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    XCOM 2 (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jul 23rd, 2022 at 10:19:07)

    There are many things I didn't know when I made my last entry. Funniest is that I thought I was halfway through the game. I was gauging that by my progress killing enemy "rulers," which are like mutated escaped science experiments that appear randomly in battles. Turns out that content is a DLC! I might not have been sweating so much if every mission didn't have the chance to spawn an uber-enemy that took an action after every single action any of my soldiers took. Seriously, those enemies were harder than any other in the game, including the avatars at the end. I am proud to say that I killed each avatar on the last mission before it even had a chance to attack. That's how badass I was at the end of the game. If I'm being honest though, I was only that badass thanks to save scumming throughout most of the campaign. As of my first entry, I hadn't been doing that. A few of my soldiers had permanently died, they were constantly gravely wounded, and I came within 20 game hours of the avatar project being completed. With the fear of having to start the entire campaign over, I started reloading when something bad happened, including a soldier dying, discovering enemies on maps when I wasn't ready, and mis-clicking my moves. I think that if I had played without ever reloading, I would have become frustrated and quit. Or, if I did power through, I think I would have lost my first playthrough and done better on the second one because there is so much to learn. By the end of the game, I was WAY smarter and, like I said, dispatched really the entire final mission with barely a scratch on me.

    Some things I learned that really helped:

    - Cover is everything! Never ever be out of cover. And high cover is twice as good as low cover.
    - Positioning is also everything! Never let enemies flank you, lest your cover be no good. Also, as you face tougher enemies, stop clustering your soldiers together. Spread out and try to flank the enemy.
    - Don't rush, even if it's a timed mission. If you rush, you will certainly run into enemy sight. Only advance early on your turn so that if you do stumble upon enemies, you have soldiers with moves left to control them.
    - Focus on upgrading weapons instead of armor. If you are using cover and positioning to the max, and being smart about movement and abilities, you're not going to get hit all that much. But you will be relatively fragile. Upgrade those weapons to do tons of damage fast!
    - You don't have to prioritize destroying enemy facilities or countering every dark event. It's fine if the avatar project is nearing completion, so long as you can destroy a facility to set them back when you need to. Also, some dark events are fine to ignore. For example, as the above tips suggest, anything that gives enemies poison weapons, spawns an extra enemy, etc., isn't that bad if you don't get hit often. On the other hand, some are high priority. There was one that doubled intel costs when I REALLY needed to make contact with new regions; it gave me a lot of grief for a month.
    - Other things I learned would have really helped in the earlier parts of the game which, if I replayed it, would be much easier. Those involve the fact that engineers are really valuable. I was so slow to build up my base and it cost me a lot of time and sorrow. Know that you need to build your base, that you will need more power and more comms especially. Get engineers early if possible and put them to work.

    Turns out I had other DLC too. The SPARK robot is DLC (though mine died and I never rebuilt one) and some special weaponry that I built was DLC, which undoubtedly helped me out. So I wasn't playing the vanilla game. I was playing it refined and expanded. I thoroughly enjoyed it--even the stress--because I had to think and plan so much. Success is immensely gratifying. It's set up for an XCOM 3, and I will definitely play, but hopefully will be better at it from the get-go!

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    Yoku's Island Express (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jul 19th, 2022 at 16:20:24)

    What a charming game. I've never played anything quite like it, as it mixes metroidvania and pinball elements, two things you wouldn't think go together, but do here. The main metroidvania elements are the big, interconnected map that you explore a little more of with every new upgrade/item. One lets you grapple on flowers, another lets you swim underwater, and so on. Moving around the map to backtrack was the only criticism I had of the whole game. Movement can feel a little sluggish, especially over long distances, and using the "beelines" to navigate longer distances was annoying because you can't get on the beeline at any stop you like; you have to go to specific junctions, which likely require you to traverse a lot of the map on foot anyway. And much like Atlanta's MARTA public transit, it usually doesn't take you where you want to go.

    Of note, there is no typical combat (which makes this super relaxing). Battles are clever pinball puzzles. These puzzles are integrated throughout the map and used not only for boss fights, but also for progression, to get upgrades, to find secret areas, and so on. Your character, Yoku, pushes a ball around, so when you're in a pinball puzzle, you have a little control over Yoku, but mainly control the flippers and bounce Yoku around to solve the puzzle. These (and the game in general) were never that difficult, but offered enough satisfying challenge to feel good about progressing.

