Monday, March 31, 2008

Resident Evil - Finished the game with Chris

After quite enoying my playthrough of the remake of the original Resident Evil, I thought to myself, "Self, let's play through it again as the second character to extend the experience and get a little more of the story."

It wasn't worth it.

I felt like I was just going through the motions. The whole horror movie vibe that I had enjoyed the first time through didn't do anything for me because I knew what was coming. Zombie in this corner, dog in that hallway, ape men will chase after me here. It lacked the spark and the creepiness and genuinely positive feeling of my first playthrough.

And the additional story? Nonexistent. Clearly the story was written to be played through as Jill. There was about one new thing I learned about the universe.

Oh well, at least now I know I can put this game away and concentrate on some of those games I've started but haven't seen to fruition.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer - Released the Golden Condor

Roguelike games lend themselves to stories. Sure, the games themselves have some sort of plot (retrieve the amulet of Yendor in Rogue, find the golden condor in this game), but since the levels, items, and enemies are randomly generated, each new game is a new story. Different things happen to your character each time you play and sometimes you have some narrow escapes and sometimes some spectacular failures. Nethack, one of the most famous of the genre, has created a trend of posting "ascension stories" of beating the game and YASD stories (Yet Another Stupid Death).

Last night, I finally made it through the main dungeon of the game and so, for those interested, here is my ascension story (my game save file is Gertrude, so I used that name for the story character):

Gertrude had made it to the Ravine of Illusions (level 26) on her last five journeys, twice getting beyond it only to die before reaching the Plains of the Sun. With two Big Riceballs in her pack, she began her new attempt. Things didn't look auspicious for her.

Right away, the fortune teller gave her a particularly grim fortune telling her that she would not get the help she needed. But who believed in those silly fortunes anyway, Gertrude thought. Ignoring the warning of Riva, the God of fate, she pressed on.

Despite finding all three companions, they all died prior to reaching the town of Cryptic Rock Valley. While feeling sad at their loss, she was sadder that her strategy would now be completely changed. She now wouldn't be able to send them off to take down enemies she didn't want to get near in the swamps. These enemies could confuse her, put her to sleep or rust her weapons. Especially because she had found precious few arrows up to this point, not having any companions would make things difficult.

She did manage to make it through the swamps relatively unscathed. All she lost was one item to a copter bird and a point of strength to a leech bug. She was lucky to always see purple slimes coming so she could unequip her stuff (pathetic as her Hide Shield +1 and Polearm +3 were) before taking them on.

Once in Table Mountain, without the help of any companions she took a lot of damage from the Great Hens and Chain Heads. She had found one Chiropractic Pot (which heals her) with 5 uses and it was quickly down to 2 after three dungeon levels. Due to her Hide Shield and plenty of rice balls found in her journey, she was able to use the tactic of hiding in a corridor and resting to restore hit points. Little did she know this would be her survival tactic from hereon out because she would never find another Chiropractic pot.

It took until floor 25 before she could upgrade her equipment. There she found a Master Sword +2 which she upgraded to +3 with an Air Bless Scroll. She now had that and (when she needed it) an Armor Ward +2 to help her out. Learning the lessons of previous adventures, she used a Power Up scroll immediately upon reaching the Ravine of Illusions and used a staff of postponement and eventually a dragon herb to take down the one Skull Wizard she saw. The Death Angels were slowed or shot at from afar to lessen their effect. The Armor Ward was now her default shield.

She progressed through floor 27, making judicious use of equipping the hide shield and waiting until her hit points were back over 100. Floor 28 was a huge monster house (is it always? it was the last time she made it there) She was relatively close to the exit so she decided running was the best option. A Death Angel would have gotten in her way, but she used a Switching Staff to switch places with it and made it to the next floor with 2/3 of her hit points.

On floor 29, she started in a room with five monsters and so used her last scroll of confusion. This allowed her to take down the monsters one by one. Every time she faced more than one enemy at once, she had to use an item like a Dragon Herb, a Staff of Postpone, or Bufu's Staff to even the adds. After every battle she needed to hide in a corridor and wait while she healed. She had a very close call when she was fighting a dragon and an Armor Knight came along and knocked off her sword and shield. She used two blasts of a Staff of Postponement to deal with the two of them.

Despite her lacking of healing items, she made it up the stairs to the plains of the sun! Where was the gold that was supposed to cover the city? Where was the Golden Condor that would grant wishes? She found markers left by the former inhabitants, explaining how a terrible evil had come and eaten the gold and trapped the condor. Exploring and heading into the final floor, she double-checked that she was ready. She took down the first two tigers she encountered with Dragon Herbs. Suddenly, she heard a clicking sound behind her and turned to find what must have taken down the Plains of the Sun - the tainted insect! When it got near her, she wasn't taking any chances and threw the Running Egg meat at it that she had picked up in Stream Village, turning it into a harmless egg with legs. Without that to worry about, she picked off the rest of the tigers before finishing the egg and ending the curse on the Golden condor.

Checking the back of the hall, she cleared the webs away and encountered the Golden Condor. On its back, she returned to Canyon Hamlet, looking down at the caves, woods, and villages she had passed along the way.

