Map Making, Note Taking and the General Overcomplication of How I Play Games

With the release of the Nintendo Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it felt like it was the beginning of a new era for the way I played and perceived videogames. Obviously there’s the generational shift that comes with new hardware, but what I mean is with the Wii U and 3DS galloping into the sunset, I suddenly found myself being hyper-focused on a single console. Ever since I’ve had a disposable income I’ve tried to have and play everything. While that meant I had a large breadth of experience, it also meant I tended to forgo finishing them. I have nothing against dabblers personally; but the fiscally responsible family man I’ve become just doesn’t mesh with that train of thought very well.

If you had asked me in my mid-twenties what I’d think of that he’d probably be abhorred. But now in my late thirties, I relish playing a handful of games on one system to completion than I would bouncing between experiences in the hopes of rounding out my cultural cachet. My money and my time is too valuable to waste on dalliances; it’s more satisfying to see things through to the end. It’s a different level of appreciation, one that works particularly well with the flow of my life these days.

I like to work my way through a game in measured beats; not necessarily slowly, but in a way that I can appreciate what developers are trying to do. Rushing means forgetting to stop and smell the roses every now and again. Sure, it means I can jump into the conversation on social media right away, but both the game itself and what’s actually worth talking about is lost without more context.

With that being said, taking a more deliberate approach to the way I play games has dug up an old habit within myself that is tangible, practical and pleasing – using a notepad to jot down things worth remembering in the games I play.

In case you weren’t aware, Breath of the Wild is huge. One of the perks to starting the game on release day is that a lot of what the game presents to you is an enigma. Intentionally so; there’s no ham-fisted tutorial to be had and everything you discover feels as if you sussed it out on your own even though it was more likely because of crafty design choices. When you found something out, it felt really damn special. As you experiment with crafting or tracking down quest solutions, it can also be overwhelming to keep track of it all. When the game gave you a recipe, it felt pertinent to record it; when a conversation seemed to point you in the direction of a goal or hidden grotto, you needed to figure out a way to get there thanks to landmarks.

The easy way out is to find the answers you seek online. Which, in a pinch, can be a worthwhile endeavor. But I found it extremely gratifying to log all of this info on my own. I had a recipe book, puzzle solutions and other interesting information in a convenient little notepad that I could crib off of when need be. And it was really, really fun to do. I’ve been hooked ever since, keeping it next to my Switch as a stalwart journal of my adventures that honestly have been more helpful than any FAQ or wiki could possibly be.

I’m currently working my way through forma.8 and, while I blazed through it once for review, I’ve gone back to it for another outing not only because I wanted to soak in the details but because I missed a lot of collectables along the way. The game itself has an auto-map feature that’s a little opaque, so as I’ve been travelling along its mysterious world, I’ve been keeping tabs on the ones I missed to I could go back to them later when I had the proper abilities to do so. Obviously I have completionist tendencies as it is, but it was fun to go back to areas I had previously been to and feeling very powerful because I had netted some new kit but also a better understanding of how the world works.

I’ve also found it to be a very cathartic experience, drawing maps. Being an amateur cartographer, even in a videogame, is a great little side hobby that I’ve added alongside photography as something worth doing in a game besides its requisite goals. I don’t do it because I need to, but because I want to. Zipping through games is something I’m not really interested in doing anymore, and it feels like I’m giving the developers the credit they are due for creating these experiences for us. As much as I’d like to posterize things like Jeremy Parish, I’m pretty content just holding onto these notebooks for posterity.

And who knows, they might help somebody else someday.

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I am Setsuna Journal, Vol. 2: The Lone Swordsman

I am Setsuna is a game that wears its inspirations on its sleeves to the point of being cliché. Considering I’ve just been looking for rewarmed 16-bit RPG tropes anyways, this doesn’t end up being a problem for me. Even so, watching my party get dumped into the icy sea after being conveniently attacked by a boss monster while traveling on a boat maybe made me roll my eyes a little bit.

Thankfully the story does take an interesting turn (and one of many that does set this apart from the games it tries to emulate), but before I go into the tragedy of Nidr I wanted to touch on the battle system for I am Setsuna because even though I’m only a few hours in, I don’t see it growing in complexity the further in I get. Like the familiar plot beats, I’m OK with this because I was looking forward to playing I am Setsuna not because it drastically any kind of formula, but because it would tickle my nostalgia while adding current day amenities.

