Hello everybody! I’m back with another Blade & Soul preset post ?
This time, I’m uploading a female Gon!
If you follow me on instagram or twitter (or chat with me in-game), you may know that I recently appearance changed my Destroyer. I loved her old look, but something about it just wasn’t quite right for me. Female Gon tend to have a pretty classic face shape, and while my initial Destroyer preset was made with the thought of making her a bit more “Jin” in build (so she’s quite petite compared to most out-of-the-box female Gon and I actively avoided any of the more popular FemGon hairstyles, etc), I did keep that particular trait. But at some point I got it into my head to play with the character builder to see if I could make a Gon with more unique facial structure and less default Gon to as to make my Destroyer feel a bit more personalized.
I ended up totally falling in love with my new “just for fun” preset experiment and paid the money for the appearance change voucher, so I’m going to release my old Destroyer preset here just in case anyone likes her enough to use as their own – or, at least, as a base/jumping off point for their own creation, if not using her exactly.
If you’re friends with me for any long period of time, one of the things you end up having to deal with is how much I like video game music.
I source this love to being a pretty sheltered kid – I wasn’t allowed to listen to the radio, but I was given pretty much free reign in regards to soundtracks. Disney movies, of course, were a big favorite for me (I still sing a certain song from Mulan to myself every time I encounter Attila in Civ 5), as well as various Broadway shows (while I never made the jump to being a true theatre kid, I went through a Phantom of the Opera phase like so many others) and instrumental movie soundtracks. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not musically inclined at all, really – I played both oboe and cello briefly but the combination of ADD and my instructor’s palpable frustration with my short-term memory being garbage caused me to throw in the towel pretty quickly. But the few times I could manage to figure out a song on my own when fiddling around with a piano or keyboard? Always, always movie-related. I’m pretty sure my mom got tired of my showing off my attempt at the Indiana Jones theme on her piano to any unsuspecting visitors!
So despite my lack of technical talent, I still saw the world in terms of how it should be scored. My best friend and I spent huge amounts of our time in middle school trading soundtracks (she introduced me to Star Wars first by way of its score, and when she got me to play some Sonic game with her the only thing I was interested in was using my tape recorded to capture some stage’s bgm that I found particularly attractive) and making lists of how we’d soundtrack particular situations, people, etc. We were lucky enough to be in an “advanced” English program together that actually allowed us to make radio plays and short movies with our classmates, and I’m pretty sure we annoyed the hell out of our classmates when we demanded to put in the extra work of background music for some scenes. I still remember the look on one kid’s face when I told him I thought we should edit in a particular Jackson Browne song as the audio for a scene about some video we were making for class. I think both due to the fact that I was a 12-year-old suggesting a Jackson Browne song (hey, my dad was OBSESSED with him and that love turned out to be genetic) and the fact that I was voluntarily suggesting more work. Heh.
Anyhow, all this is to say, that it was probably completely unsurprising that when I started playing video games in college, one of the aspects that could hook me on a game was its soundtrack. Years later, my friends still have to deal with my nerding out over the music in a new game and spamming their messenger with various youtube links to whatever tracks have caught my fancy.
After doing this the other day with regard to some music in Blade & Soul (ohgod I love the faction pvp music so much), it occurred to me that I could totally inflict that habit on unsuspecting readers here, too.
And thus, this post is born. I’m thinking I’ll do a few posts for variety – favorite character themes, favorite battle themes, favorite ambient background themes, etc. But this one, the first one, will simply by my overall top fifteen video game tracks of all time, with one caveat: only one pick per game. Otherwise this list would be way, way too weighted towards the Tales Of and Shin Megami Tensei series.
So if you know me at all, you know that I’m one of those weird people still playing Skyrim.
I currently have about six playthroughs with various flavours for each one, and just this morning, I’ve finally decided to do a full-mage, all cloth armour, Necromancy/Conjuration/Corrupted Restoration type of character.
Meet Velvet, so named because her eyes were initially blood-red and thus: red velvet. I’ve since changed them to bright green to better match the alteration defense spells and the symbols on her outfit. I do this kind of thing a lot.
