Mental Health, Music

PSYCHODRAMA – Dave

People who have been reading this blog for a while may remember that I experimented with doing a regular thing on a Friday dubbed “#NewMusicFridays”, it was a short lived experiment that I only kept up for two weeks but I never wrote off the idea of writing more under the category of music, and so we come to this week’s Sunday post, which as you may have noticed is basically me writing about anything that takes my fancy whilst the content for Tuesdays and Thursdays is fairly rigid, this is done on purpose as I spent years just writing about videogames, which I still love to do, but that time really dampened my love of the medium for quite some time.

Back on topic then, here in the UK is an award called the Mercury Prize which is awarded to the best album released in the UK by a British or Irish artist or group. It’s not something I’ve historically paid alot of attention to, I normally see the nominations and tune out when they’re performers have never really grabbed me. However, this year IDLES’ “Joy as an Act of Resistance” was nominated, which I voted my favourite record of 2018, so I was paying it a little more attention this time out.

Needless to say, IDLES didn’t win, a grime artist by the name of Dave did, now is where alot of people will tune out, but please, don’t. Let me continue.

Dave came to my attention earlier this year when he performed at Glastonbury and dragged a fan up on stage to perform a song of his called Thiago Silva, the fan was chosen because he was wearing a Paris Saint-Germain replica shirt with Silva’s name and number printed onto the back, no body expected him to do this:

Grime isn’t a genre I’ve particularly paid alot of attention to, its not that I don’t like rap music, I really like stuff from the late eighties and early nineties that I was exposed to through my brother and have been really enjoying Netflix’s “Hip Hop Evolution”. I’ve just not spent much time listening to much UK rap if I’m being honest and thats maybe a mistake on my part.

So Friday I had to go shopping, and thats the day I read that Dave had won the Mercury Prize, so I loaded up Spotify and listened to his award winning album “Psychodrama” and I can certainly see why its been so well received as its an exceptional album that, like with IDLES’ effort, is something I feel everybody should listen carefully to the message of. “Black” smashes things out of the park when it comes to educating the world on what Dave (and possibly many more individuals) feels it is to be a black man in modern Britain. It’s not an experience I can speak off with any conviction beyond seeing from the outside the experiences of a friend when I was very young man. He was in a mixed race family, his mum and sister were both white (he had a different Dad to his sister, but she was never, ever his half sister) but his Dad was absent and as the older of the two children he was often left in a position of caring for his little sister and would walk her to school every day so his Mum could earn enough to put food on the table. Every day after school (we went to different schools, he went to a church funded school, I went to the local primary) he would knock for me and we’d play football or go out in the Den or he’d push me around on my Go-Kart. But he would always be checking on the whereabouts of his younger sibling (who’s Dad was also absent I might add). Throughout “Black” I pictured him and how at 5pm every day he’d’ rush home with his sister and I’d not see him till the following day whilst at weekends he would often be helping his mum shop or be at Sunday School.

The other track I’d like to draw attention to is “Lesley (feat. Ruelle)” which at 11 minutes is a very long rap record, its not an easy listen either as it tells a properly horrible story that, to my mind, tries to raise the issue of toxic masculinity (an issue that regular readers will be aware of me trying to address and come to terms with myself) and the damage it does to everybody with the story being told from the perspective of a woman in an abusive relationship. The story being told is horrific, but the lyrical content is astounding, when it came on I was just walking along but I soon found somewhere to sit and just listen to what Dave had to say, to go any further would be to spoil the experience, but its a song I think everyone should listen to.

Mental health, masculinity and ones identity are my interpretation of the themes that Dave has tried to weave into his content on Psychodrama, that the whole album is played out with the background of being part of an appointment with the narrator’s therapist really drives that home and, much like IDLES’ record, I feel this is a record that will go down as being one of the most important in modern history. It certainly deserves to, so give it a listen, I’ve made it easy for you by sticking the whole album from Spotify below for you.

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Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IX, Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 10

Ten weeks in, I’m still on disc 2, though I’ve not had much time with Final Fantasy IX this week so its only going to be a short update. Last week we reached Pinnacle Rocks and that is where I’ll be for the entirety of this post.

When we were last with Dagger, Zidane and Vivi they had been thrown out of the Gargant they had been riding in through Gargan Roo, they landed with a bump at Pinnacle Rocks, further than they had wanted to go as the Gargant had ran past the stop at Treno due to being chased and some mischievous Oglops. Pinnacle Rocks, it would seem, is home to Ramuh, the God of Thunder, whom has tasked Dagger with finding five manifestations of himself in the surrounding area, each manifestation has a part of a story to tell and its up to Dagger to then recite that story to Ramuh himself before he will decide whether or not to teach her how to summon eidolons.

The manifestations themselves aren’t difficult to find, mostly as when you approach an empty area that one happens to be hiding in they reveal themselves and all thats left to do is approach them, talk to them and listen to their slice of the story. The first one I find is near Monty the Moogle:

“Once upon a time, 33 small countries fought together against an empire. One day, a rebel troop visited a man named Joseph, who lived with his daughter. Owing a debt to the troop, he gladly accepted their plea for help. They headed for a cavern in the snow field.” – Beginning

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Number two was at the bottom of a ramp in a pool in the same area as the first

Historians Explanation:
“The fact they didn’t report Joseph’s death to his daughter was indicative of their guilt for failing to protect him. In the end, heroes are also human.” – Human

Numbers three and four are in the following area, one beneath a ramp, the other at the top of it

“With Joseph’s help, the troop defeated the adamantoise in the snow field cavern and acquired the Goddess Bell they needed to enter the empire’s castle.” – Co-operation

 

“On their way home, they fell in to a trap set by a traitor. Joseph gave his life to save the troop. The troop left without telling Joseph’s daughter, Nelly about the tragedy.” – Silence

Whilst the last part of the story to be told is by a manifestation that was at the original place that we met Ramuh

Historians Explanation:

“Although Joseph’s death was not reported to his daughter, the manner of his death speaks for itself. This is the story of a true hero.” – Hero

As I’ve said, I have to put these into the correct order, though it turns out there’s a trick here. Ramuh reports that there are actually only four parts to the story, though I have five, and that one of them doesn’t belong. I choose to go with the following:

  • Beginning
  • Co-Operation
  • Tragedy
  • Human

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As I feel the conclusion in Human feels more natural and more fitting with the tone of the story, Ramuh asks Dagger why she chose that particular conclusion:

People pass down stories of other people to whom they feel an affinity. The people in the story had flaws, as we all do. That is why they come heroes in the people mind.”

