Dark Souls 2: Which Class Should I Start With?

Dark Souls 2 is out in less than a week, and I need to decide my starting class! Before I begin, two quick disclaimers:

  1. I’d be lying if I told you that your starting class is critically important in any Souls game. Skill and determination play a much larger part.
  2. Not all the facts are in yet, so I’m just going off of what the community has managed to dig up. Please don’t blame me if something ends up being fabulously wrong down the road.

Before we can talk about what makes one class better for you than  another, we should start with…

What The Stats Do

I’m dividing the game’s 9 stats into 2 categories: offensive stats and support stats.  Offensive stats are those which increase the damage of scaleable weapons or Miracles and Sorceries.  Now I know there is still a lot of confusion around this term, so I will explain — if you already know, simply skip ahead.

What are scaleable weapons?  I just wanna HIT stuff!  

Easy there, Billy. We’ll have you clobbering undead in no time, but first you have to understand why there are all those LETTERS on your weapon.  I’m talking S/A/B/C/D — remember those from Dark Souls? Those are telling you how greatly your character’s stats are affecting that weapon’s performance.  You just need to figure out which letter goes with which stat (there are icons which make this clear).

You want to equip the weapons that bring out your highest stat, not the ones that scale based on your lowest! For this reason, it’s wise to pick one offensive stat to go with based on how you like to play.  Settling on an offensive stat is probably the most important decision regarding your character’s growth that you can make.

OFFENSIVE STATS

  • Strength: Smash everything! Strength is generally reserved for the game’s biggest, hardest-hitting weapons which are usually slow and best used while wearing heavy armor.  Guard Breaking is a new feature in which you, well… break the guarding posture of your foe and initiate a punishing attack similar to a backstab or a riposte.  The higher your strength the easier it will be to execute this trump card.
  • Dexterity: Most Dexterity-based weapons aren’t big, they require close range (daggers, katana and the like) — but they get RESULTS.  Status effects like Bleed and Poison scale based on Dexterity now.  This is the trump card of a Dex-based character.  Get in close and quick, and leave them with a gaping wound filled with poison.
  • Intelligence: Everyone laughed at you for your love of books. Let’s see who’s laughing when you’re raining thunderbolts upon them with your totally cool (not really that cool) wand!  But there’s more!  Intelligence now scales the power of Fire-based weapons.  That means if you want to swing around a flaming sword — and do it right — you gonna want youse some booklearnin’.
  • Faith: “And you shall know my name as the lord, when I lay my vengeance upon thee…”  That’s what you’ll be saying when you whip some divine justice out on your foes — probably wielding a Talisman of some kind to do so.  Or maybe just heal yourself so you can conserve Estus Flasks for the heat of battle!  But there’s more!  Faith now scales the power of Lightning-based weapons.  That means if you want to poke foes with a Lightning Spear, you best go down to the river to pray, studyin’ about that good ol’ way.

Important Note re: Weapons: A lot of weapons that work well for one offensive stat may require a few points in another in order to equip.  For instance most longswords are designed for Strength builds, but require a bit of Dexterity.  Min/maxing is all well and good, but at the end of the day your weapon’s moveset is of the utmost importance.  If you’re not comfortable, swinging it, then you prolly gonna die.  So don’t be afraid to toss a few points into another offensive skill just so you can equip the weapon that works for you.

 

SUPPORT STATS

Support stats are those which don’t directly contribute to damage in any way, but you kinda totally need.

