2442: Planning for Patch Day

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It’s Patch 3.4 for Final Fantasy XIV tomorrow, so naturally any players of the game have been poring over the patch notes, which were released in their entirety today.

Different people have different priorities when it comes to MMO patches. Here’s what I intend to get up to:

Main scenario

Whenever a new patch comes out, I always do the main scenario quests first, because these usually 1) unlock at least some of the new content and 2) mean that I can’t be hit with inadvertent spoilers from loose lips.

In the case of Patch 3.4, it’s an exciting time for the game, since we not only get to find out a bit more about the mysterious “Warrior of Darkness” — seemingly our dark counterparts, and possibly even something to do with the character used in all the game’s CG cutscenes — but we also start the run-up to the next expansion, which is set to be revealed in the not too distant future.

The smart money is on us finally heading to Ala Mhigo in the next expansion, as it’s a place that has been frequently referenced in the game lore, and which is of particular importance to Raubahn, who has been a major character in the entire storyline so far. Our visit to the Ixali region of Xelphatol in 3.4 would seem to indicate our overall “journey” heading in that direction, too, but ultimately the truth remains to be seen.

Dungeons

Since I’m probably going to romp through the main scenario stuff first, I’ll probably complete Xelphatol first, with The Great Gubal Library (Hard) coming afterwards, since it’s just a sidequest.

I enjoy Final Fantasy XIV’s dungeons, but they’re always a bit too easy for my liking. This is almost certainly deliberate, as a means to make them friendly to casual players rather than hardcore raiders, but it would be nice to have some new dungeons that the majority of the playerbase don’t vastly outgear the moment they step inside.

At least if nothing else the new dungeons will provide some gear to help people “catch up” to the cutting-edge item level, and dungeon boss fights are always memorable experiences. I can’t honestly say I’m hugely excited about either of the dungeons coming up in this patch, but I will reserve judgement until I see them for myself!

Sophia, the Goddess

A new Trial is always enjoyable, because although they’re just single boss fights, they tend to be absolutely spectacular, with some of the best music and graphical effects in the game. The preview footage for the battle with Sophia looks to be no exception to this; hopefully it won’t become another Sephirot, where people moan and complain every time it comes up in Trials roulette mere days after it being released. (I actually quite liked the Sephirot fight!)

Alexander

I’ve been underwhelmed by Alexander throughout the 3.x patch cycle, but then, I wasn’t anticipating it to be particularly up my alley from the moment it was first announced. I’m not a big fan of steampunk and the comic relief that the Goblins generally provide in Final Fantasy XIV doesn’t lend itself well to the sort of epic conflict that raids, for me, need to be truly exciting. Also the music in Alexander up until now is awful (although admittedly in keeping with the Goblin theme) and I hope to God we at least get some suitably epic music for the final battle.

All that said, I’m particularly interested to see how the Alexander cycle ends. We were promised some sort of interesting encounter involving time manipulation, so I’m very interested to see where that goes. Beyond that, I hope the team have learned some valuable lessons from Alexander’s development and the lukewarm to poor reception it has had from the player base.

Squadrons

This content caught my eye when it was first announced, and it’s probably going to be little more than glorified Retainer Ventures — i.e. wind up a minion, send them on their way to do something off-screen for 18 hours, then check the results when they get back — but I like the idea, nonetheless, plus there’s potential for it to be expanded in the future. In fact, the developers have specifically said they’d like to make it so that players’ Squadron members can be taken into dungeons, so that will immediately make this stuff worthwhile.

Wondrous Tails

I’m intrigued by this: a randomly selected series of weekly objectives with some significant rewards on offer for completing them. What I’m most interested in is exactly what content is going to be involved with this. Are we going to see something that expects us to do Extreme difficulty trials and The Binding Coil of Bahamut at its original difficulty level? (Or, at least, not unsynced with level 60 gear and stats)?

Mechanically speaking, Wondrous Tails sounds like a way to make old content relevant again, something which has historically been accomplished with the Relic weapon quests. Wondrous Tails is divorced from all other aspects of progression, however, so it can be tackled alongside whatever route you want to go with, be it raiding, Relic or a combination thereof.

