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Beating Games


Aging Hipster Dragon Dad
Hey, I finally got around to beating Thumper tonight. The final boss was actually a lot easier than the penultimate boss I had been stuck on for a while, since they ease off on the difficulty in most others factors so the new timing trick doesn’t completely destroy everyone.

Good game. I will not be S ranking every stage however.


Plastic Vampire
I beat Street Fighter 2010: The Final Fight. I've always had a fascination for this odd little game. I used to pop it in at the rental store, fail to beat the first stage, then put it back on the shelf. It had that Junko Tamiya thump that you'd hear in all of the early 90s Capcom NES games. And of course it's a little infamous for having nothing to do with either of Street Fighter or Final Fight except for its lead character named Ken. Ken was renamed from some other generic American name in the Famicom version, but that game was still called Street Fighter. Who knows.

Anyway SF2010TFF lands somewhere between beat-em-up and platformer. Ken throws punches and kicks which in practice work more like bullets. You collect power-ups that increase his range, and sometimes items that give him extra abilities like a floating death orb and a flip kick. There's surprising granularity in the different movements Ken can execute that depend on inputs like length of button press. He can climb walls and ceilings, jump really high, and generally parkour to wherever he wants in a couple of seconds. Enemies feel like they're moonlighting from Ghosts 'n Goblins or Strider, floating in from all angles and challenging the player's ability to react in time. If you die, you lose all of your power-ups, no exception. Since you hold the same life meter from stage to stage, on a first play it's incredibly hard to maintain a power-up meter. Fortunately, the game doles out just enough power-up to make all of the battles possible if you're smart about it.

Also, there's infinite continues. This plus short stages and high difficulty made it a pleasure to chew on for a retro-hound like me. But wait, there's more! Check out these backgrounds, man!

Graphically, there's a heckuva lot going on in this game. Nearly every stage has a unique tile set. The first stage alone has an incredible depth of character - if you take a few minutes to look around, you'll see neon-bathed storefronts, strange stone pillars casting diagonal shadows, a giant delivery truck, distant skyscrapers against a purple sunset, and the Statue of Liberty. The game then takes you through more glowing cityscapes, a ruined bar, then to other planets with increasingly bizarre flavors. There's an auto-scrolling bio-mechanical battleship with a snarling goblin shark face and little fungus-cannons that spit fish missiles at you. There's masterful use of light and shadow, a hallmark of early 90s graphical style on the NES. It's a tour de force, I say.

It's easy to miss this stuff because you're so focused on making an inch of progress. And special notice goes to the final stage, where you face a three-boss gauntlet punctuated with more dangerous platforms, then a two-phase final boss, all on the same timer and life bar. This challenge is no joke. You either figure out the most efficient way through the stage or you give up forever. Fortunately, I stuck it through, and the brief ending was absolutely worth the effort. This is a good 'un.


hardcore retro gamin'
Good beat! SF2010 is one of the more misunderstood games on the NES. It's got quite the learning curve, but it's very rewarding once you get it down.


Second paythrough, and yep, NieR: Automata still has the greatest vidjya game ending of all time.


Issun said:
Second paythrough, and yep, NieR: Automata still has the greatest vidjya game ending of all time.
Please clarify: do you mean the one when you perform autectomy on your CMOS battery, or the one where you die of seafood poisoning?

I've finished Shadowrun: Hong Kong including the bonus campaign; review in spoiler, containing spoilers both for HK and Shadowrun: Dragonfall. TLDR: in Dragonfall, your squad members seem largely defined by one characteristic at first, but you soon learn that they're more complicated. SR:HK does it the other way around, and somehow emulates PS:T even more, both in its best and worst qualities. I unreservedly think that the game was worth playing, and in some ways it far surpasses Dragonfall; but in many other ways, it cannot live up to it.

Let's start with a triptych, without comment. There will be more than enough of that inside the spoiler, I promise.

Whereas Dragonfall immediately had you plunged into a mission with a squad that your character had only a tenuous connection to (and said connection is severed within five minutes), the introduction of SR:HK focuses on Duncan and you, swinging back and forth between unresolved baggage and uneasy mutual comfort, with Carter mediating while trying to keep herself out of the disaster area. Then she gets shot down within five minutes, and you find your fate tied to that of two long-established friends (who started out considering each other much more pragmatically, though) and Shadowrunners whose crew was likewise killed in that attack. They initially distrust your competence, and half-coerce, half-convince you to enter the service of their local crime-lady, Kindly Cheng. The player quickly realizes that his/her task is to balance between paying "Auntie" due homage and impressing her with autonomous thought and force-of-will, which is thematically echoed by the first mission she gives you: bringing an unruly but otherwise appreciated vassal back into the fold -- without conflict, if possible. At this point, I expected that the game would revolve around this balance on a larger scale -- keeping "Auntie" on your side while covertly building an independent existence.