    The art and music constantly made me smile. It's so light-hearted, colorful, and whimsical. I had no idea I would enjoy the game this much. Just writing about it is making me want to give it another go, or at least go clean up side quests and find more collectibles. There is an air of mystery about some things that I never figured out. For example, there are little onion looking creatures hidden around called Wickerlings. For every 10 you collect, you can "activate" them at these magical staves, which goes to a cut scene showing a stone illuminating around an ominous creature in an egg. If you collect all the Wickerlings...does the egg hatch? Is that bad? You sort of find out near the end of the game because you wind up finding the location in the cut scene, but I wasn't clear on it. There is another ominous cut scene every so often when your Yoku-pinball goes between the flippers, when you would normally lose on a machine (but here, you drop down through some thorns, lose some fruit [money], and land safely by another flipper to keep going). The scene shows a number ticking up and some robed figure watching. Does that do anything? Or is it just telling me how many times I've lost my ball? I will look these answers up later...

    Can we get a sequel?!

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    Glory of Heracles (DS)    by   jp       (Jul 15th, 2022 at 19:34:28)

    I'm about 15 hours in? I think I'm getting close to halfway...and, it's been a positive surprise. At this point in time I'm mostly used to playing DS games for a few hours and then moving on to something else, so clearly this has caught my attention more than I expected - and weirdly I'm curious to know how the story turns out.

    The game is a Japanese RPG set in ancient/mythical Greece - you're a hero with amnesia - but you're actually Heracles! (at least that's what some fairy sprites tell you) and over the course of the game you run into other characters who join your party. They're all immortals - and that's why you join up - to find out why you're immortal and also to clear up who Heracles really is: you run into another character who also says he's Heracles, so there's some fun with that. There's even been mention of a 3rd Heracles wandering around!

    The game is pretty linear with the next place to go usually pretty clear (sometimes even marked on the map with a flag) and the options for improvement are similarly low - it's a game in the style of "you always buy the next weapon because it's better" and the shops have few items so you just keep moving forward and updating as you can/want to.

    Other than my enjoyment of the story - the game's combat system is probably the most interesting aspect. It's more complex and interesting than it seems, and in the beginning I was just letting the AI play on auto - and I'd still win, but it would take an additional turn or be a bit more inefficient than I expected.

    Since the difficulty isn't that high, you can probably bust your way through the game just on auto - but I started selecting my own options and it's more interesting and fun (even if the difficulty is not making fights a challenge at all). The game has a bunch of systems that interact: there's regular attacks, magic, skills, and automatic skills (that are triggered automatically). The skills and magic are paid for from a shared pool of mana points. Characters go in a sort of initiative/speed order - it's pretty consistently the same - and you pick what they want to do. Enemies and characters are in each of two rows (front and back) and you can only melee if you're in the front row and you have an opponent also in the front. If you target an opponent that's already dead (crumpled sprite on the floor) you can Overkill - and doing so gives you some mana points back! (which is really nice!). If you're in the back row, you can't melee - but at the end of the turn you get a few MP back.

    For magic there are 5 elements and spells cost mana but ALSO "suck" energy of that element from the environment. There's a number at the top for each element so you know how much there is - and if there isn't enough, you pay the difference in hit points (get wounded). It's a neat system that prevents you spamming a single good spell - and I've found I've had to mix things up just because of this. This limit also affects the monsters - so spell-heavy fights (and bosses especially) get more interesting because the mana amounts recover a little bit in between rounds.

    Further, monsters have different resistances - some might take more damage from fire, but less from ice or electric. So, there's lots of things to consider in combat - my only moment is that the animations take too long and I only realized you could make them go faster in the settings menu. I wish I'd seen that option earlier.

    Oh. The game also has random encounters you cannot see or avoid. Sigh.

    All this being said, I'm having fun even if the system seems over designed for the challenge it offers (I don't recall if there was a difficulty setting at the beginning?). I've mostly ignored items and there's also crafting (for weapons) and improving weapons (adding spells and things).