Whilst Ramuh sort of accepts this answer from her, he also wants her to tell him what she really thinks after hearing the story, in her own words

I am away from my country, but I haven’t forgotten my people.”

Ramuh feels that her soul is very tense and he hopes that by becoming her eidolon that it will become more relaxed, he fades from view and Dagger is rewarded with the Peridot jewel that allows her to become his master. Once she has met this challenge, she decides that the three of them, Dagger, Zidane and Vivi, must now head to Lindblum.

Vivi says to Zidane that he thinks Ramuh would have become Dagger’s eidolon regardless of whether she chose “Human” or “Hero” as the ending to the tale. Ramuh’s disembodied voice confirms this to the two of them and says that the test was about whether or not she knew her true self.

She may not have realised it, but when she wished to learn how to use summon magic, the summon power returned to her. Summon magic can be used for good or evil. She is still young, but there is room for growth… So I chose her as my master. I’ll be watching over her. I hope you two will also protect her.

Before leaving Pinnacle Rocks I make one last sweep to make sure we haven’t missed anything and speak to Monty to save the game, he has a tattered letter from Stiltzkin:

From Stiltzkin to Monty

“This…

Might be…

The end of me…”

Which doesn’t bode well, but there’s nothing we can do for Stiltzkin and there’s definitely nothing left to do at Pinnacle Rocks so I guess its off to make the journey to Lindblum.

#ThrowBackThursday – Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 1
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX Playthrough Part 2
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 3
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 4
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 5
#ThrowBack Thursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 6
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 7
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 8
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX Playthrough part 9

 

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: SEGA Superstar Tennis (PlayStation 2)

Take two parts Virtua Tennis, one part Mario Tennis, and mix in a whole ton of SEGA nostalgia and you have yourself SEGA Superstars Tennis. Sound good? Well, it is, if you happen to be a big fan of what SEGA have done in the past.

Y’see while Nintendo present you with characters from their best known games in their sports tie-ins, SEGA Superstar Tennis relies upon you knowing some of their back catalogue, well, at least more than just Sonic the Hedgehog anyhow, although its unsurprising he has a big part to play, and will no doubt be the first character most people use. But its not just SEGA’s most famous output that makes an appearance, theres also showings from Ulala (Space Channel 5), Beat (Jet Set Radio), AiAi (Super Monkey Ball) and even the long forgotten Alex Kidd, among others, which can only bring a smile to those who favoured a SEGA console over the opposition at least once in their life.

Courts too are themed on SEGA franchises, with all the above titles getting their own courts alongside others which don’t have any in-game character representation, such as House of the Dead. Of course, none of this would count for anything if the game played terribly, and you’d be forgiven for being wary of it based upon a lot of SEGA’s recent output, but rest assured, Sumo Digital have taken the engine from Virtua Tennis 3 (which they also ported from the arcades over to the XBox 360 and PS3) and built a highly entertaining game around the engine and nostalgia they had at their finger tips. Not only is it highly entertaining, but as with its sibling its incredibly accessible to begin with and has quite a bit of depth to its gameplay the more you play it.

However, its not without its problems. Games can feel a little too easy to win at times, the first 5 tournaments or so I managed to get away with just hitting the ball from the left of the court to the right side, and whilst its always good for a game to start off easily and make things that bit simpler for you to get into it, this level of difficulty goes on for far too long and is only affected by the rather random feeling special abilities that each character has that are activated by keeping a rally going until the star around your character is completely yellow and glowing then hitting the pre-designated button. Although these can be just as harmful to your game as they are to your opponents, especially against an AI opponent.

But, as a SEGA fan of old, I find this game incredibly charming and entertaining, I’ve not been the only one to get enjoyment out of it either as my young daughter loves watching the characters run around the screen hitting the ball back and forth which shows that this is a game that the whole family can enjoy it together.

Gaming

My Top Five Dreamcast Games

I may have mentioned this before but if you were to ask me what my favourite console is I’d probably immediately state that is was SEGA’s Dreamcast. Dwelling on the question further would probably bring up other systems that would be in contention, notably the first two PlayStations, but if asked and expecting an immediate answer the Dreamcast is what would find its way to the tip of my tongue first. Graphically it looked ace at the time and alot of the games still hold up really well now, with the focus being on sharp, bright graphics.

So what are my favourite five games? Starting from number five and finishing with my favourite (and those who know me wont be surprised at what it is), here they are.

5. Jet Set Radioscreenshot14
Fun, Fresh and Funky. Three words that perfectly describe both Jet Set Radio’s audio and visual design. Those sharp yellow’s, oranges and greens in my mind are absolutely iconic and whilst I still listen to its soundtrack today. If Sonic the Hedgehog perfectly sums up the attitude of SEGA during the Mega Drive era, then Jet Set Radio does the same for the Dreamcast era in that it oozes cool, is really experimental, has more than a hint of the arcade in it (even if its not a proper arcade title).

4. Soul Calibur
screenshot21

I have two fond memories of Soul Calibur, the first is staying over at a friends one night and the pair of us working through Edge Master mode, unlocking everything we could and playing about with the intro sequence (replacing Sophitia with Astaroth brought a few laughs). The other is introducing my better half to it when we were first dating nearly seventeen years ago and us spending many an evening battling it out against each other over and over again and her getting gradually better.