But this post isn’t about Velvet, though perhaps I’ll document some of her later adventures. No, this post is about my new friend, the newest light of my Skyrim life, M.H.A.R.P.I.N. – as in one of skinnytecboy’s Carry On Skyrim followers.
In my typical (and yes, I know, bad modding practice) style, I like to add boatloads of mods before I start a new playthrough and then sort of just encounter them all naturally as I wander around Skyrim. The best encounters happen when I’ve totally forgotten about a mod’s presence, you know?
In this case, I was taking the long route to Saarthal on my newbie Necromancer (I’d used Another Life to start her at the College of Winterhold) and was taking the long route in order to avoid a prowling Nazguul (I’ve learned the hard way that the Witch King spawns right on the road to Saarthal and passes through Winterhold and I will die if he even looks at me) and suddenly got hit with an eerie voice echoing “keep moving forward… keep moving forward…” near the base of the Shrine of Azura.
So it looks like my instinct to avoid any and all character/plot spoilers for Tales of Xillia just in case Namco decided to localize it turned out to be right. This past week, the upcoming English localization for Tales of Xillia was announced by Hideo Baba. It was also said that if Xillia does well in its 2013 NA/Europe releases, they’ll be strongly considering giving us the upcoming Xillia 2 as well. So all in all, excellent news for English-speaking Tales fans!
Tales of Xillia is a deviation from the classic formula in that it allows you to choose which of the two lead characters you want to focus on – you’ll experience differences in the plot and certain enemies based on your choice. I’ll probably play both paths, of course, but I plan on going Jude’s route first – from watching his gameplay videos, he seems to be a martial artist with extremely high agility, which is basically my ideal Tales type. Or for more of a Tales reference-heavy way of saying it, he looks like the artes of Senel Coolidge (Tales of Legendia protagonist and one of my all-time favorite video game characters to control in battle) with the ability to run in, hit the enemy, and be across the field before said enemy can react (a trademark of high-agility types like Tales of the Abyss swordsman Guy Cecil, another of my favorites). He also gets a cute Leon Magnus costume, so, uh, yeah. I think they basically crawled into my brain to create my perfect Tales character when Jude was conceived – not that I’m complaining. At all.
Milla Maxwell, on the other hand, seems to be more of the classic Tales ‘Magic Swordsman’ type. Think Kratos Aurion and Zelos Wilder from Tales of Symphonia, Flynn Scifo from Tales of Vesperia, or really any of the Tales of Destiny characters that wielded Swordians in battle. These characters fight with a mix of flashy offensive sword attacks and equally impressive magical skills to allow them to exploit enemy’s elemental weaknesses – some even have healing abilities in their bag of tricks as well. These types tend to be incredibly versatile in battle, which may explain why Milla seems to generally be the more popular of the two leads – at least from what I’ve seen on YouTube.
Speaking of Flynn Scifo, if you were one of the many who played Tales of Vesperia and enjoyed it (or just read Mento’s review of it and thought it sounded interesting), you might be happy to know that the English dub of the Vesperia prequel movie has been released and its now available for purchase at Amazon.
Tales of Vesperia ~The First Strike~ covers the incident that lead Vesperia main character Yuri Lowell to leave the Imperial Knights – an event that was briefly alluded to in the game a few times, but never really expanded upon. While the plot largely focuses on Flynn and Yuri (Flynn is actually given far more backstory here than he was in the game, so my fellow Flynn fangirls/boys should take note~) and some new characters, you’ll also see cameos from a few other familiar faces.
Overall, the movie is very well-done and quite interesting if you found Vesperia’s characters and world even a little bit compelling. There are some voice acting changes for the recurring cameo characters – for example, Rita Mordio is no longer voiced by Michelle Ruff, but by Luci Christian instead – but Sam Riegel and Troy Baker do return as Flynn and Yuri, respectively, which is nice.
So all in all, not a bad time to be an English-speaking Tales fan – let’s hope that NB keeps up with this streak of actually localizing things, because that dry period in between the original Vesperia (Dawn of the New World never happened, shut up) and Tales of Graces F was pretty sad for all of us non-Japanese speakers!
