Chrono Trigger: Mother Brain will get you, my pretties!

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1995’s Chrono Trigger. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Next up on the side quest journey is a trip to 2300 AD — and a visit to Geno Dome. This looks to be touching on the backstory of Robo, whose real name is Prometheus? I guess? At least we know scifi naming conventions are intact if the computer calls humans “fleshlings.”

Geno Dome is another one of those futuristic factories, although with much tougher robots than the Crono Crew encountered in the past. And apparently one of them has a little dolly. That’s adorable. It’s also a much trickier dungeon to navigate, with doors that have to be charged and conveyor belts to be reversed. I’m not sure we’re up to the challenge.

“How will players ever be able to figure out if this is a girl robot?” “Quick, paint her pink and put a bow on her even though that makes no sense in a futuristic factory run by machines!”

Atropos — the girl robot — says that “Prometheus” here was given a special mission to live with humans and study them. And apparently do mass gardening over 400 years, don’t forget that! After Robo beats her up, she comes to her senses (before shutting down) and says that Mother Brain rewrote her programming to DESTROY ALL HUMANS. Isn’t the way that always is?

So Mother Brain’s thing is that she says the planet will heal if humans are eliminated and the robots take over. Which they might as well, since the only humans left are moping around in domes doing nothing. At least these robots are showing initiative and zest.

And look! The ‘bots are putting humans on a conveyor belt and feeding them into a machine that turns them into little energy pellets. Dang, Chrono Trigger, you got DARK. The little screech when the humans are killed will haunt my dreams tonight.

In an epic showdown, the Crono Crew confronts Mother Brain — not Metroid’s floating brain in a jar, but rather a gorgeous hologram of the computer system. It’s seriously neat.

After a wimpy boss battle, Robo shuts down the factory for good — aww, those poor robots — and gets a couple of nice weapon upgrades for the trouble. No mention is made of any surviving humans in the factory, but we’ll assume that they made it and turned the place into a luxurious spa.

For a flavor refresher, we’re heading to 600 AD to tackled the Spirit of Cyrus side quest. In both 600 and 1000 AD, there’s rumors of ghosts and beasts and something haunting the northern ruins of an island.

To his shock, Frog discovers that the ghost in 1000 AD is that of his former mentor, Cyrus. He’s kind of cranky and sword-swingy at the moment, so there’s nothing to be done for him.

By bringing back some tools from 1000 to 600, the Crono Crew helps a carpenter get back on his feet — and he starts repairing the northern ruins, where Cyrus would take up residence. I love that the game actually makes you PAY the carpenter money to do his work, which, hey, more power to him.

Tucked away in the basement is Cyrus’ grave (for some reason). Not sure why his body got hauled to another continent and dumped down here, but we’ll assume that FedEx really messed up its delivery address.

Cyrus’ ghost pops out of the grave and gives Frog some much-needed closure. With the past lifted off his shoulders, the Masamune is able to be charged up to its full and amazingly awesome strength. We’ve gone Full Frog, people!

Battle Bards Episode 171: Forest Tales 2

Hitch up your shorts, buckle your boots, and step into another deep forest of MMORPG music with the Battle Bards! As diverse as the woods are in virtual worlds, so too are these tracks that attempt to convey the feeling of a variety of leafy settings.

Episode 171 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “Mnes Forest” from Echo of Souls, “Forest of Adera” from Eldevin, and “Sleeping Forest” from Allods Online)
  • “Forest of Legends” from Bless
  • “Mystery Forest of Vikings” from Minions of Mirth
  • “Lost Forest” from Revelation Online
  • “Saphora Forest” from Aion 
  • “Drustvar Glenbrook Woods” from World of Warcraft 
  • “Forest of December” from Tree of Savior 
  • “Tera Forest” from MapleStory
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener mail: Katriana, Cursed Seishi, and Bereman
  • Jukebox picks: “Day at the Fair” from Life is Feudal, “Wastelanders Theme” from Fallout 76, and “Doom Eternal” from Doom Eternal
  • Outro (feat. “The Rime Woods” from Champions Online)

The LOTRO march of deeds goes on

It may not be the most thrilling activity I’ve ever done in MMOs, but deeding in Lord of the Rings Online is proving to be far more fulfilling and interesting than I first thought. Previous to 2020, I don’t think I ever cleared out more than a half-dozen zone deed logs on any given character. Now? I’m almost done with Eriador. As in the whole region.

