of my enjoyment came after I kind of figured out how to play the game, and even after 23 hours clocked, there are still things I don’t understand.

I don’t know how to find units with jobs assigned in your kingdom easily. I don’t know how the party system works, or how to register a party to call that specific group back later. I can’t figure out why creating a party dismisses everyone in my current party, including my chosen princess. Most of my time spent building a party is just chasing after NPCs that I call, and then praying that none of them die in the field because I’ll have to rebuild my entire party from scratch. If you can look past the frustrations of building a party and keep the majority of your troops alive during battles, these frustrations are easily avoidable. The Princess system is entirely unnecessary. Each princess has a “princess skill” you can utilize in combat, but the vast majority of them are pointless. The only skill worthwhile is one that heals everyone in your group; everything else is a waste of time. These issues lie entirely with New Little King’s Story, as the original had no RPG elements involved. These last minute additions to the reworked game serve to diminish the experience rather than enhance it.

Graphically the game looks like a Wii era game. Due to how much is on screen at once, the frame rate chugs. Frame stuttering is one of the chief complaints about the game, and for a good reason. I’ve overclocked my Vita, and even at max settings, I was dropping 5-8 frames in town areas. Textures are simple and the overall atmosphere seems bleak in comparison with the Wii version. When I viewed screenshots from the Wii game, everything is vibrant and colorful. It looks like someone took and applied a “smog” filter before porting it over to the Vita.

Part of the New in New Little King’s Story is the story. The entire script underwent a massive transformation, making changes that were questionable and just downright bad. You lose your castle in the beginning. The Devil King took the liberty to scatter your seven princesses throughout the land, each protected by a boss. You must reclaim all of them to fight the final boss. Only after you save all seven does the Devil King make his first real grand appearance of the game just to put an end to your crusade, and scatter each princess’s life force. The life forces are being held captive by bosses in the same areas you saved them initially. It’s meant to be a “victory lap,” but it hardly feels like one. The story has no motivations, no plot points, nothing. The all of the character personalities in New Little King’s Story suffered from a hasty redevelopment, princesses were entirely scrapped and rebuilt to fit the “harem” trope that the developers/publishers were using to target a new audience.

All of these New additions to the game are the most significant fault, but this was not what the original creators intended. Cing made a cult classic hit, with a unique art style and personality. Contractually obligated to publish a game with Konami, MarvelousAQL hurriedly revamped the original game to try and target a new audience. What they ended up doing was making a complete and total trainwreck. It seems that the original creators, Cing, closed permanately, and their IP was managed by someone else. I go into more detail in these threads:

https://twitter.com/Benji2361/status/1293410899856961537

https://twitter.com/Benji2361/status/1294373611315372033

New Little King’s Story has a ton of redeeming qualities. Most of which I can’t help but wonder are remnants of the original. I didn’t mind the anime/trope-heavy direction the game took, but they trimmed too much, and what was left was a strange and convoluted mess. This game has tons of potential, and it tries (and succeeds in some cases) to find its own unique personality in some of the small details. The bosses and their respective areas were so unusual that many of the boss fights presented new challenges for the player. Some of the character interactions were charming and had me grinning from ear to ear. There are great takeaways from this experience, and maybe one day I’ll finish the true ending and see if my opinion changes. As for now, I am satisfied with my completion level of the game and still genuinely glad I took the time to play. I know I came off as pretty critical in this write-up, but of the 23 hours I spent with New Little King’s Story, the only parts I genuinely couldn’t stomach were at the very end, grinding towards the “True Ending.” Beyond that, my time with it was favorable, even if I’d never recommended it to anyone.

Death Stranding

With people connected now more than ever, it’s easy to find divisive opinions on video games. While some divisions are subjective opinions on the story, Death Stranding’s lies almost entirely within the gameplay. My objective today: to do my best to try and record why exactly the gameplay clicked for me.

The core gameplay loop surrounds a delivery system that rewards the player with “Likes.” Connecting cities or bunkers to the network requires (in most cases) a significant number of Likes. Cities are relatively thirsty to join the UCA (United Cities of America), but getting the Preppers (isolated people hold up in bunkers) to join makes some convincing. What better way to convince them than to complete deliveries?! You will receive a delivery grade based on satisfying the parameters of each distribution. You can choose to do a Premium Delivery, which has harder requirements, get the maximum amount of Likes possible, and fast track these connections.

