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Art or not art? That is the question… – Musings on Video Games

imagesForgive me for my bad Shakespear impression…but first,…I have to slap myself for writing this. Not only for this unexcusable attempt to write a fitting title, but for the whole idea of actually meddling with the game politics and speak my mind about it. (What outrageous thought…) If you haven’t noticed by now, this is going to be a lot more serious than my other “reviews”….I’m so going to regret this, am I?

So, don’t like, don’t read. I’m not angry when someone disagrees with what I’m writing about. I’m a supporter of open mind and free discussion. So, I’m going to throw the central question in here.

“Are Video Games Art?”

…Don’t mind me if I’m getting a headache right now, because this topic is a glorious absurd vicious circle and of course, I can’t withstand the temptation to write about it. (I’m slowly thinking I’m a masochist at heart…)

What is the clear definition of art, in general? I dare you to not open wiki or google (bing, yahoo or use the classic book dictonary) the word “art”. What comes to mind when we think about art? Well, pictures, sculptures, paintings, music, literature, performing arts and so on.

And why do we consider these things as art? It is human made, is a part/product of our culture, has influenced culture and was/is influcenced by it. We admire it, we debate about the meaning, we consider a deeper meaning behind it, or just simply accept it as “a piece of art” because we were told that this is art. It’s a human product, build out of our knowledge, vision, time, interpretation and talent.

First of all, this is a personal definition and I don’t know if it does cover with other definitions or not. The problem with such topics is, in general, that there a many definitions in different contexts on art. And don’t get me started on culture. In some circles it either provokes a neverending discussion, which may or may not escalate or dead silence, depending on where you bring up this topic.

In my point of view, it is rather subjective, strongly depending on different influcences, the culture we have grown up in and the knowledge we have aquired through years, on the period of time we are living and our own interpretation. What may be on wiki or in a dictonary is the general accepted explanation, but that doesn’t mean, that it covers the essence what different people might see in the topic of art. But let’s explain it with a personal example.

By all means, I’m no art student and I’m not familiar with the history of art in any way…but I was on different exhibitions. I went through classic art like portraits (Mona Lisa and the Kiss by Klimt being famous examples) to sculptures of Michelangelo to Impressionists to “Modern Art”. The first examples being almost beyond price and the last a pile of bananas on a table.

You can guess what my reaction. I was seriously confused. I considered art as something exeptional, as a product not every human can produce, as something unique, a talent not everyone has and now I was confronted with a pile of banana peals which can be considered as art (This is nothing unique since every person could do such a thing). Then it was explained to me that this piece of art is about the message the creator wants to send to the viewers and the discussion around it. Since I’m a writer in the amateur department I’,m familar with this. When telling a story you want to get a point across, but what point it is, can vary from the point of view.

And that is a major thing which is funny and frustrating at the same time.

For example you can take it for what you see: A sculpture, a stone, a simple story of a boy and a girl or a pile of bananas on a table. Or you can try to explain it with symbolism and interpretation thereof. And the last thing can be considered a problem in some cases. Symbols and interpretation of symbols vary, depending on the person and the person’s culture and story. A dagger can be a weapon, a threat, a symbol for war or a soldier, of betrayal or , according to Freud…You know what I mean.

images (1)A coded critic on society? On economy? On enviroment?  Or was Freud right?

And depending on the person you ask you can get a different interpretation. If you don’t ask the creator, that is. They were sheldomly asked what they really meant by it or say it is “to provoke the mind and people”. I feel with the authors who suddenly were accused to embed a hidden message in every thing they describe, even if they didn’t have the intention to do so. (Oh there are red curtains in the book! That has to mean something!)

So, bananas on a table is art, because it stirrs up your train of thoughts? Because it provokes me to question it? Then what about Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey? They did as well stir me thoughts and provoked me to ask how could it be considered literature, but it can hardly considered art (…or I’m I wrong?) Of this, I draw the conclusion that writing is an art form, but it doesn’t produce art automatically, at least, in my opinion. I have nothing against Modern Art but some pieces make me wonder..,Is this really art? The answers I get ranges from yes to no to maybe.

What has that to do with Video games? It is made for enterainment from humans for humans. But so are books,    films, theatre performances and music. I dare to say their first and furthermost goal is to entertain humans in different ways. But when does entertainment become art and when is art not some form of entertainment? You may think, maybe sculptures or portraits are an example to rebut this argument, but aren’t they entertainment in things of aesthetic? Of self picturing? In every work is a hidden meaning, but only the creator or employer knows what kind of meaning. Either he/she wanted just a statue or I don’t know, wanted to show off their money or talent, or something completely different.

Of course there are other important questions as well. In case of film or video games, what defines this point of turning the work into art? Just because someone threw in some symbols, so we can interpret what it should mean? Maybe. Or is it what the story behind it that tries to tackle and question society? Could be as well. There is no clear definition of what differs the one from the other, although some consider that there is a line. There are people who will never consider video games as art form or modern art for that matter.

I can remember that I was called narrow minded because I questioned some exhibits on modern art and asked if that is really art, because everyone can splash some paint on the wall and say “Look here I created art”. People called me out that “I don’t understand art” and “don’t see the meaning and idea behind it.”. I won’t deny it. I don’t have the slightest clue what art is supposed to be. I think art describes something that humans created. Something man-made, but at the same time I don’t consider everything that humans create as a piece of art. I think, I don’t know. And I’m well aware that what I’m taught about art depends on my society and own experiences with it. In the end, human societies decide what can  be regared as art, regardless the individual person. But societies always change.

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Poetical and entertaining…How can this be not art?

My conclusion is: Programming games and telling stories are an art form, since it creates something, yet at the same time, it doesn’t always create art depending on different views. To say that Video Games will never reach a certain level of art or isn’t art, is, in that perspective at least, a little bit rashly and an argument without good footing. What art is, depends on different factors and let’s be honest, the argument that art can be timeless or at least, survives a certain periode of time, because it is unique and will be remembered…Pieces what we see today were, to put in bluntly, just lucky to survive to this day. What we consider as art can be forgotten by the next generation.

