Monday, March 23, 2015

Only one of us shall escape this domain alive.

I'm really glad that I decided to finally start playing Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne for real recently, because it's a fantastic game. My co-op partner and I have been making steady progress on it for the past couple of weeks. A large percentage of our playtime is spent deliberating on which demons we should fuse and what movesets they should have. We disagree a lot on what abilities are most useful, but that's part of what makes playing through the game collaboratively interesting. Still, these discussions do tend to add a lot of artificial time to our playthrough. We're at something like 45 hours into the game and I'm not quite sure how much more we have to go. I think it's safe to say we're a little over half the way through, but I'm sure the last couple of dungeons are going to be daunting--and the optional content will be even more time consuming if we choose to attempt it.

Nocturne features demons, spirits, and beasts that I've already seen in the Persona series but this time in a much different context. Persona is about the human characters. The demons themselves are generally secondary and serve merely as sources of power for the game's characters. In Nocturne, the demons are integral to the plot and to the theme and atmosphere of the game. Demons like Matador, Daisoujou, and Mizuchi feel impactful and memorable not just because of the mythological beings they represent, but because they exist in the game as characters, as powerful entities which the demonic protagonist must defeat. When the demi-fiend (the aforementioned protagonist) encounters Matador by surprise in a darkened hallway, as he grasps him by the legs and drags him into some hellish dimension--it is chilling. It is memorable. And the twisted music that accompanies this encounter (and future fiend counters) is positively spine-tingling.

The demi-fiend wanders a post apocalyptic world populated only by the souls of the dead, demons, and bizarre sentient manikins that move and twitch unnaturally as they speak to you. The only remaining living humans are those that were fortunate enough to be inside Shinjuku Hospital at the very beginning of the game before the Conception occurred. The demi-fiend will encounter these humans--some of whom were friends before the world changed--and will discover that each has different ideas about how the world should be reborn. And it is up to the demi-fiend to decide, ultimately, how that will happen.

Although Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne doesn't contain some of the features I loved about the Persona series, it more than makes up for it with atmosphere, challenge, and variety. There are tons of demons to fuse and try in Nocturne, all of which can be placed into your active or reserve party. Reserve party members can contribute outside of battle with healing and utility spells like Estoma, which reduces the encounter rate--or Liftoma, which nullifies the effect of damaging floor tiles. The demi-fiend himself learns skills through Magatama, strange parasites that can be ingested. They also impart resistances (and frequently weaknesses) to various elements, as well as bonuses to certain stats. It is in this way that the player can customize the protagonist to their liking with up to 8 total skills. There isn't as much diversity in the protagonist's playstyle as in Persona 3 and 4, but considering the variety available in party members, I can't fault the game for this.

Suffice to say, it's a wonderful game and I can't wait to play other titles in the main series. I just might backtrack and start from the very first one.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday Fitness Rant #3

Okay, well, I think, I've resigned myself to writing these fitness entries on Sundays instead of Saturdays. It's becoming routine for me to stay out pretty late on Saturday nights (for video game purposes, of course) and I find I'm frequently too tired to return home and write out an entry! That's okay though, because I don't feel the need to write an entry every day--just every day that I feel it's warranted. I can only hope that I can maintain a pace that results in 5-6 entries per week, but we'll have to see how that goes!

Anyhow, I am happy to report that I have reached the 220s on the weight scale, coming in narrowly at 229 for this week. Additionally, I made it to the gym this morning and had a legitimate workout. I hadn't been for about a week and a half because of things that kept getting in my way (and of course me making excuses) but I feel much better now that I've gone. Like I've mentioned previously, I'd love to be able to go at least three times a week, but more would be even better. I pushed myself pretty hard today and actually felt a little queasy after getting off the treadmill. I was worried for a bit that I'd maybe overdone it, but I feel fine now. I think that level of cardio is just going to take some getting used to. I'm confident I'll be be able to increase my pace and endurance considerably over the next few months.

I spoke with my uncle briefly today about my progress and he warned me that I shouldn't try to lose weight too quickly or I might run into issues with loose skin. If I'm being honest with myself, I'm terrified that might happen--but at this point I feel like there's little I can do to stop it. I'm so accustomed to this diet and so comfortable with it that the pounds are melting off without me doing any exercise at all. I want to actually get in shape while I'm losing all this weight, though, so these gym visits will hopefully help with that. I'd be really bummed if I lost a lot of weight and still had saggy skin, but I guess I'll have to deal with that when I come to it. At the very least, there's nothing stopping me from getting in shape and I know I'm going to feel better, even if my body shape doesn't end up exactly where I want it to be.

