Monday Morning Roundup

Another weekend is in the books, and another week rears its head like Putin glaring down at Alaska. How did the weekend go?

I wrote 5000 words on Ancient Japanese Demon Vampires And The Women Who Love Them – Let’s Play Hakuoki! over on Broken Forum. I played through all of Chapter 4 and wrote it up in a single day, which was a lot of writing but also a lot of fun. Highlights include cutting that guy, screaming in anger at the PSP, and furthermore, cutting that guy. I’ve now uploaded enough screenshots to Imageshack that I had to get a premium account. Oooooh, six dollars…

Giant Bomb posted their Quick Look of Botanicula. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard at one of their Quick Looks while also desperately wanting to play this game. You can hear Vinny’s status as a new father in his voice in how he narrates this one. I don’t so much want to play Botanicula so much as I want to watch Vinny and Patrick play Botanicula.

Music of the week: Botanicula and Sword and Sworcery. I think I spent about $10 total on these albums, and they’re both brilliant. Botanicula reminds me of Rayman Origins in the music (Patrick beat me to that comparison), and S&S thus far is making me think a little bit of Big Giant Circles.

The NFL Draft happened this weekend, and I have mixed opinions on my two teams. The Redskins picked up their QB of the future in Robert Griffin III, and then decided to get him a caddy in Kirk Cousins in the fourth round for some reason. As for Kansas City picking 350-pound DT Dontari Poe, I’ll let Mike Tanier of the New York Times take that one.

The Guild Wars 2 pre-order beta weekend happened. I plan on writing about that later, but the short version is OH MY GOD THIS GAME IS GREAT. Hakuoki should have stern competition for my Game of the Year for 2012.

(I really do not want my 2012 GOTY to be a dating game.)

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I Still Have No Idea Why I Am Playing This

I own a lot of games. A LOT of games. I’m playing a lot of them right now. The Last Story just arrived, so I’m cracking that open this weekend. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is fun and pretty good. I’ve got two worlds left in Rayman: Origins, and that is an incredibly good game and I want to write about it once I’m done. But what game am I constantly coming back up? Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom.

I picked this up from Amazon after reading some of Angie Gallant’s dating game Let’s Plays on Broken Forum and Quarter To Three. I figured I’d write an LP for this, have some laughs, and then move on. It’s a game aimed at girls, full of Beautiful Men and some intrigue and mystery along the way. And blooming flowers to indicate when one of them likes me more.

Dirty secret: I’m really enjoying this game. Unironically.

There is very little animation in Hakuoki, and I think that’s typical of the genre. The closest I’ve had to anything being animated is a few static images wobbling a bit. 99 times out of 100, I’m looking at static pictures and character drawings fading in and out. Here’s the thing, though: I don’t mind at all. The pictures they are showing me are really well done, with painted backgrounds, hand-drawn character models, and multiple images like these terrifying fellows with poor table manners.

With no animation, any tension and pacing is going to come from the writing, and there I’m happy, and surprised, to say that Hakuoki features some very good writing. Dialogue is so far excellent, with each of the seven or eight characters I’ve met in four or five hours standing out from their peers. There is no English voice acting, so it’s down to the original Japanese VAs and the quality of the English writing to bring these characters to life, and they are doing a stellar job.

Of course, you can’t have a story be nothing but dialogue, no matter how hard I personally try in my own white-room work. Hakuoki fills in the gaps between spoken words with descriptions of the actions happening around these static images, and while that’s not normally quality game-writing, it reminds me of the late nineties’ Infinity Engine RPGs, where you’d see little bits of detail from clicking on parts of the world or the written actions in the dialogue options you got when interacting with NPCs, like catching thieves in the Hive in Planescape: Torment.

Hakuoki reminds me a bit of Torment, which is not to say that this story is on par with that game’s; rather, in how it places such important on the written word. Planescape: Torment remains the best book I’ve ever played, and I don’t say that disparagingly. My favorite memories of Torment are not in how I defeated Trias in combat, or my trip through the Modron Cube maze, or the Carceri stampede against the devil hordes. My favorite memories of Torment are from the memory sphere in the upper hives, in navigating the maze of conversation options with Ravel Puzzlewell, in the final verbal confrontation with The Nameless One. Hakuoki does not pretend to have gameplay; I am occasionally selecting options, and then watching a scene play out in front of me. It’s far less interactive than Torment, and has much more in common with Choose Your Own Adventure books than it does any other game I have played.

But tonight, after I’ve finished my workout and taken care of dinner, I’m not going to load up Amalur or The Last Story or Rayman just yet. I’m going to settle in with a good book on my PSP and see what further adventures await Hakuchi Yukimura in Kyoto, and see how much further down this rabbit hole of mysterious samurai I can go.

If I meet a talking skull, though, I’m outta here.