Summer Gaming Challenge #2 – The Legend of Zelda

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Quick Info on The Legend of Zelda:
Console  – Nintendo Entertainment System (also released on various systems’ Virtual Consoles and the GBA)
Release Year – 1986
Metacritic Score – 86 (This score is based on the GBA re-release of LoZ)
Time it took to beat – 5h16m

Another game down, and it didn’t take as long to get through as I thought!  The Legend of Zelda is the oldest game I’m playing on this year’s challenge… heck, it came out before I was even born.  I am fond of the Zelda games, so playing the original seemed like a given.  Of course, I knew that the first game would probably be quite unpolished compared to most entries (it’s… the first game, after all), so I was really quite worried that I wouldn’t really have fun.

Surprisingly though, I really liked my time with The Legend of Zelda.  In the end, it’s still a fair amount like the other 2D entries, just a bit more vague.  But, then again, I may have ‘cheated’, as some hardcore gamers may put it.  I realized relatively quickly that I’d probably have a ton of trouble trying to complete LoZ blind, so I decided to use a walkthrough to see me through to the end.  It was a really good choice, in my opinion–I was able to see everything Zelda has to offer, without the incredible frustration I probably would have felt trying to figure out how to get to the dungeons or finding 250 rupees for a ring that I wouldn’t have known the use of on my own.  Some might argue that the exploration aspect is a key element of Zelda games… and I agree, but since the original title is older and a bit archaic in multiple ways, I decided it best to save my own sanity.

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Finding the various items that aren’t in the dungeons themselves is what I feel is the hardest part of Zelda… because not only do you have to find where to buy the Blue Ring (which halves damage), the Monster Bait (which you need in a random room of a late dungeon), or whatever else, but you also have to realize their actual use and importance.  In the days of instruction manuals, this of course was detailed in informative pages… but who is going to crack a digital manual in this day and age?

Of course, the lack of physical manuals also lead to another small problem… you don’t have an easy to access map.  Wandering around the overworld of Hyrule at first is confusing and frankly a pain–while I eventually learned some of the paths I’d often take, without a nice jpeg map I would have probably had a bit of trouble doing anything other than following the exact words of the walkthrough… and that wouldn’t have been fun!  I only really followed the guide word for word during the final dungeon, due to its complexity, so being forced to follow that the whole time would have dampened my mood a bit.

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Other than these oddities though, the original Zelda is quite similar to subsequent games.  You explore dungeons to get the pieces of the Triforce, then go and save the princess and save the say.  Honestly I felt the overall difficulty of the game got easier as it went… when I started getting more hearts and a better sword, my survival chances shot up quite.  I think the hardest dungeon of the game was Dungeon 6, with a ton of enemies that hit hard and fast.  7 and 8 were quite a bit easier, and while the final dungeon was gigantic, it can be fairly easy to navigate once you figure out the tricks… not to mention that Ganon was a joke of a battle.

Overall, The Legend of Zelda ended up being quite alright.  My experience is probably colored a bit because I used a guide, but while it’s a little outdated in some aspects, this NES original was worth the playthrough, if no other reason to see the series’ roots.  It’s still a good game, as long as you’re ready to deal with some of the old-school troubles lack a lack of direction and cryptic messages.


So, update time!  I had planned to start Metal Gear Solid after Zelda… but then I managed to lose my Vita charger.  Again.  So instead, I put Radiant Historia into my 3DS and started working on that.  Radiant Historia is a title I’ve started a few years back… and I loved it, but I got stuck on a tough boss and never felt like grinding.  However, I’m finally going to get Rosch up in level and kick that annoying boss’s ass.

I also started Earthbound… I didn’t get too far yet, just beat the first boss.  I don’t have any thoughts on it yet, to be honest.  I’m keeping an open mind though.

I may play Kirby’s Adventure if I get too overwhelmed with playing RPGs… but right now it doesn’t seem to affect me too much.  I do really, really want to focus on Radiant Historia for now, at least.  Earthbound may take a backseat for a while… we’ll see.

