On Breath of Fire 3

Today’s post was originally going to be about an annoyance I’ve found with WildStar advice, but I haven’t finished doing the required math for it yet, so I’ll pick a different topic rather than trying to talk math and being wrong.

A little over a week ago, it was suggested that the Breath Of Fire series might align with my interests. I picked up Breath of Fire 4 on PSN, and played through the intro, but it was recommended I play 3 first. (Breath of Fire is a little bit like Final Fantasy in that the games aren’t direct sequels, but they do share more than most numeric Final Fantasy entries.) The problem is, Breath of Fire 3 isn’t on PSN, and the PSP version was never released in this country. Despite that, it was fairly cheap, so now I’m the proud owner of a PSP copy of Breath of Fire 3. I immediately ripped it and stuck it on my PSP Go.

BoF3 Title Screen
Starting Breath of Fire 3 is certainly interesting, I won’t spoil it for people who haven’t played it, but it’s not your usual “first battle against nonthreatening enemies with your main character” that so many JRPGs use. Soon after that, you do pick up as the main character (default name: Ryu) and things are a bit more standard. I just started playing recently, and I like the way the party is shaping up. In addition to doing decent damage with a sword, Ryu also has healing and protective spells. Teepo has a very similar stat spread, but instead picks up offensive spells. Sometimes party member Rei is both faster and stronger than the other two due to his natural stats and his higher starting level, but he leaves the party on occasion during the start of the game. I suspect the other two will have caught up by the time I get him back.

Staus Screen w/ Ryu and Teepo
The actual systems are somewhat interesting. It’s fairly basic stuff, with each combatant acting in battle according to their speed. Characters who are fast enough (mostly this means Rei) can actually get an extra turn in an “EX round”, taking two actions for the enemies’ one. An interesting thing is that in addition to abilities learned naturally, you can use the “examine” command in combat to attempt to watch enemies and learn their skills. At this point I’ve managed to pick up a fire attack from a slime-like enemy (Does every game have these?), a bite attack from a guard dog, and a jump attack from a giant chicken. These skills can be transferred between party members with the use of an item. I like that the actual battles are fought in the normal areas, without transitioning to a separate battle screen (although characters do reposition as enemies spawn in).

Teepo casts Simoon
Overall, this game reminds my why I liked the PS-era JRPGs. It’s fairly simple, looks good, and is fun to play. It might get overly bogged down in plot and lose me later, but I’m enjoying it so far.

On Second Opinions

If you’re heard prior week’s Aggrochats, you may have heard my opinions on WildStar, which (prior to launch) ranged from dislike to indifference. As of last weekend, my opinions have reversed pretty significantly, and I have to say that the game is quite fun to play. it’s not perfect, but I could see myself playing this game for a while.

The Problem

The primary problem with WildStar is that the early levels are terrible to anyone somewhat familiar with MMOs. On the Arkship and moving into the starting zones, you have very few abilities. (In all cases this is a spammable ability, a resource consumer or cooldown ability, and an interrupt of some kind.) I’ve mentioned that the default control scheme doesn’t completely mesh with the nature of the combat. Initial quests and challenges are fairly boring, with most of them being “go kill these things” without much window dressing. Enemy abilities are relatively simplistic, with at worst a cone or point-blank AOE to get out of/interrupt. Until you hit the real zones, enemies have little enough health that there isn’t much of a challenge. This state of affairs is what led to me being bored and quitting every singe time I picked up the game throughout beta. A friend on the 7-day trial is having the same experience.

A Break in the Clouds

The narrative I kept hearing was that the game got better at level randint(12,20), and for the most part that’s true. Around 12-13 you get access to the first shiphand mission, which is a small instance that scales for groups anywhere from 1-5 people (soloing this is somewhat difficult as a beginner). Mobs start to have more interesting mechanics around level 10, forcing you to pay more attention in fights. “Prime” enemies start appearing that provide a significant challenge for an individual player once you get out of the starter zones. Challenges get more varied and sometimes more interesting. (Quests mostly still don’t.) Crafting unlocks at 10, which is a giant black hole if you’re into the different mechanics of each profession. Housing unlocks at 14, and I’ll let Bel and Penny Arcade say all that’s necessary to say about that.

