Clippings: PERSONA!!! Edition

The timing of my post yesterday was impeccable — right after I expressed my delight with Persona 4: Golden on the Vita, Atlus announced the holy of holies, Persona 5 (for PS3), plus three spin-offs. Persona 5 is due out in Japan in (northern) winter 2014; there is no detail beyond that, nor any English-language release date. Personally I wish it were for Vita, but this is still good news!

 

In other news, the first volume of Norse-themed historical manga Vinland Saga is now officially available in English, and it’s a cracking good yarn. Despite the name, it has little to do with the actual Vinland sagas, which I discussed over at my other site; this Vinland Saga is a larger-than-life action-adventure, filled with gory battles, epic feats, and magnificent sneering villains. Well worth checking out.

 

Remember the glory of ’90s point-and-click adventure games? LPer “Farnsworth” is chronicling some fun-sounding modern homages — here’s his writeup of cyberpunk thriller Gemini Rue (spoilers, obviously). Enjoy!

Musical Monday: “Main Theme” (X: Rebirth), composed by Andrei Zakharov

I’ve never played X: Rebirth, the space simulation from which this week’s piece hails, and judging by the reviews (and the series’ reputation for density), I doubt I ever will. But that doesn’t detract from the haunting beauty of its main theme, a song that conjures up loss, and melancholy, and the frozen grandeur of space. I’ve embedded it below the cut — enjoy!

 

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The Vita-stic Persona: 4 Golden

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series Persona 3 & 4

Persona 4 Vita Shopping District N edited

 

Above is my new PlayStation Vita, running Persona 4: Golden! After a bit over a week, I think the hardware and the software were made for each other: the Vita is a fine machine, sleek and sharp-screened, while P4:G is one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played. P4:G is also long and deep (I clocked in at >90 hours on its predecessor, Persona 3: Portable), the kind of game I’d normally find difficult to finish — I frequently stall out on RPGs at the ~30 hour mark, such as Fallout: New Vegas, Xenoblade Chronicles, Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and even the PS2 version of Persona 4. But the Vita’s portability is a blessing: I can carry it around the house, play when I have a few minutes to spare, put it to sleep at the push of a button, and awaken it in seconds. That makes it perhaps the most convenient way to play long, intricate games such as P4:G — definitely more convenient than being chained to a PC/console. Vita, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…

 

As an aside, so far, the Vita’s library isn’t huge, but I have several more games to chew through once I (eventually) finish P4:G: action RPG Soul Sacrifice came bundled with the Vita, and over several PSN sales, I built up a decent backlog of PSP RPGs (Gungnir, Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time). As for future releases, Final Fantasy X and X-2 are due out for Vita eventually, and who knows what other RPGs might come after that? After all, the PSP eventually bloomed into an RPG powerhouse, with the likes of FFTTactics Ogre, and Persona 3.

Pandora’s Toy Box: Observations on Dominions 4

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Dominions 4

Spring, Year 4 of the Ascension Wars. The rival empires of Jomon, T’ien Ch’i, and Pythium have soaked their borderlands in blood; the prize, the Thrones of Ascension that will allow a pretender god to rule the world. For years, they have battled to little avail; but now a breakthrough seems imminent. After months of siege, a T’ien Ch’i army stands ready to storm Jomon’s fortress in the province of Carnag — and once it falls, the way will be clear to march on Jomon itself.

 

Morale is high in the besiegers’ camp. T’ien Ch’i soldiers, backed by the steppe horsemen who recently made themselves overlords of the empire, have repeatedly shown themselves equal to the samurai of Jomon. Numbers are on the attackers’ side. Yes, Jomonese shugenja and onmyo-ji mystics have been seen inside the fortress. Yes, rumours suggest the great celestial dragon the Jomonese worship has been raising an army beneath the waves. But so far, neither the mystics nor the dragon have amounted to much. What could possibly go wrong?

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IMMELMANN TURN: Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol quick impressions

Ace Patrol Running for Home

 

At first, I didn’t like Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol very much, its designer notwithstanding. On paper, this turn-based, TRPG take on World War I air combat had it all: a clean, simple interface; pilots who levelled up and learned new manoeuvres; and those manoeuvres! Half-loops followed by rolls when I wanted to get away in a hurry, or full loops when I wanted to turn the tables on a pursuer. Climbs into the cloudbanks, then dives into the midst of German patrols. But everything was so boringly easy. Where was the challenge? Where was the incentive to learn how to use those manoeuvres?

 

Then I cranked up the difficulty.

 

And minutes later, as my pilots fought for my lives, the realisation hit me: this game is Diet XCOM.

 

I mean that in several ways. This was originally a mobile game, and it shows: Ace Patrol is very short by strategy game standards – you can finish the campaign in a few hours, less time than a single match of Civilization V. Its production values are modest; there isn’t even any music (1). It’s cheap (although Australians, beware regional pricing). And its mood is far lighter than XCOM: the planes are painted in bright, cheery colours, and the pilots can’t permanently die. They even seem to realise this – look at how they’re grinning in the screenshot!

 

But the resemblance is there. Like XCOM, Ace Patrol really must be played on an appropriate difficulty setting; once I dialled up the difficulty I found myself thinking about the interplay between tactics and equipment. My French SPADs were faster but slower-turning than the German planes; that encouraged me to run for home once I completed objectives, instead of sticking around to dogfight. Like XCOM, it’s necessary to develop a well-rounded roster: wounded pilots won’t be available for several missions, so it’s not wise to place every egg in a single ace’s basket, lest you be stuck sending a hapless rookie against the Red Baron. And like XCOM, this game generates emergent stories. The absence of permadeath means the stakes are nowhere near as high; but after just a couple of hours with Ace Patrol, I remember the time my rookie fought 3 Germans by herself and almost won; the table-turning mission that saw my bombers shred incoming Germans without much help from their escort; and the pilot in the screenshot, who shot down his target and made it home against the odds.