3. Rez
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So good it gets re-released every time we get a new console. Now admittedly the versions I’ve played the most are the PlayStation 2 and XBox 360 ones, but its still quintessentially a Dreamcast title in my mind. I wasn’t lucky enough to get a copy when it was released at the end of the consoles life (hence why I ended up with it on PlayStation  2), but a friend did and I’d borrow it at every opportunity (likewise Samba De Amigo). Playing it now I have to put headphones on and just love listening to the music slowly build as you progress and love the Running Man section most of all.

2. Crazy Taxi
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I bought my Dreamcast for two things, Crazy Taxi was one of those reasons, the other we’ll come to in a moment. Whats not to love about it? Its proper SEGA blue skies gaming where everything feels positive, add in its famous soundtrack and a ridiculous handling model that rewards the player for dangerous but skillful driving which all resulted in Crazy Taxi grabbing me for hours and hours and I actually became very good at it, back in the day I could get into the region of $20,000.00 every time I booted the game up and played Arcade Mode, scores that none of my mates could touch.

1. Phantasy Star Online/Phantasy Star Online ver.2
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I’ve previously dedicated a #ThrowbackThursday to Phantasy Star Online, its a game I keep returning to, when I get the Dreamcast down from the loft its normally PSO (or Crazy Taxi) that I boot up first. I have it on other systems too, GameCube, XBox and PC, but its the Dreamcast where it feels most at home. Those with some technical ability are now able to utilise a Raspberry Pi to take the Dreamcast version online again via private servers, I’m not brave enough to try that yet (but may do so in the future) but have recently returned to Ragol via a PC private server for the Blue Burst release of the game.

Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IX, Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX Playthrough part 9

We took a break last week to take a look at SEGA’s Daytona USA which had been selected as August’s Retro Game Club title. When we last on Final Fantasy IX things weren’t looking good for Cleyra after the sandstorm surrounding and protecting it had died alongside the strings on their magical harp breaking.

This week we start in Alexandria, though not for long, when we were here previously Zorn & Thorn had taken Garnet, Steiner and  Marcus prisoner. The latter two are being held in a cage thats being suspended from the ceiling of one of the castle’s halls with two of Beatrix’s soldiers keeping guard, Steiner is still, somehow, completely delusional about the Queen’s recent actions. Garnet has been confined to her quarters and has alot of questions for her mother whom she hopes will listen to her. She noticed her mother began to change around a year prior to the events we’ve experienced so far, coinciding with her fifteenth birthday, which is also when Professor Tot left Alexandria and “that tall man” (must be Kuja) appeared at the castle.

Zorn & Thorn are sent by the Queen to summon Garnet to see her, despite wanting to speak to her mother she is aghast at how Zorn & Thorn have spoken to her and shouts “Get off me scumbag” which leaves the pair a little confused (it confused me too as it didn’t really fit in with this particular situation). Regardless, they apprehend her and escort her to see her mother who tries to tell Garnet she’s been worried about her whereabouts but Garnet gets straight into the questioning. Brahne denies her attack on Burmecia, to a degree anyway, she claims it was in retaliation as, according to her, the Burmecians were planning to destroy Alexandria and she was acting in the best interests of her kingdom. Garnet doesn’t believe a word of this and begins to say as much when Kuja enters the room

“May I also play a part in this act?”

He then uses a spell to send Garnet to sleep, declaring

“She is beautiful, even in sleep”

Zorn & Thorn are then summoned to extract the eidolons from the Princess. It would seem that the Queen, Zorn, Thorn and Kuja had been awaiting Garnet turning sixteen to perform some kind of spell on her to remove some mystical power that she holds.

prison

Back in Cleyra, Freya is pondering why the storm has disappeared, she tells Zidane that the sandstorm had been protecting Cleyra for a thousand years and not once had it disappeared, she believes Brahne is behind it all, Zidane wonders how the “guy that was with Brahne” could also be involved. The pair decide to head down the tree to investigate why the sandstorm has stopped. As Freya I talk to everybody in Cleyra, the over riding belief is that Cleyra will be invaded. The Cleyrean High Priest gives Freya an emerald which can teach Haste, MP+ 10% and White Draw. Stiltzkin has also now made an appearance at the inn and has a combo of Hi-Potion, Ether and Phoenix Pinion for sale for 444 Gil. Mopli also has a letter from Monev:

“To Mopli to Monev

People are climbing up to Cleyra since
the sandstorm disappeared… kupo.
I have a bad feeling about this.
Whats going to happen?

Will Cleyra end up like Burmecia?
Isn’t there anyone who can help us?
Kupo!”

Mopli decides he’s going to pack up and leave Cleyra when Stiltzkin moves on.

At the foot of the settlement, Zidane, Viva and Quina have all gathered and are waiting for Freya. Vivi, who had been searching for Puck after the antlion attack, informs everybody he was unable to find the young prince, so we all head off down the tree to figure out just whats going on.

As the group enters the area that previously had the sand whirlpools they are attacked by Alexandrian soldiers. That kind of confirms what everyone was thinking, but as we progress back through the root system there’s not a whole lot of them, Freya and Zidane are wondering about the seriousness of this attack when Puck appears, he’s apparently been looking for them since they left the settlement as shortly after leaving Cleyra has been attacked. Everyone rushes back the way they came, but the camera lingers as Beatrix steps into shot, she seems to be rather pleased with how things are unfolding.

