Nov 17

Game Review- Haunt the House: Terrortown

(Disclaimer: I received this game for free as part of Indie Gamer Chick‘s Indieween event)

Haunt the House: Terrortown is a 2014 expansion of a 2010 game by SFB Games, who recently released Snipperclips Plus for the Nintendo Switch. In this game, you play as a ghost trying to scare people out of various locales (Despite the name, most of these locations aren’t actually houses).

To do so, you can possess various objects, and there are a lot of them. Each object has several different effects, which are unlocked as you make the atmosphere of the immediate area creepier by scaring people. Eventually, as you continue scaring people, they become so terrified that they run out of the locale. Maybe. More on that in a bit.

The main thing to enjoy about this game is the aesthetic. It’s fun and whimsical, despite the plot. Everything is drawn in a fun, cartoony style, and some of the “hauntings” have silly and unexpected effects. The soundtrack is also appropriately old-timey, and was apparently all played with a live band as opposed to made on keyboards. As such, the game is pretty darn fun, when it works.

It may just be my old computer, but in the 2-3 hours (It’s somewhere in there according to Steam), I had the game freeze on me three times. The game constantly keeps track of your progress, so restarting it didn’t lose me anything, but it was still annoying. In a separate instance, one of the people I was supposed to scare out of a locale simply disappeared, forcing me to start the level over (Thankfully, it was fairly early on in the level).

There are some other issues that are really “questionable design decisions”. While you can pick any of the four levels from the start, the full tutorial is actually in the level that’s the second out of the four options on the main screen. While the game does tell you “There’s a more full tutorial in the Terrortown level”, it still would have been better to simply make the Terrortown level the first option. I expect this is because the “first” level in the version I have was originally DLC, but I don’t know why that wasn’t then the “last” level on the screen. An unrelated issue is that the “S” key is the “default” a lot of the time–you use it to possess objects, and it typically confirms selections on menus. The use of the “S” key to do this isn’t my issue here, but the fact that “S” is also “Start a new game” means I very nearly deleted a save file, only being saved by the “are you sure you want to do that” screen that thankfully pops up when you start a new game in a level with a save file.

The other frustrating part is that I’m not sure there’s an actual coherent strategy for scaring people away. As you scare them, they react more than more, eventually devolving to running open-mouthed after screaming in terror. But where they move after that appears to be random. You can scare someone and they may leave right away, or you may chase them around the locale for minutes on end, accomplishing nothing. I eventually settled on “get a person into a state of terror, then leave them alone and let them run out of the scene” as my strategy, but I have no idea if it actually worked better than following them around constantly, or if I just wanted it to. I did make sure to play through all four levels at least once, which, as mentioned, took between two and three hours according to Steam. In that time, I’m not sure I got any “better” at the game, to be honest.

Overall, though, Haunt the House: Terrortown is a fun way to spend a couple hours, if for no other reason than to see the various objects and hauntings you can pull off. The actual gameplay is fun, when the game works, and the graphics and music are lighthearted and amusing. To re-use a phrase from my review of Akalabeth, I’ve spent more time playing worse games and had less fun than I did playing this. I just wish I could’ve figured out what the heck I was doing in the meantime.

-EE

Nov 15

Some Quick Mini-Reviews of Stuff I’ve Been Playing

Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars (Demo)– Played through the demo after seeing a deep discount on the Nintendo eShop, but missed the window to actually get it at that price. A 3D dungeon crawler with socialization elements, probably superficially similar to Persona (Which I’ve never played, honestly). The method of party member creation is basically sex in all but name, right down to the main character and their lady acting all awkward and nervous about it. The actual dungeon-crawling is fun enough, and the battle system is neat. Would probably have picked up the full game if I beat the demo quickly enough to get it at the sale price (The game retails for $29.99 US, but was on sale for something like $5.85).

Haunt the House: Terrortown– Got this as part of Indie Gamer Chick‘s Indieween event. You play as a ghost who possesses objects to try and scare people out of various locales. The game is fun, when it works, though I’m not sure there’s actually any coherent strategy to scaring people out as quickly as possible. I’ve played it for a little less than an hour (47 minutes according to Steam), and in that time the game softlocked on me twice, and one of the victims I was supposed to scare simply disappeared, preventing me from completing the level. Still, fun enough in short bursts, and the game saves constantly, so it’s great for killing 10-20 minutes at a time.

