Thursday, January 5, 2017

Nostalgia Bomb! - Couch Co-op

What is it?
The term "couch co-op" is actually a retroactively applied term for what we used to fondly know as "two-player" or "multiplayer" gaming. From the earliest days of video gaming, many of the devices sold to the home market, and some arcade games, were built with a second controller so that friends and family could either work together toward a common goal or - and more often - face off against one another in their favourite games.

With the advent of online gaming and the ability for a video game console or a PC to connect two players across the globe the term "couch co-op" gained strides as a way of describing the old school method of playing a multiplayer experience, where two or more people would physically sit next to one another on a couch playing a game on the same device.

"Multiplayer" today

When did it start?
Whether you consider Spacewar! or Pong to be the first video game, both were two-player titles. In Spacewar! - developed on a PDP-1 computer at MIT in the 60s - two players would take control of ships and face off in against one another in space. In Pong, two players would control "paddles" and bounce a virtual ping pong ball back and forth for points.

Pong in all its glory

What about today?
The vernacular today is typically "co-op", short for co-operative, which - when you think about it - doesn't make sense, since most multiplayer games are actually competitive in nature. The issue is that it's all geared toward the online experience, which makes sense for two reasons: 1) the software/hardware developers get to make more money, because it requires each individual to buy a console/PC and their own copy of the game they want to play, and 2) most people are playing games solo nowadays so really this sort of thing is catering to the crowd.

Goldeneye 007 (N64) 4-player split screen

Some games still provide a couch co-op option with split-screen, but that sort of thing is going more and more the way of the dodo.

Why do I remember it?
I remember it because of all the great times I've spent playing multiplayer games with my friends in our parents' basements! I can't even begin to tell you all the games my friends and I have sunk hours upon hours into, huddled together on a couch, basking in the electronic glow of a CRT television.

Some titles that come to mind were Super Bomberman (which required the SNES Super Multittap so that up to four friends could get in on the action), Mario Kart 64, and Goldeneye 007. Halo 2 was another highlight, where my friends and I actually setup two Xbox consoles, cross-wired them with ethernet crossover cables, setup two different TVs, and played up to 8-player couch co-op together. The smack-talk was out of control!

The Multitap, which NEC/Hudson Soft actually released for Super Bomberman

Of course, Japan's was cooler

The old fogies like myself will always decry the problems with the current status of online co-op, but only because we have warm fuzzies over the memories of sitting in a room with our buddies, eating pizza, and playing games together. The reality is that with today's technology you and all your friends can be all across the globe and you're still able to see, speak to, and play games with anyone, thanks to the advances of online capabilities. All that said, there's a little something missing when you lose the "human element" involved with couch co-op and it's that something that I will always miss.

And that's why someday soon (unfortunately) couch co-op will be a blast from the past!

Hope you enjoyed,

Monday, October 24, 2016

RyHo Talks About Nothing: Nintendo Switch

After years of waiting we finally know what Nintendo's next home console will be: the Switch!

Check out my thoughts in the video!

Hope you enjoyed,

Friday, September 23, 2016

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night - Part 1

Hey everyone,

I'm sure I've mentioned this about a hundred times before, but I try to play Castlevania: Symphony of the Night every year in October for Halloween. This year I decided I'd try to stream it on Twitch and then post it to YouTube for a laugh.

My wife is expecting our second child in the coming days, so I'm fully prepared that this might not end up happening in October, but whenever I get to play for a bit I'll try to stream and record it and post the video clip here on Retro-Def.

I streamed the first hour on Twitch over a week ago, but then realized that the saved copy of the video had its audio muted due to copyright issues, so I went back and recorded the first hour of gameplay (because I'm nuts) and I've posted that to YouTube.

If you're interested in seeing some gameplay from the game or just hear me BS while I play some games, then give it a watch and let me know your thoughts or questions on the game, my commentary, and everything in between.

As always, I hope you enjoy!

Friday, September 16, 2016

RyHo Vs The Legend of Zelda - Part II

All ready for my quest!

