Back From The Dead… Again

Nearly three months it’s been since I last posted here. Three months.

But there’s an excuse for my absence.

A really, really good excuse.

…erm, not really. As you might have gathered, my gaming mojo had been flagging a bit back then; in fact, August was the first month in over three years in which I didn’t knock something off The List. There was a fair bit of emotional hullabaloo going on as well, which sapped away any enthusiasm to get into The Zone. A significant amount of work-related travel didn’t help, either… but it did help me out with the first game I’d like to have a little blather about: Chrono Trigger.

Now, Chrono Trigger always seems to get mentioned as one of the greatest games of the SNES era and, given my new-found love of grinding out RPG success, I figured this would be right up my street. It sat in the shrinkwrap for over a year before finally being chucked in one of my resurrected DSes – and initial impressions were favourable, with lots of running around and chatting with cute characters in their beautifully pixellated world. Levelling up was a delight, the battle mechanic (when switched to the wussy Wait mode) was really nice, and – apart from the mute and anonymous nature of Chrono himself – there was plenty to like about my expanding party of protagonists.

But about halfway through the game, it all became a bit too much. Sure, I had probably played 15 hours in four days, but it suddenly felt too twee, and actions too obtuse; I began to miss things. Exits became obscured from my view, actions that should have been obvious were invisible to me. Suspecting burn-out, I gave the game a break, returning a few weeks later (on another work trip) to finish it off. But the initial delight didn’t return, so my feeling towards Chrono Trigger is a reluctant “meh”.

Of course, there’s no way that Chrono Trigger has been struck off The List yet; after all, I’ve merely finished the game with all characters levelled up to the high 60s & low 70s (mainly thanks to a red-eye flight to Perth offering the opportunity for much bleary-eyed farming in one particularly button-mashy level). But I’ve taken to referencing this FAQ as my Chrono Trigger bible, and I’m aiming for a Level 3 (of 5) Perfect File:

LEVEL 1: (Only one playthrough required, no New Game +)

  • Beat the game and unlock Ending #1 and #13.
  • All sidequests complete.
  • 100% Treasure found.
  • Have a complete Bestiary list, excluding Magus at North Cape.
  • At least 1 of every item in the Inventory.
  • Learned all Single, Double, and Triple Techs.
  • 200 Silver Points at Leene Square.
  • A Doppel Doll and Poyozo Doll for each character.

LEVEL 2:

  • Everything from level 1.
  • All characters at Level 99.
  • Defeat Spekkio’s most powerful form, the Pink Nu.
  • Have a complete Bestiary.
  • Unlock all 13 Endings.
  • 100% Extras. Everything unlocked.

LEVEL 3:

  • Everything from level 2.
  • MAX stats for every character.
  • 11 Cats in Crono’s house.
  • Get a Perfect Score of 2371 while racing Johnny at Site 32.
  • Defeat ALL of Spekkio’s forms; Frog form included.

Despite Chrono Trigger‘s New Game+ option, straight away I see I’m in trouble: my Level 60+ characters preclude me from fighting most of Spekkio’s forms, especially the tricky-to-encounter Frog form. You can guess what that means, can’t you? Yep – let’s start again. Save slot number two, 14 hours in, Level 30-ish, and at least a third of the game to go. Again.

And then there’s the small matter of the other 11 endings. Progress will, obviously, be ongoing; a short game this is not.

After a completion-free August, I felt the need to get something done, to make some inroads into The List. I decided that the early part of September would be devoted to the belated conquering of my final Texas Hold’em Achievement: the Tournament Expert. Now, I’m rubbish at poker, and had been royally (and repeatedly) trounced by the penultimate tournament AI last time I’d attempted this; but a dig around my beloved TA yielded a simple solution that I followed in an extremely disciplined and cautious manner. Except for that rash All-In which could’ve cost me everything. Lady Luck, however, granted me a free pass that time, and a couple of hours on a dreary Saturday saw me clear Texas Hold’em off The List.

Then, harkening back to my Resolutions for 2010, I thought it time to tackle one of the non-current-gen platforms; I opted for the Dreamcast and ChuChu Rocket! I’d already cleared all the challenge mode puzzles and played a bit of multiplayer with a mate last year, so a couple of evenings saw off the solo puzzle levels without much incident. In fact, I probably spent more time trying to get the software to back up my VMU running properly on my laptop.

But the latter half of September, of course, was devoted solely to Halo: Reach. Tragically, work saw fit to send me to Perth on the day of release; as fate would have it, that’s where I was also stranded for the release of Halo 2. And Halo 3. (And Rez HD, but that’s another story). So I picked up my pre-ordered copy on the way to the airport; arriving home at 10:30pm on a Friday night, I fired up the 360 before I’d even dropped my backpack.