Torchlight– Finally started this after hearing about the developer shutting down, and wonder why I didn’t do this sooner. It’s basically Diablo with a ton of little quality-of-life improvements (Most notably in my first five hours of playing according to Steam, you have a pet you can send back to town to sell the tons of crap items you’ll inevitably pick up and continue exploring the dungeon while they do that). This makes sense, since the studio was formed by ex-Blizzard employees. I also have Torchlight II on GOG, and I’m looking forward to that once I finish up this one. I’m playing on the Normal (second-lowest) difficulty, which is pretty tame and good if this is your first Diablo-esque.

-EE

Nov 10

Book Review- Notoriously Dapper

When I first considered the Humble Win At Work Book Bundle, one of the titles that intrigued me was Kelvin Davis’s Notoriously Dapper. I just couldn’t decide if the intrigue was positive or not. Maybe because I didn’t fully read the subtitle (“How to be A Modern Gentleman with Manners, Style and Body Confidence”), but part of me expected this to be a “Here’s how to be an ALPHA BRO DUDEBRO!!” type of book, with advice like “Be a complete jerk to ladies, they like that.”

Thankfully, this book is not that at all. Indeed, Kelvin Davis is one of the first male examples of promoting body positivity. As for the book itself, “How to be A Modern Gentleman” is certainly an accurate description of a lot of the book. Funnily enough, being a modern gentleman, according to Davis, isn’t that different from being an old-fashioned gentleman. Doing simple things like holding the door for people, or complimenting someone on their clothing, can make one a modern gentleman. He also notes how unfortunate it is that it can be difficult to be a nice guy (I don’t mean the internet “nice guy” where being nice to a woman [Or another man, if that’s your preference] is used as a method of getting into their pants, but a true gentleman, where you compliment E.G. a woman’s dress simply because you like the dress) to someone without the other person assuming nefarious motives. “Common manners” really aren’t very common anymore.

Even though “style” is in the title, the book isn’t really a style guide as such, although one chapter does contain a list of 12 items he feels any male should have in their wardrobe (I’m happy to say I independently figured out “dark denim” looks good. Especially since I’m the sort where, when faced with the “visual” portion of a create-a-character option in a video game, I fiddle with it for five or ten minutes before hitting “Randomize All” and going “Yep, looks like a keeper!” regardless of what it spits out.), which is a great starting point on that front.

My main issue with the book is that it sometimes reads like a series of blog posts (Which does make sense), as opposed to an overall “book”. By this, I mean that we’ll get a piece of information about, E.G. Michele, Davis’s wife. I’m totally cool with that, but I get a sense of deja vu when I read “My wife, Michele” two chapters later. Like “Yes, I know she’s your wife, you just told us that.” In fairness, this could be an editing issue–I don’t know the order in which the chapters were written, nor how far apart, nor if that order was the same as the sequence that ended up in the book. And besides, it’s a pretty minor thing in the grand scheme of things. The somewhat modular nature of the book means you can skip around from chapter to chapter, only reading what interests you, which further mitigates this (Though I read it all the way through).

Still, overall, I enjoyed the book, and it’s a pretty quick read. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about being a modern gentleman (Or lady, for that matter).

Lastly, I had to make my own attempt at being Notoriously Dapper. Ignoring the white socks, what do you think?

Full-Body Shot of the Review as a Young Man

-EE

Nov 01

Book Review- First Things First

Co-written by the same person who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, First Things First has an interesting thesis, boiling down to “Traditional time-management approaches are flawed. Yes, they’ll help you get more stuff done quicker…but is that stuff really the important stuff?”

The meat of the book discusses how tasks and activities can be broken down into 4 “quadrants”:

  1. Tasks which are both urgent and important
  2. Tasks which are important but not urgent
  3. Tasks which are urgent but not important
  4. Tasks which are neither urgent nor important

Of these four, the book argues that Quadrant II (Important but not urgent) is one that not enough time is spent in. It also discusses “urgency addiction”, where people live for the rush of metaphorically putting out fires and saving the day when some allegedly urgent task comes up. It notes that this won’t necessarily bring you fulfillment.

