Zero Time Dilemma Review

Zero_Time_DilemmaI recently wrote a piece on one of my favorite video game series, Zero Escape.   Since writing that I’ve played the third game in the series for the first time.

The third game is called Zero Time Dilemma.  It’s available for a variety of platforms, thankfully.  I played it for 3DS, but it which platform you use shouldn’t affect the experience.  (It’s also on sale right now in the Steam sale!) Once again, this is really difficult series of games to talk about without spoilers.  I think the games are best experienced blind.  But it’s particularly difficult to talk about the third game without spoiling the first two.  So there will be vague spoilers here.  You really DO need to play the first two games to appreciate this one.  Luckily, they have re-released those two in a single package called The Nonary Games, available on multiple platforms.

I suspected that I knew when and where ZTD would take place within the world of Zero Escape.  I was correct.  This game is set up at the end of the second game Virtue’s Last Reward, so the third game really is a necessary final puzzle piece to the story of the series.   From a narrative point of view, I found this pretty satisfying.  After VLR, with the story left hanging, I had a feeling of disappointment, especially as no third game seemed forthcoming.  This game leaves provides some needed closure.

The three games of the series take place at different points in time, but don’t occur in chronological order, so this third game actually takes place prior to the second.  (But you have to play VLR first, you REALLY do.)  And here is where I’ll get into spoilers.  This series is all about jumping through different timelines, alternate histories, the branching decision tree of the multiverse.  That’s the reason the story works so well as a video game, since you can die and then simply reload at an earlier point and do something different.  And you have to do that to progress, because the characters are doing the same thing you are.  I will also just say that this series has one of the most unique takes on time travel I’ve ever encountered.  So that’s an aspect of the story.

Ok, but what about ZTD.  First of all, it’s a significant break from the first two games in format.  The first two games both consisted of visual novel segments and puzzle segments.  These types of segments alternated, with the characters forced to enter rooms where they had to solve puzzles to escape.  Only by moving through those rooms could they ultimately escape the sadistic game that Zero was forcing them to play.  (Hence Zero Escape.)

One of the interesting things in this game series is that the mastermind “Zero” is different in each game and the purpose and intent of the game he’s forcing the characters to play is also different.  This is especially true of ZTD.  The ultimate goal for the players is still to escape, but the requirements to escape are much simpler.  There are nine people trapped by Zero.  When at least six of them are dead, the remaining players will receive code words to open the exit door.   That’s it.  The players aren’t required to enter puzzle rooms or work together in any way.  They simply have to survive and others have to die.  In addition, every 90 minutes they will be injected with drugs from their bracelets that will put them to sleep and make them forget the previous 90 minutes.


This dude wins my vote for creepiest Zero.

Which leads us to the most unique part of this game: you don’t play it in chronological order.  After the initial intro, you are given a series of thumbnails of segments to play.  You don’t know when those scenes occur or in what order.  You can choose to play them in any order, although many are locked until you have done whatever is necessary to unlock them.  And the characters don’t really know what’s going on either, since they most likely have had their memories wiped of whatever came before.  So you might see a scene where a character is missing and no one knows why.  And only later do you find out how that character died.

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Zero Escape: The Most Amazing Games You’ve Never Heard Of

I have a lot of interests.  I don’t always keep up with all of them as well as I’d like.  So I managed NOT to hear that one of my favorite game series got it’s long-anticipated third installment made until almost a year after publication.

Almost as good was the news that they’ve released all three games on PC through Steam as well as for PS4.   So I figured now that the games are much more accessible than ever before, I should tell you why YOU SHOULD PLAY THEM.


The first two games have been released as a collection called The Nonary Games (Nonary as in 9) for Steam and PS4.

But this is challenging.  The Zero Escape games are some of the most difficult to talk about.  It’s difficult to explain what they ARE and what they are ABOUT without major spoilers.  And there are a LOT of potential spoilers.  Moreover I think the enjoyment of playing the games would be seriously compromised if you are spoiled for some things.

So I’m going to try.  But first I’ll just say that if you like video games with great narratives, lots of dense story, especially if you also like puzzles, you need to just run and go play them now.  You’ll thank me eventually.

(Note: I haven’t played the third game yet, though it’s sitting next to me as I type.  So I don’t know exactly what the story of that game is, though I have my suspicions about how it’s connected to the first two.  If my suspicions are correct, you really need to play the first two FIRST. )

So first, let’s talk generally about what kind of games these are.  They don’t fit perfectly into any one genre, as they are unique.  They are weird little Japanese games.  But they are part of a few different game traditions.  First they qualify as adventure games, in the sense of classic graphic adventures (point and click adventures.)  They have heavy emphasis on story and puzzles and not combat or reflex-driven actions.

Secondly they are visual novels.  When 999 (the first game in the series) was released there were not a lot of visual novels published in the West.  Now they are much more common to anyone familiar with small or indie games.  Visual novels originated in Japan, and some people barely consider them video games.  They are more like interactive novels.  They feature lots of text to read, and the only actions the player takes are decisions that determine how the story plays out.

Dating sims are a popular subcategory of visual novel and probably the kind people are most familiar with.  Most visual novels involve branching story paths with multiple endings.  It’s expected the player will play the game over and over to make different choices and get different endings.  (In a dating sim each ending involves winning a different romantic partner, usually.)  Sometimes there is a “good” or “true” or “ultimate” ending and frequently the more difficult to obtain endings require you to have played through certain other story paths first.

The Zero Escape games are visual novels and follow most of these conventions, but they also have other features and, in my opinion, utilize the format better than any other games ever have.    They are hybrid visual novel/puzzle games.  So in addition to long segments of text-based story, there are also sequences involving puzzles that you have to solve in order to progress.  I’ll talk more about the puzzles in a bit.