Instead, Kindly Cheng grows irrelevant halfway through the game; meet our new antagonists: some blandly power-hungry executive's mako reactors summon the Tooth Fairy from hell; make it stop. None of the characters involved with this "grand plot" are interesting in the least; Raymond could have been, but is largely stuck repeating the same sentiment over and over. Tsang largely remains untouchable, which could have worked (think e.g. Revan in KotOR II, who I think I could convincingly argue is the real antagonist of the Exile, never once appearing, but being responsible for events and memories at every turn), but she only exists in the story as an object kicking events into motion, not as a character (unlike Revan, who is among the most-developed characters in KotOR II, even if we only hear of him/her from others). Instead, SR:HK reminds me of NWN2 rotating out the interesting characters from the second act, such as Axle and Torio, for an array of immortal skeleton wizards that want to end the world for the lulz and/or because they struggle with pattern baldness. The confrontation with Qian Ya is dull and gauche in style, resolves itself on autopilot, and -- by far the gravest failure -- fails to develop any established motifs meaningfully. The detailed description of everyone's dreams, the differences between them (see, for example, the Go players in the harbour, who had compelling dialogue but simply stopped saying anything new after the second visit), the intricacies of the Yama Kings' nature, and all possible ties into the (meta)human plot leading up to the supernatural one -- those all proved not to matter (or to dissolve into banalities); Qian Ya is an unimaginative "primal horror" that is, in effect, anything but that. We will see that SR:HK can genuinely lead you to second-guess yourself with unease, but Qian Ya -- unlike Feuerschwinge or Vauclair, say -- offers no ambiguities. If she's meant to be a grotesque echo of Kindly Cheng or an eternally-recurrent abstraction of Josephine Tsang, that also didn't come across as such to me.

I think the writers themselves realized this complaint independently and agreed, because the bonus campaign seems specifically written to address this, bringing an improved "Torio" (Inspector Qiu) into the game. I'll have something to say about this further below.

Writing quality differs wildly -- the talks with your companions aboard the Big Texas are the most fascinating part of this game, along with the visual artwork; but during missions, it often falls off, which I think wasn't so pronounced in Dragonfall, and neither did DF have anything like the Ka Fai family, who all talk for ages about a dull family situation that asks you to play psychotherapist, culminating in laughably trite advice, lest you should feel responsible for a wholly broken home. You'd think you were playing a BioWare game; the Ka Fai family suffers from what Shadowrun should, by its nature, never offer: "choices" (i.e. clicking the "understanding" lines sporadically over 30 minutes of dialogue) leading to unambiguously happy endings, and not even an alternative happy ending in sight (everything but the best outcome is clearly bleak for them, or so I figure, given the information -- of course I might be wrong). Contrast this with Ten-Armed Ambrose, the local street doctor, whom you gradually get to open up about his painful life story.

And eventually realize (either via Intelligence check or irl intelligence check... or the game just pointing it out, because it's an RPG made after 2007) that it doesn't hold up, and that you should have realized he'd be far more cautious about the truth, given how defensive he was initially, although he claims not to have lied about the parts that truly mattered (and might well be right). He's the best side-character in the game; other promising ones, such as Spider Shen and Crafty Xu, can't quite hold up -- Shen lacks "pay-off" again, which all the other characters seem to get, and Xu is best summed up, despite another great first impression, by her saying a blank line and nothing else in the epilogue.

Unlike Dragonfall, which tried its damnedest using non-native German well as artistic spice, I didn't get the impression that Cantonese was used to good effect, especially after your character's language skills had seemed to play a prominent role in the first mission, but it barely ever gets mentioned again. Then again, I don't speak a word of Cantonese; for all I know, the names may have been thematic. But characters also rarely seemed to sprinkle their speech with Cantonese, as they did with German in Dragonfall; the writers weren't against this on principle, as the Indonesian pirate says "lah" a lot and sings an Indonesian song in the bonus campaign. No verdict here.

Before I move on to the companions, I figure I should say a brief word about the combat: it's bad. Very Hard difficulty was axed for some reason, and playing the opposite of a male elven shaman (namely, female dwarven adept) this time, with a far more focused build, and Aim II / Haste III always available from Gobbet, the only issue was with finding cover occasionally while my character got five 90% acc / 100% crit attacks per turn, Koschei played second fighter, and Isobel fired her absurd grenade launcher every turn (thankfully, some enemies get the rebound cyberware, making Isobel have one slight weakness at least). The computer generally handles itself "alright", although it undervalues cover, clumps up its troops needlessly too much, and misses some significant edge cases: the worst oversight is that it doesn't respect the grenade-blocking cyberarm itself, creating an obvious exploit and an unreasonable advantage from clustering your characters. A minor, if much more amusing one, was when it would cast Slow (-2 movement) on stationary turrets; it's also obsessed with attacking drones, making Eos not a bad choice for a merc... if you didn't miss out on flavour text after a run. Since reading is all the fun here, don't bring third-party mercs. But of course, Dragonfall had shared this problem, even if Lucky Strike was an interesting character.