So, if you've somehow stumbled upon this blog and don't know what's up, get yourself caught up here!

Over the past few months I've had a real bug to play The Legend of Zelda series after seeing footage for the next installment, Breath of the Wild, releasing in March of 2017 on the Wii U and Nintendo's next console, codenamed "NX".

In my last post I mentioned that the next game I'd be tackling was Majora's Mask, the Cartridge Club Game of the Month for July 2016. That didn't really go as planned. I booted the game up a few times, but didn't get nearly enough time with it. I definitely want to play through it again. I think I'd rather play through Ocarina of Time first, though. My wife got it for me on the 3DS last Christmas and I've been dying to replay it. Maybe I'll pick up the 3DS version of Majora's Mask after that and give it a whirl, who knows!?

That said, I did continue on with my quest to complete Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and I was successful! If you're ever going to call a video game "Nintendo Hard", Zelda II is the one to pick.

Barba or Volvagia of the Hidden Palace

What I would say about the difficulty of the game is this: it starts out pretty difficult, because you don't know exactly how to handle certain enemies and you need to level up. Once you start figuring out the tricks for taking out your foes, getting new spells, leveling up, and learning new attacks the game simply gets more and more fun. It can still be very hard at times, but it's never completely out of control.

Another thing to note is that if you die and hit continue, you may have to back-track quite a way to where you expired, especially once you get to the second continent, but you always keep your levels and items so you can pick up right where you left off. I've heard horror stories of people saving their game and losing levels, but that didn't happen to me.

A knight teaching you a cool new move!

My one major complaint about Zelda II is that there are a few parts in the game where you basically have to find something totally secret to advance. Like, a false wall in a dungeon or a hidden town tucked away in a forest. I had to consult walkthroughs to find these secrets and that's annoying. If you're trying to play the game without "cheating" I don't know how you'd ever figure these things out on your own. I think it must've been a dirty trick by Nintendo to sell Nintendo Power magazines back in the day! Maybe if I was 10 again I'd have no problem searching Hyrule over and over until I found these secrets on my own or heard about them from someone at school during recess.

This is what I'm talking about...

Regardless, my opinions on Zelda II have changed completely since getting to actually play through the whole game. I think it's definitely a difficult game at times, but well worth playing. Once you get a hang of fighting in the game it can be really exciting and fun.

Yeah, I know. I'm pretty awesome, right?.

So, the question now is, what should I tackle next? Logically the next game would be A Link to the Past, another game that I've ashamedly never finished and I've always wanted to play. I think I'm going to take a little break from The Legend of Zelda for a bit, though. My wife is days away from having our second child and I don't want to start up A Link to the Past only to put it down for a few months.

I'll definitely continue on in my quest to complete A Link to the Past, though! And when I do the best places to follow are right here on Retro-Def, on Twitter with the hash-tag #RyHoVsLoZ, and on Miiverse.

Talk soon,

Friday, August 19, 2016

Bravely Default (2014) - Nintendo 3DS

Bravely Default was originally released in Japan in 2012 as Bravely Default: Flying Fairy. What a mouthful! A subsequent re-release came out in Japan the following year with some upgraded features, which included a second save slot, the ability to speed up battle animations, and micro-transactions. These new features were being developed for the sequel, so this release was literally entitled Bravely Default: For The Sequel.

I say all of that, because this is the release we received in the West as of February 7th, 2014 under the (sort of) simpler title Bravely Default.

Bravely Default NA Box Art

The game began its life as a semi-sequel to Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light on the DS and as a result Bravely Default feels very much like a Final Fantasy game. It was developed by Square Enix and Silicon Studio, known primarily for 3D Dot Game Heroes; a 3D adventure game with some Legend of Zelda DNA, which was released on the PlayStation 3.

The game revolves around a young man by the name of Tiz and is set in the fictional world of Luxendarc. In the opening moments of the game, Tiz's entire village is swallowed by a gaping black hole that opens in the earth and he is left as the sole survivor.

