Over the weekend I picked up the Crash Bandicoot N'Sane Trilogy for Nintendo Switch and I got really annoyed with Crash Bandicoot rather quickly. The original game just demands such precise platforming, yet I don't feel like the jumping or movement are that tight. And I got to a level that just felt like it required rote memorization of where all the one-hit-kills were. It just wasn't fun. Having recently read through Hardcore Gaming 101's book of their top 200 games of all time, I feel like I should have just started with their suggestion of Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped instead of even bothering with the first.
The third Crash game seems like a pretty huge improvement. I mean, it very much shares the DNA of the first game but this one just feels better put together in a lot of ways. To be fair, I played about an hour and a half so far - thank goodness for the Switch handheld mode which allowed me to listen to the new Amityville movie with my wife at the same time as well, haha. So far, the game seems challenging - sure - but far less asshole-ish. Also the variety of levels has already topped that of what I saw in the first game. Along with the usual vertical stages (both in and out of the screen) and the almost 2D platforming stages, there are also combinations of both along with "endless runner" levels where you ride a galloping animal or even 2D swimming stages a la Donkey Kong Country. So far I've beaten the first boss, and while I still don't necessarily find Crash to be cool at least this third game seems to highlight the appeal of the series a lot more than that first game did for me.
I seem to remember back in 98 or 99 that a girl I was dating in high school had a little brother who was into this game. I think I maybe played a few minutes of it with him. Although I also had a Playstation at this point in time, I was "too old"/"too cool" to mess with animal mascots. Not only that, but A PLATFORMER? Hello!... Resident Evil was a thing. Platformers were for kids! Plus, I've never been a fan of 3D platformers to begin with. And I wasn't even sure what a bandicoot was. (I'm still not certain). I also think in hindsight that I was definitely more drawn to Japanese games at this period of time. It wasn't something intentional, as I don't believe I was hyper aware of which continent developers resided at the time.
The other thing is this - I always thought that the art STYLE of Crash was kind of ugly. And I still kind of think the same way, although many years removed I now find that Crash himself has some kind of ridiculous late 90's charm to him. Like... a certain stoner humor or something. I can't help but think that whoever designed this goofy looking dude was seriously baked. Maybe it's because I also remember those creepy live action commercials (that were years before BK did the same sort of thing w/ their King). So I don't know - now it's got a kind of "so stupid that it's funny" vibe going on for me.
Crash 3 is far more challenging than I recalled. Surprisingly (or not?) I find that even though the game is mostly in a 3D space, I find it works better with a d-pad than with an analog stick. I think this probably comes from the fact that it was released on PS1 prior to the controllers getting analog sticks. So the game was designed with digital input in mind. But damn, the platforming here is not super easy - in fact it's rather demanding. Even in some of the earliest stages I found myself surprised at how precise one needed to be. And it's not like Crash is the most graceful of jumpers.
That said, the game is clearly designed with trial and error in mind. I don't think that levels were intended to be blown through quickly on the first try. IE: This isn't actually the Sony console's Sonic. There were some frustrating moments, and I had to use one continue so far but it looks like continues are unlimited? I do appreciate the way that level structures are so varied. Some are 3D levels heading 'into' the screen, while some have you running 'out of' the screen with a big Indiana Jones bolder chasing you (reminiscent of the gazelle level in The Lion King), while others are pure 2D sidescrollers. It makes for some fun variety.
But honestly... Crash just isn't really all that fun to me. I got to a level that had a time limit to run through it and I was 2 seconds over. It wasn't particularly hard or anything but just the whole concept of a time limit to run through a 3D platforming level rubbed me the wrong way and I just sort of rolled my eyes and shut the game off. So far I feel like my hunch that the Crash games weren't my thing over the years has probably been correct. I'm not finding the game compelling. I just don't seem to be having a good time with this.
