In Between Posts, January 29, 2012

Because it’s rather early in the semester I’ve had a lot of downtime in between my classes thus far. I’ve been using this time wisely and completing assignments, but I’ve also been bringing my 3DS. This has given me a great opportunity to play a DS game that I’ve had for a long time but never tried: Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword.

I’m surprised how well Team Ninja was able to translate the fast-pace action gameplay of the series to a touch screen. I slash enemies with my stylus and Ryu will follow suit. Combat isn’t as refined as I what I imagine when I hear people describe the series under former head honcho Tomonobu Itagaki, but it’s very fun and surprisingly deep.

My friend and I continued playing Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure. Even though we’re only a couple of hours into it, it’s really tough. We only completed two stages and those two were mind boggling. They both took place in a snowy environment. All stages revolve around getting treasure and the first tasked us with getting treasure while avoiding a Roomba-like robot who automatically cleaned the stage of our footprints every ten or so seconds. He’d end the stage if he caught us too, but we learned that shaking trees would drop snow on our most recent footprints thereby obscuring us from the sightless cleaner. The second stage was a boss battle in which we reflected a laser through a field of increasingly fewer mirrors. It was tough and all told we spent an hour and half completing these two stages.

I of course continued to play Skyrim.

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Alfhedil’s Journal – Loredas, 19th of Heartfire, 4E 201

The dragon priest Krosis, rising from his sarcophagus at Shearpoint.

These past few days have been somewhat relaxing. Lydia and I have still traveled to new locations and battled a lot, but we’ve been taking it easy.

A few days ago, Lydia and I trekked north out of Whiterun heading for Shearpoint. I’d overheard that there was a source of power there; I’ve heard people describe other places similarly and there turned out to be word walls nearby. As we approached I spotted a word wall, but also a frost dragon. Lydia and I engaged the dragon by sneaking up on it. After we killed it, I approached the word wall only to be surprised by a dragon priest rising from a sarcophagus. This is the first time I’ve encountered a dragon priest and he was tough; much tougher than the frost dragon! It took us a long time to defeat him; I had to retreat often to heal Lydia and I. When he perished I found a lot of valuable loot on his body, including a nifty facemask that I’ve been using.

I decided next we ought to head to Ivarstead and make a mead delivery to Wilhelm. While we were in Riften, I spoke with Romlyn Dreth (a dark elf working at Black-Briar Meadery) who wanted me to make a delivery to Wilhelm. He was smuggling some of the mead to Wilhelm and selling it on the cheap. Heck, he even offered me some. I know what he’s doing is illegal but you know what, Maven Black-Briar doesn’t seem like the purest person out there. Plus, Wilhelm has been kind to me and it’ll be nice to rid myself of this small barrel!

Before leaving Whiterun I also took care of another Riften related job. When I visited Riften’s Hall of the Dead, I spoke with its caretaker, Alessandra. She told me about her father and how she came into her job. She wasn’t pleased with it when she was younger, but appeared content with it now. After hearing her out she wanted me to take her father’s ceremonial dagger to the Hall of the Dead in Whiterun so it could finally be put to rest alongside him. I gave the dagger to Andurs in Whiterun and left for Ivarstead.

On our travels Lydia and I discovered Fellglow Keep. It’s a ruined fort located east-northeast of Whiterun (we took a long route to Ivarstead). There were tons of mages inside and it appeared they’d been performing experiments on vampires. Strewn throughout Fellglow Keep were the corpses of countless numbers of vampires. We didn’t retrieve any one item that was worth our curiosity but we still found many valuable items inside.

As is usually the case, we arrived at our destination at nightfall. We headed to the Vilemyr Inn and delivered the mead to Wilhelm. With that I called it a night and began this entry. Until next time!

Jupiter Strike – Review

This was actually Taito's first release on the PlayStation.

Jupiter Strike is just another shoot ‘em up set in space. It was released for the PlayStation in 1995, very early in the console’s lifecycle and the game shows its age. It was developed by Taito, no stranger to space shooters and brought to North American shores courtesy of Acclaim.

Jupiter Strike opened with an extraordinarily long cutscene that was extraordinarily boring. Comprised of shots of spaceships in space, it didn’t convey any information that I couldn’t already scrape together on my own – thanks to the genre’s typically limited scope. All I needed to know is that I’m fighting for one side in a confrontation and my spaceship is special. But it really isn’t.

In my mind, it’s a foregone conclusion that all spaceships – especially those found in shoot ‘em ups – are agile. The one I controlled in Jupiter Strike was sluggish and whenever I’d steer it, it appeared that the screen was moving along with it, giving me the impression that I was controlling the camera rather than the ship itself. Now this is akin to similar games like Star Fox but I don’t remember it bugging me as it does when I play Jupiter Strike. Perhaps this is because of the ship’s poor animation.

