Open Tab

Yay…

A couple of days ago, while working my way through that day’s online challenge course in Everybody’s Golf, I wondered why merely logging in took a little while and why one of its holes was so full of people that the game actually began to lag. It didn’t take long to figure out that it was one of those rare few holes where players can score albatrosses and condors (read: three or four hits under par). Back then, that pack of lemmings only seemed silly and kind of sad, but since then I’ve come to understand why they were there in the first place.

After 26 hours of playing, I hadn’t managed even a simplistic sounding hole-in-one even once. Every course has its couple of par threes where one should’ve happened even by Mad Luck™ if nothing else, but to no avail. Slightly miffed by this, I first checked if the single player mode would allow you to practice a single hole. Nope. The only way to do that is to head online where every attempt is followed by having to run (or drive) back to the teeing ground for another go.

As a scrub casual golfer, I chose to challenge one of the easiest par threes in the game, solemnly swearing to score at least one hole-in-one, whatever it would take. Sure enough, after an hour and dozens of weary retries, it finally happened. What should’ve been a warm and fuzzy feeling didn’t really feel like one at all, given that this loveliest of swings was pretty much the same as the hundreds preceding it. If anything, it felt like everything just clicked together by sheer luck.

I’ve also figured out the timing of the game’s closing credits. On rank seven, it’s no longer about playing than it is about challenging previously beaten VS adversaries looking for revenge. Sadly, they’re served on a schedule of one per day, if even that, so making progress is now more about waiting for time to pass rather than wanting to play. I guess I’ll give this a few more days but once again, it seems like graceful closing curtains are but a pipe dream.

Edit: Win or lose, one chance per day. I think I’m done now.

Mashup Magnificence

Eat demonish hellfire, foul dragon!

Every now and then one might get a feeling that everything in gaming has already been seen and done. At times like that, it’s always a nice surprise to see how simply mixing and matching old ideas can turn into something fresh. Nights of Azure, a joint project between Koei Tecmo and Gust combines Dynasty Warriors and a JRPG, and at least based on its first few hours, it’s a union that works wonders! The adventure focuses on two young maidens; the able half-demon knight Arnice, and the virtuous saint Lilysse. They’ve been friends since boarding school days, and reunite after a couple of years of roaming around the world. It’s not a particularly joyous occasion, given that they meet in a town whose streets are overrun by minions of an ancient demon king. He was banished hundreds of years ago but is now showing worrisome signs of making a comeback. What’s worse, a human sacrifice is required to keep him at bay. Sadly, that honor is planned for Lilysse while Arnice is tasked to keep her safe until the ceremony can take place. It sure sucks having to pit the fate of the entire world against the life of your best friend.

Despite its gloomy premise, Nights of Azure is a dashing action-JRPG that is not afraid to brighten the dreary mood with a bit of comedy and unrestrained tomfoolery. During action-packed missions Arnice careers through the town’s streets and alleyways, slaughtering tons of small fry with abundant sword combos. To keep her company, Arnice can summon up to four Servans to her aid. They are utterly adorable, rather Pokémon-esque demons that use their own unique skills to pummel or hamper adversaries. These sidekicks are controlled by AI, but they can also use special attacks activated by Arnice. She, in turn, is capable of blocking, dodging, and delivering three kinds of blows; light, heavy, and one that consumes limited skill points for even bigger damage. With enough fighting, she can even briefly transform into a demon herself, unleashing punishment of massive proportions. As one can probably imagine, the fights are often unadulterated chaos where strategy easily gives way to mindless button mashing but damn if it isn’t loads of fun!

In-between story and side missions, Arnice takes frequent breaks in the town’s hotel where Lilysse has enlisted as a maid. You have to do something while waiting for your bleak fate, I suppose. At home base, demon blood acquired from fights can be used to resurrect new Servans found from the field, and they sure have that “gotta catch ’em all” feel to them. Time between story missions is also spent by witnessing plenty of amusing events ranging from hilariously overblown girls’ love parody to dialogue so crass and camp that it genuinely works. As expected, the hotel soon becomes a central hub for many new acquaintances, some of who might eventually be of help when trying to figure out an alternative to sacrificing Lilysse. Time will tell what will happen but for now, I’m having the greatest of time since The Witch and the Hundred Knight, and that’s saying a lot!

