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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review Journal- On This Sinking Ship I Travel...

That dimensional portal I was talking about in the last review journal really took me to some strange places. Deep in the recesses of Luigi’s subconscious, there can be found his repressed id- a gas mask wearing incarnation of Luigi that harbors a strange fetish for the number 9 and has a penchant of rounding up innocent Toads to participate in grisly, life-or-death games. Clearly, all those years of ghost hunting have finally broken the poor man.

Hello, dear reader, and welcome to the final Deck of Many Things Review Journal for the summer. As some of you may know, I will soon be heading back to college, meaning that there may be a brief period of radio silence where this blog is concerned. I do have a few ideas for new material, but it may take a while before I’ve settled into my routine for this new semester, so I apologize in advance.

That being said, I wanted to at least provide an indicator of my future projects. To continue from my last Review Journal, I ended up putting Mario and Luigi: Dream Team aside for the time being. Now, I want to clarify that I don’t think Dream Team is a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. The new visual presentation is excellent and the timing-based combat remains an enjoyable factor. However, it is suffering from what I like to call ‘Skyward Sword Syndrome’, which is to say that there is a veritable deluge of tutorials for the early portion of the game. I don’t begrudge tutorials, but when they start being repeated for actions you learned how to perform moments earlier, they start to become grating. Mario and Luigi: Dream Team is the fourth game in its series, yet feels the need to expound upon each and every game mechanic, stopping play every few minutes to deliver yet another perfunctory explanation. This ought to become less of an issue as the game goes on, but for now Dream Team has far exceeded my patience.

Instead, I decided to finally pick up the Zero Escape games by Chunsoft and Askys Games. These are a series of visual novels, a genre I have only a passing familiarity with, where logic and math-based puzzles are interspersed throughout a text heavy, intricate plot. The first game in the series is the delightfully cryptic 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors, which takes place on a sinking ship where 9 individuals find themselves trapped in a Saw-esque series of deadly riddles known as the Nonary Game. The only thing they have in common is the memory of a mysterious person in a gask mask, their apparent kidnapper who goes by the alias Zero. To say more about the plot would be a great disservice, as 999 places its enthralling story front and center and I don’t want to give away any spoilers. While the prose itself may not be the greatest, this is one of the most compelling video game narratives I’ve ever experienced, and for that alone I wholeheartedly recommend any DS/3DS owner giving 999 a try.

I will say that the first puzzle in 999 is the most difficult in the game, not so much due to complexity but due to the player’s initial inexperience. Like protagonist Junpei, the player is thrown into the first puzzle room with no little to know context, which I suspect is intentionally made to be jarring, but it makes the first puzzle more challenging as the player is still figuring out the game’s internal logic and what is required of them in order to solve these puzzles. The important thing to know is that, no matter how dire the situation may seem in the story, none of the puzzles are timed, and carefully combing the room for intractable objects and clues should provide the player with what they need to figure out the solution. The game features multiple endings, six in all, encouraging repeated playthroughs in order to piece together the mystery of Zero’s game. While this does mean having to repeat some puzzle rooms, which is aggravating, 999 also allows the player to fast forward through previously viewed text, and indicates which dialogue choices have already been made. It’s theoretically possible to reach the true ending with two playthroughs, but even the bad endings provide some additional context and disturbing revelations.

Now, on to future projects. Of course, I plan on diving into Virtue’s Last Reward, 999’s sequel, as soon as my mind has sufficiently recovered from the first game’s final act. Other games that are high on my to-do list are Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, the remaining Operation Rainfall games (The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower), and Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga, which I recently acquired as PS2 classics on the Playstation Network. As far as upcoming games go, I’m also looking forward to Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth and Kingdom Hearts II.5 HD ReMix. I suspect that I shall have plenty to keep me occupied, and hopefully some additional content for this blog! Until next time, dear reader!

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