This seems appropriate.
This seems appropriate.

Decision Tree

All of the above got me a bit more into the game, but the key experience for me so far is the Adventure that unlocks at level 15, Riot in the Void. For those who are unaware, Adventures are instances for a full group (5 people) that involve some decision points, and can play out different ways depending on what the party chooses. I got a chance to experience this one twice over the past two days. The first time I was DPS (as a medic), none of us knew what we were doing, our tank got press-ganged into service, and it was a very hectic experience. I tried to take as much in as possible, and I learned some things for the next run. The next run, I was the healer, the tank was someone with a bit more experience and gear (Ok, it was Bel) and I got to see how things changed. The impact of the choices made in the instance is non-trivial. The first time, Esper-type enemies appeared after the first stage of the instance and proceeded to cause a lot of annoyance with their shields, knockdowns, and healing. The second time, we shut down the espers in the first stage (which was harder than the first stage task we had on the first run) which caused them to thankfully not appear anywhere else in the instance. However, because we didn’t shut down the cannons, we had cannons shooting at us during the final boss.

Image shamelessly stolen once again.
Image shamelessly stolen once again.

I didn’t expect this sort of experience in a level 15 instance, in what’s supposed to be the “introduction” to group content. If the rest of the content can maintain this level of quality, I’ll enjoy group content in this game a lot. In a way this would be the opposite of Guild Wars 2, in which our playgroup hit the first piece of group content, found it unfulfilling, and stopped playing the game almost entirely. This one looks like it may hold me for a while on the strength of the group content. It even got me to play a healer again.

On Things That Turn Into Other Things

Everyone has their preferred character archetypes. In D&D terms, everyone is familiar with the traditional Fighter, Mage, and Thief, so most games try to provide player characters with options along those lines. Other games expand a bit more, with a healer archetype (sometimes a variation of the mage) or an archer archetype (sometimes a variation of the thief). More classes are usually created by combining these in some way. The Barbarian is a combination of the swiftness and light armor of a thief with the power and strength of a fighter. My favorite archetype is a different sort of combination: the shape-shifter.

In a way, shape-shifting characters are usually a combination of the thief and mage archetypes in that they are (usually) magic-users with tools to adapt to a variety of different situations. More generally, it’s characterized by the ability to switch between archetypes. The stereotypical example is the Druid, which is usually given a variety of nature-based spells to heal or harm, and the ability to turn into animals when spells aren’t an appropriate solution. There are other characters that fit this archetype that aren’t the druid, like the lead character of the Breath of Fire series, who turns into a variety of dragons.

There is the lesser example of things with a single alternate form, like most depictions of werewolves. In games, this usually manifests as some sort of temporary power up or super mode (which I like a bit less), but it’s sometimes an alternate form with different strengths and weaknesses from the “base” form. League of Legends likes this model a lot, using it for Nidalee, Elise, and Jayce (sort of).

Balancing this character type has historically been difficult, and for good reason. If one person can duplicate the jobs of three or four at a moment’s notice, it risks eliminating the need for the more focused characters. The traditional tradeoff for this is usually decreased effectiveness at any one role, but this leaves the shape-shifter marginalized in any situation where a single task is valued. “Alternate form” types tend to fall into this trap especially often, where the strengths of one form do not sufficiently cover for its weaknesses, leading to use of only one. (Nidalee in League is perhaps the best example of this.)

Some games balance the ability to do everything by forcing a choice of role, and decreasing the effectiveness of other forms or roles. WoW is the best example here, but D&D Next seems to also use this approach. An alternate approach is limiting the ability to transform in some way. Breath of Fire 4 has both a transformation and a perpetuation cost, so you can’t stay a dragon forever. (I think BoF1 only had a transformation cost, but I haven’t played it in a while.) These have shown to be acceptable ways to balance the power level of this type of character, and I wish more games would use them rather than declaring it too difficult and leaving my favorite archetype out.

