Tag Archives: videogames

Catharsis: Part IV (or, The Dawn of a New Legacy)

This is a multi-part post on how my depression came to be, and how a video game not only pulled me out of it, but helped me stand up for myself and change my fate. As such, this is deeply personal, and if stories of this nature bother you, it is advised that you skip this series of posts, and join me for my Top 10 Favourite Video Games post, coming in a couple short weeks.

Part I will focus on the plot of Final Fantasy XIII. Part II will focus on my journey to adulthood amidst heavy abuse of all kinds, from all angles. Parts III and IV will tie the two together, explaining how the game literally changed my life.


I was on the bus to the Grand Canyon. I had finally escaped my torture. Finally escaped the very thing that defined my life for the past decade. I was happy. I talked with my friends on Facebook for as much of the bus ride as I could. I helped a lady take care of her fussy child, who rode all the way to Denver with me. Most importantly, I finally had the guts to start going by my preferred name: Matthias.

-XXX-

After her parents died, she started going by Lightning. While guiding Hope through the underground of Palumpolum, she has a revelation. “Lightning flashes bright, and then fades away. It cannot create. It only destroys.” Her fight was a flash that was now fading, destroying everything she stood for and taking everyone around her down with her. How would she find the will to go on? How could she possibly continue taking care of this boy who hadn’t seen his father since he was turned into a l’cie?

After a few minutes of contemplation, she found the will to keep going through one small change. She turned to Hope and said, “Call me Light.”

-XXX-

I got to the Grand Canyon and introduced myself to my new boss and soon-to-be best friend at the Canyon with my legal name. I instantly regretted it. I talked to him two days later about it, asking if he could call me Matthias instead. I explained myself, and he took to my new name easily. Only called me by my legal name twice in the weeks following.

The season was drawing to a close, and I needed a place to stay. I was frantically looking for apartments in Seattle to no avail, and going back to Nebraska to live a horrendous life of abuse all over again was absolutely not an option. I started asking around if anyone had the spare space for me to crash with them for a bit while I get things figured out, and my boss, knowing my relationship with the Midwest and what it meant for me, offered his parent’s spare bedroom, as well as moving up with him and his new fiancé to Ashland, Oregon.

That didn’t quite pan out. I did stay with him and his parents for a month and a half, but he pulled out of me moving up with him and his fiance, at the request of said fiance. However, he’d get my stuff up there for me if I found a place. So the hunt for an apartment in Ashland had begun. I scoured Craigslist for three days, and found a guy who was also looking for a roommate. We got approved for an apartment (where I still live to this day), and I moved up.

I guess I got lucky. Very, very lucky. And I am thankful every day for the people who got me to where I am today. Those ten people are folks I will forever be indebted to, and if you’re reading this, you know who you are. Thank you so much for helping me get out of that horrible situation. I am forever in your debt.

Now, let us all witness the dawn of a new crystal legend. My legend. The legend of the man who came from nothing, and managed to get somewhere and do something thanks to the people around him. The man who’s moving to Portland this coming summer. The man who has no fear towards what was. The man who made it out.

The rest of my life awaits.

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The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth (or, THE HOLIEST OF SHITS)

Crying at poop to get money. Putting on lipstick and heels. Dead animals. Worms. Satan. More flies than you can count. The seven deadly sins. Mom. These are just a few of the things waiting for you in The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth’s “Afterbirth” expansion pack.

I’ll start off this review by revealing a bit about my personal history. I don’t like pre-ordering games. Namely, I don’t like pre-ordering DLC expansions. They usually leave a lot to be desired at launch and are incredibly buggy and generally hated by the community that still so desperately waits for them. They’re also anti-consumer, assuming we’ll buy up the game and expansions and purposely leaving key content out of the game that would have made the enjoyment and playability so much better for the sake of making a few extra bucks.

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I’m looking at you, Mortal Kombat X.

This was an exception to the rule. Edmund McMillen (the creator of The Binding of Isaac) made an amazing game in the first installment, an amazing add on with the “Wrath of the Lamb” DLC for the first game, and did an even better job with Team Nicalis when The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth came out (which, I pre-ordered). So, when Afterbirth was announced, I was giddy. Adding a bunch of new items, enemies, room types, and even a playable character, I seemed like I was buying a completely new game, not just an add-on that they felt would be a cash cow at the very last second. Considering I already liked TBOI: Rebrith, it was only natural to expect that I’d really enjoy Afterbirth. However, considering it was just going to be an item/enemy pack, it lost some points.