I think it really helps that there isn’t anything more pressing that I need or want to do in the game. It’s a nice period of quiet downtime where every night’s session is reliably stable: I log in, check my deed log against LOTRO Wiki’s list, and continue to hack away clearing out whatever zone I’m currently in. Bit by bit, zone by zone, I’m getting through it all — and reaping a whole ton of rewards.

But above the virtue XP, the gold, the LOTRO Points, the titles, and the rest, one great reward is revisiting these older favorite zones and just marinating in them. The deeds get me to see parts of the zones I might not have quested through, and I’ve thrilled to discover a secret or fresh vista that serves as a nice surprise after a decade and a half of playing this game.

While you might think that the slayer deeds are the truly onerous chores, they’re actually not. The devs halved the numbers required several years ago, and the wiki usually has good suggestions for rich farming locations. The two worst deeds I’ve done in terms of time spent and frustration expended involved finding very specific places in large indoor instances — one in Goblin-town and one in Eregion’s Minas Elendur. I had to keep tabbing out to look at maps for those, and that got old pretty quick. That said, I’m glad I got them done in the end.

The only zone deed I didn’t do was one in Evendim that required the slaughter of certain dungeon bosses. I gave a stab at trying to solo these while setting the dungeon 25 levels below me, but it was a stupid slog and it didn’t count toward the zone meta deed, so I gave it up. At least I got the above screenshot and felt like that time was well spent.

I’m already thinking ahead to what I might do once Helm’s Deep opens on the progression shard. I don’t want to give up deeding entirely, so I might spend one night a week or something continuing to do this with the other nights devoted to normal questing. I feel like my Minstrel is already shaping up to be my strongest-performing character, so I’m growing more attached to her every day.

Digging into Itch.io’s mega-indie game bundle

It’s been hard to ignore what’s been happening over at Itch.io this past week or so. The indie game marketplace put together an astoundingly huge game and tool bundle — containing something like 1,700 titles — as part of a charity drive for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Community Bail Fund. For as little as a $5 donation, you can unlock all of these in your library and contribute to a couple of noteworthy causes. It’s been a smash success, raising over $7 million, and if you’re reading this on Monday, you still have time to take advantage of it.

Of course, once you do, then you’re faced with the prospect of sifting through 1,700 titles for ones you might actually want to use or play. I spent an evening doing so with the help of a few articles floating about there, and I have to say that (a) there are some great indie gems in here and (b) there’s a whole lot of forgettable vendor trash. I mean, someone put the effort into making them, but let’s be honest — these are indie titles and won’t have a broad universal appeal.

That said, I did grab a few games I haven’t played before and feel like I more than got my money’s worth. I already had a few of the headliners — Celeste, Overland, Night in the Woods, and Oxenfree — but I stocked away the following for a future afternoon in which boredom would drive me to trying something different out:

  • A Mortician’s Tale
  • A Short Hike
  • Astrologaster
  • Dead and Breakfast
  • Nuclear Throne
  • Death and Taxes
  • Anodyne
  • Heavy Bullets
  • Minit
  • Quadrilateral Cowboy
  • Hyper Sentinel
  • A Normal Lost Phone
  • Luna
  • Starseed Pilgrim
  • The Supper
  • Sagebrush
  • Tonight We Riot
  • Beacon
  • Hidden Folks
  • 2064: Read Only Memories
  • The Night Fisherman
  • The King’s Bird
  • Dorfromantik
  • Bleed 2
  • Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy!
  • The Stillness of the Wind
  • Verdant Skies
  • Hex
  • Wide Ocean Big Jacket
  • OneShot
  • Signs of the Sojourner
  • Far From Noise
  • Milkmaid of the Milky Way
  • Old Man’s Journey
  • Once Upon a Crime in the West
  • Pixel Fireplace
  • Shipwreck
  • Diary of a Spaceport Janitor
  • The White Door

And for those who need additional suggestions, here are a few links to curated guides to this bundle:

Good luck and game on!

