I was laid up a little last week with a sinus infection, so it gave me the time to blow through a few titles before going back to work. Unfortunately, this one isn’t the most praiseworthy crop…
Y’all, I absolutely loved Sacred 21. It was an action-RPG that didn’t go for balance or sanity or anything but being a kitchen sink entry into the genre.
Every class had their own special equipment slots, the game threw gear and skills at you aplenty, and there were systems in place to convert other people’s loot into something you could use if you didn’t want to save it for alts or trade with other players. Quests could be as straight-faced as “battle your way free in the arena” or as insane as “Please rescue the members of Blind Guardian so they can play a concert for you”. That’s really a thing that happens. Above all, though, the game never really slowed down or forced any of this on you – if you wanted to just do the main story, it was straight-faced, and there was a mass of extra toys lying around a massive world to play with.
Once upon a time, I and a woman who was not yet my wife got an invite to a party taking place in town during San Diego Comic-Con. If you’re unfamiliar with SDCC, it’s where downtown SD turns into Hollywood South for a week, and sometimes anime, comic, and games companies show up to fill some of the extra space on the show floor. Nearby hotels become showrooms for one company or another if you’ve got the press pass, the cash, or know a guy who can get you in to see things. Because she shared a clan with one of the employees, she got an invite and a plus-one to see a joint party Square-Enix and Deep Silver were putting on in the summer of 2014 at a local bar.
There were good games on display (I actually still have a t-shirt won for getting one of the highest scores in Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris), and there was some real trash. One thing I recall catching my eye was that above one station were simply the words “Sacred 3”. It actually took half the night to get to mess with it – unlike more than a few of the stations, this wasn’t running code on a console, and was a developer build that they had to download from Steam on a very, very poor connection. But eventually, the two of us took a crack at this game, and immediately I bristled when the station only had two controllers. Sacred 2 hadn’t been a game I’d want to play on a 360 controller.
Sacred 3 was actually really bad. The first stage was overlong and the two of us together (slightly drunk, to be fair) didn’t get to the end of it before the endless parade of low hanging fantasy jokes, sloppy gameplay, and just boring pacing had us walk off to try, and this is true, Hitman Sniper Challenge, a game we both had much more fun with on an iPad in a corner.
I do not know how I got my copy of Sacred 3. I’m going to guess a spite-gift from one of my friends2 or a bundle of some sort. It came with all of the DLC, and so when I began to play it this time around, I learned two things really quickly:
1. the DLC actively makes the game worse
2. the finished version was in no way better than the development build we tried at a bar, except now I was sober and I didn’t have anyone to riff off of
Here’s the thing I haven’t quite made clear yet – this is not a Diablo clone like the prior games in the series, with equipment, loot drops, a big open world to dick around in, etc. This is a game whose biggest competition was the Gauntlet reboot that showed up the same year, a co-op focused level-based action title with powerups, characters who only had a few skills and minor gear based ‘builds’, and, in Sacred’s case, a shitload of padding. I played legitimately for the first 33 stages and then just set my XP to maximum because a) gear was a negligible part of this game and b) I wanted it to end faster. Sure enough, just pumping my Seraphim’s numbers took the main stages from 30-40 minutes down to around 10 on average. Some were a little longer, but it’s because they had a particularly gimmicky boss, or relied on a lot of enemy arenas.
The game seriously is one of the most formulaic things I’ve played in recent memory, by the by. Every major stage (and if some of you keep wondering why I’m distinguishing main/major stages: there are 2-3 little 5-10 minute jaunts for every plot level, I don’t know if they’re optional or not) will do all but one of the following in some order:
- A sequence where you must do a thing 6 times in a row, with the thing involving a cooldown timer, as waves of enemies swarm your position. This can be as simple as “turn a crank repeatedly and each time, it has an animation before you can do it again”, or, my least favorite variant by a mile, “destroy 6 X”. These things will be spread around a much too large area, and this game has no minimap or camera control, so you’ll be wandering looking for your targets in graveyards full of entire cities, or my personal nadir of the game, “destroy 6 catapults on a full size battlefield”. The place was huge, nothing pointed at your targets, and finding the final one when I missed a shot on it earlier was hell to make my way back to.