Palace of the Dead

I like Palace of the Dead a lot, and it’s getting some tweaks in 3.4, the exact details of which haven’t been given. What I’m most looking forward to is it being extended to the full 200 floors in patch 3.45, with floor 100 being the end of its “story mode” and floors 101-200 being effectively a “hard mode”. Palace of the Dead already offers some worthwhile rewards in the form of weapons; I’m interested to see what the deeper floors will offer.

Apartments

Since they’re set to sell for just 500,000 gil, I’ll likely finally get my own piece of personal housing in the form of an apartment. It’s a pity you can’t do gardening in them, since gardening is one of the key benefits of having either a personal or a Free Company house, but I’ll enjoy having a space to call my own that I can fiddle around with and decorate.

The onward grind

I’m making decent progress on my Dark Knight Anima weapon, and will continue to do this throughout 3.4; hopefully the new additions to the game will make this process more varied and interesting.

Beyond that, I’ve been levelling White Mage and enjoying it, so I might try my hand at a bit more healing than I have been doing in the past, though naturally gearing WHM up will have to be balanced with gearing DRK, which is still my main.

Overall, I’m really interested to see where 3.4 takes the game, and especially interested to hear the first details of the new expansion when they finally arrive. Hopefully it won’t be too much of a tease when it’s revealed!

2441: That Racing Game I Always Wanted

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The more I play The Crew, the more I like it, and the more I’m surprised that it only got middling reviews which, consequently, led to it being one of Ubisoft’s lesser-known, less popular games. (Actually, I’m not at all surprised about middling reviews, because we all know how (in)accurate reviews are these days, and how meaningless scores are.)

Fortunately, Ubisoft doesn’t appear to have taken these middling reviews to heart and neither does the player base, as there always seem to be plenty of people online when I boot up The Crew, and its second expansion Calling All Units is due to hit in November.

The Crew is pretty much everything I’ve come to want from a racing game over the years, and very few games have successfully provided for these wants so comprehensively. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that The Crew is probably the only racing game I’ve played that ticks pretty much every single one of the boxes in my imaginary checklist for my “dream racing game”.

First up, let’s talk about the open world. I’ve been fascinated with the idea of open world driving games ever since I played Test Drive II on the Atari ST and wished that I could go off the predefined routes to explore. I never got to play it, but I was particularly enamoured with the idea of Test Drive III’s move to open environments, as primitive as they were with their early untextured 3D polygons. Then open world racing games actually became a thing with the Midnight Club and Need for Speed Underground series — the latter of which set in place a formula for the series that it hasn’t deviated from ever since.

The Club takes the concept of an open world racing game to an extreme level, offering a world that represents the entire United States. Unlike a full-on simulator, this depiction isn’t entirely true to life and is scaled down somewhat — you can drive from Key West to Miami in two minutes — but this makes sense for the purposes of fun. Real driving isn’t fun, largely because it still takes a very long time to get anywhere; video game driving, however, needs to be fun to keep people interested, and to this end The Crew provides an open world that is manageable in size but packed with enough hidden bits and pieces to make it well worth exploring rather than just proceeding from mission to mission.

The best thing about The Crew’s use of a miniaturised United States as its open-world setting is that it allows for a hugely diverse landscape. There’s the wasteland of Arizona. There’s the swampland of the Deep South. There’s the twisting, turning, tree-clad mountain roads of the central mountain states. And, of course, there are the various cities, each of which have numerous landmarks present and correct. It’s a delight to drive around and a pleasure to explore in search of data uplinks and hidden car parts.

So open-world driving is one box that The Crew ticks. What else do I want from a racing game? Well, as much as I’ve tried to enjoy the Gran Turismos and Forza Motorsports over the years, I came to the conclusion a while back that I’m just not a driving sim kinda guy. My taste lies with arcade-style handling a la Ridge Racer, in which it’s possible to slide sideways around a corner with just a hint of a tap on the brakes.