What’s it like to completely start over in World of Warcraft?

When I mentioned my “silly idea” for completely starting over in World of Warcraft with a second account to my wife, she went bananas over it. Like, banana split sundae with whipped cream, cherries, and little nut fragments that get stuck in your teeth. She’s been so into WoW for the last few months but hasn’t experienced much in the way of social connection, so she really loved the idea of us — for the first time — being able to play the game together.

So, what the heck, I created a new account and we were off to the races. I don’t know exactly how much my heart is in this project — my gut says that I’m far more interested in LOTRO and ESO right now — but I like making her happy, and I’m curious to see if I can get attached to a character stripped of any past history or accomplishments.

I could’ve gone a road-less-traveled route and picked a race/class combo that I hadn’t played much in the past, but for something like this, I needed a tested-and-true quantity. And for me, that meant making another Draenei Unholy Death Knight. If I’m going to have just one character, that’s got pretty much everything I want in a class and race right there.

I did give her a slightly different look and am trying out some different build ideas with her talents. What is the really astounding thing is that I was able to get the name “Figment” on a full server. Did not expect for that to happen, but I’m not complaining.

With the 100% XP buff going on, I dinged about four extra levels before even leaving the Death Knight intro zone. I elected to go to Northrend — haven’t been back there in ages — and just work through quests without any huge driving focus. I’ll probably out-level stuff way too fast for my taste, but it doesn’t really matter if I get to 120 faster than desired. There are still questlines and rep grinds and, oh, a million things to do to get this character anywhere near where my regular DK is at.

Probably shouldn’t think about that. That’ll kill my enthusiasm faster than anything else.

It’s pleasant, I guess is the word. It’s fine. I don’t feel that thrill I sometimes do when I come back to an old favorite after enough time has gone by to make it feel new again.

What is really nice is that, yes, my wife and I are able to play together. And we are doing these “WoW dates” every day or so. I love the new party sync system that downlevels her to my area and makes the quests available for her to do again. I hadn’t really given it much thought when they put it in the game last year, but I have to say that it works and is pretty slick in its execution. There’s no stress about her being way over my level or me leveling too quickly, because party sync will adjust to any situation.

We’re kind of yelling directions and chat at each other across the house, not to mention smack talk. It’ll either help us grow closer together or create a deep and burning wound that will never heal. Time will tell on this.

Sunday Serenade: Noisestorm, Contra, and more!

Time for another Sunday morning dose of random songs that I’ve been listening to this past week! Welcome to Sunday Serenade — now let’s crank the jams up with… 

“Contravirt” by OC Remix — A really great remixed medley of the classic Contra tunes.

“Crab Rave” by Noisestorm — Who knew crabs could get down like this? Such a fun tropical dance track… with crabs.

“I Just Wanna” by Niviro — A nice remix of a club classic!

“I Don’t Know Why” by NOTD — Just a great cheerful vibe to this one that gets better with repeat listens. Kind of feel like it’s a “summer” song.

“Static Discharge” by OC Remix — This may be one of the very few Mega Man tunes I really enjoy, so it’s great to hear this jazzed-up remix.

“French Letter” by Notize — Really solid background music. I wasn’t ready for it to end.

“Now I See” by Tessa Rose Jackson — This one took a bit to convince me because it leans a bit too much on that tropish millennial sound, but it’s chipper and has a nice beat. I’ll bite.

Why Elder Scrolls Online’s story telling is so darn good

The toughest nut for me to crack to truly enjoy Elder Scrolls Online has got to be its combat system (for me, at least). I’ve been experimenting with a lot of different things, mostly moving spells around or trying out different weapons, in the hopes that I’ll get a build that offers a smooth and enjoyable rotation.

After doing a little bit of research, I figured that it might be worth giving an archery-focused build a try — or StamBowWarden or whatever abbreviation the community likes to do with these things. To assist with this switch, one of my most excellent guild mates offered not only to make me a bow but an entire outfit (with enchants) to support the build. The end result is a character that feels and plays a lot more different then my old haphazard magicka one did — and I didn’t have to reroll. That’s a plus.