I never played the original Splatoon. Actually, I never had a Wii U. My wife and I considered getting one a couple of years ago - before the announce of the Switch, of course. But for some reason we never did bite the bullet. We were going to make it our anniversary gift to each other at the time, and went to Target and played Mario Kart 8 on the little kiosk. But I don't know. I couldn't seem to find enough Wii U games to make me feel like the purchase was all that justified. And eventually we decided to just buy a gazebo as our anniversary gift.
When Splatoon 2 was announced for Switch, everyone was raving about it. I just assumed those were Wii U owners who loved the first, so it didn't really do much to my interest level. To be totally honest, it looked like a sort of shooter for kids in my book. I mean... it was a game about shooting ink. It really didn't grab my attention at all. I should point out that when Splatoon 2 was released I was pretty heavy into both Overwatch and Paladins - two other competitive team based shooters. So not only did I feel like I had enough of this sort of game in my life (and I still do), but it reinforced my feeling that Splatoon 2 was for kids.
But people still raved about Splatoon 2. It was inescapable. Here we are a year later and people are still talking about the damn game. It's just now received a huge expansion called the Octo Expansion which adds 80-something levels of a single player campaign. Plus, there are some very cute Amiibos related to this game. It felt like maybe I was missing out on something big. Maybe just maybe I was missing a game that I'd really enjoy.
Well it turns out that I should learn to just listen to my gut sometimes. Because I grabbed a copy of Splatoon 2 in time for my summer vacation this year and y'know what? It's not for me. I'm not saying that it is for kids... but still, it's not for me. When I first fired the game up I was thrown into the lobby and... I don't even know. It made no sense to me where I was even supposed to go. My wife and I played through the little tutorial thing and then some single player levels by passing the controller back and forth. She quickly become uninterested, and I guess I wasn't surprised as competitive shooters have never been her jam. I tried to play a bit on my own and realized that the motion controls were really fucking me up so I turned them off and it was a little better. But my interest just wasn't there. The single player stuff to me felt pretty boring.
Boring and frustrating. I should point out that in a game like this I HATE the third person perspective. Dicking around with the camera never feels good to me. And I just vastly prefer the feel of a first person shooter. That's (partly) why Overwatch and Paladins are far more appealing. But I spent some time doing battle with the camera and it just never felt very fun. I admit that the bright neon pink and green aesthetic was fun and cute. But I just wasn't having a good time.
Things only got worse when I took the game online. Maybe it's no surprise by getting tangled up in third person for me was even more of an issue when trying to deal with other players. And I should note that even though Fortnite is like the biggest game in the world right now I had the same exact complaints (and lack of fun) attempting to play that game - also in third person. But I have friends who adore this game so I promised I'd give Splatoon 2 more of a chance maybe I'm just missing something, right?
But y'know what occured to me? I don't owe Splatoon 2 anything. There are SO MANY other games that I'd rather be playing. I gave it a shot and it didn't click. Meanwhile I've been getting BACK into Paladins again - for the THIRD time! That's a game that does click. I don't see the point in forcing myself to play something that I'm not enjoying. So...
I started up Octopath Traveler last night. Lovely game. I have to imagine that others are playing right now as well? I know Fast is at least. Anyway, I picked Ophelia to start for no real reason other than I didn't want to spend much time making a decision on who to start with. Made my way over to that cave, decided to grind a few levels before going in. Got her up to level 5 which apparently unlocked some skill opportunities. Then I used her ability to lead to bring one of the dudes outside the cave in with me for backup. The boss inside the cave beat me on my first attempt - or rather that little purple thing did because I didn't understand what the countdown timer was about at first. On the second attempt I had my strategy down.
I'm only 1-2 hours in so far, but super impressed. Art style is great, writing is solid, music is nice, battle system is excellent. I remember really wanting to like Bravely Default, but bouncing off of its systems kind of harshly. In fairness, I don't think I gave it a lot of time to change my mind. But then again, Octopath feels really inviting immediately. I also kind of like that the game is basically little chunks by design. I can knock out one clear "piece" of the story in a sitting and feel like I've made some obvious progress.
