Vigil: TNL play-through postscript (light spoilers)

The gaming experience is satisfying. As much as I love Metroidvania, the sub-genre at this point is risking over-exposure. While this is not the fault of the Vigil dev team specifically, it does make their task harder. To their credit, though, Vigil establishes its own identity in more than one way.

I know I go on a lot about how aesthetically pleasing this game is, but that’s one of the things that sets it apart. This matters especially since most recent Metroidvanias are stylistically developed and unique (Hollow Knight, Salt and Sanctuary, Blasphemous).

There are great dungeon-crawling and combat sweet spots in the beginning and middle. After that, things crawl a bit before returning to form and even going further in the concluding chapters.

The story has both hits and misses. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that Vigil had a named character and interactions with NPCs that move the plot along with the player. I don’t know if the constraints this imposed on the script were a factor in sequence-breaking not being more fully utilized in new game plus. There are goodies to be had earlier than usual but the absence of alternative story sequencing feels like a missed opportunity.

In spite of that, this may have been a consequence of the narrative, though, the way FFVIIR would have compromised its own narrative experience if it had full open world.

This takes us back to the story. There are three distinct turning points that at least appear to be time jumps. There is also a kind of reversal of the beginning stakes before (after a fashion) returning to them. I think the decision to keep the relationship between Leila and Daisy front and center in the plot was for the best and the feigned reversal actually adds to the stakes of that relationship. The shifts between different “eras” and the detective work needed to connect the dots, though, are an established convention of both Metroidvania and Soulsborne.

So long as they don’t undermine the purpose the narrative serves (however big or small), narrative mysteries can add a lot to a game that uses circumstantial or visual storytelling. Bloodborne being a best-case scenario here. The suggestions of other plot layers make for fun speculation, such as the Porta Avernus gateways all being emanations of a single location (whether it’s the Cubic Crystal door in the Giantwood or somewhere else- such as the location glimpsed during the opening and closing cutscenes).

Another well-implemented mystery is what specifically Leila and Daisy are. There are a variety of possibilities ranging from normal human siblings channeling deities or direct manifestations of those deities. No matter what the metaphysical ruling is, it’s mystery goes well with the emotional simplicity. The literal question of what they are motivates the villainous forces around them, but who they are to each other motivates Leila.

The only actual narrative weakness I could find also goes with that, though. It’s a story structure that we have seen before. In particular, it reminded me of Heather Mason in Silent Hill 3. It is a touch unoriginal, but I think the story as a whole is decent. Making the stakes emotionally urgent also goes with the more personal narrative, which sets Vigil: The Longest Night apart from a lot of Metroidvania and Soulsborne entries.

Vigil: TLN end of blind play-through! Spoilers as usual

You could probably guess what my answer to the Doctor was. Before I got that far, though, there were some other odds and ends I wanted to explore.

First on the list was playing the Arctic ocarina in the Catacombs and seeing where the Porta Avernus takes us.

There are enemies in the Insidious Sewer that look like the statues on the sides, right? The same place where you find the boss that drops the Arctic ocarina?

Upon arriving in the Frozen Realm there is a stone structure that allows you to exit. Death’s Destination did not have a way out. I triggered the apparent “flash forward” after defeating the Ancient Guard there, though. So maybe it was designed to be a point of no return whereas the gateway conjured by the Arctic ocarina is not.

This turns out not to be the case. I later tried the Crimson ocarina again and Death’s Destination now has an exit. Maybe all ocarina gateways have an exit after the flash forward? Maybe after the flash forward they can no longer have immediate consequences? The fact that you can repeatedly challenge the bosses at the end of each during the current “era” would support that as well (including Death’s Destination).

The ruler of the Frozen Realm, Princess Downaly, drops the Frost Spear projectile spell and the Eternal Gaze. The latter I gave to Janis (after discovering her in the valley) in exchange for the Metallic Ocarina. While I was finishing what side quests I could, I managed to find all of the lost paintings. The painter in Maye rewards you with the Cerulean Ocarina, leaving us with two new places to go through the Porta Avernus.

When both of these are activated, Leila can warp to an area a few jumps away from the Uptancos boss encounter

The Cerulean ocarina takes us to the Shadow Disaster which I thought was a lot of fun. Both Death’s Destination and the Frozen Realm had nice platforming but the Shadow Disaster outdoes them. The Shadow Disaster also has a checkpoint of sorts since the platforming section lasts a little longer.

The resident boss, Uptancos, is a welcome change of pace. Maybe I was over-leveled because I took my sweet time with this game and did a lot of grinding, but the combat started to feel easy after awhile. The difficulty seemed to plateau around Bufonitte Lake so I was hungry for a challenge. I had to experiment with different strategies and spell combinations, which I had not done since Kelpie.

Speaking of the place where Kelpie resides, this is something I encountered while gathering paintings

For anyone who is interested, passive damage and fire damage work well, so you’ll want the Raging March spell equipped. You also need to carefully balance range combat and melee combat. I spent a lot of time dodging, so I found projectiles to be a good work-around (also on that note, use the Bouncing Fireball). It is likely possible to go through the entire battle with Uptancos without melee, but the fight speeds up when you take opportunities when they present themselves. Uptancos has an electric screen nuke that he needs to cool down from. That cool-down period, when Uptancos is just sitting on the ground, is a great time to lean in if you have a melee weapon with a fire buff. I had been using my enchantments on stealth “back attack” buffs though, so I just spammed with Bouncing Fireball.

Bumping off Uptancos wins you the mid-air dash. However, I’d like to mention something that I’d been noticing in all of the Porta Avernus worlds so far:

Shadow Disaster
Frozen Realm
Death’s Destination

Same jagged, stone ring in those three, all placed similarly. In the Frozen Realm and Death’s Destination, they appear before paths to the bosses open up. In the Shadow Disaster, it is inside the boss arena (check link below for more on this).

Moving on- only one more ocarina to try (not counting whatever I missed) and one more Porta Avernus journey. Upon playing the Metallic ocarina from Janis, the boss fight was almost instant:

To get right to the good part, this is what happens after defeating Dephil. Various item descriptions and lore snippets have referred to Dephil as a founding member of the Vigilant, or perhaps the founding member. And here she is talking about reading stories to Daisy in childhood. If you wanted to go further, you might notice that the names of the sisters borrow different phonemes from the name Dephil (Daisy + Leila).

Earlier, we experienced a jump forward in time that was at least a few generations. But we still do not know the exact length of the time that passed. When we hear about mythic-sounding events that contributed to the way things are now, we can’t help but wonder how close or distant to them Leila personally is. Dephil’s brief dialogue after defeating her makes it sound like she was a childhood caretaker of the sisters. Perhaps she was their mother.

This confusion over how near or far the sisters were to the distant past soon thickens. Remember the Doctor who wants us to hand over the Cubic Crystals? I of course told him to get bent and he revealed that what he really wants lies within the Giantwood. This does not combine well with the incident with him giving out placebos. And the explanation that he is doing it for the peace of mind of his patients was worn thin anyway.

Hilda agrees, so we then bee-line to the Giantwood, which opens a ton of lore in quick succession. Once inside, we find that there are notes and journal entries strewn about from various authors. They are Steve, York the Arch Priest, the Professor, Joseph (?) and a lay-priest educated by York.

