Saturday, February 20, 2016

Felin Files #6 - Conquering the Expanse

Greetings from Kathmandu!

Small Temple of L.E. III-a
Before setting out into the stars, I decided to fully devote myself to exploring the system in which I have been stranded for some time. During my travels on the closest moon of Lathasia Expanse III, I have had some troubling thoughts. Due to some undesirable stains on an otherwise perfect record of planetary exploration, I am not able to return home any time soon. It has occurred to me as I collect a small mountain of junk, I may need a more permanent base of operations from which I may launch my countless adventures of exploration and collection.

I'm a student of Avian Economics
Right now it looks like LE III-b - the moon upon which I was stranded - is my best option. It's small and completely uninhabited by intelligent life. The indigenous creatures are hostile but manageable now that I have found some worthy equipment. I do not like this moon and I hope I can find a more suitable place to permanently reside, but for now it may be my best option.

I explored Lathasia Expanse III-a and found a network of temples surrounding a bustling Avian city. The Avians seemed nervous about having a cat in their midst, but one young lady in particular tried to follow me back out into the wilderness. I convinced her it was for her best interests to stay among her people. Just outside of town I fought some frightening giants attracted to some glowing obelisk, so I'm glad she stayed behind. I like having this city nearby for trading purposes, but I do not want to set up a permanent home on such a heavily populated area.

Hello? Are you friendly?

- Kathmandu


Friday, February 19, 2016

Week in Review - 2/19/2016

Shai Hulud perched over Ishgard
Like many weeks before it, this week I only logged on to raid with my team. Unfortunately, we are not progressing. It pains me to say it, but when we had a pick-up Ninja last week we were doing much better and seeing steady progress. Now we're back to wiping in add phase of Savage Alexander Round 3 (A3S). Next week the game will add new rounds to Alexander and we will push into that new content leaving the old behind. I'm tempted to finish leveling up my Paladin this coming weekend, but I'm not sure I'll have the mental fortitude.

As a simple Valentine's Day gesture, I moved all my wife's old Pokémon from previous generations up to the Pokémon Bank. Her Blastoise Squirt from Leaf Green to her motley crew in White 2. Now I've turned my attention to a project I've always wanted to do, but will probably never finish. I'm getting all the Pokémon out of their respective games - starting with the original 151 from Fire Red. So far I've got all three starters, Caterpie, Weedle, Pidgey, Rattata, and Spearow secreted away to my new "Pokémon Zoo" project.

This looks nice!
This week Kathmandu stayed up late building the first module of his new research center. I scoured the solar system in order to find some new building materials. Hoping to find an abandoned Apex laboratory with research equipment, instead I stumbled into a USCM base full of robots. I cleaned out the inhabitants and set to work in the lower recesses of the base. I made sure to replace all their light metal and fancy lights with cobblestone and torches. No instead of a futuristic base, it looks like a paleolithic domicile. 

When my wife is too sleepy to focus on TV, but wants to feel happy as she falls asleep, she asks me to play Valkyria Chronicles. This week I finished up Chapter 2 which means I have access to the beginnings of Squad 7. Instead of taking characters who I know are statistically the best in their field, I'm trying to get to know members of Squad 7 that I never really used before. Recently, Rosie proved herself as MVP by climbing up to a rooftop and raining a storm of bullets down into our enemies. Who needs snipers when you have Rosie?


Technically this is not a multiplayer game, but almost every morning TOP & Deez chat for at least an hour about the current and upcoming events going on in FFRK. We did not get a chance to play any other game this week, so we thought we'd highlight a game we definitely share on a daily basis, even if we can't technically play it together. 

This week in FFRK I conquered my 3rd Ultimate boss, Maduin. I have claimed Terra's Pendant as my reward. Previously, I beat Yunalesca and Beatrix. I threw myself at Rubicante, but it didn't go well. The rest of the Ultimates I have skipped out of fear. I did end up using one Mythril, but not out of necessity. After getting to 15% a few times, I thought a little extra boost would help me get over that threshold rather than waiting to get a lucky break. I used Advance & Retaliate with Gilgamesh's Draw Fire while the Barrier is up. Eiko's Emerald Light was key to victory after Mass Dispel was cast on my team around 50%. I love this game.