Anyway, I'm not gonna read anything about the game so I'll just kind of make my way to whichever traveler I happen upon next.
Four hours into Octopad Traveler and just wow, this game is fantastic. Ophilia met up with (I'm bad at remember names of characters) the hunter (edit: H'aanit) who can command animals. The overuse of fake ye olde Enlisheth was kind of annoying, but otherwise that whole chapter was really cool - the going off into the woods to hunt that big creature. Y'know, there have been games over the years that I've enjoyed and considered a sort of 'love letter' to like 90's JRPG's (I Am Setsuna comes to mind), but Octopath just nails it. It's not like it's trying to be an homage to those games as much as it's just a really good ONE OF THOSE games that just happens to have been released in 2018.
The battle system is just great. I'm having a blast just messing around with the various combinations now that I have a second party member. For instance the hunter can capture enemy creatures a la Pokemon. And I've upgraded some of Ophilia's spells so now she hits pretty hard. Honestly, the battle system is fun enough that grinding isn't annoying at all. I spent a while outside the first town just to get enough money to get Ophilia new armor, helmet, shield, and a better staff. Then did the same in the second town with the hunter, who is now at lvl 8 and Ophilia is 10 if I recall. We're on our way to the next town.
My third traveler was Cyrus. It's cool just how varied in tone the game gets from one story to the next. H'aanit's story was all filled with that weird faux middle English or whatever, and then you jump over to Cyrus' story and it's like a mini-episode of Sherlock Holmes or something. I'm not sure how useful his interrogation skill will be concerning NPC's, but we'll see. His skills in battle on the other hand are certainly helpful with his various spells. As such, the battles in this game remain a total joy. I'm having a blast experimenting with discovering weaknesses, and how to best stack attacks and skills to get some crazy combos going. I also really appreciate the bite-sized nature of the chapters. Octopath is great in the sense that I know I can pick it up for an hour or two and knock out the next little chunk of story. I know I'm still early into the game, but I feel like this is easily one the best 'modern retro' JRPG's I've ever played.
And now I've got a full four-heroes (OF LIGHT!) party. Tressa joined us, and I quite enjoyed her story. That little fishing town also had a ton of opportunities for really pretty screenshots. You've got those little 2D sprite characters and then this sort of 3D Dot Game/Minecraft 3D world, and then this gorgeous water reflecting the sun... just such a great looking game. I've been working on opening skills for everyone. I find Cyrus' ability to reveal enemy weaknesses super helpful. I decided NOT to use his passive skill that reduces the rate of random encounters because that seems counter intuitive to natural leveling. But yeah, all these little systems - both the battle system and all the skills just really work to the game's benefit.
I finished up all the Chapter 1's in Octopath and then there was a huge difficulty spike. I had to spend the last few hours grinding, and I'm still stuck on a boss fight for um... the thief dude's Chapter 2. It's the first time the game didn't feel fun to me, as the momentum just slowed way the heck down.
when I finished all the Chapter 1's, my active party were all ~18 or so. As such, I made my way towards the only Chapter 2 that was close to that - level 21. And I got destroyed, so then I spent 2 or so hours grinding everyone to level 21-22. And I'm still getting my ass handed to me. Part of it might be that my party members aren't really maximized for this boss fight, but swapping in Primrose or Tressa who are more suited would mean then having to grind THEM up from level 9 to 21-ish. Ugh.
The other thing is that I have been playing totally FAQless, so I didn't even know about secondary job classes or whatever. And given that I'm currently in this Ch2 story quest - and I only keep one save file (shrug) - I can't leave this town to go look into job classes or anything. Adding insult to injury, I don't find the thief dude (Thierron or whatever?) all that helpful in this boss battle either, but you're forced to have him in the party since it's his story. I'd probably be less annoyed if I had chosen to work on a Ch2 quest of a character whose story I found more interesting.