So what is the basic set-up?  Let’s start with the first game 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors.  As the game opens you wake up and you’re locked in a small room.  You realize after looking around that it looks like a crew bunk in some kind of metal-hulled ship.  About that time, the round window bursts and water starts pouring in.  You have to escape before you drown!  The door is locked, but there’s a card reader next to it.  So you have to hunt around the room and follow the clues to solve the puzzles to find the key card that will let you out before you drown.

While that’s a pretty intense way to start a game, I’ll tell you right away that you’re not under a time limit at any point in these games.  Thankfully.  Even when it feels like you are under pressure, you really can’t die by not solving puzzles quickly.

So eventually you solve the puzzles and escape the room, entering the first visual novel portion.  You meet a bunch of other people who also woke up trapped in their own rooms.  And eventually you have the situation explained to you by finding notes.  There are 9 of you.  You are trapped on a ship (it looks like a luxury ocean liner ala the Titanic).  It is sinking and in 9 hours will go under.  There are nine numbered doors throughout the ship, with the way off the ship being behind door number 9.  There are complicated rules about when and how you can go through these doors, but basically you go through in groups and have to then solve the puzzles behind the doors to be let out again.  If you break any of the rules about going through the doors, you will be killed.

The person behind all of this calls himself Zero.  The rest of you have numbers 1-9.  And very quickly you discover the part about killing isn’t an idle threat, because someone decides “Fuck this” and they die.  Horribly.

So this is not a kids game, by the way.  It’s very much a game made for adults, with adult language and a very dark, threatening tone.  It’s not quite a horror game, but definitely relies on suspense and creepiness.  You are trapped in a situation reminiscent of Saw or Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, playing by the rules of a mysterious and dangerous puppetmaster under threat of death and with no escape except to keep playing the game.

So the important choices you make in 999 are who goes through which doors.  Which doors you go through and who you are with determine what experience you have on each play through.  There are 10 endings possible, with one actual goal ending.  The real ending is much longer than the others.  It’s not necessary to play through all the endings, though many of them are worthwhile either because they’re amusing or because they answer questions or tell you more about different characters.  I think you only actually HAVE to play the game through 2 times to get the real ending, assuming you do everything in the right order from the beginning.  The game allows you to fast forward through conversations you’ve seen before, automatically stopping when it gets to new dialogue, which is a very welcome feature.  You still have to play through the puzzle rooms each time, though some are going to be different depending on your choices.

But often you can take big short cuts in the puzzle rooms if you’ve kept good notes.  Which you will need to do.  Many of the puzzles require pen and paper to solve or make note of pieces.  Several of the rooms only require you to know the right code to leave, so if you write it down you can speed through on subsequent plays.  I always finish the game with several pages of puzzle notes, though.

So let’s talk about the puzzles.  I think the puzzles in the Zero Escape games are some of the best puzzles in the industry.  I have played a lot of games with puzzles, because I play a lot of adventure games.  But I’m not actually a huge fan of puzzles.  I really don’t like Myst and all it’s many, many, many imitators.  I don’t generally like puzzles for puzzles’ sake.  I got bored of the Professor Layton games about halfway through the second game.

I am a frequent cheater at puzzles.  If I start getting frustrated with a puzzle, I just reach for a walkthrough because it’s not worth getting pissed off.  So it means something when I say I really, really like the puzzles in these games.  I rarely reach for a solution unless there’s something like, urgh, math involved or I really am just completely stuck.  And these puzzles are really well designed to be challenging but not frustrating.  There aren’t any annoying timing puzzles or sliding tiles that take a million tries to get.

There are a wide variety of puzzle styles without many repeats (unlike, say the Layton games where I think there’s maybe 6 puzzles repeated over and over).  Some are math based, some are games, some require looking all over the screen, some are codes to solve, but they are all way above average for game puzzles.  I find them really satisfying to solve, so that you feel you’ve accomplished something when you finally open that door, without a whole lot of being stuck.

So I feel like that’s about as far as I can go talking about the first game without danger of spoilers.  I haven’t gotten into characters, although the first game is filled with really memorable characters.  Or the themes of the game and there are a lot of themes.  You get a lot of info thrown at you about seemingly random things.  Everything from supernatural legends, paranormal phenomena, weird bits of science and the occult, and lots and lots of philosophy.  Some of it is based on the real world and some of it is not, and one of the accomplishments of the game is that I had to look most of it up to know if it was created for the game or something that exists outside it.

All of it ties together or at least most of it does, into the reason you’re in this weird-ass situation.  There IS a point and a purpose, and I find it immensely satisfying.  I honestly consider 999 one of the best narratives I’ve ever consumed, and moreover one that could only be told through the media of a video game.  The very format of the game is what allows for the story to be told.  It’s super brilliant and that’s all I’m going to say.

Ok let’s talk a bit about the second game, Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward. So this game is very similar to the first, except it’s much bigger in scope.  Once again you (playing a new character this time) are kidnapped and forced to play a sadistic game under threat of death.  There are 9 players with numbers and doors to be unlocked and puzzles to solve behind the doors.  But it’s all a lot more complicated than the first time.  VLR_wallpaper_1920x1200

This time there are both pairs and solo players and who is paired with who switches from round to round.  Instead of a player’s number determining which door they can go through it’s now done by color, and the colors change each round.  And after each puzzle round, there is an “Ambidex game” where players are locked into little rooms to vote whether they will “ally” or “betray” the other people on their color team.  Betrayal wins you more points towards escape than allying, but allying helps everyone gain points equally.  And betrayal may take a person’s last points from them, at which point they die.

So the focus of this game is much more on the interpersonal dynamics and whether or not you can trust anyone.  It’s a game with a lot more frequent interpersonal clashes and more frequent violence and death than the first.