That’s why, in the interest of getting more things localized down the line, I hope that if any of this looks even remotely interesting to you, you’ll pre-order Xillia (whenever it becomes available to do so) and purchase (rather than torrent) the Vesperia movie. NB has basically said that money talks or they walk in this situation, so let’s do what we can!
I did warn you all that I would occasionally leave my RPG comfort zone for something a little more faster-paced and visceral. Sega’s Binary Domain is a near-future (2080! Mark your calendars!) third-person shooter that follows a “Rust Crew” – a SWAT-like task force from a multinational organization called IRTA that monitors and enforces a global law that prohibits human-like robots – as they traipse across a Tokyo that’s been largely devastated by the rising sea level caused by global warming. They’re on the hunt for Yoji Amada, a rogue Japanese robotics manufacturer that has evidently been creating “Hollow Children” – a group of robots that wear an ersatz human skin and are incognizant of their own mechanical origins, sort of like Rachael the Replicant from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.
In fact, a considerable amount of influence in this game seems to come from the movies. Creator Toshihiro Nagoshi takes a leaf from fellow Japanese game developer Hideo Kojima’s (of Metal Gear fame) book in how he uses popular movies as his muse for much of the narrative beats and set-ups in his games. That’s not meant to be pejorative, however, as he does this as every bit as adroitly as Kojima, putting his own unique spins on rather goofy American action movie tropes. With Binary Domain, we have clear allusions to Blade Runner (the hidden people robots, previously utilized by Kojima for his seminal work Snatcher for MSX and PS1), the I, Robot movie (much of the regular robots’ almost Apple-like design), the Terminator series and AI: Artificial Intelligence. That isn’t to say Nagoshi didn’t draw from literary sources as well; there are also many references made to Isaac Asimov and his legendary laws of robotics, including the Frankenstein Complex – though many of the automatons you meet seem to disregard the “do no harm to humans” rule.
The strongest source of inspiration comes from Nagoshi’s earlier and perhaps more notable work with the Yakuza series. The Yakuza games are also guided somewhat by the movies that inspired them and a recent foray into third-person gunplay for the series (in its non-canon Dead Souls spin-off) seems to be a lead-in to this new IP from the developers. It’s rather telling that at one point in the game, you’ll fight some disturbing prototype Hollow Children that move and act just like the zombies from Dead Souls.
As for the game itself, there’s plenty of non-story elements with which to vouch for it as well. All of your enemies are mechanical, with a significant range of different appearances and functions – most are militaristic in nature, either as fodder grunts or massive machines of war, though some are repurposed from more mundane tasks, such as a scorpion-like crane lifter robot. An aspect the game frequently plays around with, especially with its bosses, are the immense size of some of the robots. An early foe is an enormous spider-like robot that was originally built to fight off warships on the massive seawall that Tokyo is now enclosed in. Though the game is rife with a few unfortunate “convenient rocket launcher” set-ups, these bosses are handled quite well, excepting a few that have too much health that drag their battles on a tad too long.
I should clarify what I said earlier about this being a visceral shooter, since there’s clearly not much in the way of gore. What I’m referring to instead is the amazing visual and aural feedback you get from pinging bullets off a robot’s outer core, as shrapnel will fly off on every successful hit. You can clearly see the damage you’re causing and the deteriorating state of your opponent with every bullet. Sounds grisly, but keep in mind that there is nothing to separate the robots you’re shooting with the tin cans you might practice on – these robots are revealed to be utterly without conscience or empathy, unlike a few others that might raise question marks, so there’s nothing holding back a squeamish player. What’s more, the game has a bit of fun with some of the unique characteristics of the robots – a head shot is no longer an instant kill, but rather a means to disable and confuse a robot into attacking its companions. After playing this game and marvelling at the range of cool enemy ideas on offer, I did wonder why more games don’t use robots for their innumerable antagonistic forces. Maybe the Star Wars prequels have turned everyone off?