Back in Cleyra again, Black Mages are appearing in magical orbs from the sky and begin attacking the people. they’re new “Type C” variants so are stronger and can cast Thundara, Blizzara and Fira. It would seem Alexandria have pulled of some kind of pincer attack, sending soldiers from below, which anyone would assume is the natural method, but also sending in Black Mages from above, the odds on anyone surviving don’t look particularly good. Burmecian Soldier Dan’s wife is trying to flee with her children and as Zidane I try to point her in the best direction to go, but I must have picked wrong as Black Mages block her path forcing her to sacrifice herself to save her children, before she is killed she begs Zidane to get them to safety. As everybody reaches the cathedral, hoping its a safe space, more Black Mages appear and surround everybody, however, their is somebody atop the Cathedrals spire who declares:

“My spear will purge this land of you!”

and dispatches the Black Mages easily, telling everybody else to run. After Zidane tells the stranger he owes him one, he retreats into the cathedral with everybody else. It would seem though that Freya recognises their saviour, it would appear the warrior is Sir Fratley, she tells him how she had heard he had died but had spent years searching for him, never believing the rumours to be true. He doesn’t seem to know who she is, Zidane reacts angrily and tells him how Freya is her lost love, but still he doesn’t remember. He doesn’t remember the King of Burmecia either Puck appears again, and fills everybody in, he managed to find Sir Fratley, but he had no memory of Puck, Burmecia or Cleyra, nor indeed who he was himself. However, once they heard of the attack on Burmecia and Cleyra he immediately returned, maybe because of faint memories of being a Dragon Knight, and with that Sir Fratley leaves again with Puck chasing after him.

Despite this news, Freya’s resolve returns and she tells Zidane that they must regroup and protect Cleyra, however, Beatrix suddenly appears through the catherdral window and steals the magic stone from  the broken harp before fleeing with Zidane, Quina, Freya and Vivi in pursuit. As we chase after her, the Burmecians and Cleyrans give us a bunch of items that they hope will help in the battle that is to come and Mopli asks me to deliver a letter to Serino.

odin

Freya, Zidane, Vivi and Quina give chase and engage Beatrix in battle on the steps of the cathedral. The fight itself, like the prior one against Beatrix, is one of survival. I can do plenty of damage, forcing her to use Cure, but her Shock ability takes out whoever she uses it on, forcing me to use Phoenix Downs and Potions to get them back in the fight and putting us on the back foot whilst we do all of that. Once the battle gets to a certain point she unleashes yet another attack that, like in the last fight, leaves everybody on 1HP before leaving with the stolen stone whilst instructing the Black Mages to leave immediately.  Which they begin to do so by summoning the same orbs that they arrived in. Zidane manages to jump into one, with Freya and Vivi following behind. Quina, who states s/he doesn’t like heights, chooses to head down the tree instead.

The scene goes to Queen Brahnes airship, the Red Rose, she appears to have been watching events unfold in Cleyra from this vantage point. She declares she has some Dark Matter, that I presume is what Zorn & Thorn “extracted” from Garnet. She says it gives her the power to summon an eidolon and then does indeed do that, summoning Odin to destroy Cleyra.

The orbs that Zidane, Freya and Vivi had taken arrive onboard the airship, Zidane tries to rush off to find Beatrix but Freya lags behind devastated at what they’ve just witnessed. She feels like she has now failed both Cleyra and Burmecia, but when Beatrix appears on the balcony above the trio have to quickly hide beneath a staircase and listen in on her conversation with her soldiers. It seem’s Beatrix is beginning to question the queen’s behaviour, believing that she used too much force on Cleyra and that he soldiers would have been more than enough to take it. Then Brahne begins to call for her, she wants the stone that Beatrix stole from Cleyra, then commands her to find the “last jewel”. She then tells Beatrix that she plans to have Garnet executed for “stealing the jewel”, which shocks Beatrix, she begins to object but is shot down and told to follow orders. Zidane now needs to get to Alexandria before Brahne does, but he’s stuck on the Red Rose with her, Dagger needs saving before its too late. Vivi knows how they can get there first and suggests using the “telepods” (the orbs they used to get aboard the Red Rose), at which point Serino appears, so I give him his letter

“From Mopli to Serino

By the time this letter reaches Serino,
Cleyra may be destroyed…
Stitlzkin keeps saying

‘I’ve been through stuff like this before,
we’ll be fine’

But what if we wont be okay this time!?
Kupo!!!”

Everyone then jumps into the giant jugs that hold the telepods (or are the telepods? I don’t know how this technology works!!) and are taken, hopefully, to Alexandria.

Back in Alexandria, Steiner and Marcus are still imprisoned in the same cage as before, however Steiner has decided its finally time for them to escape and the two begin leaning side to side in order to make their cage swing, the goal is to smash it against a wall and thus free them. Once this is achieved, the guards rush to investigate and are easily seen off by the two men and once to safety Marcus leaves Steiner behind to head to Evil Forest to free Blank, Steiner tries to call him a coward but is ignored and is then surprised by the sudden appearance of Zidane, Vivi and Freya in the floating orbs. Zidane tells him they don’t have much time, that Garnets life is in danger and a timer of 30 minutes appears in the top left corner of the screen and immediately begins counting down.

After reaching the queens chambers, Garnet is no where to be seen. After searching around we activate a switch by moving a candle that opens up a hidden passageway behind the fireplace. The passageway leads to a spiral staircase so we begin to descend to the bottom, once there we find Zorn & Thorn standing over Garnets body, after being surprised by Zidane and co’s appearance we are thrown in to a battle, its actually pretty easy, the point of it is to attack which ever one has been given the more powerful attack but Vivi goes into Trance allowing me to cast double magic, so I just let loose with that and also have Freya cast Reis’s Wind to give everybody Regen.

Once beaten, Zorn & Thorn tell us its too late anyway, they are done with the princess, they then flee from the chamber. The group approach Garnet, who is unresponsive, Steiner believes her to be dead and starts shouting how he’s failed her and all sorts of things along those lines, but Freya and Zidane notice that her heart is still beating. Zidane picks her up and begins to leave the chamber, however a Moogle appears and has a letter

From Kupo to Mosh

Kupo! Whats going on in Alexandria!?
Soldiers are everywhere!