I drew an insane amount of satisfaction from this loop. Watching numbers rise is an easy way to please me, and with the detailed tracking of statistics in Death Stranding, it’s easy to get lost in the numbers game. Each delivery made is progress to another connection, and it was fun to see how each person would react, or what gifts they would give me. More often than not, these gifts were beneficial bonuses that aided me in my deliveries. Some connections would give you keychains, but others would give you powerful exoskeletons that are of immense benefit when traversing the problematic terrain across America. These connections served to establish an essential metaphorical foundation within the story of the game. Teamwork is better than going at it alone. The metaphors the gameplay delivers tie into the overarching story; everything feels meaningful. At the beginning of the game, you are a lone wolf, even afraid of the physical touch others, but as you establish connections and grow, you understand the importance of unity. Doing it alone will always be harder, just as going through the game alone, no “strands,” no bonuses, and no help from your Bridge Link buddies will make the game far more demanding.

Another satisfying element derived from this gameplay loop was building complex travel networks. It began with my reconstruction of the roads, which was expensive and time-consuming. But this benefit aided not only me but other players that shared my world. There is an element of passive multiplayer that brings your creations into other player’s instances of the game. When players used my roads, I received Likes from them, and those Likes enabled me to expand my “Bridge Link” system and take advantage of other player’s structures within my own game.

While this gameplay can boil down to “Amazon’s 2 Day Delivery Simulator,” it’s worth noting that without a complex network of ziplines to sling you through the air, you will be doing most of your travel on the soil. The lands of present-day America located within Death Stranding are unforgiving, even presenting a significant challenge to the use of vehicles. During these times, you must go on foot. Traversing the world on foot might seem tedious to some, but for me, it was engaging. Using your odradek scanner, you can plan your direct route as you make your way between objectives. The odradek reveals unmanageable terrain allowing you to navigate to the best of your ability. This gameplay kept me engaged for my entire 100+ hours with the game. Paying close attention to the terrain and avoiding obstacles allowed me to feel like I played a more active role in each delivery, rather than merely moving my character from point A to B. While I enjoy this, I can also see how it can frustrate players. While it’s not immediate, the key to overcoming this difficulty, as I’ve highlighted above, is the progression in your connections. Utilizing the tools given to you will help alleviate frustrations the game puts in your way.

If you’ve played Death Stranding and loved it, I’m sure that you had a similar experience as I did with the gameplay, or perhaps you suffered through the gameplay to experience the story. If the gameplay put you off, or you are in the camp of folks that don’t understand why people enjoy this game, I hope that I was able to shed some light through my time with it, and helped to give you a better understanding.

“About the Author”

Historically I’ve never really done these types of things, but the community here is one I want to try and be more connected. To that end, I’m getting out of my comfort zone and becoming more involved.

I was tagged by Larissa on her blog Games (and Other Bits) // Musings and Thoughts. Something she said there really stood out to me:

I was originally procrastinating these tags because I felt that they broke the “aesthetic” of this blog, but then I realized how stupid that sounds.

So here I am. I am breaking the “aesthetic” of my blog because it is silly. Plus, if someone is taking the time to reach out to me, the least I can do is listen to what that person has to say and respond in kind.

If you could right now become fluent in any two languages you aren’t already fluent in, what would they be?

I work on Spanish off and on, I’m not fluent. Living where I do, it also has many practical applications. Secondary to that would be Japanese. It’s been a “life long” goal to know it in some capacity, more so that I can watch subbed anime without the subtitles.

What’s something you really dislike but respect?

ATLUS as a company. Okay, I don’t dislike them, but I wish they would communicate a bit more clearly with their fanbase. They make some of the best games in the industry (here is where the respect portion comes in), but their decisions are opaque and confusing. They are worse than Nintendo when it comes to two-way communication, and that’s an achievement within itself.

Is there a dead or inactive website or blog that you miss?

CheatPlanet. Yes I used to use “cheats” in games, and no, I don’t regret it.

What would you use to introduce someone to your hobby (what your blog is about) if they have zero prior knowledge about it?

My blog is all over the video game spectrum, which I feel like most people get to some degree. If they had no idea what video games were, I’d hand them a Nintendo Switch with a copy of Animal Crossing loaded. 

What’s your favorite super pretentious sounding color (ex. burgundy, chartreuse, etc.)

Amethyst purple

What’s your favorite recipe?

I’ve been making this french toast lately, and it’s delicious.

3 slices of white bread
2 eggs
1/4th cup of milk (imperial system, sorry)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of salt
Olive Oil
Butter

Begin by preheating a pan to medium-lowish heat. Combine enough butter and olive oil to coat the pan. The olive oil raises the burning point of the butter, so you can have the pan hot enough to fry, without having burnt butter.