So far, it’s working really well for me. Fast kills, not too much key spamming, and extra XP thanks to the armor set. I also paid to respec for the first time, which I think was long overdue because I had so many wasted points spread out over everywhere. I’m working on rebuilding her and working up skill lines that I want her to use in the end. Again, good so far. We’ll see how it goes in the long run.

And I genuinely want there to BE a long run because everything else about Elder Scrolls Online is clicking hard with me these days — especially the stories. Man, I love these quests, to the point where I’m excited if I uncover another quest giver. This game really reminds me of The Secret World in that respect, with fewer but more detailed quests and quest givers. I think ESO has a lot more emphasis on dialogue and additional scripting than TSW did, but both place a premium of making even “side” quests full stories that don’t distract the player with scads of tasks but rather one mission, one story, one quest at a time.

Why are these quests so good? While some of the tales and characters are pretty memorable in their own right, there are enough mediocre ones to encourage exploration somewhere else for this answer. I think it’s because ESO really nailed quest flow in a way that most MMOs don’t. Most MMOs front-load you with a task — go here, do this, this is the flimsy pretext why — and then there’s very little narrative development, surprises, or resolution after that. You just Do The Thing.

In ESO, there are objectives and clickies and even kill requests, but almost all of it is in service to the story of the quest. There’s enough time and space to really sell the narrative, establish the characters, and let development happen. A lot of the side quests are much like short stories, where characters are introduced, you get to know the general situation, and you’re plunged into the meat of a crisis or a mystery.

I love seeing NPCs come and go, especially inside of the little dungeons that populate this land. They keep reminding me of what’s at stake and offer up more actions and dialogue to further my understanding. Every once in a while a quest might toss in a choice — usually at the conclusion — that is appreciated, and usually there’s a scripted epilogue that takes place if you stick around.

It’s really good stuff, and I’m excited to think that there’s so many of them in the game I’ve yet to experience. That’s why I so desperately want to take combat above “functional” to “fun,” just to extend my potential interest here.

LOTRO’s legendary item imbuement system is a hot mess

Let’s face it: Legendary items are an interesting idea with potential that’s been utterly bungled in Lord of the Rings Online practically since their inception. The basic idea is to give players a special weapon that grows and levels up with them, getting better over time. Sure, I can get on board with that. Several MMOs have done so.

But in the quest to make LIs a source of endless advancement and grind, the developers fashioned (and refashioned, and re-refashioned) a hot mess of a system that’s as obtuse as it is frustrating. Standing Stone Games promised that it would revamp — somehow — the system this year, but yeah, they’ve been saying that for years now and it’s yet to happen. I’m not holding my breath.

It does need to be done, though. I mean, frankly, I’d be all for ditching LIs entirely and going back to regular looted gear, because just trying to understand legendary items gives me a headache. And when I try to wrap my head around the imbuement system, the headache is upgrade to a migraine.

Don’t take my word for it — read LOTRO Players’ guide to the current iteration of the imbuement system. Read it and then tell me if that doesn’t sound like a system from developers who actively hate their players. It’s beyond grindy, expensive, and complicated. It’s needlessly so in all directions.

This really doesn’t have to be that complicated. Give legendary items an XP bar, a talent tree, and then some easy-to-identify, easy-to-slot gizmos for special effects, skill bonuses, and the like. Boom. Done. Add a new tier every time there’s a level cap increase.

It absolutely drives me bonkers when MMO developers make systems like this that require a 3,000-word guide written by players (or a 10-minute video) just to explain the dang thing. That’s not intuitive or inviting. It might make sense to players and developers who have been futzing with it for years, but for newbies?

It’s frustrating because this system SHOULD BE FUN. It should be something I want to chase as I grow ever more attached to this mythological weapon that I wield. World of Warcraft at least got artifact weapons right for five minutes there in Legion before obliterating them — those were fun to level, easy to understand, and very useful. The thing I have strapped to my back in LOTRO? I just pray it doesn’t stink, but I’m sure it does.

