BACKLOG 8/26/22: In dark and dreaming sleep while wars and ages pass.

BACKLOG is a “whenever” casual video game blog feature tasked with checking in on how I’m progressing through video games, old and new, which are typically pulled from an outsized ‘to do’ bin. Here I’ll generally update my progress in any and all games I’ve touched in the past month year. This includes minor updates on video game reviews I’m writing, some full reviews, and games I’m looking forward to. These posts have nothing, or at least little to do with music.

Landing upon the credits in a video game you’ve been playing should feel less like an accomplishment and more like a death, eh, if it’d been any good. The final step outside of a portal, which will never be the same upon return, should naturally inspire some manner of existential dread. I find myself taking a day, or even a week to mourn the exit wound made beyond another world rather than a feeling accomplished with finishing a sequence and taking a W, all for the sake of great interactive worlds being fairly rare nowadays. — The bereavement felt after realizing I had nothing left to do, or see in the world of Elden Ring found me spiraling down the drain of unfinished games, similar gameplay experiences, and a lot of boring bullshit ’til I’d basically had to resolve to immersing into another sub-genre and mode entirely. The First stage of grief had me returning to the Ys series as I continued to work my way backwards from IX: Monstrum Nox. This’d been enough to set my mind right, it quickly becomes one of my favorite action RPG series of all time. The Second stage of grief had me trying to metroidvania, buying Chasm (2018) and Souldiers (2022) to some light enjoyment, but these things are fragments of much better things attempting to be recaptured by nostalgic creators. The Third and final stage of grief had me finally, finally grabbing my Playstation 4 version of Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014) + DLC and entering a different dark fantasy world and becoming engrossed. More in-depth remarks on those three games later on.

Alright, well, guess I’ll die then.

Since the last Backlog entry in February I’ve completed just a few games including four playthroughs of Elden Ring, one playthrough of Elex II, played through most of a Dark Souls III faith/miracle build, picked up Nioh 2 again to check out the remastered version and kicked through one DLC before getting stuck, made some solid progress on the console version of Slay the Spire, picked up Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-reckoning for a few hours and finished the pirate DLC before landing on another island-themed DLC and losing interest, played through a chunk of Pillars of Eternity (’til getting Caed Nua, hub estate) then dropped it for the time being, and at this point I’d fully lost interest in Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth (2021) as it just feels like an unrewarding shite amateur metroidvania game. If you can’t read between the lines of that somewhat frustrated paragraph I’ve basically struggled to find anything to play after Elden Ring gave me a years worth of dopamine. The three games that actually stuck comprise the bulk of the column this time around. You can sometimes catch me streaming over on YouTube, or you can watch archived streams there, though I don’t generally talk or chat.

As for what I’ll review next for 2022: I’ve pre-ordered Steelrising, Star Ocean: The Divine Force, and Moonscars. Plus a few games have hit the wishlist in terms of 2022 releases: Valkyrie Elysium, Tunic and No Place For Bravery. Some of these will add to the backlog, alongside recent purchases/dead starts: Resident Evil 5 (PS4), Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire (PS4), Deathloop (PS5), Scarlet Nexus (PS5), Wasteland 3 (PC), Days Gone (PS4), Ys: Oath in Felghana (PSP), Ys: I & II Chronicles (PSP), Legend of Legaia (PSX), Tales of Destiny (PSX), Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean (Saturn). Scroll to the bottom of the post for the next ten things on my list. If you have recommendations for 2022 releases, have at ’em, but keep in mind I’ve already tried Thymesia, Salt & Sacrifice, and Cult of the Lamb and they are all mediocre slogs.

Oops, spoilers.