That’s all for now!  :)

Summer Gaming Challenge #1 – Super Mario Galaxy

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Quick Info on Super Mario Galaxy:
Console  – Wii (also re-released on Wii U as a digital download, unchanged)
Release Year – 2007
Metacritic Score – 97
Time it took to beat – 8h33m

My first game of the challenge is done!  I was already planning on playing Super Mario Galaxy just a bit before I began the challenge, so I dived right in once the challenge begun.  And it was a blast!  I love almost every minute of it.  Though I’ll probably never go back and get all 120 Stars (and then another 120 Stars as Luigi, no thanks), I had a ton of fun with what I did play, and I’m excited to play Super Mario Galaxy 2 sometime later on.  Not now, though, don’t want to burn out on Mario.

Anyway, Super Mario Galaxy makes fairly decent use of the Wiimote and Nunchuk–most of the controls are typical button presses that could easily be mapped to a control, but Mario also has a spin that’s activated by shaking the Wiimote, and the easiest way to collect Star Bits is by using the pointer on the screen to grab them.  There are a few other Wiimote related controls as well, but I won’t get too far in-depth here.  For the most part the controls work well–there’s been a couple times where I couldn’t get the spin to activate exactly when I wanted it, but out of the probably hundreds of times I had to use it, that’s a pretty darn good success ratio.

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From there, everything is typical 3D Mario–traverse various worlds, trying to find Stars to unlock more areas, eventually getting to a boss stage and fighting either Bowser or Bowser Jr.  Each main galaxy has three main stars to find, typically changing the landscape around in said galaxy, as well as a hidden star to find, and Star Comets that impose special challenges on the player for… you guessed it, more stars.  Then there’s the more gimmicky galaxies that only have one star to grab, and Luigi running around being a jerk and you having to go and save him… there’s quite a bit to do.

I’m thankful for all the different ways stars could be grabbed, because I was able to easily get to the goal of 60 stars to reach the end area without any real difficulty.  With Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, there was a point near the end where I was having trouble getting the last stars/shines needed to make it to the end area, and it would frankly annoy me.  Essentially, no, I’m not all that great at 3D Mario games, leave me alone.  But with all the different ways to get stars in Galaxy, I was able to skip over the stars that would annoy me or whole galaxies if I wanted to, and could still make the 60 star goal easily.  I feel like I could have gotten 70 stars without too much issue, as well.

This may translate to sounding ‘too easy’, and maybe it was… but I really enjoyed Galaxy regardless.  I didn’t die too often (except for some of the mini-bosses… damn you Bouldergeist!), but that just fueled my excitement to play more… because frankly, I don’t like games kicking my ass all the time.  It’s Mario, after all.

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I had a couple gripes with the game, though honestly it didn’t bring too much of the experience down.  At first, I had a ton of trouble with the swimming controls.  I eventually got used to them, but honestly, I really didn’t like them (or swimming galaxies) all that much.  Secondly, Spring Mario is pretty terrible, both as a power and how to control him–I picked for my 60th star to be in Toy Time Galaxy, and man it was stressful trying to use Spring Mario.  I believe that power’s in Super Mario Galaxy 2 as well, but I’m certainly not looking forward to it.  Finally, walking around the starship was sort of neat at first, but it really became tiresome… it would have been nice to choose which galaxy to go to from the list on the map, but then again I guess it would have ruined a little of the atmosphere (??) the game was going for.

But none of that matters too much–Super Mario Galaxy was mostly a blast.  I fear the graphics haven’t really stood the test of time… blown up on my 40-some inch TV, everything was somewhat pixely and could desperately use a ‘smoother’ type function to make Galaxy look just a bit better.  It doesn’t take much out of the gameplay itself of course, but sometimes you’re looking at these breathtaking locales and they just don’t have the same oomph as they did in 2007.  Obviously Galaxy is not an HD game, but that’s really okay–we still love the likes of 64 after all, graphics aren’t what makes a Mario game a Mario game.

I guess to wrap up, Super Mario Galaxy is by all means a classic, and I definitely had a blast with it.  I’m glad I finally got around to it after all this time (okay that’s partially a lie, I played some of it quite a few years back but never got to finish it), and I really hope I’ll enjoy the rest of the games I’m playing this year as much as this one.