Partly that’s because the number of endings has increased to 28 total possible.  It actually feels like more than this, because if you go down a path prematurely, you will get a “to be continued” false ending.  There are lots of game over paths, and 9 character endings.  There is still one True ending, and in order to get it, you have to complete all other 8 character endings first.

To make it a little easier to actually get the ending, there is a branching flow chart of choices and you can move to any choice on this chart at any time.  So you can make Choice A and see it play out and then skip right back and make Choice B and see how that works out.  This means you never have to play any puzzle sections more than once.  You can still fast forward through dialogue sections too. All told there’s something like 40 hours of gameplay involved, so it’s a pretty big game.


This is Zero Jr.  He’s a demented rabbit AI.

VLR has a much more sci-fi feel than 999, which had a paranormal/horror aspect.  VLR deals with artificial intelligence, robots, quantum mechanics, apocalyptic diseases, terrorism, and themes that feel much more 21st century.  It’s a less creepy game, in my opinion.  (It’s also probably easier to spoil, so REALLY don’t look at anything about the game online.  Like I just looked at a list of characters that gives away SO MUCH.)

It’s not clear for a long time exactly how the game connects to the first one.  There’s the very similar game, the fact that someone named Zero is in charge again, and there are a couple familiar faces as characters.  All is eventually revealed and the two are definitely connected.  The second game ends with a LOT of exposition of some very complicated ideas.  If the game has any fault it’s that the gigantic branching structure and the underlying premise are REALLY complicated and difficult to follow.  I’ve played the game three times and each time when I start it I’ve forgotten exactly how everything fits together.

However, it’s complicated for a REASON because it’s a really unique take on…let’s say causality.  It’s a story that really seeks to do quantum principles justice, so yeah, it’s complex, ok.  (But it does feature one of the clearest explanations of Schrodinger’s cat I’ve seen.)

You may be getting the idea that these games are…thinky.  They are.  They tackle big concepts about the nature of reality and identity and human nature.  They’re super ambitious and that means sometimes they don’t quite succeed at everything.  I think VLR is a stunning game, but it’s also less successful than 999.  It’s a bit over-ambitious and overly complicated.  Eventually working your way though EVERY branch of possibilities starts to feel like a grind.  (Also I should mention the original 3DS version of the game has a MAJOR bug that can wipe out your savegame if you save while in the wrong room.  There’s only one save slot, so I lot over 30 hours of play the first time I played it.  The fact that I wasn’t too upset at replaying it should tell you something though.  To prevent the bug never save in any room but one of the big warehouses.  I assume the re-release fixed this problem.)

Oh I haven’t mentioned that VLR featured a full voice cast.  Not everything is voiced, but the visual novel segments are, and it’s very nicely done.  The translations for both games are excellent and don’t feel like a shoddy or rushed localization.

So I guess that’s it for the first two games.  I’m super excited to start Zero Time Dilemma.  The last thing I had heard after VLR was that there was very little chance of the series continuing, despite the creator’s desire to do so.  So it feels like a minor miracle to suddenly have the next installment.

Her Story

I have a lot of video games I want to play.  Some I even own and haven’t gotten around to playing yet.  But one has been top on my priority list for a while now, but I’ve been waiting to get a really good deal on it.  Luckily, the Humble Bundle put out a “narrative-heavy video game bundle” and I snatched it up.  Mostly for “Her Story” but with bonus other games!  (This bundle is still available, so you can get this game for $1!)


And last night my back was hurting, and Justin was working till 3AM, so I played the game.  Yes, all of it.  And yes, I mean 100% of it.  (That’s totally a thing. I’ll get there.)  And then I spent the last day reading analysis and discussion of the game.  I have now spent more time reading about the game than I spent PLAYING the game, and that should tell you something.

First of all, let me say this is a game where it’s very possible to be badly spoiled and it’s not going to have the same effect if you go in with spoilers.  I’m not going to talk about any major spoilers here, so it’s ok to keep reading.  But if you’d like the most pure game experience, and you like games that play with narrative, you should just go play it.

It’s funny, and again says something about the game that so many sites and blogs I’ve visited seem to have up one unspoilery review and then come back later and have a place where they talk about spoilers and theories and analysis because they can’t stop thinking about it.  Maybe I’ll have to do the same, just to think things through for myself.   This is a game that stays with you.  I’ve been thinking about it all day, in the back of my head, while having conversations and stuff, I’m still turning it over.

Anyway, so what the hell IS it?  I went into the game totally unspoiled.  The only thing I knew about the game was that it was a narrative-heavy game in which you watch FMV (full-motion video, an antiquated gaming term that means actual video of a person) of a woman being interrogated by police.  And I knew it was well-reviewed, though I didn’t actually read any of the reviews.

So I had no expectations going in.  You turn on the game and are faced with a computer terminal desktop.  It seems dated, with CRT lines and even fake glare and reflection.  (Luckily you can turn the glare off, which I did after a while due to eyestrain.)  So it’s clear the gamer is put in the role of SOMEONE, who is using this computer.  The desktop is pretty bare.  There’s an open database of video files, two readmes, and two other files in the “rubbish bin”, one of them a minigame.  It’s explained in the readmes that you’ve been given access (by someone, for some unspecified reason) to an old police database.  The way the database is explained.

The interrogation video has been separated into tiny little files of individual statements.  They range from as short as 5 seconds to up to a minute or two long.  You can enter search terms to pull up video segments.  If your search terms are used in the witness’ statement, it’s a match.  So entering “murder” pulls up all the videos where she says “murder.”  (That’s the first term, already in the box.)  You can also enter multiple words or exact phrases in quotation marks.  So this is essentially the entire game.  Enter search terms and watch the videos that come up.  Keep trying terms to get new videos and more of the story.

All the videos are of interrogations of a woman that take place over a period of weeks.  You only see her and only hear her responses to questions, not the questions themselves.  It becomes clear pretty quickly that someone has died and she is a suspect.  That’s honestly all I’m going to say about the plot.