Ys: Memories of Celceta (2020)

Since I am working backwards through the Ys series it’d only been a matter of time before I’d hit the point of recapture and revision the series infamously had resorted to once Nihon Falcom picked the IP back up to set things right in their minds, improving upon the gameplay, presentation and storytelling of the franchises earlier titles. I guess as a player this means parsing exactly where ‘Memories of Celceta‘ lands in the chronology of Adol Christin‘s greater arc, somewhere right after Ys: Oath in Felghana (PSP) which was a similar revision of Ys III: Wanderers From Ys. This one had been a 2012 PS Vita game meant to re-envision the story intended to be told between the two Ys IV titles, ‘Mask of the Sun‘ for the Super Famicom/SNES and ‘The Dawn of Ys‘ for the PC Engine circa 1993. To make matters a bit more complicated most of this game purports to tell the story of how Adol came to be considered an adventurer and it very much gives the player the notion that it is a prequel but, no, it definitely is the canonical fourth entry (the definitive, but not a remake among four games which all have attempted to be the fourth entry) in the series. Parsing where you’re at in the continuum is more complicated than the story itself, which is absolutely standard otherwise. I didn’t end up playing the 2012 Vita version but the Playstation 4 version released in 2020 which has been enhanced in terms of the user interface, cleaned up graphically and upscaled.

Just trying to buy a Skill Up potion, my dude.

You’re exhausted, beaten to a pulp and near death even, as you are found wandering into Casnan, a frontier town which borders the wild, unforgiving forest maze of the great and mystical land of Celceta. This ends up being a typical sort of “amnesiac hero” introduction to Adol Christin within a series which hadn’t necessarily used said trope before and, as it turns out, this ends up being a key part of the story as you eventually set out to not only map the great forests but regain your memories at junctures within said exploration. Storyline revelations, memories regained, playable allies gained, boss fights, skill ups, unlocked areas and new side-quests all reward the player for completing areas and dungeons. Per the two or three PSP/Windows games before it there is a fair amount of backtracking necessary within the large ~25-30 hour action RPG on offer and all of the charms of Ys, a generally sincere and never cloyingly overstated series with simple plotlines, are all here. The action is quick, satisfyingly upping the numbers and gaining items/gear to upgrade. With all of this in mind Memories of Celceta is an entirely normal entry in the Ys series, unique only for its setting and story told with some small tweaks to the (at this point) well-established combat system.

Having started with Ys: Origin after many failed attempts to warm up to the Super Nintendo games’ combat style (the “bump” system) working my way from Ys IX to Memories of Celceta basically finds me working backwards in the evolution of the party system wherein multiple party members are on the screen with Adol and each has a different type of damage they produce (strike, slash, pierce) and you’ll need to keep one of each in your preferred party for the sake of certain enemies having designated weaknesses to damage types. While you can largely ignore damage types on the two most recent games this game emphasizes the mechanic early on within a few boss fights and makes sure you don’t miss it. Controls are razor responsive, movement is fast and violent, enemies satisfyingly burst or melt away, consider it the sort of 3D action JPRG experience fans wanted from the Secret of Mana series remakes, minus the cursory magic systems and with way better music.

The only negative note to insert into my thoughts on the combat system is that enemies leave opaque corpses behind which you have to hit an additional time to release their resources, which are usually tied into the game’s weapon and gear crafting/upgrade systems. This takes a few more button presses and keeps you from ripping through areas quickly when farming items or skill and experience points. The economy of the game becomes negligible about halfway through and the difficulty is not particularly high on normal settings but if you are interested in upgrading to the best of the best by your journey’s end it’ll take some grinding of particular resources which are only available nearby the endgame and the ones that count for final upgrades are limited per playthrough. This’d all become a slog if there weren’t so many areas to explore, side-quests to finish and if the game didn’t generally feel great to play.