These notes relate the discovery of a mysterious, destructive force that this cohort attempted to magically bind. They state that this seal is rooted in the souls or bodies of those that carried it out and depends on their shared participation. This procedure is modeled (with the guidance of York and the lay-priest) after an ancient religious event involving figures called the Holy Six. Five individuals are specified but there are suggestions of another, unnamed participant:

This guy keeps running off as soon as we find him and always leaves scribbly notes behind.

The dude clearly doesn’t like women and blames the Vigilants for something going wrong here. The author of the sloppily written notes says that women are weak and shrink before true power. We do not know of many ancient(?) female Vigilants but we do know of one. In the final sloppily written note, the names Daisy and Phil are mentioned close together but we don’t actually meet anyone named Phil. But the one bygone Vigilant we’ve met has the letters ‘phil‘ in her name.

So if Dephil was one of the six to seal the mystery danger in the Giantwood, she seems to have been blamed for not following through on something. The short, scrambling figure also said that the only remaining solution were “the sisters” and “one is dark” “one is light”.

So these six set out to the Giantwood to contain the mysterious threat. A magical ritual is implemented that explicitly calls for six participants. Running with the hypothesis that number six was Dephil, she evidently choked on her part.

In spite of that, the seal seems to have held. The notes within the Giantwood describe a long period of being trapped inside and the need to defend the exit from deserters. Since all participated in the ritual and any of them could then break it, a single deserter could ruin the whole thing. The entrance needed to be watched constantly. The seal wouldn’t be worth defending so bitterly if it hadn’t worked.

zillion Vigilant Swords stuck in this thing

The notes within the Giantwood also say that a “seige” of “heathens” was happening outside. Relics from other male Vigilants could be found within as well, like the sword of Wallace. It seems possible that Dephil bolted before the ritual was complete and then someone from the battle outside took her place.

This note is found near Bufonitte Lake. Bufonitte Lake is to the immediate right of the Giantwood. If Dephil deserted, maybe she wrote those words

Leaving the mystery of the deserting Vigilant aside for now, there is another mystery here we can solve more easily. The final sloppily written note says that the author found the “perfect ratio”, which makes him “supreme” and enables him to “surpass destiny”. Our only frame of reference for ratios of any kind are the mixtures of Crimson earlier in the game. The “pale red” mixtures concocted by the Professor come to mind. Other notes make indirect statements about the ultimate fate of the Professor and the communion he achieved with the Sacred Wood. Which brings us to the boss fight in the Giantwood:

I guess this debunks my earlier theory that the Professor and the asylum Doctor are the same person

This is not a strategically challenging battle. Remember Raging March and Bouncing Fireball and you’ll be fine. You might also want to wear the Plague Doctor mask, the Crimson armor set and the Raven gloves for maximum poison resistance.

So the Professor evidently pulled off some kind of “uber-containment” that’s not the same as the seal of the Holy Six. If the seal is rooted in the bodies or souls of the participants, maybe the Professor somehow found a way to shift the majority of the containment power to himself.

This appears to hold true after his death, since an even worse plague and monster scourge envelopes Maye after this. So it at least looks like the mystery threat escaped. Relying on implication, it seemed like Hilda wanted us to “get there first” before the Doctor at the asylum who wanted the Cubic Crystals. If the goal of Hilda and Leila was to “kill it with fire” before it falls into the wrong hands, then it might follow that the Doctor wanted to somehow control the mystery threat.

In any case, killing it with fire doesn’t seemed to have made things any better. Here the game appears to take a sharp turn toward linearity, since every NPC tells you to investigate the same place and it turns out to be what I felt was a neat dungeon. After the difficulty plateau after Kelpie, the three sweet spots during this blind play-through were the Shadow Disaster, the Giantwood and the final dungeon.

In addition to a fun dungeon crawl, we also get some big lore bombs.

These dovetail, roughly, with the lore dumps from the Giantwood. There was a final step to the ritual that Dephil (or someone) couldn’t go through with. Meanwhile, a supernatural prodigy child has fallen into the hands of the modern day asylum Doctor.

The seal magic relies on its human summoners for its’ embodiment. The transformation of the Professor, for example. If Dephil’s reluctance complicated things, it may result in some sort of magical embodiment/possession/flesh alchemy that may have created a new being. Way back during the Bruna search, we found a note from the Professor explaining that his experiment with Bruna and Gram was based on a mistranslation. An archaic word he took for “couple” in fact meant “sisters”.

Perhaps my assessment of the names Daisy and Leila being derived from Dephil confused the relationship. Maybe a second experiment happened on the correct subjects, the “sisters” rather than the “couple”. The Goddess, likewise, has a dark counterpart.

Maybe the two sisters were in the Giantwood company, with the necessary six working the spell (that is either summoning or trapping in a body) on number seven. So baby sister has the primordial chaos sealed within her while the holy texts specify a correlating other half. Big sister catches that part.

We started the game catching the aftermath of the failed experiment on Bruna and Gram. Meanwhile we still do not know what happened during the time gap. It may be possible that Leila was present for those years but experienced something she cannot remember, and that we would not see.

Whatever it is, we have two significant canonical statements here. One of them is the ritual at the Giantwood. The other is that Daisy was a vessel for some kind of magic. After killing the Scholar of the Sacred Wood, both the Doctor and Daisy are gone. Sure enough, at the bottom of the final dungeon, the Doctor has Daisy tucked behind a Porta Avernus-like gateway in a somewhat altered state.

On the other side of the gateway, we find ourselves on a large, stone platform with arched portals on two opposite sides. A possession of Daisy’s may be used before a series of pillars but I was missing one. Having biffed that part I instead went to the central pillar to see what would happen.

The last two boss fights were my favorite in the game so far. Both of them make delightful use of platforming within the boss arenas. Something about that, in a sidescroller, really adds both challenge and fun for me. Creative incorporation of boss lairs was one of the big sweet spots of Hollow Knight imo and it was a fun high note for this game to end on.

Vigil: The Longest Night has a new game plus mode which you are immediately offered after the credit’s roll. Interestingly, you are allowed to keep all of your added abilities like the double jump and mid-air dash, which for sure makes the beginning feel different.

I’m not that far into my second run but it already feels like the replay value is gonna be great. The lore contains a few apparent reversals that work better when experienced in retrospect. I am a little disappointed with the inability to sequence break, though. The Metroidvania typically uses unlockable abilities as ways of controlling progress. To retain those abilities and have them before you would normally make use of them seems like a golden opportunity for the development team to implement different progression sequencing.

Some final thoughts:

https://ailixchaerea.blog/2021/01/09/vigil-tnl-play-through-postscript/

30 days of Final Fantasy music (yeah I’m doing it wrong but whatever)

1. Best prelude:

IX, at the very end of Memoria, outside of creation ❤️

2. Best chocobo theme:

Also IX

3. Moogle theme:

Good King Mog from XIV! (never actually played it but wifers showed me)

4. Best airship theme:

Looking For Friends from VI! That’s the song you hear on board the Falcon.

(The Hilda Garde music from IX also has a tendency to worm its way into my head. Like, all the time, and once it’s in it stays for awhile)

5. Best character theme:

I feel a lil conflicted there. It would either be Coin Song from VI or J-E-N-O-V-A from VII.