So the obvious, but in my opinion boring, questions is “Is this even a game?”  You can read other articles that answer this question but I’m going to just say “Yes, of course, are you dense?”  I mean, ok, the main action is watching videos, which sounds more like a movie than a game.  But actually, it does get challenging if you want to reveal ALL the videos (100%, as mentioned above) with search terms.  I had some real times of near frustration from trying to think of new things to type.  Her-Story-Screenshot-Desktop-B

But more than the question of challenge is the fact that “Her Story” is very clearly placed in a fairly new genre of video games that doesn’t REALLY have a name but could be called “narrative games” as Humble Bundle has.  These are games where the primary goal is storytelling, with the interactive element of games.  Visual novels from Japan fall into this category, but not all games in this category fit the conventions of the visual novel genre.  It’s very much a growing genre, fed by the indie PC game boom fueled by Steam and GOG as distribution points.  I’m a fan, though I often lament the over-thought grimness of many offerings.  Like, I get it, you’re a film student and life is dark and bleak.  Except in game form.

But “Her Story” is one of the strongest entries in the genre, in my opinion.  (I’d name it next to “To The Moon”.) It isn’t complicated at all, the mechanic and graphics are simple, and the settings are basically a woman in an empty room sitting at a table.  But it’s not amateurish and feels something like a masterpiece, honestly.  An indie masterpiece.

So, why?  Well for one thing, the story is very interesting and totally absorbing.  I think it would be pretty darn absorbing if just seen as a film, viewing in order.  But in game form, you don’t experience it in order.  You experience the story in tiny little snippets, all out of order.  And everyone who plays it will experience it in A DIFFERENT ORDER, depending on how they enter search terms.  It’s interesting to see how varied people’s opinions about the story are, and I think some of those differences are due to the order people experience things in.  The clips you hear early color the conclusions you draw, which color your viewing of the entire piece.

And the mechanic makes an interesting story even MORE interesting, because you are active in pursuing it.  A clip may mention something and you go “What?  WTF?” so you enter THAT as a search term and you find out a little bit more about that, but you lack the full context, so you keep searching and trying until you think you know what’s going on.  But DO you know what’s going on?

Because ultimately, there is a central mystery.  A central question of the story.  And it’s not explicitly answered by the game.  Or possibly even implicitly answered.  It’s left very ambiguous, but interestingly some people say it’s very ambiguous and some seem to think there’s no ambiguity at all.  But that totally depends on how you interpret the story.

This is why I’ve now read at least a novel’s worth of text picking apart LITERALLY EVERY SINGLE LINE of the game to determine the ultimate truth.  Basically it’s either Scenario A or Scenario B or possibly scenario C.  I finished the game pretty sure it was scenario A, but much reading has reluctantly convinced me it’s Scenario B, but I’m currently thinking of a way to make Scenario C be the truth because I like being contrary.  So much vagueness, but I’m pretty sure anyone who has played the game will know exactly what I mean.

Like I said, I found the act of playing the game gripping, and rather eerie.  While it’s not a horror story by any means, there’s something decidedly unsettling about the whole thing and I had a hard time going to sleep afterwords.  There is some confusion to the set-up, in that the player is given basically no instruction or guidance other than “enter search terms and watch videos.”  You have the ability to save videos in a list, so I think most players mess with that to see if anything happens (spoiler: it doesn’t).  And you keep expecting something more video game-y to happen.  For the most part it doesn’t.

There IS an ending, sort of, in that at some point when you’ve viewed enough videos something happens and if you then do something else, you get an end video and credits.  But after that you can still keep watching videos until you get to 100% and have seen everything.  (There’s a database scanner that shows what percentage you’ve seen.)  But that’s it.  You’ve seen all there is, and you have to decide what it all means.  Which is why there’s forums full of speculation, theories, and arguments.

I have the feeling this game will stand the test of time, and will go on to become a cult favorite.  It’s been out almost a year and the forums are full of recent posts and passionate arguments.  (And personal insults, because gamers.)

What I like about gaming has very little to do with puzzles, or violence, or strategy, though I like some examples of all of those things.  I like STORIES, and I like the way that games let stories be told in completely knew and untried ways.  I love discovering a narrative style that would be impossible in another medium.  The games that manage that are my very favorite games.  And this one is totally right up my alley.  A murder mystery isn’t new.  Unreliable narrators aren’t new.  Ambiguous endings aren’t new.  The tropes used in this story aren’t new.  But the presentation is entirely new.  The format MAKES the story new.  And that’s exciting.

The Cure Austin and Houston May 2016

So The Cure is my favorite band.  I inherited them as my favorite band from my 12-years-older brother.  Sort of inevitably, since he played them ALL THE TIME, I eventually realized this band was really good.  I was around 13-14 at the 5(1)

I’ve seen The Cure play 4 times before this year.  In 1996, I saw them on the Wild Mood Swings tour at the Summit in Houston.  That was a GREAT show, with a very upbeat and happy band and some rare songs.  In 2000 I saw them on the Bloodflowers tour at the Woodlands pavilion.  That wasn’t as good, since it was outdoors.  I was at the front of the grass hill, but still, pretty darn far away.  The show was good, though, and I really like Bloodflowers. In 2004 I saw them on the Curiousa festival tour in Dallas.  Again, an outdoor venue, but I had seats.  Still not the best, and there was this drunk chick being really annoying in front of us the whole time.  Mostly what impressed me at that show was Mogwai.  Then I saw them in 2008 in Houston at the Toyota Center with my brother, his best friend, and my mom.  My husband was in the hospital at the time so my mom was a last minute substitute.  It was an AMAZING show (and my mom was really impressed.)