- TOP           

I can't believe this is the first time I'm talking about FFRK! This game has stolen 7-20 hours of my life per week over the past 5 months. I don't have anything profound to say about it this week other than that I love it. TOP and I have long been of the idea that the newer 3D characters needed 2D sprite treatment in the same way that many older 2D Final Fantasy games have been ported to 3DS with upgraded 3D models. Mixing and matching characters to build a team is also great. I'm just pissed I didn't overcome Maduin (Ultimate) this week!

- Deezer

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Felin Files #5 - Lathasia Expanse III Prime

Planetary Explorer Kathmandu here.

The Planet Does Have These Weird Things
Before setting out into the unknown, I decided to check out the planet that I've been orbiting while stranded on the nearby moon. The first thing I can say about this new world is that it's huge. The gravity here is downright oppressive. I nearly broke my ankle just stepping down a steep slope. Every little bump has great potential to crush my bones under their own weight. The creatures that inhabit this planet were nearly identical to the ones that plagued me on the second moon above, but fighting them here was an entirely different experience in this gravity.

Do you have a friend on the 2nd moon?
I was somewhat surprised to learn that Lathasia Expanse III is not uninhabited. There is quite a diverse population living on the planet. I found a human hiker camped out by another abandoned mine leading me to believe this must have been a mining colony at one time. There is also an Avian, a Glitch and an Apex living in similarly designed homes scattered across the surface. I assume they know each other, but we didn't spend a lot of time in discussion. I tried to ignore their possessions. I need to give up my old ways and focus on exploring this vast, wonderful universe.

Hello, my new friend!

- Kathmandu


Monday, February 15, 2016

Realm Reborn Exposé!

Everywhere I turn, I find rave reviews and awards being given out to Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and its expansion Heavensward. It makes me feel like I'm on crazy pills. I often feel like I'm in some kind of minority, but just logging in and chatting with players I can find dozens of people just like me. This does not include the dozens that I can't find because they've already quit or taken a long hiatus. I want to speak honestly for a moment about what exactly I think is wrong with Final Fantasy XIV as of February, 2016.

First of all, I want to state for the record that I do think FFXIV is fundamentally a good game. I've played it since the disastrous 1.0 launch, all through the reboot of A Realm Reborn, and up until recently. While I've felt discontent for quite a long time, I've never truly given up on the game. I could go on and on about what I think the game does really well, but as I've pointed out there are numerous sites out there singing its praises. In my own opinion, I think the game really shines at the entry level. I wonder if reviewers are loading up the game for the first time, creating fresh characters and running around within the first 45 levels as they write their reviews. Some of the most fun I've had in the game in the last six months is starting up a brand new character and experiencing the early parts of the game - making new friends or running low-level content with my wife. This casual, entry-level content is really enjoyable.

The real problems set in when you hit the level cap and begin the long grind of MMO end-game. Since A Realm Reborns launch, the end-game has consisted primarily of three things. First, you do your daily quests and dungeon roulettes to amass points to purchase gear upgrades. Second, you fight primals - which are instanced boss fights - that typically drop a weapon or accessory to help you upgrade your gear. Finally, there is the end-game raid which has consisted of 4 distinct rounds of boss fights (similar to and often including primal-type monsters). I choose to omit the Crystal Tower and Void Ark style of raiding because this is mostly used to patch in holes and upgrade alternative jobs due to the gear being significantly less powerful than the aforementioned triad of content.