I heard a rumour that Princess Garnet
returned to Alexandria!

I guess Princess Garnet left the castle
because she suspected Queen Brahne!”

They all head back up the staircase back to the queens chambers where Zidane chooses this time to lay her on a couch to rest. Steiner has a bit of a breakdown, shouting into the air demanding to know what the queen is trying to do and why she would hurt Garnet. Surely all of this, Steiners shouting, Zidane letting Garnet rest, is better suited to once they’ve actually escaped the castle. He does however blame himself for Garnets condition, say he should have gotten to her sooner. Steiner accuses Zidane of not being himself and demands blame him and his incompitence for Garnets condition but Zidane refuses to do so.

ramuh

Then, to no ones surprise (well, certainly not to mine) Zorn & Thorn reappear with Beatrix following behind. She tries to get Steiner to come over to her side and another battle with the general begins. This battle is tougher than the previous two, I have to revive Steiner twice and Freya once, but it again ends in a similar manner to those other engagements, with Beatrix unleashing a devastating attack that leaves everybody on 1HP, but again, she doesn’t finish them off. She tells everyone to never step into Alexandria again though Zidane challenges her duty to Alexandria and Princess Garnet, pointing out Garnets unconscious body lying on the couch. Beatrix, shocked at what she see’s, says she didn’t believe it when Brahne said she wanted Garnet dead. Steiner is still, despite everything he’s experienced, in disbelief, but Beatrix tells him he must accept it as so, then asks for Burmecia’s forgiveness. Freya tells her it is too late for that, but that its not too late for her to save Dagger, so Beatrix attempts to heal the princess despite Zorn & Thorn’s protestations that it is useless. However, on the third attempt, Dagger awakens, at which point Queen Brahne now enters the room, (seriously, I think we’re only missing Kuja and the members of Tantalus and the whole cast would be here in this one room in the castle!)

Zorn & Thorn fill her in on whats happening and also tell her that they succesfully extracted the eidolons. Brahne tells them to throw Garnet in prison but Beatrix stands in the way and refuses to let it happen, Freya joins her in finishing off Zorn & Thorn, allowing Vivi, Zidane, Steiner and Dagger to escape through the fireplace passageway. Zorn & Thorn set their pet Bandersnatch on Freya and Beatrix, but the latter has it defeated in one move. As the other group makes their way down the staircase a Bandersnatch also chases them, but again, its easily beaten. However, at the bottom of the staircase Steiner has a sudden change of heart, he can’t stand by and watch Freya and Beatrix make a stand whilst he escapes and runs back up the staircase to aid them telling Zidane to get Garnet to Treno and to Professor Tot, being sure he can come up with a way to save the kingdom. Zidane has to persuade Garnet to leave them behind, saying they are performing they duty to her and to the kingdom in order that she can escape and survive, another Bandersnatch then attacks and is again easily seen off, and the group run to make their way to Gargan Roo.

However they are trapped by the same trap Zorn & Thorn used previously on Dagger, Marcus and Steiner, the annoying duo can’t believe their luck that it worked again and are so distracted that Marcus and Blank manage to sneak in and knock them out, freeing Zidane, Dagger and Freya to escape to Gargan Roo. They climb on board the Gargant who takes off in the direction of Treno, but then stops suddenly. Why can’t this escape just be simple? In the way is a much bigger worm like creature than the one that scared the Gargant previously. Both Dagger and Zidane enter Trance whilst fighting the Ralvuimago and despite it coiling to protect itself each time its attacked, the battle isn’t too taxing, however once back aboard the Gargant it begins to move off slowly, much to Zidanes (and mine!) annoyance, though it begins to speed up because the Ralvuimago starts to chase us. This leads to the Gargant running straight through Treno station, though some Oglops  messing with the switch that would allow it to stop certainly didn’t help!

It’s soon apparent that the creature is out of control and as the ride becomes more and more violet, everyone is thrown from the carriage, the screen turns white and we’re taken back to Alexandria with Zorn & Thorn being refused an audience with the queen. They’re only really there to tell her her guests have arrived. Brahne wishes for them to be sent straight to her but essentially banishes Zorn & Thorn. Her guests, it would seem, are a pair of bounty hunters “Boisterous Woman” reveals her name to be Lani, whilst her companion is only referred to as “red-headed man”. She instructs them to retrieve Garnets pendant and to also assassinate the “black mage travelling with them” whom she calls a “soulless golem” and a “defect running free”. The “red-headed man” asks if there was a boy with a tail travelling with the princess, which the queen confirms and adds that he will receive an extra reward if he is taken care of too. A soldier then reports that the fleet has arrived back in Alexandria and requests the queen prepares to depart on the Red Rose.

It seems the Gargant took them further than Garnet, Zidane and Vivi has wanted to go as they were thrown out of its carriage at Pinnacle Rocks, which lies closer to Lindblum than Treno. Garnet still wants to go to Treno and asks Zidane if they could borrow an airship, though before he can think of a plan an old man appears, floating in the air and introduces himself as Ramuh. Garnet recognises the name from her books and identifies him as Ramuh the Thunder God.

He tells her that her summon magic was used to destroy Cleyra, which she was obviously not aware of, Ramuh asks her what she will do now and she begs him to help her become strong enough to wield summon magic. Ramuh challenges her to find five manifestations of himself to prove her worth and only upon completing this task will he help her.

#ThrowBackThursday – Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 1
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX Playthrough Part 2
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 3
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 4
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 5
#ThrowBack Thursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 6
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 8
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 8

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: The Club (XBox 360)

Bizarre Creations, famed developers of many a racing game, have decided to try their hand at something a little different, yet in theory, just the same. The Club is a third person action shooter based around arena combat and linking together kills in combo’s and trying to get the highest possible score. On paper, it sounds incredibly risky from a developer who have spent the best part of the past 8 years developing and evolving a similar idea within the racing genre. In reality, it is still incredibly risky as The Club has that feeling of a “Marmite game”.

