Friday, May 25, 2012

Week in Review - 5/25/2012

Score Victory in Multiplayer!
My brother was in town for the weekend. We decided to get a few games of Civ V under our belt since our internet connections won’t allow us a game longer than 10 turns. I found new inspiration to knock out a few games after he left as well. Particularly fond of my first victory on Prince difficulty (I know, I’m lame) with Songhai. I drove for a Cultural Victory, but was ahead in Technology as well. I also had the second strongest military which led to some interesting stand offs against rivals. Victory could not be duplicated again with Russia. 

Shai (Monk) at start of Nightmare
This week marked my adventuring party’s triumph over Normal difficulty in Diablo III. I’m really excited to take my Monk into Nightmare difficulty, but I haven’t had the opportunity yet. I’m learning to use the Auction House feature to my advantage, but I am also constantly vexed that it is unavailable due to maintenance. I’m still debating the possibility of a documented adventure in Hardcore, but I continue to put it off to play with friends in Softcore and fight the good fight on new characters. I am leveling all but Demon Hunter on Softcore at the moment. 

Dalziel at New Terra
My brother was interested in checking out Terraria so I loaded it up and showed him around. He made his own character and messed around in the early stages of the game, building a shelter. We didn’t play too much, unfortunately. If we had two copies of the game I could see us really tearing it up, but as it stands my Terraria adventure is on indefinite hold and I am awaiting Starbound. Diablo III is simply too distracting.  

Playstation 3
I spent 6 hours over the weekend tearing through Shadow of the Colossus. I didn’t spend my usual obsessive amounts of time hunting down lizard tails, so other than a scattered sighting here and there, I managed to play through the game rather quickly. It was my intent to highlight the battles which each of the 16 colossi for a small audience. I love that game and I’m glad it’s back in my possession. It feels good to take down a colossus every now and then. It’s a little bit symbolic of the real world in that way.   



Wednesday, May 23, 2012

First Battle with Magus

This is part of an ongoing series about my favorite memories from video games. You can find the original list and table of contents in an earlier post or by clicking here. Please be aware that these posts are going to be full of spoilers which may ruin the impact of these events on anyone who wishes to experience them on their own in the future. I’m truly sorry this is a day late this week.

#8 – First Battle with Magus (Chrono Trigger)

When I was 14-years-old, I somehow knew Chrono Trigger was going to be one of the most amazing games I would ever play. I remember my first glimpse of the game was in Nintendo Power and from that moment on I was sold on the project. I craved it with every ounce of my being. It was the better part of a year that I awaited the arrival of this game, all the while talking it up to whoever would listen. I was sure it was going to be outstanding. In retrospect, I don’t know what about the game got me so riled up. I was not aware that it was being produced by a “dream team” of video game makers that would never re-assemble for a project again. Though I may have known Nobuo Uematsu and Akira Toriyama, I had no recollection of Yoshinori Kitase, Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yasunori Mitsuda, Hiroyuki Ito or Masato Kato. Those names weren’t included in my database of excellence until much later. I loved the idea that makers of my favorite games (“Final Fantasy” series and Secret of Mana) were making a game that dealt with jumping through time and resulted in multiple endings. Writing that sentence just gave me a shiver of excitement, so I think I just nailed down what was the source of my obsession with this project as a teen.

It’s not often that I get this worked up anticipating a game, due to countless instances of disappointment after hyping a game up in my head so much. Back then I was always excited for any new Squaresoft game to hit American shelves, but there was something magical about Chrono Trigger. It was even more magical that I was not disappointed after such a mental build up. Not once did I think the game could have been better, or that I shouldn’t have expected so much. Chrono Trigger is everything I dreamed it would be and more. It kept me entertained for over a year to come, and still manages to creep onto my playlist from time to time fifteen years later. In short, I believe Chrono Trigger is a perfect game, a masterpiece. It is truly the product of industry giants coming together for one unbelievable project, an event that I don’t believe has been duplicated since.