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So for a mini-update on that, I’ll probably buckle down and finish up The Legend of Zelda.  My motivation to play it is a bit down lately, but I want to get it out of the way.  From there my game plans are:
Console – Earthbound
Handheld – Metal Gear Solid
PC – (when I get my new laptop) Shining Force II

I’m going to try and only do one RPG at a time–Shining Force II is the exception because not only do I not play PC games that often, but that’s also the only PC game I’ve picked for this year.  Metal Gear Solid is pretty far from an RPG, so I think it works great while I try and knock out the only console RPG on my list.

That’s about it!

Summer Gaming Challenge 2016–Let’s Go!

It’s that time of the year again… time to waste my summer playing video games.  Well, not really, but since I’m taking the entire summer off classes this seems like the perfect opportunity to catch up on some classics.

For those unaware the Summer Gaming Challenge is a challenge done at the Racketboy forums every year.  It’s where you play 10 games that are considered “classics” (in whatever definition of the word you want to use) and sound off your thoughts about them.  Since the summertime is typically hot and younger participants usually have a lot more free time, it’s the perfect period to catch up on some games that may have fallen on the wayside.

I will, of course, keep my updates here, on my long neglected blog.  Everytime I finish a game, I’ll do a write up on it.  Simple enough.  I fully plan on beating all of these games by the end of August, before my classes start up again.  Of course… since I’m really dead set on making that goal, I’ve also made sure there aren’t *too* many RPGs on my list.  Because otherwise it’d be way too much.

Without further ado, here is my list for this year:

Super Metroid (SNES via Wii U VC)
Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
Earthbound (SNES via Wii U VC)
Shining Force II (Genesis via Steam)
Kirby’s Adventure (NES via Kirby’s Dream Collection)
The Legend of Zelda (NES via 3DS VC)
Metal Gear Solid (PS1 via PSOne Classics)
Suikoden II (PS1 via PSOne Classics)
Harvest Moon: Back to Nature (PS1 via PSOne Classics)
Radiant Historia (DS)

Five console games, five handheld games (since I’ll play PSOne Classics on my Vita).  A nice split!

Well, that’s about it.  My Summer Gaming Challenge will be starting now, and I have until the end of August to beat them all!

My Handy-Dandy Review Database

Goodness, it’s been a while since I’ve posted in this dusty old blog.  Four months or so, in fact.  Between my full-time job, school, and freelance writing, I’ve simply haven’t had the time to write for fun… which is a shame, but hey, it happens.  And with 1MoreCastle shutting down (;-;), I’ll have no motivation to write random awesome reviews for their Review Days.  A shame.

Anyway, I recently felt compelled to compile all of my professional reviews in one place… that one place being a Google Sheets document.  Spreadsheets are so easy to make lists on!  Anyway, you can take a look at it here, and I’ll be adding a link over in my blog’s link area in a bit.

Now, let’s have some stats!  Because I like stats.

  • As of the time of this writing, I’ve written 83 reviews.
  • The lowest review score I’ve given a game is a 1/5 (or 2/10), to Legend of Kay Anniversary.
    • That actually happened earlier this week!  Before then my lowest score was 3/10, and was given to Drakengard and Alphadia Genesis.
  • I have given only one game a “perfect” score: Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker.
  • The site I’ve written the most reviews for is High Def Digest; however, I just overcame that hurdle this week with three reviews of mine going live.  Before then, it was Game Podunk.

I think that’s about enough for now.  I’ve been thinking about doing an Editorial Database too… which seems both easier and harder at the same time.  I’ll think about it.  And probably not do it, we’ll see.

Review A Great Game Day – Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride

Oh, the Dragon Quest series, one that has always has a rocky past in the US.  Us lucky Americans got the first four Dragon Quest titles (with ‘Warrior’ slapped on in place of ‘Quest’), but due to crappy sales, we never got the Super Nintendo releases.  No, Enix didn’t find the series worth the trouble of localizing until after Final Fantasy VII came about, more or less making the RPG genre explode into the mainstream in the West.  Riding the wave of popularity, Enix released Dragon Quest VII to eager audiences which… frankly, I don’t know how it did.  That doesn’t matter much, though, because in the upcoming years Square and Enix merged, and the RPG supergiant released each Dragon Quest title as they came.