Now I'm really curious to change my Wi-Fi encryption so I can use my DS on it and see where I rank (I'd imagine not too high - I got about 1.5million points on that run)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Resident Evil - Finished the game with Jill

I've always wanted to see what all the fuss was about. When Resident Evil was originally released in 1996, it was extremely popular, was hailed by critics, and basically defined the "Survival Horror" genre. It was also known for its tropes of extremely limited ammunition, limiting the amount of times you could save, possessing ridiculous puzzles, and having clumsy controls that make it much harder than it should be to shoot at or run away from the enemies. But the remake of the original game for the Gamecube was supposed to be well done and now that I have a Wii and can play Gamecube games, I might as well check it out.

The game is quite enjoyable.

I guess maybe I wasn't expecting that. I think I assumed that this game had a lot of fan nostalgia going for it, but that it wasn't actually that great. I think this was because I had played one of the many copycat series, Fear Effect, and found it decidedly mediocre. But I guess Resident Evil is such a popular franchise for a reason. This game gets it pretty much right.

What I found most interesting is that it wasn't exactly the gameplay that sold me on this game. As it has been since the original, you still control your character like a vehicle. And while being able to quickly turn around means this isn't so bad, the control scheme is by no means intuitive and can still be frustrating. The puzzles are fine. It takes you a bit out of element that a mansion would have such bizarre and convoluted locks and traps, but at least the puzzles themselves make sense and are all done "in-game".

What makes this game work is the atmosphere. It absolutely conveys the mood of being in a creepy mansion with zombies running amok. The fact that your character isn't a badass means that you do indeed feel very mortal. The ammunition is limited enough to make you worried that you'll run out and won't be able to defend yourself, but not so limited as to be frustrating. The sound, graphic, and gameplay design come together to make you feel like your in a horror movie.

Not just any horror movie either. I played Silent Hill for the first time two or three years ago and it was genuinely scary as well. But Silent Hill felt much more like a psychological horror movie with the monsters and the world playing on the characters' psyche and inner demons. Resident Evil falls more in line with the slasher tropes of monsters popping out of nowhere, sounds that mislead a character as to where the danger is, and "quick cuts". The thing is, it does all of those things really well creating a very satisfying mood.

I had originally thought I would just give this game a shot then go on the even more universally loved Resident Evil 4. Now, however, I'm thinking I might go through the entire main series on my way there. At the very least, I think I'll try playing through it as Chris.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer - Made it to level 20

Rogue is one of the most venerable of computer games. Created back when computers (mainframes) didn't have any graphical capabilities, it relied entirely on the ascii character set to display its dungeon-crawling adventure. But the use of pure ascii text isn't necessarily what defines Rogue as a game. No, what is more important are the three main characteristics of the dungeons it generates: 1) They are randomly created every time. Their layout is never the same twice, nor are the monsters or items that populate them though you can generally count on the fact that tougher monsters and better items occur in lower dungeons. 2) Items found in the dungeons are not immediately identified. Weapons and armor are obvious in their application, but any curses or blessings they may have are not known. Wands and potions give less information - all you have from them is a descriptor such as brass or murky and their function can only be determined by magically identifying them or taking a risk and trying them out. 3) When you are dead, you are dead. You can save your game, but once you resume it your save is gone so you cannot go back to an old save. Once you die, you must begin again at the top floor of the dungeon at level one and with no items.

As brutal as this sounds, Rogue has spawned many imitators over the years (called roguelikes, naturally). Quite a few have been released for consoles and Shiren the Wanderer for the Japanese Super Famicon (SNES) is generally considered the best. It was recently re-released for the Nintendo DS and I snapped it up quickly.

I am totally digging this game. It is hard for me to describe it better than Jeremy Parish did in his review and blog post follow-up.

I've played several roguelikes in my time (mostly Nethack) and so far this is my favorite. The big problem I have with Nethack is one of its selling points - there is so much going on. Too much for me to wrap my head around and remember all the item interactions and resistances and monster traits, etc. Shiren, still has all the trappings of a roguelike, but it seems tractable to me. There are only eight different types of items and they each only have about eight different types within them so it all seems managable. Unlike in Nethack, I feel like I am actually making progress and learning what to do as I go.

That's really the key with roguelikes. The more you play them, the more you learn and master the mechanics. Parish made the analogy to Super Mario Bros. in that you refine your basic gameplay skills each time you play and each time you get a little further. Of course, here you can't memorize the level layout, but that's okay. You learn how to deal with each type of enemy, and when to use the right pots, wands, and herbs.

I also love the innovations this game adds to the roguelike genre. While your character starts anew each time he dies, the world is affected by his actions. You can cause new shops and rooms to open and new items to appear in the game by undertaking different actions. You can even help others and have them join you as companions.

I don't know if it is the cute graphics, the beautiful music, the deep but not overwhelming variety of objects and monsters, or a combination of all of them but this game has had me hooked since I picked it up a week and a half ago. I keep wanting to play thinking that next time I can finally make it to the golden condor at the top of Table Mountain.