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    XCOM 2 (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jul 7th, 2022 at 12:19:23)

    XCOM 2 is brutal and I freaking love it. I have no idea how far I am through the game. Halfway? But I almost LOST and it had me so scared. XCOM 2 has a metagame with a lose state. The aliens are working on something called the Avatar project which, if completed, ends the game. They make advances on the project that fill a progress bar on the top of the geoscape screen. I am not entirely sure of the rules governing when and why they make progress. It seems they randomly build a new facility or complete some research. Right now, there is a "Dark Event" I can see that the aliens have queued that, if I don't address it within the month, will add two ticks to the progress bar. I am also not entirely sure of the rules governing when and why I can decrease the progress bar. I know that by completing (some?) main story missions, attacking black sites, attacking research facilities, and so on, one or two ticks on the bar will go away. This "add two ticks to the progress bar" Dark Event has me worried because often you have to choose which of the Dark Events to deal with, and the progress bar only has three empty ticks left. This would bring me to within one tick of losing. Usually there are three Dark Events queued at a time, and they all introduce problems. This is certainly the most pressing right now, but I have to wait for the game to give me the mission to stop the Dark Event. I don't know if it always does! I've had to let several Dark Events happen. Currently, for example, the aliens have beefed up their encryptions and I am burdened with 100% intel costs, which means that contacting new regions is very expensive. But I need to contact new regions because the aliens have built research facilities there. I need to destroy the research facilities to bring the progress bar down. So, the progress bar will keep going up unless I can make contact with new regions, which currently requires double the intel. Will I be able to gather enough intel to contact the new regions and destroy the research facilities before they complete the Avatar project?! Aaah!

    I learned quickly that there are never enough resources to spare. I am always short. I have a laundry list of upgrades to make to armor and weaponry, research, buildings, communications, that all seem urgent. This is a game of baby steps and meeting a hundred little goals along the way, each of which feels monumental. And since you could have used every upgrade last week, everything feels like it comes too late yet just in time. For example, I recently completed research on magnetic weapons technology, which unlocks the purchase of magnetic varieties of common weapons (assault rifles, shotguns, pistols). This was huge, increasing firearms damage by about 33%. Enemies already use these weapons, so finally I am on par again! Well...except that you don't just "get" the weapons. You have to buy the upgrades after conducting the research. I bought assault rifles first since that's the standard loadout for rookie soldiers (all soldiers begin as unclassed rookies) and the Specialist class. That got me through a mission, which rewarded me with enough cash to upgrade shotguns, which I have equipped on my Rangers, who are killing machines. I skipped pistols because they are only used as secondary weapons for Sharpshooters and instead started researching gauss technology, which will let me upgrade cannons (Grenadier class) and sniper rifles (Sharpshooters). They already dealt the most damage (except for my Ranger killing machines), so I figured they could wait. But I also really need to upgrade armor because I do occasionally get one-shot. In the last mission I ran, an Advent Trooper shot my Sharpshooter for 7. One-shot kill! Of course I reloaded. Death is permanent and this game lets you save scum, which I am not above doing. Or at least, I was above doing until I almost lost the game. But I don't have money for any of these upgrades! I'm three ticks on the progress bar away from losing (again), and I desperately need to spend my resources on contacting new regions, recruiting resistance members, and destroying research facilities.

    Here is the story about how I almost lost. I've described how you decrease the aliens' progress on the Advent project by destroying research facilities. They had built three, all in regions of the world I had yet to contact. You have to spend intel to contact regions before you can attack the research facility. But let's break down all the things I didn't know until the progress bar had almost filled! I had three ticks left on the progress bar, as I do now. I didn't understand that "regions available for contact" was a resource limited by your communications buildings. You need to build comms in order to enhance your capacity to maintain contact with more regions. When I realized this, I didn't have any free space on my ship to build comms. I had to use engineers to clear debris from empty rooms. This took perhaps 10 days to clear debris. In that time, the aliens filled the progress bar another tick. Down to two! But oh no! Comms cost 3 power to build and I only had 2 power, so I needed first to build a power relay. I assigned an engineer to begin clearing another room and assigned a second engineer to build a power relay. This took another 10 or so days to complete. Another tick on the progress bar. One tick left. I am freaking out. Power relay complete, build a comms station. 10 more days. Comms station is built and I still have one tick left! This might be doable! I traveled to the region I needed to contact, paid 30 intel. 3-5 days to contact the region. Shit, shit, shit. Miraculously, the aliens made no more progress. Region contacted! The research facility is actually one more region over. I knew that, but didn't know that intel costs to contact new regions increase the farther you are from your home base. Shit, shit, shit. I have 30 intel, but not the 60 required for contacting a more distant region. How do I get intel?! I googled this. Some missions, hacking certain enemies, and going back to your home base to scan for intel, which passes time, are all options. I flew back home and started scanning. One day. Two days. *ALERT! The Aliens have made progress on the Advent project!* I thought it was game over. I was ready to start over with all the knowledge I learned during this failed run. But a timer appeared for 20 days. I had 20 days left to delay the Avatar project! I scanned for a few more days to gather enough intel, flew back to the region, made contact, blew up the research facility. The progress bar ticked down by 2 and that seems to have buoyed me. I breathed a massive sigh of relief.

