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.

Xenoblade III
I played through Xenoblade III last year, starting in August and wrapping it up in January. Even though it took me a while, I find I don’t really have much to say about it that wasn’t said to death already. I gave up on Xenoblade II around 15 hours in (between the objectification of characters, going-nowhere story, and gacha blade system), but X3 kept me interested despite some low points. The characters are a standout, since they are written the most like real people in any Xeno game since maybe Xenogears – particular standouts were Lanz, Eunie and Taion. Noah and Mio have some great character development, but are a little less fun or interesting. The villains were disappointing. The collectathon / zillions of sidequests were initially fun, but felt like a distraction after a bit – but the class / hero systems tied to them are great and make for a satisfying loop. Overall my favorite Xenoblade game.

More recently – though attached to this subject because it is DLC – I played through and completed the “standalone” DLC, Future Redeemed. It’s a separate, 22-hour (for me, with something like 95% completion) quest that acts as a prequel and recontextualizes some of the base game. While the story beats were just about “what I expected”, it was nonetheless a satisfying adventure and revisiting the world with more context directly from the first two games was a lot of fun. Between the DLC and base-game, Xenoblade III has been my biggest time and money investment in awhile and it was worth both.

Chained Echoes
I picked this up at the hearty recommendation of many on the internet. It’s widely touted as a combination of Chrono Trigger and Xenogears. It was initially promising and I got around 15 hours in before it started to sour on me. The art is great. I appreciated CE’s brevity of dialogue (especially coming off Xenoblade III) – emotional scenes are minutes long at most, because only the essential is said. The mechanics were at first interesting, but bogged things down enough that I had to drop the game. The skill system went from fun to tedious, the class system began to feel unnecessary, and the weapon gem system lost all appeal at around the same time – which is also when the new Sky Armor system really came into its own and the game unleashed yet another set of areas that could be reached and a base-building system. I tried to stick it out for a bit, but had to stop when I realized I was having negative fun managing all these systems, 90% of encounters were beatable with the same commands but took a long time, and I wasn’t interested enough in the story to push through.

The surprising thing to me is that it’s virtually a laundry list of things I like – a story with a few twists throughout, strategic combat, areas to explore, (relatively) exploitable character augmentation, even base building – and yet I dropped it, because all of that felt like too much to manage. The brevity of the plot in the 15 hours I played made the game roughly 10% plot, 90% exploration, fighting and character tweaking. It became exhausting, because some things you find while exploring are simple consumable items – others are classes you can equip to characters, a major upgrade that can change how you use characters. That was compelling enough to get me to burn myself out exploring the game. Maybe I would have enjoyed it better if it hadn’t been right after Xenoblade 3 – but then again, maybe it was the direct comparison to a more plot-heavy, relaxing (or at least zen, in its combat) game that sheds light on why I didn’t enjoy Chained Echoes as I expected.

Dragon Quest Builders 2
I originally picked this up almost 5 years ago, but only picked it back up and started playing it with my daughter more recently. She had much more time to play it, and so actually was the one that beat it – but I helped her get there, and so I’m claiming it as my victory as well. DQB2 is a marriage of the building of Minecraft and the aesthetics and story of Dragon Quest, so it’s really a bit hard to go wrong there. Having tried to play Minecraft again afterward, Minecraft is quite a bit harder than I remembered. DQB2 is not only considerably easier, it is also mechanically simpler and I think there is virtue in that. Its bulk is taken up in multiple zones where you must revitalize a local town, motivating the people to make things for themselves and helping them fend off the rampaging Children of Hargon. It’s rarely challenging, but also rarely stressful.

Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous
I enjoyed Pathfinder: Kingmaker, but only reached about the halfway point, as far as I could tell, before I gave up on it. While the exploration was fun, itemization and class advancement are great, and the companions seem interesting, it’s just an incredibly long game. The load times get continuously worse, areas seem to last longer and longer, and it just becomes less appealing to invest more time into the game. As it turns out, Wrath of the Righteous seems to be more of the same. For many that is a good thing, and I did enjoy the time I played WOTR, but I am also likely to end my journey early on this one.

I went into this, after the “remaster” release, expecting that the criticisms of the “crusade mode” would be overblown and I would enjoy the “HOMM-lite” it is typically described as. I can assure you that the criticisms are underblown, if anything. Having recently played HOMM3, crusade mode is a game of telephone that resulted in what someone thought someone else said HOMM was like. There is troop recruitment, tactical combat, traversal, hero leveling, and that’s about all they have in common. There is base-building, but its pace is slow and unsatisfying, where HOMM’s gives immediate positive results. Hero magic is ten times more effective than troop combat at resolving combat, and even knowing that and planning for it will not prevent it from feeling like a slog.

Other than the crusade mode, though, it is a great example of where CRPG choice-reactivity can go, and the writing is pretty good throughout so far. I’d recommend it, especially at the prices it has recently gone for – but beware, as getting even halfway through (if I am even that far) is 40+ hours. And I’m a pretty fast RPG player.

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