  • Vigor: You’re brimming with life, and would like to keep it that way. Vigor raises your max HP and nothing more.  Mostly important if you imagine yourself ever getting hit.  If you’re fast on your feet, you can probably keep your Vigor on the low side.
  • Endurance: Increases your Stamina.  Stamina is used for evading and blocking, so this is pretty important since if you’re not doing one of those things, you’re doing the other.  This stat is even MORE important now that you can exhaust your stamina. By executing any action that would bring your stamina below zero, your character will become “dizzy”.  When this happens, other players can do one of those punishing, unavoidable, and highly demeaning attacks to you (see riposte, backstab, etc.).  I honestly can’t think of a play-style that doesn’t benefit from Endurance.
  • Vitality: This adjusts your Equip Load. The main benefit of having a high equip load is that you can execute different evasive rolls depending on how burdened you are.  Less burdened = faster, farther roll.  More burdened = slower, weaker roll.  I think you also run faster when not uber-burdened as well, but I’m not sure.  If you’re the type who wears light gear, you can keep your vitality low. Likewise, if you have EXTREMELY effective defenses — I’m talking a shield that can stop a truck — you can avoid evading entirely.
  • Attunement: They STILL won’t take you seriously? Is it the wand?  It’s the wand isn’t it. Beef up your Attunement and you can smite them with your magics before they can utter a laugh!  That’s right: Attunement boosts spell casting-speed.  It also increase the number of spells you can equip.  Spells are  finite after all, needing to be replenished at bonfires.  Attunement is pretty worthless to those who just wanna swing big weapons — though it never hurts to enchant said big weapon?  Alternatively, Attunement could be ignored for those who want to use their high Intelligence or Faith for only Elemental weapons.  This one is really only important if you’re casting offensive spells.
  • Adaptability: This stat is new and fairly mysterious.  Current theories suggest it helps increase how well your character can evade — as in the number of invulnerability frames.  If this is true, Adaptability will be massively important to characters who want to be nimble.  What we know for sure about this stat, is that it increases defenses as well as resistances to status effects like Bleed and Poison.  Truly, all characters will want to dump some points into Adaptability.

Now let’s take a look at our starting classes and see how they excel and where they are lacking.  All the following data is coming from this wiki.

THE CLASSES

Warrior – “I know I want a Strength build with some wiggle room.”
Highest Offensive stat: Strength – 15
Highest Support stat: Vigor – 7
This class is designed for a standard Strength build.  All stats related to magic and most support stats are average.  If you know you want big weapons early on, and that’s about it, this isn’t a bad place to start.  This class is pretty forgiving if you decide to throw in a splash of either Sorcery or Miracles down the line.

Knight – “I want to be a Strength build and an iron wall.”
Highest Offensive stat: Strength – 11
Highest Support stat: Vigor – 12
Lowest stat: Intelligence – 3
The Knight has a ton of HP and high Adaptability (which I suppose is why he doesn’t get a shield).  Knights are also pretty awful when it comes to Magic, with the 2nd lowest investment in Faith, Intelligence, and Attunement.  I honestly like the support stats on the Knight better than the Warrior — I am thinking with a minor boost to Strength and Dexterity (and a shield) this character could be a better starting point for a pure Strength build.  Could also be a contender for a Miracle-casting knight.

Swordsman – “I want to start strong & fast, and I’m confidant in my abilities.”
Highest Offensive stat: Dexterity – 16
Highest Support stat: Endurance – 8
Lowest stat: Vigor – 4
This character is set up to hit hard early on, with the highest offensive stat and weapons (yup, two of ‘em) that are already upgraded.  However, having the lowest Vigor score of any class, terrible Vitality, AND sad Adaptability make the Swordsman exceptionally vulnerable.  Did I mention no shield as well? Yikes!  With 7 points in Intelligence and 6 in Attunement, becoming a Dex/Int hybrid seems like a good bet, but spreading this character any thinner too early on is dangerous IMHO.  A big Adaptability boost might be sufficient to make up for the lack of other support stats, with this character relying strongly on evading.

Bandit – “I have no interest in magic, just weapons (Strength or Dex)”
Highest Offensive stat: Dexterity – 14
Highest Support stat: Vitality – 11
Lowest stat: Intelligence – 1
The Bandit is a weird one.  I love how this class is as dumb as a brick!  You could probably take this character in either a Strength or Dex direction, though I think the support stats are better for a Strength user…  Despite a high Faith stat, the Bandit is BEST suited to completely ignore magic entirely: its combined Faith, Int, and Attunement is only 11 points.  That means this is the best starting point for any players looking to entirely ignore casting Sorceries and Miracles.  The Bandit, like the Knight and Warrior, seems pretty forgiving for a first playthrough since it can go in multiple directions easily.