    I haven't been almost dead since then. Now that I understand power and contact resources, I can plan ahead better, though my soldiers feel underpowered and I have had some terrifying missions, including some painful solder deaths, like my SPARK mech and a pretty advanced Grenadier. Recently, I had to attempt a couple missions while short on squad members. One I had to try with 4 (of 6) soldiers. I went sloooow and steady (luckily it was an untimed mission) and actually beat it with only one soldier getting injured. When soldiers get injured, they take time to recover (sometimes over 20 days!), and you can't use them during this time. This is why I had 4 soldiers to take on that one mission; everyone else was recovering. Playing safe is really important because otherwise, you will end missions with a full squad of injured soldiers. Then on your next mission, if it's thrown at you quickly, you'll have to rely on your benchwarmers and have far fewer options to build a good team for the mission. The biggest factor in playing safe is using cover. Your soldiers are either out of cover, in half cover, or in full cover. Shots have a +20% chance to miss against a unit in half cover and +40% in full cover. Full cover is GOOD. I read advice somewhere that said "half cover is no cover at all." I position units in full cover whenever possible. You can also flank and be flanked, which enhances hit % and critical hit chance. Never end your turn out of cover and do not let enemies flank you. They will ruin you!

    Another wrench in my plans is when the game (randomly?) puts a boss in missions. There are three escaped alien science experiments that occasionally appear. They always take me by surprise. The first one is a scripted story mission that sets up these bosses. It is a Viper variant with two full rows of health. I don't even know how much that is. 30? 40 ticks of health? Enemy soldiers right now have probably 7 health on average, for comparison. Oh, and bosses aren't alone. They come out with other enemies too. I actually did a good job against the Viper. After depleting one full row of health, he opened up a portal and ran. The game hints that you'll see him again and finish him later. Well, I did see him again and finished him off. Then I encountered another boss, a hulking Berserker who gets a move after EVERY action you take. Not every unit's turn. Every ACTION. You move. He takes an action. You shoot. He takes an action. You reload. He takes an action. This thing has three full rows of health. He obliterated me the first time and it took me several tries to learn. This may have been the mission where I lost my SPARK unit and/or my Grenadier, and I am sure that everyone else was injured. He also warps out when you deplete a row of health. The second time he appeared was actually when I had a squad of four, but I noticed that he was--as a berserker might do--attacking anything in sight. I just set up an ambush, let him rampage around and kill all the other enemies, then focused fire to quickly bring him down a row of health. Poof, warped away, and I even knocked out a good chunk of his final row as he ran. During my last session, I encountered him again in a mission, but saved and quit there. He's far away and has two enemies patrolling with him, and I've got a strong squad on this mission, so I should be able to take him out pretty easily. But there's a third monster somewhere, and he might appear at the worst possible time! As with everything else in this game, all you can do is methodically prepare and hope that you're ready for what it decides to throw at you.

    Hopefully I have a game victory to report in short order!

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    Elden Ring (PS5)    by   jp       (Jul 1st, 2022 at 11:47:30)

    Last night I started playing Elden Ring. It's a game I'm excited by while at the same time recognizing that it's probably not a game I'll enjoy and I'm not entirely sure I have enough time and desire to improve my skills playing it while also figuring out the intricacies of its RPG systems. That being said I've decided that I will give it an honest try and we'll see how it goes. Will this be like Nier Automata where I almost bounced off and then figured out I'd been playing it incorrectly?

    So, I'm barely an hour in, which is probably closer to 10 minutes in for everyone else on the planet. I just barely levelled up once and got access to the horse. In terms of geographical distance from where I started - I'm essentially still at the doorstep.