After that 2008 show, I promised myself that the next time they toured, I was going to follow them through Texas.  And then the standard 4 years passed and…no tour. I became convinced that I had seen the Cure for the last time.  And then, 8 years since their last North American tour, they announced one.  I determined to get all the tickets I could.  The first to go on sale was Austin, and I got upper level tickets.  Then Houston went on sale, and we really didn’t have to money to spare.  But we got tickets anyway.  Lower bowl, halfway up.  We literally had no grocery money for weeks due to those tickets.  And ok, we stopped buying.  Two nights in a row and over $200 was enough.

So Friday night, May 13th, Justin and I drove into Austin.  We were pretty high up, but we had seats in a row of 3, with no one else in the row, and no one in front of us.  Which was totally nice cause we could just relax and watch the show.

The opening band for the tour is The Twilight Sad from Glasgow, Scotland.  I hadn’t heard them before, but they were really good.  Very reminiscent of Cooper Temple Clause and I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness.  With a Scottish brogue.  They were also adorable because they were pretty much freaking out that they were in this huge arena in Austin.  “We’re not used to this!” the singer squeaked.   Their performance wasn’t noteworthy in any way, really, but they sounded good and I want to pick up an album cause it’d been nice to listen to.

Anyway, the first thing to note about this Cure tour is that the stage ephoto 1(1)ffects are REALLY GOOD.  They have 5 LED screens behind them that are really well used.  Sometimes they play normal filmed images that fit the song, like a barren landscape during “Prayers for Rain” or an opening rose during “Bloodflowers.”  Lots of trees the camera moves around in for “A Forest.”  But what’s cooler is the times when they do live projections/images of the concert onto the screens.  Shot from the front, the video turns into a series of infinitely repeated pictures-inside-pictures so the light show is infinitely repeated and it looks really cool.  They also project shots of the crowd from behind the drummer during one song.

This is the first time I’ve seen The Cure with Reeves Gabrels in the place of guitarist.  Previosly I’d seen Perry Bamonte in this role, and the last time Porl Thompson was in that role, and was AMAZING.  (Also last time there wasn’t a keyboardist, as Roger O’Donnell had left for a while.  I’m a big fan of Roger, so I’m glad he’s back.)  But I very much missed Porl, who was the best guitarist I’ve seen in that role.

I know Reeves Gabrels is a good guitar player and I’m familiar with him from when he worked with David Bowie and saw him in 1995 with Bowie.  But I have to say, I don’t like him much as part of this Cure line-up.  He has a very aggressive, solo-flashy guitar style, and as much as I’ve always said The Cure is a guitar band live, I don’t think Gabrels works very well with the rest of the band.  On a couple of songs I really felt like Robert’s guitar parts and Gabrels’ parts were working against each other in a disharmonious way.  I felt like Robert also ceded a lot of the interesting guitar work to Gabrels which makes sense in a band sense, but I would rather see Robert really bring his guitar skills which are underrated by lots of people.  I thought the band worked really well with Porl because without a keyboardist Porl was playing lots of the keyboard parts with the guitar and otherwise doing a lot of atmospherics, with Robert in more lead guitar role.  Whereas on this tour it feels like Gabrels is supposed to be lead guitar and Robert is more rhythm or secondary.  This stuck out to me more on the Austin night than the Houston night, though so it may have been a quirk of the sound.  I felt Gabrels’ guitar was not as high in the mix on Saturday.

Quickly, a look at everyone else generally.  Simon Gallup was his quintessential Simon self: playing amazing bass parts and making them look childishly easy, while strutting and literally bouncing on one foot around the stage.  I don’t think that man is aging at all.  Roger played his keyboard parts without attracting attention.  I have huge affection for him after the 1996 show I saw when we were on his side of the stage and he was dancing goofily through much of the show, and waving to us.  But he was in serious-gloomy mode both nights, trying to look cool standing there not moving.  Jason was Jason, which means drawing no attention but playing really good drums.

Robert.  Robert looks to have lost a little weight, which generally seems to be a good thing, but on the other hand he looks older.  His hair pouf is looking a bit thin.  And more than anything, he seems tired.  This is very early on in the tour, only the 3rd and 4th show, and he was visibly tired both nights.  Friday night in Austin, he looked tired by the end of the main set, with his voice seeming tired as well.  The last two songs of the main set were Prayers for Rain and Bloodflowers, both vocally demanding.  Prayers for Rain was sung really well, but for Bloodflowers it felt like he was really holding back and not going for it in the places he normally does.  For the encores, though, he seemed to get things back together and things were good.  (In case you don’t know, Cure shows are usually about 3 hours long and feature a LOT of encores.  Both shows had 4 encores, though I would have called Austin 3.5 cause the last one was really short, like take a sip of water and we’re back.)

On Saturday night, however, Robert’s voice seemed weak for most of the night, to me.  Justin only turned to me towards the end of the main set and said “His voice?” but I noticed it on the 3rd song or so.   It got worse as the set progressed, but it seemed to me like he was holding back a lot, and not very loud.  At first I couldn’t tell if his vocals weren’t high enough in the mix or it was his singing but it became pretty clear it was his voice.  Now, I don’t know if this is something someone not me would really notice.  But this was my 6th Cure concert and I’ve listened to lots of bootlegs.  And I have done enough singing to see the signs of someone not feeling well.   There were lots of lines where whole syllables weren’t audible, and instead of singing out he kept it low, instead of extending notes he cut them short, and eventually he was almost talk-singing through songs.  Obviously, I don’t know why this is.  It’s possible he has a cold or something, or maybe it’s a sign of getting older, or just being out of practice since it’s been a while since he sang night after night.  It does concern me a little.   And it took something away from that night’s concert, which otherwise might have been really high up there in terms of Cure shows I’ve seen.

