Wednesday, May 13, 2015

RPG Bliss

I'm playing a lot of different games right now, but I don't find it stressful or overwhelming. In fact, I'm pretty happy with the situation because I'm really enjoying just about all of them--particularly because two of them I'm playing cooperatively with different people. There's something so satisfying about socializing while playing a game. It's such a wonderful hobby to share with others, particularly when it comes to story-driven RPGs. When both players are working toward a goal and planning and strategizing together--it's really rewarding. I'd previously lamented what I'd identified as "RPG burnout" but I think really what I was dealing with was several games in a row that were lengthy and insanely difficult. That's what happens when you play three Etrian Odyssey titles back to back. Fortunately, games like Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition and (on the complete opposite end of the RPG spectrum) Tales of Xillia have gone a long way toward allaying my frustrations with the genre.

Don't get me wrong--I loved the first three Etrian Odyssey games, but there's no denying that they're tremendously time consuming and unforgiving. I think I made a wise decision not to jump right into Etrian Odyssey IV despite having purchased it at the same time as EOIII. I'm healthily enthralled in the games I'm playing now in a way that I was afraid I wouldn't be. I felt I might have needed to cleanse my palate with a game of a completely different genre, whether it be action, adventure, or otherwise. Of course, I'm still open to those games and I may well move on to them after this batch of games is done. Crypt of the Necrodancer is a fiendishly addictive rhythm-based roguelike that I find I quite enjoy, for instance--and the recently fan-translated Ace Attorney Investigations 2: Prosecutor's Path scratches that adventure game itch. It could easily convince me to revisit such games as Dreamfall: The Longest Journey and Monkey Island 2.

For now, I'm enormously excited to be playing Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition, as it more or less eradicates any issues I had with the original version of the game. It's important to have variety when creating a party of six characters, and IWD: EE delivers by importing all of the new and fleshed out classes and subclasses from Baldur's Gate II as well as what I can only assume are a few new ones added just for Beamdog's Enhanced Edition. The amount of diversity in classes is really refreshing. I'm having a lot of fun with it and I can't wait to move on to the enhanced editions of both Baldur's Gate games, having worshiped the original versions for many years. We have tentative plans to play them in three-man co-op, but we'll see how that works out. And then, maybe Neverwinter Nights on down the line? Icewind Dale II? Who knows?

I'm also playing Final Fantasy IV for Android because it's one of the few versions of the game I haven't yet played. I have tentative plans to follow up by playing Final Fantasy IV: The After Years despite some decidedly negative reviews. I think I'd like to give it a try and form my own opinion on it. If it's only useful as fanservice then I'm probably the right audience for it since FFIV was a pretty important part of my childhood and I never really tire of replaying the game.

Hopefully I'll have more fleshed out entries on individual games coming up soon, but considering my bizarre mood swings lately it's difficult to say just when they'll come!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Checking in

Let's take a moment, shall we, to discuss what pitiful reasons I might have to have entirely skipped the month of April for updating this blog. I have no good reasons to share other than my dreadful tendency toward laziness. I've continued to play games and I've continued to adhere strictly to my diet--if not my exercise plan. I've made a few trips to the gym but I haven't been going nearly as often as I'd originally planned. Some of this has to do with social anxiety, but far more of it has to do with simply being lazy.

Laziness is such an insidious and depressing vice of mine that I feel I am doomed to struggle against on a daily basis. It is fueled by but separate from my depression. If I were happier I'd find myself with better tools to combat my laziness but I feel pretty strongly that it'd always be there. Whether I like it or not, it seems to be an irrevocable part of my personality. On good days, I'll be able to overcome or even ignore my lazy tendencies, but unfortunately, I've found it very difficult to want to get off the couch lately unless I'm absolutely required to do so.

Despite my poor track record at the gym, my weight loss continues to progress at a satisfying rate. I weighed in at 213 on Saturday, which is roughly 40 pounds from my starting weight. My body shape has visually changed and I've gone down a couple of pants sizes and I feel pretty comfortable wearing a large shirt--but my discomfort with my body and anxiety about my body have not gone away. In some ways, I feel more stressed out about it than before because I'm now less complacent about the state of my health. Because I'm no longer in denial I find myself forced to confront the way I really am and just how out of shape I was and continue to be. I can only hope that my feelings will improve as I continue to shed more weight--and perhaps more importantly that I will overcome my sloth and get my ass to the gym on a regular basis. I went recently and pushed myself really hard and that felt good after the ache subsided. Now that the pain is almost completely gone I feel like a slob! If I don't remain in constant motion I feel like I'm failing. I feel like I'm failing a lot.

It would have been so easy for me with my vast amounts of free time to visit this blog and write entries, most likely about the games I've been playing. I certainly have things to say about them. I've started to feel a little weird, however, about writing about my fitness journey. I almost feel like I'm jinxing myself even though I haven't yet plateaued. I'm continue to lose weight at a steady pace but I'm afraid that I'll stop and start gaining it back at any minute. Those fears aren't completely without a basis even though I have been very consistent with my diet. I have to exercise. It's important. Even if I do maintain the diet and continue to lose weight, I'll still be flabby and unappealing.

Self loathing and anxiety aren't typically great motivators, but when I'm sinking I'll grab anything that seems like it'll keep me afloat. I'm just worried that even if I do chisel my body into something much more appealing, my anxieties will remain--except this time it'll be called body dysmorphia because in reality I'll have nothing with which I should be concerned. That would be better than my current situation, I guess.

Honestly, I have a whole world of thought I'd like to explore, but it's late and the caffeine I've consumd is really doing a great job of blocking my thoughts from getting out. I have games to talk about and more to discuss on my current mental state--but that'll have to wait for another entry. Let's hope I follow up in less than a month this time.

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.