  • Daily Dungeon Roulette

The Game Has Great Characters
Grinding points - called tomestones - to get gear upgrades is actually a really great system on the surface. The implementation, however, feels designed to get me systematically hating every single dungeon released into the game. The most efficient way to cap out your tomestones every week is to run what's called Expert Roulette. There are - of course - less efficient ways, but basically 4-5 runs of Expert Roulette (once per day) and you're done for the week. However, despite being called a "roulette" which might imply randomly selecting a dungeon from all "Expert" level dungeons, it really only pools from the same 3 dungeons - now 2 dungeons as of Heavensward - and no other. So as you're doing your Expert Roulette - you're basically playing the same 2 dungeons every single day for four months - or until you get fed up and stop doing it all together.

Typically when new dungeons are released, I run through them like a kid on Christmas. I'm wow! and oh! and neat! every little thing they chose to include in the dungeon. I love the way they construct them in this game, and I love their liberal, lore-sensitive use of previous Final Fantasy monsters and bosses to populate them. The Final Fantasy fan in me eats this for breakfast. But flash forward 3 months and I'd rather jab pencils into my eyes than set foot in these two new dungeons, because the game itself has caused me to hate them one by one. It's painful process to go through, literally every patch. Two new dungeons you'll love, but eventually hate! I feel like this problem would easily be solved if Expert Roulette simply pooled from a bigger selection of dungeons! Instead of 50% chance of the dungeon you just ran yesterday (and 100% chance you'll hate every minute of it), you would see those dungeons less and less the more they added. This alone would alleviate some of the pain.

  • The Primals

Have I mentioned I love Shiva?
The primals are subjectively speaking the best part of the game. I love every primal fight so much. Even ones people typically hate, I pretty much enjoy doing above all else. The problem with primals, however, is that they are almost always put into the game as stepping stones to bridge gear gaps. This means they grow obsolete fairly quickly. So there becomes less reason to do them over time (like most MMO content these days) but since they are released with better gear already in the game, they don't become obsolete every new patch, but literally within a week or two. It becomes more and more difficult to get primal teams going when there's very little incentive to do them. Sometimes - as with Bismarck - the fight is obsolete the day it is implemented, because it is a stepping stone to another primal (Ravana).

  • End-Game Raids

Bahamut's Teraflare - Epic!
Finally, you have the real end-game raid. For A Realm Reborn this was "the Binding Coils of Bahumut" commonly referred to as Coil. Heavensward basically carbon copied the exact formula but rebranded the content and aesthetics as Alexander - a primal without an interesting primal fight. For a long time - and even today - these end-game, high tier raids are what have kept me interested in the game when everything else has driven me crazy with tedium. The inherent problem with both sets of content is its restricting lock-out system. Originally, Coil could only be done once a week and not again. This restriction lessened over time to a point where you can take people in who have cleared, but you get substantially less of a reward the more of those people you bring. Even still, the level of difficulty and the restrictions on entry force people to group into necessary static teams to clear the content weekly without any decrease in available loot. As a result, outside of the 8-man team colloquially referred to as "your static" there has been very little reason to ever play or interact with other human beings at the end of the game (aside from finding new statics, and replacing static members). It's quite restrictive and adds to a very anti-social mentality for an MMO. While their are guilds and linkshells, the utility of these groupings has been extremely minimal as there is very little these larger groups can do together as a team.

Coil remains one of my all-time favorite end-game raids in an MMO that I've played. It was challenging and the feeling of completing it was sensational. The story made you feel like you were saving the world from utter destruction, and the challenge left you feeling like you'd really proven yourself as a player. Unfortunately, I haven't had either experience with Alexander at all. From its inception, I've been underwhelmed. The story (loosely given reason to even do Alexander) was all crammed into an easy mode - unlike Coil - that was completed in a single day. So there's no surprise victory fanfare for actually completing the end-game tier raid. Therefore this harder mode where the good loot drops offers no in-game motivation to complete. It's just a blatant loot carrot on a stick completely undisguised. The bosses themselves are boring and the final two instances are grueling and unpleasant to even attempt. It remains one of my least favorite end-game raids of an MMO that I've played.