The book then basically challenges you to come up with some things that you think of as Quadrant II, and to rethink how you approach your day by adhering to some of the principles, called “true north” principles, derived from Quadrant II. Some of the examples of this are fascinating, particularly a company that, of all things, shut down. Instead of a top-down edict, the company involved employees of all levels when they were going through financial difficulties. It soon became clear that the operation was unsustainable–the company was, basically, obsolete. Realizing this, the company shifted their focus to finding future employment for its workers. The media came in to cover the company’s last day expecting a demoralized war zone, and instead got a giant farewell party where everyone was truly as happy as they could be given the circumstances.

Was the book worth it? Content-wise, I’d say yes–while I didn’t specifically perform any of the exercises, it did get me thinking about things I want to do that are important that I’ve been neglecting. Format-wise, though, is another story. I bought this as part of a Humble Book Bundle, and downloaded the Mobi onto my Kindle. Now, it’s possible I’m just too old for this whole “eBooks” thing, but the book mentions worksheets and appendices and other things that didn’t seem to be in my electronic version. Additionally, there were other minor issues–visible formatting characters, things are were/weren’t bolded/etc that should/n’t have been, etc. that served to temporarily take me out of the lessons the book was trying to teach me. And let’s not get into the fact that the title of the book is wrong on the top of each page in the version I read (It’s missing the “s” in “Things”). Still, I mentioned on Facebook that if I can pick up a useful concept or two from a book like this, it’ll have been worth it, and I can say I did that with First Things First.

-EE

Oct 26

Time For a Change

Over the last several years, probably since about 2011-2012, I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of my time on Twitch.TV, either streaming myself or watching other people do so. Indeed, I’m watching/listening to a stream as I type this.

I recently realized that this has to change.

I don’t know what the exact trigger for this was, though the Humble Win At Work Book Bundle was a contributor (I bought the $8 tier, if you’re curious, because that contained the one book I’d actually heard of, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. Also, this link will be broken in about a week’s time [It is October 26, 2017 as I write this]). Being given additional responsibilities and deadlines at my primary job was also a factor. I don’t want to say that it’s make-or-break time for me, but changes are coming that I think will represent an opportunity for me.

I’m also 34 years old now (Note to self: Update the roughly 10 year old picture on the “About Emptyeye” page), and have been streaming in some capacity for over five years now, starting way back with the “point-a-webcam-at-a-TV” method. I don’t mean to say that I’m too old for this or that streaming is only for “kids”, but it is something of a young man’s game, and I’ve tried to “make it big” for that time without success. Call it giving up if you want.

I also recently had a doctor’s appointment, where I was told basically “lose weight and stop drinking so much soda”. This was another factor in my having an “a-ha” moment. I’m working on cutting my soda consumption from 2 cans a day (Which was what I told my doctor, and was truthfully probably an underestimate) to a couple a week. I’ve also started going to a gym 3-4 times a week, which is making me feel better and more productive combined with the reduction in soda. I’ve begun drinking black coffee (One cup in the morning, and sometimes some decaf in the afternoon) to get my caffeine fix, but coffee has other benefits besides the caffeine kick.

But mainly, I’ve realized that I have a bunch of other things I just want to do. I want to create things–music, games, etc. I want to read more, both in the self-improvement realm (Honestly, “Humble Self-Improvement Bundle” is probably a better term for the book bundle I bought than “Humble Win At Work Bundle”) and in terms of fields I want to explore, particularly personal finance. I’d like to write about these things more here. And I can’t do that if I’m whiling away hours on end watching Twitch streams.

I won’t lie. I’ve had a lot of fun watching Twitch over the years. I’ve even had a lot of fun streaming over the years, and playing games “for other people” got my to sit down and play games I never would have done otherwise. I’ve met a bunch of cool people on Twitch too. But at this point, for my quality of life, I need to cut back on the Twitch much like I’m cutting back on the soda.

I just hope I can pull it off.

-EE

Sep 28

The RPG Lounge- The Bard’s Tale

Welcome back to the RPG Lounge, an occasional retrospective/review series about the RPGs I play through, most of which will be livestreamed.

In the 80s, especially in the early part of the decade, there were two computer RPG series vying for supremacy with one another. At first, Sir-Tech’s Wizardry, one of the earliest dungeon-crawlers, was king. As the decade went on, though, and the Wizardry series started showing its age, Origin Systems’s Ultima series took the crown.