I also kind of get the feeling that the developers dug themselves into a pit where they didn’t want to give up on legendary items and look foolish, and once they started charging players for stuff connected to it, they couldn’t scrap it. So now whatever “revamp” is coming, I guarantee you that it’s not going to do as much as it should nor will it be that easy to grok. And that is a crying shame.

Chrono Trigger: A sunny day in Oz

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1995’s Chrono Trigger. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

The Sun Stone is a side quest that takes full advantage of the time travel format of the game. For starters, there’s this super-annoying boss that drops this depleted sun stone that needs 65 million years (give or take) to recharge. The Crono Crew takes it to prehistory, plugs it into the wall (aka a sun shrine) and waits a while.

But it disappears somewhere along the way — 1000 AD, to be precise. This mayor of a town ends up with it, and initially he’s a right grumpy dude. But a trip back to 600 AD to be nice to his great-great-great-grandmother, and he turns from grumpy to gracious and gives the stone back.

Finally charged up, the Sun Stone is putty in Lucca’s hands, who uses it to make her ultimate weapon, the Wondershot. Nice!

Next up on the side quest list is a trip to Ozzie’s fort, to put a cap on the confrontations that the crew had at Magus’ palace. Ozzie is… not pleased to see the team again. There’s a really funny moment as Ozzie hauls up two guardians to fight for him, the battle music spins up… and then the guardians fall into a pit, causing the battle music to fizzle.

It’s really fun to frustrate Ozzie. Such a loser. I love him.

After boss fight after boss fight, the team finally corners Ozzie — and a little cat saunters in, hits a switch to open the trap door underneath him. That’s the end of Ozzie, but not of the legendary loot that the Crono Crew hauled away from this castle!

Fallout 76: Paranormal paramedic

I got to say, one of the best perks of doing game journalism is once in a while getting to interview the developers of the game you’re actually playing. I always feel incredibly lucky that I get face time with these people and can zing whatever questions I want at them.

So it was incredibly gratifying to get a half-hour to grill Fallout 76’s devs on Zoom the other week. I wasn’t mean about it, but I came at them pretty blunt and pretty hard and at least got to voice my frustrations at some of the game’s “pain points,” such as a lack of text chat and guilds, as well as the wildly fluctuating difficulty levels while questing. I think Bethesda’s getting hammered about the text chat question, and there’s hope that it’ll get on top of that sooner rather than later, but what is coming soon is this One Wasteland stat retooling that’ll level out the difficulty for all players.

I am very excited about that, and once that hits, I’ll finally be able to catch up on sooo many quest chains that have stalled out because they’re in super-dangerous areas or guarded by mobs that I have zero chance of defeating.

One cool little change the game made lately was to allow backpack skins to apply to small backpacks, which means that those of us who got these skins in the store and have been waiting to use them on regular backpacks could go ahead right now. As you see above, I went with the medic backpack, which goes well with my paramedic jumpsuit. I like the look and feel of the character, imagining her as a combat medic hopping through the wasteland.

She’s level 26 as of the writing of this and doing fine, if not better than that. Each gaming session I attempt a different quest or set a goal, and sometimes I can achieve it, and sometimes not. I’m starting to accumulate a nice arsenal of weapons, although I’m running out of room to put everything I have. My STASH is completely full, so maybe another housebuilding session is in order to clear out the stuff in there.

I am a little disappointed how few dialogue NPCs I’ve encountered over the past month. The pre-Wastelanders content is still in the game, so there are still a ton of locations and quests without a talkative NPC to be seen, and those are mostly what I’ve been doing. I know I need to head back over to Foundation to see what missions I can drum up from those folks, so that might set me back on a more normal questing course.

One thing that sets Fallout 76 apart from other MMOs I play is that I feel so vulnerable in this game. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve jumped because a mob I didn’t see springs out at me, or how I’ve quietly backed away from mini-nuclear detonations and fireballs from other conflicts just over the next ridge. It still has a “big world” feel to it, and without social tools, I’m more isolated than I’d like to be.