Alexander Core - Derpy!
Not liking Alexander seems to be common, but even if I am in the absolute minority about this content,  I'm extremely distressed that after two years and a major expansion, Final Fantasy XIV has only managed to maintain a status quo. Although a patch comes every 3-4 months, it's like nothing has really changed since first hitting Level 50. Now I'm level 60 and I'm doing exactly the same thing I was doing a year ago. Running dungeons until I grow nauseous at the thought of them has really lost its appeal (if it ever had one). The same obtuse player lock-out systems that Coil had continues to be a burden on actual progression and casual grouping for Alexander. I was hoping for something different, something inclusive. I wanted an end-game that would take time to complete, challenge me, but also allow me to play with a wider variety of people and not the same seven people I always play with. Overall, I wanted things to be fun as they are leveling up.

  • Conclusion

Final Fantasy XIV has a lot to offer and a lot to like but over time, it's grown tiresome. The end-game hasn't evolved enough to be anything more than a series of carrots on sticks. Each new carrot invalidating the last, but all the sticks are identical. Nothing ever truly changes, and you plod ever onward on a quest for gear for gear's sake. I know - I know! A lot of people will tell me this is how all MMO are created, particularly successful ones. Does it really have to be this way? I know that for a long time it wasn't the standard in MMO genre. This new style really is not for me, and honestly - despite it's great cast of characters, it's very well balanced job system, and an amazing story and soundtrack - Final Fantasy XIV probably isn't going to be played by me much longer unless they take a stark new direction on their end-game content. I just can't do the same things over and over for another two years hoping that it will change when it consistently never does.

Disagree? Let me know in the comments! I love a good disagreement.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Felin Files #4 - Ship Repairs

It is I, Kathmandu, Pocket Dimension Conqueror.

Morning Exercise!
I lowered myself down from the underground cabins after resting my Felin eyes and was greeted by the glow of a mysterious door. I have heard tale of these enigmatic portals to other dimensions full of danger and (more importantly, I must say) treasure. Naturally, I steeled myself for the worst and stepped through the threshold to face whatever challenge the universe decided to bury under Lathasia Expanse III-b. I was certain I have seen worse in my nine lives.

Who Could Resist This Temptation?
The other side of this portal put me inside some kind of metallic ark. With catlike reflexes I was able to dodge lasers, fire traps and pools of scalding lava. Disappointed that I could not learn more about this unusual place, I collected my reward and returned to the moon on which I was stranded. Not without taking some photo evidence of my accomplishments, of course. Inside the box was a fancy space helmet that I will try out the next time I'm in space - naturally.

Challenge Accepted!

Fearless Kathmandu 
Just below this portal to a pocket dimension, I found the ores necessary to repair the ship's thrusters. This deep into the planet, I am amazed at the abundance or minerals and metals. The next time I need to hammer out some armor, I should perhaps head straight down into the depths and not spend too much time along the surface. After core collection, I was able to get the ship to lock on to my position and beam me up. Who knew it could reach me this far underground?

After the ship repairs were complete, I set off to a nearby outpost to fix the FTL drive.
I was not pleased with the welcome wagon.

Dogs!? Why'd it have to be dogs!?

- Kathmandu


Friday, February 12, 2016

Week in Review - 2/12/2016

  • Pokémon Fire Red & Leaf Green (Gameboy Advance)
Leaf is so cute!
Yes. You read that correctly. I fired up each copy of this game from 2004 in a Pokémon Project I'd been dreaming up for exactly one year. Unfortunately, I have no way to trade from Fire to Leaf anymore which puts a damper on this super secret project that I will never finish. Also, it appears Fire Red was corrupted or its internal battery is long gone because the save game was deleted and the game crashed when I talked to Mom. Leaf Green is still going strong, though. More on this to come in the future - perhaps. 

  • Starbound (PC / Steam
Challenge accepted!
Kathmandu's legend continues to grow. Over the weekend I convinced my wife to join him on some adventures around the universe. She rolled up her own Felin (mod race) named Vana Snow. They make a cute couple! Kathmandu showed her the ropes and helped her get her own core fragments. She insisted she progress her own character or he would have loaned her some. He showed her around his secret base, but encouraged her to build her own. Kathmandu does not like sharing.

  • Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)
[Insert Joke About Eating Tatsu]
It occurred to me that too much time had passed since my last foray around Mira. I logged into Xenoblade hoping to get another chapter done, but was promptly greeted by a multitude of quests I'd left undone. I began plugging away at them and managed to cap out my Affinity score with Lin. I've replaced her tanking supremacy with L for now, but he's about 15 levels behind Lin. Hopefully, he steps up his game before we have to fight a serious boss. 

- TOP 

My opinion on this game is evolving. I've changed from Knight to Machinist and spend a considerable amount of time researching and evolving mutations on to my Machinist abilities. The levels of customization in this game are the real shining gem of its gameplay. The way you can define your Final Fantasy jobs and roles within a party is tremendously involved and fun. Once I feel Machinist is established, I hope to turn my attention to Blue Mage. This week also marked the first time both brothers and both wives got to adventure together. It was so much more fun than our duet and trio excursions. I hope we get a lot more full party adventures soon. 


Unfortunately, I have not played FFE enough over the past week to form any new stance. I'm still playing with everyone, but the progress I've made hasn't changed my opinion. I still struggle to come to terms with how deceptively shallow the depth of the game is so far. While the Job and Ability system is robust and deep, it's the only aspect of FFE that appears to have gotten special attention. Missions are straightforward and bland. There's no story on the surface to motivate you. At this point, I'm more motivated by the prospect of unlocking new outfits than I am by the actual gameplay. Nevertheless, I will march forward with high spirits in hopes the game will win me over!

- Deez

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Felin Files #3 - Beneath the Temple

Ruin Explorer Kathmandu, at your service.

I can go no farther!
I ran into some trouble when I ran out of torches deep in the caverns below the abandoned mine. I didn't seem to have any materials available to make more. It is very unlike me to be this careless, but I suppose I never intended to dive this deep into the planet. I simply continued downward wondering "What will I find next?" Ruins beneath more ruins. Needless to say, I returned to the surface to resupply my stock of torches in order to press even deeper. 

Duel Wielding Action Cat
Back on the surface, I smelted down my iron and copper and made myself some new protective gear and some kick-ass iron sun glasses. It will help protect my eyes from poison spitting lizard men, and those awkward times I shine the flashlight into my face by accident. I poked around my impromptu cavern campsite. Just below my smelting area, I discovered a brand new cave system which held a multitude of new arms. Among the gear, I picked out a new pistol that shoots incendiary rounds. Now, I dual wield them like a cat-boss. The machine pistol lays down perfect suppression while the incendiary rounds burn my foes into pixels. 

What is this strange place?
To the east of my camp there is some bizarre landscape that makes me feel lighter than air. There are also some peculiar creatures living there that I have not found anywhere else on this planet. Naturally, they want to eat my insides so I burninate them to death with my new gun. This area of the planet is strange to me, but I do not want to waste too much time exploring it just yet. I still have to get the materials under the earth to repair my ship. It also happens that below the ancient ruins, below the Avian-looking ruins, below the abandoned mine, there is a decrepit, old cabin. I rest here for the night wondering what else I may find in the depths below. 

Camping in the Cabin

- Kathmandu


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Felin Files #2 - Beneath the Mine

Kathmandu here.

Life in the Mines
The abandoned mine I found on the surface of this planet in Lathasia Expanse has proven to be both exciting and lucrative. I have continued to descend with my trusty side arm silencing all the tongue-bats that stand in my way. Among the crates and boxes, I have managed to salvage a lot of rope, bandages, and some lose bits of ore I may be able to re-purpose - mostly copper and iron. I'm not sure how long I will have to remain on this planet, but it is good to know that I will have a lot of supplies from this mine to settle in if necessary. 

A City Gate, Perhaps?
The deeper I go the closer I get to the precious materials I need to fix the ship. I hoped the mine would take me farther than it has, but eventually I got to the bottom. That's where things got even stranger. Beneath the mine, I have discovered some ancient ruins. They look Avian in nature, and this is reinforced by some strange pillars I found that looked like long forgotten nests. I wonder if stumbling into these ruins is what stopped production in the mine - perhaps they dug too deep and uncovered something they should not have disturbed. As if to emphasize this, a crate right at the edge of the mine held a working machine pistol that I add to my arsenal. 