Could this be the coveted hole-in-one? (Nope, wasn’t)

Amidst demon slaying, I’ve been making steady progress in Everybody’s Golf. I’m still hunting for my very first hole-in-one in the entire series but after 23 hours I’ve at least managed to beat all the versus professionals of single player rank six. That’s also when the game decided to roll its closing credits. I can’t really get my head around the way Japanese developers use end credits, as this was another case where the game simply continues after them with new challenges and whatnot. I’m slightly worried that just like with The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars, this is the point where the average Joe is almost encouraged to consider the game beaten. Still, as the seventh rank is clearly a thing, I can’t help but chin up and see just how hard it gets. Thankfully it also feels like I’m slowly improving with strokes more and more often working out roughly as I planned. I still get a thorough trashing online but always find time to complete the daily challenge round. After all, every leaderboard needs people to make up the bottom half.

Stress by Relaxation

Grumpy codger happily descending towards the nearest settlement

This Saturday of mine was more or less stolen by the Australian studio Prideful Sloth and their debut game Yonder: The Cloud Catch Chronicles. It’s a story about a youngster – boy or a girl, as the player chooses – who shipwrecks on a decent-sized island full of wonders and trouble. Actually, mostly just wonders. Sure, there are random spots taken over by ominous purple fog, and the most massive monument on the island, known as the Cloud Catcher, is in pieces but surely a haphazard hero with an allure to draw in utterly cute spirits will set things straight.

Yonder is remarkably mellow in its way of not featuring combat or danger whatsoever; it’s all about exploring one beautiful scenery after another while hoarding loads of resources. The local NPCs welcome the player with open arms, soon gifting him/her with a mallet, an axe, a pickaxe, a scythe, and even a fishing rod. That quintet is more than enough to harvest pretty much anything that cannot be picked up otherwise, so the first few hours are merrily spent just running around picking up a myriad of stuff. Of course, individual items are hardly usable by themselves so making use of craftsmanship and new recipes, they’re turned into more complex fabrications. The handy hero can even restore run-down farms to construct fields for veggies or stalls for the local wildlife, first tamed with their favorite food and then led to the farm to contribute for the greater good.

Not only do the residents want their cloud thingy fixed, they’re also a steady source of side missions. Even if those are essentially just variations of “fetch/build me this”, they keep the game rolling quite nicely. An industrious explorer can also find dozens of cats waiting to be rescued, as well as spirits that use power by numbers to purge the island of its depressing spots of purple. Not that those spots would be lethal or anything; they’re just an eyesore that needs to go away from a world otherwise so bright and jolly.

All this lovable pacifism is reinforced with online. Contact with other players only happens via geocaches they’ve left behind. Wherever you are, you can always select an item from your inventory to be found by someone else. It’s such a gratuitous and unselfish act that I used it a lot, purely out of sheer joy. Whenever you bump into a gift left by a fellow player you don’t even know, and especially when it’s something grand from your own perspective, it feels as cool as the unspoken bond in Journey!

Enthralled by all this, I wolfed down the roughly seven-hour story mode in one sitting, only to be left at a standstill after that. While post-game would be the perfect moment to genuinely start enjoying the world of Yonder, it’s also the moment when its weaknesses start shining through. Not until this point did I realize just how horrible the map design truly is. When trying to get to a point that is seemingly nearby, it’s easy to spend 15 minutes going around all sorts of insurmountable obstacles only to realize you’re now twice as far away from your original goal. Also, should you want to construct something, it’s way too easy to not have a single ingredient which then requires a couple of other ingredients which then require 3-4 other ingredients, and while trying to cope with all that, the game whines about how your backpack is full and could use unloading at the nearest farm and the nearest farm is not really that near at all and… No… Just… No. Most of this isn’t apparent during the story when everything is new and lovely but as soon as the end credits have rolled, the remaining content turns downright repulsive.

Prideful Sloth still gets two thumbs up for their absolutely lovely angle but for the next game, more streamlined inventory management and a more navigable map are a must.