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BUT DA CHARACTERZ R AWSUM!11!!!1

When I booted up the game, I noticed a new change: the title screen. Instead of the traditional “Rebirth” title, with the angelic wings attached to Isaac’s name, the wings turned to blood outlines, the blue friendly title turned a menacing red, and the Afterbirth name took over. I knew I was in for a helluva ride.

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Talk about a logo that wants to wreck your shit.

It presented itself the same as Rebirth, otherwise, not adding any new artistic qualities or game-changing mechanics. Some of the floors got an overhaul in that every area in the first four sets got alternate paint jobs made available (Scarred Womb is my favourite), and there was a new game mode added that is honestly a ton of fun if you’re looking for a “boss/enemy rush”-type game mode, as well as a daily challenge that’s the same for everyone, so you can discuss your experience with friends or on the internet, but the presentation of Afterbirth left a few things to be desired.

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I can see the creep on the floor in the Womb, now!!

What’s different about BoI:A is the way it’s played. It’s a top-down dungeon crawler, much like The Legend of Zelda. You use WASD to move, and the arrow keys to shoot, or the joysticks on an Xbox 360 gamepad if you have one available. It is so much better with a gamepad, I highly recommend using one. Also, the controls are so perfectly programmed that every mistake or success you have feels like it’s completely your responsibility. The game runs at 60 frames per second, too, so blaming lag is a thing of the past.

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Smoother than that peanut butter “choosy” moms like.

There is a treasure room on every floor, giving you an added bonus of some sort for the duration of the game. There is a luck mechanic in the game that determines the usefulness and, for lack of a better term, desirableness of the powerups you receive. You get an added bonus as you defeat each end of floor boss, as well as the possibility of a shop to grant you even more power, provided you have the coins and keys to do so. You can unlock different rooms based on the number of keys or bombs you have, you can even unlock sevret rooms by using your own bombs or an exploding enemy. The player mechanics were the same as the original game: cry at things until they die. and move around avoiding the various hazards. Beat the end-of-level boss and continue onto the next floor. Rinse and repeat until the final boss, and finish the game. Pretty standard for a dungeon crawler.

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These are just a *few* of the items in the game.

On my first playthrough, I didn’t meet any of the new enemies on the first floor. I saw a new power-up that I won’t spoil here, but as far as the new content, I didn’t see much. (Then again, I did delete my Rebirth save files and start fresh!) After that first room, I started finding new content EVERYWHERE. This was like playing a completely brand new game. I was impressed with what we were given in this DLC, and it’s yet another reason I’m genuinely impressed with the creative mastermind that is Edmund McMillen.

edmund-mcmillen
The man responsible for this greatness, Edmund McMillen.

Recently, I finally unlocked enough to matter, and got down to the Dark Room, past Sheol. I fought the Lamb and won, and I unlocked even more content. I am far from 100%-ing the game, but I feel that as a gamer, it wins a huge nod in the replayability department, because I want to complete this game. No matter how much of a pain in the ass some playthroughs are, I’m going 100% this game, even if it kills me.

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I’ll see this on my screen someday.

I already spoke on the content, because this *is* a review about a DLC pack, and I gotta say, I’ve never seen a DLC pack add so much relevance to a game. If DLC packs add this much, please, keep making them. They’re are every bit worth it.

Now the art direction is kind of iffy. Sometimes, it got too “artistically” dark to discern anything. Some of the enemies are ambiguous as to what they’re supposed to represent. The music is overpoweringly loud and spoopy (yes, spoopy), but good. I’d say this is probably the weakest point of the game, even though I still enjoyed this aspect.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Afterbirth. It’s a game I’m probably going to be playing on a regular basis over the next few years. Again, Edmund, thanks so much for your incredibly polished contribution to the gaming sphere.

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I had this commissioned as a profile pic, and I’m using it EVERYWHERE. That’s how much impact this game has had on me.

So, next time you drop a deuce, cry at it. Maybe money will come out. Maybe some food. Who knows?

Final Grade: A

boia

Bye Week Update

Hi! Just a quick update.

I did skip this week, that was made apparent when episode 2 of The Walking Dead: Season One didn’t show up on Saturday, and my Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth review didn’t show up today.

Work is kicking my butt and I’m taking overtime to pay off some debts earlier, so this week is a bye week.

The Walking Dead will be back Saturday, November 14th, and my Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth review will be posted Monday, November 16th.

Very sorry about the delay. I’m hoping that you as my readers will understand that I’m a stoopid hoomin. Have a picture of my husky instead!

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How Do I Hold All These Feels Towards Shapes: A Full Review of “Thomas Was Alone”

There is nothing on this Earth more to be prized than true friendship.