Binary Domain’s other major distinctive feature is the team trust aspect, as well as being able to communicate them verbally with a microphone and rather temperamental voice-recognition software. The way you answer your comrades’ questions and display your prowess in battle will either raise or lower their trust in you, which in turn is dependent on how willing they are to accept your commands. They may not acquiesce with you asking them to put themselves in danger to cover you, but if you’ve taken the time to impress on them your ability to lead, they’ll follow you to Hell and back. Maintaining a high trust level with everyone is also instrumental in getting the best ending available. It’s a master stroke in rewarding players for displays of amazing skill and displaying empathy towards their myriad companions both, and yet another example of the game’s stellar feedback.
The game isn’t perfect though. The AI of your companions is rarely what you’d call hypercompetent, as they’ll often either ignore the enemies or get themselves into a critical state and will even walk in front of you while you’re firing – the resulting friendly fire knocking down their trust slightly. It’s aggravating, but more or less expected in these squad-based shooters. Your comrades are also a collective bunch of mildly offensive cultural stereotypes, which may speak more to the deliberately daft action movie veneer the game wears than anything else. You have a sarcastic Brit, boisterous Americans, a taciturn and serious Chinese sniper and a polite yet slightly condescending French operative. They’re fun characters to spend time with, but they’re not going to be winning any awards for cultural sensitivity any time soon.
Overall, I found Binary Domain to be an utter delight. I’ve played enough third-person cover-based shooters to become thoroughly enervated with the format several times over, but Binary Domain offers enough to set itself apart. It drags a little, sure, but like its contemporary Vanquish (by Platinum Games) it’s filled with so many minor triumphs that it is elevated above its Western-style asinine action movie conventions. Speaking of which, it’s entirely possible Sega’s making fun of Epic Games with this game. Given its quality, I think they’ve earned the right.
Final Fantasy doesn’t really as much play these days. Many JRPG fans first became enamoured of their preferred genre because of the nonpareil output of Square-Enix (then Squaresoft) during the 90s when they released their two most critically-acclaimed games: Final Fantasy VI (or 3 in the US) for the SNES and Final Fantasy VII for the PlayStation. Yet, as the years passed and these starry-eyed JRPG fanatics found other places to call home – the crushing difficulty of Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei or Namco Bandai’s colorful Tales, to pull two examples from this very site’s recent output – the Final Fantasy franchise fell out of favour as the games got mired by some truly unfortunate bad habits such as an overly self-serious maudlin temperament, a predilection for outlandish fashion involving belts and half-shirts and an increasingly hoary turn-based combat system (though it’s worth noting XII as an exception). Even the most ardent fans of the franchise (among their numbers I, almost begrudgingly, include myself) weren’t too thrilled with the milquetoast offerings of the series’ two MMOs, the inclusion of which within the main numbered entries seemed like a slap in the face for the many who enjoyed the single-player story-driven experiences of their antecedents.
When talking about Final Fantasy XIII specifically, however, most of the detractors point to its extreme linearity as its most egregious shortcoming. While RPG fans appreciate a strong narrative, they tend to resent an inflexible railroad of an experience that offers no deviation or respite, nor do they appreciate being presented with worlds of stunning grandeur (graphically the Final Fantasy games have always reigned among their contemporaries) that they cannot interact with; they’re only able to observe this picturesque wallpaper from the singular path stretching endlessly before them. It was clearly an issue that director Motomu Toriyama, who has been – along with producer Yoshinori Kitase – the chief creative force of the series since the warmly received tenth entry, felt needed resolving. As a result, the game’s direct sequel FFXIII-2 not only does away with the unwavering path model almost entirely but even pokes fun at the idea of an unerring course.
Final Fantasy XIII-2, first and foremost, requires that you have beaten Final Fantasy XIII, or are at least familiar with that world, its facets and its characters. There is some manner of an in-game “Datalog” that fills you in on everything you need to know, but the game doesn’t actively spend a lot of time explaining what exactly happened during the events of the previous game or who any of the returning characters are. You play as Serah Farron, who spent the entirety of FFXIII as a crystal statue, and the new character Noel Kreiss, who has something of an “I Am Legend” complex going on as the last surviving human being in the bleak distant future he calls home.