 

As a final note: It’s the final day to make donations for The Run, influencing what jobs two members of SDA will use when playing through FF5. I’m still working my way through as well.

On Launches

You would think that there would be some good solution by now for turning the servers on and letting people in to these online games. But time after time, games launch with troubles. All things considered, WildStar’s launch wasn’t really that bad, but it still creates a lot of frustration when everything doesn’t go smoothly.

First, they dramatically underestimated the number of players who would be interested in playing on a PVP server. As a result, all of the PVP servers at launch had queues, some of them several hours long. In addition, the number of English realms for EU was too low in general, so those also had long queues. More servers and free server transfers seem to have addressed the problem over the weekend, so it isn’t all bad.

Despite the complaints, it really isn’t all that bad. SWTOR had similar queue issues, but it’s a better illustration of a different problem. After launch, there were too many servers, leading to server merges and the general unhappiness that accompanies that. FF14 (Realm Reborn version) had numerous issues on launch, including not having queues (so you had to retry login until it worked) and during head start, having the instance servers (which were required for quest and character progression) frequently fail to work entirely. WildStar is at least ahead of both of these cases.

On the other end, ESO’s launch had fewer issues. Quest bugs were particularly bad during the first week, but at no point did I ever have trouble logging in to play. WoW’s original launch wasn’t great, but their expansion launches are pretty good at this point, even though the rush is usually at least the size of a typical MMO launch [citation needed]. TSW also managed to remain mostly functional (again with quest bugs) during its launch. I think the traditional servers are presenting scalability issues for games that use them, and something else (like TSW) might serve better in the long run.

Aggrochat and More

This week’s Aggrochat is out, and the usual cast is missing Rae, but joined by Tam. About halfway through we switch to discussing massive spoilers for Transistor, so I recommend stopping there if you haven’t finished it. (We don’t talk about anything else after.)

As an additional note, registration for the Final Fantasy V Four Job Fiesta is now live, and you should sign up for this wonderful charity event. Ongoing documentation of my pre-fiesta run is here, on YouTube. If you are in Alliance of Awesome, you should take a look, as there is an extra bit of charity money riding on your registration. (If you’re not, you should still register, and then consider poking into what AoA is doing in various games.)

On Class Balance

Thanks to a few interesting experiences, I’m incredibly gun-shy about choosing classes in games now. Class balance is one of those things that will never make everyone happy, but still needs to be handled with utmost care to keep people from feeling useless. I’ve had a surprising amount of “feeling useless” in recent games, and I’m concerned that it’ll happen again when I pick classes in new games.

Use the force

My personal experience with this began in Star Wars: The Old Republic. I figured I’d play a Vanguard Trooper since I liked tanking, but I ended up being drawn to the Commando’s giant gun. I actually ended up as a healer in this game, because I enjoyed it, and it seemed rather effective in content up to the level cap. Unfortunately, the raid content demonstrated how wrong I was. The command lacked a good method of healing more than one target at a time, and this was its doom for “hard” content. There were several experiences where The healing team was Commando + Scoundrel or (heaven forbid) Commando + Commando where the run was going to become way more difficult just because we didn’t have a Sage. Sages had a ground-targeted dome of mass healing that trivialized certain encounters. Then, the first major balance patch came out and made commandos even worse in raiding, because they were “too good” in PVP. This heralded my exit from the game.

It was fun while it lasted.
It was fun while it lasted.

It’s a secret to everyone

A few months later, The Secret World caught my attention with its “unique” (read: ripped from Guild Wars) ability system. The Ability Wheel encouraged heavy investment into 2-3 weapon types, and I went with Fists (mostly claw and knuckle-type weapons) and Chaos (Green short-range magic), working my way into the Executioner deck. Again, this worked great up to the level cap, and even through elite instances, putting out more damage than any other options available to me. However, the Gatekeeper and Nightmare instances made it completely clear that the endgame was either go ranged or go home. While it’s technically possible to have all abilities at once, My character’s entire development up to that point was spent in things that turned out to not be viable in high-level content. Our group’s healer made similarly incorrect choices unknowingly, and that killed the game for us.