But I will come to an end with this. I called it a vicious circle because there isn’t really an end to this debate. It is a subjective matter and thus everyone can have a different opinion without really being right or wrong.

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Posted by on June 17, 2013 in Musings

 

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Remember me – A hunt for memories

Remember_Me_Game

What would you do if you could reset unpleasant memories, share your precious moments with your loved one, see things through their eyes, feel what they felt in that situation? And when you happen to have the ability to alter those memories, turn, twist and form them just as you like? Would you use it?

Nilin has this unique ability and ,as a memory hunter of the Errorist, decided to use it against the corrupt industry of memory trade and the city of Neo-Paris (You guess right, it’s a futuristic setting). Of course along her way, something went terribly wrong and she got captured and her memory deleted and this, ladys and gentelmen, is where our game starts.

A story full of questions underlined with philosophical flavour and rounded with action gameplay. Oh, I’m going to have fun with this one…in one way or another…

I will start with the gameplay. First of all, the levels are very, very linear. Most of the time, it is essentially a road with tiny branches in which upgrades wait to be collected by the player. You have to go from A to B to continue the story and you will meet obstacles along the way. Either enemies you have to fight or you have climb around an obstacle.

The combat system…is interesting. Yes, we settle with “interesting” here as description, since I lack a better term. You will fight, for the most time, hand to hand and try to execute combos. Nothing out of ordinary, but you decide which button does what effect in the combo. I’m aware how stupid this wording sounds, so let me explain this in a more detailed way. There are different combo-sets which you gain throughout the story and you can unlock different buttons to fill those combos, so you can execute them in battle.

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There are buttons which can fill up your Focus-Gauge (which you need to activate special attacks), some which do more damage, some which can heal you (…I can’t really come up with a decent explanation how this should work, other than Nilin has to be a complete sadist who takes pleasure in the pain of others.) and some which can enhance the effect of the buttons which follow in the combo. So you can create a combo-chain which does damage, heals you and does other nasty things.

Naturally, your enemies try to break your combo and they do a really good job. Of course, you can dodge and try to continue your combo, but with a narrow battleground with lots of annoying enemies, this isn’t as easy as it may sound. I have nothing against difficult battles, but some battles are difficult because I can lock the camera on an enemy which I want to keep in sight, so I can dodge its attacks.

For example, there is an enemy type which is stronger when other monsters/people are around. The logical solution to this problem is “kill the critters -> then kill the bigger critter”. This would be go smoothly, wouldn’t the camera switch when I take a few steps forward (you can’t control the camera by the way) in a way I can’t see the bigger critter attacking me from behind. It’s really annoying. The only time you can lock on an enemy is in “gun mode” (or rather the gun-like weapon which you obtain in the story).

But that aside, what is with the whole memory stealing and memory altering? That should be the focus in the story, right?…Right? It revolves around it, but the parts in which you use your altering ability are few and this is really a pity. How do you alter memories? Well, you see a sequence which you can rewind and you alter some details which lead to another outcome. It’s a really nice aspect of the game, but like I said, they are few, unfortunately. This system would be good for side quests in which you decide what the people think and remember. Ah, I should mention that this game has no side quests.

Now let’s get to the last point(s). The story and atmosphere.

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Corrupt state/industry? Check. Rebells who do questionable things? Check. An (at first) amnesiac protagonist? Memory dealing/altering? Check. Yes, we had all those things in a way. (Why am I reminded of Total Recall?) But what is important is the presentation and in what way you do it.

When I say, the story isn’t surprising and predictable, I have to add, that I have the ability or more the curse to predict twists and turns in a story before they happen. (Which led to my reputation of being a “walking spoiler”) So…How predictable was it for me? To say it metaphorically…Some things had the nasty flavour of a punch in the face, because I have not only seen it coming, but it was so predictable that it hurt me. (or rather my non-existent heart). But I will forgive that…somewhat, since the story is not that bad, not at all, just not the strongest or the best thought out. Just some things had me raise my eyebrow and say “Really now?”

I have to give credit for the designs in this game. They are interesting to look at and you have the feeling that someone has put thought in it and tried to make a good world and atmosphere which goes along with the story. On one hand there are the Slums with the ghoul like creatures  and other poor people who wither in pain, on the other the city were people talk normally to each other. It is not the best I have seen, but it’s well made. This and the naming theme in this game. (Slum 404, the Errorists, Bad Request…etc. and the fact that Edge has a resemblence to Alex Mercer (Prototype))

My conclusion on the hunt? I didn’t expect anything from it or at least, I tried to not expect anything. The Artwork is great and so is the world in my opinion, but in the gameplay and writing section it isn’t more than medicore. There was a lot of unused potential which was, sadly, not used. I could talk about the story more, but  I don’t want to spoil anything for those, who haven’t played it yet. I will sum it up in the words, such a topic as story is hard to bring in a game and this game bit a little to much then it could chew in the end.

For those who want to know what Nilin means…It means flower. Nalin means lotus, in the buddhism, its the flower of enlightment…Yeah.

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2013 in Ps3

 

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Black & White 2: Let’s hunt some Aztecs

Black_&_White_2_Logo

After a long slumber you descend from the higher plane to grace your people with your magnificant presence once more. Your conciousness welcome you in Eden, the planet which once depended on your wisdom and guidance and help you to fresh up your memory about your abilities and help you to choose your entity of physical power, a creature.

Finally, they lead you to an island. It is the mainland of the Greeces, a nation who still lives faithful you and your belief and, to this day, await your presence with growing anticipation. Then the island in sight, a prayer reaches you, a plead full of need, You follow it, finding a woman who kneels in front of a monument that was build in your honor, pleading for you to listen. Your gaze turned, looked upon the houses who broke down in a burning blaze, trapping and buring people beneath it. Soldiers fight, despreatly trying to defend their home from the enemy who sweeped over the city like a swarm of locusts, leaving nothing than corpses and destruction.