An old coworker of mine commented today on how much weight I've lost. That felt really good to hear, because it's not something I've heard much yet. I can see the progress I've made--a little bit, anyway. And of course I have the scale to prove it, but the validation from hearing it from others--it's tremendously gratifying. I know I still have a long way to go, but knowing that my efforts have not gone unnoticed is a huge boost to my motivation.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Insomniac Daze

I've been trying to focus a lot more on my health lately, particularly with my diet and activity levels--but one thing I haven't made much of an effort to change is my sleep schedule. I'm not getting very much sleep, and it's having a pronounced effect on my mood and willingness to accomplish tasks that need to be completed. It's hitting me harder lately because I've been getting scheduled more hours at work. Longer hours means two things for me: one, I need to be alert for a long period of time, and two, I have this overwhelming urge once I get off work to somehow make up for having less free time. I stay up later than I should.

At this point, it's not really an issue of insomnia. If I made a concerted effort to go to sleep, I probably would. I'm always so perfectly willing to invest in the short term over the long term. I've learned time and time again that although I can function on low sleep, it's not something that's sustainable over the long term and it gets worse and worse on subsequent days of work. It's just not a wise policy to adopt, no matter how much I want to finish the games I'm playing now before the month is over.

When it comes down to it, coffee is just not serving as quite as effective a substitute for sleep lately. It helps in the short term, of course, but I find myself flagging in the latter hours of the day and my attitude suffers. I find myself lacking tolerance for others and becoming quickly irritated by things that might otherwise not faze me. As someone in a sales position, it's not great to be in a position where you cannot communicate effectively with customers. Beyond that, though, it's laudable to be courteous to others regardless of the relationship. That's something I'd like to be able to do but when I'm running so low on sleep it's difficult. But that's not an excuse, either, particularly because I feel I could be getting more sleep if I could convince myself it's important.

I'm scheduled until close tomorrow night, but I'll probably have to help move some things into a trailer outside our building while it's being remodeled, so it's likely I'll be there until well after 7. Even so, I'd really like to get in a good Nocturne play session because the amount of time I've been able to play it lately is really not enough! I'm really enjoying my sessions with my co-op partner on that game, particularly when it comes to our unnecessarily detailed theorycrafting and planning for party compositions. I'm afraid if I don't buckle down we'll never finish it. Of course, I'd love to be able to finish it this month but that may not be realistic. I'm pained to say I've still only finished one game this month. I'm being productive, I swear.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Etrian Toolbox

Despite my mixed feelings on the Etrian Odyssey series, I went ahead and ordered the third and fourth games. Etrian Odyssey II is really fun once it gets going. You have to invest a lot of time into making your characters strong and into planning your strategy. There are many strategies that are effective in the early parts of the game and others that are only effective later on. Fortunately, Etrian Odyssey allows you to respec your skills at any point after reaching level 30--at the steep cost of losing 10 levels, of course. Once your party is at a certain point, farming the stratum bosses is really a simple matter, though, and as a result it's not incredibly tough to get those levels back.

I really like that EO allows you to field a huge number of adventurers and switch them out at will when returning to town. It gives me plenty of room to experiment and to explore different strategies. Some of my characters serve no more of a purpose than harvesting resource points in the dungeon. I trained my Dark Hunter initially so I'd be able to use the instant kill skill Climax to meet the requirement for the second stratum boss's conditional drop--but I ended up liking the class so much that I drafted him into my permanent lineup. I'd actually used a Dark Hunter briefly early in the game, but I'd had a really hard time making him useful. He was frail and did very little damage. It wasn't until I'd pumped quite a few levels into the guy and maxed out Climax and Bait that he really started to become useful. This requires a good 25-30 levels, mind you. Now he's a master of counterattacking and finishing off enemies at 55% health or less.

I think in order to greatly minimize my frustration in Etrian Odyssey III (and IV I suppose) I'll need to figure out the best strategy for the early game. This is by far the most frustrating aspect of these games so far, but once I'm at a point where I can easily acquire experience and money, I can experiment with team compositions as much as I want. If the early part of the game goes more smoothly, then I get to the juicy part faster and I get a much better impression of the game.