 

How does Ace Patrol stack up against other “light” strategy games? Perhaps the most comparable recent game is Skulls of the Shogun, and so far I think Skulls edges out Ace Patrol. Skulls is better at presenting information – for instance, in Ace Patrol, to find out why a manoeuvre isn’t available, I have to open a separate screen; whereas in Skulls everything is clearly laid out – and Skulls also benefits from higher production values and a superior aesthetic. Lastly, while Ace Patrol’s campaign is dynamic, I don’t think this adds enough depth to compensate for the genuinely good, funny writing that went into Skulls’ scripted campaign.

 

But there is no shame in not measuring up to Skulls, the benchmark for short-form strategy. I quite like Ace Patrol in its own right, and as I write this, I’ve just downloaded its newly released sequel, Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies, on Steam. I look forward to continuing my aerial adventures!

 

(1) Though I did learn that Guile’s Theme from Street Fighter truly does go with everything: it makes a great accompaniment to a rookie pilot’s bid for glory.

Clippings – 6 November 2013

Some notable strategy game news over the last few days!

  • Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies, the WW2-themed sequel to Ace Patrol, has just launched on Steam (and is about to launch on iOS). I still haven’t played much of the original, which I snagged on a Steam sale a while back, but any game from Sid is worth watching. Anyone tried it yet? Incidentally, here is a quick Polygon interview about the game.
  • Paradox has announced Conquest of Paradise, an Americas-focused expansion for Europa Universalis IV. The press release is here and the first developer diary is here; perhaps the most interesting promised feature is that players will be able to randomise the New World, a la Imperialism II. CoP is due out in just over a month (11th December).
  • Soren Johnson, of Civ 4 fame, has announced a new studio: Mohawk Games, backed by an investment from Stardock. Game Informer has some detail on Mohawk’s first game (codenamed Mars), apparently a cross between an RTS and a tycoon game.

Musical Monday: “Hometown” (Xenoblade Chronicles), composed by Yoko Shimomura and ACE+

I’ve previously highlighted the gorgeous soundtrack of Xenoblade Chronicles, and this week, I’ve returned for a second helping. “Hometown” is the epitome of RPG town music – peaceful, happy, and pleasant. Like most of the game’s ambient songs, it comes in two versions — a more energetic one that plays during the in-game daytime; and a gentler one that plays at night. I’ve linked both below the cut. Enjoy!

 

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Quick impressions: Transport Tycoon (Android version)

This is the mobile version of the PC strategy classic, a title I loved as a kid – I still own the official game guide. There are plenty of minor differences (most notably, the random map generator is gone, replaced with a long list of scenarios); but on the whole, this is a faithful adaptation (1). Each map presents the player with scattered towns and industries, which supply and demand various types of cargo; for example, towns both generate and require passengers, while a steel mill requires iron and coal from their respective mines, and produces steel that can then be shipped to factories. Scenario objectives can be open-ended ( “make X dollars”) or more prescriptive (“move Y units of a given cargo”). To meet these objectives, players buy vehicles (buses, planes, trains, ships, and more); lay track and build stations;; and reinvest the profits into new routes and better vehicles, a cycle as pleasant as it was 20 years ago. The largest scenario I’ve played so far, a medium-difficulty freeform map, did drag once I was past the initial difficulty hump (2), but it ended at about the right point to avert boredom – and besides, this is probably why the game offers multiple scenarios.

 

The key issue, as with any mobile port of an established game, is how well the controls/interface work with a touchscreen. Here, I think the answer is “not badly”. Everything – font, buttons, tiles – is nice and big, even on a 7” screen, and the developers have been quite clever about adapting the controls. However, it’s not perfect. For instance, in the PC version, railways are built by clicking on the desired tile, easy with a mouse but probably too fiddly for touchscreens. In the Android version, you tap the start tile, then select the direction you’d like to build in, and finally extend the line just by tapping a button. This works well for shorter and less complex routes, but the need to lay segments of track one at a time means that lengthy, curvy rail routes can still be a hassle – I could really have used a mouse when building my longest (and most profitable) line (3). Similarly, the simple act of telling a vehicle to go from station A to station B requires that I tap through several screens and often fumble with scrolling the map; over the course of a game, that adds up. And while I don’t remember if this was present in the PC version, I would really like some way to sort vehicles by profitability – it’s easy to mock “spreadsheet” games, but spreadsheets were invented for a reason! Still, I should stress that on the whole, the interface works reasonably well, well enough for the underlying game to shine through.

 

Overall, I quite like Transport Tycoon so far. There are other strategy games on Android, and other PC ports; but this is one of the few to combine PC-grade scale with a mobile-friendly interface. Definitely worth a look if you enjoyed the original, or if this sounds like your cup of tea.

 

Technical note: The Android version apparently suffered from nasty lag when it was launched; however, the game ran smoothly by the time I bought my copy.

 

(1) Perhaps it’s a little too faithful in its aesthetic – the low-res sprites have not aged well.

 

(2) Effectively, I was making enough money that I could snowball.

 

(3) Ideally, I’d like to see the game calculate optimal track layouts based on the start and end points, but oh well.