- The segment where Shit Falls On You From Above With Telegraphed Explosion Markers. It can be boulders. It can be catapult fire. It can be an erupting volcano. Maybe it’s cannonballs. Whatever the excuse, it’ll be you running through an area with probably-zero enemies dodging this stage’s glowing circle parade.
- Find 1-4 keys. Much like the destroy 6 X, these are spread over huge areas with no signposting, so wander around slaying everything until the correct 4 men have died. Usually these are the largest 4 men, but this is not a guarantee!
- Charge The Portal. An endless procession of enemies swarms you as you hold a button to fill up the same gate that appears in every one of these. The killer? You’re not just standing in place screaming and powering it up with your aura, you’re actually consuming your special attack meters. And a single player at full special will only fill the thing about 66%, so get ready to smack down the idiot parade for a while to fill back up to finish the job if you play solo. (You’re playing solo. Nobody is still in this game.)
- A boss. Most of these are just a big dude, but some of them are irritating puzzle bosses, where you have to do things like angle a specific enemy to damage the boss, or lure it into a room hazard, or crap like that. Those are the worst in the game because suddenly you’ve got to use one of the lesser-developed mechanics to make it work, usually the “pick up a fodder enemy and throw them” one with exploding idiots who can’t be aimed well. The thing that broke me of playing this game legitimately and sent me to ratchet my XP to max was a pirate ship boss who could only be damaged by basically bowling enemies carrying explosives towards the ship that would dodge and occasionally turn invincible to send enemy generators at you. The boss fight alone on that already over-long stage took me another 10 minutes.
There is so much more bullshit to this game4 but I’ve already made my point. To add insult to injury, the original developers of Sacred 1/2, Ascaron, had folded as a company between 2/3, and some of them tried reforming to create a spiritual successor. Playing this game made me look up what happened to them, and I got to learn that one of their lead members died young of cancer, killing the startup’s momentum and the game itself. The website for the project went offline mid-2018.
I hadn’t played a Disgaea since the original Atlus PS2 release of the first game, but at some point (probably out of “let’s support these PC ports” idiocy), I bought this ages back. What pushed me to install it for this backlog rush was that during Christmas, someone bought me the freshly released Disgaea 5 Complete, and if I’m going to play that, I want to knock off the one I already own before what I’ve been told is The New Champion in the series.
I caught on to one of the twists partway through. I think it was chapter 3 or thereabouts. I did not pick up the other until right before it happened, and at the end, I confess I was tearing up a bit in the last chapters. The big thing that killed me is I started min-maxing early, not realizing (remembering?) that there were straight up “you lose” points in the campaign if you were too potent to die. I had fun overall! I’m just spacing out grind-tacular SRPG games and making sure I get a bunch between 2 and 5. It’s really hard to think of much to say about this because Disgaea is… kind of a known quantity? You know if you want it or not.
Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015: Do You Still Shower With Your Dad
I know this has a bunch of bonus modes in it but I played a few rounds of the basic ones because my wife wouldn’t stop suggesting this be the next game on my backlog pile5 and I think I’m good here.
This is the first one I’m gonna invoke the 6+ hour rule on just because while I’m going to play this for ages as a cool-off game before bed, it won’t be done for ages with a few hundred puzzles. It’s sudoku. There is an interesting aspect where it’s got a shared launcher for the few other puzzle titles the company has on Steam, though, so I can just use one executable for all of them I install, swapping puzzle types at will. Pretty cool touch.
Q.U.B.E.: Director’s Cut
This one was incredibly short, my final playtime was under 4 hours. But that tracks given that this game very clearly took a lot of inspiration from the original Portal – a two-button interface with jump key that has you solving puzzles in pre-constructed chambers, as an unseen woman monologues at you and, in this case, your broken radio prevents you from answering back.