Warming Up

Hey, it’s the participation that counts :P

If Everybody’s Golf sounded a bit drab the last time around, things are slowly starting to look up. At least right now, it feels like it surreptitiously conforms to its player’s mood swings. When approached with indifference, shots end up all over the place and even a humbling bogey can quickly escalate into a +5 catastrophe. With even a little bit of genuine effort, the RNG gods start smiling upon the player, ensuring that even a clumsy swing can turn into something not entirely hopeless. It’s nigh on impossible to pull off a perfect shot due to having to factor in wind, aim, course profile, spin, ground, timing, and luck, but on whole it really feels like the game is more than happy to complement an earnest attempt. Thanks to ever-improving clubs, birdies have become the new norm, and I’m already capable of scoring occasional eagles, too.

The game still has trouble entertaining for more than those 30-60 minutes at a time, but even that is enough to make good progress. One can usually choose between a round of either nine or 18 holes, which last around 10-20 minutes. In single player, the most important reward is experience, which unlocks new VS adversaries. Online, it’s a matter of seeing how well you fare against others both globally and within an automatically selected peer group of nine others. The best players are already beating me by a good 10-15 shots but even if I’m usually near the bottom of any leaderboard, at least there’s a daily challenge course with a participation reward of more avatar customization items.

As a new curio, one beaten VS adversary taught my avatar how to fish, so if golfing gets dull, one can always head to the nearest beach or pond to catch some seafood. Still, even this activity is nothing but mashing a button after getting a bite, so it’s hardly any more interesting than riding golf carts or swimming; they’re all goofy side activities that could theoretically be considered new features but that don’t seem to serve any practical purpose.

Whatever the case, Everybody’s Golf remains a reasonably entertaining title that is easy to visit on a daily basis. Still, it probably works better as a side dish for some slightly more full-bodied gaming experience. Nevertheless, I’m happy to trundle on, if only to some day score that fabled hole-in-one.

Gloomy and rainy autumn weekends are pretty much perfect for staying strictly indoors with a good video game or two. This week saw yet another bunch of hopeful entrants joining the collection. Back in June, I was mildly entertained by Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, which got a sequel, Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth, just this month. Jolly good release schedule, as it’s always more fun to finish incomplete stories while still remembering something about them. Then again, Mask of Deception was definitely heavy on reading, so for now I think I’ll spend a bit more time indulging in something that has more gameplay.

On Nintendo 3DS, it never ceases to amaze me just how many releases almost manage to fly under my radar. The JRPG duo, 7th Dragon III: Code: VFD and The Legend of Legacy, is a good example, and even if I don’t yet know practically anything about either of them, I have great trust in both Atlus and Sega. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a bit more familiar and rather old by now, but I totally forgot that it got a physical release as well. Thankfully these titles can still be salvaged from here and there to complement my archive of personally interesting games.

Not Quite Everybody’s Golf

Come on, Yuka, that was feeble and you know it!

Despite a lengthy absence, I haven’t fallen back into the quagmire of idol management. Still, there’s no denying that an autumn slump can obviously be very much be a thing. My recent, pitiful gaming hours have mostly gone towards Everybody’s Golf on PS4, and despite an entire console generation leap, it’s still very much nothing more than just plain Everybody’s Golf. It’s a solid entertainer but also one that could easily be replaced by just returning to spend more time with any previous game in the series.

That’s not to say there wouldn’t be bite-sized innovations aplenty. Any golfing career begins with a comprehensive creation of an avatar. It’s a fun process of shaping out your own personality, and the outcome is a nice, slightly Mii-esque creation. Once done, it’s off to conquer the career mode full of unlockable new courses, versus adversaries, and a constant barrage of things leveling up mostly for the sake of things leveling up. This time around, each club has four different attributes (power, accuracy, spin, and finesse) that slowly go up while the player pretends that stuff like that actually matters. During the journey, you also learn to drive golf carts and have fun swimming in ponds, but all of this reeks more like artificial respiration; fun little gimmicks with no actual purpose whatsoever. Price money for tourneys won can be spent on further avatar customization items, or balls that supposedly fare better in rough or sand bunkers. Still, as avatar items are a constant reward, too, and as a basic club and a basic ball are always a safe option, in-game money seems to serve very little purpose. It’s possible to spend Real Money to unlock new golf carts or early access to new courses but as usual with microtransactions, the game might just as well shove them up its arse.