6. Best town theme:

Kids Run Through The City- VI

7. Best overworld theme:

Something from VI. Either Terra or Dark World

8. Best dungeon theme:

Another World Of Beasts from VI.

And I’ve always liked Phantom Forest from VI and Lurking In Darkness from VII. Neither one of those appear exclusively in dungeons but both are used in dungeons occasionally.

I kinda have to mention the Collapsed Express Way from the VII Remake. All the music from Shinra HQ in the remake could also merit honorable mentions.

9. Best battle theme:

Don’t Be Afraid- VIII

10. Best boss battle theme:

The Decisive Battle- VI

11. Best victory theme:

Out of the variations of the traditional I’d go with the version from VI. Out of the different ones, it’s XIII.

12. Best end boss theme:

Dancing Mad- VI

13. Best ending theme:

Credits’ roll from VII

14. Best mini-game theme:

Vamo Alla Flamenco- IX

15. Best in-game arrangement:

Opening – Bombing Mission, from VII. I’ve heard different orchestral versions but they always make it sound like it came from a Batman movie. Which I think is all wrong. The version from the VII Remake works for what it is, but it has a different character from the original.

16. Best piano arrangement:

Ahead On Our Way from the VII piano disc ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

The Main Theme from VII on that album is also exponentially more beautiful than the original

17. Best remastered track:

The Nightmare Begins from the soundtrack remaster for the PC version of FFVII. The most atmospheric version of that song.

18. Best orchestrated track:

Seven Seconds till the End- VIIR

19. Best non-Uematsu track:

Crimson Blitz from Ligthening Returns. That would be Masashi Hamauzu. Born Anew is also really cool (also by Hamauzu, in the first XIII game).

20. Best song from a game you haven’t played:

Final Steps of Faith (Nidhogg’s theme from FFXIV. I still gotta get started on that sooner or later)

21. Best song from a game on first console:

Mmmmm I’ve already covered a lot of VII-

HEY WAIT the title screen music from the PS1 Anthology version of V!!!!

22. Best song from a game you don’t like:

All of the cutscene music from Type-0

23. Song that makes you feel nostalgic:

Voices Drowned By Fireworks- VII

24. Song that makes you feel sad:

Other Side of the Mountain- VII

25. Song that makes you feel pumped:

Fight On!- VII

26. Song that makes you feel relaxed:

Dali Frontier Village- IX

27. Best track from mobile exclusive:

I never played a mobile exclusive unless you count IV: TAY? I played the Ultimate Collection for the PSP but TAY at least started as a mobile exclusive. I enjoyed the music from IV in general but I don’t remember if TAY had any original music? I didn’t finish it either but got to the final dungeon and found out I was pathetically under-leveled and trapped there

28. Best track from handheld exclusive:

The Price of Freedom- Crisis Core

29. Most underrated track:

Reunion- VII

30. Song with a special meaning-

Anxiety- VII. My favorite song from a video game

One more time with feeling! (last entry of 2020 w/ 30 games tag!)

1. The last single-player game you played:

Final Fantasy VII (PS1 port on Vita)

2. The last multiplayer game you played:

Very first Super Mario with my wife ❤️❤️

3. A game you’ve played through multiple times:

I meeaaan I have played through FFVII a bunch of times because I’m just persistently obsessed but just to shake it up- Salt and Sanctuary!

4. A game in your favorite genre:

I’m not even sure what my favorite genre even is…probably RPGs in general. I also appreciate RPGs with a little bit of puzzle box / dungeon crawling. And I’ve been playing a crap ton of action RPGs with a crazy maze Metroidvania thing going. Or just distinctive dungeon-design in general.

Let’s go with…Chrono Trigger?

5. A game in your backlog:

The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile

6. The game you’ve put the most hours into:

Outside of Final Fantasy in general, it’s gotta be Bloodborne. All the trophies and everything ^^

7. A game you’ve never finished:

Rise of The Tomb Raider (fingers crossed for getting that off the list soon)

8. A game in third person:

Most of what I play? Let’s say Diablo

9. A game in first person:

Sacrifices Must Be Made! Review forthcoming!!!!

10. A game you’ve replayed:

Final Fantasy VII Remake ^^

11. A game you play to relax:

Other than my PS1 FFVII port…almost any Pokémon game. LoZ: Ocarina of Time also helps me wind down.

12. A game that gets you excited:

Vigil: The Longest Night

13. A game from your favorite developers:

I don’t know if I have a specific favorite? I would love for Ska Studios to do something new sometime soon.

14. Your favorite indie game:

Salt and Sanctuary (speaking of ❤️)

15. Your favorite AAA game:

Bloodborne

16. Your favorite board game:

Chess!

17. Your favorite multiplayer game:

Hehe…Bloodborne…the PS4 port of the original Dark Souls also gets way more fun with partners

18. Your favorite single-player game:

FFVII

19. Your favorite game series:

FF

20. Your favorite game from childhood:

First NES Zelda game!

21. An overrated game:

Dark Souls

22. An underrated game:

The Space Between

23. Your guilty pleasure game:

World of Final Fantasy. It’s an utterly barefaced Pokémon clone but it does things that a lot of monster hunter games don’t, like interacting with multiple monsters in your party simultaneously without feeling cluttered.

24. A game based on a movie:

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie! (Yes that is also a review currently in the works)

25. A game with an awesome soundtrack:

Silent Hill 4

26. A game with awesome artwork:

Blasphemous

27. A game with awesome voice acting:

Vampyr

28. A game best played with a controller:

Hollow Knight

29. A game best played with mouse and keyboard:

Diablo II

30. An upcoming game you’re excited for:

Hollow Knight: Silksong

Just finished Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII for the first time (spoilers as usual)

After all this time, I have finally played and finished this game. And I went into it with a negative bias: with as much as I love the original Final Fantasy VII, I was bound to play it sooner or later but we all know the odds with later elaborations on cool stories (that do not necessarily need any). There is a lot that can go wrong. So I was not expecting it to come as close as it does to perfect. Perhaps it is perfect, for what it is.

The only problem I had with the game (if it ever qualified as a problem) was the kind of action RPG that it is. I think Crisis Core adheres to some sort of handheld action RPG formula that is also prominent in Final Fantasy: Type-0 which is my least favorite FF. Both Type-0 and Crisis Core have constant access to missions with varying degrees of relevance and irrelevance to the mainline story. At any given point in both games, one can access mini-raids that do not advance the story at all and you will sometimes be strongly pressured to do them.

A few times in Crisis Core, there are story beats with no obvious path forward. You will likely do a lot of these missions because it is easy to suspect that, since nothing appears to be happening, that the missions might trigger the next thing. Eventually, you realize it doesn’t work like that and then explore and trigger the next story event on accident. Since the PSP was a potential commercial risk for Sony, maybe they thought designing games that you can easily tune in and out of would be a way of playing it safe or appealing to “casual” gamers. Random fetch quests and random battles do not have a huge structural need for continuity.

For that reason, it is easy to spend lots of time playing either Crisis Core or Type-0 doing a lot of stuff with no cause and effect relationship with the story progression. This seems to be an emergent genre, and it is also a prequel and prequels have a little bit of reliance on the base game. This is what I mean when I say that Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII may be perfect for what it is. It happens to be in a genre that I often find boring unless it has some other strength going for it. Luckily, Crisis Core does.