This is never a good thing to label a game with, but The Club never escapes that feeling of it being enjoyable, but there being some majorly niggling problems that some people just can’t overlook. The game plays out as such, you choose one of six characters (with two others being unlockable), all with different strengths and weakness based upon stats of Strength, Speed and Stamina. You choose a venue and then have to go through a number of challenges within that venue, Sprint where you have to reach the exit with the highest score possible, Siege involves you defending yourself against wave upon wave of enemy until the timer counts down, Time Attack where you run around a pre-selected route, killing to increase your time until you’ve completed a set number of laps, Survivor has you stood in an are thats coned off, with your goal being to survive until the timer ticks down and Run The Gauntlet where you have to get to the level exit with as high a score as possible within the time limit. Which adds a little variety to the game, but the core concept of each is the same, kill the oncoming enemies and shoot the yellow skull signs to increase your combo and score until you reach the end of the area or the timer runs out (you don’t want that to happen on Time Attack or Run The Gauntlet however as it means instant death).

It’s whilst playing through these that the niggles begin to appear, as the initial presentation is pretty damn good. The aiming feels a little loose and inaccurate, resulting in the need for you to alter the sensitivity, and the game is reliant upon you learning the routes through the levels and where enemies and the signs are placed in order to get the maximum possible score. However, The Club is very similar to the old-skool shmup genre, but in modern day clothing, so all of this is unsurprising as learning attack patterns and the like are a large staple of that genre that people either love or hate. With this in mind, its difficult to criticise The Club for taking this approach as the whole experience feels very much like an updated arcade shooter. However, if I was to aim one criticsm at the game, it is that sometimes it feels a little random in how successful you are during each challenge, the only way to increase your score for each hit is to chain kills together and try and aim for the head (although killing with one bullet or with your last bullet also seems to increase your score for that kill a little too), there is no style to proceedings either, aside from hitting A to launch yourself over a pre-selected barrier or through a door and you can’t help but think that the game could of benefited from having some sort of diving mechanism that helped you build your score in a similar manner to how John Woo’s Stranglehold operates.

That isn’t to say that The Club isn’t fun, it has some flaws, but nothing game ruining, the graphics aren’t brilliant, but they do the job just fine and you’ll hardly have time to notice them anyhow, and the gun sound effects feel a little weak, this is especially disappointing after hearing the quality of the car engines in Project Gotham Racing 4, but again, its hardly a game destroying problem. I’ve really been enjoying my time with The Club and it pains me to pick any holes in the game, with this in mind, I’d highly recommend playing this, whether its via renting it first to see if its to your taste, or just jumping in head first, but please, bare in mind, its a very marmite game, so if you don’t enjoy titles such as Mercs back on the Mega Drive, and your not one for chaining together things within a game, similar to racking up Kudo’s on PGR, then The Club is definetly not for you.

Gaming, review

Decay of Logos

Due to the success of FROM Software’s Soulsborne games (Demons Souls, Dark Souls trilogy, Bloodborne and Sekiro) we’ve spent the past decade watching developers try and knock the Japanese studio off their perch and very few have been succesful, but its hard to ignore that “Soulslike” has become a genre of its own, much like “Metroidvania” games have seen a massive number of games released by would be indie darlings in recent years too.

Decay of Logos is Amplify Creations entry into the Soulslike genre, it borrows from elsewhere but at its heart its a Soulslike, but Amplify haven’t simply phoned in a hardcore fantasy action RPG, they’ve definetly got some ambition and they’ve put it all there for the player to see in Decay of Logos

So, for those unfamiliar with the genre, in a Soulslike the player is encouraged to explore the games world but also forced to be cautious and pick their battles, learn each enemies attack patterns and weaknesses. Each fight is supposed to be a challenge and getting over confident is the first step to failure.

Decay of Logos see’s the player play as a young girl who’s village is destroyed, during her lowest moment an elk comes to her aid and from there the two set out together to find answers and revenge. The lead character isn’t a warrior and it shows in the combat, both you and the girl (as she’s not given a name) learn to fight and defend yourself as you progress through the game, though aside from a handful of magical abilities, you aren’t taught new techniques as you gain experience.

The way in which Amplify have tried to do something different is in how the player is punished, every time you are hit, every time you die and have to respawn at either an alter or campsite, your stats take a hit, you’re strength, stamina etc are all affected by any damage that you take, this is on top of you losing health each time you take a hit. Health can be replenished at either of the two types of save points, but its only at campsites that you can properly heal and return your stats to their previous state. This is done by sleeping, rather than merely resting, but even this comes with its own risk. You’ll either get a good nights sleep and wake up fully healed, or your sleep will be disturbed by enemies ambushing you in the dark of night, defeating them will give you a chance to go back to sleep and, again, replenish your stats and health, being defeated will result in you waking up the next morning with your stats only partially replenished. It doesn’t just affect how hard you’re hitting, but also how easily you take hits, how quick you can recover from any hits and how quickly your stamina bar refils.

These aren’t the only things you need to manage, first off you can only carry a set number of potions, so have to leave some with the elk, the game is all about trying to plan for each outcome and weighing up the risks and this is evident in your equipment. As you slay enemies they drop armour for you to equip, but as you take hits, they deteorate so you’re constantly on the scrounge hoping an enemy will drop the correct piece of equipment to replace something thats seen better days, but also trying to weight up stats and elemental properties for each given location

As I said, there’s alot going on, on the game makes no excuses about not holding your hand, theres tips on loading screens, but as they only come when you start the game up, sleep or die, you’re hoping not to see them too often. There’s no obvious sign posting for where to go either, and early on I missed an entire section that I ultimately went back to as it involved freeing an NPC who provides you with a bit of help later on once you reach the hub zone.