The game begins with the opening of the Millennial Fair in the year 1000AD, and here too begins the first of the game’s story arcs. Although the fair is celebrating the kingdom's 1000 year anniversary, most people at the fair seem fixated on the events 400 years ago that threatened the very existence of the human race. They go on  and on about a crazed leader named Magus leading an army of Mystics (non-humans) in an attempt to conquer the world. Since this is a game about time traveling, this might strike you as important foreshadowing as you work your way through the light-hearted events of the fair. Although the game does a good job of making the first few trips through time seem like unrelated episodes, the game is fully steering you toward a showdown with Magus. Each jump through time subtly presents new clues and information on Magus until the party from 1000AD finally see the destruction a being called Lavos wrought on the world and decide to stop it – by stopping its creator, Magus.

Magus in a Steve Zissou pose.
The party’s preparation to defeat Magus is perhaps the largest build-up to a climax the game offers, excluding the final showdown and resolution, of course. Before the player’s party can storm Magus’s gates and challenge him to a fight to the death, they first must learn how to use magic – an art lost thousands of years ago and only practiced by the Mystics in 600AD.  They must also reconstruct the Masamune, a legendary sword that cuts through Magus’s magical defenses. It is often described as Magus’s only weakness and it’s not in good shape when the party discovers it. All of this involves hopping around time using the previous clues and foreshadowing to direct the player on his quest to defeat Magus. The game spends so much time preparing to fight Magus that when you’re finally standing on his doorstep, his tower feels quite intimidating.

Magus's Tower depicted in one of many endings.
In the continuing efforts to make Magus appear to be the final boss of the game, Magus’s tower is one of the longest and most challenging dungeons faced at this point in the game. It is full of fights you cannot avoid and there are three mini-bosses awaiting you as well, Flea, Slash and Ozzie. The game is pulling all the stops to make this encounter feel like an ultimate showdown. Here you will stop Magus and save the future by destroying Lavos at its source.

The atmosphere feels quite foreboding when the music of Magus’s tower fades away and you enter a dark room filled with haunting chants. I will never forget my feelings of dread as I cautiously made my way down the aisle of this dark chamber with flames springing to life around me. At the end of the aisle, these flames form a circle around the scene slowly fading into view. There’s an innate summoning circle on the ground before a large demonic statue. Magus stands at the center with his arms spread wide, his purple cape and otherworldly blue hair fluttering in the wind. With his back to the party, he taunts them and seems otherwise unimpressed with their arrival. As Frog pulls the Masamune out, the black wind begins to howl along with the intro to Magus’s battle theme. When he finally turns, he’s wrapped in his cape like a vampire, but soon tosses it back and begins his magical assault on the party.

Throwing down with Magus at his dark chapel.
I have to hand it to the developers here. They did such an amazing job building to this moment, but more importantly they set an unbelievable mood for the player's arrival. The combination of effects used - the difficulty of the fight, the eerie atmosphere of some defiled chapel, the vampire/angel of death design for Magus, and the outstanding use of music – creates this unforgettable moment which is only further solidified when the player is slapped with the first major plot twist. Victory over the formidable foe only leads to the revelation that the characters were wrong. Magus was not the creator of Lavos. In fact, Lavos existed long before this moment in 600AD and the quest to save the planet goes on. Once again, the party is thrown into a time gate and Magus lives to fight another day, but everyone is left with doubts about his true motivation? The deeper mystery only serves to pull the player into the story more.

It is 17 years later and I’ve got 17 years worth of experience playing games and consuming stories, yet I’m here writing this article about Chrono Trigger. I am realizing that the events leading up to Magus are what demonstrate the amazing job this game does telling a story. The direction and pacing of the plot is so skillfully woven together with the imagery and the music players are quickly drawn into this world, and the controller gets harder and harder to put down. As a result Chrono Trigger is full of memorable characters and scenes. “The First Battle with Magus” stands out of the crowd because it marks the end of the first story arc, pulling all the stops to set up a climax for the first time in the game, and introduces one of the most unforgettable characters in video games – Magus, the tragic, otherworldly antihero.


