Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Lonesome On The Trail

It's winter! A pretty decent one so far, mainly because my home has had heat more often than not. The past was often chilly! The present is pretty toasty. Not as hot as, say, a whorehouse on nickel night, but warm enough to keep me jolly. But despite all the warmth inside it is still frozen and dead outside. It's a lonely season, and that means it's the perfect time for the loneliest genre: the RPG!

The winter RPG has become a tradition of mine, one I wasn't even aware of until I went through my previous posts. Last year I played through Final Fantasy Legend, which was fabulously retarded, and Star Ocean, which was only made tolerable thanks to all the cheating I did. In '08 my regular Saturday night thing was Blue Dragon, a good game that I would never actually recommend to anyone, so maybe it's actually a bad game. Its battles were both its greatest strength and biggest weakness, as they could be relatively challenging and enjoyable (provided you downloaded the free Hard Mode) yet they dragged on for far too long thanks to all the needless battle animation. The boss fights never dragged, though. The boss fights rocked. I think at 1:25 in you can hear the sound of Ian Gillan's throat collapsing in on itself.

And prior to '08 there was Super Robot Taisen Original Generation. There was Shin Megami Tensei 3. There was Dragon Quest 8. There was Dark Cloud 2. There was Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. There was my 21st century playthrough of Dragon Warrior. There was WoW. There were lots of good times spent under a blanket all by my lonesome, mashing the X button, grinding away. Except WoW was mainly sad times spent in front of a computer, grinding away, feeling sick and wishing I was dead. There are no fond WoW memories.

I auditioned a few games for the role of Ms. RPG 2010, and in the end Dragon Quest V won. I'll probably post about it eventually. But for now I think I'll talk about one of the ones that didn't make it. I'm gonna talk about the two hours I spent with Live-A-Live.

Live-A-Live was almost the one. It has an interesting gimmick -- seven standalone bite-size chapters that can be played in any order, each with their own unique theme. I completed two of them, Western first, Pro-Wrestling second. And the Western bit was pretty tight. About an hour long. I think there were only two or three battles. Most of my time was spent reading text and wandering around town, collecting items and setting booby-traps. But it was enjoyable in a way most modern jRPGs aren't, because it was so simple. You've seen this story before, you know exactly where it's going, but it doesn't matter because it's brisk, the dialogue's amusing (though perhaps the translators deserve the credit for that), and seeing Western tropes competently done in a video game RPG is a novelty.

You play the role of the mysterious outlaw. He plays it all stoic but inside he's a softie, right? He strolls into a troubled town, tries to drink in peace, but the local troublemakers are harassing the women and children, and he just can't help but defend their honor. So he speaks up. Tells the lily livered coward to pick on someone his own size or something to that effect. And this triggers the greatest looping jRPG "YES/NO" sequence I've seen yet. (Which isn't saying much...but still!) The bully laughs at the Outlaw. Calls him a baby. Tells the bartender to serve our hero a baby's drink, and so a glass of milk slides down the bar, stopping in front of the Outlaw. I am given a choice.


"Send back."

I drink it. The bully laughs and orders another. I drink it again. He orders another. I drink it again. He orders another. This went on for awhile. I thought maybe something would happen if I kept it up! Maybe this time it will be different. But no. If I want to progress I have to send the drink back. The bully laughs even harder. What, milk ain't good enough for ya? "Or don't ya drink any milk...that ain't from yer mama's nipples?"

OK, maybe after all this buildup it ain't that funny, but man, I laufed and laufed. Then I shot him in the gut and he died.

I smiled a lot during this hour. I smiled when I learned that the healing items are cigars and tequila. I smiled when I won a battle and the winning message was "RIGHT ON!" I smiled when I discovered my first piece of Dung, which can be used as a trap to whittle down the number of invading banditos during the chapter's climax. Another trap was a frying pan -- the item's flavor text describes it as the weapon of choice for hot-headed women. I smiled. The bulk of the game is spent searching the town for traps, which you then give to the town members, who arm them. There's a time limit. Different town members have different skills, so if you do a poor job of handing out the traps you may not have them all armed in time, making the final battle more difficult. Or so I assume. I had them all up and ready with plenty of time to spare. I can't imagine any player being bad enough to run out of time. Even though it's shallow I appreciate the attempt to do something different, something that ties into the plot and theme of the game, that in another game may feel like padding or busywork but here it worked, and had it been harder I probably wouldn't have been smiling. But I smiled when instruments dropped from the soundtrack each time I sent a band member to arm a trap, until it was just me and the fat, hopeless maracas man alone in the bar, his ceaseless "shake-shake-shake" taking the edge off the awkwardness of our lonely-time together.

Little touches go a long way! I smiled when I healed myself using tequila but got drunk and was unable to control my dude. And died. Or, as the game put it, I "MET A BAD END".

The bandit leader has a gatling gun. I think that may even have been his name. "Gatling Gun". After killing him he turns into a horse. He was the personification of all the anger of the dead white men slaughtered by the godless redskins. Don't worry, that's not the biggest spoiler. There's some neat stuff after that! Stuff that shows just how hardcore the hero is. It was a satisfying ending. Again, you don't see many of those nowadays.

I'll post about the wrestling chapter tomorrow.

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