Hundreds of possibilities, 4 right answers.
Hundreds of possibilities, 4 right answers.

Written in the stars

I’m really hoping that my future endeavors turn out better than my past ones. I’m looking into WildStar, hoping that the class I pick doesn’t end up useless at whatever I decide to do with it. Finding this out at the level cap is absolutely crushing, and doubly so if it turns out nothing is being done about it. Final Fantasy 14 was almost like this, but they took steps to correct perceived and actual imbalances in their first major patch. WoW gets a lot of criticism for homogenizing classes, but they haven’t had any situations where a class or spec is completely non-viable (in PVE) since Burning Crusade. I’m really getting tired of making the wrong choice unknowingly, so I’d appreciate it if they would just mark them on the character creation screen next time.

On Planning()

Transistor came out a week ago, and it is Awesome. There are many reasons why it’s Awesome, but in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I won’t talk about the story, or much about the music. Instead, I’m going to talk about the combat system.

Basics()

Transistor’s combat system has two parts, an active phase and a planning phase. On the surface, the real-time combat resembles combat in Bastion, but it quickly gets far too hectic to handle in real-time with a basic set of abilities. When it gets to be too much to handle, you can enter Turn() mode, which allows you to stop time and queue up a series of actions to execute near-instantaneously. After doing so, you can’t use most abilities or stop time again for a little while, which is referred to as “Turn() recovery”.

What I used for the endgame, roughly.
What I used for the endgame, roughly.

Functions()

The various abilities you can use in combat are referred to as Functions. These can be equipped in three ways: Active, Passive, or Upgrade. Active slots are pretty simple, they let you use a given ability in combat. You always have 4 of these. Passive slots are also pretty simple, Functions slotted there provide some sort of passive bonus in combat. You acquire these as you level up, capping at 4. The third type of slot is the most interesting. Upgrade slots are attached to active slots, and modify the ability in some way. You start with one upgrade slot for each active slot, and can get more as you level. Usually a function will have related uses in all three slots. Bounce() is an attack that chains to multiple targets, as an upgrade it can cause other attacks to chain to multiple targets, and as a passive it will give you a shield that causes enemy attacks to bounce off.

You can also see how you and other people use functions here.
You can also see how you and other people use functions here.

Combinations()

The really interesting thing is figuring out how all of this goes together. Functions require different amounts of memory to set, and there is a memory limit which usually means you can’t fill every slot, so making the most of what you can set is important. Since you start the game with Crash() and Breach(), it usually doesn’t take long to figure out that targets disrupted by Crash() take bonus damage. If you combine these, you get a long-range attack that stuns enemies and causes them to take bonus damage. With a bit of creativity (and once you get more functions down the line) this can quickly get ridiculous. One of my personal favorites is combining Void() with Get(). Normally Get() draws enemies to you, but in combination with Void() it draws enemies into the weakening field.

This can quickly get ridiculous.
This can quickly get ridiculous.

Conclusions()

All of this comes together for a combat system that has interesting elements of tactics and strategy. In a sense, it’s reminiscent of the Mega Man Battle Network series in this way. Mastery of the combat system requires being able to build a set of useful abilities, and then knowing how to execute your strategy in combat, both in and out of Turn(). The game eventually provides a sandbox (almost literally) for experimentation, and it reveals parts of the back story when you use functions in different slots to further encourage trying different things. It’s one of the many wonderful parts of the awesomeness that is Transistor.

On Current Events #2

It’s time for another post on multiple, short topics. Let’s get it going.

Amplitude Kickstarter

amplitude tracks
This is in its final day, and looks like it might make it if it gets enough attention. They did a live stream yesterday to boost support, and it seems to have done the job, but it still needs more. The Remix Mode in the original Amplitude was a very “modern” idea in a game that’s now 11 years old, and I’d love to see what awesome things come out of the new one should they get a chance to make it.