The “why”s of the Wizardry series’s rise and fall are fascinating, and beyond the scope of the RPG Lounge today–I recommend this Digital Antiquarian post for a bit more about that. But suffice to say that, as the time between Wizardry III and IV grew longer and longer, other people took it upon themselves to design a “next-generation Wizardry” in all but name. Enter The Bard’s Tale.

First released in 1985 by Interplay (Developer) and Electronic Arts (Publisher), The Bard’s Tale is the story of a town called Skara Brae. In this town, an evil wizard named Mangar has cast a spell of eternal winter, trapping the citizens inside the city. Mangar is holed up in his tower on the corner of the city, and it’s the job of your party to “persuade” him to undo his spell.

To do so, you create a party of six characters, similar to Wizardry. The Armor Class system, the 8-item-per-character limit, the seven levels of spells, it’s all very Wizardry-esque. In fact, the systems are similar enough that you can import Wizardry 1-3 characters from the same PC architecture into The Bard’s Tale. As a tribute to its immense popularity at the time, The Bard’s Tale also allows imports of characters from Ultima III, despite its character advancement being almost nothing like Wizardry or The Bard’s Tale.

Once you’ve assembled your roster, or selected the pre-existing party, you’ll exit the Adventurer’s Guild and find yourself on the streets of Skara Brae. Yes, that’s right, instead of a single dungeon, there’s a whole city to wander about, filled with temples, taverns, and towers. Of course, figuring out how to get into those towers is a lot of the challenge.

Another good portion of the challenge is simply getting started. The city is not a safe place, as monsters wander the streets and take up residence inside of buildings. Plus, while battles themselves are turn-based, the game proceeds in real-time. You’ll be minding your own business in the streets, possibly looking at your map, and suddenly find yourself in battle with a pack of mad dogs. Double battles are more common than they should be. The game does offer a pause function to prevent this, which you’ll need.

More than that, though, recovering damage is expensive in the early game, recovering from death even more so, and you have no way around paying for those services until you gain a couple levels. Indeed, going in blind, this may be the hardest start I ever had in an RPG. The manual for the game, besides offering a tip or two on where to begin your search of the city, also instructs you, basically, “Just delete a dead Level 1 character and create another rather than paying for resurrection. Also, go ahead and quit the game without saving if things go really badly; just be aware that you’ll lose any progress since your last save.” Suffice to say I did both of those, particularly the first…and made sure to poach the character’s equipment and gold before deleting them too.

Get past that beginning, though, and The Bard’s Tale becomes a good deal more forgiving than Wizardry (Disregarding the fact that, according to comments on this Digital Antiquarian post, almost no one even back in the day played Wizardry “honestly”). For one, instead of level-based spell charges, your spellcasters are given a Final Fantasy-like pool of MP to do as they will with (Yes, several years before Final Fantasy was a thing). For another, if you’re unfortunate enough to fall victim to a total party wipe, your bodies are transported back to the Adventurer’s Guild, making resurrecting them a good deal easier than in Wizardry–you’ll still need to make additional characters (Or use a pre-made one) to get your characters to a Temple to revive them, but the trek is much less harrowing than in Wizardry, and revival will always succeed provided you have the cash for it. For a third, enemies themselves have fairly low HP for most of the game, meaning you can use spells to easily take them out. Once you get a few levels in your characters–which will probably involve deleting and recreating them several times–the game feels much more “fair” than Wizardry. My perception of this, of course, may be aided by the instruction manual all but encouraging you to manipulate things to be more favorable for you at the start, as I mentioned earlier.

I played the Apple ][ GS version included as a bonus in the 2004 Bard’s Tale. From what I can find, though, even the original Apple ][ version is a step forward graphically from Wizardry, at least in terms of the Wizardries that were out at the time. It’s also a step forward musically from the early Wizardries, in so much as the game has any music at all. The Bard’s Tale, in this way, integrates its biggest innovation (The Bard class wasn’t something seen in computer RPGs to this point) into its presentation, as the Bard can sing or play various songs that have beneficial effects on the party.

Overall, The Bard’s Tale does an admirable job advancing the “Wizardry formula”, moreso than Wizardry itself did for the longest time. This paid off handsomely for Interplay and Electronic Arts, as the game would go on to become one of the biggest selling titles of the 80s. With its multiple dungeons, and overall more forgiving difficulty curve once you get past the sadistic beginning, it’s definitely worth a try if you like dungeons crawlers at all.

