#289: The Shadowbringer

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Shadowbringers? It’s kind of a generic name, but that’s fine. “Bringer of shadows” could mean anything in the world of fantasy. It could mean that you’re a wielder of dark magic, like a necromancer or warlock, or it could mean that your morals lean toward the evil and corrupt. In this case, it’s referring to the newest expansion for Final Fantasy XIV, which released earlier this year. The earlier expansions set the stage for this one, and they’re also bundled into the same package, which makes it a worthwhile investment for me. I’ve been playing a lot of Final Fantasy XIV recently, even though I’m a ride-or-die WoW expert, because I needed a change of pace from all the monotony of world quests and exploration through WoW. I think having new scenarios and scenery opens up my imagination again, compelling me to continue playing and immerse myself in the game’s deep, complicated systems. Being that I’ve had a lot of time recently to play the game, I’ve been able to invest myself through the initial campaign. There’s nothing like diving into a new, massively huge game and being able to explore it for the first time. It makes me happy to see.

I read this great article from Kotaku recently, titled “How To Get Into Final Fantasy XIV In 2019,” and it helped me get my footing when I was first starting out in the game. It’s important to pay attention to the game’s story, believe it or not, as it reaches “fantastic heights.” I’m interested in what that includes, as the story hasn’t been super engaging thus far. I might even invest in a “story skip” so I don’t have to worry about completing content I’ve already completed a ton of, and whose story I already have a fairly decent handle on.

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#286: The Queue

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Role queue is a new feature recently added to the game Overwatch, and it’s changed everything. Previously, you were able to choose heroes freely, without having to worry about what role they filled. You could have an entire team of damage dealers, or supports, or tanks, and the game would do nothing to stop you from trying that hilarious (but probably ineffectual and frustrating after awhile) strategy. Role queue is meant to fix that problem, among other problems present in the game’s social side of things, by forcing a 2-2-2 team composition on every team that plays in Quick Play or Competitive Play from here on. While initially I was hesitant to accept the limitations towards creative freedom that role lock posed, I became more in favor of the idea the more I heard from people on the PTR who said it drastically improved their playing experiences. They were able to queue for whatever role they wanted, and it didn’t matter what other hero people picked. They knew that their team would be good from the outset, at the very least because it was 2-2-2.

Previously, there was always the lurching fear that your team would descend into total chaos because one of your healers switched to a damage dealer, or your only tank swapped to a healer when you already had three healers. There have been innumerable instances of playing Overwatch where the other team wins over us just because they have a better team composition than we do, and now the field is a bit more level. There can still be times where your two damage dealers are Bastion and Symmetra on Offense on a 2CP map (*cough* *cough*), but at least the odds of that happening are less and less. Eventually, role queue will be coming to Quick Play, and I’m looking forward to that so I don’t have to do Competitive as much!

#282: The Squad, Part 2

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This post is a continuation from my previous post about Monster Hunter and forming a squad online.

Initially, as a fan of the Monster Hunter series, I presumed that the game was primarily solo, with some online multiplayer if you wanted to. But realistically, the entire game’s campaign can be completed online, and that’s what I ended up doing with one of my friends over the past few nights. We’ve been hammering through the campaign at lightning speed, mostly because I have some overpowered weapons and gear right now. It makes for interesting times, and the completions are at record speeds for us. That being said, when I spoke with some of the other members of the squad, they said they’ve been playing long enough that they have kills on some of the late-game monsters in under five minutes. That’s insane for me to even think about, but congrats to them. The person I was speaking with said that if I perfected my builds and practiced, I could do it, too, which left me feeling a bit hopeful about everything. That even a noob like me can one day reach those incredible heights in a game. If you can dream it, you can do it, and all that sappy stuff.

What’s also interesting about having a squad is the feeling of belonging that’s associated with it. It’s so easy to hop right in that I don’t have to worry about feeling left out. Because it’s still currently summer vacation for me, I have the ability to stay up late at night with some extra coffee to play some Monster Hunter with my online friends. Sometimes way late into the night, even though I probably shouldn’t be messing with my sleep schedule so much right before school season begins again. The time is almost coming.

#281: The Squad, Part 1

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Playing Monster Hunter: World has been brought to a completely new level: I can now play with multiple friends at a time. Previously, I had played with one of my friends who recently bought a PS4 specifically to play with me, and that’s been a blast so far, but now the experience has been upgraded. I can’t say I’ve had an experience like this on an online game since my days of playing World of Warcraft in a guild. A sense of camaraderie between teammates while fighting for a unified objective, while also playing online with friends who you care for and who care for you.