    I would say that it went "ok". I did not make the mistake of avoiding the tutorial section - it does seem kind of stupid to me that you have to purposefully jump down a hole to do the tutorial - but I'd been warmed through a little bit of "general cultural osmosis". So, all's going well in the tutorial. I can see I'm going to struggle a bit with the attacks being on the triggers - and I'm also wasting my starting resource (some shrimp thing) by using them by mistake - but, it's ok.

    And then I get to the tutorial boss - some knight with a long sword.

    And I fail. And fail again. I fail a handful of times and it's frustrating because the game has taught me to block, but it doesn't seem to work all the time. Is my timing off? Should I have the block button pressed all the time? Should I not have the block button pressed all the time? Is it a problem of distance? Blocking only works when you're at a certain range? I don't know, I'm struggling and I'm starting to get a bit frustrated. It doesn't help that I'm also practicing how to lock on and realizing that facing really matters - and that you cannot assume that the game will automatically adjust things in your favor.

    I did eventually beat the boss and I think I learned something: Some attacks you just cannot block so you need to roll out of the way.

    The bad news is that I have yet to figure out how to tell which attacks are which (blockable vs not).

    So, I wander out of the new area talk to someone who basically says to head in the direction of some flashy lights that float in the air are pointing toward - and there's a giant guy on some giant sort of horse thingie on the way.

    Oh! That's my next target.

    And he basically one-shots me.
    Multiple times, because I figure I must be doing something wrong.

    And then I decide to screw it and sneak around...

    I discover a camp - talk to some guy who sells stuff and recommends getting a crafting kit. So, I'm intrigued - but can't afford anything.

    I also have no idea how/where I get cash. Is it from killing monsters? Chests? I've also been picking up random plants/fruits and bits of stone.
    I imagine these will all matter at some point, but we'll see.

    I'm still worried about the giant guy on the he'll just run me down when I'm looking the wrong way.

    So, I hop over a wall - and head in a direction orthogonal to the direction I think I'm supposed to go just because...let's go exploring.

    I'm cautious, and moving slowly, and picking 1:1 fights with soldiers who are sort of guarding in this foresty area - and dying ocassionally and starting over.

    I do find a soldier camp. It has a name I've forgotten.

    And here I grind.

    I kill a soldier. His buddies come out and cut me down.

    I try a new approach. Same story, then I decide to use this opportunity to practice fighting - to see if I can tell when blocks dont' work and so on. I think I'm a little better at it, but not really.

    I stuck around that one area just attacking, dying, retrieving until eventually I had enough runes to level up. Found a camp. Levelled up - an underwhelming experience to be sure - and then got a horse.

    Wow, that seems like a lot of time for very little progress... I want to feel like I'm learning the game and so on, but it still feels like I'm really in the dark with little opportunities to test/try out things to see how they work.

    So, things I need to decide:

    (1) Should I try a different character class? I picked Bandit because I saw it had a bow - and using the bow was awful. I wanted to try something ranged, but I guess the bow and arrows are not it. Magic might be the option?

    (2) Do I carry on with this character so that I have a more "true" experience and just play until I cannot take it any more? Will I be able to "crack" the nut of combat or will each enemy/boss pose it's own puzzle I'll have to bang my head against the wall to solve?

    (3) Do I try to cheeze/grind my way by basically levelling up ever so slowly by farming weaker/easier enemies and opponents?

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    Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (VITA)    by   jp

    No comment, yet.
    most recent entry:   Monday 11 January, 2021
    Finished this over the weekend and...well...the story definitely got more interesting (and convoluted, but still making enough sense). I also enjoyed how it played with and broke with some of the expectations created in the earlier chapters of the game towards the latter ones. So, the game didn't end up where I thought it would - in a good way.

    The gameplay itself never really evolved and I really wish there were more opportunities to practice and engage with that part of the game. Also, if it were shorter.

    I was surprised that once the game is over a new mode opens up that seems to basically be an "open school" mode with lots more opportunities to interact with and get to know the students (a good thing) - but the setting seems like it's still all the same? (I though it would take place before the lockdown as it were).

    I'm now wrestling with whether (or not) to play any of the other games in the series. I'm not particularly drawn to them - but it seems like other games diverge in terms of gameplay - and my daughter really enjoys them, so there's also that.

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