It’s now, when I start describing even the most basic elements of the plot, that we encounter FFXIII-2’s most consternating problem: Its story. It’s well-told, more or less, with some effecting characters that receive plenty of development and backstory to make you care about them. Their purposes are clear – Serah wants to find her AWOL sister Lightning, Noel wants to change the future to be a little less apocalyptic and even growly antagonist Caius Ballad has a sympathetic, if nihilistic and insane, mission of his own. It’s just how the game perplexingly presents the duo’s journey through time and specifically how they deal with the time paradoxes caused by the machinations of Caius and, occasionally, themselves.
A time paradox, the game will patiently explain, happens when you visit a time period that has been diverted from its original path by an incongruous event in that region’s past. Subsequently, the whole area is kind of unstable and a lot of monsters and general bad shit starts leaking through. Serah and Noel must figure out how the timeline got affected and then either fix the paradox in the present or rewind time to the point where it can be undone. The world is saved (or rather this isolated part of it) and the duo find a new gate and Quantum Leap their way to a different part of the space/time continuum, hoping to find the gate that takes them to Lightning at the end of time. To the game’s credit, it never gets as absurdly layered as, say, the movie Primer. You aren’t fixing one time paradox to find it spawned half a dozen more elsewhere, as each “episode” is largely self-contained. However, it can still be a bit of a headache to follow what’s been happening in each of the different chronological and geographical regions, especially when now-correct variants of areas/times appear after solving its past paradoxes.
The other problem I had with this game is that each of the areas (and much of the soundtrack) has been entirely recycled from Final Fantasy XIII. You’ll visit a series of locations from FFXIII-2’s progenitor in a random order, slightly modified to be a little more open. It’s perhaps fair enough that you’d be given a chance to visit all these expensively-produced backdrops with a little more freedom, especially for a game set in the same world, but it still feels a little lazy at times.
Yet there’s plenty to like about this game. The combat’s system’s mostly untouched, maintaining the six classes and paradigm shifts of its predecessor. The third slot in your party is now taken up by any of a trio of pre-assigned monsters, which can now be recruited by acquiring a monster’s crystal after defeating them in combat. The two characters and all the monsters have their own simplified “Crystariums”, the development system that also makes a return from FFXIII, except now there’s only one course for all six classes and the player can focus on developing whichever classes they want to specialize in (the monsters only have a single class each). Battles play out as they did before, with strategies that range from simply wailing on your opponents to linking magical chain attacks until they’re “staggered” – a state in which enemies are extremely susceptible to damage – then switching to physical attacks to finish them off. There’s the buffer Synergist, the debuffer Saboteur, the healer Medic and the damage-absorbing Sentinel roles to provide a sterling array of strategems with which to face down any foe. It’s all very impressive even though, to reiterate once again, it’s been transferred mostly wholesale from FFXIII.
There’s also a huge amount of side-content to find. There’s plenty of time periods and geographical areas that you never need to visit to conclude the main story that tend to offer little side-stories of their own. Some of it works – following up on mysteries, chasing down tough monsters, catching up with some secondary characters – whereas other parts don’t. For instance, the same trio of time distortion “puzzles” that involve you turning clock hands around or following a path of disappearing panels to find crystals. They’re fun initially but start to drag on a bit as they increase in difficulty. I’m also less than enamoured with the token Golden Saucer ersatz known as Serendipity – a glitzy Vegas haunt floating through the void of time and space that offers an arbitrary slots mini-game and an interminable chocobo racing mini-game. However, this degree of optional distraction is still very much appreciated after FFXIII’s minimal deviation. The achievements/trophies are far more reasonable this time around as well, with more emphasis on exploration and side-missions and less on mindless grinding.
Overall, it’s difficult to recommend FFXIII-2 even when you consider that it’s actually quite good. If you aren’t a Final Fantasy fan – or haven’t been for some time – this is not a game you could easily jump into, at least not without any fundamental knowledge of the world of FFXIII. It’s hard enough to sort out all the time-travel paradox gobbledegook without knowing who any of the characters are or why people keep talking about a giant globe suspended by a crystal pillar or “fal’Cie” and “l’Cie”. If you did enjoy FFXIII, then it’s very easy to recommend FFXIII-2 as a marginally improved sequel that keeps most of what worked and loses most of what didn’t. For everyone in between, it’s kind of a hard sell.