What I liked most about FFVII was it’s story. So it was bound to be something I would be looking for here. One of the reasons I was interested but not quite eager to play Crisis Core back when it first came out was a story concern. According to a few sources, there were now two more characters that were infused with Jenova cells as fetuses.

While Sephiroth is still basically just “possessed” by Jenova like all carriers of her cells, he is still somehow different. Even though all carriers are controlled by Jenova, it often looks like Sephiroth is the vehicle and enforcer of her will, up to and including exerting his own will through the clones. The original Final Fantasy VII offers Sephiroth’s fetal exposure as something that could set him apart from the rest of SOLDIER. With that understanding, adding more characters that were changed as fetuses would undermine the plot of the original.

There are degrees of this procedure, though, which creates specific differences between them. In the first two experiments, a woman named Gillian who had been infused with Jenova cells was the source of the experimental DNA. Genesis had Jenova cells generated by Gillian’s changed body mapped onto him as a fetus. This was done surgically with a donor mother. Angeal, then, was conceived by and birthed by Gillian.

This does not necessarily need to subvert the plot of the original, though. By the time of the mainline Final Fantasy VII, Sephiroth is the only remaining fetus-hybrid anyway. Additionally, his closeness to the Lifestream nexus point of transmigrating souls in the core of the planet constitutes his real usefulness to Jenova.

At the same time, Crisis Core has a story that does make distinctions between different kinds of fetus-hybrids. If Crisis Core was the only FFVII story I ever encountered, I would be forced to assume that the enigma of Sephiroth’s unique nature would be clarified somewhere else. Crisis Core ends with Genesis’ inert body being mysteriously carted off by SOLDIER. This, at least, made it clear that Square wanted loose ends to lead into other installments in an expanded universe (at that time, anyway).

But if you played the original, you know that the only word on how Sephiroth was exposed to Jenova’s cells in the first place is that it was while he was a fetus. In light of the additional lore in this prequel, though, being infused as a fetus can mean different things.

Is this a serious narrative weakness, though? I don’t think so. Not even a weakness, really, more like a complication. The only real consequence it could have is whether or not all Genesis and Angeal carriers are eradicated. There are a lot of them for all three of the fetal experiments. The plot of Advent Children relies on three Sephiroth carriers surviving by simply falling through the cracks during the Jenova Reunion. Assuming, for now, that there are no more Angeal or Genesis carriers isn’t that much of a big deal. And if Sephiroth’s real usefulness to Jenova is his location at the Lifestream transmigration nexus, that leaves the plot of the original game intact.

So in the end, there is nothing about Crisis Core that really contradicts or subverts the original, in terms of plot or lore continuity. Crisis Core does more than simply not fail, though.

Whether or not Crisis Core starts off on an easy path is a matter of interpretation. Zack Fair, our protagonist, is super stoked to be in SOLDIER and to fight for the global dominance of Shinra. For a fan of the original, in which Shinra is an unambiguous force of evil, this is jarring. Then again, all armies have their propaganda and their own true believers. Warriors on all sides always think they are right- so Zack being a warrior of conviction actually makes a lot of sense.

This is hint one that Zack is gonna have an arc that goes from naïveté to maturity. But for a while he plays the role of the big bouncy Boy Scout a little too well. Zack never gets as annoying as Snow from FFXIII but walks up to the line occasionally. Being a guileless and trusting recruit at first, Zack’s ideals are larger than life and quickly slide from white to black (musing whether he is a hero or a monster, etc).

Zack becomes aware of necessary shades of gray when he is assigned to track and neutralize Genesis and Angeal once they defect. Hollander and Genesis have an exchange in front of Zack that makes it clear that Angeal and Genesis need Hollander and his Shinra-based procedure that staves off their cell decay. If certain death is the motivation for Angeal and Genesis remaining loyal to Shinra, then the possibility of a non-Shinra source of sustenance is life-changing.

In other words, the Shinra super-SOLDIERs fight because they have to in order to survive. Genesis’ mood swings could have a few different explanations, but the revelation that he doesn’t have to be Hollander’s dog forever seems like a contender. Angeal, who is also subject to the cellular decay, rebels also but tries to maintain his early values, such as protecting his old relations and innocents who get trapped in the crossfire. Genesis wants to start over and Angeal wants autonomy but still clings to his prior obligations.

The dialectic of balancing individual need versus wider complications is emphasized more by a conversation between Zack and Sephiroth immediately before the fatal journey to Nibelheim. Sephiroth tells him that he might defect from Shinra soon but does not offer any explicit reason. The only implicit reasons are the recent events with Angeal and Genesis. It seems possible that Sephiroth is also questioning (he says he may defect) whether or not he would die without Shinra support. This would mean that his personally-felt loyalty to Shinra is now irrelevant, since he’s learning he might be nailed down to it anyway.

A loved one of mine shared bits of the Crisis Core soundtrack with me a long time ago, including a song called The Price Of Freedom. That phrase captures the emerging thematic concern at this point in the game.

Crisis Core is a prequel and is fundamentally tied up in a relationship with the OG Final Fantasy VII. It would be an extremely weak prequel, though, if it had nothing but it’s connection to the source material going for it. This questioning of genuine commitment versus coercion leads us to a personal narrative about Zack, which kicks into overdrive when Zack is forced to act independently.

After escaping the grasp of Hojo and his lab tech, Zack is soon cut loose from Shinra. He has digital access to internal Shinra documents stating that both Zack and Cloud are dead. Then the word goes out that some important Shinra “fugitive samples” have escaped.

The game from this point resembles an escort mission: maybe the most emotional escort mission I’ve seen in a video game in a while. Zack has watched his heroes turn sadistic and homicidal and was forced to put down a few of them himself. Cloud looks up to Zack as a role model but, now that he is on the other side of the hero-worship he indulged in himself, Zack is more willing to treat Cloud like an equal than his own heroes were.

After the Nibelheim disaster, though, Cloud ceases to be a mere “kid brother.” Zack witnessed the importance of Tifa and Nibelheim for Cloud and the destruction wrought there by his own former masters. After the loss of Sephiroth, Angeal and Genesis, Cloud is now Zack’s only surviving fellow traveler. This also makes Aerith more than a long-distance girlfriend for Zack: she is the last part of his old life that remains good.

FFXV was lauded for its portrayal of platonic love between male companions. I think I gotta say that Zack and Cloud do this better. And it’s built up by a succession of smaller moments, like Zack carrying Cloud around and re-dressing him in new clothes. Final Fantasy is famous for being dialogue-heavy, but a lot of the pathos of this bond is built by being non-verbal. Cloud might not talk back to Zack post-trauma, but Zack still makes an effort to discern his feelings and needs.

Zack always addresses Cloud as if he is lucid and paying attention. At this point in the story, all institutional sources of meaning have, for Zack, been revealed to be treacherous. Zack’s only values need to be the ones that he embodies himself. The function served by Zack’s relationship with Aerith as a motivator is a little reductive but it works as something real for him to be invested in, after his other idols are discredited. Cloud, though, is a living embodiment of this.