“We were run over by the Aztecs! Please help us!”

As their God, you take action and try to strike down those who dared to lay hand on your people. Suddenly a vulcan emerged of the burning ground, destroying with its lava everything in its path. The conciousness urges you to let go of the invaders and concentrate on saving as much people as possible. After only having saved a handfull of your believers, the creature of the enemy summoned another vulcan, making it unable to rescue more.

The once mighty God of Gods was forced to flee to another island. It was peaceful, the chaos lying behind as you look down on those who still firmly believed in you. How many people found their death on that day, you don’t know, but one half of your conciousness demands revenge for those who couldn’t be saved while the other indirectly agreed in silence.

The Aztecs will be held accountable for this and your hand will bring the divine punishment to them. They angered a God and now they will be regretting their actions soon enough.

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They will pay for this…

*clears throat* (sorry, not the best of my intros…I’m feeling unwell at the moment) This story plays a few centuries after the first one (I think), people have involved, living a good amount of time without divine help. Even a few of them, especially mortals who are in a leading position, don’t believe that you are, in fact, a God (at first) and think that everything in the first game was just a legend, including the prophecy which predicts that a God will help a nation who was on the brink of extinction. (And I find the fact funny, that albeit that you are a divine theoretical immortal being, you are still a slave of fate.)

Despite the first game, your enemies are human. The Norse and the Japanese are allies of the Azects and before you can make the latter suffer for their deeds, you have to draw the other opposing partys onto your side. (I don’t really count the Egyptians to them, since they are always on the side lines) How you convert them is your decision. Either impress them or raid their countries or do both.

Black White 2

“Impress” and “conquer” work differently than the first game. To impress you build a magnificent city with temples, public baths, parks and so on. People will then abandon their old home to come to your city. When you conquer, your army (yes, people are now smart enough to create weapons) goes to another village and take down the town centre. If they succeed, the village is yours, including the people. So, either you focus your believers on one point (namely your main city) or spread them on different villages. Whatever you do, your town changes with your alignement. If you are good, people are happy, there are flowers everywhere and the buildings are white. If you are evil…the land is bare, people are unhappy and scared and the overall atmosphere is darker.

But back to one  of the new features. The fact that you have your own army. They can level up, (recruit to veteran) and there are archers, swordsmen and catapults. They give you some security if they are enemies outside your walls, patrolling and waiting for a catapult to break your defenses down.

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Yeah, you have walls. Yeah, you need said walls if you don’t want enemy soldiers to hold a picnic in your city. You can either take them down with a catapult or with a creature. Have I mentioned that the enemy also have creatures although they are not Gods? But don’t worry, the AI of the computer is at its highest peaks more annoying than really threatening. Just don’t try to go headless Knight Templar on the main captial of the opposing side. It doesn’t end well often.

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To impress, you need to build monuments and buildings like temples, luxurious houses and so on. I should mention that you won’t get a huge temple of power like in the first game. Instead, you have a town centre where you can see what your people need and what alignment you are.

I think that this is some sort of a downgrade to the prequel, and personally, I can’t understand why they took it out. Was it so hard to create a bigger Greece temple with rooms in it? I don’t know. Besides that, B&W2 offers more variation when it comes to buildings. You can create villas, prisons, skyscrapers, country houses, taverns, baths, etc. At the beginning you just have a very tiny line-up of buildings, but you can buy new ones by spending tribute in the menu.

Tibute is, so to speak, the reward for side quests and quests and you can spend it on different skills, miracles, buildings and troops. This is not a bad idea, although I kind of missed the ability to choose between good and evil in most of the quests. Concerning buildings…buildings impress less the more you build the same type of it in your city and how close you build them together. Some of them enhance your production of corn or metal which makes city planning a little more strategic than in B&W.

goodAltar

Since you are a God, you have an altar where your minions *clears throat* people pray to create miracles like fireballs, water, heal, meteors etc. In this game, you can convert people to pray at the altar day in, day out without them collapsing from hunger.  What I appreciate, is that you can use some of them in two different ways. For example the water miracle. Either water your fields or splashing it on the enemy soldiers to slow them down. Or the fire miracle, either  throw a fire ball or create a fire wall to stop people from advancing. What I don’t like, is, that you buy miracles with tribute.

When you buy buildings, okay, when you enhance some abilities like the ability to use gestures, alright. But miracles are something you should earn. Just like in some mini-quests in B&W where you choice influenced the miracles you get as reward.

imagesLet the Siren sing…

Other than normal miracles, there are epic ones. They are a huge buildings and are just like an altar, but take more time to generate miracles. You can summon a hurricane, make the earth shake and convert enemy soldiers through the song of a siren.

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With the creature-business…I also have some sort of a split opinion. On the one hand you can handle them easier, making them do job through different leashes and you can see, what a creature has learned in the menu. On the other…I somehow really liked the tamagochi thing in the prequel. I won’t deny the AI had flaws, but it gave you a feeling of raising a creature from a small pup  with no idea about the world to a force that has to be reckoned with. If you sent your creature to another village for the first time, it fills you with pride if it used the tactics you had taught him. In B&W2…it is more robotic and bleak. And you just use it as soldier and gatherer…not as a messenger of your belief.

On this point I should mention that a creature doesn’t learn miracles anymore. You have to buy this ability with tribute. Money rules even Eden, it seems.

There is one addon for this game. Battle of Gods. Exactly what is says on the tin. The Aztecs summon an undead God to take revenge. Said undead God can use miracles as well and will pester you with it. One thing I enjoyed is, that you can kill undead soldiers with healing spells, but besides a more challenging enemy, that was it.

black&white2battleofthegods-01What a stubborn nation…They don’t even stay dead.

Conclusion? This prey tasted a little bit…bad. Not throwing up bad, but still bad. There are some improvements, like city building, army and how the city looks like through your alignement and the enemy is much more aggressive than in its prequel. But it took major steps back in points I found myself to enjoy in the B&W. The temple is gone, the creature is robotic and didn’t have a personality.