–Thomas Aquinas

The above quote probably summarizes this excellent indie game in one sentence better than I could in several paragraphs. I got this game as part of a Humble Bundle and in the year that I didn’t touch it, my thoughts kept returning to it. What was this game like? Why was the logo so minimalistic? What’s so interesting about being alone? What would this game do to set itself apart from the countless hundreds and thousands of other games I’ve played? It blew away my expectations in such a delightful and refreshing way.

DISCLAIMER: STORY SPOILERS FOLLOW. ALSO, THIS GAME IS KIND OF SHORT WITH NOT A LOT OF CONTENT, SO THE REVIEW WILL BE A LITTLE SHORTER. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

shapes
This game is literally nothing but shapes and lighting.

You spend the first part of the game, appropriately titled “Spawn”, figuring out that you are an AI, working through a cyber testing dimension, trying to get to the portal at the end. You succeed, only to be put into another testing track. Seem familiar?

Along the way, you meet a cast of quadrangled characters, all with different abilities. One is small and can fit in small spaces. Another floats in water where others die in it. Another jumps really, REALLY freakin’ high.

All the shapes in their right-angled glory.
All the shapes in their right-angled glory.

Eventually, a “splitter”, known to the AIs as a pixel cloud, is trying to re-separate all of these cyber-squares. When it separates Thomas from everyone, he meets another square-like AI, who falls up instead of down. Together, they work back towards the rest of the group, and Thomas connects to the fountain of knowledge (which we know as the internet) and sees it all. Cat pictures, Scarlet taking her tumble, political ideologies, vegan recipes, even porn. He sees all of it, even though he’s only connected for about 12 seconds. He decides to become an Architect, someone who enables other AIs to escape the cyber realm.

If this game has an enemy, I guess this is it.
If this game has an enemy, I guess this is it.

Then there’s another story with a bunch of grey (I’m sorry….GRAY) pieces and yet another story involving a jetpack. It’s all incredibly interesting and told at a pace that doesn’t seem rushed whatsoever. For a game that’s literally jumping and nothing but jumping, it’s a pretty awesome game.

The gameplay is pretty fluid and responsive, and I’m actually really impressed with how the different abilities must be used constantly to reach the end of the level. It’s not like other games where you can usually get by with just a couple of abilities/weapons. You *must* use everything at your disposal to reach the end of every single minimalistic and seemingly easy level.Even the floater, Claire, who turns out to possibly be the most useful one.

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Seriously, she has her own fandom.

The only qualms I really have with the gameplay is that switching characters is kind of cumbersome, and if the camera is too far off, it takes a second for it to catch up with the selected character.

Also, fuck Team Jump. Controlling five identically-sized and -hued boxes that do exactly the same thing isn’t all that fun, and it’s easy to get confused about who is who and who is where.

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More like Team Utter Confusion

One thing that must be said is the man narrating the story, Danny Wallace, is the perfect man to narrate the story. The BAFTA he won for the game is so well deserved, because he conveys the feelings of the characters so well through his narration, you forget they aren’t actually voiced by anyone. Shy and reserved to confident and forward-thinking with the blue square, Claire. Snobbish and jealous as the orange square Chris. Just a green rectangle that walks on the ceiling but otherwise completely normal James. You seriously can tell when Mr. Wallace switches personalities. It’s magical.

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The man with the “Golden Voice” and the gorgeous looks. Please talk more.

All in all, Thomas Was Alone is an incredibly fun and possibly tear-jerking adventure through what is possible with the power of friendship. Oh, wait, sorry, this isn’t Sonic Heroes. But the message still stands. I give this game an “A” rating.

Join me next week when I review:

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“The Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 1: A New Day” — Let’s Play Saturday’s Halloween Special

Hey everyone!

In keeping with a consistent post schedule, as well as vary content on this blog to keep things as fresh and interesting as possible, I’m going to be posting a Let’s Play episode every Saturday.

For the next 10 weeks, I’m going to be playing through “The Walking Dead” for the XBox 360 as part of a Halloween special. That will be ongoing from today until Friday, January 3nd, 2016. I will announce the next Let’s Play Saturday (LPS) project as we get closer to “The Walking Dead”‘s conclusion, but as it’s the time of year for it, and it’s an LP I’ve always wanted to do, I’m going to go ahead and play it for you guys.

So, I’ll end this post with a special pilot episode première of Telltale Game’s “The Walking Dead“. Enjoy!!!

