Blog 353: Blog Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast

So I cracked this open again recently to give it a spin. It turns out that my view of the game had rather been affected by the old rose-tinted spectacles; by all means, it’s good, but it’s actually not that good. I will explain, and plot spoilers may ensue.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a game you really should play. Just… Be warned. It has a dark side.

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Blog 355: Evening’s Entertainment

Some of you might have noticed that I’ve hardly been on the internets in the last week, during my usual evening slot. This is because Drakensang is fucking awesome. It has very much captured my heart…

I don’t even know where to begin.

We’ll start with just how soft it is. You can’t really imagine just how smooth it is when every menu fades in and out, the screen fades to black before fading in to the loading screen… The main menu screen is of a tranquil farmstead, and as mentioned last week, the weather is always bright and deliciously sunny. But when you walk into a heavily forested area (or under a particularly large archway), the light fades down (fades down) to match the ambience. I’d say that does more for the game than normal mapping ever could.

It’s also full of slick little cinematics. Sometimes you’ll walk into somewhere, and they’ll set it up by fun camera angles and nice character animations; and other times, you’ll see the silhouette of a dragon climbing up the side of a ruined castle and then flying off. Yes, today was particularly nice — I had to fight up to a rather high castle along a walkway above the aforementioned forest, to spectacular views once I escaped from the initial walls. That’s one thing I really do love about the next-gen — long draw distances. While older games like Unreal and Jedi Knight II did treat us to some amazing vistas with the power available at the time, the power of games like this blows them right out of the water.

I keep making a complete mess of combat, though. When I get to fighting a big bad boss, I tend to concentrate all my fire on the boss himself; you know, he’s usually the guy that can rape you dead in two hits so you tend to want to flatten him as soon as you can.

Alas, like Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, this is completely the wrong thing to do. It turns out that it really is the henchmen that do all the damage — any way you look at it, four versus one is a lot better than four versus six or eight, especially when five or seven of them can be dispatched with relative ease.

Characters luckily don’t have a tendancy to die. When their hit points reach zero, or they receive more than four ‘wounds’, they’ll drop and lie there. Once the combat is over, they’ll stand up and you can repair them with bandages and let them regenerate all their health. Unless all four of you die, in which case, it’s game over.

My party is extremely combat-orientated, because the advertised dialogue system (“Threaten, persuade and charm your enemies with a dramatic talent-based dialogue system“) is not quite as bad-ass as the box suggests. It’s one of these, if you have in your party somebody that has a particular dialogue talent, you get a combat option and it rolls to see if you pass. I seem to have sunk enough points into that selection of talents, because I only failed once and it was an intimidation check (clearly Axebeard McBeardaxe the Dorf is not intimidating enough, even though he’s always the last one standing in a tough fight and has a fucking giant mace in his hands these days).

There is one sweet little twist, though. With enough points in the “human nature” skill, you can get shady people to reveal that they are indeed shady. So it’s not really a talent check, it’s just a way to scythe into the heart of the matter and get a bigger scoop.

I tend to concentrate on seduce or fast-talk, which my pet thief-mage chick handles wonderfully. Yes, yes, laugh it up — I have long expounded the horrors of the dual-classed thief-mage that so plagued Baldur’s Gate II, and how they totally ruin the game and why can’t I have one good thief and one good mage instead of two shite thief-mages? Once again, Drakensang chooses to follow Morrowind and makes characters an arbitrary collection of skills, which you can unlock by buying and then fill with as many experience points as you want. So my chick can be a solid mage and also happen to have the ability to unlock doors at the same time; though we are missing a trap disarmer, so I tend to stick Dorfy McDorfDorf into the firing line because he can take that shit.

I also acquired some less low-cut attire for the ladies, but then my Amazon warrior woman ended up in a side-quest and now has better armour than everyone else and only she can wear it. Grumble grumble.

At least my main character is soaking up some super-bad-ass armour from the main quest. I was ecstatic when I read “you can cast spells while wearing this”, because I was all “at last, my mage chick won’t get totally pasted when an enemy looks at her”, then it turned out that only he could wear that shit.

You really can’t win. The equipment system is pretty slick on the whole, though. While there are slots for both upper and lower legs, for example, high boots will stop you from wearing knee-plates and vice versa; whereas you can get low boots and squeeze some more armour out of the whole setup. Same goes for the arms, and the main chestplate is more often than not a chainmail device that adds some bonus armour to your appendages without disrupting other clothes. Plus the usual helmet, two rings, neck…

Another tip: don’t sell hairpins. I spent a considerable amount of time wondering why with the “pick locks” talent maxed I was totally unable to get into anything. It turned out that an unaided pick incurs a -10 penalty (that’s a lot), so now I’m using the hairpins the locks are all disintegrating before me. I had assumed that they were some kind of tool ingredient, like the rusty nails and animal sinews I keep harvesting from dead enemies.