Before wrapping this up, there is another gameplay element I wanna mention: the modulating phases. This was almost…kind of…subversive in a good way?

In lieu of normal experience points, we now have a slot machine mechanic that starts up after a certain length of time. This basically limits the rewards for combat to its’ length, which can achieve a lot of the same ends as an exp leveling system. Easy foes get done away with easily so there is no risk and no reward, since the battles won’t last long enough for the modulating phase. Most of the numbers correspond to materia slots and two or three numbers of a kind will level up the materia in that particular slot. Solid 7’s are how Zack himself levels up.

This creates a feeling very similar to more conventional RPGs. Enemies below your level are quickly done away with and have minuscule rewards: the real grinding needs to happen with monsters close to your own level. The modulating phase slot machine is also how special, hard-hitting attacks similar to limit breaks are triggered.

Near the end, during Zack’s last stand outside of Midgar, you are clearly overwhelmed and most of us knew how this would go anyway. But you keep getting thrown into playable combat against the vast Shinra hoard with frequent modulating phases that buzz with static and roll irregularly, as if glitching. The slots even have some of their character illustrations go white and fuzzy and the screen will white out without giving you a specific set of three numbers. The poignance of this portrayal of Zack gradually dying crept up on me.

I might also be stating the obvious by mentioning the similarities with the portrayal of Zack’s last stand in Final Fantasy VII: Remake. Both versions have Zack saying the words “(t)he price of freedom is steep” and some very similar “camera angles.” If Square continues to insist that Crisis Core is not cannon, we’ll just have to see how that bears out in part 2 of the remake.

After all these years, I’ve now learned that this is where the image of Sephiroth at the start of Advent Children came from

Vigil: TLN play-through, part 3 (spoilers)

When we last left off, the plague in Maye Village had two possible origins: the mine and the flooded area. The unexpected time jump after the encounter in Death’s Destination caught me off guard and I didn’t want to miss out on any temporary events or side quests. Not knowing which path would advance the plot to the next beat and close any cool situational opportunities, I decided to start with the one that seemed the longest and most open-ended: the flooded area.

The Metroidvania sub-genre banks on the lure of exploration. There is, however, a way to either create an experience that feels the same but isn’t or to make a linear section more interesting before being truly turned loose. Final Fantasy Peasant nailed it when he said that Final Fantasy VII pulled off one of the greatest open-world fake outs by giving you a navigable world map after a rigidly linear beginning. Simply having the world map at all felt liberating after Midgar, but there are still terrain obstacles that can’t be crossed until later in the story.

Vigil accomplishes the same illusion in a much simpler way. Before I get into that, though, I want to emphasize that there is still enough exploration and hidden paths within the mine and the flooded area to have a lot of fun with. The careful control of the difficulty and it’s consistency with the character-building system frequently kept me engaged and interested in relatively small spaces, though. This often feels like lots of little frustrations that, once overcome, will make you feel like the incoming huge frustration is easily doable and you don’t realize how hard you are actually trying.

Again with those soft touches: the background scrolling immediately before Kelpie goes nicely with the droplets of water on the “camera lens”

Case and point: Kelpie. When this fight was first triggered, I was able to do enough damage with the same melee tactics that work for the random encounters in the area to make it feel potentially easy. More specifically, I’ve been cultivating a “heavy”, axe-weilding build. So axe-melee works for anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 of Kelpie’s HP, then Kelpie burrows under the shore and begins a combination of range and heavy blunt-force attacks with limited hit box access. On attempt 2, I experimented with some spells and found that the short-range poison projectile that The Ancient Guard drops in Death’s Destination is very useful during the second half of the fight.

So here I am thinking I have a fool-proof strategy nailed down, but even with that you are never too big to fail. Like last time, I thought this would be easy and got lazy. Before I knew it, hours went by with repeated deaths and each and every time I was thinking it was gonna be easy. It pays to remember the little things: Like Bloodborne, never underestimate the advisability of rolling to the other side of huge monsters and spamming them from behind. Also, do not get so put off by the size and movement of Kelpie to forget that you can still do simple things like crouch and run out of range.

Stock up on negative status curatives and restoratives for stamina while doing all this and you’ll be fine. Upon defeat, Kelpie drops a key item called a Cubic Crystal & you now have access to a new, interconnected area. Almost like a palette cleanser, a bit of exploration beyond this point will bring you to the Gnawing Beast within the sewers, a substantially less challenging boss that drops the Arctic Ocarina. You know, like the Scarlet Ocarina that took you to Death’s Destination.

Sure enough, the guards back in Maye are talking about increased numbers of undead emerging from the cemetery and would like our assistance. Which would once again place us close to the Catacombs and the gateway to the other side, so it’s starting to look like another magical journey with the ocarina is just around the corner. But let’s check out some other leads first- such as the contagion’s possible origin in the mines.

Our old friend Hilda is found some distance beyond where we ran into her last time. She shares some lines from a song describing tree trunks with skulls embedded in them, just like the trees in the area.

From here there is some exploration to find the entrance to the mines, during which you could obtain the Flaming Magpie spell if you grabbed the stone from the hunters’ cabin earlier. Once we get there, though, the mines are a real platforming sweet spot.

Mine levels, like sewer levels, have a generalized reputation for being frustrating. Mystic Caves Zone from Sonic 2 comes to mind or the sewer section from the first Silent Hill game. Vigil, though, along with nearly every recent Metroidvania I’ve played, succeeds in avoiding this. As is typical of mine levels, there is mobile platforming. With enough attentiveness, you can navigate the pattern-memorization without needing to sacrifice health or progress. The mines reward effort but don’t hold you by the hand; like any well-designed game, you are never too big to fail.

The pre-boss combat is also tightly designed; enough small and moderate attackers simultaneously to make you think quickly but never overwhelming. Some of the monsters, like the one seen above, are familiar. The zombies that emerge from the ground and explode upon dying were first seen in the cemetery and the spikey dogs were first seen in the laboratory where Bruna was taken and transformed.

The nod to the cemetery underpins the possibility of revisiting the gateway to the other side, sooner or later. But this association is also blended with a new detail: miners who still look mostly human who also explode upon dying. Possibly a connection between the mining disaster and the antecedents of whatever is now going on in the graveyard? Maybe Dawn and those like her are right about the recent plague emerging from the mines after all. An eventual shortcut leading from Limestone Way to the flooded area also bears this up.

The boss fight, though, is probably the first easy one in Vigil. I appreciated the attempt to make the player exploit the spatial characteristics of the “arena”. The Erupting Flesh Cluster dominates the ceiling and sprays fire, forcing you to both hug the floor and climb platforms to avoid the streams of fire. If you have the Flaming Magpie spell, though, you can camp out at the rooms’ edges and spam arcane damage, since the Cluster’s hit box hardly moves and the Flaming Magpie can cross the whole screen.

After dispatching the Erupting Flesh Cluster and claiming the second Cubic Crystal, you might also elect to rescue some miners you encounter along the way. Soon, though, we rendezvous with Hilda who advances an interesting possibility on the origin of the plague. One begins to wonder if the Doctor in the plague mask back at the asylum is in fact the same person as the Professor from the beginning of the game, who experimented with Crimson on Bruna and Gram.