Ok, let’s do some comparing of the two nights.  In general, I’ve always known the Cure generally have two broad setlists on any tour that they alternate.  They generally have one of two “feels” to them: one is more popular and one is more obscure/darker.  Broadly, cause invariably both sets have both of those moods.  Historically Houston has gotten the “better” of the two setlists, i.e. the one meant for more “real” Cure fans.  Less singles, more rare stuff.  More rock, less pop.  I was disappointed with the setlist I got when I saw them in Dallas, compared to the one my brother got in Houston.  (This is another reason I wanted to see multiple shows.)  If you had asked me to predict which town got which set I would have said Austin would get the pop and Houston would get the rock.  I would have been wrong.  Sort of.

I could go on and on about the setlists, but I’ll just link them:  Austin and Houston.  Austin was very heavy on Disintegration and Head on the Door, where Houston was much more balanced, with equal representation of Disintegration, Wish, Head on the Door, and Seventeen Seconds.  The Austin show definitely felt more down, slower.  And they played A LOT and I mean A LOT of rare and obscure stuff.  And not normal-level “not a single” obscure stuff.  Songs I didn’t recognize at all and that only appear as single b-sides or in the b-side collection.  And, while that kind of thing is cool for a Cure nerd, it doesn’t do much for most of the audience and leaves people in their seats just kinda hanging.  I mean, the songs were good.  But when you don’t know them there isn’t a lot of excitement.

And that’s not even counting the stuff that I don’t count as unknown or rare but your average concert goer would, like stuff released after 1996.  I always enjoy “Want” from Wild Mood Swings live, it’s a great song.  And “Us or Them” from the self-titled album is good live.  And very surprisingly, they’re playing “Wrong Number” on this tour which was essentially a one-off single from the late 90s.  It’s REALLY GOOD, too.  The Cure are really good at finding which album songs really work live and playing just the ones that are interesting in that context.  I don’t care about “Wrong Number” in its original version, but live it’s great.  The biggest news of the night was that they played “Screw” and it was amazing. They’ve only played that song 4 times since 1985.  (Not the rarest song played on Friday.  “This Twilight Garden” has only been played twice EVER.)

So anyway, the Austin show was really good, but it was really aiming at the kind of Cure fan who would KNOW how rare the stuff being played was.  And overall, I felt like the crowd at that show wasn’t that kind of crowd.  They didn’t strike me as being all that big fans of The Cure.  The only songs that really seemed to excite them were the poppy singles.  The Houston crowd had a lot more Cure fans, to my perception.  There was a lot more “dressing up” for the occasion and what sounded like a LOT more singing along.  With every song.  That may have been a perception issue because we were a lot lower and surrounded by more people, but somehow I don’t think that was entirely it.  It may be my Houston bias showing, but while Austin has the rep as the music town, shows in Austin tend to be full of blasé hipsters.

The Houston set list was the poppier one, but I have to say I liked it more.  I felt it had a better flow, and kept the energy of the crowd up better.  But it still had it’s share of moody, non-singles.  How can you beat a stretch of “At Night”,  “M”, “Play for Today”, “Want” and “Shake Dog Shake”?  And then “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea”, and “One Hundred Years.”   “One Hundred Years” is one of my favorite live Cure songs because it’s just a huge guitar fest.  (My favorite rare live Cure song is “Shiver and Shake” which wasn’t played either night. Also “Piggy in the Mirror”, which I’ve only seen once, at my first Cure show.)

The encores for the Austin show had themes.  The first encore was introduced by Robert saying “Someone has written’Rock’ on the list for this one.”   And indeed it was rocking.  The Cure in heavy guitar mode is my favorite.  The second encore was “the more popular, pop” set according to Robert’s near-unintelligble mumble.  (At one point in the Austin show he let off a long string of words that I’m pretty sure no one in the audience understood, and then followed it with his impression of what he probably sounded like…and he made a bunch of gibberish noises.  I think that’s what happened anyway.  I consider myself pretty good at understanding Robert and I catch maybe every 2nd or 3rd word and just extrapolate from there.)

The third set in Austin consisted of “Burn” from the Crow soundtrack, which they’ve played at every show on the tour so far, and had never played before as far as I know.  It’s a great song, so it’s awesome they are playing it finally.  And there was a new song.  And the last encore was “A Forest”, which is the song which traditionally ends every Cure show.  But this time they followed it with “Boys Don’t Cry.”

The Houston encores were similar, but shuffled a bit.  First they started out wth “Burn” followed by the new song “It Can Never Be The Same.”  This is a good song, melancholy, but not boring.   Then we got an identical “Rock” encore as the previous night.  The next encore was again “Pop” but with different, RARER pop songs.  “Lovecats,”  “Catapillar,” “The Walk,” “Let’s Go To Bed,” “Why Can’t I Be You.”  They were less “singles from the 90s” and more “singles from the 80s” and therefore less frequently played and more to my taste.

And then can the final identical two-song pair of “A Forest” and “Boys Don’t Cry.” To explain the deal with “A Forest,” as I said it’s the song that’s always played last at Cure shows.  And it got longer and longer over time.  The original is a trim 5 minutes or so, but for a while the average live version was about 15 minutes.  In 2008 I think it was 21 minutes at the Houston show.  (Yes, I time it.)  There is an additional verse that gets added for the longer versions.  Both nights I saw them on this tour, however, that verse was left out and the song was a very short 8 minutes and change.  So it was essentially the album version with some extended guitar at the end.  I felt he Austin show’s version left a little to be desired, while I felt the Houston version was fantastic.  What was the difference?  Probably nothing.  Just energy, and how it felt to me.  In Houston, I was down in the crowd and everyone was clapping in time with the bass, AS YOU SHOULD.  So I thought the energy of the Houston performance was just better, and connecting better with the crowd.

Having “Boys Don’t Cry” as the final song feels weird to me, as someone so used to the ritual of “A Forest” but it serves to end on a happy note, everyone goes out singing and dancing.  It works, and I’d guess that’s why they’re doing it.  I would also guess they got bored with 20 minute long versions of “A Forest.”