When I used to raid in WoW, I don’t know how close I ever got to my teammates. I know I eventually told them my age and all that, and I know that at some point I went on voice chat with them and broke through that whole barrier. Back in the day, we used Ventrillo which was a computer application you had to pay for. Discord nowadays is so much more convenient, considering you can do whatever you want from there and for free. You can set up a server for just your friends, and you don’t need to pay for it, most importantly!

Forming a squad on Monster Hunter, though, has been a wonderful experience. I love meeting and befriending new people online, and I love perpetually closing the social gap that I have with other people. There’s satisfaction in slowly overcoming obstacles that have persisted through time, from a young age to an adult age. Having a squad means no one is out of place, everyone’s here for a reason, and everyone in the squad is welcome whenever. All you have to do is just log in to Monster Hunter: World and see if anyone else is playing, too. It makes the game so much more multiplayer based than I ever thought it would be.

#278: The Plot Twist

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What do you remember the most from the plot of the most recent piece of media you consumed? Probably the climax. It’s the pivotal moment of the story, what all the narrative has been hinging upon. A story with a middling climax leaves people feeling dissatisfied and, in worst cases, betrayed. Look at how people have reacted to the most recent Game of Thrones season. There was an uproar, almost deservedly so, over the decaying writing quality over the course of the series. Seasons 7 and 8 were seen as low points for the series, whereas the beginning and middle seasons appeared to people as hallmarks of the good old days. It’s almost a shame how the climax left so many people wanting more and expecting higher, though the story was bound to disappoint at least some section of its audience regardless.

But the point here is that people will cling to the story’s end, whatever left the most recent large impression on them. To me, a recent game that had this effect was Fire Emblem: Three Houses. I spent the majority of the story slowly understanding it, but not making too much of an effort to pay attention. When the plot twist came along near the story’s climax, I felt totally unprepared for it because I wasn’t expecting such a major, narrative-shattering moment to appear. I won’t spoil it for people who are reading this but haven’t played the game, but I recommend picking it up for yourself so you can see what I mean. It might have the same effect on you! It definitely has the potential to. The game itself is completely worth picking up, especially if you’re new to the series, as I think it’ll astonish you. A plot twist like the one coming up in this game might leave your mouth agape, waiting to be picked back up from the floor.

#277: The Takeover

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When a game takes over your life, it’s a feeling like no other. Usually this happens when I play games with long playtimes, such as Xenoblade Chronicles, Paper Mario 2, the new Fire Emblem, games of that nature. Long, epic adventures with grand stories to tell. They’re addicting in that I want to reach the end, but I also want to enjoy what I have while I can. I talked about this feeling in my blog post titled “The Delay,” in which I mentioned that I don’t want to beat Persona 5 yet because it would mean the end of my friendships with the characters and fictional story. When a game takes over your life, you have to let it pass over you, and you have to enjoy every minute of it. Thankfully, that’s so easy to do. RPGs make it easy, as there are so many systems you have to understand in order to grasp the game. Mementos, diner dates, social links, activity points, confidant availability, faculty training, fishing and sharing a meal, materia, whatever else there is.

The new Fire Emblem is starting to take over my life in the same way that Persona did, although I’m taking precautions to make sure when school rolls around soon, I’m not too invested that I can’t keep up with work. It’s important to have a healthy balance of fun and work, after all. But that’s one of the reasons why the summer is so difficult to rebound from; you get used to living life one way, and then boom, it’s back to 10 months of intense work.

The title of this blog post was inspired by the song “Take Over,” the new ambush battle theme for Persona 5: Royal. It’s been stuck in my head and I don’t know what to do about it except continue listening!

#271: The Aether, Part 2

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Aether is paramount to understanding the Final Fantasy story, though. If I were to introduce you to its boundless lore, I wouldn’t know where to start, partially because I don’t have a lot of familiarity with it and partially because I haven’t been paying a deep amount of attention into the lore thus far. Because it’s all still early game progression to me, I haven’t been reading quest text as diligently as I sometimes do in World of Warcraft. Others I know who rarely, if ever, read quest text have said that the Final Fantasy XIV lore is worth getting into, but I still remain unconvinced for the time being. It’s just so much to take on all at once, so much to understand with no real application benefit.

I do appreciate having a lot of lore, though, and I think a great MMORPG requires it in order to function well, in order to feel like a vast, unexplored world to conquer and adventure through. It’s one of the big appeals of World of Warcraft, to me; but also, I know the general lore of WoW and could definitely explain it to someone if they were interested to hear about it. It’s completely buckwild, but it’s fun and it takes up a vast space in my memory regardless. That’s what I get for playing that game for so many hours and days and years of my life.