Have I Ever Told You The Definition Of Insanity? — A Review of FarCry 3’s Solo Campaign

Hi everyone! It’s definitely been a while. Like seven months. I’m sorry about that. But I’ll detail that more in another post because I have a review. Finally. *cue cheering*

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FarCry 3 is, in my opinion, a near-perfect mesh of story-driven gameplay mixed with an open-world engine. While an extraordinary work in its own right deserving of praise on many fronts, there were a few issues I also had with the game. Even though the issues were small yet numerous, it didn’t detract enough from the overall gameplay to make me stop playing, and overall, I thoroughly enjoyed enjoyed every minute of this masterpiece.

There are spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

So, we jump into the body of Jason Brody, who is vacationing in the Pacific Islands with his brothers, best friends, and girlfriend.

Cute in that
Cute in that “I’m totally gonna kill you” kinda way.

During a skydiving adventure, he and his group are kidnapped and forced into the custody of Vaas Montenegro (pictured at top), a high-ranking slave trader working for the head of the worldwide human trafficking organisation headed by a man named Hoyt Volker.

Hoyt Volker in all his meancing, slave trading infamy.
Hoyt Volker in all his meanacing, slave trading infamy.

Your brother Grant, who served in the armed forces for the United States, helps you to escape the camp, only to have Vaas kill him after clearing the last building and send the men under his command after you as a form of entertainment, which is anything but fun for Jason.

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Plot deaths are the most depressing deaths.

After successfully escaping and passing out on a riverbank, you wake up in Amanaki Town to a man named Dennis Rogers, a mechanic genius from Liberia who is a celebrated warrior amongst the local tribe: the Rakyat. They pride themselves on heritage, standing up to any threat, and fearlessness in battle; qualities that are stressed extensively by their tribal leader, Citra Montenegro, who is Vaas’ sister.

Dennis Rogers and Citra Montenegro
Dennis Rogers and Citra Montenegro

With her encouragement as well as the the aid of the rest of the tribe, it becomes your job to rescue your friends and take down Vaas and Hoyt so that the local people can live in peace and you can leave the island with as many of your friends as possible. Along the way, you meet many diverse characters, which help give the game more colour than the beautiful environments already have.

The gameplay, while not inspired by it, plays a lot like Skyrim in the sense that you can do anything at any time. After waking up in Amanaki Town you’re taken off of any rail you were on before and allowed to roam the North Island at your leisure. While the South Island is off limits until you reach a certain point in the story (about 60% of the way through), the game gives you plenty to do on the North Island until that point so you never feel like you run out of things to do. It’s also relatively easy to upgrade most of your equipment by using animal skins and player stats through an innovative XP system to a powerful capacity before you even begin the story proper, making actual story missions a joke as the enemies don’t seem to upgrade with you.

While you eventually get more and more weapons for free as you activate radio towers to unlock more portions of the map, I personally never found any use for more than the shotgun, assault rifle, and (very rarely) the bow outside of story and mission-required weapons.

Upgrading your equipment to its maximum capacity requires you to do two things: liberate an outpost by killing all enemy presence at the outpost, and complete missions that become available after liberation known as “The Path of the Hunter” to kill very rare animals and use their skins to finish upgrading your equipment. A word of advice: these missions are not easy, and can quickly eat 20-30 minutes apiece, depending on your experience with the weapons provided for the mission and how good of a shot you are.

I mean, seriously, fuck this animal in particular.
I mean, seriously, fuck this animal in particular.

The player upgrade system is done through the use of a “tatau”, or tattoo. Every stat you choose to upgrade in one of three categories progresses the tatau further and further down your arm, giving you a real sense of your progress as a character, and visible progress is something I value in a game. The three categories are the Heron, Shark, and Spider. The Heron stats are offensive, giving you access to takedown techniques and shorter reload times for your weapons. The Shark is your self upgrades, dealing mainly in health and stamina. The Spider is completely defensive, dealing in stealth and armor utilization, among other things. Finishing the tatau is a huge undertaking, but it looks so pretty when you complete it.

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Why wouldn’t you want to finish it it’s so pretty!

Now that you know about the gameplay, I have to highlight the problems I have with this game, as well as the redeeming qualities.

Problems are definitely numerous in every game, and FarCry 3 is no exception. My first problem, and one that’s immediately apparent, is that the game’s framerate drops whenever you enter a cutscene, only to have that framerate restored once you leave the cutscene. The massive problem is that the game uses the in-game engine to render these cutscenes, so it would be natural to think that the cutscenes should act just as smooth as the gameplay, so why the drop?