-EE

Jun 06

A Way-Too-Detailed Analysis of Final Fight’s Continue Screen

Final Fight is a beat-em-up classic. It was one of the first games, possibly the first, to utilize your classic three-character strong-fast-balanced selectable character archetypes, and the huge sprites, fluid gameplay, and variety of moves helped take beat-em-ups to the next level.
Probably Not Safe For Work-ish

May 05

What Is My Stream?

Just some idle musings about my stream, and “what it is”.

  • In an objective sense, I stream RPGs. I alternate JRPGs and dungeon-crawlers, selected by polls of my viewers/fans from lists of 3 to 4 of each. For the most part, these are games I’ve never beaten before, although that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. These can be broken up by games people donate for.
  • In terms of games that can be donated for, I’m pretty lenient in terms of what’s allowed. Really, I only have a few rules:

    1. I must be able to reasonably easily obtain your game (And I define “reasonably easily obtain” rather liberally).
    2. The game cannot break Twitch’s Terms of Service. That should be an obvious one; I’m not trying to get my stream shut down.
    3. Your game must be an actual game, and not something like Kris Kross: Make My Video.
    4. I ask, though don’t demand, that you pick something that gets to the core gameplay quickly. As an example, Final Fantasy VIII with its half-hour-plus before you get into any battles would make a poor choice for me to play, though I wouldn’t say no.
    5. Finally, I have veto power over any suggestion. I only plan on invoking this if someone suggests something that breaks the above rule, or sneaks in some weird edge case that isn’t covered by the above. Even then, I won’t leave a donator out in the lurch; I’ll just ask them to pick another game.
  • As far as my stream environment goes, I try to keep the stream pretty family-friendly overall. I didn’t start off with that as a conscious goal, although it was helpful as an alternative to the various “rageaholic” streams that seemed to be the norm when I started 6-ish years ago. It’s just kind of who I am, especially now that I’ve retired from speedrunning. There are exceptions to this. I have the “mature stream” warning enabled, mainly because I want the flexibility to branch off into more “adult” discussions if I decide to. Plus, with the warning on, it’s on you if your 5-year-old sees some of my FrankerFaceZ emotes and asks you “Mommy what’s a bondage burrito?”
  • Am I a successful streamer? I suppose I am, in a few senses. I’m currently a Twitch affiliate, which apparently only 6 percent of people on Twitch qualify for despite the seemingly meager requirements. That isn’t bad. I also actually get around 10 viewers per stream, despite my currently streaming a dungeon-crawler for what feels like the last twenty streams. That’s pretty good too. On a more personal level, streaming is a nice way for me to get through my backlog of games and play things I’ve never played before, such as The Bard’s Tale or Akalabeth.
  • What isn’t my stream? Even though it started off as one, it’s no longer a speedrun stream, unless you stretch the definition of “speedrun stream” to include “One of the very few people who announced a retirement from speedrunning and actually has stayed retired sometimes gives scorching hot takes on the current state of it.” I still occasionally commentate on races and things, and of course I still watch speedrun streams (Here are a few you should watch), but I remain as happily retired from active speedrunning as Neil Peart is from drumming.
  • And despite my position as one of the most hardcore “Heck yeah! Capitalism!” people among my circle of Twitch friends when it comes to the question of streaming for money, I would hope that I’m not a “sellout stream”, whatever that entails. Frankly, selling out is hard–even when I decided to run a game in a popular series, as opposed to my usual modus operandi of “Take a free world record in a game no one has ever heard of, let alone played before” (A technique that doesn’t really work now that speedrunning is as big as it is), I couldn’t fully commit to the “selling out” aspect of it and wound up picking Metroid II, the one game in the Metroid series that may be even more of a black sheep than Metroid: Other M (People at least have strong feelings about Other M, whereas they just kind of forget Metroid II even existed). In other words, I’m not sure I could sell out even if I wanted to. Either way, though, I hope I can strike a balance between being appreciative of donations/bits/etc. without crossing the line into pandering/begging for them.

-EE

Apr 30

Thoughts on Twitch Affiliatehood

Recently, Twitch announced and rolled out a a new program for non-partnered streamers called the Affiliate program. You can read the post for the full scoop, but the basic summary is that some non-partnered streamers can accept “bits”, a currency used on Twitch, and the end goal is for Affiliates to basically be “Partners-lite”, with a single subscription emote.