Hacking ("decking") is now a real-time stealth mousetwitchy sequence. Yes, real-time stealth in an X-COM clone, with controls that offer no "fine motorics", to put it most diplomatically. If you get caught, your reward is a special variant of "combat" where every action has unboosted accuracy rates of about 60%, tops. Do I need to go on? -- If nothing else, I liked the new lock-picking minigame, where I found that the best system to solve it was to associate the characters with their closest letter in the Latin alphabet, and remember the gradually-revealed sequence of symbols as "W4 C6" or such; besides, it's fun and appropriate that it requires you to scan different parts of the screen simultaneously. Nonetheless, screw hacking and screw Isobel's insistence on bringing her own DIY equipment, claiming that it's equivalent to the best on the market. It factually isn't.

There are too many bugs / oversights. The "-1 messages" screenshot was the most benign and amusing one, but characters getting stuck in some pose to force a full mission restart happened at least thrice to me, and there's the issue of several lines of dialogue being blank my mistake, or dialogue that probably shouldn't be available multiple times not being replaced with generic one-liners.

Anyhow, I'll endeavour to discuss what I found fascinating about the companions in this game, and what less so.


Initially playing tough and taciturn, especially in contrast to when your character knew him, Duncan soon shows a different side: his need for comfort and someone to guide him with kindness and an "idealistic" (in the colloquial sense) discipline alike; Carter evidently filled that role in your absence. Even his runner name is given to him by someone else, and he doesn't like it, but acquiesces. Unlike Eiger or Glory in Dragonfall, who similarly presented as tough-as-nails before revealing their unresolved issues to you, Duncan has no troubled past that you don't already know of: you're the reminder thereof, in fact, intruding on his self-image of having stabilized his life, and rid himself of his "anger issues" and grief that he links with his past, in part due to wrong assumptions about your motives and actions. Clearly, the two of you want to bond again, but you also both realize that no single cathartic action can finalize such a change -- yet neither is one such required to break the ice. Thus, much like with Eiger, your relationship develops gradually, sometimes with better mutual understanding, sometimes not.

Here's the catch: Duncan isn't interesting. Or can't make himself interesting. In the bonus campaign, Kindly Cheng correctly points out that "nobody gives a fuck about Carter", and apart from foreshadowing Duncan's increasing resistance against working for her any longer, this line also seems like a self-ironic jab from the writers acknowledging Duncan's dullness -- narratively, the burden is on him to make Carter into a character posthumously, and he can't say anything that you didn't already pick up from the woman herself, or Duncan in the first mission.

And this inability extends to himself. What stuck with me the most was his reaction to the very serious "ghost story" that my character told him, ending with a playful "[Squeeze him.] It's the GHOOOST!" -- and instead of laughing along, he gets enraged and throws you out. After having called you "sister" before. That's Duncan.

He never shuts up about how you betrayed him (or how he thought so) and the pain that it caused him -- then ditches you without a word, and without remission, if you refuse to take Inspector Qiu's final offer; this shows how little of a "self-assured" (more accurately, self-insured) code of honour he has, unlike the other runners: Isobel, for instance, hesitates to re-delete her painful memories, despite having planned this earlier, after the ASIST episode. Perhaps on point, Isobel, while not outright saying it, makes it rather clear in the epilogue that you're the only one on the team who misses Duncan. -- This development is anticipated by Gaichu's story about his "true love" who, despite being the only one that he felt understood him "innately", and a woman he still admires deeply, refused to stay with him, par tout, if he joined the Renraku Special Forces ("Red Samurai") -- and so he left her, painfully, but not regretfully.

Man, it's quite revealing how I keep swerving to talk about non-Duncan characters in the section that should focus on him. In brief, it was a great idea to make one member of your team a reluctant shadowrunner whose personal loyalty apparently keeps him on the team, only for it to turn out that his personal loyalty doesn't extend all that far. In practice, Duncan's irritating refusal to talk about anything in detail, and instead defaulting to blaming you for his ill fortune sometimes more and sometimes less, and being a generally disagreeable person (see his treatment of Raymond and insistence that he's "not a coward", especially given his actions in the end) may have been the point to his character -- your character learning not to overattach him/herself, even when it's about their foster-brother and close friend in a rough childhood. Nonetheless, I wish the choice that you make about Qiu's offer would actually have been a difficult one; isn't that part of Shadowrun's distinctive character? And that only works if Duncan is someone you care about.

He still works out fine thematically, though. More on that when we get to Racter.


Intelligent, timid, stubborn, and averse to violence, she only feels like herself when in virtual reality (where she deals harshly with intruding hackers). When you bring her on missions, she always calmly takes charge when she can accomplish something, and tends to adapt quickly, but she's a complete mess when she has to lead the mission, rather than specific tasks, screwing up her own meticulous plans with impulsive reactions.