Final Fantasy 5 Draft

my party
As Bel mentioned, I may have organized a bit of fun before the Job Fiesta starts for real. I’m gradually working my way through the first segment of the game (I’m behind Bel a bit and Kodra a lot). I’m chronicling my progress on YouTube here. Blue Mage is probably my favorite class in the game, because you can do some pretty degenerate things with it (none of which I’ve done yet). I’ve recorded everything so far, but I think I’m going to start cutting out travel and grinding.

WildStar Ops Week

chua-creatorIf you really want to get a WildStar fix in, the servers will be up at random times between now and head start. I recommend checking their Twitter for information on when this is happening. If you’re more like myself and don’t care much about getting an hour or two of play in, this can still be useful. WildStar lets you save your character appearance in base-64. Keeping this saved in a document somewhere can help you get the appearance you want without spending a lot of time in the character creator on launch day, so take advantage of the opportunity while it’s open. This goes double if name reservation didn’t work out for you, or you want an early name that isn’t the one you reserved.

On WildStar

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so conflicted about a new MMO as I have about WildStar. My general feeling about it is that it’s a game I want to like more than I do.

On one hand, there are a lot of things about it that I like. I’ve mentioned it in a comment on Tales of the Aggronaut, but the Chua are the best small race since the Gibberlings in Allods Online. The animations for them are awesome, and their “mad scientist” aesthetic appeals to me. I tend to play big races in games (most of my WoW characters are Draenei or Tauren), so this is a bit of a departure from the norm for me.chua

Animations for just about everything are¬†awesome. Emotes are cool, and most of the abilities are well-done (medic abilities are a bit lacking in “impact”). The fact that it has double jump is great (every game should have double jump) and the animations for it are nice across multiple races. The paths are the concept that originally drew me to the game, and their execution ranges from “passable” to “excellent”.

In general, I like the “telegraph” system, because it makes combat more interesting than “stand here and hit buttons until someone is dead”. The entire genre seems to be moving in this direction, and it’s a change I’m in favor of. FF14 had similar red marks on the ground, and even WoW gets into it with some of the enemies on Timeless Isle. This requirement for additional movement and aimed attacks exposes a bit of a problem with WildStar, however.

When in combat, you have to hold right-click at almost all times in order to ensure your attacks are properly aimed, and you remain mobile. Two addons aimed at fixing this exist, and do a decent job at it, but it’s still an odd state of affairs. The precursor to these (called Deadlock) was actually developed by one of the game’s UI designers, and I can’t help but feel like some sort of mouse-look mode (like Neverwinter or ESO) should have been built-in.

My big issue with the game it that it bores me to tears in the early levels. I keep hearing that it gets better, and that if you just wait for level randint(12,20) it gets a lot better, but I haven’t had the dedication to make it that far in any beta event I’ve been in. Other recent games (FF14, ESO) provide some sort of motive for moving forward in the story quest, and I just feel it’s lacking in WildStar.

There are some other minor problems. Going to a WoW-like faction and server split makes playing with people you know more difficult than it should be. I like the Chua a lot, but some of my friends don’t like the mustache-twirling evil Dominion faction they’re in. Agreeing on a server is also one of those launch-day headaches, and it’s extremely difficult to get multiple different groups to roll on the same server.

I did pre-order the game, so I’ll give it its initial month, but I don’t know if I’ll play it long-term. I’m still playing ESO, and I haven’t personally seen the promise of the later levels of WildStar, so it’ll have to be fantastic to grab me. So far, it just hasn’t been.

On Competition

I’m not much for traditional PVP. I play a bit of League of Legends, and I’ve messed around in Cyrodiil in ESO a bit, but it’s not really my thing. I don’t take particular pleasure in the experience of facing off against someone, knowing directly that it’s a zero-sum game; someone must win, and someone must lose. I especially don’t like it in situations that are massively one-sided, like most gank situations in Open-World PVP. There’s little sense of accomplishment in winning such a fight, and it sucks to be on the receiving end. In a sense this is why I tolerate League more than other “PVP games”, because match-ups are relatively even, at least at the outset.