The Crew very much delivers in this department, and with some variety, too. Each car you get in the game can be specced out with different “classes” ranging from full stock (the basic model, no modifications) through “street” (tuned for street racing), “dirt” (more suited for rallying), “perf” (high-performance, particularly suited for street and circuit racing) and “raid” (super-strong and eminently suitable for complete offroading). Each of these specs feels very different to drive, too. The perf spec cars are fast and can pull off some impressive drifts, but don’t get much air if you fly off a jump and do not do at all well if you leave the tarmac. The raid cars sit high off the ground but provide an enjoyably bumpy ride as you ignore all the roads on the map and just leap over hills at every opportunity. The dirt cars get convincingly filthy and throw up dust clouds as you power them around unpaved roads, sliding sideways around corners like a pro.

It’s not at all realistic, in other words, but at no point is it trying to be. It wants to be fun, and by God it succeeds at that. I love driving in The Crew. It’s just fun to drive around the map, even without a mission. Throw in the fact that the missions are accompanied by dialogue and dramatic, cinematic-style music and you have an absolutely thrilling game.

Which brings us on to the story aspect. The Crew’s storyline is cheesy and stupid, just like The Fast and the Furious, but it’s entertaining and does its job. It has some good characters including some loathsome villains, and the protagonist (played by the ever-popular Troy Baker) does a good job of deadpanning his way through some genuinely amusing lines.

I’ve been hungry for a “driving game with a plot” ever since I learned of the existence of Racing Lagoon on the PS1, and endured the subsequent disappointment that it never got localised. (I understand that it was supposedly not that good in the first place, but I would have liked the opportunity to judge for myself.) Various games over the years have toyed with adding a plot — most notably EA’s Need for Speed series — but they always seem incredibly half-hearted, all but abandoning any attempt at storytelling once the game gets going.

The Crew is different, though. It keeps its plot flowing at a good pace, and you feel like you’re taking part in a Fast and Furious movie. As I say, it’s dumb and stupid, but it’s good dumb and stupid — the sort of summer blockbuster fare that would get you munching on your popcorn as if your life depended on it. It draws you in and makes you interested, and rewards progress through the game with satisfying (and impressively realistic) cutscenes.

Finally, there’s the “RPG” aspect of the game. The one thing I always liked about Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo was the part where you earned money and bolted bits on to your car to make it better. Where that part fell down for me was in the tuning aspect, where the game expected you to understand how cars worked in order to fine-tune all the settings to their optimal levels. Fine for true petrolheads; less good for people like me who just want to power around a course and feel cool while doing it.

The Crew adopts an almost Diablo-esque loot system in which every event you complete in the game, big or small, rewards you with a part that you can either stock or equip on the car you’re currently driving. Parts come in bronze, silver and gold variants, with the gold versions naturally being considerably better than the bronze.

You don’t need to know what a “differential” is in order to enjoy this system, though, much as you don’t need to know exactly what the purpose of each piece of armour is in a loot-whoring RPG. Instead, each part simply affects one of your car’s core performance stats — acceleration, top speed, braking and grip — and contributes to an overall “level” for the car. The higher your car’s level, the better it is — and you can leave it at that if you so desire, or you can further customise and specialise your car by mixing and matching parts in order to emphasise a particular stat if you so desire. It’s a simple but effective system that allows even non-mechanically minded people to enjoy a feeling of progress and advancement without ever having to touch a gear ratio menu.

The Crew is marketed as an MMO but I must confess I haven’t dipped my toes into the multiplayer at all as yet. The story is enjoyable enough in single player — and feels like it’s been designed with single player in mind, with the possible exception of the “takedown” events, which would doubtless be much easier with four people — but it looks as if there will be more than enough things left to do in multiplayer once you reach the end of the story. It has its own “endgame”, if you will, which I can’t comment on with any authority just yet, but I’m interested to explore, particularly the “Summit” events that were introduced with the Wild Run expansion.

If you haven’t yet grabbed your free copy of The Crew from Ubisoft, you’ve got until October 11 to do so — head on over here to do so. What have you got to lose? And if you are already playing, do feel free to add me as a friend via UPlay — my tag there is “AngryJedi” — and send me a message if you want to try any aspect of the game’s multiplayer; I’m keen to give it a go!