Isobel (I usually omit the '0', guess why) might have been named, either by the character or the writers, after that Björk song. It would fit well, I think. She shares a problem with Duncan, namely her obstinacy in refusing "small talk" and clamming up about every single decision she has to make, despite clearly hoping for you to engage her about it (but not in that way, with that opinion). Thankfully, she's not always as humourless ("the Octopus" is a great name for her terminal), and if nothing else, she has an actual interest: computers. Nonetheless, not much of her character is explored, nor does she seem eager to try and connect with your character unless she thinks it might comfort her: Isobel's "shy" vanity is perhaps best exemplified by her personal mission, where it's revealed that her "rival" had originally been her friend, they had engaged in a useless escalating slapfight for stupid reasons, and by this exchange between them after they've made amends (from memory, inaccurately):

-- 'Is0bel, before you go, there's something else I need to tell you.'
-- (she arches an eyebrow, or the like) 'Please... you don't need to say this, I know it. You make it obvious.'
-- 'What? You mean -- no, I don't mean -- I mean, I like you, Is0bel, just... *no*. I was meaning to say that I had pressed a panic button to alert the police, but I'm going to tell them it was a false alarm.'
-- 'oh I see, makes sense, yeah.' (small voice with contorted face quickly turned away)

It's the most painfully sympathetic smile the game coaxed out of me. Earlier during that mission, she gets enraged at learning that he has a VIP pass and she doesn't. If nothing else, Is0bel is utterly honest (though this doesn't mean that she'll speak about everything, far from it; but when she does, she won't lie), and I like it myself that "shyness" isn't portrayed as an inherently virtuous or deleterious characteristic.

I still think Eiger or Glory did it better, though, because their "shyness" was both innate and re-acquired (whether Eiger is "shy" in the same sense as Isobel is arguable), and because Isobel's relationship with your character barely ever changes. That's not the case with any companion in Dragonfall. In fact, in DF's epilogue, the writers included a "trap" that I think is fantastically great writing:

If you helped Glory save the children at Feuerstelle, with Harrow escaping as a result, she packs her bags in the epilogue, setting out to hunt him down. If you try to dissuade her -- or convince her to take you along -- she is touched and thanks you for how much you've cared for her, but remains firm in refusing. This all looks like a potential choice of fate as is typical for an RPG epilogue, and you can choose to press her further.

Do that, and she immediately sees through you, grows as cold as she ever was, and says something akin to how it's all really only ever been about what you wanted from her, hasn't it?

It's brilliant. Note also that Eiger or Dietrich or Blitz, having a different life story, don't do anything like this, and they respond warmly to your saying that you'll stick with them. But Glory, even if she didn't have good reason to say that, "has to" say it because that's how people have been treating her all her life (and she has done similarly with others).

When Isobel grows cold over your interest in her memories of the Walled City, it's less convincing because you've been trying, at every turn, to talk about other things as well, or about why she feels more free in the Matrix (never really explored or suggested, which I think is a failure: the concept isn't new, after all). Overall, Isobel certainly "works" as a "foil" for Gobbet and her nuanced personality, but like Duncan, she doesn't tie well into the story, and she doesn't change much, neither gradually nor over drastic events (you can perhaps piss her off by murdering her secret crush, but that's not very interesting, either). If I learned little else from, or disagreed with much that I recently read in Le Guin's Steering The Craft, "writing is change, story is change" is something that I wholly agree with. Well, maybe use "development" instead.


In one sense, Gobbet is WYSIWYG to a fault: acknowledge that name, see and read "the orkish Rat shaman with dreadlocks and a mischievous smile", and you know that you're in for a eusocial trash goblin who loves discovering new and refined finger-food at volatile alley kiosks and wagons, wham bam thank you ma'am (...figuratively), who learns and decides quickly, and shivers at open spaces and captivity. What's more, she delights in a grand-gesture joviality that she means seriously as often as not, compressed in her "personal arc" that opens with her teaching you runner smarts (again half-lax, half-serious) and ends with her calling herself the student, if still with a slight rat-smart undertone. Unlike Duncan and Isobel, she treats you as an equal: the issue here isn't with befriending her (not a Cat shaman), but with standing your own against her. It ties into the theme I mentioned early on, the first stand-off against Kindly Cheng.

Also unlike those two, Gobbet does admit for you to change her... a bit. (In Shadowrun, totemic shamans intrinsically have to be a bit obstinate, anyway.) She also understands the fluctuation of roles in friendship, is enthusiastic about trying to share "simple pleasures and possessions" with you (eating all the food that Gobbet offers is a matter of honour, thank you), and doesn't take it all that gravely if you don't. However, Gobbet is self-assured and disorganized to a fault, and while capable of being smart, she scoffs on reasoning when it doesn't agree with first instincts, and has no patience for Racter at all (she's more baffled and amused by Gaichu, who seems to return that). Her mission, then, involves you going against her wishes for once (this is similar to Eiger's, and also Gaichu's) if you want her to change for the better: for all her supposed cheeriness, she's really more smart than anything else. There's a Bombadil-like quality to her -- and this is likely why she can easily cast the Shiny Object into the South China Sea, hoping for it to be broken and buried under "crab shit". Her spiel about the supposedly autonomous noodle machine that she obviously stole (and you can go along with her) seems to have sprouted from that same tree of natural mischief.