So yeah. My annoyance mostly comes from the fact that I spent a solid 15 or so hours without the need for grinding. Each Ch1 story seemed to be manageable just from the 'natural grinding' that comes with walking from town A to town B. But then there was that gap between where I was at the end of all the Ch1's, and where I needed to be to proceed with Ch2. It just really slowed down the progress that I had been making in a breezy fashion.
Octopath Traveler is my front-runner for favorite game of the year again. While it's true that you can't leave a town while in a story quest by just walking out, it turns out that you CAN leave by fast-travel. I'm glad I thought to try it. So while I had been annoyed that I was stuck in a less interesting quest, I was able to get out of there and swap out the thief for Primrose and start making my way to Ophilia's Chapter 2 story instead.
Now, Primrose was only level 9 at this point while the rest of my party was ~21. That's okay because as it turns out grinding with Primrose is plenty of fun. First of all, I stumbled upon one of those shrines totally by accident so now she's a Dancer/Warrior. And also her skill that just casts random effects is super fun to play with - so rather than feeling like a mindless grind, most battles have been silly games of chance. It's pretty amusing.
My preferred party is now Ophilia, H'aanit, Cyrus and Primrose. I've now got Primrose around level 19 or so and Ophilia's Ch2 is a recommended level 21. The rest of the party is ~25, so we'll be starting that quest soon. I seriously love this game.
Friends, I tell you this: You have not lived until you've rolled an "Exp x 100" from Primrose's crazy Random Dance Generator. I cannot tell you the wide-eyed glee I got out of seeing her go from level 19 to 30 after one battle. I think I actually exclaimed quite loudly, and I know I just sort of sat there in disbelief before continuing on.
Which brings up a good point - I genuinely cannot recall the last time a JRPG got its teeth so deeply into me. Grandia II, maybe? I'm not sure. But I mean as much as I've truly ENJOYED others in the years since, it's often a case of follow the main story; go to the next beat. In other words, it's beyond rare for me to actually spend so much time just tinkering with the game itself. In most JRPG's I find no shame in consulting a map or walkthrough, but in Octopath Traveler I'm having a blast not really knowing anything and just kind of seeing what happens if I try THIS.
Anyway, I just wrapped up Ophilia's Ch2 and I don't know. I feel like I want to maybe continue her story. But the Ch3 is a few levels above where I'm at right now. Unless I can get Primrose to farm us a bunch more Exp quickly, haha.
Haven't had a chance to play much over the weekend, but I did do some grinding last night. I've got the majority of my party around lvl 37 with Primrose at 34. I think I'm going to just try do Ophilia's Chapter 3 next, which is recommended lvl 38. I know that probably most players are darting around the map still going for different pieces of different stories, but part of me is wondering what happens if you choose to just focus on following the one thread. I've met all the characters and have pretty much settled in on my preferred four.
I guess I'm curious if the game is open ended in the sense that when do you actually see credits roll - (A) when you finish all chapters of all eight characters? (B) When you finish all chapters of your main character? Or (C) when you finish all chapters of any character?
I'm about 28 hrs into Octopath now, and my party have all just hit level 40 except Primrose who is 37. I decided to take some detours and go exploring a bit before starting Ophilia's chapter 3. So we stumbled upon a few shrines and explored some caves to mine for loot and XP. I made H'aanit's second job a dancer which means that I've gotten some crazy combo's going where I'll cast Ophilia's spell that lets spells trigger twice onto Primrose and have her cast Bewildering Grace with 3 BP's, so she casts the spell twice... then another time... then I have H'aanit cast it with 3 BP's... I mean it's effectively just gambling but I've seen some pretty cool/exciting stuff happen this way. But this is the sort of stuff that shows just how much I'm enjoying this game. At nearly thirty hours I'm still having fun just playing with the systems; still having fun wandering around without using fast-travel so that I might level up naturally.
