Whatcha Playing: January/February 2020
RPGamer’s recurring feature providing a look at what the staff is playing outside of games for review is back. While the first couple of months of 2020 haven’t been stacked with big releases, it hasn’t stopped the staff from playing lots of different games. Pokémon, Trails games, Mass Effect, and World of Warcraft are all getting some playing time.
With that introduction out of the way, whatcha playing?
Last year, I started to keep a thread on Twitter of all the games I have completed in a year. It’s near the end of February, and I have six games so far this year, with a seventh nearing completion. 2020 is the year I really want to work through my backlog, and Backloggin’ the Year may or may not be coming back as a feature here at RPGamer. I just have so many games I want to complete, and considering the only RPG on the horizon that I care about is Yakuza: Like a Dragon, I think I am in good shape to beat some games.
The first game I have been working through is Cthulhu Saves Christmas and my goodness has it made me smile and laugh like a loon. The puns are terrible, the humour is silly, and I love it. The game is pretty short, as I’ve put in about two hours and I have beaten four of the League of Christmas Evil members, which my save file sitting just in front of the fifth. I also love the bits in between the dungeons, including when Cthulhu builds a sandcastle, or when he is forced to be a terrible mall Santa. All excellent moments! I am really happy to have a new Zeboyd game to play, and I will be pretty sad once the game is over.
— Sam Wachter (@merrygodown) February 16, 2020
— Sam Wachter (@merrygodown) February 16, 2020
The other game I have been playing is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, a game my husband has been nagging at me for years to play. I have made it to Valen and have fallen down the rabbit hole of quests. There are just so many quests and there’s so much to do, and I am just happy playing this game. Not only does it have a good challenge that (mostly) feels fair, but the writing really is as fantastic as people have said it is and many of the quests are very emotional to go through. I am helping a Baron learn the whereabouts of his missing daughter and wife, and now I have to go deal with a witch to continue that plotline further. I just find myself getting so completely sucked into this game when I turn it on and I feel like I just contently lose hours as I play it. I doubt I’ll have it finished anytime soon, but one of my goals this year is to knock out two 50+ hour RPGs. We’ll see how that goes, but for now, I’ll continue to enjoy my quest to find Ciri!
At first, I thought I wouldn’t write anything for these past two months, as I didn’t play much that I thought would warrant a write-up. Pokémon Shield saw more of my time, but I spent it completing the Galar Pokédex, making most members of my main team more competitively viable. Granted, I very rarely enter even WiFi tournaments, but I enjoy making my favorite Pokémon as powerful as they can be. I’ve also been breeding other potential stronger battlers from scratch. I thought this sort of stuff wouldn’t interest readers, but I do want to reflect on my amassed collection of Pokémon.
Earlier this month, the Pokémon Home service was finally launched, meaning it was time to move my ‘mons from the Pokémon Bank, as well as Pokémon Sun, Ultra Moon, and a few from Let’s Go! Pikachu. I currently have 1,629 Pokémon stored in Home, which is a crazy amount. I’ve been collecting these Pokémon for nearly seventeen years. My single oldest creature is Illpalazzo the Blaziken, my starter Pokémon from my very first playthrough of Ruby way back in March 2003. Many of these Pokémon have really traveled as well. It was easy to transfer Illpalazzo and other Pokémon of mine from the Bank to Pokémon Home. It would probably make heads turn to hear what I did to get Illpala and other ‘mons from before X & Y into Home.
To transfer a Pokémon from the original GBA Ruby & Sapphire, Emerald, and FireRed & LeafGreen, they first have to be sent to Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, HeartGold, or SoulSilver. This is achieved using a special area within the fourth-generation games called the Pal Park and the DS’s GBA slot. This could be particularly frustrating as you are only allowed to transfer six Pokémon per day, and you have to find and capture them first. From the fourth-generation games, ‘mons can be sent to Black, White, Black 2, or White 2 using PokéTranfer, an area found within the games. This requires two DSes and a tedious mini-game to send them, but at least you aren’t limited to six Pokémon per day; just six Pokémon at a time. Thankfully from there, your monsters don’t have to go into a sixth-generation game. The 3DS has the Poké Transporter application, allowing players to transfer Pokémon directly from a fifth-generation game to the Bank. This time, no tedious recapturing or mini-game is needed, but only 20 creatures can be transferred at a time.
I not only started, but I’ve already finished the story of Pokémon Shield. This game certainly goes by quickly, due in no small part to the permanent Experience Share feature, which distributes EXP to every Pokémon in the party. While I still think there should have been an option to turn it off, I will admit that I like that I didn’t have to slow down to level up all of my Pokémon one at a time. I could go from town to town, gym to gym, and complete the game much faster than I tend to. This includes both becoming champion and the post-game scenario in which the legendary form of the mascot Pokémon, Zamazenta, can be captured. I’m not sure if I’ve ever beaten a mainline Pokémon game in 40 hours on a first playthrough. I even spent a lot of time running around the Wild Area to capture Pokémon, registering nearly 200 of them before I finished the post-game story. Of course, I still have things to do in Shield: complete the Pokédex, see if I can make the team I went through the game with competitively viable, check out the Battle Tower, and raise up other Pokémon that maybe I’ll participate in online competitions with. I kind of do battling halfheartedly, but I try to enter into at least one online competition per generation.