Like I’ve mentioned, its ambitious, especially for what I understand is a very small team. In fact its probably over ambitious in places, the lack of loading is actually probably its biggest issue, which is a weird thing to criticise a game for. However, the framerate really begins to struggle the longer you leave it between sleeping at campsites, and considering that they’re spaced quite far apart (though you can use each one as often as you’d like), until you begin to open up shortcuts around the environment, frames begin to get dropped in really difficult circumstances. I once had the game freeze for a couple of seconds, and it was through sheer luck that I’d dashed backwards at the exact moment before the game froze that I was able to avoid an enemy attack.

I’ve also had problems where my first press of R1 hasn’t initiated my character swinging her weapon, leaving me exposed, I thought I was imagining it to begin with but I noticed it happening every so often, and at random, as I played through the game. The team are already talking about upcoming patches to the game, and as I publish this the first console patch should have gone live, so if anything, on top of it being a little ambitious, Decay of Logos has probably been released a little early on PC, XBox One and PS4, its Switch release was delayed at the last moment.

They’ve also mentioned they’re planning addressing the first zone leading upto the hub area. As feedback has been that its maybe a little too punishing and unfamiliar to the player, I’d have to agree. I’ve already mentioned missing out a section, but I was also trying to do stuff that I clearly wasn’t ready to do. There’s an area that takes you underground and when I climbed one ladder I was met with a knight wielding a lance, I tried and I tried to defeat him, but my equipped weapon was merely tickling him rather than hurting him whilst being caught once by one of his attacks had my character out cold. Turns out this guy is optional at this stage of the game and I came across more of his like later on in the game who were much easier to dispatch due to a combination of better equipment and my stats being much better, not to mention I had a sword that had a fire element to it that would provide additional damage whilst I was backing off to wait for a new opening.

Decay of Logos_20190906223108

There’s alot to like though and if the patches address some of the above then Decay of Logos is well on the way to being a pretty good game, that its been released in what feels like an unfinished state is more an issue with the industry than it is with the ability of its creators. The combat is fun, as are the puzzle solving elements and traversing the environment. The latter has some truly breathtaking moments, especially in relation to its scale. The heights you reach, plus the rather clumsy feeling controls when trying to get the girl to jump, really make you feel dizzy. The elk is also a really positive element. Some may not like the way in which it controls, but to me it felt more like you were riding a wild animal that you were trying to earn the trust of than in other games where your horse or whatever is basically a slower car that steers as such. Here you have to apply small guiding inputs to get the creature to go where you want, though I mostly stuck to being on foot, but continuing to feed it as I soon discovered it can sometimes help you out in battles (though generally it prefers to stay out of conflict).

I can see alot of people bouncing off of this, mostly due to its technical issues, but as a small studio’s first game it’s definitely gained my attention, there’s enough interesting idea’s here that, personally, I find it easy to ignore its shortcomings, especially as Amplify seem to be making the right noises on working on them.

Formats: PlayStation 4 (Version Tested), PC, XBox One, Switch
Release Date: 27th August 2019 (PS4), 30th August (PC and XBox One) and September (Switch)
Publisher: Rising Star Games/Thunderful Games
Developer: Amplify Creations

Review code supplied by Thunderful Games

Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday Daytona USA

It’s that time of the month again where we take a break from my Final Fantasy IX playthrough to cover the retro game I’d been playing over the past month as part of a Retro Games Club I join in with. For August we voted to play the classic SEGA racer Daytona USA. Ladies and Gentleman, Start you engines!

I’ve owned this on Saturn for years, in fact alongside SEGA Rally (also on Saturn) and F-Zero (on SNES) its one of the games I’d sneak into my brothers bed room to play whilst he was working. Anyway, I own the Championship Circuit Edition on Saturn but the disc has seen better days and could do with having a bit of a skim so my Saturn can read it properly. I also own the game on Dreamcast, which we’ll come to later, and PSN, which is the version I spent the most time with this month.

Actually, I didn’t get as much time with it as I’d have liked, even so, the blue skies SEGA racer feeling was the perfect solution for a game to play during this rather odd summer we’ve had. So the time I did spend on it I only really sunk into the famous Novice course: Three Seven Speedway. Apparently, and I didn’t try this, its possible to take a shortcut through the pits, but it only works on certain laps. One thing I did know about though is that as you approach Sonic Turn there’s a slot machine built into the rock that goes over the circuit. As you approach, if you press the select button on the PS3 pad (it works on Saturn too, but I can’t recall what button it is) three times, you can stop the wheels from turning, the aim being to get 3 three’s or 3 seven’s which then add that amount of time to the counter as a time bonus, you can only do it once per race and I couldn’t get it right on my attempts this month but I definetly recall doing it on the Saturn.

Another thing you can do is the famous powerslide, its only really worth doing at Sonic Turn and is initiated by dropping to second gear, turning heavily into the apex of the corner then working your way back up to fourth gear as you exit the corner. Again, I got good at doing this back on the Saturn and was getting some real good lap times back then, usually in high 15 seconds/ low 16 seconds, but this time out my fastest time was a 17.56 but usually I was hitting low 18 seconds.

On to the Dreamcast version and I remember not liking it back in the day, I certainly remember thinking they’d really messed it up. Returning to it though and it just doesn’t feel like Daytona USA at all. Oh don’t get me wrong, everything that should be there is there, but it doesn’t feel as over the top as the arcade/Saturn versions (the PSN version is a port of the arcade version with a few bits added) and the handling model is atrocious. There’s the saying that the mark of a bad race car is that it both understeers and oversteers in the same corner and thats exactly what happens with the cars in Daytona USA 2001, trying to navigate traffic is a horrible twitchy mess then when you get to a corner the car initially dives to which ever side you’re steering but then doesn’t continue that turn and goes in pretty much a straight line.