Story wise, it was an interesting beginning, but all in all was medicore. The story isn’t really the focus here, it just exists to explain why you battle them. Side stories are creative and really funny at times. Should I say it ? It felt more like a very light version of Anno (I feel sorry for this series to compare it with B&W2. Anno is a good game, but I lack a better comparison.) with miracles and a creature than really a God-Simulation. I concentrated more on building a city (and especially how to build it) than really on being, well, a God. I didn’t impress anyone with miracles or punished them for something. The only thing I have burned down were, the enemy soldiers and creature, when they came to close.

I have nothing against changes in a game or a shift of focus. But even when B&W wasn’t the best game of all times, it came up with interesting ideas which didn’t deserve to be downgraded like that.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2013 in Pc

 

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The Elder Scrolls Series – A Hunt on Nirn

The-Elder-Scrolls-Logo

The Elder Scrolls Series…Ah, this post is going to be a long one, isn’t it? For personal convenience, here is the thing I’m seeing right now:

  • 1994 TES: Arena
  • 1996 TES II: Daggerfall
  • 1997 An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlesprire
  • 1998 TES Adventures: Redguard
  • 2002 TES III: Morrowing, The Elder Scrolls III: Tribunal
  • 2003 TES III: Bloodmoon, The Elder Scrolls Travels: Stormhold
  • 2004 TES Travels: Dawnstar, TES Travels: Shadowkey
  • 2006 TES IV: Oblivion, The Elder Scrolls Travel: Oblivion, The Elder Scrolls IV Knights of the Nine
  • 2007 The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles
  • 2011 The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • 2012 The Elder Scrolls V: Dawnguard, Hearthfire, Dragonborn

Yes…This is going to be a long one and wow, I begin to feel a little bit old, only just by looking at the timeline…

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I will put here just a map that you can see, what game played in which region.

Nevermind. Just in case, somebody doesn’t know what I’m going to talk about right now, here is a short information what you do in these games.

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You create a character (see pictures above for the different races you can choose from, they have different perks and attributes), female or male and set out to do quests, fight in first person, explore and become politically involved with the whole mess in or between countries (and other plains). The last thing…yeah, you guessed right. Nobody asked you, you just were at the wrong place at the wrong time (often a prisoner who doesn’t really have a choice in that matter).

Interestingly, you learn by doing and not (really) from leveling up. Do alchemy and you level up alchemy, if you use a bow than you level up your bow skill, etc. In the first games, there were classes to choose from and you could make a costumary class out of different skills. The chosen class has given you a perk in chosen skills  which in return were critical for you to level up, what again influenced your abilities and attibutes and vice versa (some skills are intelligent based, some were agility…you get the point.) You can also read books or pay a trainer for instant skill increase (for free sometimes). This class system was flattened or experimented on over the course of the Series and dropped in Skyrim to be replaced by an other system…but we get back to that later…

Let’s begin with the original game series (TES I – TES V), shall we?

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TES: Arena plays, like its sequels, on the continent of Tamriel on the planet Nirn. (Tamriel, according to lore means “Starry Heart” or is elfish for Dawn’s Beauty…or The Starry Heart of the Dawn’s Beauty…depends on  what person you ask) Emperor Uriel Septim VII is kept in another dimension while the Imperial Battlemage Jagar Tharn takes his role and appearance. Because his apprentice Rin doesn’t want to have anything to do with this, he kills her, but before she breaths her last breath, she helps the Player to escape the dungeon to find artefacts and combine them to the Staff of Chaos to battle the Battlemage and bring back the Emperor.

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Graphics…yeah, not compareable with those things today, isn’t it?

Gameplay was first person you could cast spells, attack with swords, maces, etc…The terrain was randomly generated, and the map bigger than in the sequels (even Morrowind and Skyrim). There were caves and dungeons to explore, NPCs etc. The name “Arena”…Let’s say the game was planned as gladiator game and then it some sort had a more “metaphorical” meaning.

You are in the dimension “Mundus” (lat. World) where the power of Oblivion (Evil) and Aetherius (good, again lat. for angelic, celestial, airy) battle just like in an arena…Yeah, mortals have nothing to say in this discussion, deal with it. I think the whole Gladiator/Ancient Rome setting  has survived in the Latin naming and in the  Imperials (just as european history in Tamriel as a whole)…Besides Oblivion (but I guess, the latin word Oblivo sounded kind of stupid in comparison to Aetherius.)

The graphics weren’t special even for the time it came out, the soundtrack wasn’t really breathtaking either…It was pretty medicore, but still, it was a hit for gamers. The reviewers at that time…they weren’t pleased, because of the bugginess of the game You can make up your own mind on that, due the 10th anniversary of TES, you can download it for free.

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This cover that is definitely more fitting for a horror game *clears throat*…TES II: Daggerfall came out two years later. Now you are not in the capital of the continent but in the hometown of the Bretons (Humans with high magic affinity) in High Rock and in Hammerfell. This time you were sent there by the personal quest of the Emperor and has two goals: Lay the ghost of a king to final rest and…

…find a letter that somehow went missing in the court of Daggerfall. (Seriously…? What by the Nines are those guys doing the whole time?) The “special” thing about this games is, that it had six different endings depending on choice.

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Despite the enchanced graphics (notable in gore and sexual department) and combat mechanics, this indroduced the spell creating/armor enchanting system, Guilds, Political system, ability to buy houses and ships, become a vampire, werwolf or a wereboar (yeah, a wereboar.) But the map is, still for the most part, randomly generated and ,according to Bethesda, it has the Size of Great Britain with over 15.000 towns, villages, dungeons to explore and around 750.000 NPCs the player can interact with. This is a serious case of Quantity over Quality, people. Just saying…

For the 15th anniversary, again, this game is free downloadable.