I've also considered going full out and ordering the remakes of Etrian Odyssey I and II when I'm done with some of the others. I've read that they're different enough from the original versions to be considered brand new games in their own rights. If they include many of the new classes from later games in the series then I don't see why I wouldn't want to try them out. Evidently they also contain new story-heavy modes with predetermined characters. I have mixed feelings about that, but it does sound like something I'd like to try at any rate. Also coming up is Etrian Mystery Dungeon, a fascinating hybrid of EO's gameplay and that of the Mystery Dungeon series, of which I've only played Chocobo's Dungeon. I like that game a lot but sadly I have not finished it. I'd like to set a tentative goal of completing Chocobo's Dungeon and at least the rest of the contiguous EO series before I tackle Etrian Mystery Dungeon, but I have to say I find the concept very intriguing.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Quashing the tedium in Etrian Odyssey II

I have a lot of mixed feelings about the Etrian Odyssey series so far. It is simultaneously punishing, tedious, difficult, broken, and when things work well, rewarding. When I started the first game of the series I had a very rough time in the beginning. Despite doing my fair share of research, I found myself getting trounced by the labyrinth's dangers over and over. I knew what was strong because I'd read about it but I wanted to try my best to try out my own strategies and play to my own tastes. In the end, I did decide to rely on the game-breakingly powerful Immunize skill wielded by the Medic class in an effort to make the game bearable! And after a fashion, it became a lot more fun. Each foray into the labyrinth was longer and there was less tension in exploring. Having to return to town over and over again, spending my hard earned funds on healing--and often running out of gold prematurely--it's disheartening! Etrian Odyssey punishes suboptimal strategies rather harshly.

When I started Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard, I thought I knew better, thought I knew enough about the game's mechanics to make it on my own with only a minimal amount of research. Of course, these games aren't very forthcoming with ability descriptions, as it turns out, and trying out different builds for characters is a time consuming (and expensive) process. My initial party composition was hilariously unsuccessful. Each new floor to which I ascended was like hitting a brick wall. I wanted to try a party very much unlike the heavy damage party I used in the first game. I wanted something with a lot of utility and control, primarily geared toward taking down the game's many bosses. This is an okay idea in theory, but it completely disregards the bulk of the game--dungeon crawling.

Etrian Odyssey II's bosses can be tough, but in my book it's frequently more challenging just to traverse the maze floors leading up to them. Even some of the most common enemies can be quite troublesome to defeat. In one of the early floors, an odd ostrich-like enemy called a Moa can decimate unprepared parties singlehandedly. Occasionally, the Moa will be accompanied by allies that compound this problem. Of course, there are strategies that make dealing with enemies like this much easier, but these strategies may not necessarily be appropriate for bosses or for other enemies in the dungeon. For this reason it is important to have a party that is well balanced for a variety of purposes. Alternatively, you can run a flexible party with members that be switched out at will. This is more difficult to maintain and requires more commitment from the player, of course, but it is a game that rewards those who put forth that commitment.

The very first boss of Etrian Odyssey II is a chimera. It's very weak to ice so logically a Gunner with Iceshot/Riskice or an Alchemist with Ice/Freeze would assist tremendously with defeating it. Poisoning it is also a highly effective strategy, but unfortunately it's very resistant to poison. The kicker here is that if the player poisons this particular boss and defeats it while it is afflicted by that ailment, it will drop a specific item worth 30,000 EN at the shop. Each boss has a conditional drop like this. If the player is willing to put forth the commitment to training characters tailored specifically to employing these strategies, he'll be rewarded with far more money than could be easily obtained otherwise.

Of course, there's really only two viable ways to poison in Etrian Odyssey II. There's the Dark Hunter's Viper skill, which deals damage and has a 45% (or so) chance to poison before resistances. This isn't very likely to work considering the Chimera's resistance to the ailment, so the better option is to employ a Hexer with maxed out Poison, points in Luck, and gear with bonuses to Luck if you can lay your hands on it. Even then, it might take four or five turns to successfully land the ailment. Meanwhile, the Chimera is hitting hard every turn and his allies are encroaching on the party. Let's not forget that leveling a Hexer can be a challenging process early in the game because Poison is very unlikely to successfully land before maxed, their physical attacks are pitiful, and they are ridiculously frail.

Once you meet the requirements for a highly accurate Poison skill, it is possible to repeatedly defeat the boss with this method and get access to its conditional drop. Not only does it sell for 30,000 EN, but it also unlocks a very powerful (possibly the most powerful?) bow. It was for this reason that I decided to train a Survivalist (bow user) and run that boss several more times. I was eager to make the game go more smoothly for me. It's not clear to me if this is a "cheap" strategy or akin to breaking the game and I honestly don't care. What it has done is make the game a lot more fun to play. I've since defeated the boss of the second stratum and made my way through about half of the third with fewer problems than I might have otherwise had--and I haven't trivialized the difficulty, either. There are still plenty of fearsome FOEs roaming around capable of annihilating my party. But I no longer feel hopeless and frustrated.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