Related Links
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Magus Battle on YouTube -

Friday, May 18, 2012

Week in Review - 5/18/12

Nintendo DS
I beat Radiant Historia with 100% completion this week. It’s a great game. Atlus continues to impress me. I believe a true strength of this game is its characters. The main character in particular is an accomplished spy and swordsman, a far cry from the standard RPG hero who starts out as a nobody. Shuffling around two timelines of activities is a unique experience, akin distantly to Chrono Cross. If you like traditional role-playing games, this one is a must play. It is among the few true traditional-style RPG (a.k.a. “Japanese” or “JRPG”) around in the last decade.

Wizard & Monk Duet
Diablo III was released this week. I was not particularly excited because I did not play Diablo II so I did not know what I was missing. I knew it would be a big event for most of my game playing friends, so I decided I would get it to play with them. So far, I have not been disappointed. I always have at least one friend on to team up with and the game itself is a lot of fun. I’m playing a Monk with my wife and a Wizard without her (she’s playing Wizard).

It took him two days of hard work at Gerdur’s mill, but Genjo finally saved up enough money to buy a house. However, the roads of Skyrim aren’t safe, my friends. What adventures befell him en route to Whiterun? I’m hoping to have a complete write up of his adventures later this afternoon, so look forward to it. Other than Genjo’s adventures, I have not been playing Skyrim due to Terraria and Diablo III. When I do play, however, I get pretty absorbed and have lots of fun.

So building in Terraria completely took over my weekend last week. I decided at some point that my little underground bunker wasn’t good enough for the people of Terraria and built a few homes. I built a Toad House for my Merchant (and later on the Arms Dealer and Clothier). I also built a Heart Container for the Nurse to use as an Infirmary. Over by my vast garden area, I built a hut for my Dryad out of mud, stone and grass. I plan to continue a hanging garden all around her house for Waterleaf plants if Diablo III doesn’t keep me away.

I attempted to play a game of Civilization V with my brother last night, but we could not stay connected for more than a handful of turns. We spent an hour trying to get it to work but eventually gave up. Great disappointment was had by all. Since I didn't technically "play" the game, I won't post pictures but I thought I'd mention it nonetheless. 


Related Links
My Brother's Art -

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Battle with Psycho Mantis

This is part of an ongoing series about my favorite memories from video games. You can find the original list and table of contents in an earlier post or by clicking here. Please be aware that these posts are going to be full of spoilers which may ruin the impact of these events on anyone who wishes to experience them on their own in the future.

#9 - Battle with Psycho Mantis (Metal Gear Solid)

When I was trying to put to paper a list of the 10 most memorable moments scripted into video games, Psycho Mantis was quick to pop up. He hails from one of the most critically acclaimed games of its time, Metal Gear Solid, though he is neither the main character nor the main villain of the game. He is simply one major obstacle for the protagonist, Solid Snake, to overcome during his objective to liberate the island base “Shadow Moses” from a renegade, Special Forces unit called FOXHOUND. Psycho Mantis, as his codename might imply, is the psychic member of FOXHOUND who vexes Snake by conquering the minds of others around him and thus distorting reality. When Snake finally confronts him face to face, Psycho Mantis has quite a demonstration prepared to unnerve not only the main character, but also the game’s player by breaking the fourth wall by having knowledge of events outside the game. 

Metal Gear Solid was released in 1998 and I remember hearing how great it is from almost every video game player I crossed paths with at high school and on the internet. Everyone was talking about it at the time, but I was sure it wasn’t going to be my cup of tea because it wasn’t a role-playing game. I had plenty of those to keep me busy at the time and I didn’t really feel like branching out into what I thought was primarily a shooter-style game. No one ever told me that the main focus of the gameplay was stealth. No one ever sat me down and said “If you love Tenchu (and I do) and plot twists (do I ever), you will absolutely love Metal Gear Solid.” Had someone said that, I may have picked it up sooner, but I went on in blissful ignorance for quite some time – until I saw a copy at the local Blockbuster for a mere $9. I’m not sure when exactly that was, but it’s safe to say I was way behind the curve on playing Metal Gear Solid.