While the combat is fun, the visuals are just alright, and the story entirely charming in its light twists and turns the major appeal of the Ys series comes from the sense of exploration provided and of course the fantastic music which characterizes each game. The handheld ported games lean into the performative neoclassical, symphonic and extravagant metal and rock side of things for action and boss sequences while inserting pieces for cinematic and emotive effect various scenes and settings. If you grew up playing JRPG games, action RPGs, and still get entirely triggered into your escapist dream world by memorable, inspiring Japanese video game music no doubt Memories of Celceta will hit the right balance between old and new. It isn’t the most balanced OST of the series in terms of consistent, or, easily transitioned mood pieces but I’d found the music to be one of the most satisfying aspects of the game, and to the point that I’d hang out in areas for far too long as I enjoyed their shredding on loop and in surround sound.

As a straightforward action RPG Ys: Memories of Celceta is rightfully placed as a fine game compared to most in its style and an especially fun contender within the series. This is probably the easiest to understand at face value narrative from the Ys games I’ve played thus far, though I’ve heard Ys VII and Oath of Felghana are either on par or better, since the developers had a bit more experience on the platform. This makes good sense considering the quality gap between this game and Ys VIII. Anyhow, as much as I had fun and found myself just kind of loving the simple pleasure of hanging out with this game I get why folks kinda set it in the middle of their ranking of the series. It is definitely the one to take me from interested anime hater to full-fledged fan and kinda has me wanting to eventually replay entries VIII and IX again already. Not the best place to start with the series but hey, not a bad place to start either. Moderately high recommendation.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014)

Alright, this playthrough which is eight years in the making has finally gotten some momentum enough that I will in fact finish the game along with all of the DLC. — I’d originally bought Dragon Age: Inquisition back in 2014 which was the year of: Destiny, Wolfenstein: The New Order, Lords of the Fallen, Divinity: Original Sin, and the original Dark Souls II. I don’t know if that adequately explains why I chose to play all of those games and set Inquisition aside after making a character and failing to kill the first demon encounter but I count that Wolfenstein game among my all-time favorites, I played roughly ~80 hours of original Destiny in the space of two months, and I think my playthrough of Original Sin reached the 100 hours mark, not to mention the Souls-like games and their replay value. All of that isn’t much of an excuse but I had moved to California and had quite a few life lessons served during the second half of that year. Anyhow, the gist of it is that this game has been in my backlog for quite a long time and now the Playstation 5 allows me to play it with vastly reduced loading times. In fact, sometimes it seems like the game engine itself cannot keep up.

~70 hours later: Melee classes aren’t all that fun in Dragon Age.

In the first few minutes of Dragon Age: Inquisition you see a spirit whom is believably depicted in the image of Andraste, a martyred and deified saint, and this’d lead me to think that I’d had an intimate view of reality which the entire game world could never know as they essentially plop me into the role of a leader to restore order to the continent. In fact, much to the annoyance of a few of my party members I’d repeatedly claimed I really was chosen by the goddess to save everyone but as with all Dragon Age games belief and reality are quandaries themselves, ideas repeatedly questioned as their stories unfold. I guess after the relatively straightforward push of Dragon Age II in terms of story, which’d been a bit self-involved and dry overall, Inquisition begins to feel like the earth torn asunder sort of tale that it depicts. Unfortunately some of the DLC-aided storyline has been spoiled for me, I’ve seen the last boss fight, and I know that not using a guide will get me a fairly predictable end result from the various factions I’ve called to aid me in cleansing the world of rifts, blight, and various other horrors. I’ve entered this world entirely ready, well read in the lore and with all manner of expectations and yet, I dunno I guess I just want to go kill dragons and level up? The plot is just such a load “Who the fuck cares?” heroic drivel to me.

Nearly ~70 hours into the game having done my first round of upgrades to Skyhold, recruited most if not all of the available party members, levelled to 20, explored a great deal of the non-DLC areas excepting Frostback Mountains and most of Emprise du Lion, I think it is safe to say I’m at least 50% or more done with the game’s content. Hard to tell with this sort of game but I want to make sure I get a lot of things done before a certain quest which prevents progress on others or nullifies ’em. Unfortunately when I re-rolled my character and started the story over I’d chosen the melee-based warrior class and put all of my points into sword-and-shield combat with the Champion specialty to start. This means my major job is to pull aggro, slap enemies with stuns, and counter attacks. While it is fun enough the melee gameplay is similarly swatted, fast, and a bit janky like Dragon Age II‘s warrior class was and none of the class upgrades or skills are all that interesting to play around with in combat.