…Until they stopped, of course.  Somewhere around the time that the DS remakes of VI-IV were being released, Square dropped localization of the titles, stating the lukewarm sales not being the worth of localizing the amount of text the series requires.  Nintendo itself picked up and finished the localization for Dragon Quest IX and VI, but has since then has remained silent on the series, leaving a rather sizable number of Dragon Quest games in Japan and making series fans languish in despair.  By some miracle Dragon Quest Heroes for the PS4 is making it Westward, but it’s also a cross-over Warriors type title and Square probably thinks it can make a pretty penny off its fanbase like Hyrule Warriors did.

Dragon_Quest_V_Hand_of_the_Heavenly_Bride_Game_CoverBut this blog post isn’t about the Dragon Quest series in itself.  Oh, no.  It’s about my favorite RPG of all time.  If you might have noticed from my rambling above, original the US missed out on two titles: Dragon Quests V and VI.  It wasn’t until the DS remakes that fans got an official taste of these lost titles in action… so naturally more fans wanted to pick up Dragon Quest V than the first DS remake.  And naturally, as Square has been wont to do in these modern times, Dragon Quest V had a pretty low print run.

I ended up paying $50 for my (complete) copy of Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride, and that was after many hours of researching and finding a deal on a somewhat sketchy looking website.  Square did eventually release a reprint off the title, driving down prices a bit, but if you want it not you’re still going to have to pay 30-40 dollars used, which is pretty high for a DS game.  It’s the most money I’ve spent on a single DS game, but you know what?

It was the best fifty dollars I ever spent.

Those that are fans of the series probably do not laud the various games’ stories as their strong point.  Well… that’s because they really aren’t.  Sure, Dragon Quest III had a rather touching scene near the end, and Dragon Quest VIII did a decent job, but the series’ allure was always its adherence to old RPG tropes, even in the changing times.  Some might say that the series was stagnating, but to the fandom it was a solid rock to grab onto in the constantly shifting currents of the changing RPG genre.  Sure, Final Fantasy might decide that oddly dressed blonde hair youths with daddy issues was the way to go forward with the series:  Dragon Quest just decided it was better off sticking with its silent protagonists and rigid turn-based battles.

But Dragon Quest V?  Dragon Quest V was different, and that’s what makes it so amazing.  Well, let me clarify–it wasn’t different on the gameplay front.  It was still crawling through dungeons with random encounters, with your four party members and their staple of skills and spells, and so on.  It was, instead, the narrative that really drove Hand of the Heavenly Bride beyond the typical Dragon Quest game and into the stratosphere, easily being one of the best video game experiences I’ve ever had.

I guess you’ll want me to back up my claim, huh?  Sure thing, but I will have to use spoilers.  Granted, many of these twists are already known, but there’s my spoiler warning regardless. Seriously, don’t be scared by the warning, this is only stuff in the ‘prologue’, or the first five or so hours in the game.  Only the most hardcore on spoiler rules need to heed this.

Dragon Quest V starts off with the main character being born.  You think I’m joking?  You literally come in right as a happy mother and father are deciding on a name for their new baby boy.  However, the cheerful celebration is cut short by the mother’s coughing.

Are you alright, my dear?  The father asks.  The screen cuts to black, leaving the question hanging.

The game skips forward a few years, with the main character being somewhere around five to eight years old.  You and your father have been traveling around for as long as you remember, though the reason seems to be unknown.  It doesn’t matter much though–you’re a little kid, ever curious and excited for adventure.  You and your father (named Pankraz) travel about, with you watching how awesome he is and wanting to grow up just like him.  Maybe someday you’ll even be able to take on a slime by yourself!  In time, the little squirt goes on a few mischievous adventures on his own, including a trip to a haunted castle with his childhood friend Bianca and even a romp in the fairy realm.  You even befriend an adorable sabertooth tiger kitten,

Happy childhood adventures <3

Happy childhood adventures <3

Eventually Pankraz takes on a job to protect a prince.   This prince is… well, a spoiled little brat.  That doesn’t matter too much, though–you’re a little kid, and just glad to be adventuring with Pankraz, even if you’re being forced to be the whelp’s minion.  However, due to the bratty prince’s insolence, he sneaks out of the castle and gets kidnapped, forcing the father and son to save him.  This goes well enough… until an ambush happens.

