Battle Bards Episode 116: There be dragons

Mighty and majestic, scaly in hide and shrewd of mind, smoking with fury unabated… these are the Battle Bards! Also, dragons. Yes, in today’s episode, the Bards tackle the soundtracks to one of the most iconic fantasy creatures of all time. So call over your good luck dragon and get your best Sean Connery voice on as we loot the musical hoard of these beasts.

Episode 116 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Bash the Dragons” from Guild Wars 2, “Shinryu’s Theme” from Final Fantasy XIV, and “Drakonspire Depths” from Aion)
  • “Sindragosa” from World of Warcraft
  • “The Valley of Dragons” from SUN
  • “A White Dragon Fallen into the Earth” from Dragon’s Dogma Online
  • “Mordremoth” from Guild Wars 2
  • “Dragon Considers” from The Secret World
  • “Spirit Island” from Istaria
  • “Tiamat’s Requiem” from Aion
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes: Frazleytastic, Pandalulz, Jdub, Mylin1
  • Jukebox picks: “The Valley of the Blinding Mist” from The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, “Milton’s Tower” from What Remains of Edith Finch, and “Ave Maria” from Hitman: Blood Money
  • Outro (“Here Be Dragons” from Guild Wars 2)

Try It Tuesday: Final Fantasy IX (tablet version)

Every so often, I break out of my gaming routine to try something new and different. These turn into my Try-It Tuesday sessions, and they are a mixed bag indeed!

As I mentioned before, this month I’ve been indulging in some Final Fantasy nostalgia, which has led me in part to finally playing through FFIX on my iPad. I bought this version a couple of years ago and haven’t gotten around to it yet, but the time seemed right.

The first and only other time I’ve played Final Fantasy IX was back in 2000 on the original PlayStation. I had just moved to Michigan that year, and living as a bachelor, I had plenty of time on my hands. Chrono Cross and FFIX really helped to fill the time in those waning days of the console’s popularity, and I remember having just a terrific time with this installment. I don’t quite know why I never replayed it afterward, except that probably I jumped into the PS2, got disillusioned with consoles, and stuck to computers solely for gaming then on out.

Anyway, the tablet version. All of Square’s Final Fantasy mobile adaptations have their ups and downs, and this is no exception. I love the virtual controller and everything is fairly responsive, but there’s no cursor memory (at least not that works for me) and the backgrounds are incredibly ugly. They had a problem resizing those backgrounds to higher resolution screens, so they stretched and filtered them into a kind of muddy mess. It’s a shame, because otherwise FFIX is a vibrant and attractive game.

So Final Fantasy IX was an odd entry when it first came out. It was intended to be a return to form after the last few sci-fi games and a love letter to the franchise. It didn’t get a lot of respect due to its more cartoonish look, but I think it’s developed a much deeper reputation since. It was a game with a much more upbeat hero than Squall and Cloud, and it had more humor to boot.

The tablet version is pretty much the FFIX as I remember it, graphics aside. It’s been 18 years or so since I last played, so my specific memories are pretty fuzzy, and I got a few good laughs out of how primitive the 3-D overland maps are. Yet it did spark bits of nostalgia here and there, especially with the terrific music and certain set pieces. On the other hand, it’s a product of an earlier gaming generation with plenty of the clunky JRPG staples, such as long battles, wildly varying difficulty, a lack of a useful map (although there is an overlay on the overworld), and the inability to save anywhere you like.

One thing I really did enjoy — as I did back in 2000 — was the use of “Active Time Events.” Essentially, these were little story snippets that you could activate during various times in the game, giving you the choice to check in with other characters and other situations. It allowed for the party to split up more and gave the player the feeling of directing the narrative in a very, very limited sense. I also appreciated the ability for characters to learn skills from gear and trade that gear around as a type of progression.

I don’t know if I quite liked it as much as I did the first time around. It felt a little clunky and trite at times, with the characters being a bit shallow and simplistic (and Zidane’s 90s-style haircut is painful). But it still looks and plays just fine, and if you’re craving a Final Fantasy fix, I suppose you could do a whole heck of a lot worse.

Guest Post: DDO Mists of Ravenloft review (part 2)

Today’s guest post is from DDOCentral’s Matt, who wanted to give Bio Break’s readership a deeper look into Dungeons and Dragons Online’s newest expansion. Check out part one here. Thanks Matt!

Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) released its third paid expansion on December 6th, 2017 titled Mists of Ravenloft. The two previous paid expansions for DDO are Shadowfell Conspiracy, released on August 19th, 2013, and Menace of the Underdark, released on June 25th, 2012. These earlier expansions are placed in tabletop Dungeons and Dragons’ most famous campaign setting, Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms.