2440: Baffled by Food

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Andie’s been watching a show called Great British Menu, and that show frustrates me in a number of ways. Firstly, it’s one of many, many shows that overuses the “Great British” thing. It’s okay to just say “British” sometimes. (You definitely don’t need to say it at all when talking about the “great British public”. It’s just “the public”.)

The main way it frustrates me, however, is I just don’t understand the appeal of the food these people are cooking. The show claims to celebrate the “total transformation of British cuisine during the Queen’s historic reign” (and they don’t let you forget that, repeating it roughly eleven thousand times each episode) but all I see is food that has become less about, well, food and more about, as they put it “theatre”.

I’m a simple man when it comes to food. I like a good ham, egg and chips. I like a chilli. I like a spaghetti bolognese. I like a steak. I like a good roast dinner. Those are all good dishes that taste nice. They may be “uninteresting” to the refined palate, but they do fine by me, and more importantly, they are easily scalable according to how hungry you are and how many people you’re catering for.

The “total transformation of British cuisine during the Queen’s historic reign”, meanwhile, seems to be all about compressing and pureeing everything, then sticking it in a box with some dry ice underneath so the plate of food ends up resembling a rather sparsely populated ’80s rock concert more than, well, a plate of food.

One of the things the chefs on the show are fond of doing is offering “a new take on [x]”. In the last episode I saw, there was “a new take on bacon and eggs”, and “a new take on Eton Mess”. Again, both of those things are fine as is. I certainly don’t need an onion puree and an onion tuile, whatever the fuck that is, with my bacon and eggs — even if I did like onion, which I don’t. And I definitely don’t need my Eton Mess to be “interactive” by being hidden inside a meringue shaped like a cricket ball.

I don’t know. I’m probably just being grumpy about this, although I have had food with “theatre” and enjoyed it — when I went to the Ninja restaurant in New York, the food there was served with plenty of theatrics and dry ice, but importantly, they gave you an actually decent plate of food as well. The stuff the chefs on Great British Menu come up with looks like something you’d serve as a starter to a Spartan.

If this is how British cuisine has transformed during the Queen’s historic reign, then I’m just grateful that the local chippy is still open for business.

2439: Rescue on Fractalus

I’m bored, tired and ill, so aside from wheezing and feeling sorry for myself today, I distracted myself from negative thoughts by making a video about one of my favourite games of all time: Lucasfilm’s Rescue on Fractalus.

A lot of people tend to assume that Lucasfilm’s games output began with their fabulous SCUMM-driven adventure games from Maniac Mansion onwards and ended with some limp-wristed Star Wars spinoffs, but they were actually pretty active in the early days of computing. Not only that, their games became known for being some of the most technologically advanced titles out there, with Rescue on Fractalus being an early example of spectacular first-person perspective flight, shooting and rescue action.

Rather than using polygons, which were only just starting to be explored on home computers by Braben and Bell’s Elite in 1984, Rescue on Fractalus, which came out earlier in the same year, made use of fractals to generate its three-dimensional landscapes. The effect was a much more “organic”-looking landscape than what we’d come to expect from polygon-based titles in their early years, and remains an impressive technological achievement considering the power of the host systems even today. Sure, it may not be perfect by modern standards — the frame rate is janky, there’s a lot of pop-in, the game doesn’t quite seem to know how to respond when you collide with a solid object — but when you consider this was first released to the world in 1984, I think we can forgive all these things, particularly when the game itself is so solid.

In Rescue on Fractalus, you fly a craft called the Valkyrie down to the titular planet, whose atmosphere is so toxic it makes a Gawker publication look like a bereavement support group. A number of pilots have crash-landed, and it’s your job to save them by finding them, landing nearby, waiting for them to come up and bang on your airlock door, letting them in and then speeding off on your way. This is a simple process in the early levels, but as you progress, you start having to contend with mountaintop laser cannons, kamikaze flying saucers, aliens impersonating pilots on the ground and even flying by night, necessitating even more reliance on your ship’s instruments than normal.

