Woo hoo, it has been a time lately, lemme tell ya. But in a good way. After a good while following, I was brought on board at Retrogaming Live, which has been a nice boost to my Twitch presence along with a chance to show off some of well, MyGames. I started off with a playthrough of The Guardian Legend, moving on to a recent rediscovered favorite, Macross: Scrambled Valkyrie and Metal Warriors. My usual spot will be Wednesdays, 3pm-5pm though occasionally I’ll be filling in for other casters. Lotsa good people to watch on that channel, give ’em a look some time!
I’ve been taking some bigger steps towards getting My Stuff in order after saying I was going to over and over, I’m going to focus on finishing up Irrgarten and starting a proper page for it, then possibly offering a PnP version through Amazon or some self publisher venue if the ‘demo’ goes over well enough. In bigger news, if I didn’t mention before, I’m finally going to be getting out of The Box and moving into a larger apartment at the end of the month, which I’m both excited for and a bit anxious when I realize I have basically *no* furniture and I’ve almost forgotten what having room is like. It’ll be nice being able to get a couch or something though, and not continue sinking deeper and deeper into my mattress while I try to get work done.
Sadly, I gotta confess in spite of the sketch dumps basically evening out, I *have* missed a couple days in my SaD challenge, but mainly due to working on requests and stuff. I usually prefer not to make gifts/commissions public unless the recipient is aware and cool with it, especially when like original characters are involved and such.
Hopefully soon I’ll have some Irrgarten news to share since I’m going to be trying to focus on the parts I’ve been procrastinating (new dungeon tiles and redoing basically the whole item list so there will be more ‘utility’ items like keys and less redundant special weapons.) The hero cards are by far the most fun thing to work on but I think I’ve got plenty of those, time to focus on ways to maim them.
So, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is out now to the general public, and holy shit is it everything I had hoped for. As hypey as that sounds, what I was literally “hoping for” was “more of the same with another layer of refinement.” Wayforward’s been a company I’ve enjoyed following a while now since they manage to slip out original titles that show a clear personal investment in between licensed products that they still put a good effort in where I imagine a lot of companies would be content to just cash in. Who the hell would get the license to a Harvey comic strip and think to turn it into a Metalstorm clone?
Lately I just really find myself being drawn to examples of series that genuinely improve on themselves over time. Shantae for the GBC was okay, but plagued by blind jumps and probably a few too many moves for only two buttons. Risky’s Revenge was a solid little game, though it showed some signs of ideas that didn’t get quite fleshed out (the multi-layered town and forest areas, the awkward map chiefly.) Pirate’s Curse was another solid step up, enough so that her pirate equipment was easier and more fun to use than her transformation dances to the point I was actually kinda worried about what her having her powers back ruining Half Genie Hero.
Well, luckily that’s not the case and I’m enjoying the heck out of it. It’s structured in kind of an ‘episodic’ feel with each short story netting a piece of Uncle Mimic’s latest machine to set up the final chapter with Risky inevitably swiping to nobody’s real surprise. The jokes are mostly pretty funny, the animation is gorgeous, and backtracking is made more palatable by the levels usually changing to remove the more obnoxious hazards from the first time around and changing enemy types. If you find yourself stuck in a level you can whistle for Sky to pick you up, even if it makes no sense like your being on a waterslide or in an underwater cavern polymorphed into a crab. So yeah, I’m stoked- a long-awaited crowd funded game release that’s actually really good. That’s one point for 2016.
When I get into a game, I have a habit of talking the ear off anyone willing to listen about every minute thing I notice. You would think I would channel that into articles and reviews on my website more frequently or something. Well, ever since I started doing those comics, I kind of got in the habit of clamming up and trying to ‘save’ my thoughts for those, but at times a game comes along that gives me more to talk about than can gracefully fit into a comic panel layout. And as text dense as some of my worse strips can get (if I’m self aware of the problem and call attention to it, it’s totally forgiven right!?), that’s probably saying something. So that brings me to the Neptunia series, which I have sort of a history with already.
A few years ago, my friend Steve and I were trying to put together an experimental-style animated short/pilot of an Eishi n’ Dixie video series, getting as far as getting a script and dialogue recorded. The subject was a niche PS3 RPG, as I tend to wind up acquiring, and it was called Hyperdimension Neptunia. And it was dullllll. Going in, all I really knew was that it was supposed to be full of little in-jokes about the gaming industry, so I was kinda curious about where they’d go with that. Apparently, not very far- extended visual novel style dialogue sequences, soundly meh music, a battle system that kind of felt like Xenogears but less good… overall, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the game as much as the general idea. I didn’t really pay the sequels much mind beyond “how in the fuck did that get a sequel?”, until I got a half decent rig and started down the Steam Sales hole. Among the things I wound up with by the end of the 2015 summer sales were Neptunia Re;Birth 1 and 2; PC ports of the enhanced Vita port that were supposed to be vaguely “better.” And yeah, they kinda are. The battle engine had been refined through the sequels then applied to the ports to make them well, better, as well as attempt to fix some story problems, to limited success. I’ll save that part for later because complaining is fun and I don’t like to start with dessert.