Mists of Ravenloft explores the popular Gothic horror-themed Ravenloft D&D campaign world created by Tracy and Laura Hickman and the vampire Count Strahd von Zarovich’s domain Barovia on the Demiplane of Dread within that world.

This article is the second in a series of three articles on Mists of Ravenloft, the latest addition to DDO’s growing multiverse. The article will review the content of the expansion’s twelve quests, eleven of which are divided into three multi-quest story-arcs, as well as the Favor and Saga achievement systems that bind all twelve quests together. The third and final article will conclude the series with a review of Mists of Ravenloft’s two raids.

Continue reading

DDO: No tears for Syp

One of the facets that I regret about MMOs is that all of this attention and artistry is paid to enemy mobs that we never really get to examine up close because, you know, of all of the frantic flailing and killing on both sides. So when you get a chance to take a selfie with a friendly mummy, by gum, you DO IT. I’m calling this one “Fred.”

So last Friday evening, we assembled a group to run a couple of Dungeons and Dragons Online dungeons for MJ’s stream at Massively OP. It was MJ, myself, and a few members of Onedawesome, the old Massively DDO guild that still survives — somehow! — to this day.

On tap for that evening was a pair of House P quests. I’ve already done these, but what the heck, it’s always more fun with a group. First up with The Tear of Dhakaan, a “very long” quest that was still a better pick than the team’s first suggestion, which was The Pit. I will never, ever go back to The Pit. The Pit is where my first soul got lost and is still wandering around without hope.

With a full team and on normal mode, we cruised through the dungeon without much difficulty. To be fair, it wasn’t one of DDO’s more brain-bending missions; just a lot of killing and dead hobgoblins. We admired the hobgoblins’ underground dwellings and looted with wild abandon. I was also fully obnoxious with my crossbow. Its fwip-fwip-fwip sound probably continues to ring in my party’s ears.

Hail to the queens, baby!

Then we swung over to the Golden Wing Inn to pick up The Faithful Departed. This was a mis-labeled “medium” quest that really was more “long” than anything, and I remember from the one big twist of trying to keep these Venerated mummies alive in the middle of a firefight. The trick this time around was to de-summon hirelings and pets, because they don’t differentiate between good and bad combatants.

Status effects were the bane of the evening. In the first quest, some of us got shot up with a Ray of Enfeeblement, which instantly made us too weak to carry all of the stuff in our bags. When that happens — because DDO has a weight limit — you really can’t do anything other than move around. You can’t attack, you can’t cast spells, nothing. You’re a helpless babe until the effect wears off.

Then in the second quest was a whole lot of blindness. I got zapped with this twice, and for two-and-a-half minutes each, I was just following the minimap on a dark screen like the dead weight that I was. Sure, my other senses were heightened, but those other senses were mostly “hunger” and “Netflix.” Not very helpful in a group situation.

If you’re so inclined (and bored), you can watch me play through the whole thing in this video:

KOTOR 2: Korriban

(This is part of my journey going playing through Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

With appearances in KOTOR, KOTOR 2, and SWTOR, Korriban is one of the very few locations to be visited in all three Old Republic games to date. As I’ve never been this far in KOTOR 2 before, I’ve never seen this game’s version yet, but I assume it’s a lot of repurposed maps from the first title.

It is, indeed, a very familiar planet to my SWTOR eyes, and a very short one as well. The big bad on this planet is Darth Scion, the craggy scarred Sith who looks to be in dire need of moisturizer. After picking our way through the valley of the tombs (in KOTOR 2, these tombs are not explorable), I find my way to a dark side cave.

This is kind of interesting, actually. If you ever thought the dark caves in Empire or Last Jedi were a keen peek into how the Force works, at least you get a small taste of that here as well. I guess if you’re a light side player, you can view this as a test for your character, and if you’re a dark side player, this is… basically a vacation resort? I was never clear on that.

The cave is essentially these illusionary setpieces with notable figures. First there is pre-jaw-ripped-off Malak from the first game giving a pep talk to troops. Then Kreia shows up and everyone calls her out on how evil she is, which is what we call in the biz “foreshadowing.”

And there is a fight with Revan, which presents an existential crisis for players who were that character in the first game. He still looks hecka cool here.

After that is the Sith Academy, another reprise from the first game. Like Dantooine, it’s no longer a learning facility but just a dungeon crawl. A pretty enjoyable one, all things considered, but nothing more.

We do find Master Vash dead in a cell, so I guess I don’t get to kill my allotted planetary Jedi. I found it bizarrely humorous how Vash’s corpse has a lightsaber on her, which mean that she could have carved her way out of here and fought. Maybe she had a death wish.