I don’t even know what that title means. Where is the guy? Well, let me tell you, he’s now on the XBox 360. I can’t tell you how excited I was to finally play CDProjektRed’s acclaimed PC-RPG on a system I own that can actually run it.
While Witcher II is a sequel (there’s a hint in the name), there doesn’t seem to be a lot you need to know going in. Like many RPGs with elaborately crafted narrative universes, there are plenty of tomes, scrolls, talkative NPCs and simple context around from which to pick up everything you’d want to know about the world of Witching. Geralt of Rivia seems the titular Witcher in question, though he’s not the only one. In fact, the subtitle (Assassins of Kings) also refers to Witchers, so who’s to say for sure. Digressions aside, Geralt is indeed the protagonist of this, the previous and the entire Polish novella series the games are based off. The story is technically told from the perspective of a secondary character, the hero’s bardic confidante and fellow philanderer Dandelion, who provides run-downs with his interstitial narrations and an overly prosaic description of each of the quests in the log book. Cleverly, he gives away some hints about where a quest is heading by having prior knowledge, such as acknowledging his involvement in one side-quest in particular before the player has gathered any information of his own. It’s a minor touch, but a deft one.
And really, the game’s full of clever flairs like that. I kind of backhand complimented the humble European RPG last time (and Witcher II is very much one, with its Polish development team) for coming off like enthusiastic amateurs, but Witcher II is burnished to a sheen and is subsequently perhaps the most attractive and deep RPGs I’ve ever played, trumped only perhaps by the brand new Skyrim. That isn’t to say it isn’t occasionally buggy, but that’s nothing that can’t be said about any BioWare or Bethesda (especially Bethesda) game in recent memory. Of import is that it’s well-written, looks amazing and strikes a balance with its smattering of side-quests for each of its diversely-set Acts that give players plenty to do without over-enervating them or distracting them too much from the main storyline.
The combat’s perhaps the most striking aspect, so to speak, as it will beat you down and grind you into the dirt if you throw yourself into each battle without due preparation. Geralt, though physically powerful, is but a single man and that doesn’t always bode well in battles with multiple opponents and especially not with the large monsters he’s expected to eliminate as per the Witcher’s job description. As such, players are made aware of Geralt’s skill with traps and potions, the former for debilitating opponents and the latter for buffing up Geralt to a degree that he is able to finish it off without dying in the process. It’s a brutal one-two punch that is the key to beating most of the difficult battles in the game. Part of this includes researching enemies beforehand through books and preparing the correct array of traps and potions in response. It’s very meticulous stuff and deeply appreciated in a game that could’ve easily just been another hack-and-slasher. Coupled with five very utilitarian “Signs”, it provides an extremely high level of strategic gameplay for a single-person RPG. Previously such a level of strategy, such as those of the Baldur’s Gates and Icewind Dales of yesteryear, could only be derived from having an entire diverse team of adventurers to plan tactics around.
I’ll end this review by simply stating how cool this game is. Geralt’s an interesting character from a narrative standpoint, as are the various non-humans, government agents, sorceresses and talkative monsters that he meets, and thanks to its expansive novel background it has a very well-realised universe with its many political factions, historical records and odd phenomena. The Wild Hunt in particular, an integral aspect of Geralt’s missing memories, gets ever more interesting the more we hear about it. But when I say it’s cool, I mean in terms of sheer cinematic badassery – The prologue chapters have you partaking in sieges, dodging dragons and escaping a jailbreak that almost destroys the castle the jail sits under. The rest of the game is full of similar “oh shit” moments, whether you’re standing in the midst of some grand panoramic spectacle or simply pulling off a stylish flourish of a coup de grâce, which ably resuscitates one’s abating interest after a particularly interminable fetch quest or two.
I guess my conclusion is that anyone with an interest in old-school tough computer RPGs should probably play the Witcher II, either with this enhanced 360 port or the original PC version which would no doubt look even more incredible with a powerful home system. It deserves every accolade it’s been given.