I actually burned through this one faster than expected, in about three? sittings, maybe a fourth due to taking a break near the endgame. The part where it diverges from Portal is that you’re actually interacting with colored cubes – red ones can be extended or shrunk, blue ones are springboards, yellow ones come in trios that you can manipulate the size of, and later on, you start getting into more and more odd ones than these, but those are your building blocks for the whole game.
If you actually want a couple of spoilers for it, I’ll go into that next paragraph, but this one left me really sated, the standalone puzzle race mode had a whole bunch of new concepts and powerups to interact with that mean I’ve left it installed to keep screwing around with, and, since I am a hoarder, I got to discover I own the sequel to the game too, so I’ve actually begun installing that in the background. I’m excited!
Okay here’s the spacing before I talk about the story concept and one moment that really haunted me. Also, in looking things up, apparently this narrative is only in the Director’s Cut version? So that’s a thing.
So. The Portal comparisons last a little more in that you have two people you’re in contact with for the game: an (unnamed?) astronaut woman who can only radio you when the ISS is on the side of earth facing the cube (QUBE?) you’re in, and a very Rat Man-esque figure who seems to have lost his mind but might also be more aware of what’s going on than you are. The former insists you’re another astronaut who was sent into this alien thing hurtling towards Earth to dismantle it from the inside, which, to be fair, your progress seems to be doing as you go along and it begins breaking apart, or entire sections are done without power, or the like. But the latter insists you’re just another rat in the maze “who’s going to be abandoned in the dark forever”, and the former doesn’t acknowledge the other for the longest time, eventually claiming the fellow is a long-presumed-dead astronaut whose disappearance seems to have been him crashing into the structure.
I won’t lay out how it ends, because the final chapter has some pretty good tension there, but there was one scene that was some excellent horror in miniature: at one point, you’re under the structure of the cube, and it’s misfiring things, entire sections have you walking on rebar-like structures connecting shattered stone, lights aren’t working, and wires hang loose. The whole time, she’s telling you something she “can’t tell Mission Control”, but since you have no radio, she feels safe sharing it. The story goes that a recent space-walk had her outside the station to repair paneling, but the fact that she was somehow more isolated than ever just got to her. She had to focus on her work and keep her head together while a voice, her own voice, started talking to her from outside the suit, in the void. It just kept whispering and building and by the time it got audible enough to decipher, all it told her were three words: “God is dead.” And then it went silent and she was alone.
I’m underselling it, because the actor really does put her all into the scene. It’s legitimately terrifying the way she spins this, and it just made me realize that in one moment, this game had done more to lean into first person puzzle/horror than another Portal-clone I’d gone through, the pretty-mediocre Lovecraft homage Magrunner: Dark Pulse, where the only horror comes from the fact that in the back half of the game, you just have sahaguin chasing your ass around voids while you try to solve the rooms.
Remaining clears before hiatus ends: 30/36
- Sacred 1 was okay but inferior in every way, up to and including the fact that it won’t run on a 64-bit system.
- I have multiple pals who make a game of trying to gift me the worst possible thing on Steam every holiday sale. Or they did at one point. We are well beyond a time when there was any challenge to this task.
- Technically not the first three levels. One of the only good things in the game is that once you finish the first stage, you’re free to visit any single level in the game that isn’t the final one, no matter what the level scaling was. I poked around at some midgame stuff for the hell of it.
- Highlights include the fact that everything from the Spirit Shard system (think challenge tonics from Bastion) to the few weapon upgrades in the game are all randomized, meaning that if you’re unlucky like me, you might not see a specific thing for ages and be stuck using the only one that levels up rather than cripple yourself with a more interesting but less potent form, or the fact that the DLC, unlike everything else in the game, scales to your level, meaning if you max out the character, you’re going to have nothing but meat sponges attacking you, or the part where NOTHING EVER SHUTS UP AT ALL.
- Love you, honey.