I drank in the loading visuals, listened to the familiar-yet-new extended tones, then set about building up my avatar – as usual, mauve was the go-to colour, “M000” my call-sign. I started playing.

Now, I loved the original Halo. It was the first console game I every really played, the game that dragged me into the world of console gaming, and the game that convinced me that twin-stick FPSs could actually work. I loved the characters, I loved the story, I loved the feel of the controls and (in a move that separates me from most other fans of the game) I loved the repetition of it all. I loved The Library (and recall letting out a little squeal of delight when I first entered the Library-esque structure in Halo 2), and I loved retracing one’s steps through previously conquered environments. Somehow, that made the Combat Evolved world feel more real.

The immediate sequel disappointed me somewhat. The controls felt slipperier, the cartoon-ish graphic overhaul was offputting (oh, how I loathe the sights and sounds of the New Flood), and the humanised Covenant jarred. Halo 3 fixed the control issues and delivered a great game to-boot, but Halo: Reach… well, it feels like a big love-letter to the original Halo. From the solidity of the action, through the return visits to battle-torn environments, it really feels like Bungie returned to the original game, leveraging later works only where necessary.

My first playthrough was on Normal (a real departure for me, since I usually start on the Easiest skill levels and work my way up), followed quickly by a repeat playthrough on Heroic… and I felt a massive difficulty spike there, especially when I got to the penultimate battle. And now, since starting my solo Legendary assault, progress has slowed dramatically – I’m currently using the active camo Loadout to avoid fighting as much as possible, because I’m getting pulverised if I engage the enemy.

Of course, there’s the odd ally AI bug – on my first playthrough, I got stuck in a battle with two Hunters which took every ounce of courage (and two dozen shotgun shells) to overcome, because my Noble Team partner had buggered off somewhere to look at the scenery. Second time through he obviously pitied me, because he joined in the biffo and made the fight a whole lot simpler. But, on the whole, I’m absolutely loving Reach.

But there’s so much more to the game than that; the Commendation system is extremely addictive, and I reckon I’ve already played more online multiplayer against randoms than I have in any other game ever. It feels great getting involved in that part of the community early on (rather than being typically late to the party), and levelling up a Commendation (along with all the ranking credits associated with it) is immensely fulfilling. And whoring the shit out of Gruntpocalypse on Corvette will never get old… headshots ahoy!

The big problem with Halo: Reach is the requirement for completion. Sure, the initial set of Achievements seem relatively doable (assuming I can overcome Legendary), but it’s only to be expected that there will be a ruck of additional Achievements associated with the inevitable DLC. But there’s niggling little statistics like “Armoury Completion” and “Commendation Progress” that weigh heavy on my mind; and with the highest rank requiring twenty million credits of accumulated carnage, it’s fair to say that this may be a game that will forever remain on The List…

…which is a brilliant way to segue into Ballistic. Now, I hate Zuma-like games with all my black little heart, and Ballistic is Zuma‘s grandfather. I finally decided to give it a red-hot go yesterday, and dug out my old Samsung N501 Nuon (and the chunky step-down transformer I need to run the bugger) and hooked it up to my old CRT telly. And Ballistic looks bloody awful; chunky graphics which somehow manage to also have a fuzzy feel to them, accompanied by steel-drum “tunes” that grate after a handfull of minutes playtime.

And I still suck at the game itself.

Because the Nuon doesn’t support a save-state, and Ballistic itself doesn’t support any in-game passwords, to beat all 25 levels (twenty-five? that doesn’t sound like much…) I’ll have to do it without powering down the system; a worrying prospect when one considers the ominous buzzing of the step-down transformer. “Still,” I mused, “surely it won’t take more than a concerted weekend to bludgeon my way through the levels?”

Wrong. So very, very wrong.

A good four hours of concentration failed to get me any further than Level 3-1… the eleventh level of the game. There’s a reason I hate these games, and that’s because they hate me.

Which leads me into my final game for discussion: Astropop. But maybe that’s better saved for another post…

2 thoughts on “Back From The Dead… Again”

  1. Good to see you’ve got your gaming (and blogging) mojo back somewhat!

    If you fancy some of that DS RPG action, something to keep you going for ages, something older-school (at least in game style) than Chrono Trigger, have a go at the Etrian Odyssey series. Christ, they’re hard. I’m nowhere near completing either of the first two, but have just imported the third (with free artbook), and am awaiting its imminent arrival…

  2. Cheers Paul :)

    But I have to ask: why would you assume I’m in need of another tricky RPG? I’ve probably got a good 60 hours left in Chrono Trigger yet! (…he says, after having Nu-whored for TP for over an hour, now ;)

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