Cleric – “I want to cast Miracles and maybe play as a holy knight.”
Highest Offensive stat: Faith – 12
 Highest Support stat: Vigor & Attunement – 10
Lowest stat: Endurance – 3
A Cleric is best suited as a miracle spammer, with the option to become a Miracle-casting Knight type down the road, thanks to decent Strength, Vigor, and Vitality. The low Dex stat will limit this character to Axes and Maces as your only offense for a while.  If you can wield these weapons well, you could probably get away without boosting Dex very much at all.  No better place to start if you want to be a holy knight type or a Miracle spammer.

Sorcerer – “I want to cast Sorceries and maybe become a quick Dex build.”
Highest Offensive stat: Intelligence – 14
Highest Support stat: Attunement – 12
Lowest stat: Strength – 3
The Sorcerer and Swordsman are both strong on offense right out of the gate, relying on evasion to keep them alive (they both have 10 points invested in Adaptablity and Endurance).  Low strength means it could be a while before this character can wield a sword, but Soul Arrow should be enough to keep you alive.  The Sorcerer could either stay the course of a Magic caster, or become a Dex/Int hybrid, much like the Swordsman.

Explorer – “I know exactly what I want, I just need the items to get me there.”
Highest Offensive stat: Strength/Dexterity – 6
Highest Support stat: Adaptability – 12
Lowest stat: Faith & Intelligence – 5
Haha, this one is my favorite!  I think I decided about halfway through writing this that I want to be an Explorer.  OK, so here’s what this job is all about: high support stats and low offenses.  Why? Well, this class is described as coming “equipped with many items.”  This means (most importantly) consumable items that deal damage to foes, a la Firebombs in Dark Souls.  The basic premise here is to use those items until you find a weapon that suits you and then pump whatever offensive stats you need to utilize it!  Cool huh?  This character really is designed to be an explorer!  I can see this becoming a favorite of speed-runners, or those who want to get a key weapon as early as possible.  For this reason, despite my excitement, Explorer may be a better bet for a second playthrough.

Deprived- “I’m naked lol.”
All stats: 6 (and this character is naked teehee)
Originally I was excited that this class was Soul Level 1, since I assumed it would offer great freedom in character building.  In reality, I’m thinking the only real benefit is the novelty of being naked.

So. Now that I’ve written all this, who’s it gonna be? Jeez…

Here is what I am thinking:

  1. Sorcerer or Swordsman: Both characters start as glass cannons, with great offenses and a reliance on evading to survive.  Both can potentially become effective Dex builds with a splash of  Sorceries on the side.  This is basically what I want for my first character, it’s just a question of what I want first: upgraded swords or Soul Arrow.  
  2. Bandit: I have a weird idea with this guy, but hear me out.  I’m thinking he could be a Faith hybrid who never actually casts Miracles.  Rather than pump up his Attunement to get a slot, I could ignore the stat entirely but pump Faith with the sole purpose of having a strong Lightning weapon.  Leaving my Intelligence at 1 and my Attunement at 2 would make me really happy, because that is some effective Min/Maxing.  The points I save from investing in Attunement can go into support stats or towards equipping the perfect weapon.
  3. Knight: This class starts out pretty resilient, and could probably carry me far enough into the game to take it in one of several directions.  I could see it becoming a pure Strength build, a Miracle-casting knight, and even a Faith/Dex hybrid.  This may be one of the most forgiving classes as long as you know you want to ignore Intelligence.
  4. Explorer: It’s totally possible that as soon as I find an awesome weapon with my first character, I will start a new game and try to run to it.  The Explorer is designed to do just this.

Wow, this got realllly long.  Sorry about that!  I hope in wading though all this you have a better idea of how you want to start in Dark Souls 2.  The Souls series can certainly induce anxiety with its infamous difficulty, so not having to worry about your starting class come March 11th should be a huge relief.  Good luck out there, don’t let the game crush your spirit. Or, in other words… “You have a heart of gold… Don’t let them take it from you!”