I loved Rescue on Fractalus back when I first played it because it provided one of the most convincing, dramatic representations of flying an advanced spacecraft that I’d ever seen. The realistic cockpit view with instrumentation, the wonderful two-channel “whistling” sound of the ship’s engines — entirely unique to Rescue on Fractalus, making it instantly recognisable to hear as much as see — and the fact that the game involved more than just “point and shoot” captured my attention as a child, and it’s a game I still delight in playing even today.

But those aliens hammering on the windshield still scare the shit out of me.

2438: Gunslinger

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Eager for a short palate-cleanser after polishing off Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force last night, I sought the counsel of my online friends. Mr Alex Connolly was first to answer the call, suggesting Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, a game which I recall had everyone very excited a few years back, and a game which someone — possibly Mr Connolly himself — had provided me with a gift copy of at some point in the recent past.

I have no experience with the Call of Juarez series as a whole, or with Westerns in general, but I was willing to give it a shot (no pun intended) as it had been so well-received on its original release — particularly for the amount of content it offered for its budget-tier price.

I liked it enough to play through the whole thing today, but I was left with mixed feelings. There were some things I really, really liked about it, and a couple of things I absolutely detested.

Let’s start with the positives, chief among which is the story and the way it is handled. Presented as the recollections of ageing bounty hunter Silas Greaves, the game unfolds over the course of a series of levels punctuated by attractive cutscenes featuring the Silas of today and the companions in the saloon that he is telling his tall tale to. During gameplay, Old Silas narrates the action — with his descriptions reflecting what you’re doing and the choices that you make along the way — as well as performs most of the dialogue on the cast’s behalf.

Gunslinger particularly plays with the “unreliable narrator” trope through Silas presenting alternative explanations of what happened — sometimes saying “well, I could have done this…” at which point you have to play through the hypothetical situation before it rewinds to what actually happened. Silas also posits that much of the history of the Old West as told by “dime novels” isn’t quite what happened, and in fact he just happened to be present for some of the most notorious events in the region alongside the most notorious outlaws of the period. Indeed, in the game you run into everyone from Jesse James to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, though with Silas’ flair for the dramatic, you can never quite be sure if he was telling the truth all the way through his story.

Gameplay-wise, Gunslinger adopts a somewhat arcadey mould by featuring a combo system and points being awarded for kills. Kill bad guys in rapid succession and your multiplier climbs; dispatch them in ways other than just filling their torsos full of lead and you get additional base points multiplied by the multiplier. This isn’t much of an issue in the story mode — though points convert directly to XP, which can unlock various passive skills that make Silas’ journey a bit easier — but is brought to the forefront in the Arcade mode, where you’re tasked with attaining high scores in short, narrative-free levels.

Gunslinger’s style initially appears at odds with its gameplay mechanics, because you’re using Old West weaponry — six-shooters and rifles that are painfully slow to reload, breaking the “flow” of combat somewhat. Unlock a few skills, however, and you’ll find things become much more fast-paced and frantic, particularly once you obtain the ability to repeatedly hammer the reload button to reload more quickly. By the end of the game there’s a nice rhythm to the combat for the most part, and the story provides sufficient incentive to continue exploring.

There are two real things I didn’t like at all about Gunslinger, however. First of these was the prompt “You’re straying too far from the story…” that pops up if you walk more than three feet in the “wrong” direction during a level. This is simply bad game design; the levels should be designed in such a way that the player is confined to the “story area” without feeling like they’re confined. If there’s open space, let them use it! This became a particular issue in the final level as the Sundance Kid bore down on Silas with a shotgun; it was impossible to get more than a few feet away from him to hide without this annoying message popping up, which also happened to break Silas out of a sprint any time it appeared, too.

