Ice crystals cause a gasp!

Originally posted at GameSpot on February 14, 2008

Tuesday, February 12, 2008 – We were sent home from work early because the weather was so bad, and I took advantage of the opportunity to get some gaming in. It was almost a year to the day (Valentine’s Day of last year) that work was cancelled because of the snow, and it still felt just as good as it did then.

Quick hits:

Got some good time in with Super Mario World and Star Fox Command. I feel like I should give the latter its own entry, but that might come later.

Super Mario World is getting better, and that’s due directly to the fact that I’m actually progressing in the game now. Figuring out the puzzles or hitting a jump right goes a long way in keeping me playing. Just got out of the Forrest of Illusion and it’s on to the Chocolate Island. I get a little tired of the constant Ghost Houses, but I think that’s just because they’re tougher.

Star Fox Command has really impressed me. Any flight sim I’ve played has been on the PC, and while the game isn’t a simulation per say, I’ve never seen flight combat represented so well on any other platform. The DS control handles very well once you get used to it, and pulling out of a drive or making a sharp turn feel like you’re actually doing something.

The difficulty is just right, bordering on easy sometimes – but then a tough boss or missile shows up to even things out. I do enjoy the missile mechanic of the game more than I thought – it ratchets up the tension, knowing that you could have beat the rest of the level but missing one beacon means it was all for nothing.

The story is nothing too special, although the dialogue gets pretty good when the characters have extended interaction. Lines like, “Outta bed and full of beans,” tend to make you smile every time. I do enjoy the story surprises, though – you finish an area and all of the sudden BAM! Team Wolf pops out of nowhere!

– In both games, I’m found something I didn’t know I missed – the gasp! By the “gasp!“, I mean literally sucking in a lot of air – loudly – whenever something happens. In Super Mario World, this is usually when I die on the same jump for the tenth time in a row, or when I actually squeak by a difficult level. On Star Fox Command, it’s when I’m hitting that last beacon to destroy a mother ship or frantically trying to finish a level before time runs out. During these moments, it’s not unusual to hear a gasp! – or several of them.

I think the gasp! has been missing (or at least in the consistency of when I’m now experiencing them) due to the fact that I haven’t really progressed through a game in a long time. I’ve been racing with the new wheel, or just playing through games I’ve already beat when I have time like Star Wars: Battlefront II. But now I’m playing through levels, advancing unknown stories, and playing the DS in short bursts instead of sitting in front of my Xbox for an extended amount of time.

One isn’t better than the other, but I do enjoy this change of pace – and I’m excited about the potential gasps! to follow.

– Three great lines have come from my wife during this week, all related to Puzzle Quest:

“I’ve done this more today than I’ve knitted.”

She has really been getting into the game, and rightly so – it’s a great game! I showed it to her the night I got it, she said it looked cool, and then I left for work the next morning.

Since then she’s picked it up, and can’t put it down! I’m excited that she enjoys it, and so far she’s played it more than me – for the record, she’s on level 17 and I’m at 5.

“This is my kind of Fable

My wife “played” Fable with me on Xbox, and now she has a version of her own. With the knights, orcs, swords, and other Fable-ish items found in the game, it reminds her a lot of the world of Albion. Seeing her enjoying the puzzle aspect of the game and having her first taste of some RPG elements feels really satisfying – she told me she understands now why I get excited when I level up a character (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic), or want to expand my kingdom as much as possible (Shogun: Total War). Ah, music to my ears! Now she knows why I get excited over the things that I do

“I used yours since my battery died.”

Just as she was about to topple her foe, the DS’s battery died – but instead of quitting and waiting for her battery to re-charge, she finished the game on mine. I think that speaks for itself.

Post tenebras lux

You balvarine turd!

Originally posted at GameSpot on February 9, 2007

Thoughts on Fable: The Lost Chapters – First off, the atmosphere of the game was amazing. The most recent action RPG I’ve played was Knights of the Old Republic II, and that already had a pre-packaged world to build around. Fable had to start from the ground up, which is no small task.