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TES III: Morrowind with its two addons Tribunal and Bloodmoon plays for the most part in Vvardenfell the homeland of the Dunmer (Dark Elves) and revolves around the reincarnation of the Nerevarine, a Dunmer hero. And you begin as a criminal (?) which is shipped of to Morrowind. You are then hired by a Blade (the Emporer’s Spies/Bodyguards) to investigate this tale about the Nerevarine along with the trouble of the Island Vvardenfell is having at the moment (sickness, a vulcan, ash rains…among other things). Tribunal takes you to the main land and meet the Goddess Almalexia, the former wife (?) of the Nerevarine. (although the name sounds like a nasty sickness, it comes from the words “alma lex” – “The kindly Law”) Bloodmoon plays on an island not far from Vvardenfell, Solstheim.

The map wasn’t as big as in the other two prequels, but they put more quality in it with the dialogs, quests and overall graphic. When you look at the pictures you will see that it took a huge step not only in matters of graphic, but also in the atmosphere department. The world was…different with the strange vegetation and transport means and the music was memoriable. Every time I hear “Call of Magic”, the main theme, I think of this game. This is the one game of the Series that had the most impact on me. Maybe I was just remembered off the hugely text based Baldur’s Gate when I saw the dialog-boxes.

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Just look at it. So many choices!

And as far as I know, this game made place 21 in the list of the Top 25 overrated games of all time by Game Spy. I respect the opinion of others, but that doesn’t mean that such Overrated Games lists don’t make me smile this specific sadistic smile when I scroll down the commentary section and see people starting a verbal war. (or starting to simply discuss. I enjoy both)

I don’t agree with the repetitive part of gameplay which they brought up. I honestly don’t know where this statement came from. Maybe because the slash animation wasn’t the finiest in the branch? I don’t know. When I would crawl through the same dungeon design…that would be repetivie, but to explore and discover different sections of an island with a own culture and background lore is not, when it is good executed

Morrowind was a good game, but with bugs here and there, so it wasn’t perfect, not at all. The skill/class/level system could be a little bit unclear at the beginning, but it was acceptable for me (since I like to have a wide range of it and test out different things to get a feeling) What could be a little bit annoying is that important Npcs aren’t unkillable. Let’s say, sometimes the AI isn’t the brightest thing in a game and when they attack you…You get the point. There is also the reputation system and that fact that people has a range from 1-100 in things of liking you. Every Npc. (A funny fact, after I was the Archmage in the guild, every mage guild liked me, even when they hated me at first.) The Npcs also react to your gender. Sometimes it is easier to be a male, sometimes easier to be a female to complete a quest.

Besides that the only game who could conquer Morrowind at that time was Neverwinter Nights. They really beat each other over different rewards.

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Then, in 2006, came Oblivion which had also two expansions: Knights of the Nine and Shivering Isles. Yeah, the Evil in this TES Universe and you know something bad will happen. Your character has done some crime again and are in the dungeon in the main capital (Seriously, you sit behind bars a lot, it seems) and you just are lucky enough that an escape route is located in your cell. Emperor Uriel Septim and two of his guards try to escape through said route from a couple of Assassins…and then his Highness recognizes you as someone who he saw in his dream. End of the escape story is, that the Assassins succeed, but only after Uriel gives you his amulett and instructs you to bring it to a friend of his. Ah, and those people from Oblivion want to invade Tamriel…nice.

Knights of the Nine is a homage on the Knight Templars, but this addon was…well I guess, nothing really mentionable. Shivering Isles is a total different matter. You get to meet the deadric Prince of Madness in his domain and I was really surprised how well written and…well…mad he was. (Totally one of the best characters I have encountered in the Elder Scroll universe)

The story of Oblivion has nice (predictable) twists in the main story and with the different guilds, but…despite Morrowind you could join any guild you like. The prequel had skill restriction in the guilds and you had to meet them before joining or even get a higher rank. Additionally when you joined a specific guild in Morrowind you hadn’t access to another. (for example House Redoran or House Telvanni) In Oblivion you can join what you like. This is not bad…but I don’t agree with it either. In the prequel you are rewarded with the rank…not “here after the quest you have it, mage or not”.

The atmosphere is good, the forests nicely and bright designed, the dungeons, especially the Ayleid were great. I have a weakness for ruins with traps and hidden treasuries. The people looked…They didn’t look bad, but …squishy? I can’t come up with a better word.

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I really  don’t know how to describe this face

Besides the bugs (nothing too gamebreaking), the game was too easy. Far too easy, for my taste. In Morrowind you had directions and you had to find it on your destination on your own. In Oblivion you have a mark on the map. This somehow destroyes the illusion of exploration for me. Of course, I had to reload sometimes, but it wasn’t really demanding as its prequel. Yeah, I compare those games, yeah I still like Morrowind better as Oblivion. The story was better, the setting and the mechanics had a better feeling to it as in Oblivion.

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And then…came Skyrim. Shouting at Dragons and kill them with it. That’s one epic idea. This time you are in, guess what, Skyrim, Home of the Nord, 200 years after Oblivion took place. You come to a town in Skyrim to be beheaded for crossing the borders at the false time. (Yeah, you aren’t a lucky one) But luckily a creature that long should be dead, crashes your party. It’s a dragon and it destroys the village you are in, but you can flee, of course. Later, you find out that you are the Dragon Born, a mortal with the soul of a dragon and the only one who can kill these things permanently.

I was honestly surprised how this game drew me in, although it still had this point-map-thing und you could join- any-guild. It has done a better job with the atmosphere. The mage guild is something frowned upon, there were bards in the taverns who sang about different famous people and about the legend of the Dragon Born, there are the companions, you can become friendly with the local Jarls. You climb mountains to find Dragons and new Words for your voice shouts. And the ongoing civil war, where no one is entirely good or bad.

Not to forget, that the backstory is so much more darkly foreboding and present than in the prequels. I don’t mean that the other storys where totally rainbow and full with sunshine, but this story took the cake for me. If you have played Morrowind or Oblivion, then its not nice to hear that the floating city of Vivec feel down after the God disappeared, killing a dozen of people, not to mention that vulcan on the island which covers everything in ash, stones and lava. And…Oblivion, the White Tower in the Capital fell, the Empire is now forced into an ultimatum by the Thalmor-Elves and its former glory is now a distant past.