I’ll take care of this mob.  You take Prince Harry and run out of here.  Fast!  You and the prince make a run for it, but their escape is cut off by a powerful magician.  You have no hope of beating this foe, and when he’s about to strike the final blow… Pankraz comes upon the defeated children, and is forced to fight him and his pawns alike.  These minions are no match for him, and the magician, Ladja realizes this… and takes you hostage.

Fight back, and the child dies.  Pankraz takes the beating of the minions he so easily swat aside before, and you, the player, are forced to watch his plentiful amount of health slowly whittle down in battle.  Eventually, the father falls.  Before the final blow is struck, though, he calls out to his son…

Son… Can… you hear me…?  I must… I must tell you…Your mother… She’s… still alive… Keep… Keep looking for… your mo–

Ladja abruptly cuts Pankraz off with a fireball, cruelly sending your father to the afterlife.  It is always so beautiful a thing to see the parent’s love for the child!  He takes you and the young prince away to become slaves for the creation of his evil shrine, while the poor sabertooth kitten wakes up alone.  He walks to the charred floor where Pankraz once once stood, and lets out a sad, lonely howl…

…Ten years pass…

…But the son has not given up hope.  Even with the years of hardship, he and the matured prince bide their time, waiting for the moment that they can escape.  For Harry, that means returning home and honoring his father’s wish to be king; for you, that’s to keep searching for your mother, whom your father claimed was still alive.

Okay, that’s the end of spoiler town.  That’s only in the prologue, by the way, and that’s an emotionally driven five to eight hours or so.  There’s plenty more both heart-wrenching and heart-lifting moments to be found within Hand of the Heavenly Bride, but I’ll leave the rest for you to play.

What really, really drives the narrative home for Dragon Quest V though isn’t the content of the plot itself, but rather how it is presented.  All that I typed above is the type of thing that’s typically relegated to a character’s backstory in RPGs.  Yes, you hear about how your father died to an evil sorcerer, and the hardships the main character face, but in Dragon Quest V you experience this first hand.  You see in battle how amazing your father is; you actually go on adventures first hand, including your budding friendship with Bianca; you watch first hand as Pankraz if slowly beaten down by his enemies.  It makes not for a story, but for an experience, and one that sticks with the player in ways that I cannot convey properly in words, even though I tried above.

Indeed, Dragon Quest V does not have long, drawn out cutscenes full of exposition and explanation.  It relies on implication from both the story and in-game mechanics.  That’s not to say that nothing’s ever explained, but most of the explanation is short and to the point, and if you want more information, you can always hit up the local NPCs for more information.

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…Actually, that’s another neat thing about Hand of the Heavenly Bride’s narrative:  Since there are a few time skips in the game, you can go and talk to NPCs, and see that their lives have actually changed with the times.  In some cases, that’s merely just them talking about more current events, but in other cases you see some drastic changes.  Characters get married, have children and families of their own, all before your eyes.  It really helps to drive those time skips home, because in all the cases these skips happen, you’re legitimately missing out on time in the world, for whatever reason that may be.  The world keeps turning, so they say, and while the main character is still on his quest, other people are living their lives and fulfilling (or failing at) their dreams.  It’s something that’s very easy to forget when the focus is on the main character, but Dragon Quest V manages to bring even that into a wonderful perspective.

I… suppose I should talk about something other than the story.  The game’s subtitle gives hint to another important aspect to the title:  At one point, you’ll have to decide which one of three (only two in the original version) lovely ladies to wed.  Other than the obvious plot purposes, you’re also essentially which of these somewhat different party members you really want.  You can’t have all three, obviously, and while no one potential bride is balanced in such a way that it’s obviously better to choose her (…in a gameplay sense at least…), each bride plays a bit differently, and has effects on a couple other aspects of the gameplay later on.  It’s neat, and it really makes even replays worthwhile just to see how both gameplay and scenes play out differently with the other wives in tow.

Other than that, it’s a relatively normal Dragon Quest game.  Battles are rigidly turn-based, random encounters are abound, and you carry your extra party members about in a wagon, including your monster buddies.

Aw, just look at them maim and murder.

Aw, just look at them maim and murder.

