Jaded's Pub

Even though I now live in the south where summer starts in March and ends sometime after Christmas, I grew up using Labor Day as my end of summer marker (helps that I lived in a resort town and all the summer residents went back to wherever they came from on Labor Day). So some part of me has decided that fall is here.

I touched on how it’s going to be a weird ‘holiday season’ in my last post, but I’m just in the mood for blogging and don’t have any one thing to focus on so I figured I’d just spew out a “What I’m playing” post. I mean, Destiny 2 comes out next week and that MIGHT consume me (and I might meet it with a giant “meh”, I really don’t know) but there’s a long weekend between now and then.

So here’s what’s going on in my gaming world.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate — I’m still playing this even though I finished it a while back. I’m slowly working towards the “Get 100% sync on all story missions” trophy. If I can get that I can probably try for a Platinum. If you haven’t played AC, story missions generally have a main goal and two optional side-tasks/challenges. You can move the story forward by completing the main goal. That will give you 80% sync for that mission. Doing the optional tasks each add 10% to your sync. So to get 100% sync for all the story missions you just have to do all the optional tasks.

So far they’re not too hard during a 2nd play-through since my characters are so mighty compared to the enemies they face. Unless stealth is a requirement I can just stride in and kill everyone and then do whatever needs doing, usually. The ‘remain undetected’ tasks are harder. So we’ll see. I try to get up to 100% on one mission each day. If I try to grind them out I just get bored/impatient and start screwing up.

Next up is Everybody’s Golf, which I picked up due to lots of enthusiasm on /r/ps4 and the fact that I had a $50 PSN gift card burning a hole in my pocket. This is the latest in the Hot Shots Golf series, only now they’re calling it what it has always been called in Japan: Everybody’s Golf. So far, it’s a hoot. It uses the traditional 3-click golf swing system and, aside from the initial loading of the course, plays really quickly. As you play you unlock all sorts of character customization options. So far I’ve only played single player because I’m trying to unlock courses. Looking forward to the online mode which sounds wonderfully chaotic. You don’t teleport from hole to hole, you have to run. Along the way you can find items or even go fishing. Why? Who knows? It’s just a feel-good, fun kind of game.

But at the end of the day it IS a golf game and so it isn’t something I play for hours at a time. I jump in, do a tournament or two, and move on. I can feel my attention start to drift the longer I play and my shots get worse and worse. So not a “main game” but still fun and it was only $40 so I’m good with it. Also I spend way too much time messing around in the character creator:

I’ve always liked the idea of Monster Hunter games but have never really gotten into any of them. With Monster Hunter World coming out in 2018 I wanted to get some familiarity with the style of game. Last summer (summer 2016) for some reason I bought God Eater 2 Rage Burst for the PS4 and it came with a free copy of God Eater Resurrection. So I’m trying to come to grips with GER. There’re so many odd systems to learn and the controls are I guess deliberately bad? Is that how it works in Monster Hunter-style games? Y’know what’s hard? Moving the camera with the right stick (in order to aim) and then using the face buttons to fire. So you can aim or fire, but not both at the same time. Who thought this was a good idea?

I do like GER because there’s a story to it, and I love a story in my games. I’m not very far into it though. Doing Difficulty 2 Missions. Trying to figure out how to play beyond the ‘button mashing’ phase. Keeping the theme alive, I can only do 2 or 3 hunts before my attention starts to drift.

So after juggling 3 games that I’m playing a little of each night, I wanted something more narratively meaty to sink my teeth into. At the same time I was reading about this weird Assassin’s Creed/Final Fantasy XV cross-over and that it was time limited. I bought FF XV at launch and put about 15 hours into it before I stopped. My recollection was that I stopped after learning of all the patches/content that were coming to it, but I can’t be sure. I decided to give it another go. Last night I just had time to do the tutorials again, and start a new game. Now I need to decide if I should go back and pick up my 15-hours-in save, or just keep going with the new game. I think I’ll probably do that latter just because I have no recollection of the story. Mostly I remember Cindy’s boobs.

When I bought FFXV I sprung for the season pass and at some point they gave season pass holders a ring that gives the team protection from friendly-magic-fire. I feel that is going to be a game-changer. I never used magic when I was playing because my pals would always rush in after the mobs and I couldn’t hit the baddies without also hitting my allies. So I just never bothered. With this ring I should be able to toss spells around a lot more casually which I think will make the game a lot more fun. So we’ll see.

So yeah, juggling 4 games. I guess that’ll fill up my weekend. We’ll see how many of them gets pushed aside by Destiny 2 next Wednesday.

[I originally had this post scheduled for lunchtime on August 23rd but for some reason it never posted. So I’m posting it now!]