As things stand for now, Everybody’s Golf is overly familiar and comfortable to a fault. Sure, it’s still the most endearing and lovable casual golf game there is, but its two decades are definitely starting to show. Utterly adorable in bursts of 30-60 minutes but if you’ve ever experienced any single entry in the series before, rest assured that this is essentially nothing more than the same old, same old.

Kthxbye

Thank you, Bandai Namco. Never EVER again.

Yawn… Another week, another post about The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars. Still, this shall be the last of its kind, as listening to cutesy Japanese pop music for six weeks straight is probably enough to drive anyone insane. During this weekend, I briefly felt like I would be able to bid it farewell with grace, dignity, and feeling good. That brief moment of happiness, however, was just the game’s dastardly ploy to remind me that it’s still very much the same sadistic psychopath it has been these past few weeks. Here’s how it ended:

  • 141 hours: Everyone has seven million fans. I wander in the darkness. Nothing matters anymore.
  • 153 hours: Everyone has eight million fans. All is well in grind hell. Carry on.
  • 158 hours: Everyone has nine million fans. I spent all money earned from lives so far to publicity photo shoots. They helped me reach this point almost seven hours early. This producer is now not just tired but also very much broke.
  • 168 hours: Everyone has ten million fans! Could this truly be the glorious end of a long journey?
  • 171 hours: All idols have reached the platinum S rank! It took a while as everyone had to pass a rank up live consisting of three full songs, but it was still good times! Elation and tears of happiness for all! Since the game’s subhead is Platinum Stars, I now feel like I’ve bested it properly.
  • 174 hours: Ooh! Everyone in S rank has a solo live that unlocks a new costume! After almost a hundred hours, the long and dry clothing season ends with a flood of 13 new costumes. However, one costume still remains locked. Because irony.
  • 175 hours: All 20 songs have reached Legend status. In theory, this would have required playing each of them 200 times but at least the game is kind enough to (very) occasionally gift music magazines that shave off 10-30 repetitions. Even then, one probably has to be a bit of a masochist to get this far.
  • 176 hours: All S rank lives thoroughly completed. Since there’s basically nothing to achieve anymore, surely that one last costume would be a fine reward? No? Well sod off then.

Even if I now have plenty of platinum stars, getting the platinum trophy would still require that last costume. I also still need a bunch of vouchers for the local tailor, even if they’re total dicks and only accept them in bundles of five. All this stuff can only be obtained from gift packages that are occasional, random rewards after a live. Even getting a present comes down to luck, and for how it has been for a long time already, they’re almost guaranteed to contain nothing but useless items or duplicate costumes. Since some unlucky players have apparently spent over 500 hours to overcome this last ordeal, I call this farce off on my behalf. Never again shall I meddle with games designed around microtransactions, especially when they’re not even free but full retail.

Triple oasis of refreshment!

Hours spent on that time-waster were all the more agonizing as more interesting games kept popping up in the background. Everybody’s Golf is bound to feature familiar but entertaining casual golfing, Knack 2 follows in the footsteps of its predecessor by being a game that every critic seems to love ridiculing (in itself a good enough reason to buy it), and Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is still very much a mystery to me. Based on hearsay, it’s supposedly some sort of soulmate to Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley, but one that doesn’t require you to sink hundreds of hours into it. Especially after my last escapade, that part in particular sounds awfully nice.

The Eternal Oatmeal

Others still have energy, Miki Hoshii does not. Running out myself.

The streaming experiment of this weekend is done. It didn’t take long before I realized that it’s really unpleasant to sit with headphones on all the time, that it’s quite irritating to try and find a good balance between game audio and your own voice, and especially that it’s incredibly awkward to do small talk. I also remembered that whenever I want to see gameplay, I explicitly try to find a source without commentary. Thus, it was no wonder that my headset soon ended up on the shelf of the TV stand where it shall lie forevermore, waiting for better times. I’ll still stream, though, given how easy it is to switch broadcasting on, and the console is still kind enough to notify should anyone have something to say in the chat. Still, social interactivity is definitely something for talented extroverts only.

