Argent Omnibus: January 2015

Welcome to the first Argent Omnibus in the new year!

Please note that all reviews in the Omnibus are being written as I finish the game in question, and thus the snippets of relevant discussion I might have about them between the writing of the review and publication of the Argent Omnibus may not be accounted for!


Borderlands 2
Should I play a nerd
who speaks mainly in haiku?
…at least they’re not memes.

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Borderlands 2 is the sequel to Borderlands, a game I reviewed in November as being… tolerable. I contextualized my playing of the first game in the interests of eventually buying and playing this game, which I now have played for thirty hours over the course of December. It’s a lot of fun, I will say that much, but… I have to stop.

Here’s the thing: by the time I realized how deep I was in the Borderlands 2 hole, I was watching a guy take on the most potent challenge in the game, an Overpower Level 8 run of Digistruct Peak, solo, for two hours. I was watching the hyper-post-endgame with the intent to play at that level myself, and I absolutely cannot have a time-sink like this would be lounging in my backlog. I’m declaring Borderlands 2 a backburner game for myself just because I know I would sink hundreds of hours more into this game given the chance, even with how much it takes out of me.

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The writing is improved, as expected, under Anthony Burch’s care, compared to the nth redneck joke in the original game, and the gunplay’s solid and the skills playing off each other is a great deal of fun, as it would be in Diablo 2, but there’s a reason I don’t play games like that much, and that’s just the raw time that I will devote to them given no higher-priority options.

Borderlands 2 is a game I like as much as I thought I would, but I unfortunately can’t afford it the time it deserves with the massive list of games I plan to get through.

I'll be back for you, Pandora.
I’ll be back for you, Pandora.

 

Kingdom Hearts Final Mix
Darkness conquers all worlds,
but within all darkness is a glimmer of light.

Kingdom Hearts  Screenshot 2014-12-24 12-13-56

 

Kingdom Hearts is the series of games that epitomizes JRPG storylines while borrowing from Final Fantasy and Disney for its cast and setting; you’ve probably heard of it by now, as the series has now entered its thirteenth year of existence, and with its second HD remake collection recently released in the US, I figured it was high time I revisit what I’d played of the series before moving onto the games that the two collections allowed me access to.

Kingdom Hearts Screenshot 2014-12-24 12-27-59

 

Having played the first Kingdom Hearts game about two years ago, I decided to change up what I went for as a selection of skill growth. If you’ve not played Kingdom Hearts, the game starts with a dream sequence in which you select one of three pieces of dream equipment: the Dream Sword, Dream Rod, or Dream Shield. The stat growth and skills afforded to Sora, the protagonist, change with the primary selection of what weapon you take up, offering a variety of ways for your playstyle to develop as you progress through the game. You then choose to sacrifice one of the pieces of equipment you didn’t choose, which changes your starting stats. I went for Staff and sacrificed Sword, which put Sora on a fairly low but balanced stat array with an inclination to start learning magic-based skills before much else.

It was fun, but really rough before my MP (and thus, directly related, my magic’s potency) started ramping up, and I didn’t get Scan, the ability that lets you see a target enemy’s HP, until after the third boss I took on, Cerberus, which ended up making the early game even more demoralizing. The Sword growth pattern gets you Scan pretty much immediately, and that’s what most new players go for, because who would play Kingdom Hearts for the first time and not pick the sword? Swords are cool!

Kingdom Hearts Screenshot 2015-01-04 19-29-37

Once I persevered through some trouble spots, the game felt a lot better, if a little tedious. The new Final Mix abilities that boosted my early game, like Ripple Drive, really helped, but I was still pretty underpowered thanks to my starting stat array, so everything took quite a bit longer to take out with my main method of fighting, the Keyblade, which is purely strength-based. By the end of the game, though, I was in a comfortable place with a load of MP to burn and enough strength to take on the final four-boss chain with only one death and minimal item usage!

Kingdom Hearts continues to be a game and a series that I will gladly describe as “better than it has any right to be”, from its bizarre episodic stories based in varied Disney worlds and overarching detachment from any of them, to its Star Wars-like lightsaber-wielding secret boss (in KHFM) and final boss (in KH2) and its lectures on what comprises identity, who deserves to exist, and the weight of darkness and light in the heart.

This is the game with a story people unintentionally evoke when mocking JRPGs in general, to the point where I’d call it archetypal, and it can’t be much more than that with the clout of two huge franchises attached to it. This is a story about a spirited boy going around, making friends, saving princesses, and trying to defeat the bad man who wants to use capital-T capital-D The Darkness to destroy or conquer all worlds.

Kingdom Hearts Screenshot 2015-01-04 20-49-43

It’s fun, though.


 

Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix
I am nobody,
so just who am I, really?

 

The context of my recent experience with the entirety of Kingdom Hearts 2 is slightly different than the first game; I haven’t cleared it yet on my own, but I contributed to a group effort to marathon-clear both KH1 and KH2, and let me tell you, if you’re going into those games and trying to clear it at that sort of pace without being aware of how much the game expects you to grind, you’re gonna hit some walls.

The game itself is a lot better, though. Kingdom Hearts 2 improves upon a lot of its predecessor’s flaws and is generally quite a solid action game, though its RPG elements can get in the way if you’re not indulging them.

I dunno, if you’re into Kingdom Hearts you’re already planning on playing this and if you’re not you’re thinking I have terrible taste for loving this game. Your mileage was set a decade ago.


 

Chrono Trigger
Cool, now I don’t have to play Final Fantasy XIII-2!

Chrono Trigger000Chrono Trigger’s one of those games that people never shut up about from the silver age of JRPGs on the SNES, so I played it (at the behest and encouragement (read: bribe) of a friend) over the last week.

It’s a pretty solid game, though the original localization could definitely use some work; I played the original SNES version via emulation and don’t know if the NDS remake’s job was improved as well, but I sure hope so. Descriptions of techniques/items/equipment lacked specificity and while I adapted with the help of trial and error and guides, there were some obtuse things like Crono’s Slash having the lightning/heaven element that I wouldn’t have known without excessive trial/error or the guides I ended up relying on.

Chrono Trigger022

That aside, the whole game ended up feeling quaint. It’s definitely an artifact of its influence, but having to judge it against my past experience, which is filled with games that borrowed ideas or shards of ideas from this game and used them to much greater effect, made judging this game a hazier process than usual. Derivative obfuscation is especially problematic when it comes to games, where one game’s take on a mechanic or system can spark a swath of imitators; there were quite a few people last year insisting the Nemesis System from Shadow of Mordor was the next thread in the tapestry of the AAA game industry, for instance, and Resident Evil 4 sparked a revolution in third-person shooters with its over-the-shoulder camera.

Chrono Trigger sparked a lot of what became fond memories and I saw threads of a lot of other games that were probably cultivated, if not started, with Chrono Trigger, but to me, this game is antiquated. I can appreciate an antique, but I’d still probably prefer some newer takes on the style put forward by said antique.

 

 

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