Yesterday [accurate when this was supposed to post!] Uncharted: The Lost Legacy launched. For some reason my brain has decided that means the “holiday season” has arrived when it comes to big game releases. Given that, I sat down to plan out my autumn and y’know what? There’s really not that much to plan. Plus even the games I’m interested in I probably won’t get on release day.

I do have Destiny 2 for the PS4 pre-ordered and that comes out on September 6th, and I pre-ordered the Horizon Zero Dawn expansion that comes out in November I think. Between these two the only AAA games I can think of that I’m really hyped for are Middle Earth: Shadow of War (October 10th) and Assassin’s Creed Origins (October 27th).

I know there are other games coming but I just don’t get excited about the latest Call of Duty. Star Wars Battlefront 2 is a maybe and I might get some more niche titles like .hack//G.U. Last Recode, but generally at this point in the season I’m thinking “How will I have time to play all these games?” and this year that just isn’t the case.

I don’t mean this in a ‘doom and gloom” way, just in a “what a strange season” way. Early 2018 seems PACKED with releases and that’s when I’m going to have to be really choosy and only purchase what I have time to play.

Compounding the weirdness is that I pre-ordered an Xbox One X which comes out on November 7th. I won’t buy Mordor or Origins until I see how they run on the Xbox X vs the PS4 Pro. I’m generally a Sony fanboy and I really feel comfortable on the PS4 in terms of the OS and sharing and the controllers and all that, but if these games run better on the XBX I’m going to get them over there. And they SHOULD run better but you never know, right?

Additionally there are some older Xbox games that I’ve deliberately held off on in anticipation of the XBX. When the 4K patches for Forza Horizon 3 and Gears of War 4 hit, I might be playing them. Maybe they’ll be my big “holiday 2017” games and I can pick up Mordor and Origins during a Black Friday sale or something.

While plenty of folks have commented on the lack of exclusives on the Xbox One, Sony has had a banner year for great exclusives on the PS4, but they’ve been spaced out over the entire 12 months rather than all being packed into the 4th quarter. Really I think this is a good thing and maybe how it should be. It’s just going to take a bit of a mental adjustment if this is how things are from now on. Or maybe this year is just an anomaly. I guess we’ll see.

PS: If you’re a fan of Uncharted, don’t miss The Lost Legacy; it’s really good so far even without Nathan Drake!

This afternoon I finished up the storyline of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. I was a little confused and baffled by the fact there were no ending credits, but after a while of looking for the next ‘story’ mission, I checked google and this seems to be the way it goes.

As is typical of AC games, my “Total Synchronization” is nowhere near 100% (it’s 59%) and there’s a lot of stuff I can do if I feel like I want to keep playing. Chase Trophies or whatnot. I might do a little more, it’s a pretty good game.

This time out we’re in Victorian England playing as Evie and Jacob Frye, twin assassins. If you played Black Flag, you know how it was kind of a pirate game and an assassin game stuck together? Same kind of thing here only Evie is the assassin and Jacob is the fighter. I mean both characters can fill both roles but each of them has a few unique skills that make them better at one thing or the other.

During open world stuff you can play as either one, but the story missions force you to play one character or the other (understandable). Evie is looking for a Piece of Eden while Jacob just wants to take over the gangs on London to weaken the Templar hold on the city. Each sibling kind of thinks the other is doing it wrong.

It’s one of my favorite AC games. I think I still like Black Flag the most, and AC2 was I think objectively a ‘better’ game but I liked this one more than AC2. Part of it is the setting, part of it the characters (Evie in particular I really liked and I played her whenever possible) and part of it (yes I’m shallow) the graphics.

The weird issues where you stick to things (due to the sometimes wonky climbing system) are still here but not as bad as they are in some AC games, and early on you get a grappling hook so you can ascend buildings really quickly and grapple between rooftops. In general I felt like I spent less time climbing around than I have in other AC games, and that was fine with me.

My biggest complaint is they’ve taken away non-lethal combat methods. If you sneak up behind someone you can knock them out, but once in combat you have to either kill your opponent, or flee. Considering there are times when you’re sneaking around places filled with ‘good guy’ guards, it’s kind of frustrating. In the end I just gave up and killed innocent guards just to get through the missions. If I could’ve at least attempted some bare fisted combat against them I think it would’ve made the game better, but there’s no way to unequip your weapon and fight non-lethally.

On the other hand, the GTA-esque sequences where you’re driving a horse and carriage were a complete hoot. Really fun, and a new thing for AC games. Side missions come from characters like Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens and a very young Arthur Conan Doyle. There’s a good variety of side missions should you choose to do them but I didn’t feel pressured to do many of them.

