Category Archives: Software

Final Fantasy II

Sixteen years ago, somehow, I played Final Fantasy for the first time, with my only previous JRPG experiences having been an abiding love for Dragon Warrior, deep amusement at Secret of Mana, and unremitting loathing for Final Fantasy VII. You’ll note, if you clicked through, that I had evinced an intention to continue playing the remainder of the Final Fantasy oeuvre. Believe it or not, that was actually true, and I really have been playing Final Fantasy II on and off for all of those many years since[1].

The main difference between the first and second game is that where the first game used “save the world!” as an excuse to string together a lot of random encounters in the world and in various dungeons wherein you could level up and get better equipment and better spells, allowing you to fight harder random encounters and dungeons… In the second game, all of those actions are strung together by an actual plot, with actual characters. I mean, plot and characters as imagined through the lens of the 1980s, but it’s actually there.

I’ll go a step farther, and say that the plot, although largely on rails, feels as if it is reacting to the actions of the characters. Which is impressive! There are three main characters, teenaged friends who get caught up in events, and a floating fourth character, who you are supposed to become attached to but who I largely viewed as a tool who occasionally stole my equipment by leaving the party without warning in any number of various ways.

That said, the game still punishes you for playing a game that old by having bizarrely restrictive spell and items capacities and random bugs that make the nominally most powerful spell in the game be functionally useless. Nevertheless, it was a good game. I mean, if you’re okay with mindlessly wandering the world having random encounters between various dungeons that advance the plot, but that’s just what a JRPG is, you know? (But Dragon Warrior was still better. For one thing, no goddamned chocobos.)

In case you’re wondering if I will play Final Fantasy III: I’ve started it already. (This proves nothing, of course.)

[1] Although I restarted at one point post-2014, switching platforms from DS back to Playstation[2]. (Well, PS2, since manufacturers once upon a time understood backward compatibility.)
[2] Because it’s harder to play a game together on a tiny-ass DS screen[s].

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (2019)

Two milestones! Surprisingly to me, I’ve never finished a Switch game before. Like, I kind of finished the Mario game from one perspective, but from another I was barely halfway through it. Regardless, no review! So, oops. (Or not. It’s hard to know.) But also, I’ve never played a game that required specifying a year for version control. Link’s Awakening has had three versions, two on various GamesBoy in the ’90s, plus this one on the Switch.

As for what it is, it’s a mostly 2D game[1] set at a 3D angle, a la Link to the Past[2], where you[3] have shipwrecked onto a small island where nobody has heard of the concept of an outside world, where there’s a giant egg housing a Wind Fish (whatever that is), and where (surprise!) the monsters have started getting restless just lately. Also, the art is an adorably almost claymation thing, and every time I paused to actually look at it, it just… made me happy. You know?

There’s item / powerup collection, there’s dungeons, there’s secrets (not all of which I found)… it’s a Zelda game, is what I’m saying, and those are good on their own merits in the vast majority of instances. On top of that, there’s a surprisingly emotional core to the thing, where the act of playing the game as intended leaves you wondering whether you should do so. I dug it.

Also, weirdly, I played the whole game handheld. Bad for my neck, good for my ability to actually finish. This is a problematic realization, to be clear. Especially if you happen to be my neck.

[1] You can jump and dive, so it’s 2D with an extra two layers beyond the one you mostly exist in? Approximately.
[2] Arguably the best Zelda game ever made, Breath of the Wild notwithstanding. Inarguably the best 2D Zelda game ever made.
[3] by which I mean Link, the boy in the green tunic who acquired his first sword under, at best, suspicious circumstances

Gears 5

Back at the dawn of time, I played Gears of War. Later, I started to play Gears of War 2 and got maybe two chapters in, and then… never touched the series again, except in multiplayer. Even though I liked it! They were good games! But I did a thing I maybe do with frequency (in games especially), and let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Because these are two player games, and they are explicitly different in two player at times, so you feel like more is going on if you get the full experience, and since I was not at that time getting said full experience… well, here we are.

Fast forward fourteen[1] years, and I have now played Gears 5, which for one thing is no longer “of War” apparently, and for another thing is the second(!!) entry in a new trilogy, the original Gearsing having apparently been completed with volume 3 until they decided they could make more money, and for a third thing is now a three player game.

I know you’re asking. “Well how do you have three players to play a game with when you haven’t had two for over a decade?”, and that’s a fair question. But this new Game Pass dealie has drawn people out of the woodwork, is what. The important part is, I did have three players, and the game seriously uses them to good effect! Because one character is something something that’s a spoiler for this game and probably way more of a spoiler for volume 4 which I have not played, and one player is a hoverbot with a lot of cool non-gun-based powers, and one player drives sail skiffs, and together you wander around doing the kinds of things people expect out of War Gears, which is mostly fighting indigenous underground aliens. But now with occasional open world exercises instead of non-stop rails.

Long story short, it’s pretty cool still, and except for being allergic to third-person shooters or characters who have necks the size of an average American’s waist, there’s basically nothing not to like here.

[1] god help us

Donut County

The thing about Donut County is, it’s barely a game at all[1].