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Review

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Hello! Sarah here. Roy’s still living it up in Tokyo while I’m saddled with holding down the fort at our home base in New England. Between starting a new job, wrestling our two cats, digging my car out of the snow multiple times, and attempting to keep sane during the winter months of 2014…let’s just say he better be bringing me back some awesome souvenirs. In the meantime, he passed along a review copy of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc since I had told him I was looking for a new game to play. And he was too busy to review it since he was, y’know, mingling with dog statues and eating enough ramen to fill a bath tub.

Knowing nothing about DR:THH except that it was a Vita (!!) game, I dove right in. What greeted me was a Battle Royale-esque character-driven story combined with stylish visuals and ridiculous action sequences. I was hooked.

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The premise of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc revolves around a group of elite students that are accepted into Hope Academy, a school with such high standards that incoming classes are gossiped about on Internet message boards. Each character has some unique ability (baseball, gambling, swimming, programming etc) save the protagonist who only describes himself as average yet incredibly lucky to have been accepted. The new group of 15 students find themselves knocked out and woken up by a psychotic bear called Monokuma, who informs them that they are to live the rest of their lives in the school, unless they can graduate.

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How to graduate? Ya gotta kill someone and get away with it.

This sets the course for the game in which classmates are murdered, friends double cross each other, and nobody seems to be who they are at first glance.

Game Play

For the most part, the game features visual novel style story progression. While trying to unravel the mysteries of the school, you can choose which classmates to spend your free time with and get closer to. Giving them a present that suits their character will give you extra skills that can be equipped during debates at the class trial. Presents can be bought at the school store using coins found by exploring rooms (similar to hint coins in the Layton series) or earned after a successful class trial.

nbd just scrollin' through my inventory

nbd just scrollin’ through my inventory

Because Monokuma is a bloodthirsty little bear, he will occasionally show up to ramp up the stakes and provide incentives for students to off one another. This adds depth to the story as characters start to wonder what will drive someone to murder. It’s quickly established that you shouldn’t apply your own set of moral codes to anyone else, as something seemingly benign to you might just drive someone else over the edge.

After an “incident” occurs, time is spent searching for clues, which are logged as “truth bullets” meant to be used in class trials. Once enough time lapses and clues are gathered a trial begins, where a nonstop debate occurs between characters. You have to use a truth bullet to smash apart contradictions or weak statements made by characters, indicated by yellow text.

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Judging by the tie, I’d guess this guy is a Redditor

This system gains further complexity as you progress: multiple bullets can be loaded, not all yellow text will be contradictions, and you can actually use yellow text to create new one-use bullets. Random “white noise” also obscures character’s statements to add to the intensity.

A pitfall of this set up is that it can be frustrating to figure out what combination of bullets and weak statements will allow you to progress. If you can’t figure it out during one round of debates then you will keep starting over with the time still running (did I mention you’re timed during all of this?). In some cases you will need to use a statement made at the end of a round of debates in order to break a statement made by a character at the beginning. This is as confusing as it sounds, and at certain points I found myself ignoring the statements entirely and just randomly trying out different combinations.

Once the trial comes to a head and the suspect is singled out, you have to cinch your case by putting together a comic book of events by filling in some missing panels. This is also timed, but feels like a nice break from the intensity of lobbing bullets of truth at sentences that fly around the screen.

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You will also occasionally have to dismantle an especially disgruntled character’s statements through a rhythm game, either during the trial or after the comic book puzzle game. There’s also a hangman-style mini game where you have to target letters in order to spell out a key clue.

Overall the complexity of the trials compensate for the otherwise straightforward nature of the story, and rewards you for being attentive to small details (in other words, this is not a game for those who skim over dialog and flavor text).

Visuals

Danganronpa carries an impressive range of styles, which include 2D, pixel art, 3D, and paper craft style animated cut scenes, which are especially trippy. The variation in visuals feels stylish and keeps the story feeling fresh and unpredictable. Maps and menus are clean and easy to navigate, and feels on par with Persona 4‘s interface.