Gobbet is great. The main issue I have with her is that she, again, doesn't change too much in her relationship with your character. She's wary at first, then makes friends, then learns a lesson about not being so wasteful (which befits someone who's as terrible with cleaning as she is) and driven by her first impulses, even if these are often well-intentioned. She's also perhaps a tad too similar to Dietrich, who was similarly a sympathetic "easy-going", yet at his kind heart quite tenacious asshole, but a bit lacking in "depth"; the most conflict she gets is when she gets rather defensive about the good intentions of her totem, but you can't press this either way.

I would have felt remiss if I hadn't included ratparty.sim.png in the triptych. Yeah, she (and she alone) dances autonomously while it's playing.


Now it gets interesting.

I'll preface this by saying that I am blatantly ignorant of psychology. And that I'm only slightly acquainted with the general history of the discipline, and its grave errors as little as a hundred years ago, or fifty years; of the succeding charlatanery of "psychoanalysis" and its bizarre feedback into made-up philosophy; of its questionable ties into the covert ops of secret services, as far as they were later made public; and that I suspect that it has, in due course, always been under threat, as a science, by interests that could be called ideological and corporate even at the private scope.

This character's name rhymes with that of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Maybe that was part of the plan: when the reader gets disappointed, he/she must concede that it has been obvious from the beginning, having set it aside as a red herring for all too long because it simply seemed so unfittingly blatant about this character, who seemed so subtle and intriguing at first. And isn't that precisely part of the intent, the "verisimilitude", here?

Reader, can you guess where the story is going?

Dr. Racter is a Russian rigger with an assault drone named Koschei. Possessing IRL academic etiquette and/or looked into the better-known music of Stravinsky in my life, I realized the allusion immediately and wondered how they could be so obvious about it. Racter, initially, bedazzles you with his strange distribution (not really measure) of attachment and detachment to what he narrates, his unperturbed friendliness, and his obvious intelligence. Seemingly the most introspective yet autarchic of all the characters, you gradually realize that he has quite a stake in convincing you that his dreams, and his nature, hold value; what's most striking about him is perhaps his eventual admission that he has outsourced his "id" (his word) into Koschei, which he caresses like a pet at times, and of whose design and killing prowess he speaks with unrestrained fascination. (When he discovers that he can self-induce synaesthesia, he experiments with tastes and fragrances but immediately talks of how it might help to "associate the sound of scraped metal with Koschei's knife".)

Why is this striking? Not because of his "narcissistic" nature. You've seen that coming. It's striking because you've deluded yourself that it wouldn't be the case, because that wouldn't be interesting, and he is, he must be. It's a similar case to what the writers knew you'd assume about Glory (that her cyberware results from what she suffered as a victim, not what she perpetrated): of course they wouldn't make a self-described psychopath with a "family history of malignant narcissism" out of the strange, but ultimately not cruel "autist" and "psychopath" who has been trying to explain his nature that well-meaning people have told him is deleterious. And see, he tells you about this, even -- is the honesty not a sign that he's different? (No, it only shows that he expects you'll think exactly like this, in reaction. And so it goes ever on. You see what I meant about Qian Ya? Racter is somehow a far more effective "villain", despite being completely loyal -- this, by the way, is a sign that his "narcissism" isn't quite normal: if you've ever gained his trust, it seems impossible to lose it. He admires you for cutting the deal with Qian Ya, but also admires you if you trick her into leaving: in both cases, his "optimism" about transhumanist thought is affirmed, so why wouldn't he?)

But then, as the game proceeds and you compare Racter to your other companions, how different is he? Duncan's "narcissism" is almost too obvious to point it out again, Isobel gets pissed at you over nothing once and outright says "No... no, that isn't who I want to be" in half-apology, Gobbet isn't above killing the Sinking Ship crew, Gaichu plans to infect Ishida as revenge; and already by not committing suicide, each and every human affirms their deep-seated belief that theirs is a good branch of the tree of evolution, whatever they may say otherwise. For that matter, a good lot of characters in this game are blatantly trying to get some "image" across (see Ten-Armed Ambrose, or Maximum Law, or the Ka Fai family) -- this can hardly be held against him, either. You see how it goes. You can make excuses about this man indefinitely, because he knows full well that he's fascinating, despite that not everything about him holds up under scrutiny; you will see that his behaviour is not so much innately abnormal as simply abnormal by prevalence, because he has fewer counterbalancing traits, because he is not as much subject to "impressionability", to moods, emotions, environmental influences.

What's disappointing about Racter, then? Mostly, that you're rarely allowed good dialogue options with him. Much that he brings up is worthy of thought, even if he himself may not have given it as much as he thinks. But usually, you only get the choice of three replies: "you're all good, friend", "you're revolting", and some non-committal third option akin to "lol idk"; and the joke about Racter is precisely that he barely cares which one you choose, the other extreme opposite from BioWare RPG-psychotherapy. You can't point out the contradiction between his bitterness (even if he masks it) about the uncertainty of psychotherapy and his self-admiration of his work on Koschei, or the constant self-medication he exercises via cyberware; he also doesn't ultimately acknowledge when you object to his theory that "psychopathy" will, in combination with cyberware, prove an evolutionary advantage (and personally I don't buy that it would constitute "an ecosystem of predators", or that "normal" humans are not "predatory" rather than simply not very conscious about predatory behaviour, but these are not options, of course).