After that, it’s a way-too-quick confrontation with Scion. It’s supposed to be this nerve-wracking confrontation, but you don’t get to kill him because Kreia telepathically yanks you out of there saying that he’s too dangerous. Speak for yourself, sister.

Back on the ship, we get a call urging us to come back to Onderon. Meanwhile, Kreia is shown stalking crew members while invisible. I’m sure the twist will be that she’s really a good guy in the end. Maybe the taller version of Yoda.

World of Warcraft: A more immersive questing experience

Earlier this month I wrote up a post challenging myself to stop skimming or ignoring the quest text and just read it, already. It seems to be one of those MMO facets that a lot of us have struggled with, if the comments on that post were any indication. One reader did suggest an interesting strategy, at least for World of Warcraft, which was to install the Immersion mod to draw more attention to quest text.

Sounded like a good idea! So I gave it a try for a few days and found it… OK, I guess. Immersion replaces the standard text window with a few semi-transparent windows that puts the quest dialogue right next to an animated portrait of the NPC questgiver. It did make it a little more readable, but I found that I was always fumbling for what to click and where the different options were, as choices were often put on the right side of the screen.

Still, I didn’t want to give up on this concept, and so I took another suggestion — this one from a WoW YouTube host — to try out Catch the Wind. What this mod does is that any time you get into a quest dialogue situation, it grabs camera control and then puts a letterbox over your screen, with the quest text gradually appearing at a somewhat readable pace on the bottom to mimic subtitles.

I was instantly impressed with this. I found myself naturally reading the quest text without having to make myself do it, just by a few cinematic tricks. It also keeps the visuals on the character and the world without covering them up with giant boxes in the middle of the screen. Even the choices, like “accept” and “goodbye” are shown in a subtle, natural fashion on the bottom. I’m going to give it a few more days of evaluation, but so far, I think this might be the choice for me.

I can only imagine what a similar mod would do with the mountain of quest text that, say, LOTRO presents. Maybe an audiobook narration by Ian McKellen? I would pay for that upgrade.

FFXIV: Massaging an oily Hildibrand

Well, it had to happen sooner or later in Final Fantasy XIV: I met Hildibrand.

I didn’t go into this completely unwary and uninformed; I had heard of the legend of this bizarre character for a couple of years now and had made a mental note to do his quests if I ever came back to the game. Well, I’m back and am giving myself a break from the elves and dragons of Heavensward by running through some of his quest lines.

I wasn’t unwary. But I wasn’t fully prepared, either.

To those who haven’t played FFXIV, Hildibrand might charitably be described as a private detective who serves as comedic relief. More accurately, he might be described as some sort of LSD-injected Scooby Doo dream that will pretty much leave your jaw unhinged and your eyebrows permanently raised during any encounters. I mean, I thought I was inoculated against Japanese weirdness, but that country keeps on surprising me.

I ran through the first four quests (Patch 2.1) last week, meeting up with Hildibrand (or “Hildy,” as my guildies are wont to call him) as he begins the series dead in a grave but not really dead because he’s a zombie but not a normal zombie no he’s a GENTLEMAN zombie who is influencing all of the other zombies to dress and act well. Also, he’s not a zombie, he just thinks he is. He also has an ADD assistant who is, for some reason, obsessed with pumpkins and explosives.

During this introduction, I found myself absolutely flabbergasted and unable to fully process how I should feel about this. I mean, half of me felt like this was the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in an MMO. The other half was strangely amused and even laughed on occasion. It’s just so… so… cheesy and cartoonish as it breaks the fourth wall of the game and embraces slapstick comedy with wanton abandon. I was kind of impressed at all of the expressions and actions that the devs worked into these cutscenes.

The running joke is that Hildy is a buffoon and a completely ineffectual investigator even as he somehow stumbles into success time and again. It’s not new territory (see: Pink Panther, Inspector Gadget, etc.) but it does give a different approach to this fantasy world. And the player is allowed in on the joke by enjoying the comments of everyone around this character who keeps calling him out on his inanity.

Although I really, really, really could have done without the quest during which I had to keep rubbing oil onto Hildibrand’s semi-naked body so that he could go for a dip in a one-foot-deep pond. Could have done without his comments, too.

Probably the weirdest thing about him is that he keeps striking these two muscle flex poses that are used over and over again (if nothing else, this game does love reusing poses). I asked a friend why he does this, and I was told, “If you got it, flaunt it.” OK then.

The rewards aren’t great, at least not so far, but I’m willing to forgo monetary compensation if I’m given a good story. And so far, at least I’m not bored with this jackanape.