A disclaimer that I was one of the first people accepted into this program (It launched on the 24th, and I got my notification about it on the 25th), which probably colors my view of it.

Having said that, I love this program in concept. One of Twitch’s issues from the start has been that its structure promotes “The rich get richer, the 99% can go jump in an outhouse”. This is in terms of both obvious things, such as sorting stream in descending order by number of viewers, and less conscious decisions that nonetheless make you go “WTF?”. As one example, and this may have been fixed more recently, Twitch liked to recommend games like League of Legends, Halo, and Call of Duty to viewers of my stream if you actually bothered to use the leftmost twitch column (I have nothing personally against any of these games, other than Twitch’s tendency to promote anything and everything related to LoL at the expense of literally everything else(1) in its early days. They just aren’t for me.).

And so, there have been other features added to Twitch over the years (Communities, etc), but this might be the first time Twitch has actually acknowledged a problem and really worked to consciously assist smaller streamers in pursuing “the dream” as it were. It’s awesome to see them taking that step.

I do question how effective the program will be in its implied aim of actually helping more streamers make the jump to partner. Even with this, there’s so much competition that the odds of it happening are super long. I’ve ranted about it in the past, but “get lucky in one form or another” is still the way to actually make it to partnership. In that light, there are a couple ways of looking at the program with varying degrees of cynicism.

One is that Twitch are trying to get more money into “The Twitch ecosystem” as it were. A couple years ago, Twitch were bought by Amazon for nearly a billion (Yes, with a B) dollars. I suppose this could have happened just because Jeff Bezos is a big fan of MANvsGAME, Witwix, TheMexicanRunner, or some other big streamer, similar to Ted Turner using his practically infinite financial resources to keep WCW alive in the late 1980s/early 1990s just because he loved pro wrestling. More likely, though, Amazon wants some kind of return on their investment, and this program is one step toward that. If you don’t know how bits work, each bit is worth 1 cent to the recipient. As a “bit giver”, you can either get them through watching ads, or purchase them at an upcharge to hand out (So 100 bits may cost $1.40 to purchase, for instance, with that extra 40 cents going to Twitch). The more streamers that a person watches that can accept bits, the more likely a person is to purchase them (Which gives Twitch a cut), as opposed to just donating to that person directly through PayPal/Patreon/etc (Which does not give Twitch a cut). It makes sense from Twitch’s perspective, even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense from the donator’s. There’s a kind of symbiotic relationship there–Twitch wouldn’t be what it is without the streamers, but those streamers wouldn’t have a place to stream without Twitch(2).

The second cynical take here is that it’s a way for Twitch to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were, without saying specifically that that’s what they’re doing. What I mean by this is that some people believe that, if they could only get partnership and a sub button, they can then just sit back and watch the money roll in. Most actual partners will tell you that’s not the case (Particularly if you want to go full-time with streaming, they’ll say partnership is just the starting point, not the end goal), but the affiliate program may be a way to “show, don’t tell” on Twitch’s end. “Okay smaller streamers, here are some of the financial aspects of partnership to get you started. Now you can see how easy this REALLY is,” they seem to be saying.

Still, overall, I view this as a major positive. The requirements are quite lenient in my view, and it harkens back in a way to the “old days” when partnership and having a subscription button were two separate “tiers” on Twitch.

Now I just need to figure out how I want to adjust the stream, if at all.

-EE

(1) Fellow “twitch oldbois” will no doubt remember the Bad Old Days when, every weekend without fail, chat would break horribly. “Oh, it’s the weekend and chat’s broken. Must be a League tournament going on.” Just about always, there was.

(2) Yes, other streaming services exist, but let’s be realistic here, there’s a reason why every time Twitch angered the speedrunning community to the point of a threatened “mass exodus”, pretty much everyone who left came crawling back to Twitch within days. That reason is “Oh, right, despite all the platitudes of ‘stream like nobody’s watching’ we like to spew forth, streaming to zero viewers actually sucks, and almost no one watches non-Twitch streams.”

Mar 22

The RPG Lounge- Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom

Welcome back to the RPG Lounge, an occasional retrospective/review series about the RPGs I play through, most of which will be livestreamed.