The thought of any degree of hard-wired capacity for empathy, for instance, being considered innately and immeasurably superior to an acquired one is something that alienates me from (how I understand) Jansenism, the cors gentils of the troubadours (although this is far less dogmatic), or certain "schools" of Internet-isms. What is "empathy" more than a natural talent -- or even simple "reflex" (not quite), "appetite" (also not quite) encouraging the same behaviour as understanding that your life is not the only one that matters? Are you suspicious yet of my avatar being a Stymphalian bird? Did I name my Skarmory Koschei? (No, the last one was "Qasim".) Let's move on to the last party member.

(I also think that Racter isn't incapable of self-irony, such as during the mission to Ares, where his "I am DOCTOR RACTER, etc." to the attendant seems as much driven by necessity and self-satisfaction as a general sense of amusement -- indeed, his "narcissism" is strange in that he seems genuinely convinced that what he feels is always, in some sense, a general necessity with which his character and interest simply happen align fortuitously, and in this way, strangely self-effacing -- is that why he's so intrigued by Qian Ya, and also her offer of good fortune, perhaps? He also seems oddly untouched by the possible concrete gains from "fourteen years of good fortune" and far more interested in testing what this means for the limits of Qian Ya's "power", and there seems to be no envy that the boon applies to you, not him -- to him, that's all the same, of course. But I may have misread. Or apologized too much. You know it, my friend, mon semblable, mon frère.)


I've saved the best for last, and I'll likewise start with the last thing Gaichu might do in your (main) campaign: which is to remain loyal if you support Qian Ya. Racter does this as well, but Gaichu's reasons are very different: the intense attachment that he feels to you, the lack of any such attachment he feels to Hong Kong or "masses", those might be the same, and he agrees post facto that the deal was necessary to take (but likewise agrees with your coercing Qian Ya back into astral space); yet, unlike Racter, Gaichu urges you to use your "fourteen years of good fortune" to make the grave sacrifice you imposed on the Walled City's inhabitants count, and bring unique prosperity (hah) to humanity with your unique gift, possibly as a wandering monk. This sums him up very well.

Of all the characters, even including Racter, Gaichu is the most difficult to judge. He is perfectly honest, and unlike Is0bel, appears never to omit "difficult" topics entirely (and his very different attitude to his box of memories should show as much). He is disciplined and cleanly, unlike Gobbet. He is proud and individualistic (though the latter grows prominent only after his infection) and as pragmatic as Racter, but empathetic and self-critical, unlike Racter. He longs for a "safe" life, but accepts that he will never have one now, unlike Duncan. He's also the most willing to laugh with you, although it's likewise possible to annoy him with irreverence, but this rarely threatens your friendship. His disease (he was bitten by a ghoul) is not his fault, and he does his utmost to avoid it becoming harmful to others.

Maybe. And there it gets difficult. For him as well. Faced with the assurance of what he had been after he had strived for it consciously and by making difficult decisions in favour thereof, he suddenly had to come to terms that it was neither all that he had imagined it would mean, nor did he decline when it was taken away. This recalls the concept of KotOR II vividly, and indeed, Gaichu re-mastering and altering his arts in accord with the wound he suffered becomes his story from that point forward, only that his decision about how to balance himself between his former and present identity is much more conscious than the Exile's -- and you play the part of the Ebon Hawk crew influencing the Exile back. (Incidentally, Kreia is still a better-written character than Racter, much as they are of a similar nature.)

His "box of memories" is great, and maybe he and Isobel could bond over their shared fondness of octopodes. I also love that he doesn't give an inch if you try to tease him about it, and indeed, why should he? I think SR:HK was worth playing for Gaichu alone.

And there is something miserable and touching about the man as he tries to reconcile your deal with Qian Ya -- and his assistance in it, out of strong attachment -- as he once felt for the Red Samurai, right -- with his good intentions that he urges you to take to heart. And this is a rare thematic closure that SR:HK did not usually achieve.

I'll drop it here. I've said more than enough, haven't I, and I hope that at least some of it could reflect what I actually saw in this game, and that that has been worthwhile to someone. (But don't say if it was or wasn't. That's part of the ancient law.)

PS. Comments on the "triptych", after all:
1) They made great use of this "sitting, legs swinging" pose for non-interactive NPCs (which was not present in Dragonfall) all throughout the Heoi waterfront, though this instance in the Walled City was the one I liked the most.
2) ratparty.sim cyberbullies a shopping mall. Gobbet dances to this.
3) The mail from Dreamland glitched out somehow. Thematic!

PPS. Forgot about Inspector Qiu, another very compelling character. In brief, she's interesting because she gives all the signs of being an ideal teammate, even friend, if that weren't impossible due to your respective backgrounds, and you both know it. The tragedy is tangible when she has no parting words beyond the factual, and you'll never know how much of her image was "corporatism", just as she'll never know how well-meaning you ultimately were when it all culminated in selling her out (I should probably check what happens when you don't; I was naturally not inclined to give up shadowrunning or stick with Duncan). There's the odd line that she allegedly probed your mind "with relish", but who knows.
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Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
It's a shame that Shadowrun Returns and Shadowrun Dragonfall were both delisted from the Google Play shop a couple of years ago. I'm guessing it had something to do with OS changes and not having enough of an audience to justify making sure the games played nice with new systems, but I liked having the games portable and it would've been nice to play them on my more powerful phone.