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The art direction lends itself well to the creepy atmosphere of the game and can switch from cute to terrifying in an instant, matching the chaotic vibes of the story.

Story

The story is engaging. I found myself really trying to pay attention to every little thing, because even though some clues are obvious, the more subtle ones will still be mentioned in trials, which encourages the player to pay attention. The character dialog and interactions feel believable and are well localized and translated, which is important when every sentence counts.

Danganronpa‘s themes range from comedic to thought-provoking, and despite the numerous characters, it isn’t difficult to keep track of who’s who because of their unique personalities and interactions.

Conclusion

I recommend this game for people who enjoy dark humor, murder mysteries, and are a fan of use-yer-noggin’ puzzles. It’s great for people who like to take their time with games and really explore all aspects of a title (and this game rewards you for doing so). I wouldn’t recommend it for those who like to blaze through games – not that Danganronpa would let you, anyway.

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What I’ve Been Playing: Part 2 — Bravely Default

Bravely Default! This is an annoying fairy thing...

In my last post I wrote about my experiences in the zombie-filled social experiment that is DayZ.  For part two in this series, I’m going to talk all about Bravely Default!  This is especially timely if you happen to live in America, where the game was just released.  So if you’re on the fence when it comes to giving Square Enix money after recent crimes against humanity, read on.

Bravely Default is a solid game in two areas.  First is gameplay.  At its core the game is a massive nod in the direction of pre PSX era Final Fantasies — mainly Final Fantasy 5.  This means it’s all about jobs.  Your characters assume a job (White Mage, Black Mage, and Monk are some early jobs), hop into battle, and earn EXP to level up and JP to unlock skills unique to their current job.  With a certain level of mastery, you can combine jobs creating effective hybrids.  For instance, my Ringabel is a Thief who steals like a mo-fo, but he also has access to Time Magery. He can speed up allies, or slow down enemies before they can even act.  I never tire of coming up with new combinations and trying them out in battle.

A full party of Black Mages

But Bravely Default builds on this tried and true system by introducing the Brave/Default system.  The Brave side of the coin lets you act multiple times on a character’s turn at the expense of not being able to act next turn (or a number of turns equal to how many extra actions you take).  Likewise, Defaulting means choosing to not act, allowing you to bank actions for later.

I found that when faced with a number of enemies, Braving well into the red allowed my Ringabel to rob everyone blind, my mages to hit elemental weaknesses, and my melee units to finish off any survivors.  Effective Braving could end battles quickly, often without ever even being touched by an enemy.  Miscalculating, and leaving any surviving enemies after exhausting by actions meant taking a few turns of uninterrupted punishment.  This is the tradeoff, and where strategy comes into play.

Brave-ing reduces actions on your next turn

The second area where Bravely Default shines is the game’s appearance.  Backgrounds are lush with a fantasy, handpainted vibe about them.  Each of the game’s 4 characters have unique outfits for every job that are both cute and stylish (but free of excess zippers and belts).  Weapons have unique appearances, which is always a plus for me.  Even the menu is easy to navigate and clean.  All in all Bravely Default is a pleasant sensory experience.  Hell, even the 3D isn’t bad.

Now for the complaints *cracks knuckles*.  The game doesn’t go out of its way to avoid classic JRPG tropes — you’ve got your character who lost their memories, the destroyed hometown, and enough mysterious and magical pendants/artifacts to choke a donkey.  Most dialog is not engaging, and most events predictable.  The two main characters (Tiz and Agnes) especially suffer from a lack of, well… character.  Tiz is your safe hero, with a sense of right and wrong, a dash of bravery and not much else.  Agnes is the selfless devotee of the crystals who doesn’t want anyone anyone to suffer as a result of her journey.  The only times I perked up to listen was when Ringabel talked about his deep love for women or when Edea got mad.  Luckily these two things happen quite regularly.  Dungeon design is uninspired with few twists and turns and only the occasional unlockable shortcut or hidden chest.

all hail the king

Let’s get positive after all that complaining.  I like world maps, and Bravely Default has a great one.  It’s big and there are different terrain like mountains, snow and islands — it’s just plain fun to explore.  Early on in the game I found an island far to the north where I did battle with some high level enemies who quickly wiped out my party.  I dig this kind of thing in games: a difficulty wall that says “fuck you, you shoudn’t go here yet.”  I dig them because I like to say “fuck you, it’s my hot body I’ll do what I want.” And so I figured out how to beat those enemies by increasing my team’s speed across the board and Braving to the max.  These kinds of rewards for exploring speckled throughout the world breath life into what is otherwise just a means of getting from point A to B.