Once again you never leave the Animus/Helix though there are some cut scenes showing what Rebecca, Shawn and Bishop are up to. (And of course they end in a cliff-hanger.)

there’s a good deal of RPG-ness to this one, too. You level up, gain and spend skill points, spend money and resources to craft gear and to get better control of the city and you have a selection of gear slots to fill with a pretty good stream of new goodies. I always enjoy that stuff.

Anyway, so that’s that. I’ve now played all the major AC games to completion except for the original Assassin’s Creed (which, long ago, I opted to experience via watching all the cut scenes on YouTube). And in fact played them all this year! In order I played Black Flag, AC 2, AC Brotherhood, AC Revelations, AC 3, AC Rogue, AC Unity and AC Syndicate. I guess I’m a fan.

Still curious about Origins. I wonder if they’re going to cut out the animus stuff completely? I guess Origins is about the Egyptian Magi forming the first brotherhood of assassins. I’m looking forward to it but still a little worried about how much of reboot it’ll be.

[UPDATE] After posting this I fired up the game to putter around some more. There’s a “rift” that opens somewhere around chapter 6; I ignored it until I was finished the game. It leads to a World War 1 level where you get play as Lydia Frye, the grand-daughter (I guess? The main game takes place in 1868 so you do the math) who is working with a young Winston Churchill. It’s a fun section of the game but it also is the only time in this game you learn more about the Isu (or precursors, if you prefer). So if you’re into the mythos of AC, e sure to play this section!

Here’s my quick and easy review of Uncharted: The Lost Legacy.

If you’ve played earlier Uncharted games and hated them, don’t play The Lost Legacy. There’s nothing here that is going to change your mind.

If you’ve never played an Uncharted game, don’t start with this one. Uncharted 1-3 are bundled for PS4 in The Nathan Drake Collection and Uncharted 4 came out on PS4. Play at least 2 & 4 first, probably 3 as well. Reason being the two main characters in this game, Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross, first appeared in Uncharted 2 and 4 respectively, and they were on opposite sides. Chloe was an ally of Nathan Drake, Nadine was his enemy. While Nathan Drake isn’t in this game the characters’ history with him is part of the story.

If neither of the above applies to you, then you owe it to yourself to play The Lost Legacy. If you were concerned that an Uncharted game without Nathan Drake wouldn’t be as good, put your mind at rest. Chloe and Nadine are just as strong a pair of characters as we’ve ever seen in an Uncharted game.

To be fair, this is a shorter game. I clocked in about 8 and a half hours but I took my time and did some side activities that weren’t required. I’ve heard that folks who just play the main storyline are taking 6 hours or so. (This is why it debuted at $40 rather than $60.) I think the length works in the game’s favor though. The pacing is excellent.

The gameplay is the typical Uncharted mix of gunplay, puzzles (none of them super hard), climbing, driving, sliding, swinging and exploring improbably large ancient ruins filled with mechanisms that somehow still work after thousands of years. You’re in search of an artifact and in a race against the bad guy to get to it first. It’s definitely a formula that Uncharted players are very familiar with, but it’s just fun in an Indiana Jones kind of way. (If you’re not a Playstation gamer the closest series to Uncharted, in my mind, is the modern Tomb Raider franchise, but Uncharted is a lot less somber.) If Uncharted The Lost Legacy was a movie, it’d be a summer blockbuster filled with spectacle; something you just sit back and enjoy rather than spending a lot of time pondering the morality of what is happening (though without giving too much away there’s more morality pondering here than in most Uncharted games).

I felt like there was less gunplay than in most Uncharted games but that might be because I spent so much time exploring. Some pundits critique the Uncharted games because Nathon Drake racked up such a large body count but keep his light-hearted tone throughout. I guess that’s a fair critique and it happens here too, but no one ever bashed Han Solo for trading quips after blasting a dozen Storm Troopers. For the most part the Uncharted creators set things up so you never have to initiate lethal combat. You can sneak past enemies or take them down non-lethally, but sooner or later you’re bound to be detected and then the bad guys start shooting and throwing grenades (or worse) and you don’t have much choice other than pulling out a gun.

Personally I kind of enjoy the combat. It’s cover-based but you never seem to have quite enough ammo so you can’t just hunker down (plus a lot of cover degrades as enemies fire at you). So it’s find cover, take out a couple of guys, make a run for some ammo, repeat. Health regenerates when you’re not taking damage.

The puzzles you’ll encounter are again, very reminiscent of Indiana Jones (or the earlier Uncharted games). Aiming beams of light, aligning statues or shadows, sliding bits around to create a complete picture. That sort of thing. For me they were just the right difficulty. You had to pause and fiddle with them for a few minutes but it wasn’t like you felt you needed to jump online and look up a solution.