The “classic” Phantasy Star series has four games, each unique in their own way. The original is a hybrid JRPG/dungeon crawler whose main character is one of the earliest female protagonists in video game history. The second game was the closest thing to a “killer app” the Sega Genesis had until Sonic the Hedgehog. Now, it’s known as the quintessential “old-school” JRPG, with all that entails. The fourth game is the series’ masterpiece, regarded as one of the best JRPGs of its era, and one that holds up even today.

And then…there’s Phantasy Star III.

Subtitled Generations of Doom, Phantasy Star III is the series’s black sheep. Its reputation ranges from “An abomination” to “Pretty good for what it is, but not really a Phantasy Star game”. The game was developed and released a little over a year after Phantasy Star II, by a different team. And it shows.

One thousand years before the game’s events, there was a near-cataclysmic war. Before disappearing, Orakio and Laya, the two leaders in the war, gave their respective followers the same commandment: “Never harm another”. But the two factions utilize a loophole–the Orakians send cyborgs after the Layans, while the Layans command monsters to do their bidding. As the game begins, Rhys, an Orakian prince, is about to get married. Maia, his bride, is an amnesiac who washed up on the shores of Landen two months prior. But at the altar, Maia is kidnapped by a Layan, and your quest to get her back kicks the game off.

Phantasy Star III’s main “gimmick”, if you can call it that, is hinted at by its subtitle. At a certain point, you’ll be given a choice of two characters to marry. This will determine your character and quest for the next portion of the game; that character will also be given a choice of wife, for a total of four possible paths through the game.

The concept is neat, but the execution leaves something to be desired. As an example, in the path I chose, I was given the choice of two women to marry, neither of whom had exchanged so much as a romantic pleasantry with my character up to that point.

Indeed, Phantasy Star III is rife with “so close, yet so far” moments. Whether due to rushed development, or the limitations of the Genesis, you’ll be a lot of points where the developers’ ambition shows through despite the execution not living up to it. The first generation of the game goes for a political intrigue sort of storyline, as you learn that the Layans may not be the heartless monsters Orakians see them as–and that the Layans themselves have some interesting beliefs about Orakians. But the game’s translation limits the effectiveness. Similarly, poor word choice ruins what should be a poignant moment on at least one occasion.

Still, there are enough positive aspects to call the game “not as bad as its reputation”. So why is it regarded as the worst of the first four “main” Phantasy Stars, to the point that Sega effectively declared a do-over with Phantasy Star IV? Part of it is the game’s beginning, which feels more like a standard JRPG in the vein of Dragon Quest than a Phantasy Star game. The sci-fi elements that set Phantasy Star games apart from their brethren show up early enough, but I won’t lie, it took me four or five tries throughout the years to get to the “Now this is Phantasy Star!” point of the game. Even then, I only did so after forcing myself to stop thinking of the game as a Phantasy Star game, and just judge it as an independent creation. For that reason, the game might, paradoxically, work best as an entry to the Phantasy Star series, free of the expectation of what a Phantasy Star “should be”.

The game’s biggest flaw, though, is its random encounter rate. Even by old-school RPG standards, the number of random battles you’ll get into is ridiculous; I was ready for the experience to be over by the end of the second generation. The problem is aggravated by two other factors. First, like many old-school JRPGs, triggers to advance sometimes boil down to “find and talk to one random NPC hidden away in the corner of a village”, leading to more wandering about the world than is necessary. Secondly, for about 80% of the game, there’s no way to alleviate the encounter rate. Even Phantasy Star II had spells, teleportation stations, and items to remove some of the backtracking from place to place. Phantasy Star III has Escapipes, which return you to the entrance of the dungeon you’re currently in…and that’s it. This means a lot of walking, a lot of backtracking, and a lot of fighting enemies every five steps or so.

There are two silver linings to this. An individual battle is almost never a problem. Rather, the game employs a “death by thousand cuts” methodology to achieve its difficulty, bleeding out your resources via sheer number of encounters. And the dungeons are much simpler than Phantasy Star II’s infamous labyrinths, though you may wish to have maps handy regardless.

I have a soft spot in my heart for “ambitious failures”. Phantasy Star III is certainly ambitious. It’s also frustrating for how close it comes to being something great without quite getting there. Did I enjoy it? On balance, yes. Do I recommend it? That’s trickier. If you can handle random battles for days, give it a shot. Otherwise, since Sega themselves have all but disowned it, you aren’t missing much if you pass on it.
-EE