Unfortunately I never made it to this stage. It has more colors than the space stages.

Also, rather than incorporating many different weapons and have them be obtainable through many means, Taito opted to include just two. My ship naturally had a basic attack which fired shots repeatedly consistent to my button presses. It also had a special laser that homed in on enemies. To target enemies I’d have to “paint them” with my cursor while holding down a button. When I released the button, lasers would target individual enemies. Both of my attacks had infinite uses, although the laser had to be charged. This lack of weapon diversity (also the lack of pick-ups) led to monotony.

I didn’t play the game offensively. I never felt like I was doing a good job at hitting enemies, although in truth I was. Instead, I opted to play defensively. My tactic was to fly around the edges of the screen avoiding enemy fire and wailing away with my trigger fingers. Playing like this, I was more concerned with avoiding enemy fire rather than shooting them down. This worked well too, up until stage four (of eight?).

A boss battle occurred at the end of each even numbered stage. The first boss was tough. It took a few tries, but I was able to learn/avoid his attacks and use my opportunities to strike back. He just had a lot of health. I didn’t fare as well against the second boss and it’s probably due to my inability to adapt.

The second boss was basically in a tunnel. During the stage I was flying into and out of large space ships until my encounter with the boss. It had octopus-like appendages that it used to crawl through this tunnel. Worst of all it was equipped with very strong weapons that were hard to avoid. I of course stuck to riding the edges of the screen but I wasn’t able to avoid his attacks. They depleted my health fast and after a few attempts I decided that the time I’d need to invest to beat Jupiter Strike wasn’t worth it.

Jupiter Strike was uninteresting. It’s a bare bones game that doesn’t do anything to set it apart from similar games. On top of that, the audio mixing was awful! If I fired I could not hear the soundtrack. Then again the soundtrack was so basic that sounded like a game from the previous generation.

Blah.

In short, Jupiter Strike is just another shoot ‘em up set in space, and like the initial cutscene, it’s boring.

1/5

Alfhedil’s Journal – Middas, 16th of Heartfire, 4E 201

Saadia is a cook at The Bannered Mare in Whiterun.

I’m back in Whiterun. I traveled back to inform the Companions that Lydia and I defeated the group of Silver Hands that killed Skjor. Aela was pleased and she had another quest for me but I’ve put it on the backburner temporarily.

Lydia and I have done some adventuring close to Whiterun in the past few days. When I went to the Bannered Mare a few days ago, I met a Redguard woman named Saadia. She was working there but it turns out she was on the run from some Alik’r assassins. She wanted me to find them and kill them so she would be free on their pursuit. She didn’t know where they were hiding out but told me one of them was captured by Whiterun guards for an unrelated matter and was in jail. I traveled to the Dragonsreach prison and spoke with this guy. After negotiating his release he told me they were in Swindler’s Den, a cave to the west of Whiterun.

Lydia and I traveled there and found a cave full of bandits. Tough bandits too, they were hard to defeat. Upon further exploration we finally met the Alik’r assassins. Their leader, Kematu, wanted to talk with us. He knew why we were there and told us Saadia wasn’t who we thought she was.

Saadia told us she was a noble from Hammerfell who fled after speaking out against Aldmeri Dominion – a powerful empire established by the Thalmor. Kematu told us he and his group weren’t assassins but agents acting on behalf of other noble families wishing to bring Saadia to justice. They alluded to a grisly end for Saadia and I wasn’t going to let that happen, especially if all she did was speak her mind. Kematu and his forces attacked us but we handled them.

Saadia was happy to hear the news and reward me handsomely. I can’t imagine how she must feel. Having a weight like that lifted from her shoulders. I wonder what she’ll do now?

These past few days also marked my first experience battling giants and they’re something else. There are many of them to the west of Whiterun, but my accounts of them are something I’ll have to wait to put on paper. Nighttime is here and a warrior needs his rest.

UmJammer Lammy – First Impressions

I guess it was cheap for a reason.

UmJammer Lammy is a simple music game that was published by Sony for the PlayStation in 1999. It was developed by NanaOn-Sha, a Japanese studio headed up by Masaya Matsuura. They’re most known for PaRappa the Rapper, to which UmJammer Lammy serves as a spinoff. The game features a striking art style courtesy of Rodney Greenblat. Matching the bizarre art design is a similarly weird story and funny songs. While the non-interactive parts of UmJammer Lammy are laudable, the gameplay was simple yet tough and unclear.