The Champion class can… c-c-counter attack?

This was the era of semi-open world games by necessity of containing the personality and character of the experience and yet Dragon Age: Inquisition feels a bit like couple of Christmas tree farms reskinned for different weather and plenty of rocks you slip off like a buttered potato when trying to climb. That is about all of the complaining I see fit, even if the game was a bit too ambitious and the plot development is horribly slow and inconsequential in feeling compared to Dragon Age: Origins the charm of the series is there, if not in sparing bursts and quite a lot of busy work for the player. Not sure if a full review will be warranted, but I might have final thoughts on the next Backlog entry.

A collection of early notes for a game I’ll likely push to finish before mid-September: Weapon and armor crafting is an exciting prospect which encourages quite a lot of foraging and grinding materials, which isn’t too much of a bother. Use of potions becomes key for longer fights and quickly turns tables against most dragons thus far. The party member AI and remembering what all of the spells to when taking control of them takes a bit of reading up front. There is far, far too much loot to be had and the inventory limit is ridiculously low.

68hours 54 minutes as of today

Chasm (2018)

Not to be confused with the Quake-like from the late 90’s, Chasm is a game pitched to publishers in 2012 and ignored ’til the developer used Kickstarter to fund the project in 2013 as they’d aimed for a classic metroidvania formula, something akin to Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia in terms of saving folks whom populate a town and offer a service once rescued. The value of this particular take on the formula is that while the world is persistent and the major elements are always present the levels which bridge sections of the game world are randomly generated. This ends up not matter at all to the player unless you’ve decided it was fun enough to play through more than once. I’m not exactly there yet. The game starts out with a fair bit of personality, a sort of medieval setting wherein you’re promoted and tasked with saving a crucial town which produces resources within their mine. So, yeah, go jump in the mine and save folks.

The look of the game is sharp enough, not as much personality as Timespinner (2018) but a similarly colorful SNES-era look in terms of the environments and peak Saturn-era 2D animations, fluid but still limited. Dialogue is sparse and quaint, not quite cartoonish but harmless do-gooder shit with a quirk to it, and the mystery of the mine itself has been sort of goofy as I chase a professor through caves, ruins, jungles, and clues to an underground civilization looming. The only truly mediocre part of the game thus far has been its music, which is often very loud and less than dynamic with consideration for the bass response on my surround sound. I think it is safe to say this is a mediocre experience but a very professional, well-made game based on my time with it thus far, though I will complete it nonetheless.

The challenge is moderate to start but also entirely unique to the seed of the game’s levels so it becomes hard to comment on ’em. Basically there have been a few difficult loops which open up doors to new levels and this has lead to some big difficulty spikes ’til I’d had enough resources to upgrade weaponry, or, townspeople to do so. Magic seems largely useless and weapon types have the usual Castlevania-style animations dating back to the handheld post-‘Symphony of the Night‘ era of that series with slow but powerful overhead swipes, quick but short linear slashes, and mildly damaging longswords with moderate speed. Clubs, rapiers, etc. all of it is brutally vanilla considering the game has suggested I’m nearly halfway through its overall map.

Not sure why the screenshot is so dark.

BACKLOG: Next up…

1. Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014) PS4
Ys Seven (2010) PSP
3. Chasm (2018)
4. Pillars of Eternity (2015)
5. Resident Evil 5 (2009)
6. Scarlet Nexus (2021)
7. Shining Force III – Scenario I (1997)
8. Deathloop (2021)
9. Days Gone (2019)
Legend of Legaia (1998)

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