But this isn’t to say that I don’t like competing against other people. I’m a sucker for leaderboards and time trials. My very first real post ended in a challenge (which as far as I can tell no one’s taken me up on). I put up a relatively competitive score for Pixel Purge as part of the Indie Game Gala for the Newbie Blogger Initiative. Someone doubled it, but I’m pretty happy with second place. I’m pretty excited about the Trials in ESO because they have leaderboards, although I realize I am not likely to be hardcore enough to appear anywhere near them. I’m not even at veteran levels yet.

I really appreciate this form of competition more than others for a few reasons. First, you can usually try again immediately. There’s a sense of progression in constantly improving your score/time. There’s a feeling of accomplishment for actually passing someone else. And when someone else passes you, there’s incentive to give it another shot and beat their score. I know World of Warcraft attempted to get this sort of thing going with Challenge Modes for dungeons, but it fell pretty flat. I’m not sure how to get people more interested, but making it part of “normal” progression helps, because at least people are trying it and making some sort of entry.

I’m not saying that other forms of PVP are bad. Battlegrounds and the like can be enjoyable if well done, and their general popularity reflects it. However, I think things like this should be considered more often.

Aggrochat

It’s Sunday, so there’s a new Aggrochat available (or there will be soon, if you’re here early enough). We spend a bit of time talking about League (and why Braum is awesome), Hex (and why lawsuits suck), FF5 (and why I’m insane), and crowdfunding (and why I think early access isn’t living up to expectations). Also, hear me be wrong about when the Wildstar Beta ends (it’s actually tonight at 23:59 Pacific). Check it out here.

On the Four Job Fiesta

I mentioned this in my post last week, but the Final Fantasy 5 Four Job Fiesta is coming up in a few weeks. This has been a somewhat major social event for me for the past few years, so I want to share a bit more about it.

Background

Final Fantasy V was originally released in Japan in 1992, and did not receive an official English translation until Final Fantasy Anthology for the PlayStation in 1999. (It didn’t receive a good English translation until it released for the Game Boy Advance in 2006.) Like FF3 before it and FF Tactics after it, FF5 allows characters to acquire and switch between several different jobs with unique abilities. These include classics like Black Mage, Thief, and Knight, but also new ones like Blue Mage and Samurai. The incredibly varied nature of the class system means that playthroughs can be very different each time, but certain combinations are almost game-breakingly powerful. Seeking to make the game a bit more challenging, the idea for the Job Fiesta was born.FJF

The Beginning

The Final Fantasy V Four Job Fiesta got its public start on NeoGAF, in 2009. According to RevenantKioku (RK), it grew out of a small group drafting classes, and expanded into random selections when more people expressed interest. The basic rules are that you can only use the jobs assigned to you, and you must use all of the jobs assigned to you (in any combination, before you are required to have one of each about 1/3 of the way through the game). The first year, 48 people participated and 15 finished. It continued for a year (the first year I participated), and participation went up significantly. This time, there were 125 players and 24 victors.

Breaking Out

In 2011, things got a bit bigger. Registration was done via Twitter rather than the forum (allowing for some automation and wider participation), and the event became a fundraiser for Child’s Play. 484 people registered, and 122 of them finished, raising a total of $2000. The fiesta expanded again in 2012 and 2013, raising $7455 for Child’s Play last year, expanding the options available to players each time. I don’t know what the new options are for 2014, the only hint so far is this image:2014-hint

Luck of the Draw

The fun part of playing through this way is that you don’t know what you’re going to get. Obviously some combinations are easier than others. Some single classes are capable of carrying the game on their own, like Black Mage or Samurai. Others really rely on a combination, like Red Mage (needs another caster) or Blue Mage (needs Confuse/Control from another class). It can also point out some classes that are traditionally ignored, but can be extremely powerful, like Bard and Dancer.

jobs

Almost any combination of classes can finish the game, and the community is supportive if you get stuck. I strongly encourage joining this event if you like old-school Final Fantasy, even if you haven’t played FF5 before.