Lammy is a guitarist in an all girl rock band called MilkCan. Rocking out is what she does, but rocking out in front of a crowd in a traditional venue just isn’t wacky enough for the art style. I only made it to the second level, but it seemed to promise grand stages. In that level Lammy had to help put out a burning building. To do so she imagined that a fire house was her guitar and she began rocking out. When Lammy is without her guitar she isn’t very confident, but with it she’s unstoppable; unless I’m playing in which case it’s constant failure.

The note path I needed to pay attention to was at the top of the screen.

As a guitarist, Lammy’s job is to play rock ‘n’ roll and perform well so this responsibility falls on me as the player. Fortunately for me, Lammy had teachers who would show me the buttons I’d have to press moments before I’d have to press them. Sounds simple enough but the game is ridiculously demanding.

When playing a song I’d be graded in real-time. It seemed way too easy to have my grade drop fast. I wasn’t sure if the timing of my button presses was off because there wasn’t any indication telling me otherwise. Even when I’d perform well, I’d reach the end of the song and fail for no good reason. Besides my grade I’d also have a point total so perhaps I needed to get this above a certain amount to succeed?

Another aspect to the gameplay was the ability to freestyle. Like in PaRappa the Rapper, UmJammer Lammy encourages players to freestyle. The manual encouraged me to press buttons other than the ones I should be pressing to rack up much higher scores and reach the ultimate grade of cool. When I reached this grade, Lammy’s teacher would leave her side and I was able to press whatever buttons I felt like, as long as I stuck to the rhythm of the song. Alas I was never able to progress beyond the second stage.

Rodney Greenblat's flat art style is eye-catching.

I bought UmJammer Lammy with anticipation. It looked like a fun game and I hoped to see what craziness the game had to offer. Unfortunately I found the simple gameplay very tough. It never provided me feedback on why I was doing poorly and that disappointed me. Maybe I don’t have rhythm, but I couldn’t get into the game.

Alfhedil’s Journal – Sundas, 13th of Heartfire, 4E 201

Riften, resting on Lake Honrich.

I spent the majority of the day exploring the nooks and crannies of Riften. It’s a large settlement, though I’d have to say Whiterun is just a tad bigger. Riften has many shops to its advantage, a better diversity then the selection in Whiterun.

I met many interesting people and saw many more Argonians than I previously have. One of note was Wujeeta. She worked at the Riften Fishery and was recuperating from a skooma addiction. She was buying the skooma from a local merchant and after some prodding I was able to obtain more information. In fact, when I eventually met with the Jarl of Riften, Laila Law-Giver, she wanted me to deal with the skooma selling thugs. I did.

Laila Law-Giver doesn’t seem like a corrupt person as I initially thought. She thinks she has the Thieves Guild under control, but you wouldn’t guess that from talking with Riften’s residents. She has two sons who are divided in the civil war. Although she has pledged support for Ulfric Stormcloak, one of her sons has deemed the Imperials the proper choice for backing. This has caused strife inside her court.

Another powerful woman in Riften is Maven Black-Briar. She runs the Black-Briar Meadery, which doesn’t seem to be the most-liked business within Riften. Her family is… interesting. I met one of her sons in jail. His cell was decked out in the luxuries of the wealthy and in a note I found to Anuriel (the Jarl’s stewardess), her mother was pleased with his sentence as he might learn from it. He attempted to murder his ex-fiancé if I’m not mistaken. Another of her offspring, Ingun, is reportedly a fantastic alchemist. Mentioning Maven in conversation yielded mixed reactions from the townsfolk.

After I deemed Riften fully explored, I decided to head south and assassinate the leader of the groups of Silver Hands that killed Skjor. That’s part of the reason I headed this way after meeting with the Greybeards, I wanted to avenge Skjor’s death. There weren’t many Silver Hand members with the leader and the fight was pretty easy. I’m glad to have finally finished this quest. I’ll have to report back to the Companions. Besides that I have so much to do now; practically every person in Riften had something for me to do. Better than twiddling my thumbs I guess.

In Between Posts, January 22, 2012

Besides Skyrim, I played a handful of other games last week. My friend and I finished Blue Toad Murder Files and got some time in with NBA Jam: On Fire Edition. We also played a few demos on the Wii, and perhaps because it was on, we began playing a new game – Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure.

I’ve given Zack & Wiki a whirl a time or two, but fell out of it. It seems like a really solid point and click game. Puzzles have kept us on our toes already and the whimsical nature is endearing, although I’m not fond of the dialogue. It received a lot of praise when it was originally released, partly because it deserved it, and partly because it was one of the few “hardcore” games on the Wii, despite the aimed-at-youngsters art style.

I also played a smidgen of Pokemon HeartGold.

P.S. Last week was pretty weird on the internet thanks to SOPA and PIPA.