Mini-review: Gemcraft Labyrinth

This is my new favorite Tower Defense game. (Sorry, Rinku.) If you have ever enjoyed a TD, you owe it to yourself to play this one.

One of the biggest draws of this game is its adjustable difficulty. You can pick settings for each level before you go into it -- things like 50% more creeps per wave, 20% more HP, bonus armor -- and each setting has a multiplier attached to it. Each level has a base XP value, which is modified by the combined multiplier of your settings and by any in-level amulets (basically achievements) that you earn. So the harder you make it, the more XP you gain.

As you level up, you get more skill points, which you can allocate to things like starting mana (money), increased mana gains, and bonuses for each individual tower type. This means that your capabilities rise over time, and you can go back to earlier levels to increase your score. Insane replayability (on an already massive game)!

But that's all meta to the actual game. What makes it a good TD? Well, the biggest thing for me is that there are so many things to do with the gems. You can put them into towers and tower-defend just like you'd expect, but you can also A) put them into traps, decreasing their damage but amplifying their special effects; B) put them into amplifiers, augmenting nearby towers and traps; C) throw them directly onto enemies as bombs; D) use them as fuel for shrines, which provide powerful attacks on a long cooldown; and E) mix & match them for extra power.

I could keep going on here, but if I haven't convinced you to try the game yet, another few paragraphs aren't gonna help :)

FF13: Closing thoughts (spoiler-free)

I've come to the realization that I'm just a few missions shy of all that FF13 has to offer -- challenge-wise, that is, because while I could spend dozens more hours of playtime maxing Crystariums and completing ultimate weapons and so forth, nothing the game offers really justifies that time expenditure. And while it surprises me somewhat to say this, I actually feel like it's ending too soon -- I actually want more.

This is surprising to me because I'm rather ambivalent about the game as a whole. There are some aspects of the gameplay that I feel are well-designed; in particular, battles do a great job at maintaining tension, and I really do like the role-based nature of combat even if I have mixed feelings about how it plays out in practice.

On the other hand, we have parts that were just terribly designed: 90% of the items in the game are a complete waste (almost all upgrade materials, the vast majority of accessories, and too many of the weapons). Your paradigm deck is the only aspect of battle preparation that makes a difference in most battles. Equipment is almost always mindless: you'll do just fine equipping your best stat-increasing accessories in all but about three battles, all of them optional. In other words, a no-equipment run of this game plays out exactly the same as a standard run, which is just incredibly poor design.

That's my largest gameplay complaint. If you can enjoy the battle system despite its flaws, then FF13 is a really good game. The cast is the best the series has had since 6, which basically means it's in the top three. (Where it fits into that lineup is going to be a matter of preference; for the record, the other game would be FF4.) The plot itself is convoluted even by the standards of the series and/or genre, but it's one of the few games I've ever played with real, honest-to-goodness character development -- and I don't mean just backstories and stuff, but actual growth and progression over the course of a narrative -- so if you're willing to evaluate the story on those terms, then it's easily the best in the series.

Much has been made of the game's difficulty. It's true: the main game is the most difficult in the series, offset heavily by the low penalty for failure. The optional content, however, is lacking in difficulty; as mentioned above, the game offers you power that far exceeds what is necessary for the completion of these challenges. Wisely, though, the game makes most of this accessible only after you complete the game, meaning that you won't completely outlevel the final boss.

So, yeah, the game has flaws. But there's nothing here that's major enough to make the game unenjoyable. It doesn't scratch the same itch as many of the other games in the series, but that's exactly why the series is so enduring: it tries new things.

Here is what I do for a living

See the top nav ribbon and the rotating main pane? I converted them from Flash into JS/HTML a month or so ago, and Screenlife is just now wanting them live on their website. I'm going to push the JS/HTML version out to the rest of the site, but if you're quick, you can check out the Flash nav on the other pages of the site. (edit - too late, suckers!)

If you don't know anything about Flash or Javascript, you can just pretend to be impressed :)

FFXIII: First impressions


Lightning: She has a mullet, what?

Sazh: Being 30 doesn't make you an old man. (I looked it up -- he's actually 40 -- but still.)

Snow: I was ready for another Zell or Wakka. This guy is surprisingly subdued.

Vanille: I heard from fifty people how bad her VA was. It's not as bad as I was braced for, but I'm pretty sure the actress was forced to spend several hours in the studio doing nothing but giggling. At least she has a reason to be here, unlike Penelo. (No, really, $10 to anyone who can explain Penelo's motivation with anything other than "Vaan was there.")

Hope: BAWWWWW. I guess I'd have been a mopey teenager too if my parents had given me a girl's name.

Mysterious NPC: Hey, guess what? If you're in the manual, you're either a PC or the bad guy. (Exception: Delita was in FFT's manual. You could make a case for him being the bad guy, I guess.) I didn't read it that carefully enough to remember which one you are, or even your name, so I guess I'll have to wait to find out.

First two hours: Keep jamming A.

Next two hours: Kind of wish auto-battle was actually automatic. FFXII spoiled me.

Battle transitions: Boo. FFXII spoiled me. CT spoiled me many years before that. It's 2010; do we still need the "whoosh"?

Tutorials: If they're not interesting, at least they're informative. Also, the enemy never attacks while you're learning, while you usually get to take an action during the tutorial. Bonus!

Crystarium: Obsessively check it after every couple of battles. The fact that all of your party members are different is great, by the way. I am also a big fan of out-of-party PCs getting experience.

Cinematics: You won't need your controller for most of the game.

Field Dialogue: Your party members talk while you're walking around. This is fantastic; why didn't they do this years ago? Although I suspect the real motivation was that they had too much dialogue to fit into all the cinematics.