But if you can get past that, it’s pretty fun and funny. It’s approximately a knockoff of Katamari Damacy, but instead of rolling things up, you are a hole in the ground, and you are swallowing said things. Donut County is a county somewhere near alternate Los Angeles I guess?, inhabited by all manner of sentient animals and also for some reason this one girl. The only problem is that everyone and everything keeps disappearing into holes in the ground.

Who could be causing this? And why? And will you ever get to fly the sweet quadcopter that you can unlock if you reach level 10?

Anyway: as two hour games go, I definitely got my money and time investment’s worth.

[1] This is not entirely true. The last third adds more game elements, such that by the end, there’s some game there.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

It’s not uncanny valley levels of weird, but it is nevertheless weird to see digital animation versions of real actors that you are already very familiar with. To wit, Cal Kestis, who is played by the Joker from Gotham and one of the Gallagher kids on Shameless. And he’s, like, just extremely recognizable, both character and voice. And in Jedi: Fallen Order[1], I’m controlling his jumps and pushes and lightsaber swings, and it’s weird, is what, in a way that a random character would not have been at all.

The game itself is… fine? As has been said by others elsewhere, it’s basically a modern Tomb Raider ripoff, but without that part of the gameplay being as polished. Tradeoffs are that the Force skills parts are in fact pretty cool, and that the plot eventually slides from generic to compelling, somewhere between the halfway and two-thirds point.

If you feel like those tradeoffs (especially the second one) aren’t good enough to make up for the initial complaint, well, I will not try to convince you otherwise. Even for me, as happy as I was to be doing a new Star Wars game for the first time in forever, I occasionally wondered if it would really kill the high and mighty Jedi to pick up a blaster sometimes, instead of fighting through another four or six hand to hand storm troopers.

But the Force skills are pretty cool, except when your Force meter runs out and you can’t use them anymore. And except for wishing you had access to them for the whole game, instead of only starting to get to the good stuff right at the end. (But that’s a problem with all games of this type. See also Ezio re-learning how to be an assassin in two sequels.)

[1] which EA would like to helpfully remind you is a Star Wars property, no matter how awkward it makes the title of the game

The Turing Test

Because I am extremely timely, have another review of a game that’s leaving Game Pass today! The Turing Test is a sci-fi puzzle game[1] in which Ava Turing wakes up from cryosleep above Europa and is tasked by her AI companion, TOM, to go to the surface and find out why communication from the crew has ceased. Not as in “why aren’t they answering anymore” (although that too), as in “why is the communication link down?”

Upon arrival, however, the mystery deepens when the rooms of the base have been repurposed into puzzles that require creative solutions to proceed deeper, apparently to keep someone (or something?) out. Whereupon follows 77 rooms’ worth of puzzles combined with an ongoing discussion between Ava and TOM on the nature of consciousness plus occasional clues as to what happened down there.

The puzzles are very occasionally ridiculous, but mostly the right amount of difficult[2]. The plot is deeper and ultimately stronger than I gave it credit for. On the whole? Pretty impressive game; recommended, even.

[1] If you’re thinking “poor man’s Portal“, well, that’s a fair comparison. Happily, there’s a lot of room to go downhill from Portal and still have an enjoyable and plot-dense experience.
[2] Well, for me at least, and not counting the rooms that were extra simple, just to teach you new rules.

Untitled Goose Game

I’ve been vaguely aware of Untitled Goose Game for some time, in the sense of, oh, hey, someone made another game like Goat Simulator, but for geese. Which sounded, you know, fine. At the same time, even though GS is on Game Pass, I have not really been itching to give it another try and finish this time, for whatever reason. Maybe I’m wrong? UGG is what was going to convince me I was wrong, if anything would.

So you’re this goose, right? Or, these geese, if you play multiplayer, as I did[1]. And you have a to-do list, some of which are things that might be fun for you and mostly harmless, but which really seem to annoy the humans around you, while others are, uh, pretty clearly designed to annoy the humans around you with no other particular benefit, except that it’s funny. Eventually your to-do list has an event that causes a new area (with a new to-do list!) to be unlocked. And so on, until you finish the game. Some of the bits are complicated to figure out, while others are complicated to execute, but it’s mostly a light puzzle game that you can breeze through in a few hours.

Which Mary and I did on Friday night, including the list of bonus to-do’s you can accomplish[2], some of which don’t even make sense to try until you’ve won once. And almost all of which are just purely mean, meaner than most of the previous mean things you’ve already done. …I did mention this is a game about geese, right?

Near the end of the night came the cruelest goose trick of all: even though we were both logged in on our accounts, Mary was not getting any of the achievements credited to her gamer score. This was especially painful because she was the one who wanted to cross off all the extra items in the first place; I had already been satisfied.

But I mean, it also ended up being fun, which is much better than if it had been grinding for points.

[1] Multiplayer is mildly annoying in that the screen only gets so big, so the geese have to stay together and can maybe get each other stuck. We played on a shared screen, but I assume that the same limitations apply to a remote multiplayer game. I also assume that remote multiplayer even exists.
[2] And not including the speed runs, which are all we left undone. I understand intellectually that some people are really into speed runs, but ain’t nobody got time for that.

