some games i've played lately but haven't talked much about

hi gang! it's been a while since i've written anything - not for lack of trying, it's just really hard! it drives me crazy! i tried editing a fairly short draft about fire emblem 5 last week and it threw me off my game for the whole week. still learning exactly what i need to do to approach writing without it being a mental health hazard... the one lesson i've learned so far is that drafting is safe, it's just editing that sends me over the edge. if i can say my piece in linear order and have it all on the page in a single session, i can walk away feeling okay. i'm even wondering if doing that once or twice will give me a little confidence or fortitude to jump back into editing. to that end, here are some casual, unpolished thoughts on a few games i've been playing this summer but haven't said too much about here or anywhere else! except megaten 1 which i guess i have a twitter thread about

wizardry: proving ground of the mad overlord (super famicom)

Screenshot from Wizardry for Super Famicom. The adventuring party party faces a large purple Poison Giant in a blue room.

played this alongside two friends who were tackling it in july. right away it's easy to see how you could play this and get inspired to make a final fantasy or a dragon quest, it got me very excited about this space of play too. the most exciting thing is its approach to navigation. i was really excited by how well developed the game's level design vocabulary is: the first floor is loaded with one-way doors, dark zones, and teleporters, immediately showcasing just how rich the act of moving through space and keeping track of your location can be, and this is really the core of play. this is the most unique thing for me, as this was both my first first-person dungeon crawler and the oldest game i've played period, and this whole aspect is largely absent from the ff and dq traditions. and while the influence it would have on ff and dq is palpable in many ways, this aspect is mostly left untouched by the japanese console rpg lineages... meanwhile i think the genre has struggled a bit to figure out exactly how to fill the space of dungeons, and consequently why we even have dungeons to begin with. though i'm sure wizardry's answer isn't wholly unique or original (i'm underexperienced with western rpgs and dungeon crawlers both old and new), its confidence in its vision makes me feel intense dungeoneering was the missing piece of the puzzle all along.

unfortunately it shows its whole hand right off the bat and what follows left me feeling cold. floors 5-8 (which are some of the longest, densest floors) of 10 offer little in the way of new ideas or situations or even developments on existing ones, and more frustratingly still, it's neither necessary to step foot in them (an elevator takes you straight from 4 to 9) nor beneficial. four times in a row i risked my precious mortal party members exploring these floors only to walk away empty-handed. of course exploration is fun for its own sake, it's not like i had a bad time mapping these places out "for no reason". but after such a strong start to the game, i was really hoping for bigger swings, steeper risks and greater rewards. instead these floors saw dungeoneering getting more and more rote, as i learned to anticipate the game's tricks and start running from as many fights as possible, taking advantage of the absurdly high escape rate. a transition from thrilling terror and disorientation to relative comfort... it's not quite the arc i wanted with this experience. (the one highlight of the back half is the hellish teleporter maze on floor 8, which i believe is exclusive to the nes/snes ports.)

still, no amount of conservative play can eliminate the risk of catastrophe in wizardry. what i expect i'll remember most about the game is the sense of mortal danger behind every door and within every round of its unpredictable gunfight-style combat.

megami tensei: digital devil story (famicom)

Screenshot from Megami Tensei for Famicom. The party battles with a hulking brown Minotaur under a crescent moon.

thanks to wizardry i no longer fear first-person dungeon crawling and thanks to fire emblem 5 i no longer fear making a fatal mistake and having to start all over. that means all the barriers to me playing megaten are gone. i wanted to start at the beginning out of historical interest - megaten is a huge console rpg lineage i know nothing about, and isn't it wizardry-descended too? how did we get from there to here? i wanted to start at the beginning and get a sense for myself.

of course the game is thrilling for how unlike other rpgs it is aesthetically and thematically. the economy early on is impressively brutal. recruiting demons is fascinating because it feels so fickle, so out of your hands; the're expensive to summon and sustain, and there's no storage system so their fate is either to be released or fused together. strange, precious little monster - refreshingly different approach after 25 years of catching pokemon. demon fusion is just as fun and exciting as everyone says, much less stressful than i thought before i knew that you could see full data on the resulting monster before committing to a fusion. fascinating all around! the major flaw (and this is near fatal, sadly) is that it's the slowest nes rpg i've played by far, battle messages play out at a snail's pace and there's no way to speed them up, so the frequent encounters feel impossibly glacial. it hasn't driven me mad yet but it might. excited to play the sequel and see if this gets amended.