But every area in the world, from the Guild to Hook Coast, was masterfully rendered and presented. Towns, taverns, shops and fauna were beautifully done to make an amazing world for the Hero to quest in.

The story was good, but it could have been better. How? How about this: if you want to build up tension for a climatic final battle with your arch-nemesis that will decide the fate of all of Albion – don’t do it by having the main character read about it in a book!

The only way to get a back story (other than cryptic remarks from your long lost sister) was to read about Jack of Blades, your bloodline, and the Sword of Aeons from some random text you hopefully picked up along your wanderings.

Jack of Blades could have been a great villain, but you don’t even hear of him until you’re captured by him a little over half way through the game. Then – before your know it – you have the showdown of the world with him! It just seemed to happen so fast, since there was no build up to it in the actual game world. A cut scene, or better yet some actual events in the game itself that revealed to you who (or what) Jack of Blades was, what your relationship was with him, how your family’s bloodline figured into all this, etc. would have really beefed up the tension for the final confrontation.

Instead, after Jack is defeated, the world seems pretty much the same. Because he didn’t affect it too much when he was around, his death doesn’t seem to rock anyone’s boat in the end. You’re told it does, but you can’t really see it. All in all, still a really good story – but it could have been great.

While the main story could have used a little more, the “game story” – the atmosphere in general (as I mentioned before) was fantastic. Being able to own homes and rent them out for money was especially satisfying, although I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because I felt I was actually earning something on my own merit – I don’t know. If only I could have bought a shop or two…

Having the Guild be a place I could revisit anytime I wanted also brought a wholeness to the adventure. I love the exploring and constant travelling – but it was nice to have a place you “grew up in” that you could always return to.

I enjoy games that give me a sense of “hominess” – a sense that I belong to that world. Fable: The Lost Chapters certainly did that.

This game also has me wanting to play through on the evil side of things. Usually when I finish an RPG, there’s really no motivation to play through it again – even if there are slight changes with how the game ends. You can usually predict the outcome – and the same could be said of Fable’s ending. But since your character (and NPC’s reactions to him) really can change throughout the game, I really would like to see the other side of things.

A few bullet points to wrap this up:

Never had time to get married – kept putting it off, and now I’ve finished the game. Thank goodness life hasn’t imitated art!

– The singing guy in some of the towns was a nice touch – actually putting a few of my adventures into verse. Cool.

– The Chamber of Fate was sweet – I loved the tapestry and the bridge, just the sense of reverence the place gives.

– After reading a book in Maze’s quarters, I was able to find Avo’s tear (incredibly powerful sword – the ying to the Sword of Aeons yang). Since the main game was already over, I now had this sweet sword with nothing to swing it at. Would getting it sooner had made it sweeter? Oh yes.

– The final final boss battle with Jack in dragon form was very cinematic, very well done. A little lame how after defeating Jack the first time he now simply reappears a year later, is twice as powerful, and taunts you like you’re nothing.

– Glad I have the Lost Chapter’s version. Based on what I’ve read, I would have definitely missed the new content.

– I love the detail in the game. Small, off-beaten paths / names and clever sayings on every gravestone, etc. Nice.

– I can’t get the oracle to work! YMCA? Huh? Not working!

Soundtrack was fantastic – still in my head.

Best use of magic I’ve ever seen in a game so far. Quite a number of spells, and many of them sweet. I loved using them and it made the combat fun.

– Very clean level-up system. Menus and items also done very well. This wouldn’t matter, except there are so many items (including tofu) that it all could have been very messy.

– Bowerstone South…Tavern…memory card game…BEST MINIGAME EVER! Actually fun! What a concept!

As always, if I can find a game that my wife enjoys watching me play (and actually looks forward to doing it), then I know it’s priceless. Fable: The Lost Chapters is a great game that gives your imagination a lot to work with.

Post tenebras lux