Another problem, and one I’m sure I’ll receive some flak on, is that Jason Brody seems like he’s in his 20’s, and sounds even younger. Through the game, you take down many antagonist characters and earn the respect of the entire tribe, with Citra even likening you to a leader, or a commander. But the speed at which this happens is awkward if you’re playing the story one mission after the other. You go from simple warrior initiate to co-leader of an entire tribe within six or seven missions. It’s insanely hard to believe that someone in his 20’s could earn the command of an entire tribe within a few kills, even if they are key ones. You earn in a couple weeks at a comparatively young age what most tribe members take their entire lives up to that point to earn, and I’m sorry, but I think that’s bullshit.

Also, the button presses and live-action triggers during cutscenes are hard to hit and sometimes don’t take when you press them the first time. You could be doing the whole “Hold “Y” To Heal” and you’re an inch from death, and it doesn’t go. You have to regrab the button and by that point, it’s too late, and you die halfway through the healing sequence.

On a related note, the boss battles are incredibly anticlimactic and devolve into a series of near-pixel-perfect button-pressing cutscenes, which if you’ve been paying attention, the framerate drops during cutscenes making these button presses all the harder to hit, because you have a limited number of frames to hit them. I had to redo the boss battles with Vaas and Hoyt about twelve times because I kept missing the same button press, even though the sequence is fixed and what button you’re supposed to be pressing when never changes. This, in combination with the stupidly long loading times after each attempt makes the sequence simultaneously easy and a pain-in-the-ass to execute properly, a combination I’ve never seen happen until this point.

And finally, the whimsical “stages” you’re in to defeat the bosses look nothing like the previous surroundings that you’re were in immediately before the battle is triggered. Take Buck’s boss battle, for example. Bambi “Buck” Hughes (from what I’ve gathered, I could be wrong) is a sexually dominant and abusive man who bought one of Jason’s friends named Keith from Hoyt to use as his perversions saw fit. Rescuing Keith leads you around the North Island, retrieving things of historical importance from World War II for Buck until you end up in Buck’s basement where he tries to break you into sexual servitude just as he did Keith. The boss battle triggers and you are magically teleported from Buck’s basement to this seemingly disco-ravey place to fight him in close quarters combat.

How does a room similar to this...
How does a room similar to this…
...turn into this?
…turn into this?

This kind of took away some of the satisfaction and realism in the deaths, because it doesn’t seem like you killed them, but rather that they succumbed to their own evils. Also, it’s kind of a cheap way to mark a huge death. In a game world where realism seems to be very, very stressed, you would think that the “big baddies” of the game would die just like every other person instead of drawn out into something reminiscent of vaudeville. Not okay, Ubisoft. This is especially aggravating because Sam, a companion you obtain and really start to like, dies by Hoyt’s hand at poker table through an unceremonious stab to the neck.

Sure, Sam dies normal 'cause he's a
Sure, Sam dies normal ’cause he’s a “good guy”.

And last, but not least, a small problem I had with immersion was that the game goes to great lengths to make you feel like you are Jason Brody by showing limbs while climbing onto ledges and driving vehicles. When you liberate an outpost, the camera pans out showing the outpost and a flag being raised to signify your victory. But if you liberate an outpost and finish within sight of this camera, you’re not in the shot, but the dead bodies of the enemies you kill are.

See those two bodies in the road? I'm supposed to be right next to them. My invisibility only works when I free the people.
See those two bodies in the road? I’m supposed to be right next to them. My invisibility only works when I free the people.

This game, though it’s problems are minute and many, has it’s redeeming qualities.

The non-playable characters that act as your allies really grow on you, and the movement and weapon use is incredibly fluid. Though the story could take a non-canonical turn with the very last choice you make, it doesn’t seem like it’s out of canon nor does it detract from your enjoyment and rather serves to strengthen the game itself. There’s plenty for you to do, the game’s pacing is always adapting to your choices and the order in which you do things, and you’re bound to dump many, many hours into this game just poking around as many corners as you can.

Another excellent strong point is Vaas. The man they chose to portray him in voice and looks is an actor named Michael Mando, and they could not have made a better decision.

A side-by-side comparison of Vaas (in-game) and Mando (promotional photo for the game).
A side-by-side comparison of Vaas (in-game) and Mando (promotional photo for the game).

Mando’s vocal performance and portrayal of Vaas is arguably the best ever portrayal of a character in a video game, beating out Cortana’s voice performance in Halo 4 from actress Jen Taylor. If you don’t believe me, check out this clip of Vaas’ “Definition of Insanity” speech.

All in all, FarCry 3 is an excellent game that immerses you better than any game I’ve played despite it’s massive flaws and errors, and is definitely worth the playthrough if you have the time. I give this game a solid “B+”.

Tune in next Monday for:

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