-So anyway this post has sat for a month because I wasn’t happy with it, and got distracted.  Justin has been bugging me to just post the damn thing.  So, ok, there you go.






FINALLY, purple hair.

So pretty much everyone who knows me or ever knew me knows I love purple.  I decided purple was my favorite color when I was 10 or so and never looked back.  And since I was a teenager I wanted to dye my hair purple.  But basically, I never had the guts.  I wasn’t allowed to have unnatural hair colors in high school.  And in college I worried about getting summer jobs and other kinds of judgments.  (I did make the mistake of dyeing my hair black from a box, though. Which led to going to a professional to try to grow it out which ended up with me having 4 colored hair for a while: natural brown, red, blonde, and black.)

And since I left college I’ve had professional jobs where I wouldn’t have been able to get away with crazy hair.  Until 6 years ago when I had to quit working due to my disability.  Since then I’ve often thought about purple hair.  But, being a responsible adult now, I always thought about having my hair professionally bleached and dyed.  I have no problem coloring my own hair but bleaching?  Scary.  And I knew I couldn’t afford to maintain a professional dye job.

So in the last year I’ve been considering way to have purple hair that wouldn’t require constant maintenance.  I decided I wanted purple streaks or an under-layer.  I was planning ongoing to my excellent and very cool stylist for this as soon as I got the funds together.  And then my husband lost his job.  And there went my plans for funky hair.

Until the last few weeks when I started thinking about just doing it myself.  I’m 36 years old, I’ve wanted purple hair for over half my life, I have no good reason not to do it.  I started researching dyes and looking at tutorials and realized if I really wanted purple hair, I was going to need to bleach.  So I researched that.  And finally, decided what the fuck.  The fact that I am going to see The Cure twice in two days gave me a perfect event to aim for.


So here is my starting hair.  This is longer than my hair has been in YEARS.  Probably 10 years.  I don’t like it this long, but I haven’t been able to afford a cut since December or so.  So that was another part of my rational.  If something terrible happened to my hair, just my regular cut would get rid of half of it.  This is also my natural hair color.  I haven’t dyed my hair for about a year and that was using henna for the past few years, so my hair should be as healthy as possible going in.  It’s probably the longest I’ve gone without dyeing it for a long time as well.

So in my research, I decided I’d use Sparks Purple dye, as it’s essentially a dupe of Pravana’s purple for half the price.  (And price is a BIG issue here.)  I read all the reviews and accepted this was going to be a mess that stained my whole bathroom.  For the bleach I wanted a kit cause I’ve never done this and discovered Sparks has all-inclusive kits available only at Ulta.  So I went to my local Ulta on a trip to town and there they were….all except the purple.  Big hole in the shelf.  So now I had a problem, cause I was on a deadline.  I didn’t want to pay for shipping, and Ulta has shipping time of 3-10 days.  Nope.  So I went to Amazon.  I ordered the Sparks color and a Jerome Russel Punky Colors bleach kit.  (Why I chose that one had to do with price and Prime delivery option.)

I then had a problem because the bleach was supposed to be delivered last Friday and the dye on Monday. I planned to do my hair on Tuesday when my husband was home to help.  But I didn’t get the bleach.  No package anywhere to be found (although later apparently there were chewed up pieces of Amazon box in the yard so maybe the neighborhood dogs stole my hair bleach.)  So I requested a replacement from Amazon and had to waDSC09474it until Wednesday for it to arrive.  This put me on a very tight timeline for the concert on Friday.  So last night it arrived at like 8PM and then I immediately had to start bleaching.

My husband was actually really good at applying the bleach.  He’s a meticulous person.  So the bleaching went pretty well. The back/bottom of my hair didn’t bleach as well at the top.  I don’t know if this is just the nature of the hair, or because that part has been previously dyed or what.  I was afraid to over-fry my roots so I removed the bleach after about 45 minutes, which is what the kit recommended for medium brown hair.  And it was super surreal to be blonde for the first time ever.

The dye had to be applied to dry hair, and I hate blow drying my hair so I had to wait for it to dry after washing out the bleach.  And my husband had to go to bed to get up for work in the morning.  So I was on my own for applying the color.  I’ve colored my own hair a BUNCH of times so I wasn’t too worried.  I should have been more worried.

The Sparks color comes in a tube and is applied directly to the hair.  The consistency is rather paint-like rather than dye mixed with developer or the paste consistency of henna.  So it’s really difficult to get applied evenly to all the strands.  My hair is super fine and thin and tangles if you breathe on it when it’s wet and unconditioned.  So getting a comb through it to distribute the dye was pretty hopeless.  And the dye is so pigmented that it transfers to pretty much anything that comes anywhere near it, so though I took precautions soon I was covered in purple dye.  I eventually resorted to using my normal plastic hairbrush to get the dye through my hair, and I applied almost the full tube.  I was pretty sure at some moments that my hair was going to come out all splotchy and my skin was going to be permanently colored purple (not to mention my bathroom.)

Anyway, I decided I’d done the best I could do at applying the color.  I had intended to wrap my head in plastic wrap, but yeah, no, that was not a one-person job, especially wearing gloves that were too big and covered in dye.  So I just kept my sheet wrapped around me and tried to keep up the bathroom and my skin a bit.  Luckily I did find the dye came off my sink and vinyl floor pretty well with some cleaning products.  So my sink is only lightly lavender now.  (Bleach will take it off, according to reviews.)

I left the dye on longer than called for.  It calls for 20 minutes, but I left it on more like 45.  It was after 1AM by this time.  So then I washed it out, just using water and conditioner (not using shampoo was something recommended somewhere in my research.)  And although my shower is lavender and parts of my temples and ears remain blue-ish, most of the dye came off my skin in the shower.  And of course my scalp is still dyed.