Oh wait, I forgot about them, didn’t I?  As evident by the sabertooth kitten’s introduction in the prologue, the hero can recruit monsters into his ranks to fight alongside him.  This is especially helpful early on, as since you’re setting out alone it’s helpful to have another party member to take and give hits.  This is actually the first Dragon Quest game in the series to do so, and is said to have helped inspire the spin-off Dragon Quest Monsters series… although, don’t quote me on that.  I believe I read that somewhere, but alas I cannot find the source.

Honestly, after a point, the monster recruiting is sort of downplayed, as you’ll eventually get more than enough human characters to fill out your ranks.  But, it’s still a nice touch, even if it wasn’t quite a top tier gameplay mechanic.

Dragon Quest V manages to do something its series peers cannot:  Create an emotional, touching plotline that is more than worth experiencing.  Of course, there’s also that classic Dragon Quest touch, wherein the older, more tried and true RPG tropes are welcome when even the series itself has turned its back on them.

Seriously, if you have a DS and can even tolerate RPGs, you have to pick this game up.  It’s a wonderful experience that still costs less than the average new console release.

No Game New Year

Oh yes, I’m going to do it.  I’m going to go an entire year without buying a new video game.

Yes, that sounds insane.  It probably is.  But I’ve decided to at least try and go through with it.  The Gaming Historian started this off last year (I believe), which the goal of enjoying games in his collection that got neglected.  As us gamers get older, we get more money to buy all the games we want… but far less time to play them.  So, backlogs tend to build up, and games get left off to the side to be ignored and forgotten.

No Game New Year is a bit of a solution to that.  By not buying any games over the course of the year, you get the chance to really delve into your backlog and enjoy what you have… kind of like we did as kids.  It clears out the backlog, saves a ton of money, and I suppose other things if your sentimental about the past or whatever.

That said, you don’t have to go the entire year without ever getting a new game ever.  Gifts are fine (it’d be rude to accept a gift!) as well as the occasional game purchase… but the purchases have to be funded by the games you’ve sold.

See, the other aspect of No Game New Year is ‘quality over quantity‘.  If you have an unusually large backlog, you might start going through these game and realize, ‘hey, this game isn’t fun… at all’, or ‘you know, this genre of game isn’t really for me’, and in that case, you’re encouraged to sell it.  After all, if you don’t like the game and won’t play it, why would you keep it, unless you have some sort of sentimental value to it?

So, in reality, it isn’t so hard… if you’re willing to part with some things.

Okay then, all that said, I do unfortunately have to make a small adjustment to this challenge to work for me… mainly, I have to still take review copies of games.  Since game reviewing makes me a decent bit of extra side money, it’d be counter-intuitive for me to stop reviewing games for a year in order to do the challenge.  If it seems like I’m cheating, I’m really not… I frankly don’t get too many games that I really want via review copies anyway; about half of the games I review are completely random things I barely heard much about before a copy was given to me.  So yeah.

Anyway, No Game New Year will even help on that aspect, as by extension of the ‘delve into backlog’ bit, I’ll be able to give more attention to these review games, something I really had trouble doing last year.  So it’s a double win!

Now that I got all of the explaining out of the way… what’s my gameplan?  Well, right now I have a few games I want to sell for a few bucks.  Additionally, I’m really thinking of selling some of my physical older games to get ‘upgraded’ digital versions.  Mainly, I’m looking at the first three Phoenix Wright titles and the GBA Fire Emblems.  Most of the money from those would go to… you know, buying those digital copies, but I’ll likely have some extra funds left over to add to the pool of funds.  My goal is to be able to buy Bayonetta 2 sometime this year.

On the playing aspect, right now I’m really trying to work through the PC games my aging laptop can run.  I decided to play To The Moon, which was interesting, and I struck Love from the backlog… for reasons I’ll explain in a later post.  For now I’m focusing on my Steam titles, but I’m tinkering with my GOG games I won and will probably move onto Desura later.  Not playing too much on the console front, for personal reasons (my living room’s a mess because of my cat so it’s not fun to use the TV), but soon I want to finish Super Mario 3D World and continue working through Atelier Totori.  I pre-ordered the special edition of Atelier Shallie, but that was last year, so I’m in the clear on that.  Too bad I’m missing Atelier Escha and Logy, though…

I’ll likely update on my progress every once and a while, randomly… namely if/when I buy or sell a good deal of stuff.  That’s about it, though!

Oh, and if you want to know more about No Game New Year, here’s the official post: [x]