It’s strange to admit this, but I don’t really play Uncharted games for the gameplay. I play them for the story and the spectacle and the characters, and Uncharted The Lost Legacy has these three things in spades. The locations are ASTOUNDINGLY beautiful, and watching Chloe and Nadine try to come to trust each other is endearing. There are so many little details, and please do try to snag all the optional conversations that pop up. My favorite detail: when you die in an Uncharted game, the screen washes out to black and white and another character will call out your name followed by “Noooo!” or something like that. Early in the game when you die Nadine yells “Frazer! Noooo!” but after traveling together for a while, going through the ups and downs of their new friendship, she eventually starts yelling “Chloe!!! Nooooo!!!!”

It’s a little tiny detail but it really warmed my heart. I just loved this game and damn did Claudia Black (Chloe) and Laura Bailey (Nadine) absolutely nail it, as did the writers. The banter between them is as good as you’ll find in any buddy movie.

Up until this week Horizon Zero Dawn was my personal game of the year, but now I feel a bit conflicted. Trying to choose between it and The Lost Legacy is like trying to choose a favorite child. They’re both remarkable games.

Tonight I finished the main story of Assassin’s Creed Unity. All in all, it was pretty good. Not my favorite AC game but still worth playing.

That said, it could have been REALLY good if the team had had more time for polish. Even with all the patching that they did post-launch, there were still more than the usual AC frustrations related to traversal. My favorite example was when I was chasing someone through the streets of Paris and got to close to a fountain and the game decided that what I really wanted to do was jump up on the lip of the fountain (maybe 2 feet high) and run in a circle around that while I frantically tried to get my character to jump off it.

This weird “sticking to random surfaces” thing is an issue in all AC games but it was really bad this time out. There were also more glitches than I like to see. Sometimes quests would get stuck and have to be restarted, and sometimes this kind of thing happened:

When a romantic moment is ruined by your big collar clipping through your face. SO EMBARRASSING!

Otherwise my only real complaint was a personal one: the setting. I’m not a Francophile and the French Revolution isn’t really a time period that interests me very much. Oh! Almost forgot to mention the voice acting. I have no idea why but a lot of the denizens of Paris sounded very British. But not all of them. It was like they recycled canned ‘British background conversations’ or something.

Not that they didn’t do a great job with the design of Paris. It was pretty damned fabulous. The streets were packed with people going about their business (and there’s a day/night cycle that changes the kinds of things you see), buildings could be entered and rummaged around in and there was a TON of stuff to do. So much that, well, forget about ‘clearing’ the game. No one has time for that. But as I’ve discussed before, I like that. The types of side jobs I didn’t like, I ignored.

There’s also a much stronger RPG vibe in this game. You earn Skill Points by doing story missions and co-op missions and spend those to unlock your skills. I wish I could’ve unlocked them doing side missions too. I only did 2 co-op missions, one actually in co-op and the other solo, and I still had enough skills that I was a bad-ass by the end of the game, so I guess the system works. But if I could’ve earned more doing side missions I might have bought some skills that I skipped over, just to play around with them. For instance I never bothered to buy skills related to heavy weapons and instead specialized in 1-handed weapons, because I was worried about running out of skill points.

If you’re brave you can turn off the hud and play like this. I wasn’t that brave

Additionally there were a lot of gear slots to upgrade. Arno (the protagonist) wears a hood, chest piece, leggings, belt and bracers, all of which can be upgraded. You buy new gear with gold and then can upgrade that gear via “Creed Points” that you earn by doing things like execution moves or eluding enemies.

I’ve talked a lot recently about how I enjoy progression so Unity scratched that itch pretty well.

Oddly your hidden blades are only used in automatic assassinations, and in general things like air assassinations seemed harder than they’ve been in early AC games; way too many times I dropped down onto enemies and just knocked them over. They’d get up and start fighting me and calling in friends.

There were no “out of the animus” bits here. In fact technically you’re not in an animus, you’re in a Helix which is the consumer version. You do get spoken to by “Bishop and Deacon” who are pretty definitely Rebecca Crane and Shawn Whatzit from the earlier games, but the whole ‘meta’ story is so flimsy I’ve already forgotten it and the credits are still rolling.

In fact in general the story was pretty meh. Arno, whose father was killed at the end of AC Rogue, is raised by a Templar who is murdered and basically the whole game is Arno and the Templar’s daughter Elise, (also your love interest, sortof) trying to get revenge. Along the way many people are killed, often then revealing that maybe they weren’t as bad as Arno had imagined.

As far as history, we meet the Marquis de Sade, Robespierre and Napolean Bonaparte who is really wedged in there in a way that makes no sense, but I’m pretty sure he nabbed a piece of eden at one point, the scoundrel.