This all reminds me of just how important this series is to me. Pokémon is one of the few video game franchises I’ve actually played and enjoyed since the beginning. It took me over sixteen years to get to this point, but that is still a lot of time that I spent keeping my favorite, best, and most interesting Pokémon around. Sure I don’t need 1,629 Pokémon in a cloud-based storage system, but I love the idea that I’ve kept these guys in my life for so long. I have many fond memories of these games and these Pokémon. I don’t know how long Nintendo will or can support transferring monsters from as far back as 2003, but I do appreciate it.
I don’t really have that much to talk about in-depth as far as RPGs go these last two months. As far as non-RPGs are concerned, I played through Wandersong during the earliest days of the year and replayed Devil May Cry 5 on a whim. The former comes highly recommended while there’s probably no need for a recommendation for DMC5 since plenty of those reading this have most likely already played it. But those aren’t the games that I will be talking about.
So far, I’ve spent a good chunk of the year slowly chipping my way through Heroland. As I said the last time I talked about it, I have a good deal of appreciation for the writing and localization as well as the unique approach it takes to the JRPG genre while having some grievances with the monotony of the gameplay loop. As of right now, I’m on the final chapter and closing in on the endgame. However, the game’s habit of forcing the use of characters that are often forgotten during the story tours means having to redo tours in order to level them up to properly prepare them for said tours. At the very least, the optional character sidequest tours do mitigate this to a degree and are worth doing since the characters are enjoyable in terms of personalities and their interactions. I find myself a bit ambivalent towards the game at times, but overall I’m positive towards it.
Speaking of being ambivalent, I’ve also started up Ganbare! Super Strikers during the last few days of February. It’s a soccer-themed tactical RPG where you try to build up a team to help them win against the various opposing teams. The idea is certainly pretty novel yet I’m not entirely convinced that the execution is quite there. Winning soccer games is often dependent on equipping the team players with the right equipment and special abilities. However, obtaining these require completely optional objectives during the games that range from not letting the opposing team score a single goal to using a specific ability or winning a game without using any abilities. It doesn’t help that when starting out, it can definitely feel like the opposing team has an unfair advantage in terms of having abilities that the player’s team lacks initial access to, meaning that it is beneficial to replay some of the games that the player-created team has already won in order to complete these optional objectives to make things easier as progress is made. The Vita port of the game doesn’t have the best optimization either, with some delay between pressing a button and the game processing it, which is really noticeable when going through the menus and trying to equip the team members. It is also to my great displeasure to report that I stumbled across an annoying bug that froze the game in the middle of a match and required rebooting the game. That being said, I’m not having the worst time with the game and am getting the hang of it if nothing else. At the same time, I can’t help but feel like the game is a bit lacking in variety, which could affect my opinion of it in the long run.
January and February saw me stick with my RPG resolutions and complete both Trails in the Sky SC and Trails in the Sky the 3rd. The Sky series was a nice, if long-winded affair, but it was a fun romp regardless. There was a long idle period between beating FC and jumping into SC, but it wasn’t too hard jumping back into the series. Between Estelle and Kevin you couldn’t find a pair of more positive protagonists, but one is earnest with that front while the other is putting on one heck of a performance.
I enjoyed the completion of a lot of the character’s stories in SC, and the 3rd served as an easy way for the characters to all get back together, while also introducing certain elements I’ve been told are story elements that the next games utilize. The mini-games in the third game really stuck out, for better or for worse. Of them all, the fishing game somehow got worse between the two games, as I had to replay that game the most.
With Trails of Cold Steel sitting on my shelf, that seems like the logical next game I will jump into. There are the Crossbell games as well, but those can likely wait given the possibility of the remasters being brought over before I jump into them.
I spent the 2010s avoiding the hype of the Mass Effect series. Western RPGs aren’t really my thing, and I just wasn’t interested in the space setting. After several gaming podcasts declared the series one of the best of the decade, it piqued my interest a tad. Then, while on a road trip, I visited a retro game store that had the entire trilogy on the Xbox 360 for $21. I figured “Why not? They’re cheap.” Little did I know that BioWare’s epic space opera was going to suck me in like a black hole.
I plowed through the first Mass Effect in about two weeks. I chose to play as female Shepard, mostly because the male option was a little too “Marine” for my tastes. That and everyone has told me numerous times that female Shepard is best Shepard. As I made my way through the game, recruiting a rag-tag team of misfits to take on the Geth, I found myself won over by their unique personalities. My favorites ended up being Garrus, Wrex, and Tali. Garrus has a wit and charm that makes him lovable, and he’s my favorite character in the series right now. Wrex’s gung-ho attitude made me smile, and I’m sad he’s not a romance option. I found Tali to be an adorable little muffin, and I want to pinch her cheeks under that mask. Unfortunately, because of the first game’s limited romance options, I was stuck with Kaiden in the end.
