Backlog Journal – March, 2016: And January and February

Backlog Journal – March, 2016: And January and February

I made a pact with myself this year (I refuse to call it a resolution) to finish 25 games from my backlog before the end of the year. In this instance, anything that was released pre-2016 would be considered a part of my backlog. So I thought I’d begin writing about my progress towards this goal to continue motivating myself, provide a casual recurring feature on my blog, and just have fun talking about old(er) games. Most of the time this will be a month-by-month thing, but to start with I’ll catch up on what I’ve been playing since the beginning of the year.

To start off with, I began the year by playing the two Oracle entries in the Zelda series. Technically, I had started these in December of last year, but since I’m only counting them as one game I think it’s fair to include them on the list. I liked them for the most part, but don’t praise them to the degree others have.

The biggest problem I had is the level of challenge provided by the games. I can see a lot of people loving them for being more difficult than your average Zelda entry, but I personally don’t play Zelda games to be challenged. I often found myself frustrated when unsure of how to approach a particular puzzle or didn’t know where the plot wanted me to go. At one point—in the Hero’s Cave, I believe—the game even trolls the player with a floor tile puzzle that cannot be solved with the same approach as similar puzzles.

Aside from that, I enjoyed both games equally and, for what it’s worth, felt compelled to go back and forth between the two to take advantage of the extra items and final scenario. Now while everyone I’ve talked to thus far has had a favorite of the pair, I can honestly say I enjoyed both scenarios for separate reasons and could never pick one over the other. While I appreciated the larger world of Holodrum and the mechanics of the Rod of Seasons, I felt the characters, story and dungeon designs were superior in Oracle of Ages.

After the Oracle games, I dove right into the next handheld Zelda I’d yet to complete, Minish Cap. This one I had a really good time with and hope to revisit it someday to discover all the many secrets and collectibles. The game takes a Wind Waker approach to the design with a shorter main campaign padded with an immense about of side content. I appreciate this from my games because it means I have more control over the time I spend with it. The story didn’t really do anything for me, but then it was basically every other Zelda story but with a Ganondorf replacement.

During this time I was also working on finishing the main story of Borderlands 2 and perhaps some of the side content. I decided to use my Siren for this. While I actually prefer the Mechromancer, I can’t help but feel a bit like I’m cheating with that absurdly OP robot of hers.

I managed to finish the main campaign without much trouble and enjoyed my time in spite of feeling like it was a little too drawn out. I moved on to play Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon’s Keep… completely by accident. The game’s warp menu doesn’t actually tell you what areas are associated with which DLC so when I transported to the docks assuming it would start the pirate-themed DLC, I was instead thrown into the Tiny Tina DLC. This turned equally into a blessing and curse.

Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon’s Keep is easily the best piece of DLC I’ve ever played. It was imaginative, filled with an equal balance of poignant and irreverent humor that was almost always hilarious, and had a fair amount of content. It was also frustratingly difficult for the character build I entered with. At one point I almost quit before finishing because of a boss battle that had me killing two forms of four bosses while being assaulted by seemingly indestructible enemies (I was unaware at the time that one could defeat the immortal skeletons by interacting with their corpses, I still imagine this would have been incredibly difficult with everything else going on in the battle).

However, soon after this point I gained the Siren’s Toxic Cloud ability which made the game infinitely easier but came with its own set of problems. Many quests would have me damage but not kill an enemy or kill an enemy with a specific elemental attack. However, the toxic cloud would often override any elemental gun I was using or would simply kill an enemy too quickly. Having a way to toggle the ability would have been a welcome feature.

After finishing TTAoDK, I finally moved on to the pirate DLC I had intended to start with. It was not long after this point that I quit and declared the game completed. The DLC wasn’t particularly bad, but it didn’t have the same charm as Tiny Tina’s and was far too easy and boring after having completed the other DLC. Once I got frustrated for being unable to locate a quest marker, I metaphorically threw up my arms in contempt and moved on to something else.

The main games of February (besides the Witness, which I had bought not long after launch and immediately fell in love with) were Evoland 2 and Danganronpa. The former was a near perfect example of how to create a successful sequel. The first game felt like a massive waste of potential, and instead of grasping that potential and risking a rehash of its predecessor, Evoland 2 went a different direction while still showing that lessons were learned. The result was a fun homage to the history of video games that also managed to stand on its own with a derivative but engaging story and constantly changing content that never lasted long enough to feel stale. It also had a collectible card minigame that rivaled some of Square Enix’s best efforts.

Danganronpa was another one I couldn’t seem to put down. I had to fight to pace myself so as to savor the amazing characters and trial mechanics. The story was very much back loaded, with most of the game focusing on developing characters instead of plot, but the characters themselves were so interesting that I couldn’t possibly have asked for the pacing to be any different. The game’s central theme of hope vs. despair is carried out all too perfectly as characters are brought to life just in time to be killed. The uncertainty of a favorite character making it to the end becomes more and more dreadful as the cast continues to dwindle. The moments when a dead body is going to be discovered are broadcast quite plainly and it’s always a tense moment as you wait to find out who it is.

I also replayed The Longest Journey and Dreamfall during this time in preparation of playing Dreamfall Chapters, but I still haven’t pulled the trigger on that one. I’m anticipating being disappointed, as there has not been a lot of discussion about the game since its release. Given how much fans of the series were really looking for some closure after Dreamfall’s cliffhanger ending, I was surprised the only buzz for Chapters was when the game was announced.

This finally brings us to March, which turned out to be a bit of a slow month for finishing backlog games. The only one I managed to finish was Hyperdevotion Noire as the rest of my gaming time was dedicated to bouncing back and forth between far too many other backlogged titles and getting sticker packs in Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 2.

HD Noire was a surprisingly good game. It’s a Hyperdimension Neptunia spinoff taking the form of an unexpectedly competent grid-based tactical RPG. One of the key features to the game’s quality is a cast of 20+ characters that all play different enough from each other to be uniquely useful in varying situations. The Neptunia series’ playful tongue-in-cheek humor and quirky brand of fourth-wall breaking is in top form, which is slightly detracted thanks to more of a focus on fanservice. While this is mostly inoffensive, there were two particular scenarios that made me cringe. Battles toward the end also suffer from less of a focus on strategy and more on raw power and survivability.

I could probably write an article—and hopefully someday will—about how Compile Hearts/Idea Factory’s recent games always seem to reach so close to being a truly good game while never really hitting the mark

And that basically brings us up to date. This month promises to be a little more successful than March, with plenty of games in progress such as Torchlight 2 and Fantasy Life, and starting some shorter games like Danganronpa 2 and finally Dreamfall Chapters.

In the future I don’t plan on these journals being this collection of mini-reviews, but rather a narrative of my time spent with these backlog games (with some inevitable critiques of course, but less so than in this entry). Until then, I’ll probably be starting a weekly response to major news stories soon hopefully followed by at least one focused article a week.

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