So yeah, it was good. I’m not going to stick around for trophy hunting or anything, and I DO from time to time still fire up AC Rogue to whittle away at those Achievements, so I guess I have to say I preferred AC Rogue and Black Flag to this one. But I’m glad I played it.

And this is twice now I’ve been able to complete a post on an AC game while the credits were still rolling. SO MANY CREDITS.

A couple of times you have to go through rifts to briefly visit other eras

One of the things I enjoy about this game is how alive the streets feel. Sometimes I just take a leisurely stroll around the town.

Assassin’s Creed® Unity

The only thing I remember hearing about Assassin’s Creed Unity when it first launched was that it was a buggy mess best avoided. So I avoided it, at least for a year or two at which point it hit a super sale and was offered for $10 or $15. I polled my social circles and was told that Ubi had patched a lot of the issues and it was OK to play, so I bought it, then heard there were still framerate problems on consoles. That got solved (again, according to the hive mind) when Sony introduced Boost Mode for the PS4 Pro.

So with AC Freedom Cry in the books I turned my attention to Unity and oh my goodness does this game make a TERRIBLE first impression. The first thing you see is a menu offering you like 15 different “experiences” to choose from, all but one of them locked. It took me a minute to realize I was playing a game withing a game. Remember how in AC Rogue and AC Black Flag you were working for Abstergo to create historical entertainment products? Well in Unity you start off as a customer, using the Helix, which is the consumer model of the Animus. Your one unlocked experience takes you back to 1307 where you see the Templar Grandmaster Jacques de Molay entrusting a sword and book to one of his underlings before he is arrested and executed (you play the underling). The others experiences listed are just decoration, you don’t get to play all of them as far as I can tell. Tease!

At that point your experience is interrupted by “Bishop,” an assassin who has hacked into your Helix and who sends you off to France in 1776. Remember that last epilogue in AC Rogue where Shay kills an assassin who is looking for his son. There was no real explanation of that mission. Well when you get to France you’re playing the son in that same scene. He’s like 6 or 7 I guess. You’ve been lured away by a little girl who dares you to steal an apple so of course you do (this is the ‘stealth tutorial’) at which point you run away with the apple floating about 2 feet in front of your hand. Nice glitch. Then there’s a cut scene where the boy didn’t render at all so the little girl was talking to empty air.

It’s a short sequence that ends with your father being killed by Shay and you going to live with the little girl’s father as his ward. Flash forward to you as an adult and kind of a troublemaker. I won’t go into the whole story but pretty soon you end up falling in with the assassins (remember your father was one of them) and that’s the next story mission which also glitched out for me. I was supposed to follow an NPC but he was climbing a wall and fell and then he just stood there. Since he needed to open a door I hate to restart the mission to advance. So that’s 3 glitches in the first 2 missions/first 30 minutes or so of play.

At this point you’re just a French citizen with a flimsy rapier and some smoke bombs. You have no assassin skills to speak of. Unity gives both you and missions a star rating. At this point I was 1 star and the next story mission was 2 stars. When I went to do it the game warned me that it would be very difficult and that I should buy skills or improve my gear before attempting it. Problem was I had no currency to buy skills and the shops weren’t selling better gear.

So I decided to do a 1 star side mission that involved recovering 3 severed heads (!) for a woman who was supposed to be making death masks of the victims. I failed that mission HARD about 6 times. One of the heads was in a square surrounded by guards. I couldn’t figure out how to sneak past them and I couldn’t defeat them in combat. Between the glitches and the stupidly hard 1-star quest, I was super frustrated and on the cusp of doing the “Rage Quit flowing into Uninstall Angry Dance” when Angela suggested I look online to see if there were any tips. I did that and no one seemed to be having an issue with this mission BUT all the screenshots and videos I saw showed the player decked out in assassin’s robes. I was wearing a puffy shirt and old breeches.

So I said screw it and went back to 2-star story quest, ignoring the stern warning of the game about its difficulty. And it was a complete cakewalk. At the end of it I became an Assassin, or at least enough of one that I could buy a decent weapon and some armor, as well as unlock some skills. I went back to the severed heads mission and now it too was a cakewalk. I just killed everyone who opposed me out of spite for all those early de-synchs!

And at that point Unity opened up like a flower blooming. I’ve been really enjoying it since then. Yes it still is glitchy and I’ve had to ‘restart from checkpoint’ in a few missions. But when it isn’t being glitchy it is a beauty of a game. Paris is amazing just to roam around. There is so much happening on the streets and in shops. As my reputation grows I go from ignored to feared to cheered (there are little quick street-level events like saving someone being bullied or catching a cutpurse that seems to get the people liking you). The combat is different in a way I can’t quite articulate but once I got used to it I’m really enjoying it. The architecture is super fun to climb around.