Mix the eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a dish. Once combined, dip (or dunk, I love soaking my bread all the way through) the slices in the concoction. Put them in the pan and flip once the bubbles around the edge have settled. Add more butter/oil between slices if needed.

I could probably make a recipe blog, I love cooking.

What’s a post you’re proud of that you wish more people would read?

I probably spent the most time on my Persona 5 confidant blog entry, but the post I’m most proud of is my retrospective on PlayStation Gamer Advisory Panel. As far as I’m aware, this post is the most complete, single source of information for this piece of PlayStation history. 

If you are reading this post and feel like it’s something you want to do, consider yourself tagged! I am still somewhat new here and I don’t want to drag anyone out of their comfort zone. Thanks again to Larissa for taking the time to tag me.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir

I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflection, not only in gaming but in life. Recently I stumbled upon an archive of about 200 or so blog posts from my first blog ever, and I’ve had an incredibly unique experience going back over them. Not to mention that Odin Sphere is a weighty game, and it overwhelmed me, but in the best way possible. It is truly a masterpiece of story-telling and demanded my entire focus for the time I spent with the game.

Odin Sphere originally released on the PlayStation 2 in 2007. George Kamitami is the creative mastermind behind most of what goes on at Vanillaware (the studio responsible for Odin Sphere), and he wanted to create a spiritual successor to his first-ever game, “Princess Crown.” After the studio put out Dragon’s Crown, they considered making a direct sequel to, but instead opted to re-release Odin Sphere for current-gen systems (PS3, PS4, PS Vita). This release would also be the first time Vanillaware released a game with ATLUS as the publisher.

Odin Sphere’s brilliance stems from its unique way of delivering the story. The game focuses on the individual stories of 5 main characters, each that add weave and wind more information into the larger tapestry of the main story. Due to the complex nature of the story, a timeline exists for you to reference quickly and clear up any confusion regarding when a specific event took place. The story begins with Gwendolyn, a Valkyrie that lives in the kingdom of Ragnanival, of which her father Odin is king. As the story progresses, you are introduced to a flurry of unique characters, little of which provide much backstory. There is a war over this thing called the Cauldron, Odin states the Fairy kingdom is trying to seize it for nefarious purposes, but all you know is what you see in front of you. As the story deepens, as you begin to flesh out the world with the unique cast of characters, you learn more and can form your own opinion surrounding the morally gray conflict in which this world finds itself.

A big worry of mine was that the game would begin to feel repetitive; however, due to the unique nature of each character, this was not a problem. Each of the characters have combat styles that keep the gameplay feeling fresh and new. Gwendolyn strikes with a spear, and her attacks are focused on keeping enemies in the air. Oswald has a “shadow” form he can transform into, which increases the damage output of his already overwhelming volley of strikes. Mercedes can fly, and her bow favors long-ranged combat. Velvet uses a set of chains (similar to Kratos “Blades of Chaos” weapon) that focus on long-range, but also provide an array of up-close options. Cornelius has a sword, which was the least “fun” of the crew, but still some satisfying aspects once I got the basic hang of his moveset. The biggest challenge was at the end of the game when you are required to play as all five characters in quick succession. I struggled to recall some combat abilities associated with characters I haven’t played as for 20+ hours, and with Cornelius, I mostly reverted to just smacking enemies with the sword.

As ever-present in Vanillaware games, food was a primary mechanic introduced early on. You were able to grow and harvest different berries at any time, using them to regain not only health but also experience points. What was surprising was the sheer amount of experience to be gained by eating food. As I quickly learned, ignoring food led to being under-leveled, and made the game a more unpleasant experience. Once I had access to the various restaurants in-game, it felt like I finally had a grasp on just how much emphasis they placed on this system. Some dishes being worth over 30,000k EXP, which even at the post-game would boost you a whole level, if not almost two. I enjoyed this mechanic because it was a fresh take on grinding. I didn’t have to grind enemies endlessly to gain EXP, but instead, I went on the hunt for various ingredients to recipes I’d collected throughout the game. When I did take on the post-game challenges, I was able to boost my level by 10+ just by cooking food. It was much faster and much more satisfying than traditional EXP farming.