He is befriended by a young acolyte of Luxendarc's Crystalism religion, Agnés Oblige - the Vestal of Wind. Vestals protect and venerate the four Crystals, which are suddenly set into darkness.

It is up to Tiz, Agnés, and their fellow companions Airy, a fairy who aids Agnés in her duties as Vestal, Edea, the daughter of the Grand-Marshall of Eternia - the governing body of Luxendarc and direct opponent to Crystalism - and Ringabel, a mysterious man who has no memory, but possesses a book, which seems to contain notes regarding the future, to cleanse and protect the Crystals and save Luxendarc from certain doom.

The heroes of Bravely Default, (left-to-right) Agnés, Tiz, Edea, and Ringabel

The game features turn-based combat with a job system akin to Final Fantasy V, but with a twist: Brave/Default commands. It's a risk/reward system that allows players to either use up future turns for extra commands, which leaves them vulnerable until their Brave Points (BP) are restored, or to stockpile turns (placing the player in a defensive stance), which can be unleashed as extra commands later without penalty.

It's a refreshing take on a tried, tested, and true battle system. There's enough there that anyone who's played an RPG in the last 20 years will feel right at home, but even the hardened RPG-lover will need to learn the right time to use Brave or Default to defeat their enemies.

Tiz and Angés using the Valkyrie Asterisk
Edea and Ringabel using the Knight Asterisk

The game features a pretty straight-up equipment setup, as well. From the Final Fantasy games of old, you simply equip weapons, armour, and accessories. You can equip a full set of armour, which I like: shield, helmet, and body. If you're familiar with Final Fantasy V or Final Fantasy VI then you'll recognize accessories as items you can equip that give you different bonuses, like extra agility or strength.

The jobs in this game are called asterisks and they can be acquired when you defeat a new boss with that particular asterisk. You'll start out in a common job called Freelancer and work your way up. Many of the jobs you'll find familiar from older Final Fantasy titles, like Monk, Knight, and Black Mage, but there are also plenty of new jobs like Templar and Vampire to try out along the way.

The game plays out like any other classic RPG: you follow a fairly defined path as you play out the game's storyline, but in true RPG fashion there are plenty of sidequests. One nice feature of the game is that it will identify on the map where you need to go for a sidequest with a blue mark. This way you know where to start off the quest easily enough or know where to avoid if you want to skip it entirely. You won't want to skip these sidequests, however, because they will net you a new asterisk. If you play through the general game, you'll get a lot of the vanilla jobs - if you will - but going out in search of these sidequests will get you the really cool jobs.

I should mention that the sidequest to get the Vampire asterisk is one of the most difficult quests I've done in an RPG to-date!

The strength of Bravely Default doesn't just lie in its gameplay, but also the presentation. The game has a striking visual art-style that makes it stand out on its own. If you've followed Matrix Software's Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV remakes on the Nintendo DS this game follows in that style, but cranks everything up to 11.

The town of Caldisla

The audio in the game is top-notch as well. The music is composed by Revo of Sound Horizon, and is modeled after classic games like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Romancing SaGa. It's sonic perfection and each track matches the mood and action of the game perfectly. Also, and rather surprisingly, the game features really good voice acting. You might find the script a little cringe-worthy at times, but the voice actors that portrayed all of the characters in the game were excellent.

The story was a pretty classic tale of "boy faces tragedy, finds friends to help him on his quest", but it was still very satisfying. One thing that I found cool was that they didn't shy away from references to religion. The game plays out like an allegory to Catholicism versus The State in common times, which back in the 90s would've been completely overhauled to drop any and all religious overtones.

That all said, there is a section of this game that can be beyond frustrating and for many could easily ruin all of the great points about Bravely Default that I've made above.

The game is broken up into chapters, which is fine. The serve as good beats to the storyline. However, when you reach Chapter 5 everything goes off the rails.

I don't want to ruin too much about the storyline, so I'll be intentionally vague about this issue, but starting in Chapter 5 you begin what my buddy BuriedOnMars dubbed so adequately (on his and RamVox's podcast, Retro Fandango) "Groundhog's Day". I can't imagine what the game's developers were thinking with this, but you essentially have to do the same thing over and over for four chapters.