But sometimes, when you’re playing multiple games at once, the burden of understanding so many different lores and universes and the laws of their individual universes is a lot. Like, for example, I’m currently playing through Fire Emblem: Three Houses as well, and in that game, there are crests, units, kingdoms, castles, so many things to understand about the world. But I can’t simultaneously keep that in my head while also trying to learn about Final Fantasy’s vast, open world, if that makes sense.

#270: The Aether, Part 1

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Aether, in the world of Final Fantasy, is an advanced form of energy, or magic, that permeates all life. It allows everything to exist in harmony, and with it, all life is able to function.

Common to many fantasy or science fiction worlds, the concept of an all-encompassing life force is not exactly original or groundbreaking in any sense. But Final Fantasy is, arguably, the series that created or at least heavily inspired this concept, and every game in the series, despite different settings, characters, stories, etc., includes the same general rules of nature. Its lore doesn’t precede Lord of the Rings, but not many recognizable fantasy series can make that claim. However, it’s a series I have had little experience with. I have honestly never played a Final Fantasy game beyond Final Fantasy XIV, the MMORPG. While all games in the Final Fantasy series are role-playing, not all games in the series are single-player. There are Versus games, for example.

But, unless you count a close familiarity with the characters of Kingdom Hearts as a decent tie-in to Final Fantasy as a series, I have no connection to it. That’s one of the reasons I was excited to try Final Fantasy XIV for the first time, and another reason why I’ve stuck with it for a bit. On the one hand, I have friends who play the game, and the social aspect of gaming is essential to me. but on the other hand, I have World of Warcraft, another MMORPG that I’ve invested a decent amount of time into already. There isn’t a supreme need for me to replace that with another MMORPG. I guess what I’m saying is, to move from one to another is a big task, and it’s not exactly easy. While the systems might be similar, the flow of the game will be completely different just in combat alone.

#268: The Last Minute

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Ever wait until the last minute to do something? That tends to be me in that position, wandering around, waiting for a sign of what to do, only for something to finally show up and excite me into action. That was me tonight, when I decided to queue up for a Mythic+ dungeon on World of Warcraft the day before the weekly dungeon reset. I realized at night that I wouldn’t be getting a good box the next day if I didn’t run a dungeon at all, so I queued for an Atal’Dazar +6, which means I’m committing myself to at least 30 minutes or so of dungeoneering on my elemental shaman. Usually, when I’m about to start a dungeon, I go through a checklist in my head of whatever else needs to be done beforehand: do I have water nearby? Have I prepared the necessary materials in game? Does anyone else need me right now? Will anyone need me in the next 30 minutes? (Always unpredictable; anyone could call me at any time, and people do that sometimes in the middle of dungeons. It makes for awkward conversations.)

The last minute, though, is when you usually feel the most motivation to do a particular task. The heightened anxieties, the excitement in the air. It’s usually the moment when people feel the most stress, but to me, that stress is productive, positive, and enthralling. Not to say that I always leave everything to the last minute; that wouldn’t be the case at all. But when a bunch of tasks are piled on someone all at once, you will naturally have to make a few concessions here and there; one task gets completed now, the other one perhaps later, the last one in the last minute. I don’t volunteer for all of my tasks to be completed then; it just so happens to end up that way when you’re given a lot at once.

#267: The Strategy, Part 2

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During my last post about Fire Emblem, I mentioned the battle system and how it’s more prevalent in this game than in Persona. You can more easily enter a battle, without having to worry about going through six hours of narrative beforehand (cough, Palaces 4-5, cough).

With all this being said, Fire Emblem: Three Houses (on the Nintendo Switch) is more akin to chess than Persona. You have to think many, many turns ahead in order to save your units while also working within the game’s timer and battle conditions. You have to think ahead when instructing your students, and you need to have a plan in mind for each unit, a path or goal they’re striving for. For example, at some point in the future I want to train Edelgard to wear heavy armor, which I think would be an awesome upgrade for her. In order to get her to that place, though, I need to be careful about how I instruct her during class, what lessons I teach her, and what equipment I give her to train with. You have to think ahead, essentially, in order to do everything in this game, and it never lets up on you. If you don’t have a clear plan in mind, the game will start to challenge you more than it did previously, and you will feel a bit overwhelmed by the battles. Your units will become listless and unmotivated without proper guidance.

But despite these obvious pitfalls if you’re not paying attention, the game does a great job of teaching you how to avoid them. It almost makes it impossible to not advance your units, and no matter how poorly you teach, you’ll still come away with some reward, or experience, or lesson learned from it. The game is pretty forgiving, in spite of everything that makes it seem otherwise. I’d highly recommend it.