The other night I was in my theater (yes my character runs a theater) when a pixelated ghost appeared and beckoned to me. It took me a moment to realize I was being invited into a co-op mission. Me being me I at first ignored it, then said “Oh ‘eck” and gave it a try. I found myself running through Paris with three other assassins. When everything was working it was really cool — I might go so far as to say breath-taking — though in other moments the lag would get so bad I’d be getting hit by enemies I couldn’t see (no dedicated servers). Overall it was cool though and I would do it again. I was by far the weakest member of the team, having just started, but I could circle the outskirts of battles and assassinate enemies so could still pull my weight.

I’ve been so busy exploring and doing side quests that I can’t really comment on the story yet, but overall I’ve gone from “Screw this game I’m going to uninstall it and I wish I had a disk so I could snap it in half.” to “Holy heck this is AMAZING.”

I share this just in case you decide to try AC Unity. Don’t judge it by it’s first hour or so, and don’t let the game decide what is and isn’t too hard for you. There’s a flawed gem to be found if you can get past those two issues.

They (I don’t actually know who ‘they’ are) always say that learning a second language is supposed to be a good brain training exercise and a few times over the years I’ve made a half-hearted attempt to learn Japanese. Mostly it was because I wanted to play imported games and/or watch anime in the original language, but I never got very far. Japanese is HARD (for me at least). First of all they have 3 (maybe more?) written languages: hiragana, katakana (??) and kanji. So before you learn what the words mean, you need to learn the ‘alphabets’ so to speak.

Disclaimer: I am not a linguist so it’s almost 100% certain I will get some/all terms wrong in this post.

About a month ago Duolingo added Japanese to its Android app and kind of on a lark I downloaded it and started ‘learning Japanese’ and I put that in quotes because a month later I know some of the hiragana and if a Japanese teacher said to me — very slowly and with perfect enunciation — “Nice to meet you” I would probably understand. Or maybe I’d just think “I know that phrase but can’t recall what it means.” More likely the latter.

Still though, I’m actually enjoying the process. My latest project is figuring out the Japanese eShop on the Switch. Next week there’s a demo of Monster Hunter XX hitting the Japanese eShop so I set up a Japanese Nintendo account so I’ll be able to download it. Of course the store is mostly in Japanese. I’m sure I could stumble through it but just for grins I decided to try to translate some of the words.

The first word on the left menu was “NEW” and I translated that one pretty easily.

The next word was ランキング

I knew I’d learned some of these characters but couldn’t bring them to the front of my brain so I went looking at hiragana charts and couldn’t find any of them. Y’know why? Those are katakana symbols. In fact that was when I learned that katakana was different from hiragana. So once I knew that, it was pretty easy since katakana is used for ‘borrowed’ words from other languages. The characters in order are pronounced RA N KI N GU. It means exactly what it sounds like: ranking. So basically this is a listing of games my ranking, or most popular. (What helps a lot is I know pretty much what to expect because this is an e-shop for games.) I was pretty proud of that.

The next one was harder: もうすぐ発売

So the first thing is, I’m copying and pasting these characters from other websites. Different websites in this case which is why they’re kind of mis-matched. The characters on the Switch aren’t exactly the same. I guess fonts are a thing no matter the alphabet you’re using. So this one is a combination of hiragana and kanji. The hiragana part was pretty easy for me. Translated into romanji (Japanese sounds spelled out in the Roman alphabet) it says mo u su gu. Then I put mousugu into a romanji to english translator and I get “soon.” Given that this is the eShop it’s pretty obvious this is the “Coming Soon” list already but I want to do the full translation.

Looking up the kanji characters is HARD. I mean it isn’t hard if you look them up from this blog post because you can cut and paste them, but I was looking at them on the Switch, which may as well have been a piece of paper. I found Jisho.org which is super cool. It lets you look up kanji characters by ‘radicals’ which are the parts of a kanji character.

So for the first character, I first selected the “legs” from the bottom half, then the crossbars. That narrowed the selection of potential kanji characters down enough that I could find the one I wanted. Here’s a pic (click it to make it big enough to see):

You can see that those two ‘radicals’ were enough to help me find the character, labeled #3 above.

But here was a curious thing. Once I found it I looked it up and translation was “departure; departing (from …); departing (at time …)​” [Definitions are coming from Jisho too.]

Was I wrong about this being a Coming Soon section? Was it a “Leaving Soon” section? I pushed on!

I used Jisho again for the last character and it means “to sell” which made sense in the context.