It also keeps reminding me of Shakespeare. The currency is the Ducat, broken down into the Thaler and then the Farthing (don’t worry, it keeps them all in one pile and does all the conversion for you). So I keep going around thinking of lines like “Dead for a ducat, dead!” and “oh, I am slain!” But that’s no bad thing, I’m sure.

I should probably stop talking, I think you’re quite aware of my feelings for this game by now.

The verdict, then. After a few days of play have allowed the initial gloss to wear off and let the truth sink in.


Blog 350: The Blog of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

I never had occasion to review this game; indeed, my first encounters with it predate this blog by over ten years. So since I’ve just completed it, scattered across a couple weeks of commuting, I think it’s about time we harked back to what remains one of my all-time favourite games; and time has definitely not dulled that warm and fuzzy feeling.

Needless to say, spoilers may be contained herein… But really, you have played this before — or you’ve never lived.

Playing for about 45 minutes a day, it took roughly eight days to complete this game — that’s six hours of gameplay. Six hours. That rivals a lot of next-gen games these days, and we’re talking about an eight-bit handheld from decades ago. And I’m a veteran that can still remember how to get all the secrets; imagine how many hours of fun a new player could get out of it?

It’s got everything; a massive world, loads of items to be found, loads of secrets to uncover… All on a satisfying little cartridge (clunk-click). I also love how the original GameBoy is a brick — it fits my hands very well. And my fancy-pants rechargable batteries (designed for that power-hungry whore of a digital camera) are so far unwavering.

Koholint Island is a beautiful place, for all it’s rendered in what can’t be more than 256×256 pixel blocks and no more than sixteen colours, if even that. It’s got a lovely aesthetic that still manages to convey bright beaches, the dull but mysterious forest (well, it’s a little bit mysterious) and dank dungeons, despite everything being a curious shade of olive green.

One thing I have much admiration for, but never really paid any heed to at the time, is the inventory system.

See how Nintendo handled having only two buttons with which to control interaction with the world — they slowly introduced abilities in the form of items. Things like jump that you’d take for granted in, say, a PC game, are swappable items that can be on whatever button you want. And this trickle of items also makes the world slowly become accessible without arbitrary lumps of rocks that I tend to favour — certain locations can only be accessed once you’ve been through the appropriate dungeon, and unlocked a certain capability.

That’s another point — the humour in this game. It’s absolutely wonderful. From the way the bosses go “NEEER NEEER” to the kids around Maybe Village that say “Whoa! I don’t know, ’cause I’m just a kid!”, to the canned-food-eating alligator Sale and his house o’ bananas, to Papahl warning you that he’ll be lost in the mountains later in the game… Even as Link reprises his role as a completely silent hero that can still get all the information he needs out of the people around him, those very people are still delightful to interact with.

And yet it’s still a very moving game. From Marin’s subtle romancing of Link, to the island dissolving at the end…

It is the only story where “I woke up and it was all a dream” is a satisfying ending. Throughout the game, you’re poked and prodded right into the dream world scenario — the owl’s dialogue, the kids finding the concept of living outside the island completely alien… And finally, that shrine with one of the most sorrowful soundtracks I’ve ever heard (where you get the Face Key), and the mural on the wall that makes it (almost) certain.

Then it finally happens. As you play the Ballad of the Wind Fish one last time, you get that heart-rending last glimpse of some of the characters and locations you have come to love, and it’s all gone. Just a scene on the lid of a sleeper’s eye, gone when he wakes like a bubble on a needle…

But even still, it’s not the end for Koholint. As Link awakens in the wreckage of his boat (did the entire game take place in a single night, do you think?), he hears the song in his head and the Wind Fish sails overhead — even though the dream is ended, we know that the Wind Fish has been saved and he knows that we did it and all is right with the world. How can you not shed a tear? … Okay, I was on a crowded commuter train, I really had to hold it in.

As I said, the only time “I woke up and it was all a dream” actually works. But then again, it wasn’t “just” a dream. The Wind Fish really had been locked down by the nightmares, and you really did save him…

Even after more than ten years of growing up, of maturation, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening still had the power to captivate me. The people, the puzzles, the bosses, the music, the aesthetic, the atmosphere, the world…

If you’ve played Link’s Awakening, and you’ve played anything I’ve ever made, it’s not hard at all to see how much this game has shaped me. I have the utmost admiration and respect for it and its creators — they really did make a game that deserves to be remembered for all time, a game the transcends its frankly pitiful technological shell.

Sometimes I’m glad that I picked the job in Edinburgh — otherwise, I’d really never have had the excuse to drag this out and rediscover something truly amazing.

And if you’ve never played this game… I can’t recommend it highly enough.

As if this huge-ass blog (huge ass-blog) isn’t testament enough.