The other thing I didn’t like was the dueling system, although it was stylistically appropriate for the genre. In duels, you have to move Silas’ hand back and forth with the A and D keys so that it’s hovering over his holster, ready for a quick draw, while simultaneously manoeuvring an erratic, drunken mouse pointer over the enemy you’re facing off against. Once the enemy draws, you have a split-second to click the mouse button to draw your pistol and shoot them dead before they do the same to you. Trouble is, even with high “speed”and “focus” ratings obtained by performing the aforementioned manipulations, it often seemed to be a matter of luck as to whether Silas actually drew his gun as you expected and managed to get off a shot. Supposedly you’re able to dodge the bullets that come at you in this mode, but I don’t think I ever successfully achieved this; all my duels were won by what felt like dumb luck and perseverance. Perhaps there’s more to it than that, but I didn’t like their execution at all.

Aside from these issues, I enjoyed Gunslinger a lot. Its story was presented in an unusual, effective manner and its levels were well designed with plenty of variety rather than all being set in drab, brown “Old West” type settings. I’m not sure whether I liked it enough to play through it again on the harder difficulties, but I’ll probably check the Arcade mode out, at least. As for the mode where you can voluntarily subject yourself to more Duels? I think I’ll pass!

2437: Ultimate Fencer

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I finished up Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force this evening, including getting the Platinum trophy, and I’ve come away thoroughly satisfied with what is possibly Compile Heart’s best game to date, although it’s a close-run thing between this and MegaDimension Neptunia V-II.

I was particularly impressed by how much the two new narrative paths diverged from the original Fairy Fencer F’s storyline — while they involve many of the same dungeons, locales and characters, the important stuff about the story is very different indeed, right from the characters’ personalities in some cases all the way to their motivations and eventual goals.

I found the fact that the game wasn’t afraid to be a bit dark to be very much in its favour. Its colourful Tsunako character designs would suggest an adventure similar in tone to the Neptunia series, but in actual fact Fairy Fencer F is lighter on the comedy, heavier on the drama and even tragedy at times. That’s not to say there isn’t any comedy at all — what comedy there is tends to be well-timed in order to lighten the mood after some particularly heavy exposition — but it’s not the main point of it all.

This seems to be a direction that Compile Heart is moving in with its recent releases, and one that it seems to feel comfortable with. The Neptunia series has been expressing greater confidence with storytelling as it has proceeded, too — while the first game felt a bit like a string of amusing events loosely tied together with the semblance of an overarching plot, mk2/Re;Birth2 took a much darker tone with some truly odious villains (and one of the series’ most notoriously unpleasant optional endings) and Victory/Re;Birth3 had a much stronger sense that it had been composed as a complete story rather than a series of episodes. As for MegaDimension Neptunia V-II, that had its darker elements — particularly towards the end — and consequently, narratively speaking, was the most “structurally sound” of the series.

I didn’t play the original Fairy Fencer F when it came out, but I’ve now experienced that game’s story thanks to Advent Dark Force’s Goddess arc. It’s clear that Compile Heart wants to experiment with more ambitious narratives, but thought, quite rightly so, that Neptunia probably wasn’t the best place to do it (although that said, mk2’s Conquest ending is effective precisely because it is so tonally dissonant with what you’ve been conditioned to expect from the rest of the series). Fairy Fencer F jumps in headfirst with a likeable cast of rogues, many of whom are a bit morally ambiguous, and which Advent Dark Force does a good job in exploring over the course of its three distinct narrative paths.

Perhaps most striking about Advent Dark Force is that it isn’t afraid to let main characters die — something that would be unthinkable in a Neptunia game, regardless of how dark the overall plot got — and it demonstrates this early on. In most of the narrative paths, which take place after a “time loop” at the end of the common route, then diverge in three very different directions, protagonist Fang seeks to atone for the deaths he directly or indirectly caused in the common route, with varying degrees of success. Each path features a different combination of characters from the complete playable cast, with some of these characters dying or even being on the “other side” in different routes.

Of particular note is the character Sherman, who — mild spoiler, sorry — is the villain in the original Fairy Fencer F story, but in the Vile God arc he spends a significant amount of time being the protagonist in Fang’s absence. In the Evil Goddess arc, meanwhile, he has a more complex role that I’ll leave for you to discover.