Can't even play 'em on the crappy ol' slablet now though. Le sigh.

I'm surprised they've never made the jump to consoles like so many other cRPGs have.

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
Thanks to the power of *crime*, I’ve completed my first successful run of Meteorfall.

Turns out the RNG doesn’t need to bless you very hard with the Thief’s particular skill set to make her incredibly overpowered. But this is also apparently the kind of game where you’ve got to beat it a whole bunch of times for it to count. And, luckily, I like it a whole bunch so I’m game for that


????? LV 13 HP 292/ 292
(he, him, his)
Thanks to the power of *crime*, I’ve completed my first successful run of Meteorfall.

Turns out the RNG doesn’t need to bless you very hard with the Thief’s particular skill set to make her incredibly overpowered. But this is also apparently the kind of game where you’ve got to beat it a whole bunch of times for it to count. And, luckily, I like it a whole bunch so I’m game for that
Oh no! Is Octopus Crime on the loose again?


can stop, will stop
Rolled credits on Jedi: Fallen Order tonight. I had fun, but I don't think it was actually a good game? Right up to and including the final boss fight, I never felt like I really grasped the combat, and technical issues abounded from start to finish. On the other hand, force pushing a Stormtrooper off a ledge will always be a good time. Not sure what my final verdict is, honestly.


Red Plane
I’m not really into horror, so I’m not sure why I bought Cursed Mountain for Wii back when it came out, or even why I decided to finally play it a week or two ago, but I just finished it. It’s a survival horror type game about a mountaineer ascending a mountain trying to rescue his brother, who has been involved in some kind of incident that has filled the mountain with ghosts. I think on balance there are more things I didn’t like about it than things I do, but it still had its moments.

Most of the problems I had stemmed from the controls, exacerbated by the fact that my couch is just far enough from my TV that I have to lean forwards for my Wii remote to be able to see the sensor bar. You move around using the stick on the nunchuck, and the only camera control available is going to an over the shoulder view by holding down on the remote d-pad, which freezes you in place while you look around with the stick. This is ok, except the camera is frequently badly positioned. You can almost never see your guy’s feet, and since this is a game about walking up a mountain you often want to be able to see your guy’s feet so you can figure out where the path forwards is. There are several points where you have to go slightly downhill from a flat surface, but because the camera is tilted slightly up the path downhill is completely invisible. For combat you can do a melee attack with a button - your guy has a three hit combo which is pointless because the first hit knocks the enemy out of range - or switch to first person and fire ranged shots. All the enemies aside from bosses are ghosts, and they tend to disappear after a couple of hits and reappear somewhere else, often directly behind you. I actually got a lot better at the combat as the game went on, but this was also partly explained by the early game shamble-towards-you ghosts being some of the hardest in the game. Later enemies, while they did more damage and took more hits to kill, tended to keep their distance making it easier to shoot them. Every so often an early game enemy would show up in a late game fight and they would be the hard late game fights. Once you do enough damage, you can do a ritual to exorcise the ghost, which gets you some HP back as well as staggering any other ghosts in the area. This involves motion gestures with the remote and nunchuck which I found very difficult to pull off consistently. By the end of the game I actually had them almost down pat, but even during the final boss I had three times when I could not get the gesture right and had to repeat an attack cycle because of it.

The story was kind of interesting. The first half of the game does a pretty good job of leaving you confused about what’s going on. Your guy has visions that give enough information to raise your interest but not enough to make much sense. For roughly the first half of the game you’re moving through settlements - a city, villages, two monasteries (I don’t know enough about Tibetan Buddhism to say how respectful the game’s treatment of it is, but I suspect it’s not great). The basic plot is that this guy hired your brother to climb a mountain and find an ancient artefact, but because your bro is a smug foreigner he didn’t do the appropriate rituals first and so angered the goddess and now there’s ghosts everywhere and everyone is dead or fled. In the first room of the game you find his climbing axe, which someone brought down the mountain with them somehow despite his going higher than anyone else. So along the way up the mountain you do some rituals to prepare yourself for the climb (which seem to be completely different from what your brother was supposed to do). At the last monastery, just before you go on a visit to the afterlife, your guy tells a monk he doesn’t believe in the goddess. This after fighting about fifty ghosts and a demon. Eventually you reach a point beyond human settlement. Up until this point I’d thought the brother was climbing with like one other guy, but then you fall in a crevasse, find a dead body with a walkie-talkie, and use it to talk to that other guy who guides you through the cave system by saying go left or go right despite not being able to see you. Once you exit the cave you reach the base camp, which has at least thirty structures in it. So you’re on a mission to rescue one guy out of the apparently dozens of climbers lost up this mountain who never rated a mention any earlier in the story and who nobody seems to care about, none of whom apparently needed to do any rituals to get there. I guess if they want to throw ghosts at you there need to be dead people around. I actually wonder if what’s happening here is that events are supposed to be inconsistent and nonsensical because the game is taking place in your guy’s head as he freezes to death in a mundane climbing misadventure. I don’t think there’s anything in the game that directly supports this reading but it sort of makes sense.