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And to top it all, the Dragons return. From bad to worse indeed.

In the Addon Dragon Born, you can see what happened to Solstheim after the Mountain on Morrowind errupted, not a nice sight.

Speaking of Addons, Dawnguard goes with the whole vampire against vampire hunters pretty well, but there was much potential unused, many threads are not finished. Dragon Born, was an interesting take on what a Dragon Born could do and the library of wisdom of the daedric prince was really good designed. Heathfire…nice and well, Sims in Skyrim. I don’t know…I found it rather unnecessary.

But Skyrim isn’t a perfect game either. Again, it is too easy, but it was more acceptable to me than Oblivion  and it had questbreaking glitches and bugs. The soundtrack is very good and epic, the designs and the villages as well, but…this whole thing with the NPCs…especially marrying one. I repeat myself, I have nothing against romance in games when in is well executed. This is just…”Hello there, want to marry me?”

When you can’t make good memoriable, likeable characters…please just leave such a feature out. Serana in the Dawnguard was a good beginning, but she was not marriagable. The game has a general good feeling, a step up from Oblivion for me. In some places better as Morrowind even, but there is so much potential unused in some things, that just tastes bitter.

Luckily, there is a rather active Mod community.

I won’t get more into the whole game system, because there were enough reviews on it. Now the most important question, Where are the Elder Scrolls? They are mentioned, had appearances…They are powerful scrolls which can predict the future and blind you when you read them unprepared. Prophecies is a central role in the games.

When misrule takes its place at the eight corners of the world

When the Brass Tower walks and Time is reshaped

When the thrice-blessed fail and the Red Tower trembles

When the Dragonborn Ruler loses his throne, and the White Tower falls

When the Snow Tower lies sundered, kingless, bleeding

The World-Eater wakes, and the Wheel turns upon the Last Dragonborn.

And with that we are in Skyrim. I’m curious what is coming from the series in the future…Hopefully this is still an ongoing, enjoyable hunt. This is one of the last series I have rather high expectations.

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2013 in Pc

 

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Baldur’s Gate Series – A nostalgic hunt through the Forgotten Realms

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One of the first RPG’s I have played and one that left scars on my mind till today (In a good way, mind you) It frustrated me, it almost had me in this particular moment where I was so angry that I almost threw my keyboard out of the window. Just for the record, I’m really hard to anger and even then, I’m mostly a calm-smiling-angry-type-of-person. The type of person who you should run from if they smile friendly although you just deleted all their game-saves.

But back to the game. After I finished it, I shoved it to my other games and hoped to never go through that frustration again…

Now, guess, what happened. A few year later, I played it again. Multiple times. Yeah, I don’t seem to learn in that matter. Let’s get a good look at it.

First of all, I’m talking about the original series here (Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadow of Amn and Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Baal) not Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance I/II. I have played the later and as far as I can remember, they weren’t bad, pretty soild even, I had fun playing it in CoOp, but they weren’t quite memoriable as the original for me.

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This Baldur’s Gate

So, let’s start out with the story. It plays in the Forgotten Realms. Elves here, dwarves there, Orcs, humans somewhere in the middle with the gnomes…you get the idea. You (aka the Player) are the adoptive child of a sorcerer named Gorion and live in Chandlekeep a happy and uneventful live with your human sister (adoptive as well) Imoen.

At this point, you already know, that something bad will happen. The Chosen one has (almost) never a peaceful life at the beginning of his journey.

In this, a guy named Sarevok comes into the play and kills your adoptive father. Of course, you won’t stand by and doing nothing about it,  so you set out to get revenege and discover Sarevoks plan…and along the way, learn that this guy (Sarevok) with spiked helmet is your half-brother.

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…Nice?

Surprise, you are a child of a God…The God of Murder named Baal and you just made daddy proud with your actions, isn’t that nice?(Fun fact: It’s a name used for multiple gods,  among them for a god for rain, thunder, fertility, agriculture and… was the lord of heaven. In biblical context, Baal is a Higher Demon which could take the forms of man, cat, toad or combinations of them…Your father could be a toad…no comment on that. And no comment on the fact, that this guy in-game had a Baalspawn Chinchilla…Just…no comment). 

The God of Murder is dead. Yeah, that’s ironic and yeah, Gods can die in this universe, but your Dad was very…diligent (*points at fun fact*) to gift you with enough siblings from whom the most  are trying to kill you in the game.  The children of the God of Murder murder each other. What a twisted sibling love…

In the second game you and your party are kidnapped by another Sorcerer named Irenicus and tortured in his dungeon. You later find out that you are in the City Athkatla and…let’s say they don’t like mages. At all. Your sister Imoen tries to confront Irenicus with magic and that only spawns the Coaled Wizards who arrests both Imoen and Irenicus for illegal use of magic inside the city walls. Now you want to get Imoen back and deal with all sort of shady characters who might help you to reach your goal.

The last addon “Throne of Baal” is exactly what it says on the tin. The last of the Baalspawn (Children of Baal) battle each other to get the seat of their father and become a God. Of course, there is a lot of murder involved and of course you are on your siblings’ black list, even if you don’t to do anything with your father.

Interestingly, although you are a Baalspawn, you can be a good/caring character with heroic syndrom who just happened just happened to be the child of God of murder or you honor your heritage with a sadistic everpresent smile on your face. And everything in between. (Chaotic evil who just do it for the evil lulz, Lawful evil who uses the law to his/her advantange, or just plain neutral evil. The same for the neutral and good segments.)

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Your alignment (like your choice of race) influence the classes you can take in the character creation section and the reputation. For raising the difficulty, you can make your character a squishy mage. When your main character goes down, even when your healer is still alive, it’s an instant game over. To drive difficulty through the roof with this game choose to be a mage and the hardcore difficulty, which makes the enemies a lot harder and enables friendly-fire. Yeah, I dare you to use a powerful spell with can change a whole room into a death trap in this mode.