Then again, this weekend hasn’t been anything more than another utterly unsurprising The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars grindfest. Key moments have been few and far in between, and even classifying them as such takes a pretty nihilistic temper:

  • 103 hours: Producer-san levels up to 18. Such is life.
  • 114 hours: Producer-san levels up to 19. Yup, that really was another 11 hours spent without anything worthwhile happening. Not that this milestone wouldn’t have been anything else than a number, either.
  • 119 hours: All idols now have five million fans. Midway point reached. I’ve already decided that the finishing line to platinum stardom will be crossed in unison. This whole journey has already turned into such a joke that it isn’t worthy of a “I platinized one star and quit” punchline.
  • 127 hours: Producer-san levels up to 20. That’s the maximum, so I got a gold trophy out of it. Not bad, given that it has been 36 hours since the last one. I’m kinda wistful, though, as this means there probably won’t be anything happening even at ten hour intervals now.
  • 130 hours: My whole idol front has reached six million fans. Based on quick math, I might actually start dreaming of platinum stars in 40-50 hours. Don’t give up, go go go! I will actually push on, as this has long since turned into a story mode that is just too rueful to drop out of.

As the most observant readers might have noticed already, the 14 costumes locked since the last status update still remain locked. In fact, it has now been 49 hours since the last new costume. I’m already quite certain that the remaining ones won’t start unlocking with reasonable odds until someone goes platinum. Or something. If that’s not the case and I truly am this unlucky, it would probably take thousands of hours to get them all. While I’m not that self-destructive, I’m still stubborn enough to keep this tragicomedy rolling all September, if that’s what it takes. All hope has been lost, so anything goes.

Preparations

Man has reasonable internet. Man is happy.

Seems like two weeks have once again mysteriously vanished somewhere. Hardly a loss, given that nothing particularly interesting has been going on. I have been making steady progress in The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars but that’s more akin to watching grass grow. Still, since PS4 makes streaming so exceptionally easy, I began to wonder if I, too, should give it a go. A console alone isn’t quite enough, though, so I’ve spent the past few days acquiring various pieces of essential gear.

The most important prerequisite for streaming is, of course, proper upstream. I’m unfortunately stuck in a housing complex that only has support for an ancient 11/1 broadband, woefully inadequate to stream even at potato quality. Even after hearing countless horror stories about the unreliability of mobile internet, I decided to risk it and see if I could replace my broadband with 4G. Much to my surprise, this experiment worked out just fine. With a new router and 4G LTE, transfer speeds even during the worst rush hours seem to hover around 50/30, so not only is it a massive improvement, I once again feel like being part of modern society when it comes to internet.

Although I’m hardly a social motor mouth, the general consensus seems to be that a stream without narration isn’t really a stream at all. Since I had no microphone headphones conveniently lying around, it was time to go shopping again. Audiophiles can probably spend ages contemplating the pros and cons of various headsets whereas my only requirement was “whatever, pick something”. After five minutes of nonchalant googling, I went with Turtle Beach P12. They hardly exude an aura of high quality but since the headphones and the mic seem to work just fine, that’s plenty good enough for me.

After getting the headphones, I smoothly moved on to curse the PS4 only having two USB ports. Since I use one to keep my controller constantly charged and the other is taken by an external hard drive, I was obviously in need of a USB hub. Trust GXT 215 seemed like a nice five-port hub that blends nicely with the design of the console itself. Very cheap but of questionable quality, too. After only a few evenings my controller briefly stopped responding to button presses. So far this has only happened once, so it’s still too early to say if this hub was nothing but a mistake.

Since I’m free of all responsibilities this weekend, I might actually have time to properly test all this out. All experiments will take place on Twitch, and I even found a silly little sidebar widget to show when a broadcast is live. Don’t expect much in the way of entertainment, frequency, or skill in gaming, but surely internet still has room for one proper scrub channel.

As for new game acquisitions these past couple of weeks, the collection has only been joined by Yakuza Kiwami. As it has been barely six months since Yakuza 0 and as Kiwami is “only” a remaster of the very first Yakuza, I think I’ll tackle it later this year. As nice as it is to see many new players discovering this wonderful series that kicked off back in the PS2 era, Sega is now pushing them out with frequency that borderlines on being too excessive.