But here is where it all got trippy. So literally this string is saying Soon Departing Sell. But why would Nintendo be removing games from their store, that doesn’t make too much sense so early in the Switch’s life. So I dug a little further, and it turns out those two kanji characters together have a different meaning. 発売 = “sale; offering for sale; release (for sale); launch (product)​” If you think about “departing” and “releasing” you can kind of wrap your head around how these could be so similar. If you release something it departs from you, right?

Anyway so now we have confirmed what I initially suspected, that this says “Coming Soon” or I guess more technically “Releasing Soon.”

What I don’t know, though, is how I would have figured this out without the context of this being the Switch e-shop. If I’d just read it on a wall somewhere I would have translated it as something like “Won’t be on sale for much longer” which is pretty much the opposite of what it says.

I just find this all super fascinating. Will I ~ever~ be able to read/understand Japanese (I don’t even dream of being able to actually speak it)? Probably not. But just translating words is turning out to be one of the most interesting ‘puzzles’ I’ve encountered lately.

The Assassin’s Creed fates aligned when I finished Assassin’s Creed Rogue on Monday, just in time to roll into Assassin’s Creed Freedom Cry when it dropped as a “free” Playstation Plus game yesterday. Unfortunately so far I’m not enjoying it that much.

I was excited to play as Adwal, who was Edward Kenway’s quartermaster in Assassin’s Creed Black Flag. Adwal is a full member of the Assassin’s Guild now, and he is off on his own (this takes place between Black Flag and Rogue). Early on he becomes shipwrecked which is a way for the developers to kind of ‘reset’ him so he needs to upgrade gear and so forth. This was initially a DLC for Black Flag but at some point Ubi spun it out as a short stand-alone title.

Adwal’s mission in this game is to liberate slaves and to help establish the Maroons (recall that Adwal is himself a former slave) ; there isn’t so much of the Assassin’s vs Templars battle and so far at least, you never come out of the animus.

As noble as the task-at-hand is, it feels a little ick at times. A lot of content (both missions and upgrades) is locked behind numbers of slaves freed. Liberate 100 slaves and get this gear upgrade, liberate 150 and that mission unlocks. It kind of turns slaves into a currency which felt a little uncomfortable to me. I mean you don’t “spend” slaves. If you’ve freed 105 slaves and get the 100 slave gear upgrade, you still have 105 freed slaves, so it isn’t terrible (if you ‘spent’ them, that would be horrible!) but it still feels weird to me.

My bigger issue with the game is that it can be repetitive. You’re always trying to free slaves to unlock the next main story quest or earn a reward for doing so. You can free slaves by attacking ships carrying slaves, you can save them by killing “overseers” on plantations, and you can free smaller numbers by disrupting slave auctions (via applying your machete to the auctioneer’s throat) or rescuing slaves being mistreated.

All of these systems are fine but they repeat frequently. You liberate a plantation (by killing 20 non-slaves) and a while later a “new owner” takes over and you have to go liberate it again. The slave auctions and ‘free the mistreated slave’ events respawn so fast that I killed the same guys half a dozen times in my first night of playing. It got to where I’d anticipate the reinforcements showing up and kill them before they even got settled…the respawns are all exactly the same.

Going after the ships is probably the most fun of the ‘free some slaves’ events since by the nature of the sea battles they play out a little differently each time.

But speaking of sea battles…pretty early in the game you get a new ship, manned by Maroons. These guys don’t sing shanties which oddly changes the feel of the game by quite a bit. I mean it’s a sober game all around, as you’d expect by the subject matter. But I still miss the crew singing (I think they don’t sing for practical reasons…they couldn’t very well recycle the ‘British seamen’ shanties and recording all new ones was probably outside the budget.)

As for the missions themselves, well the French are up to something and Adwal is trying to discover what it is via eavesdropping and intercepting missives and such. Typical Assassin’s Creed missions.

It’s not a BAD game, like I said it’s just kind of repetitive. Combat is still fun, both ship combat and the brutal sword play (Adwal has a machete and a blunderbuss as well as his hidden blades and various darts and so forth). I just wish there was more variety. Also Adwal is just slaughtering enemies in the town of Port-au-Prince and the game doesn’t really react to that. This is a less subtle game than most AC titles. Adwal walks up to a slave auction and in full view of a crowd of bystanders he cuts down the scum running the auction. 5 minutes later a new auction is taking place in the same spot and he comes back and does it again. You’d think someone in charge would beef up security or put a price on his head but nope, once he escapes the immediate area his notoriety goes back to zero and he can roam the town pretty much at will. Weird.