Let’s continue with your companions. You will find them along the way, lose them to death and their personal opinion on your action. That’s right. They will leave you if you do something that is against their alignment. Of course, they will warn you about that, before leaving or they can also turn against you.  Funny is, when they turn against each other. Don’t put a lawful stupid paladin with a Drow together (Dark elf which have a cultural background that cultivates a chronic-backstabbing-disorder)  That won’t end good in the most cases.

The characters themselves were memoriable. They interact with you, comment on decisions, had personal quests and bantered with each other, depending on the situation. This is nothing new nowaday, but this is one of the games which inspired later RPGs in that aspect, like Dragon Age I & II. Furthermore, Characters not only can fall unconcious, but can die. I mean not a cheap death, I mean dead like can never be resurrected again. That happens when spells or hits are too powerfull and blast the body into junks. (yeah, there was a tiny bit of gore in it)

And there was romance. Yes, you could romance specific characters in your party and it had an impact on the end dialogs of “Throne of Baal”. At that time, characters which bi-sexual orientation were out of question (although you could interpret it), Bioware took that step in this direction in Knights of the Old Republic with a female character, but that’s another story.

Male characters were provided with two possible romance options in the second game (Baldur’s Gate II: Shadow of Amn) and female with only one, a paladin. That does sound familar when you consider Neverwinter Nights II, doesn’t it? I hate to admit it, but the first paladin (BG) was a lot better characterized than the other (Old Owl Well!..Oh for the love of…) I have nothing against  the Paladin-class, but after BG,  I harbor a personal distaste against Paladin NPCs .

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There is a reason why the community calls you Annoyomen, Anomen

Back to the dialogs between characters. The game is very text based, not everything is voiced (almost nothing) and it is funny how your skills in the game can infuence it ( for example, if you have pretty low intelligence, you can’t from a proper senctence, if you have a high one…you can get into an intellectual fight with a mage and try to outwit the other with “the sentence with the most scientific terms”) You alignment can also influence the NPC. Smugglers in the sewers won’t talk you anymore or outright attack you on sight if your fame is too positive. If you are too evil, guards attack you…

And if you are a Spellcaster and cast a spell inside the City Walls in BG II…Then the Coaled Wizards will “politely” tell you to stop it. By politely I mean, trying to kill you. Later, after enough quests, experience with the battle system and anti-magic armor, and enough powerful spells…I spawned them just for fun.

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*insert maniac laughter*

The Battle system is based on the Dungeon&Dragon rule-set. I never played the tabletop game, just games simliar to it, so I can’t give you a proper insight to the rules. Or a proper short one. The computer makes the work of rolling the dice and determine if a spells/arrows/swords hit or not and how much damage it does. (considering variables of Dexterity, Armour, Magic resistance, abilities of the character)  You can read everything about it in the dialog box, if you like to know what exactly went wrong with your strategy.

And here goes the advice: Save often. Quicksave the hell out of the Quicksave-Button if you are in a dungeon you don’t know (especially on high difficulty). Once I opened a door and a lot of Illithids looked a me (people with a  head of an octupus which suck your our intelligence until you are dead….Arch-Enemies of mages.)

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Hello? Uh…uhm…sorry to interfere. *closes door*

Atmosphere…Should I really say something to this point? Alright, I mean, it was not bad, but the main focus lies with the narrative, not with the visuals. It was at that time where have to imagine more than you see. (God, that makes me sound old…)

There are a lot of different quests (from stimple to complex) in there, but often they won’t say how difficult a quest really is. I can darkly remember a simple delivery quest which had me suddenly against a dragon and after wrestling it down with sweat and blood another dragon appeared…Great, it was a miracle that I even survived the first one. This is not Skyrim, people, this is not a game where you are a born dragonslayer. In this game dragons really honor their legacy and I took a lot of loading to survive this one. Besides the personal quests of followers, you have also a personal for your class. (Mages become involved with a giant magic ball house that spawns out of nowhere, Bards can get a theaters and so on) This adds to the replay factor.

And have I mentioned, there is still a mod-community out there? Yeah, I know the first game was a remake. Yeah I know, that the second will get a remake as well, but I haven’t had the time to look into it yet. Maybe I will compare it to the ones I know, but I don’t think much has changed besides new characters and dungeons.

Conclusion? It was one of my first hunts in that genre and one of a hell frustrating on that when I was younger. But later, I appreciated the details they put in, so that I still play it today and still find it enjoyable. Compared to the newer games, the graphic is BG greatest flaw, but can nevertheless compete with other RPGs in aspects of story and characters (more split matter for me. I liked and hated it at the same time.)

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2013 in Pc

 

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Another day, another update

Well, my plan was finished quicker than expected. (I don’t really know if I should be proud of that or not. Normally, I’m a really lazy writer.) And looking at the release dates and games which come up next…Let’s say, there aren’t many games which really capture my interest for the next time.

So, that seems that this blog goes for hiatus a very long time?

No, of course not. If I have the chance to pester other people with my blog, then I will continue. (Yeah, I’m a very cruel, selfish person and I’m proud of it.)

To keep it short, I will redirect my hunt, for the time being, to older games. Let’s call it a Nostalgia-Month, if you like. Depends on when I find a new game…

My plan in the near future: The Baldur’s Gate Series, Black & White, The Elderscrolls Series and maybe some other games and spawning general story nonsense just for your amusement.

Have a nice hunt

– TheNocturnalHunter

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2013 in Just Updates

 

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Fire Emblem: Awakening – A Hunt between Marriage, War and Strategy

fire-emblem-awakening-2Fire Emblem Awakening (I will shorten it with FE) is a strategy game, which is fairly popular there as well. It’s the 13th game of the Fire Emblem franchise. Yes, the 13th, just like Final Fantasy and without the Onlinegames and this odd numbering like 13-2 or something like that. Althought I only played the 11th FE: Shadow Dragon and 12th FE: New Mystery of the Emblem: Heroes of Light and Shadow (with an english fan patch) and only caught a glimpse of FE:Sacred Stones, I was quite looking forward to it.