As part of the discussion around the game, a few of us discussed this, and the consensus was that it performs better using the Dreamcast steering wheel, which I’ve never owned, though one voice said it still handles like arse with the wheel.

In short then, if you want to play Daytona, don’t pick up the Dreamcast version, it may look lovely and sharp, but its just not fun to play, a replication of the arcade version is available on both Sony and Microsofts stores for PS3 and XBox 360 respectively (its wont work on PS4 but it is on the Backwards Compatability list for XBox One), so go with that one. It’s a game I’d love SEGA to return to though, I think gaming could do with more old-skool SEGA blue skies racing games.

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

A Clash of Kings – George R. R. Martin

First Wednesday of the month means book club meeting time! For our September meet, so we read this through August, we covered the second of George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones series, A Clash of Kings.

I’m going to start by saying that I enjoyed this one more than the first book in the series, I think I read the first book quicker, but then that one didn’t have the school summer holidays getting in the way of my reading. A Game of Thrones was, for me anyway, more about setting the world within the tale takes place, establishing its cast of characters and driving home their motivations and methods of achieving those. A Clash of Kings is, I think, where things really start moving.

Another reason I preferred it was because its not half as pervy as A Game of Thrones. This is what I had to say about this particular topic back in July

“Let’s get this out of the way early, its a bit pervy. I know that things were very different in the kind of era that this was set, but this is a fantasy piece of work, its not set in any kind of reality, so the attention to detail regarding the physical developments and sexual treatments of some of the female characters were really uncomfortable to read. Also, it doesnt even really feel like Martin was writing this stuff because “thats how it would have been”, the writing comes across like he’s enjoying writing about these young girls, Daenerys in particular. The strong focus on how Daenerys ‘ relationship with Khal Drogo develops (somehow) from him raping her (because lets not beat around the bush, thats what it was) to her consenting and falling in love with him feels voyeuristic and I dreaded Daenerys ‘ chapters for that reason.”

In comparison to that first book there was very little sex, I think there’s only really Tyrion with Shae, also some of Theon’s chapters where sex is written about and its done in a much more adult and less voyeuristic manner. Danaerys still has moments of being partially undressed and there’s alot of discussion about Cercei’s incestuous relationships, but it all feels like consenting and natural within the world Martin has created. There’s an obvious focus on Sansa Stark reaching womanhood and what that would mean for her, but again, it doesn’t feel wrong when she is having those thoughts and the subsequent conversations about Joffrey that she has with Cersei, in fact Martin does an excellent job of portraying the dread that Sansa feels.

On the subject of Sansa, I really didn’t like her in A Game of Thrones, but she grew on me a little in A Clash of Kings. She was still a little naive, but she’d also begun to wake up to the world that she was living in and how everything wasn’t all songs, flowers and noble Knights, I think that throughout the book she’s the one character that showed the most growth and I began to really feel for her plight and the relief she felt when Joffrey accepted the offer of marrying Margaery Tyrell, even if, as it turns out, that doesn’t mean that Joffrey is done with her just yet.

In comparison, I felt like a lot of Catelyn Stark’s chapters dragged the pace of the story down. Maybe this was on purpose, after all she’s the only one that has any sort of travel in her chapters, Danaerys goes to a couple of different locations, and Davos’ chapters mention that he has travelled to different places too, but we don’t learn of the journey between them other than in passing. Catelyn on the other hand, spends a lot of time on the road but its only really the time she spends with either of the Baratheon’s where the story grabs the reader. I think this was a decision that Martin made on purpose, elsewhere things seemed to move at a break neck speed, with the characters all having differing information on what was going on in Westeros, Catelyn seemed to be the glue that stuck it all together, not to mention her and Brienne were the only ones to witness Renlys death, but we’re witnessing a woman who is struck with grief over the family she has lost, whilst everybody else is busy making war with each other.

Lastly, we finally get to witness a proper battle. Martin seemed to skirt around these events in A Game of Thrones, giving us reports from characters that weren’t on the front lines. By the time we reach the final third of this book we’ve seen Jon involved in a couple of skirmishes and the Baratheon’s be on the verge of battle, though that is waved away by Melisandre’s actions, but we get to the Battle of Blackwater Bay and get to witness not only Tyrion (who was the only character to see action in A Game of Thrones) but Davos take up arms and get into the fighting which is told with an excellent amount of intensity and brutality that allows you really picture the battle at hand and the confusing nature of such a fight.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Teenage Zombies: Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingies (Nintendo DS)

Teenage Zombies: Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingy’s introduces us to an unlikely trio of heroes, the clue’s in the title folks, a handful of zombies who rise from the grave to fight off an invasion by the Brain Thingy’s, an alien race of brains. Whilst celebrating his species victory over the human race, the aliens are oblivious to the fact three zombies have risen from the grave and their hungry.

Teenage Zombies is a platform/puzzle game in a similar manner to the 2D Metroid games, however the element of using each of the three characters unique abilities is the key to progress through each level, Finnigan “Fins” Magee can use pipes above him to get across tricky obstacles, all thanks to a squid attached to his back, he can also use a tentacle attack and do a Yoshi style consumption of items on the screen then spitting them out as projectiles. Lori “Lefty” Lopez has a stump for a left arm, to which she can attatch a variety of objects and she can jump twice as high as the other guys whilst Zack “Halfpipe” Boyd uses a skateboard to move around as he has no legs and is the token “small space” character. You can switch between each character by simply selecting them on the lower touch screen, meaning that no puzzle should be too challenging.

The game is presented wonderfully, using a comic-book style to further the story which also blends into the on-screen action well and everything on screen is very clear and looks pretty damn good for a handheld title, whilst Gameplay wise its surprisingly entertaining, not too challenging and has a retro feeling harking back to the days of Metroid, Super Mario Bros 2 and even a slight feeling of Metal Slug. Overall, a good little package that will keep even the most hardcore of retro side scrolling fans happy. Definetly reccomended.