That the Doctor has contributed to the problem in any way- be it active or passive -appears credible. He cops to giving out placebos to placate the villagers. He also conveniently supplies a new possible origin for the plague at Bufonitte Lake when the flooded area and the mines are ruled out, which could potentially look like evasion.

During the placebo sub quest, I decided to give all of my sugar pills to the drunk, rich asshole in the tavern only to have Sillian kick me to the curb because of what it looks like ):

Bufonitte Lake and the process required to get there continue the upward quality of the platforming that began with the mines and the Ancient Battleground. En route, there are a ton of neat shortcuts and secrets to be discovered, often with the aid of the spell gifted to you by Hilda during her earlier visit. The lake itself has almost immediate access to a boss battle that yields a third Cubic Crystal. During the right-leaning vertical platforming necessary to reach Bufonitte Lake, it is also possible that you encountered this:

Evidently, they are a set of three, and are required to open this gateway. This also has a superficial consistency with an optional lore document at the lake that refers to a seal key divided between the Vigilant, the Shimmer Church and the Guard. When you return to the Doctor to check if the defeat of the scourge of the lake had any effect, though, he has moved onto another potential solution, requiring all three of the Cubic Crystals. Which he needs you to hand over. Because…you know…trust…right…?

This leaves us with three options: hand over the Cubic Crystals to the Doctor, play the Arctic Ocarina at the bottom of the Catacombs, or open the seal in the Giantwood Forest.

Here it might bear mentioning something that I should have done before I defeated the Ancient Guard earlier: utilize multiple save files. This time around, I got the memo before it was too late. What happens after this point should probably get its own blog post.

Some other odds and ends I wanted to mention-

Not knowing how quickly things might move once I dove back into the main quest line, I decided to mop up side quests and do some exploring off the beaten path. After rediscovering a passage I didn’t investigate very thoroughly the first time around, I pushed a little further and found this:

To my surprise, I wandered into the Salt and Sanctuary crossover event without even encountering the specific quest line. Other than the familiar face above, there are a few other monsters that look a lot like S&S creature design:

It’s been awhile since I last played Salt and Sanctuary, but I don’t think these particular creatures appear in that game. I mean…there is a superficial resemblance to the S&S Drop Spiders, but only in that they’re spiders. Beneath Lake Bufonitte, you encounter these beauties, which look like S&S creature design and are a bit closer to the mark:

They occasionally drop from the ceiling but still look distinctly different from Drop Spiders. If Ska Studios made original assets for Vigil during the collaboration…I can’t help but wonder if there is more to the crossover than the brief monster hunting excursion that lands you the frying pan from S&S? I mean, a quest line, a familiar enemy and a weapon were all that the crossover announcement on Steam promised..but those spider creatures do look distinctly like the work of Ska Studios, right? I may also be wrong, here, but to my eyes the large spider enemies appear to be rendered in a very specific art style that stands out from everything else in the game.

Speaking of Vigil’s art style, I have to gush about how beautiful this game is. Much of the art looks like offbeat, slightly uncanny illustrations from a book of fairy tales. The background scrolling makes this imagery look a little bit like a surreal pop-up book. Situational zooming and lighting adds a subtle touch of realism which also breathes life into the otherworldly touches.

Especially, like the moment shown above, when a quick, transitional movement shows several dynamic textures simultaneously. The bright, early morning moon is visible when Leila emerges from the rock face on her way out of the mines. Then, as the camera moves with Leila on her way down a ladder, the moon disappears behind a structure and the mist-covered forest moves into the frame. Both can only be seen simultaneously as she crouches to begin climbing, and for barely a second. This is just the right amount of realism, like when you see something surprisingly beautiful and then you take another step or your car goes around a bend and it’s gone.

Understated photorealistic textures, like rain, add a lot to the sense of scale created with the situational zooming and lighting. I know this isn’t an option for every gamer but it really, really pays to this game on a machine with a quality graphics card. I’m sure this all pops beautifully on the Switch and will on the PS4 whenever that adaptation is made.

End of play-through:

https://ailixchaerea.blog/2021/01/09/vigil-tln-end-of-blind-play-through/

Old Tomb Raider fan plays new Tomb Raider games!

Sorry for the long pause- I promise to get back to Vigil soon but for now I want to do something simple and fun.

I’m an early riser, my partner isn’t. So a lil while ago when I was putzing around in the morning on my own, I decided to grab Shadow of The Tomb Raider.

In general, I haven’t met a TR game I didn’t like. Tomb Raider: Chronicles being the exception that proves the rule, and even that one had some fun platforming and puzzle-solving. Fun can still be pulled off even if some of the potential for depth is mishandled.

The modern Tomb Raider games succeed at one of the major draws of the original series: exploration. Rise of The Tomb Raider and Shadow of The Tomb Raider always reward exploration off the beaten path. The placement of the player in the wilderness looking for hidden temples kinda makes it intuitive tbh. The modern games even have this nifty lil mechanic in the key item menu where you can rotate and zoom in on artifacts to examine them for clues. This is probably one of the best usages of modern graphics in these games. The modern games likewise succeed at tense, fast-paced combat that rewards situational awareness and careful management of consumable items.

I actually called my partner over to the entertainment center to show her the peeling paint on this door because it looked so real
Also: pretty leaves!

There was a second strength of the originals, though, that the modern TR games haven’t done so well: atmosphere. And modern graphics may have contributed to the misunderstanding that led to this.

Obviously, when the series first launched on the PS1, realistic human figures were pretty hard to pull off. As a series with a human being for a main character with a tone that (at least a little bit?) aims for believability, the developers for the first Tomb Raider games wisely chose to play it safe. For the majority of the first few games, you see Lara Croft more than any other human character.

With the normal human proportion box checked, freedom could still be had in other areas. Three levels in, you get dinosaurs. Other human figures are largely saved for the higher-quality cutscenes between gaming segments. If a human other than Lara did appear in the polygonal gameplay graphics, it would have to be occasional and be calculated to fit within or play on top of the atmosphere.

In the first two Tomb Raider games, this calculation was integrated wonderfully. The lack of precise graphics left room for two probable risks: comical weirdness or creepy, uncanny weirdness. The first humanoid figure you encounter in the first game is a mummy that’s just a little taller than normal with an unusual head shape. When you grab the first scion piece, the mummy falls forward with a moan.

By leaning into the potential for creepy, uncanny exaggeration with some choice musical cues, it makes you go “holyshitwhat’sthisI’mouttahere“. So you’re running your ass off from that room and you’re soon greeted by a living human shooting at you. Because of the brief shock from the zombie, you are almost relieved to see a normal human murderer. And soon after neutralizing the threat, Lara and the assassin start talking. Your attention goes from the combat to the dialogue.

The atmosphere and the importance of what is being spoken takes the burden of believability off of the graphics for that segment. But the player still arrived at that segment through a shift from a creepy, human-ish being to the “relief” of a more realistic human presence. The psychological “threat” of something not quite human is still intact, and comes back with a vengeance when you encounter undead and mutant humanoids later. This usage remained consistent in TR2 in addition to TR2’s increased implementation of large, dark, vertiginous spaces (under water, on floating islands, etc.).