I might be somewhat biased because I have played so many Assassin’s Creed games lately. If Freedom Cry is your first AC experience you might like it more than I do. I will probably finish it; after one night of playing I’m 56% “synced” already (for AC Rogue after 18 hours I was only 50% synced) so it isn’t a very long game and I do want to know what the French are up to! If you do try it though, please understand ‘full’ AC games are a lot more varied in terms of the things you get to do in them.

I’ve been awfully negative on the blog lately, so thought I’d better talk about things I AM enjoying, Assassin’s Creed Rogue being one of those things.

But first I have to eat some crow. When Microsoft announced backwards compatibility for the Xbox One I kind of scoffed. Everyone was losing their shit over the ability to play Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One and I didn’t get why it was a big deal. Who wants to play old games when there are so many great new games!?

And now I’m really happy to be playing Assassin’s Creed Rogue via backwards compatibility on the Xbox One. So yeah, I was wrong. BC is a great feature. You might not need it often, but when you really want to play an older title it’s a heck of a lot easier than dragging out an old console and hooking it up. It also helps that AC Rogue seems to play flawlessly via BC (when the feature rolled out I tried a few games and they were all glitchy as heck. Not so here.).

So anyway back to the game.

I am LOVING Assassin’s Creed Rogue so far. I feel like it’s a game that was kind of lost when it came out. If I’m remembering right it came out the same year as Assassin’s Creed Black Flag did, but Rogue came out on PS3 and Xbox 360 while Black Flag came out on PS4 and Xbox One. Since these were the hot new consoles at the time, Black Flag got all the attention but I’d argue Rogue is just as good.

Actually in gameplay terms it is very similar to Black Flag. Once again you spend a lot of time at sea, attacking enemy ships and building up a fleet that you send off to do missions (via a sort of mini-game). The big difference is setting. Rogue takes place during the French and Indian War. Instead of tropical beaches you’ll be dealing with snow and ice.

Warning: some early game spoilers incoming.

This time you play as Shay Cormac who, with his brother Liam, start the game as up and comers in the Assassin’s Brotherhood. Then Shay is sent to recover an artifact in Lisbon, but it turns out to be some kind of trap. When Shay picks up the artifact it causes the Great Lisbon Earthquake, an actual historical event. In real life the Lisbon earthquake, according to Wikipedia, killed anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 people. The entire city is destroyed.

Shay is horrified by what he has done, but the Brotherhood’s leadership is undaunted and plans to continue trying to collect artifacts. This causes Shay to turn his back on the assassins, resulting in a battle that leaves him near death, only to be rescued by the Templars (of course!). So Shay becomes a templar operating under Haytham Kenway, son of Edward Kenway from AC: Black Flag and the character you play as at the start of AC3. I love how these games intertwine! As is typical of the series Shay winds up rubbing shoulders with historical figures like James Cook, George Monro and Benjamin Franklin.

There are two ocean areas in the game. One is the frigid North Atlantic which feels like Black Flag’s ocean area (aside from the icebergs). The other is the river valley which is a series of much narrower passages that make sea battles a lot more hectic as it’s easy to find yourself running out of room to maneuver in the narrow waters.

When you’re not at sea or at one of the smaller outposts that you can dock at and explore, you’ll be in New York City, helping the Templars chase off the Assassins and taking over the city, district by district. As you do so you can spend money and resources to renovate buildings which, besides making you a good guy (the buildings all tend to be public works) increases your income.

Basically everything you could want from an AC game is here. If you enjoyed Black Flag and didn’t play Rogue, you need to remedy that. I will admit there’s not a whole lot new in terms of game systems. You are hunted by assassins…you have to use eagle vision to find them before they find you when one is near. That’s new. Also there are firecracker darts (used to spook said assassins) and grenades that I believe are new in this one. Maybe I just didn’t use them in Black Flag. Honestly the games are starting to run together in my head these days.

Outside the Animus you’re as Abstergo Entertainment, same as with Black Flag. Your ‘handler’ there only refers to you as “numb skull” so I’m not sure you you’re playing as in ‘real life.’ When not in the animus you can roam around and hack computers via a neat mini-game and get caught up on the back story of who is doing what and why.

I’m still not finished. My save says I’m like 43% ‘synced’ but the sync level doesn’t really indicate how far into the story I am. I think I’m getting close to the end because missions are sending me to areas labeled as “hard.” My ship, the Morrigan, is pretty beefed up and I have nearly the best swords and pistols money can buy. At 17 hours in I feel like I’m nearing the end.

Just in time to play Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry on PS4 when it becomes free via Playstation Plus in August. You play as Adwal in that one. He was a ‘good guy’ in AC Black Flag and is a ‘bad guy’ in Rogue (it all depends on what side you’re on, doesn’t it?) so it’ll be fun playing AS him in Freedom Cry.