PS4 Woes

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD released in NA today and with it comes the one somewhat compelling reason I've discovered so far to purchase a PS4. Critical reception seems relatively positive so far, but if I'm being honest with myself I've been looking for some kind of excuse to buy the console lately. With titles like Final Fantasy XV, Disgaea V, and Persona V on the (distant?) horizon, it's a console I'll most definitely have to purchase at some point. Why not now when I have some extra cash lying around? Of course, I have somewhat of a poor history of effectively managing my funds--and that's the only reason I'm hesitant. The other reason is that I just purchased the Samsung Galaxy Tab S tablet. I'm immensely pleased with it, but it did set me back a few bucks. Returning it is not outside the realm of possibility, but I'm finding myself becoming more attached to it by the day.

Also weighing against me is the fact that I have so many games in my backlog to work through! My tentative goal for game completion was five per month for this year, and here I am over halfway through March and I've only completed Etrian Odyssey. I'm still playing the games I'm working on quite frequently, but they're all very long and in some cases quite difficult. Etrian Odyssey II has been quite the slog and only after a very recent grinding session have I begun to find the game tolerable to actually play. Fortunately, I'm beginning to make progress on it. Similarly, Tales of Graces f and Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne are quite long RPGs on which I'm struggling to make progress. I've been neglecting Graces for EOII not because I prefer the latter but because it strikes me as a puzzle that I must solve and overcome. Now that I've gotten over that crucial hump, it might behoove me to focus more on Graces since I must be approaching a spot that is 2/3rds of the way through the game, at least.

I am not without patience when it comes to these games I want to play, of course, but I'm afraid of what might happen to this sum of cash I've built up. What if the time comes when I find I need the PS4 and all of my funds have mysteriously disappeared? This is not outside the realm of possibility, sad as that may be to admit. Still, this doesn't strike me as a particularly compelling reason to march out and purchase the console before I miss my chance.

I continue to find ways to rationalize my potential purchase. Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is a game I'd very much like to play, but aside from several upcoming titles, it's the only one. A small argument could be made for Infamous: Second Son despite its lukewarm critical reception. It is a game I would probably purchase because I enjoyed the previous games in the series, but it shouldn't be considered as a legitimate console-seller--for me, anyway. And what else is there for me on that console? Not a thing that I can think of. There's still a whole world of PS3 games that I haven't played, actually--precisely because I've focused so much on retro games in the past couple of years. I have a small library of PS3 games that I like but there are tons of likely solid RPGs that I haven't had the chance to experience. It's tempting to move on to the biggest and newest titles, but let's be honest here--Final Fantasy Type 0 HD is not that game. It's an enhanced port of a Japan-only PSP game. I'm sure it looks prettier than the original, but from what I've heard the content is largely unchanged. Should I really purchase a PS4 just for that?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Everything All of the Time

As I sat down to write this entry, Blogger notified me of a number of domains that were available for purchase. Any of these could be applied to this blog if I so choose, and all of the sample domains on that list are variations of this blog's title--Everything All of the Time. I'd never put a lot of thought on the title, but I did happen to nab it from a song I was enjoying at the time by a group called Jakob. The song in question is, of course, "Everything All of the Time."

Jakob - "Everything All of the Time"

Of course, when those domain options popped up in front of me, I was momentarily taken aback. Buying one of those domains was an immediate consideration for me because "" is certainly a domain without a lot of personality. Is "Everything All of the Time" really the perfect name for my blog, though? It's ridiculously general and clearly doesn't have anything to do with video games and that's what I discuss most. Of course, it's not the only thing I write about. Maybe that's really what this all is, then. It's a place I come to write about whatever it is that's on my mind, whether it be my obsession with video games or any of my numerous soul-eroding neuroses. It fits quite well with my tireless need to categorize and to document the world around me. 

And hey, as it turns out, it's also a line from one of my favorite Radiohead songs, "Idioteque."

Radiohead - "Idioteque"

Really, it doesn't seem like such a bad name. Maybe I should buy that domain. I think is available, even. It really wouldn't affect much considering the laughably small reader base I have (if it can even be considered as such), but I think it would be nice. I haven't had my own domain name in years and I'm not completely sure why that is. I've always wanted to have some kind of internet presence and now that I've cordoned off my own meager corner of the web, I might as well make its moniker official.

I guess I could also consider sprucing up the place a bit. The layout is very vanilla, but I kind of like it that way. It's clear and easy to read with few distractions. Still, I could probably toss in a link here and there or whip up some kind of banner image with my meager Photoshop skills. It seems pretty clear at this point that this blog's here to stay for awhile, so I should at least consider making it more my own.