This is the revamped mummy in the Tomb Raider: Anniversary remake of the first game. No way does this matches the creepiness of the original

The appeal of the Tomb Raider games has mostly been a balance between a power-fantasy of physical strength and the vulnerability of isolation. I’m totally on the positive end of agnostic about the modern entries maintaining that standard: it is totally possible and I would like to see them pull it off. They’ll just have to find a different way of doing it.

Vigil: The Longest Night first impressions- lil bit later (light spoilers)

While it has been a few weeks, I still suspect I am in the beginning. I did not resolve every thread of the disappearance of Bruna and the nature of the involvement of Gram and the Professor before those events get “missed” (little x’s appeared next to the quests I didn’t finish).

If I have missed some stuff, it’s because I went straight to the Catacombs after finding Bruna in her transformed state. I did make an effort to find other “dungeon-length” areas but could not find much outside of the cemetery. “Note” discoveries tell us that Daisy, the Professor and others were last seen near there, so it’s simply an obvious thing to check out at that point. Some networking with Maye village residents will connect enough dots for Leila to discover that the arches overhanging the Crimson Ocarina are probably what the Lantern Keeper is referring to when she says Porta Avernus.

The detective work of this part of the story was a welcome balance against the action-packed platforming and combat. I particularly like how Thurber Sungi was involved. He is an outsider and (I think…?) a member of a foreign and marginalized religious group. Unless the royal government that he works for is the same one that Maye and the Vigilant warriors are subjects under. In that case, when Thurber says the word “heretic”, he probably means the same thing that other Goddess-worshipping villagers mean when they say the word. In that case, the villagers Chris and Gram are the only characters so far who do not practice the common religion.

The Professor, meanwhile, discovered a phenomenon called Crimson that is almost always deadly to humans. Tissue-growth can be achieved with Crimson if an appendage from one being is attached to another of a separate species. Lastly, there is a method of introducing Crimson neurologically, which has the most gradual and most mysterious effects. This appeared to have been going on with both Gram and Bruna. Sure enough, I have an item in my inventory called a Crimson Ocarina and a likely location to play it.

A brief musical note and a red flash later

At first this reminded me of Blasphemous. Then I noticed the more whimsical qualities, like the kaleidoscope city in the background and floating coffin platforms. Blasphemous is surreal and psychological, but those qualities are designed to accommodate a sense of religious dread. Lots of penance, self-flagellation, glorification of martyrdom, etc.

Blasphemous is set in a world where a scary, inhumane, autocratic religion is made effectively “real” by magic. Death’s Destination in Vigil, though, does not look like the creation of a control-seeker. The cityscapes kaleidoscoping in a spiral on the horizon, floating coffins and piñata fetuses are more chaotic than the dour, medieval, orderly nightmare in Blasphemous. In terms of atmosphere, Blasphemous has a nightmare of order and Vigil has a nightmare of chaos. Really, Death’s Destination looks almost like Earthworm Jim if it decided to go for horror instead of comedy.

The boss fight in this area is not particularly challenging but it does require a modest amount of patience and, for a few levels, always seemed to be just within reach of being beaten. I actually spent a few days on this fight and did a lot of grinding for it without realizing the amount of time and effort I was putting into it. Maybe that’s good design or just a happy coincidence, but either way the Lantern Keeper soon shows up to tell us we have “ended the timeless nightmare”. Is Leila’s trial finished now? What does that mean, exactly?

“Soon to be complete”?

After some fun banter outdoors with two guards who don’t recognize you, you are taken back to Maye where a disease has taken hold and some time has gone by. Maybe? Leila soon finds her sister Daisy tending the afflicted in an asylum either built into a wrecked building or a wrecked ship.

Later discoveries reveal this to be a distinct possibility

Here, the game gives you the chance to pick up a smattering of quests, rather like our first glimpse of Maye. The loss of every owl statue checkpoint could also, arguably, support the possibility that a time jump has happened. There is no frank comment on how distant the era we came from really is.

We encounter various friendly faces, such as Daisy and the shopkeepers, who recognize us. Then there is August, at the library near the cemetery, who is clearly an adult (if not middle-aged) man who says he is a descendant of an ancient guard named Duran, whom we know from the start of the game. Both cannot be true and the plot must surely thicken. Maybe Leila could be an unreliable narrator after all?

Speaking of lost time, a new naming convention involving different times of the year has proliferated while we were gone. The waterfalls to the East of Maye also appear to have gone through some kind of seismic or oceanic event, as it is now a vast wasteland of bog and wrecked ships. Whether this is due to a time jump, Leila infiltrating another timeline, Leila’s own mind or something else is not yet clear.

The way this change was expressed in the structure of Maye was also welcome. How to even implement towns in a Metroidvania has suffered some confusion in the past. Hollow Knight makes it so you can add more bugs to Dirtmouth village and shortcuts without by finishing different quests. Salt and Sanctuary simply makes the checkpoints the only place to encounter specialized support NPCs. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia had places you could select on a menu-like world map that consist of static NPCs and non-horizontal doors and alleys you interact with by pressing ‘up’.

The original Castlevania: Simon’s Quest did a decent job by simply adding platforms and a nonstop day-night cycle to it. A town like Maye, with more platforming layers and accessible areas that are added over time, is a very welcome addition. What might be really neat later on is if the gradual downward progress of the town’s construction eventually leads to some important Norfair/Hallownest area.

Just an idea ^^

The creature design continues to be on point. I particularly appreciated the bear near the waterfall cavern where Hilda is found for the second time and the shadow beings found further into the ship’s graveyard. There were also beings at that place that looked a little bit like the shark people from Bloodborne’s Fishing Hamlet but other than some occasional unoriginality, more hits than misses so far.

Try jumping, huh?

Play-through part 3:

https://ailixchaerea.blog/2020/12/19/vigil-tln-play-through-part-3-spoilers/

Vigil: The Longest Night dropped yesterday! (first impressions)

At long last, Vigil: The Longest Night is now available to the public!

I am still very much in the beginning- I have barely been able to surpass the territory covered in the open beta event from earlier this year. During the open beta, I commented on problems with the collision detection and button response time. While there are some imperfections with where on the ladder or ledge will grab, those issues are largely gone with one conspicuous exception. There is a vertical platforming area between Maye village and the entrance to the first dungeon. At the same time, there is a waterfall in the area which needs to be perpetually animated. The button-response and collision detection with the climbable ledges gets worse when the game needs to animate a large volume of smaller animations. Outside of this area, though, I did not struggle with the platforming.

Something I do not remember from the open beta is automatic zooming in and out depending on location. Other side-scrollers that have implemented it, like Salt and Sanctuary, usually streamline the process so as to not draw any attention to it. Which is perfectly understandable if the perspective-shift is just meant to make navigation easier and has no relationship with the overall style of the game. In Vigil, though, situational zooming is used in a way that makes the world feel bigger and makes the different art styles used for different effects feel much more like a unified whole. The situational zooming really pops when trees are rustling or something close to the foreground moves.

The opening cutscene feels somehow more detailed or longer than it was in the beta. Whether it is or not, though, the specific art style of the cutscene (above and below) also helps all of the different stylistic influences feel like a bigger whole. Consequently, Leila’s sword-swings and other quick movements look way more authentic and natural this time than they did in the beta.