Are These Nests?

I trudge deeper through the ruins, ever the intrepid explorer. My curiosity is insatiable as I make my way farther and farther into the earth. Although I have had to widen a few paths along the way, I continue to find my way down into the depths laid out before me. Did the miners abandon the mines to excavate these strange ruins? Even more curious is that under the possible Avian ruins, I found more ruins of unknown origin. I've had to lower myself down some dangerous chasms, but deeper still I intend to go. I'm not sure I'll find conclusive evidence about what happened in the history of this little moon in the Lathasia Expanse. 

Who Built This?

- Kathmandu


Friday, February 5, 2016

Week in Review - 2/5/2016

Well, it's been quite a long time since I've done this column.

Nara Lyn says hello!
My relationship with Final Fantasy XIV feels like it's about to break. Blog forthcoming. That said, Blade and Soul launched at a very opportune time to steal away my MMO attention. It's free and it's awesome. The only problem I'm having with it is that no one else seems to be getting hooked. Everyone has dipped their toe, but no one seems ready to commit to it. The login queues have lightened up and I find myself online for an hour or two every day, but I'm all alone!

I don't have pictures of Shai on this PC.
I only log in to FF14 these days to raid with my main team. I was raiding on two teams for over a year, but finally let one of them go. My wife has all but quit, too. For us the game is stagnant and the end game isn't enjoyable. I only play about 4 hours a week - 2 hours 2 days a week - to work on Alexander Gordius progress. It's been insanely slow as people have left the group and the game one by one. We're finally seeing some progress, but an entirely new raid opens up later this month. We won't make it in time. 

Not Actual House!
I'm not actually playing Minecraft. I turned my account over to my children along with my old PC. They now disappear into Minecraft every night. I only mention it here because I was in the game showing my daughter how to build herself a shelter and locate her way home. It's funny what they chose to prioritize compared to an adult. It's a neat social experiment to see how they spend their time and resources. One thing I have learned, when the zombie apocalypse comes, they're doomed. 

This is my current desktop background.
I'm getting back into Starbound. It's been two patches since "Jack Unbound" abruptly ended, so a lot of new content for me to explore. You may have noticed me sneak Kathmandu into my blog last weekend and hopefully I can keep you updated on his adventures. Since restarting, though, I've thought long and hard how to get back into Jack's adventure. There are a few fans on YouTube patiently awaiting his triumphant return. I'm still trying to work out the details of that story.

Valkyria Chronicles has been in the news quite a bit recently. There is the upcoming VC Remaster coming to PS4 and Valkyria: Azure Revolution coming out later this year. All this talk about one of my favorite games of all time was enough to push me over the edge. I installed the Steam version I bought long ago (hoping to encourage a VC2 or VC3 port) and began protecting Gallia one more time. The characters and the art is beautiful. The game itself is extremely fun.


Onion Knight!

Seeking a game I could play online with my wife, my brother, and his wife, we all bought this game when it launched last week. The last game we all played together was Fantasy Life and I think compared to that, it has fallen short of our expectations. However, it's fun and cute and my wife and I seem to be enjoying it together quite a lot. I'm tanking on Knight class. My wife is healing on White Mage. The game really pulls a lot of weight with nostalgia. I'm now running around in full Onion Knight armor.

- TOP           


Final Fantasy Explorers has yet to addict me. I was immediately intrigued when TOP introduced it to me, prefacing that it would be similar to Fantasy Life. Between us and our wives, we played the hell out of that game! Unfortunately, I have not been hooked in the same way by FFE. I've played about 4-6 hours, but I find it lacking. Fantasy Life feels immediately limitless, but FFE feels as if it's based solely on grinding. I do feel like I've only scratched the surface and I'm not giving up yet. 

- Deez