What does that mean? You travel the world performing four main tasks. You also have the option of taking on a bevy of sidequests, which serve as a sort of boss rush mode, allowing you to take on the main bosses of the game again. Each time you enter the loop, the bosses are a little more difficult.

So what's the big deal? It's all padding. By the time you go through this exercise the fourth time I guarantee you will be completely sick of it. For my first two runs I actually took on all the sidequests, but if you do that you can easily add hours and hours onto your playtime and with really no benefit. If you want to level up, there are much better places to do so. And even if you avoid the sidequests and stay on task you're looking at 4 to 5 hours of padding minimal just to get to the end of the game. It's an obnoxious section and could easily turn someone off from finishing the game.

I had one other pretty major frustration as I reached the end of the game I'd like to air out, as well. Once you get through the Groundhog's Day scenario and you're at the actual final chapter of the game you'll begin to face some pretty powerful bosses, which is great! I love a challenge and Bravely Default was certainly loaded with difficult bosses along the way.

Airy, the aforementioned "Flying Fairy"

What bothered me was that the last few bosses are above and beyond any that you face before them. I played the entire game with pretty much the same jobs on my team and I liked my team. I learned all sorts of other jobs, but I pretty much stuck to the same eight (each character can have one job and support abilities from others that they've learned along the way). My jobs of choice were pretty standard RPG fare: White Mage/Spirit Master, Black Mage/Arcanist, Templar/Knight, and Dark Knight/Monk. So, basically two warriors and two mages, one for healing and the other for damage dealing. Also, I had all of my characters around level 90 (the highest being 99).

The problem is that in the endgame, the amount of damage that a Black Mage can dish out isn't nearly enough to finish off the bosses. Even with the extra boosts you get from having an Arcanist as your secondary asterisk, you can't possibly deal enough damage. You can rig the warriors to take a significant chunk out of your foes, but in the end it won't be enough.

I felt like the game forced me to use what I considered "cheap" tactics to get through. I had to make both of my "warriors" into Swordmaster/Pirates with the abilities Amped Strike and Free Lunch. This allows you to dish out max damage at all times. Then I needed to completely change my tank, in this case the Templar/Knight, into a support character that just buffed everyone to insane levels, and constantly heal with my White Mage. That last part I'm okay with, honestly, but I really like playing through the game with that sort of "basic" RPG team and to force the player to completely change their tactic at the end of the game just left me feeling cheated a little.

I know I've complained for the last few paragraphs, but I wanted to be completely honest about my time with Bravely Default. And the honest truth is that I loved this game. I loved just about everything about it. The reality is that all kinds of great games have some parts that are a pain and this game is no exception. I can't tell someone not to play an amazing 80 to 90 hour experience, because 4 or 5 hours of it are annoying.

The style of the game, the story, the gameplay, the music; all of it is top notch. This is the Final Fantasy game I've waited to play since Final Fantasy XII, and if I'm being really honest with myself, probably since Final Fantasy VI.

If you are an RPG lover and grew up with the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games of the 90s then you will fall right into place playing Bravely Default. In a world where I find the RPG genre ever-shifting into something I don't care for, this game was made for me. It's everything I loved from the old, with a refreshing new battle system that kept me on my toes right up until the final battle.

And when you finish Bravely Default, the story's not over! Square Enix and Silicon Studio have released the highly anticipated sequel Bravely Second: End Layer. The game is actually a direct sequel to the first title, which is something you don't typically see with Japanese RPGs. It picks up two and a half years after the events of Bravely Default and follows a whole new group of characters on a quest in the familiar terrain of Luxendarc.

Bravely Second's mysterious new protagonist, Magnolia Arch

I can't speak to Bravely Second: End Layer, as I haven't had time to play it yet, but if it's anything like its predecessor I think I'm in for a treat. Do yourself a favour and pick up the first game, Bravely Default, and give it a try. I think any RPG-lover will ultimately be pleased!

Hope you enjoyed,