I was pulled  into this game immediately. From the very start I realized there was a deep underlying story about to unfurl. I love a good story. Then when I was thrust onto “Shadow Moses” island without a weapon and told to make my way into the heavily guarded facility, I was completely sold. The entire experience caught me off guard and I wondered for days why I hadn’t bothered to look for this game before then. Since playing Metal Gear Solid, the entire franchise has come to be synonymous with mind blowing revelations in the form of plot twists. When I play any subsequent “Metal Gear Solid” game I am already expecting everything I am told to be completely false or at the very least a partial truth. I’ve come to expect it and so I look for it, but back then on my original foray into the unknown I was completely surprised to find such a complex story. That alone is memorable, but when I stop to ask myself what happened in this game that really stands out in my mind it’s easily fine-tuned to a single encounter, the battle with Psycho Mantis.

Psycho Mantis’s fight begins before you even realize what’s happening. Your companion, Meryl, begins to act extremely unusual because she is covertly being controlled by Mantis’s telepathic powers. Once it’s clear she is not your true enemy, Snake disables her and confronts the puppet-master. At this point Psycho Mantis materializes and attempts to shake things up by talking about things outside the game itself. Notably he is able to use saves on your Playstation memory card to discuss how much you like playing certain games. For me it was Azure Dreams, one of my guilty pleasures of the era. I didn't realize what he was doing at first. Obviously a video game character didn't know how much I liked another game, but as he began telling me how long I'd been playing the Azure Dreams and how many times I'd saved it, it became clear he was accessing my memory card. What a great scene! He totally caught me off guard with this clever use of the Playstation's capabilities.

Actually, I didn't pick up Symphony of the Night until nearly a decade later!
Psycho Mantis moves on to displays of telekinesis and asks the player to place the controller on the floor so he can move it around via the rumble feature. I did not comply, so he vigorously shook my hands. He also simulates changing the channel of your television by producing a screen (programmed into the game) that prompts you to reconnect your video/audio wires. I vaguely recall this actually tricked me into thinking my game had crashed. Within the context of this display of mental prowess, though, I was not fooled for long and the game returned to the screen soon. What a devious ploy they play at. I almost reset the game! Curse you, Psycho Mantis!

After this psychological warfare, the actual fight begins and it doesn’t go well. Psycho Mantis is able to read all your intended moves (presumably) with his telepathy and is able to dodge all your attempts to harm him. This was obnoxiously frustrating. I've long accused programmed adversaries of knowing the button I press and using it to their advantage to thwart my efforts to defeat them, but this was the actual intended result of Psycho Mantis. There was no attempt to hide it. I probably died a handful of times to my increasing rage. The limited clues to solving this puzzle were all there. though. Mantis shows he can think outside the (Playstation) box and challenges you to do the same. You ultimately can shut down his precognition of your actions simply by switching your controller from Player 1 port to Player 2. He then falls easily into your attacks and is quickly defeated.

"Unfortunately, killing is just one of those things that gets easier the more you do it." - Solid Snake
Reading about this in text might sound a bit cheesy, but what better way for a fictional character to display his psychic powers than speaking directly to the game's player and manipulating the data available on the gaming system to breech the confines of the programming and interact with the real world. When I play games, like many gamers, I become very absorbed by the story, the characters and the scenery. Like many other activities that require focus and stimulate my senses, the outside world tends to tune out. So when Psycho Mantis comes along and speaks to you personally, when he tells you what games you like and how you're doing in them, it's a bit shocking. It snaps you out of the video game and thrusts a bit of reality back into your face. Although it was easy to understand how the game was programmed to interact with me on a personal level, knowing how doesn't exactly stop it from being distracting and downright creepy when you experience it, especially for that first time. Because of that, the confrontation with Psycho Mantis really stands out in my memory. It is the most unexpected and interesting boss battle I’ve ever played. Whether you are a fan of the “Metal Gear” series overall or not, it is a truly unforgettable moment.


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