Combat lets you move characters freely around within a set range circle during their turn and attacks are tied to a ‘hitbox’ area that you can fine-tune the angle of so you can catch multiple targets in your swing. Normal combat consists of combos made of slotted skills, split into Rush, Power, and Break types, which respectively build up combo hits (meh), focused strong attacks, and attacks that more quickly wear down the enemy’s Guard gauge, leading to a weakening Guard Break. These include spells in addition to physical attacks, so each turn you can choose the slotted commands that best suit the situation. Then, you have the EXE gauge, which stores power stocks and not only enables Limit Break style attacks, but adds EX Finishers to the combo chains of the party. It sort of makes you have to think whether that extra attack per turn is more useful than a flashy super move, since using an EXE depletes the gauge by one or more chunks and cuts your overall options back down. It might seem like kind of a shallow looking system, but between the free movement, targeting and the almost fighting-gamey inputs, it’s a surprisingly fun system, especially when you’ve got a boss on the ropes and finish them with an over the top special attack.
The Re;births include a new mechanic called the “Remake System,” which is kind of a crafting system that lets you not just unlock items for the shop, but ‘craft’ changes to the overall game. You can add dungeons, alter the items and enemies within them, ‘create’ bonus characters, and even affect overall game balance like permanently reducing the effectiveness of status ailments or allowing you to kill weak enemies on the map with a sword swing instead of going into battle. It’s a pretty cool setup, and I don’t even get especially annoyed gathering materials since it’s usually pretty clear what monsters drop what. (It’s a little harder to keep track of Harvested items on the maps themselves.) The other system that’s neat but not quite as important is the market share system, where doing Quests not only gives you money and items, but also pushes one faction’s market share up a percentage while lowering another. Getting different endings and unlocking all the non-DLC characters requires you to game the market to certain levels, and when shooting for the True Ending, you need to make sure that the enemy has 0% of the Shares and all four of the friendly lands are pretty evenly spread.
Which brings me to a category I like to call the Tangible Flaws. Re;Birth 1 seems to really love lulling you into a false sense of security then throwing an overpowered boss in your path, more or less mandating you re-evaluate your slotted skills and more often than not, grind for a good while until you can brute force it. It happened frequently enough early on that when actual “supposed-to-lose” fights happened, I was wasting Revives and SP Chargers trying to cling to dear life. It was irritating enough that once I progressed enough to go through the Fairy Fencer F collab fight and get some utterly broken gear from it, I squatted in the Arena until Neptune was Level 99 and took care of the last few chapters without breaking a sweat. Neptunia Re;birth 2 seems to have toned it down a bit, but in all honesty, I’ve been playing from the start with another free dlc collab weapon because I wasn’t in the mood to get brick walled every couple hours again, so it may just be me putting a band-aid over the problem before it happened. So, if you’re interested in the game, do be prepared for the occasional level grind.
The thing that I think hurts the game the most is the sheer volume of drawn out, visual novel-style portrait plus text cutscenes in it. It ties in with the more subjective problem of “How Much Fucking Kawaii Uguu Can You Stand?” Neptune and her pals are all relentlessly ‘quirky’ and chatty as hell. The actual storyline isn’t groundbreaking, but the novelty of Fantasy World Plus Video Game References is buried below giant bags of pink packing Styrofoam. Technically, you can skip about everything (even long attack animations), but if you’re fast forwarding through an RPG, it’s kind of failing in a major area. If the dialogue was edited down by a lot, you’d really end up with a pretty breezy, fun game. Hell, it would probably cut an hour off the run time if you just omitted the times a character who’s not really in on the conversation pops in to go “yes, I agree” to remind you they’re in the party. The characters aren’t without their charm, but you’re given it in way too large of a dose at a time.
In the end, I’m still having fun, so I guess that’s something. Streaming it with friends so we can groan and riff our way through the lame parts is fun, and there are some decent ideas and jokes scattered in there. It’s a fun game that I think does deserve a bit more attention, but needs to learn just a little bit of restraint in subjecting the audience to fifteen minute sequences of being stared at by doe eyed, pink haired paper dolls with Newgrounds-esque ‘breathing’ animations. Re;birth 2 has been mostly more enjoyable other than the annoying little twin girls and a certain giant pedophilic robot with a six foot tongue… so hopefully it keeps that up as I enter the last chapters. The enjoyable part. Not the tongue part. The tongue part can fuck off to hell.
Been tinkering with ideas for another shot at a game project. Basically, I want to try and make a less on the nose The Guardian Legend homage featuring a half-dragon who wanders the countryside trying to help people out with monster infestations. I… like drawing her a little too much considering the other projects I’m “supposed” to be working on.
Speaking of, it has been a while since I brought up Irrgarten, hasn’t it? I’ve been kicking around what works and doesn’t between the major revisions and I’ve decided to more or less ‘roll back’ the game to the old style and ditch the secondary stats so it can play nice and fast again. I liked the idea of the marching order a lot but in practice each player getting four actions per turn plus monsters’ turns was getting ridiculous without some kind of initiative rolls or something going on. When I get some time, I plan to buckle down and get a playable v3 out for people to try out, then maybe, just maybe- figure out how to get this thing *produced.*