Bravely Default combines the fun of customizing your characters via the Final Fantasy job system with modernizations that save time and encourage strategy.  The game is beautiful, and the world map is top notch.  All this was more than enough to drag me through boring dungeons and yawn-inducing dialog.  Throw in some frequent Ringabel innuendo and you’ve got yourself a modern JRPG for the ages.

What I’ve Been Playing: Part 1 — DayZ

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Geez, it’s been a while, eh?  I will admit my time hasn’t been… properly managed lately.  I blame it on work that I find pretty darn fulfilling, as well as spending most of my free time playing a bunch of games — more than normal in fact.  Why not talk about them as part of a series of posts (if I make it a series I am more likely to actually finish lulz).  Anyway, first up is my latest and deepest obsession:

DayZ

About a year ago someone told me about a shitty PC game named Arma that was very shitty.  It was almost funny how shitty Arma was.  Almost.  But some enterprising soul took it upon himself to mod the hell out of that pile of shit, creating a surprisingly decent and realistic zombie game.  You had to drink water, eat food, and everything including food and weapons were about as rare as you’d expect in an actual zom-pocalypse.  I gotta be honest, I wanted to play it. IN MY BONES.  But being a Mac owner — and lazy at that — I never pursued it.

Wouldn’t you know it, a standalone version of that mod (DayZ) appeared right around when I found myself sitting on a mountain of free time.  I bootcamped my Mac, downloaded Steam, and bought DayZ Standalone.

When I first started I died a lot.  I starved to death in the middle of nowhere, bled out from zombie bites, and was shot by other players (that last one especially happened quite often).  And so in this absolute vacuum of anything that might be called success, I wanted to learn to make it in this world.  With enough effort any game can be understood, after all.  And I have an affinity for the games that have a lot to teach the player.

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The massive map in which DayZ takes place.

Each death became a learning experience:

“Well, I may have died after my long trip to Elektro, but now I know where I can find a well — that will help next time.”

“Ah ha!  Snipers prowl the shore looking for easy kills — best to stay close to the tree line.”

“Hmm most zombie encounters end with me bleeding like a stuck pig unless I have (at the very least) an Axe to defend myself.”

“What?! I can open canned food with an otherwise useless screwdriver?!”

In addition to this general knowledge I’ve also developed an awareness of places on the map where well-equipped players mercilessly defend, or new players rush to in the hopes of finding anything worthwhile.

I spent over an hour learning about the game’s food/drink/blood/health system.  Give this video a watch and pretend for a moment it has nothing to do with video games — it’s just someone telling you why you should eat food (start at about 3:05):

Most frighteningly perhaps, I think DayZ has given me an idea of what kind of people a post apocalyptic event would create.  In fact, it’s quite likely that I will never see a better example of such in my life.  People will kill you out of fear.  People will kill you for self-preservation.  People will kill you just because they can.  In the worst cases, they will humiliate you first.

I’ve heard stories of gangs of bandits holding players at gunpoint, handcuffing them, and force-feeding them poisonous foodstuffs.  Yeah, you can do all of that.

Me?  Well, I have gotten pretty good at sneaking — that’s how I get by.

There is no real gauge for success in DayZ other than how long you live; who is to say that the kind player who lives for 20 hours is playing better than the twisted psychopath who kills him/her after 60?  I am not wise enough to tackle this question, but I still enjoy being a part of the social experiment that is DayZ.

wildwildwest

All that being said, the game is far from polished. FAR.