But back to FE: Like in every installment of this series, all Units you recruit are unique with own voice, portrait and character and most importantly, if you go too much ahead of yourself, they can get killed. Not unconscious, no just temporary gone, they really kick the bucket. Even with sometimes heartfelt unique last words like “How could this happen?” (Yeah, player, how could this happen?) “Or forgive me xy. *insert other information/confession here* Only if the main character dies, it is a Game Over (most of the time, sometimes winning conditions change), the others are disposable for the plot.

There are also difficulty levels like normal and lunatic and you can choose between Casual Mode (people don’t die, they return after the mission is finished and you can save in the middle of the battle) and Classic Mode (what is says on the tin. Classic FE. People die permanently,)

Our main character in this case is the Prince of Ylisse named Chrom, who leads a group namend “The Shepherds” (lovely, just the word that I need after the mindscrew with Bioshock Infinite) to protect the surrounding villages and the borders from bandits. You, yes, you take the role of the unit you have created before (male or female, voice, hair/haircolor, statur, strength and weakness point. In the japanese original there was an option where you can decide to not have a voice at all in which case you answer only with “…”. It’s a pity…would have like to see, how that works) I will go with the Name Avatar for that one. The Avatar is just the Deuteroganist. Important, since if s/he dies it, it’s also a Game Over, but the story revolves more around Chrom, his kingdom and, you have guessed it, the whole deal with the Fire Emblem.

It begins with, what I and some call, a spoiler opening. First, you see a nice cinematic cutscene with you/Avatar and Chrom fighting some really dark looking sorcerer (this must be an evil one. slender, dark skinned, red eyes. Yes, sorcerers are almost always evil), then a short tutorial how to fight and then next cutscene. The Sorcerer is dead, Chrom congratulates you and is happy about this victory

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… and then Avatar kills him. (What was it with the red eyed dark sorcerer?)

Yes, this is, for starters, some sort of What the hell hero?! moment. Even I rose an eyebrow at this, although I knew, that something bad would happen. Five minutes into the game and you kill the Protagonist. Wow that…escalated quickly. But back to the story,  another cinematic cutscene (they are really well made, I will give the game that.) You wake up on a field, you see a girl (which is Chrom’s younger sister.) and you get pulled up by Chrom (due close face up of the character) In this moment, all I thought was:

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“Hello, guy I just killed a moment ago.”

Of course Avatar doesn’t remember a thing about killing him, just his name. With that follows the classic exchange “Who did you know my name?” “I don’t know…I can’t remember anything”. After you have helped to fight off some bandits and later some Undead (the Risen, who came through some sort or portal like Math), you have proven your worth and you are made the tactican of the group.  (It’s even your starting class, and no bad one at that)

After a fist glimpse at the story, let’s talk about the combat-system. It’s pretty understandable and easy (easy in terms of  weapons: spears>swords>axe>spears. Magic is good against heavy amoured units and wind magic is especially good against flying units and bows are very effective against flying units)

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The field is like a chess board. You move your units so close up as they need to be to attack, the game gives you a battle prognosis and you decide if you risk it or not. Not everytime it is advisable to follow the attack -attack strategy.  Sometimes you have wait and see, how the AI moves and use this to your advantage as well the field you are in (obstacles, your flying units, sand where units with armour and horses are  slower.) When they fight you gain Exp for a lvl-up and their weapon stats will get better, so they can carry better weapons (note that weapons can break after being used a certain amount of times, besides a few execptions)

There are also Seals (Master Seal and Second Seal) which either upgrades your class to an elite class or reclass your character to another class.You can also pair units up, which raises the support-lvl and grands you a bonus regaring how high the support-lvl between those two are. (Avatar can support anyone,  the other units are restricted.)

Speaking of support level, the characters can marry each other (only those  of the opposite gender and again anyone besides Avatar is restricted.) As soon the Support-Level hits S, they will confess and marry (So watch out for this in the conversation section. We don’t want to marry them to someone you don’t want too.) This has an impact on the game, especially on the children they will have.

And now it get’s more complicated. The parents influence the growth stats and ground stats of the children. First I thought, I would marry people off which I see fit and pair them up as they come.  Then I looked in the internet and saw the whole discussion about who should marry whom, because the stats of the child are better this way. I was somehow reminded of a breeding ground. Some partners push magic, some push defense-growth …so what you chose depends on how you want to play the game.

The Avatar becomes a CG picture of the people they confess to (complete with pink glittering background and some cheesy lines)

To the characters, besides being used as breeding material, I find them quite enjoyable, of course because of the funny support conversations. A thief which you can buy with sweets,  a butler/knight who takes his service to the extremes,  a mage who analyses everything and has no sense of social interaction, another knight who is tall but always goes unnoticed by everyone, a smiling dark mage who has a weakness for animals and blood-spilling, another darkmage who stalkes your  Avatar and likes to curse other people…..and so on.  Everyone has a unique character (if you like them or not is up to you and of course there are a few cliches in there)

The story is quite good as well with the whole war, provocation, dramatic turns going on with the kingdom and main characters. With this spoiler opening and the Avatar being amnesiac…the story is not suprising, but still well executed.

Such an opening is a double-edged sword. First, it makes a bombastic, climatic, epic intro, but at the same time spoils something important about the plot, which could have been used as dramatic “I didn’t see that coming”-moment within the game. Of course it is interesting why what happened, but when the plot gets too predictable, then, well for me, it gets harder to enjoy. But, like I said, even with that, the story remains good.

Conclusion is,  FE: Awakening is a very good game. I really enjoyed it from the characters to the gameplay, to the cinematics to the conversations, although the plot is nothing really new (but then again, with plot is?), it is stilll well made.

Was it worth the hunt? Definitely. A strategy with enjoyable characters and the frustation about my own incompetence because I didn’t think it through properly through (yeah, missions with AI controlled allies are still annoying) I had my eyes set on it as I knew of its existence (which was a year before it was released in the West) and I don’t regret this prey one tiny bit.

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2013 in 3ds

 

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