It uses Square’s popular active time battle system, in which you watch timed meters rise letting you know the space in between your party’s attacks. Your enemies likewise have to take breathers, but you don’t get the luxury of seeing their stats. Knowing who can go first or holding back a healer until the time is right are as crucial to your strategy as knowing elemental weaknesses and attack patterns. It’s complicated enough to be engaging but simple enough that it doesn’t overwhelm you. It also takes a page from Chrono Trigger in that you can combine multiple party member’s special attacks for a more hearty attack, but they do lack the punchy awesomeness that CT is known for.

When you reach the end of an icy cavern towards the end of the chapter, I realized that the entirely of the battle system was revealed to me when I fought a giant turtle just before the exit. If you’re familiar with the first major boss encounter in Final Fantasy VI, this battle plays out very similarly. At any point the turtle will take cover under its shell and is exempt from physical attacks. You have to hold back your brute strength characters and exclusively use magic until it pops its head back out. It’s all a matter of timing and patience and little else. There are a few RPGs I have waiting in the wings that have so many layers of obfuscation attached to it (which is fun in its own right), so easing myself back into the genre with something homey is perfectly fine.

Circling back to the plot, after crashing onto the mainland, our retinue is conveniently waylaid in a town that’s been built to guard the entrance to a cave that leads to the capital. The captain of the guard won’t let you through without at least one more party member. She volunteers to go herself, but after sustaining a near fatal injury cannot, leaving our heroes in a bind. Obviously you get through this quagmire, but that’s not what I found interesting.

Interesting is this sense that something is amiss with the whole concept of sending a sacrifice to the Lost Lands to end their life in the hopes of staving off the monsters that tend to encroach every ten years or so. One of your starting party member, Aeterna, sometimes lets loose that this may not be her first pilgrimage and that things are not as they first appear. As a whole I am Setsuna is a solemn and sad tale, but it takes on another meaning when perhaps even the sad journey you go on may not even be worth it in the end.

Further stoking the mysterious fire is the swordsman you run across on your way to Purikka, Nidr. He wittingly lets you know that he was part of a failed pilgrimage and while the denizens of Purikka think him a coward for not going home and owning up to his mistake, the reality is he’s been defending the village by himself in the decimated village off the coast. It’s noble, sure, but also strangely humble. He’s eventually convinced that going on the pilgrimage of Setsuna is the right way to go in order to protect the land, but there’s also this odd sense that he’s apprehensive because he too knows more than he lets on. Even though so much of I am Setsuna hinges on the games of yesteryear, it has a story that’s intriguing in a way that is unique. Whether this pans out remains to be seen, but for now color me curious.


FACT FILE

Developed by: Tokyo RPG Factory

Published by: Square Enix

Released on: March 3rd, 2017

Must Plays | Mesmer

I can remember a time when you could tell who made a video game just based on the box art. Whether it was the silver-lined Konami style, the purple Capcom trim or even Nintendo’s early black box stuff you could tell where they came from and of what quality you could expect. OK, perhaps it wasn’t quality all the time, but regardless there’s a certain expectation to be had when you saw a familiar logo.

Unfortunately the days of blind loyalty based on nothing more than a ubiquitous design have long since faded, but every now and again I’ll find a developer, usually of the independent variety, whose work I’ll glom on to unflinchingly because their work is so solid. When I saw the Mesmer announcement trailer on Nintendo Life and saw the familiar Disney-esque logo for Rain Games pop up, I knew this game was immediately going to hit my radar no matter what it was.

Luckily, it seems to be yet another game set in the same universe as Teslagrad and World to the West, but with a design identity all its own.

Whereas Teslagrad was a 2D puzzle platformer and World to the West was a send-up of A Link to the Past, Mesmer looks to be a more strategically-minded affair with a healthy dash of subterfuge and stealth added in for good measure.

Set in the city of Pardam, it stars one of the heroines of World to the West, the adventurer Miss Teri. It looks as if she’s trying to set up a coup of the monarchy, although how exactly this is all done has yet to be detailed. The trailer showed plenty of mischievous skulking, plastering propagandist posters on walls, talking from a soap box while handing out flyers and scouring for information from rebellious town folk. The trailer is then capped with what looks to be a full on uprising as a crowd marches towards the village castle. The article the trailer was posted with also mentioned being able to manipulate five factions around town to further push your agenda.

It’s not a lot to go off of, but it doesn’t matter – Rain Games has won my admiration two times over and I doubt they’ll fail to do it a third. Even though there isn’t a motif to their cover art, the expectation of quality is there in spirit.