  • Zombies will phase through walls and bite me while I’m stuck in the animation of drinking a soda.
  • Logging out in the wrong area has gotten me totally stuck in a mountain/staircase/room from which there is no exit, forcing me to starve to death.
  • Some buildings spawn absolutely no items, meaning players are conditioned to avoid them.
  • A lot of players “server hop”, meaning they change servers to repeatedly farm for items from locations that spawn the best gear.
  • Absolutely nothing is explained.  You pretty much have to drag items onto other items to see what can interact with what.  This isn’t a huge issue (I rather enjoy learning in this way)… But I know some people are extremely opposed to this kind of game design.

All of these issues will supposedly be corrected in time… But…

OK.  Confession time: I want the game to be cleaned up, but… my secret concern is that DayZ will be made easier and/or introduce morality.

I don’t want that.  I want guns, ammo and can openers to be rare to the point that each one is cause for celebration.  I want seeing another player to be a rare and startling occurrence.  I don’t want the twisted bastard who would force me to drink bleach to be punished, just as I don’t want the player who would give me a can of beans and stack of bandages to be rewarded in any way other than social karma.  For the game to be fun, I need the full spectrum of good and evil, and I think this is something that is naturally created in an environment that provides pure freedom.  In other words: wild wild west, ya’ll.

So yeah — I can’t lie: DayZ is a broken game where glitches will kill you in unfair ways.  But it’s also a massive, untamed world where survival means learning: learning how to make use of the items found throughout the world and learning places to avoid because bad folks hang out there. And dying?  Starting over with nothing?  Well, it happens, and it never feels good… But it makes surviving feel that much better.

2014: Year of the Horse and Dai-kichi

That’s right: it’s 2014. Year of the horse.  In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Isabelle explained to me that the horse is a hard-working and under-appreciated beast.  I think she’s right, so my New Year’s resolution is to be nicer to horses.

I spent the final moments of 2013 at a house party with some co-workers and new faces, switching off between drinking shochu and Japanese beer.  More on the festivities in a bit.

If you don’t follow me on Twitter, you missed some great photos of Japanese television, which reaches a crescendo of absurdity right around this time of year: 1,2,3,4,5,6.  Before you go declaring that Japanese TV is all absurdity for no good reason, that’s just not the case.  These scenes of physical torment and humiliation were all powerful attempts to make certain television personalities laugh.  If they did laugh, they were beaten with sticks.  I guess that doesn’t really present a much better argument for the absurdity, huh…  Oh well, it was funny.

I also managed to hop onto Animal Crossing: New Leaf with Sarah (some 6,000+ miles away) for the end of the year countdown:

How cool is that?  Games bringing people together and such.  Brings a tear to this old man’s eye.

Alright, I’ve assaulted you with words long enough, let’s make with the photos!

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Christmas in Japan means Christmas cake, or at least cake eaten on Christmas day.  This particular cake had a pleasant variety of textures and the flavor lingered somewhere between sweet and bitter.  Since Christmas isn’t a holiday over here, I worked (hence enjoying Christmas cake at my desk).  If you use your Where’s Waldo skills, you may even catch a glimpse of the 8-4 new year’s card, an important tradition in Japan.

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After work, I continued to do as the Romans do by grabbing some KFC.  There was a long line if you were one of the suckers who didn’t reserve your chicken well in advance (like this sucker right here):

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Natch, the Colonel was dressed to impress.IMG_2971

I guess it’s time to show some Curry.  Here is some soup curry from a place not far from where I am staying.

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Here is some curry from Pakumori Curry, which I’m told was once a fairly famous curry establishment.  The rice is covered with spiced ground beef, and the veggies were perfectly cooked.

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Shortly after Xmas, the 8-4 crew helped coordinate an event at www showing off how the Unity engine can be used for more than making runners/castle defense games for you to play while pooping.  It turns out some DJs use the engine to generate visualizations that correspond with their music.  How pleasantly artsy!  Yours truly helped set up for the event, which required no small amount of heavy lifting.