What Remains of Edith Finch

I played another entire game over the past few days. This is so so weird. (Which I say every time I finish a game, I know. But it is! Especially relative to how long it’s been since I finished a book[1].)

This time, What Remains of Edith Finch, which is another plot-heavy / game-light exploration game in which … you know, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game like this, except, minimally, Gone Home. Edith Finch has, um, returned to her ancestral dwelling after the death of her mother and the receipt of a mysterious key, which grants her access to the majority of the house, which has been sealed up and inaccessible since before her earliest memories.

What follows is an exploration of generations of Finch family history and the simultaneous exploration of a truly ridiculous plus awesome house, with mysteries galore. There are elements fantastical, elements tragic, and elements personally very uncomfortable. If you want trigger warnings, you should expect that most things people get triggered by (besides inflicted violence) will be in play.

It’s barely a game in the way that all the things which fall into this genre are, in the sense that there are minimal choices to be made; you only move forward through the sparse and lonely plot. But it was a plot full of people and events I cared about, which is what I was looking for.

[1] Outside of a specific reading schedule


So far, my favorite thing about Xbox’s Game Pass service is that it gives me the freedom to try things out that I cannot otherwise convince myself to pay for. To wit, Tacoma, which is apparently the only other game from the people who made Gone Home.

The upshot being, a) I really liked this story, about an abandoned orbital station where I was tasked with downloading the station AI and acquiring the associated hardware, which perhaps (or perhaps not?) inevitably involves learning some details about why exactly the station is abandoned; but b) I felt somewhat misled into believing that I would have some kind of influence over the outcome, rather than only walking through a story. I am not per se opposed to this form of visual novel, I just want to have a clearer idea of what to expect? I don’t think I ever felt this way about Gone Home, and by contrast I think I actually did have some minor influence over the outcomes of Firewatch, which was also a much larger game.

But that is an issue of expectations contrary to reality; the game taken as is was pretty excellent, and I would have no trouble recommending it. Which would be easier to do if it hadn’t fallen off the Game Pass thing at the end of the month, some very few brief hours after I finished it. Which is good news for me, but… oops.

The Outer Worlds

I played a game!

In even more shocking news, I played a game within about half a year of its release![1] I’m, uh, I’m actually having a hard time wrapping my head around that one. So, The Outer Worlds is a sci-fi RPG in which you wake up to a colonial civilization in decay and have to work out what to do about it. See, everyone came to the system from Earth about 70 years ago in two colony ships, except the second ship never showed up. Not to get too on the nose politically (primarily the first couple of groups), but the system is divided into approximately four groups.

  1. The Halcyon Holdings Corporation, who sponsored the outbound flight and even now works to develop new products for the many inhabitants of the Halcyon System
  2. The employees of the ten companies that pooled resources to form the HHC, mostly indentured to pay for their passage, and mostly unable to see a path to buying their full freedom from the situation, and that’s not counting the ones who haven’t really thought about wanting to
  3. Dangerous marauders who have broken free and now prey on society
  4. A handful of independents who through either corporate success or unlawful escape now live free of corporate restrictions, but at the mercy of the aforementioned marauders, not to mention the deadly beasts who roam the worlds and, sometimes, corporate troopers looking to enforce the original code

And now there’s you, a recently awakened colonist from the second ship, which is not lost after all, it just arrived extremely late, and by then enough water had passed under the bridge that the Board of the HHC decided… but I suppose now I’m getting into details past the first hour of play, so I’ll leave it here.

The story of this world is a delight. I can see lots of options I could have taken differently that would have had major impacts on the outcome, and some of them I would even want to see, only, who has time for playing for another 40-50 hours? The path I took, I have very few regrets about, so that’s nice. Plus the one sidebar about 90% of the way through the game that had me laughing in delight about one sublime moment of full character immersion for easily 30 minutes, before I restored and played like an adult instead.

The gameplay is… well, it’s fine, right? This is largely a shooter RPG, as I think they all are now, and it has companions, which means that your companions will always screw up your ambush and use up half or two thirds of its effectiveness. Which is a bummer. And the inventory system is nightmarishly bad. But on the bright side, once you acknowledge that there’s no way around that fact, it mostly melts away into irrelevance and just becomes the thing that makes you play a couple few extra hours than you would have in total. But if I had cared less about the plot and characters, I would have stopped playing quickly in frustration over just how bad it is, and never gotten past that threshold.

The story and backstory of the world definitely end up with more questions than answers, even as the story of the game concluded very satisfyingly. I very much want a sequel, and… I think I want that sequel to not include character importing, because my character’s story is over. But I’d hang out in the universe again from a different POV, no question.

[1] There is no question, in retrospect, that this is quarantine[2]-related. But I started in January, so it’s not solely due to quarantine.
[2] Note to future generations: It’s the Covid-19 coronavirus quarantine of 2020, not some weird personal thing or one of the other quarantines you will have learned about in your history classes.