One of the other great things about the additional routes in Advent Dark Force is that it gives some of the “filler” characters from the original something to do. Fairy-loving scientist Harley, for example, doesn’t have a whole lot to do in the original game’s narrative, but in the Evil Goddess arc in particular she plays a leading role. Likewise, in both the Vile God and Evil Goddess arcs we see a lot more of the taciturn child assassin Ethel, including how she became the person she was and how it came to be that she could only communicate through the word “kill” with varying intonation.

After having finished all three routes, I’m left with the feeling that I have when I finish a good visual novel: I have a good, solid understanding of all the characters, the situations in which they found themselves and the world which they inhabited. And, if the post-credits sequence in the Evil Goddess arc — clearly intended to be the “true” path — is anything to go by, then I have little doubt that we’re going to see more of these characters in the future. I certainly wouldn’t complain about more Fairy Fencer F games if it gives Compile Heart a chance to spread their wings and explore more ambitious narrative themes — particularly if the game itself is as good as Advent Dark Force ended up being.

I’ll say one more time for now: if you’re still ignoring (or worse, deriding) Compile Heart games and call yourself a fan of JRPGs, you’re missing out on some great experiences. Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force is a good entry point to start exploring their work for yourself if you feel a little overwhelmed by the amount of Neptunia out there already; if you enjoy good, traditional JRPG stories, solid combat, wonderfully loathsome villains (one of them even does the ol’ “ohohohohohoho!” beloved of ’90s anime) and a colourful, immensely memorable cast of characters you can’t go wrong with this one.

2436: Default Tone

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Earlier today, I was browsing through the digital editions of the old magazines I downloaded from AtariMania and came across a short series of articles written by my Dad about “going online”.

This was pre-Internet “going online”, however, involving a 64K Atari 800XL, a 300 baud modem and an external interface for plugging in such devices, and as such involved dialling up bulletin board services (BBSes) directly to access their information and files.

What struck me when reading my Dad’s wide-eyed wonderment at being able to phone up a computer in Birmingham, read messages and download programs (a much more cumbersome process than we take for granted today, involving downloading the program into a “buffer” and then saving it to floppy disk or cassette afterwards) was the fact that any time he mentioned interacting with other people — usually through the BBSes’ approximation of a “forum”, which allowed people to post and reply to short, simple text-based messages — he was struck with how pleasant, polite and enthusiastic people were. These BBSes were generally run by enthusiasts rather than professional, commercial organisations and consequently tended to attract people in a similar vein.

Fast forward to today and I witness this somewhat sad, plaintive monologue from PR superhero Tom Ohle of Evolve PR:

I’m with Tom here, but I’m at a loss as to how we got from the enjoyably enthusiastic experience my Dad described in these articles to a situation where the default tone on the Internet is aggressive, confrontational, cynical and negative.

This isn’t universal, of course — there are still plenty of community groups that are made up of genuine enthusiasts, and interestingly enough many of them are still centred around the Atari community — but even among such community groups you find trolls, naysayers and people who are always keen to see the negative in everything.

This is particularly apparent in the gamer community, who are seemingly never satisfied by anything — blockbuster triple-A games are too formulaic, indie games are too weird, imported games are too “censored” — but it happens right across the Internet, make no mistake.

It’s usually explained away by the John Gabriel Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory:

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And for a while that was plausible. But it’s not as simple as that any more: the rise in services such as Facebook means that people are quite comfortable being total fuckwads even with their real name attached to the nonsense they’re spouting. And it seems to be the default tone these days, which is disheartening; it’s actually unusual when you find a community that isn’t full of complainers.

Perhaps it’s a consequence of throwing everyone from all different backgrounds all together into a melting pot, resulting in inevitable culture clash. Or perhaps the world of today really does engender negativity rather than positivity — I know that I certainly don’t feel particularly happy about the way the world is these days, though my way of attempting to counter it is instead to focus on the things that I do love.

Whatever the explanation, I feel it’s sad how things have developed since those innocent days of dialling up that BBS in Birmingham and having to explain to my mother why we were on the phone for so long. I feel we’ve gone backwards rather than forwards, and that it’s probably too late to do anything about it now.

All an individual can do, I guess, is try their best not to be part of it.