I was awed by the ending of the game. The culmination of each story thread coming together in the way that it did was beautiful. Not one single tidbit of lore in Odin Sphere went overlooked, not one question went unanswered. I’m glad that I went back to play this game. I started it in 2018 and dropped it shortly after beginning due to some unknown reason. As I’ve shifted my focus away from “hype train” gaming, and taken a slower and more systematic approach to how I choose to play games, it’s opened up for a wider swath of titles to enjoy. I am so glad that I experienced this story, and I would urge you to do the same if you get the chance. Vanillaware should be releasing 13 Sentinels in the west within the next year or two, and I can imagine that a lot of their inspiration for that game came from here. Odin Sphere is a timeless game, not only in graphical style but also in its overall presentation. It’s a game that can be enjoyed by anyone.

Freedom from the Backlog

For some of us, the idea of a backlog is a foundation of our gaming experience. For others, it can be an overwhelming source of anxiety and might impede progress in playing games you genuinely want to play. If you can’t already tell, I categorize myself in the latter.

2019 was a hectic year for me. It might be the first year (among many I’m sure) in my life where I consciously had to put some of my favorite hobbies, including gaming, on serious hold. Failure to do so would have had some intense adverse effects on my life, and lucky for me, I had the clarity to see the future impact that would have had. Even only spending ~5-10 hours per week gaming, sometimes I struggle to keep on top of other (more important) tasks as a result. 

2019 was also the year that I decided to tackle my backlog. Instead of spending time trying to keep up with the ferocious pace of the internet regarding the consumption of content, I made a point to play the games I already owned at my speed. Even if this meant missing out on the conversations, if it meant not having the shared experiences, it was something that I needed at this point in my life.

Yeah, it turns out I didn’t do so hot. Tackling my backlog was a lot harder than I thought for two reasons. The first being that I found myself not having as much time as I needed to commit to clearing the backlog out. It’s not to say that I didn’t strive to cross some of these games off of the list; in fact, I played most of them a great deal. Katamari, Doom, Astrobot, Kingdom Hearts, and Trails of Cold Steel all saw a lot of my time in 2019; moreover, Trails of Cold Steel clocked in as my second most played game in 2019 according to PlayStation’s annual Wrap-Up. 

It’s a shame that the second reason took quite literally all year to resonate with me. I’d “boxed” myself into this categorization of gamer, and I needed to break free. I’ve been putting a great deal of thought into “why we like what we like,” and even considered writing about it; however, I don’t know if I have the cognitive or psychological chops to wrestle with the concept. Still, nonetheless, I’ve realized that refocusing my “interests” has helped me a great deal in finding new things that I like. I love a good JRPG just as much as the next person, but it’s also become abundantly clear to me that I burnt myself out. Checking off two of the lengthiest JRPGs in the modern era was a massive undertaking that cut deeply into almost every aspect of my life. My gym schedule was disheveled, eating habits went from relatively healthy to grabbing the most convenient option, and my living environment became an absolute pigstye. Looking back on it, I’m proud of what I accomplished, but I’m still trying to weigh the cost/benefit analysis here. “Just take it slowly,” you might say, and to that, I agree, but it’s easier said than done. It could be a personality trait, but once I begin to immerse myself in something, I can’t just stick a toe in the pool, I have to dive in headfirst. 

So what did December teach me? One cursory glance at this website might reveal just that. I tore down the genre-defining walls that I’d built up around myself, and enjoyed games that I was either uncertain about before or straight up avoided due to the genre they resided within. The Spyro Trilogy was a fantastic source of enjoyment for me over the holidays, and even though I haven’t written about it (yet), Wattam was an absolute gem that I treasure and believe to be one of the best gaming experiences of 2019. But more than freeing myself from any genre, I released the backlog and moved on with my gaming life. I purposed myself to step forward on the path, instead of trying to walk backward. 

Maybe someone else needs to see this, and I know that it’s not always easy to take someone else’s experience and apply it to yourself, but try to give an honest consideration to the following challenges:

• If you’ve become stagnant in a hobby that was once your passion, try reevaluating your goals. 
• Why do you enjoy what you enjoy?
• What do you see yourself getting out of this game/show/etc.?
• Most importantly: Do you love what you are doing/playing?

I feel that if you spend time looking inward and being honest, you might find that it’s time for a change. Or you might find that you are happy exactly where you are. We are all in a different place on the path of Life. Taking time to evaluate where you are and what best suits your needs is important. Don’t feel guilty about leaving some things behind, falling into time or cost sunk fallacies just compound the issue tenfold over any duration of time. Overall happiness and genuine enjoyment is the goal here, and maybe you’ll even reinvent yourself along the way.