Archive for 2023

Review: Chaos Galaxy

When I was much younger, I very much enjoyed Koei’s weird brand of grand strategy game. Being focused on personalities over numbers, tech trees or deep city-building makes them feel a little lighter on strategy than even the Civilization games coming out around the same time. In retrospect, though, they were fairly deep while still being well tuned to a console experience. The “officer” layer adds another level of management, as well as some personality – even a portrait and a couple of numbers can go a long way towards making a character feel more real. This in turn adds a bit of additional flavor to the overall experience, which might make it feel more tolerable when – for example – playing as Chrysalis and Flax in Gemfire are much the same experience after you’ve surpassed the threats in the first few hours.

Officer biographies are mostly interesting, although they introduce a lot of interconnected terminology. In this case, we have one that actually overflows on the Switch and there is no way to scroll.

Chaos Galaxy (which I played on Switch, but is also available on PC along with its sequel) channels much of the same feel as those games, while adding some helpful tactical depth.

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Nothing to talk about: progress updates

In the past few months, I have been dormant writing-wise. There aren’t any particularly great reasons for it, but writing (on obscure-ish video games on the internet) remains one of my hobbies. I’ve been active (or at least an active reader) on a few forums, had a busy work and home life, but I remain thinking and still intend to write those things up when I have something I feel I can share.

Feeling like I have made progress, however, is something that eludes me. I’ve been gravitating towards longer games, even as I admit privately I may not complete them. On some I have already waved the white flag of freedom, but on others I am not yet ready. This will serve as a quick “what I’ve been up to, but haven’t written about yet” post, in rough chronological order. I’ll do my best to keep it brief.

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Strange Journey Redux: Synthesis

It’s now been several months since I beat SMT Strange Journey: Redux, making it the second of my resolutions that I managed to beat in 2022. While I’d pat myself on the back for making (reasonably) accurate resolutions, I actually feel a little more like I set myself an unrealistic goal (beat a dungeon-crawler I knew I had failed to beat before) and somehow managed to complete it after more than 6 months of play.

In an unusual move (for me), I actually kept an ongoing journal of my Strange Journey progress. In 11 entries, I broke down the game as I went along, providing commentary (relatively sterile by journaling standards, knowing me) on characters, themes, and mechanics. This entry will serve as a synthesis of those, trying to bring the various impressions around into a single cohesive whole. In the end, I feel disappointed in the game, in part because it opens on such a strong note and in part because it is so different from most Shin Megami Tensei games.

I think that the 11 entries combined form a better, comprehensive view of the game (and more emotional, less analytical content – looking back, I feel they are certainly more interesting to read than this post), but since they were written over the course of 6 months, my views on the game evolved and I didn’t get a chance to “look back” beyond the callbacks to earlier plot points. So here’s something vaguely resembling a review.

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Kongming’s Archives / SOSZ returns

I’ve been on the internet long enough to remember when you dialed into a specific subset of the “internet” and durable websites were rare. In that time I’ve been on a lot of websites, especially forums. We’re now in a place on the internet where the bulk of discussion happens on monolithic sites, and ends up being shallow, combative or generally misunderstood. I’ve always preferred the forum format because it is interactive, generally promotes equality of readership (i.e. it doesn’t bury/surface things quickly like Reddit does) and it is durable (i.e. even a months-old topic can resurface, with all the context intact). Although there are things to like about formats like Reddit or Discord, those kinds of communities tend to be insular and celebrity-focused. That’s if there is any sense of community at all.

When I was bringing videolamer back online early last year, it brought back a wave of nostalgia for how I used to use the internet – rather than refreshing resetera or reddit, monolithic single points of entry for discussion, I used to frequent a half-dozen forums at a time. Discord looped me in to where the communities from some of them are, but there was a hole where Kongming’s Archives (and its forum counterpart, The Scholars of Shen Zhou) used to be. While the Archives are a fantastic resource for fans of Three Kingdoms or related games, the forum (or at least how I used it) is a broader discussion group. I have fond memories of reading discussion on the forum or diving into the officer biographies on KMA going back to the mid-2000s, so seeing it “partially online” was distressing – it has more than 20 years of discussion archived, so the forum itself has become an archive of odds and ends around discussion of Three Kingdoms and related (or tangential) games. I can’t think of anywhere else I would look for discussion of Fantasy Sango / Genso Sangokushi, as one of the more esoteric examples.

Anyway, I was very glad to see Kongming’s Archives and SOSZ have resurfaced. Thanks to James for his work reviving a dedicated, warm community. While I haven’t been an active poster for roughly a decade, I’m excited to see it back up and running. Cheers to those sections of the internet keeping forums alive.

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Strange Journey Part 11: The Finale

As a reminder, these entries contain direct, unmarked spoilers for Strange Journey (specifically the Neutral path finale). If you’re reading this, please be aware.

I actually completed Strange Journey in November and had most of this written by mid-December, but I wanted to ruminate a but on it before putting it up on the internet where the world can see.

Overall I enjoyed Strange Journey Redux, but it was still longer than I feel it should have been. Specific “this is too much” moments are Carina (did we really have to chase Horkus three times?), Eridanus (teleporter maze + fetching forma for the bad guys), Horologium (11 floors…yeah). Fornax + Grus actually weren’t that bad, from memory. Antlia was fantastic, Bootes and Delphinus were kind of tedious but okay.

If SJ were about half its length, it could have been a snappy “sci-fi horror survival” story with a pro-ecological message and engaging characters that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. With the co-op system and demon fusion pain, and dungeons that go longer than they need to, it’s an incredibly slow burn even if it’s fairly easy to pick up and put down.

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