Side note: the billboard off to the right is advertising a documentary called Cutie and the Boxer, which is on Netflix now!  Give it a watch.
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This was the sub-stage, which was eventually fitted with a screen where about 4-5 different DJs showed their stuff.

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All of these metal bits needed to be brought from a truck outside of www, down about 5 lights of stairs, where they were assembled by a crew until 7 or 8 AM.  I was there until about 4, and I thought I was gonna collapse!IMG_2950

Here is the construction of the main stage in progress.  I tried to take a few videos of the end result, but only this one was successfully uploaded to Vine.  Basically there was a huge, cross-shaped screen surrounded by two other equally enormous screens.  Each structure was composed of a bunch of smaller LCD screens, which also needed to be carefully carried down FIVE FLIGHTS OF STAIRS.  DID I MENTION THE FIVE FLIGHTS OF STAIRS?IMG_2955

A bunch of past patrons had written all over the walls in the sub-stage, because nothing says punk rock like “Oh, good thing I have this sharpie in my pocket”.IMG_2957

I noticed Sophia Coppola had signed the wall as well, and even made a little The Virgin Suicide cross down at the bottom.  OMG do they sell a shirt of this at Urban Outfitters????

But seriously, I wonder if this trip was part of what inspired Lost in Translation?  When I pointed this out to a Japanese co-worker, he said that most people in Japan aren’t too keen on the way the film depicts Japanese people, and I would have to agree.
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Dude smoking in front of box, circa 2013.

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The day after the event itself, all of those heavy bits of metal and expensive screens needed to be brought back up those FIVE FLIGHTS OF STAIRS and put back in that truck.  I was so tired towards the end that the truck driver started to help, grabbing my payload from me halfway up the last leg.  I have no memory of my body being as sore when I woke up the following day.

Part of my recuperation process included getting a dish from Tinun recommended to me by 8-4′s own Mark MacDonald.  What you’re looking at there is some stir-fried, minced chicken along with veggies and classic Thai spices.  All that goodness was served with a half-fried egg on top of rice.  It was AMAZING.  Unlike a lot of Japanese food, this dish is actually, genuinely spicy.  I’m totes afraid that staying here too long will destroy my tolerance for heat in food…
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Once New Year’s begins looming over Japan, most folks head home to be with their families, so cities empty out.  Mark went back to Amurica (presumably to buy guns and fire them into the air) and let me crash at his place.  It was a much needed break from the chaos that is my share house.  I found my fave brand of chips at the local 7-11 and enjoyed them with a beer.  I also marathon-ed The Last of Us, seeing it right to the (somewhat unusual) end.  I def want to talk about this game soon, since it has been appearing on multiple GOTY lists.

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Walking to Mark’s place brought me through one of the pleasantly tranquil campuses of Tokyo University.  Japan’s pretty cool when it comes to trees.  They like old trees here.  Low-hanging branches aren’t severed simply because some idiot might climb them, fall, and sue the pants off the property owner.  No, tree are mostly left to do their own thing, and seeing old trees in their untouched form is something else.

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Turns out Persona 4′s Konishi Liquor is a short train ride away from me.  I’ll have to go and pay my respects to Konishi Saki-san next chance I get… (SPOILER ALERT: SHE DIES).

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Here are a fews pics from New Year’s not taken in Animal Crossing.  After it’s officially the new year, it’s customary to make your first visit to a shrine.  This practice is called hatsumode.  Those who stuck around/stayed awake after it struck midnight walked to Yutenji temple.  These are the only pics I have from this trip…  As I mentioned, I was drinking.  And it was cold.  So… these pics suck.

I  grabbed a fortune, and wouldn’t you know it: I got the best possible luck.

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This can only mean that 2014 will rock for yours truly.  No but for real, I hope it’s the truth.  It’s always nice to lean on superstitious stuff like this.  At the end of the day, luck is equal parts dumb and hard-earned.  In 2014 I will continue to earn my luck while appreciating any dumb luck that comes my way.  Oh, and horses.  I will appreciate horses more.  (Thanks, Isabelle)