I’m whinging a lot about it, but the game did keep me playing. I liked the environments, particularly in the higher mountain. You come along some tiny path, round a corner, and here’s a really nice mountain view. It was also less scary than I’d expected (probably a negative for some). I’m kind of a wuss, and in the first hour or so of play I thought might have to give up on the game because of the spookiness. Once the ghosts started actually showing up instead of threatening to show up they became just video game enemies and not that big of a deal. The other stressful point was when you first get high enough to require oxygen. You start with very little and have to find more, which initially required moving pretty smartly from one bottle left on the mountain to the next. But then I found a few more than I needed and never ran short again. This is arguably a waste of a mechanic, but I wasn’t upset about it.


I recently completed the Outer Wilds. It is very good! Explore-em-ups are some of my favorite games these days. I wish there were more of them!


hardcore retro gamin'
Made a run through the Planet Cup of Mario Tennis. Still a fantastic game, even if it saw me drop a few sets and dig out of some pretty deep holes. Coming in cold is usually not the best idea for shredding the CPU at that level! Regardless, Waluigi is now the champion.

q 3

here to eat fish and erase the universe
Ikenfell is a gay old time. The one adjustment to expectations I wish I'd made ahead of time is that while it's technically "a magic school RPG" it's more like "an RPG that happens to be set at a magic school." It's very linear and focused on exploration, puzzles, and story progression, more like an 8-bit RPG than anything Personaish; all the Harry Potter hijinks took place in the backstory.

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
My mistake was trying to play Ikenfell and Arafell at the same time. Not that they are at all similar beyond being charming as h*ck throwback JRPGs with similar names, but whenever I see one referenced I think of the other and get confused.

q 3

here to eat fish and erase the universe
I previously convinced myself that Ara Fell and Fell Seal were part of a franchise. "Fell" must be some secret code word for "throwback indie RPG with nifty female lead."

q 3

here to eat fish and erase the universe
One last complaint about Ikenfell: my dreams are now haunted by the words "Martin Luther." Is there a German word for something that is simultaneously catchy and cringeworthy? Because that's how I feel about the game's vocal songs.

Rascally Badger

El Capitan de la outro espacio
I finished off SteamWorld Quest. Charming and frustrating. Every card-based rpg that is even remotely fun is fun in spite of the card mechanics, not because of them. I love when my ability to heal in a boss battle is completely random.


Sabe, Inattentive Type
(he "Sabe" / she "Kali")
Got a winning run in Dead Cells. It made me feel smart--over the many previous attempts, I'd come to figure my ideal loadout as Valmont's Whip, Firebrands, Freeze Grenade, and some kind of deployable turret. Lo and behold, when I managed to collect that very set (the "turret" ended up being Sawblades), I defeated the boss with flask charges to spare.


It's always time for burgers
Staff member
Wanted something actiony so I polished of the last couple of worlds in New Mario WiiU. Absolutely suprub game. Genius level design. Could be a text book.

Next... star road?


Sabe, Inattentive Type
(he "Sabe" / she "Kali")
One last complaint about Ikenfell: my dreams are now haunted by the words "Martin Luther." Is there a German word for something that is simultaneously catchy and cringeworthy? Because that's how I feel about the game's vocal songs.
Oof, yes. I had to turn off the music for that fight. I'm sure Sammus is a wonderful artist, but those lyrics are not good.

A question: were you also locked into having Pertisia in your battle party for most of the game? Because I seem not to be able to swap anyone in or out except for the third slot, which feels really restrictive, and I can't for the life of me figure why that character is so essential as to need to be present for every fight. Makes me wonder if I tripped a bug.

q 3

here to eat fish and erase the universe
Pertisia should be removable around the time you get Ima, so it sounds like you might have hit a bug.

Mokrap of Croton

I finished Ghost of Tsushima the other day. I really, really enjoyed the experience as a whole. Not going to spoil anything, but I was absolutely shocked that they managed to have someone sneak into my house and cut up a bunch of onions at the end! What the hell, guys.


can stop, will stop
Rolled credits on Control today. I know some people found the combat frustrating, but I relied pretty heavily on Launch throughout most of the game and that felt good enough for me. I really enjoyed this one! Though I do feel it ended a little abruptly. I'm definitely going to start in on the post-game missions/DLC expansions tomorrow, I'm not ready to leave the game's world yet.

Rascally Badger

El Capitan de la outro espacio
Blaster Master Zero 2 is beaten. What a depressing ending, too bad there is no different ending that is unlocked by completing various, probably hard, challenges on the previously planets visited.


aggro table, shmaggro table
Nope! You just have to do a series of fetch quests for the other MA pilots after you finish their planets. No 100%ing required unlike Zero 1.