kirby's dreamland 3 (snes)

Screenshot from Kirby's Dreamland 3 for Super Nintendo. In a grassy outdoor area, a large cat rolls Kirby like a ball, while nearby a big chubby hamster looks sad and a blue slime ball stands around with its eyes all googly.

i've always known that this game must technically be real, its existence IS documented... but i've never heard anyone talk about it except for my best friend from elementary school (my fire emblem partner), which makes it feel more like a schoolyard rumor than a material reality. well, i managed to get my hands on a physical copy. you'd think that would be decisive proof, but playing it has only made things feel more surreal, because the game is immediately so cute and delightful and creative that a new contradiction arises: if this is what the game is, how come nobody's talking about it? every new sprite or animation i saw put the stupidest smile at my face. i love gooey making faces when he crouches, i love nago rolling kirby around like a ball as his basic form of movement, i love each of kirby's helper buddies looking cartoonishly dejected or resentful when you pick another helper of them. and so much of kirby 64, which DOES come up quite regularly, is directly drawn from this game - characters and enemies and musical themes and imagery that seemed unique to that game are given a clear original in kdl3. why does a game this wondrous and connected to the rest of the series feel so much like such a lost artifact? i guess it's the curse of late-in-life snes releases...

eien no filena (super famicom)

Screenshot from Eien no Filena for Super Famicom. A butch blonde woman and her dead male companion fight a towering caped knight in black armor, inside some sort of high-tech facility.

i'm playing this over telemelt with another friend, and we're playing it in japanese for language practice - my first time ever trying. i don't know if it's just that you get more textured writing in japanese than in translation, or if this is an especially well written game (presently i suspect a little of both) but this might be the most i've ever enjoyed the story and dialogue in an rpg. the character drama has hit the mark every single time and it's making some very exciting promises about representing characters from perspectives uncommon in rpgs: our party is majority female, majority slave-class, majority non-professional fighters/adventurers (we have a showfighter, an arena scenario writer, a concubine and a dancer), one of our characters is a mother, one of them was just blinded by another party member (probably not permanently, but probably for a while!). filena herself is living in drag and has taken lila as her "wife", mostly for appearances, but there's definitely warmth between them. the one upper-class character (the one non-slave) won me over by being so ride-or-die for filena (if you don't kill cops in broad daylight to keep slaves safe, are you really an ally?) so there's tons of stuff in the game that, even if it goes nowhere in the end, is immediately and plainly excited to see on screen, and written well enough to send me walking on air. i can't help but set my expectations high. of course, we're still early. despite clocking 25 hours over the past 3 or 4 months, we're still in the first town, so we'll see if it delivers on any of these promises. if it does, it's gonna be rank on my all-time top rpgs easy.

atlantis no nazo (famicom)

Screenshot from Atlantis no Nazo for Famicom. A brown-clad explorer with a pith helmet and satchel jumps over the desert sands. In the background, a pyramid and a moai head are pressed against a black sky.

i'm playing this with yet another friend over telemelt! somehow this has become my most common mode of social interaction... i was very excited about this game after a few friends and peers sang its praises. i'm jazzed about its structure, its simplicity, about hunting secrets and solving mysteries, about its finnicky little jump is very interesting and i like how much the level design seems to center on mastering its quirks, both sides of that equation feel super deliberate and i like the game being so confident about it. it's another game that's hard to play without rushing off and wanting to make your own take on it. the difficulty is getting to be an issue for us, it's common to game over before getting far enough to explore new areas, and we haven't learned the signs well enough to look for hidden doors in old ones... playing only two hours a week and frequently passing the controller back and forth interferes a bit with the buildup of skills, in an environment that makes a lot of pretty specific demands on your hands. our last play session threatened to be fruitless, we spent most of it trying to claw our way back to the farthest-out areas we had reached. but then at the last minute we discovered a secret door to level 94 where the sky is flashing red like it's on fire and there are so many enemies we can't make it 15 seconds. so that's reinvigorated us, at least for a bit longer... i feel like this one will really come together if we can get a little farther into it, so we'll keep trying.