Then I booted up Mass Effect 2, and I went from liking to loving the series in an instant. I was immediately sucked into the story, from the second the original Normandy met its untimely demise, to my first meeting with Maranda and the Illusive Man sending me on a suicide mission. The writing in this series has been absolutely amazing. Some moments have had me in hysterics; including a sassy Elcor bouncer at a bar, Shepard going around asking for store discounts, and a scene with a bachelor party that made me bust a gut laughing.
Then there is Garrus. Sweet lovable Garrus. As of writing, I am still only in Act 2, finishing character missions and scanning planets. I haven’t had a chance to go on a date with Garrus yet, but boy have the two hinted at it. Hinted at it in a way that made me glad no one was in the room with me at the time. I didn’t think dating aliens would be my favorite part of the game, but as Dr. Ian Malcom puts it; “Life, Uh, Finds a Way”.
I’ve been bouncing around between games a lot lately, unable to force myself to focus on a single game and just plow through to the finish. Part of the cause of this gaming ADD is being in the middle of an epic like Trails of Cold Steel III. I really adore the Trails series, but its slow pace combined with my desire to devour all the lore Cold Steel has to offer is stretching my playthrough to ridiculous lengths. I did manage to finish chapter 3 and the cliffhanger ending was simply jawdropping. I completely understand RPGamers that can’t handle Trails’ leisurely pace, but the team at Falcom seriously knows how to drop a big reveal.
When I’ve been away from my TV, I’ve been pecking away at Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth on my old trusty Vita. I really enjoyed Mask of Deception despite its slow progression (apparently I have a high tolerance for that), but Mask of Truth got buried under a mountain of other releases a few years ago. Despite the long layover, I’ve fallen right back into the trials and tribulations of Haku and his band of friends as they try to secure the fate of Yamato.
The tactical battles are still a lot of fun and much better paced than the first game, but players still have to be on board for significant chunks of plot in-between the action. However, the characters just make the game such a blast to experience. I did get a reminder that you need to be aware of your surroundings when playing it portably as its adult nods are not always public friendly. An evening of gambling between Haku and Nosuri left her without a shirt on her back and left me peeking over my shoulder on the Metro to make sure no one could see what was going on my screen. Nevertheless, I can’t wait to see where the second half of this duology has in store.
Over the last two months, I have played a variety of RPGs. However, lately, World of Warcraft has consumed my soul. Content Patch 8.3 added two of my favorite things to the game, Cthulhu and roguelikes.
Visions of N’Zoth adds a new layer or two to the end-game experience. As always, players have a smorgasbord of activities they can engage in, such as PvP battlegrounds, rep grinding to unlock races and mounts, dungeons, mythic dungeons, raids, crafting, and so much more. However, players can now run new roguelike instances called Visions. Farming currency by fighting back the dark forces of N’Zoth during assaults allows players to buy an entry into a Vision. These can be tackled solo or with a party. Inside of the Vision, the forces of N’Zoth attempt not only kill our champions, but drive them insane in the process. Heroes tackle as many objectives as possible before succumbing to these dark forces, introducing a risk versus reward element to the run. Rewards are dramatically reduced if the players die before finishing their run properly. This all puts an additional pressure to pick and choose battles carefully, while the sanity meter slowly depletes. Successful runs reward players with pre-raid gear, much of which has been corrupted.
Corrupted weapons have random bonuses and abilities, but also carry a degree of corruption. If a player takes on too much corruption, N’Zoth will invade their fights, sending minions of darkness to assault the player. The higher the corruption, the greater the risk, bringing another degree of risk versus reward to other elements of WoW post-game combat for those players willing to embrace the darkness. While the system lacks balance at the moment, and introduces a new grind to a game already full of things to do, many players agree that the system really invigorates the overall end-game experience.
I know that the overall expansion, Battle for Azeroth, has its fair share of shortcomings pointed out by countless reviewers and fans. Yet, I have really enjoyed my last month with it. Countless quality-of-life improvements make the game easier than ever to jump back into. My favorite classes feel more balanced, rewarding smart gameplay and rotations. As a lifelong altaholic, I am excited at the various, newer ‘catch up’ mechanics, including bind-on-account gear that can be found or purchased, and mailed to any alt on any server and faction. Even some of the storylines feel more compelling, and I look forward to experiencing more of Jaina’s story on the Alliance side. Some of the areas and cities feature top-notch design that captures my attention despite the aging engine. Ultimately, the game does not really do anything incredibly different from the last expansion or two, but in many respects has improved on the older formulas, while adding just enough new toys to keep players busy for some time. If you decide to jump back into Azeroth, add JCServant#1617 to your friends list and drop me a line. When facing the might of N’Zoth, it helps to have friends to watch your back!
That’s all for this edition of Whatcha Playing. Please join the discussion in the comments about the staff’s selections and what games you’re currently playing.