I decided to check off the Chapter 2's of my other three characters before going into Ophelia's Chapter 3. I'm leveled up enough now that doing those three quests was almost trivial. As a breakdown, I have Ophelia using scholar as her second job which makes her a great spell caster for the heals, but also for secondary damage; H'aanit has dancer as a second job, though I've really only used that for experimenting with Bewildering Grace - mostly she's a physical attacker and Pokemo- I mean "monster" catcher; then Cyrus' second job is merchant which is mostly only useful for the wind spells. Cyrus is basically just an offense spellcaster at this point, and he's got a perk on him that gives him 150HP at the end of each turn so he tends to not need as much heals. Finally, Primrose has warrior as her second job and she's got some pretty nice weaponry which balances her out nicely for both spell damage and physical attacks. I recognize that this party isn't actually the most balanced, but 32 hours in I really feel like they work with my play style.
I've spent like three hours attempting the boss battle of Ophelia's chapter 3. The level recommendation for that chapter is 38, and my party is ~44 and it's still kicking my ass. It's two dudes and at first they're only weak to physical attacks. The other three non-Ophelia members of my party all have physical weapons to break them. But I can just never get even one of them whittled down. One of them can heal both of them, so I try to focus on him first. But they both also have very strong spells that hit the whole party. It's starting to get frustrating and makes me think I probably need to grind to just get some better weapons or something. I don't know. Anyway, I'm thinking I'll take a break from the game for a bit now. I don't want to grow annoyed with a game that I've enjoyed for 35 hours so I think maybe just a breather for now.
My wife and I spent the past couple weekends playing through all of the courses in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and I might as well just cut to the chase... it rocks. Mario Kart 8 (I'll drop the "Deluxe" subtitle for the remainder of this piece because you get the idea) is such a massive refinement of something that has always felt damn-near perfect to begin with.
But let's rewind a bit. Yes, it's true that I've mostly been a Sega dude growing up, but I always had Nintendo consoles in my house as well. The original Mario Kart was in my Top 5 SNES games back in the day. I remember getting it soon after launch, and it was a staple of my after school gaming days into the late 90's. Eventually a friend of mine got a Nintendo 64 - a console that I hated - but Mario Kart 64 was the ONE game on that system that I adored. I remember one summer I'd sleep over his house and beg him to play Mario Kart 64 instead of Super Mario 64. And if he'd sleep over my house I'd urge him to bring the console and nothing but Mario Kart 64 over for the night.
Once I got to college it was all about Double Dash. Gamecube was my jam back then and Double Dash was one of the necessities. And much like the original Mario Kart, Double Dash became a staple for a long time. Like... over a decade. Like... me and my wife continued to play Double Dash religiously into the mid-2010's. And in that time I also picked up the GBA and DS editions. So my point is that I've been a constant fan. I don't think I picked up the 3DS game because eventually my wife took over the 3DS, and I KNOW I never played the Wii game because I got bored of Wii pretty quickly. But Double Dash remained incredible.
My wife and I talked about getting a Wii U pretty seriously in the summer of 2016. It sounded novel and all. And Mario Kart 8 looked fantastic (we demoed it at Target). But we just couldn't pull the trigger. The library was never quite there. But the Switch did sell me fairly early on. Which makes it weird that it took us so long to get to Mario Kart 8. It's been out for a year on Switch, y'all!
But it is AWESOME! The number of courses is incredible first of all. It's not only a new game but also a greatest hits. There's awesome shit like the Excitebike course or the Hyrule one. There's throwbacks to EVERY other game (unless you count the arcade one, which we did play in Disney!). It plays flawlessly, much like every other game in the series. It causes frustrations thanks to blue shells and near constant lightning. But dammit, I/we love Mario Kart.
If history is any indication then we are far from done here. We ran through the 50CC courses breezily in two weekends. We started 100CC tonight. I know us and I know Mario Kart and I promise that we'll be going through each CC and there's a good chance that we'll still be playing Mario Kart 8 when Mario Kart 9 comes out.