The greater visual continuity really, really came together. And it’s beautiful. Perhaps more importantly, though, it gives Vigil a more distinct identity. Which matters a lot since 2D side-scrolling “Soulsborne/Metroidvania” has now caught on as a recognizable sub-genre, adding to the imperative for newer additions to distinguish themselves.

While I’m talking about “Soulsborne/Metroidvania” as a sub-genre, there is also an optional Salt and Sanctuary and Vigil crossover event. I don’t know how to communicate how exciting that is to me. In my opinion, Salt and Sanctuary was not just one of the first “2D Souls” side-scrollers, but it captured something basic about the format itself. If it was not for S&S, we probably would have saw more typical action-RPG mechanics in Hollow Knight and Blasphemous, like exp, leveling, etc. Aside from all that, though, S&S is simply one of my favorite games and I could not be more stoked to see what Vigil + S&S is like.

One thing that has become fairly common to both “Soulsborne” and games that blend the formula with side-scrolling is ambiguity. This is probably because Hidetaka Miyazaki, the main creative force behind Dark Souls and Bloodborne, often uses circumstantial and visual storytelling. Vigil inverts this trope by giving us Leila, a named protagonist, with a family and a hometown (apparently- at least in the very beginning). What’s more is that she is no-nonsense, perceptive and goal-driven. If there is any use of an unreliable narrator at all in this story, it does not look like it would be Leila.

The difficulty was also adjusted since the open beta. The boss of the first dungeon actually required some persistence, experimentation and grinding. Like a lot of “Soulsborne/Metroidvania” games, leveling in Vigil is based on an allocation point system. The threshold for leveling up, in the very beginning, is pretty low, so those first few easily-obtained levels are a satisfying and engaging way of introducing the player to the skill-tree. This is fortunate, since I suspect that throughout the game you will need to be proficient in different combat styles. The accessible introduction to the character-building makes experimentation with different builds more accessible as well.

To continue the play-through click the link:

https://ailixchaerea.blog/2020/11/04/vigil-the-longest-night-first-impressions-lil-bit-later/

Legend of Zelda Challenge: Outlands (spoilers)

The Legend of Zelda: Outlands is a rom hack of the original 1986 The Legend of Zelda by Challenge Games that dates back to May 15, 2001. Chronologically, this game is situated as a hypothetical “Zelda 3” that immediately follows Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. It also uses details from the Ninetendo 64 Zelda games, such as multiple ocarina songs, Gorons, the Gerudo and the Kokiri. GameMakr24, the author of this hack, also carefully preserved familiar sights like the black rooms with white dialogue and familiar enemy AI, spawning and spatial design. These familiar touches combined with the late nineties ideas add up to a cool “what if” scenario, as if the world of Ocarina of Time existed a decade earlier.

Immediately after the events of Zelda II, the Thunderbird has apparently survived and has discovered the location of the Triforce of Power in the Outlands beyond Hyrule. The Thunderbird imprisoned the Tetrarch Fairies that stand guard over this third of the Triforce and now must be released by Link in order to get it back.

Upon release, rare physical cartridges of this rom hack were produced, packaged like the original with a printed world map. While I would love to have one of these maps simply for its raw coolness, I instead played it the way so many of us played the original years ago: completely dependent on trial and error.

I WISH I actually had this

This being a rom hack of the 1986 Zelda, it naturally has the same overhead design and nearly all of the same textures and sprites along with some from Zelda II. Sometimes, basic movements, hit boxes and attacks used by a monster from the prior games will be dressed up in a new sprite. The AI and hit boxes of peahats and keese are swapped with each other. In an early dungeon there is a mini boss that moves back and forth and breathes three fireballs at a time, like the dragon from the first game, but is now a giant skeleton.

A lot about this game feels quite familiar, though, in spite of these differences. Like the first game, you start completely naked: the opening text crawl tells you nothing about where to go and only the vaguest hint of what to do. You don’t even have a sword, but at least the first Zelda put an old man in a cave directly in front of you to meet that need. This time, you won’t have a sword until you get to the first dungeon, and guess who gives it to you:

Princess Zelda herself is a constant companion, helping out in almost every dungeon

A key difference between this rom hack and many official Zelda games is the necessity of going back and forth between dungeons before and after releasing the Tetrarch Fairies. In level 2, there is a moblin that refuses to let you pass to the next room unless you feed him some meat (Kinda like in the first Zelda, remember? “Grumble, grumble…”?). This meat, however, is in an underground side-scrolling area in level 3, perpetuating Dracula’s tradition of storing meat in secret stone compartments.

Requires meat
One meat later

Having given the moblin the meat, you will go on to discover a raft that will carry you to a water-isolated place on the map where, for enough rupees, you can buy a Kokiri sword, a Goron shield, a bow and some arrows. The bow and arrows turn out to be extremely useful in dungeon 3- nothing else can kill the tektites efficiently that early in the game.

The bow is also necessary to kill the one-eyed blobby thing in dungeon 4. After that, the door to the left unlocks and Zelda will give you the ocarina. This is necessary to get the step ladder from dungeon one, which is guarded by a monster that resembles digdogger from the first game and, with the ocarina, can be done away with in a similar way. The door at the bottom of the screen will open up and the step ladder is all yours.

The step ladder, meanwhile, allows you to cross gaps that are roughly the size of a sprite which you need for multiple dungeons and overworld navigation.

Around the time you have secured 4-5 Tetrarch Fairies, you will probably notice that the Gerudos usually do one of two things- steal your money and hoard heart containers. On the continent accessible with the raft, there is a cave with a Gerudo who will give you The Staff Of Byrna once you have twelve heart containers. As she stands guard she says that she can only give the staff to “the hero”.

The staff itself, which deals damage, doesn’t expend rupees like the bow and doesn’t require full health like the sword beam, is an all-purpose reliable range weapon. So long as all you want to do is attack- the boomerang and the bow can collect objects for you and you will definitely want to gather stuff from a distance in this game. The Staff of Byrna also fires the slowest projectiles.

Since the staff doesn’t “cost” anything to fire, you may find yourself using it a lot against enemies that deal range damage and are too unapproachable for melee combat. And the enemies most likely to fit that description usually turn out to be the hostile Subrosians/wizards/whatever.

(after googling I learned that they are called Wizzrobes but I’ve been thinking of them as potion vendors from ALttP or Subrosians for too long already)

Little details like that can get you to speculate on the finer story details. Is there a reason why the Gerudos have the weapon that you are most likely to use against the wizards/Subrosians? You usually find the Subrosians/wizards close to the ninth dungeon that has the Spectacle Rock music from the original LoZ. What exactly is the nature of the relationship between the Gerudos and the Subrosian-thingie-people and how does it connect to what’s going on with the Thunderbird and the Tetrarch Fairies? What about the Gerudos gathering the objects (heart containers) that you need to collect for the staff? I like stuff like that, that’s organized enough to imply story threads.

Classic Zelda weirdness near the end

Rather like the original, the first play-through only gets you half of the content of the game and that’s where I’m at right now. This is basically a custom edit of the first Zelda game but it feels weirdly authentic. The final dungeon and final boss, in particular, really made me feel like I’m playing an actual “lost” Zelda game. In fact, more than once, it made me feel the same way I felt when I played Ocarina of Time as a preteen.