But there isDSC09478 the results, the next day.  I’ve read this dye starts out really dark and then fades to a brighter-redder purple and then to a lavender.  So that will be interesting.  It’s obviously redder where the bleach left more brown/orange in my hair.  But overall, I’m pretty happy with the results.  I have one little spot on my roots in the front that didn’t take the dye and I don’t know if I missed it or the conditioner I applied to my hairline to keep from staining my skin (that didn’t work very well) somehow prevented the dye from taking right there.  I’ll touch it up later before I shower.



I have no idea what I’ll do with it long term, whether I’ll keep bleaching the roots or let it grow out or something else.  We’ll see.  But I’m happy with it for now.






The Witcher and utterly ridiculous sexism

WARNING: Mildly NSFW images in this post.  Also language. 

So I have one 3/4 written post from like a month ago about a previous game in my current Old RPG binge.  But umm, yeah, I’ll finish it eventually.  It’s harder to write reviews about how awesome a game is without spoiling it than it is to complain about shit.

This post is both.   So after I ragequit Baldur’s Gate 1 I did start playing Jade Empire.  And it’s a very good game.  But action-oriented.  Easy enough, but still kinda stressful to play.  And it involves lots of clicking, which aggravated my knitting-related RSI.  I pledge to go back and finish it.

But then GOG had a flash sale one day, and I snagged a copy of The Witcher Enhanced Edition for $1.50.  Literally all I knew about it when I clicked buy was that it was an RPG and I had heard good things about Witcher 3.  I checked reviews after I bought it and they were overwhelmingly positive.  Awesome.the-witcher-20070606011153024-2014206

So first things first, the game looks really nice.  It’s from 2007 but it still looks great.  I was coming off a bunch of games from around The Turn of the Century (that’s still fun to say!) so yeah I’m a little skewed in my perception.  But even compared to Jade Empire, that came out the same year, this looks loads better.  Maybe that’s the “Enhanced” part.   Honestly, unless you’re only playing lastest gen consoles and games from this year, I don’t think you’re going to notice a real deficit in graphics here.

It’s a little jarring to not have a choice of gender and appearance for your character.  You get a brooding white muscular male, Geralt of Rivia.  I don’t have a problem playing male characters, and I see the benefit of crafting a story around a defined character with set history.  But there’s still something about being forced into the Default White Male box with gaming that makes me a bit leary.

But the actual game was surprisingly fun.  The combat took some getting used to, as this is an action-y RPG again.  But it’s really a Diablo-esque “click on the bad guys to kill them” kind of game.  And the easy setting is REALLY easy.  I like that in a game.  You have to choose your weapon and your attack, which you can do while paused.  Difference blades work on different kinds of enemies and some need fast attacks while other need strong, etc.  And you have to time your clicks to get attack bonuses.  At first it was a bit much to figure out, but it soon stopped feeling at all stressful.  And unlike Jade Empire I could do almost everything easily with my trackpad and my left hand, which relieves my hand issues.


Do you like my medieval fishnets?

The plot is ok, fairly standard for an RPG.  You’re a Witcher, a mutant who fights monsters.  You get special attacks and abilities.  You are sent to hunt down some bad guys.  Lots of things happen and you fight a bunch of crap.  I really enjoyed the questing and progression through different areas.  Though there IS a lot of running around from place to place.  And to not miss out on quests and different options I found a walkthrough/guide very helpful.  But this was a COMPELLING and addictive game.  You can ask my husband: I did little else in my downtime but play this for a couple weeks.  The game makers are obviously skilled at crafting a game so you are constantly moving forward and want to keep playing.

The makers, by the way, are CDProjekt, a company from Poland.  The games are based on a series of fantasy novels by Andrzej Sapkowski.  So one thing that became apparent before too long is that this game was not going to win any awards for gender inclusiveness.  The outfits on female characters are skimpy in a way that is fairly typical for fantasy video games, but which has improved in some parts of the industry recently.

And I have no problem with sex in games.  My Dragon Age playthroughs are ALL about the romance stories.  But sex in The Witcher is basically a collection quest, where every named female character (ok, except the old ones) is a seduceable character.  And once you have sex with them, you get a “sex card” for them.  Yes, really.  Here’s an example.


This is one of the tamer and most tasteful.


They’re all basically the worst fantasy pin-up style shots, with frequent full-frontal nudity.  So as you collect these women, you get to see them in their nighties as well.  They all apparently wear the same one.  It looks like this.



You’ll note Mr. Of Rivia stays fully clothed in armor at all times, including during and after sex.  If the nudity levels were at ALL equal across genders this would be easier to take.

But the frequency of this kind of thing is just laughable.   Like this character design.  This isn’t a sex scene, it’s just how the character looks all the time.  (Though of course, you can have sex with her.) lakelady3

The isn’t the worst character design, cause of her conveniently placed hair.  There’s a dryad that’s just naked, but green.  (And yes, you can sleep with her, TOO.  Getting the idea?  If it’s got nice tits, you can fuck it.)

There are other instances of the sex in this game being ridiculous.  Like “hey I saved you from rape  back there, wanna fuck?”  (Of COURSE she does.)  Possibly more annoying than anything isn’t that the game presents these options to the player, but that they are so incredibly difficult to AVOID.  I found myself more than once accidentally sleeping with someone just because I chose the “nice” conversation option.  This is clearly the way they want you to play Geralt.  He collects the set.  Conveniently, even after you “become serious” with one woman in particular, she doesn’t mind you sleeping around.  She wants commitment from you, but “isn’t jealous.”  Except apparently of the one particular woman you sleep with, because you’re forced to chose between two women which to “get serious” with.  The other gets very angry.

So yeah, I know this makes the game sound unattractive, but actually I really, really enjoyed it.  The vast majority of the time spent with the game is running around killing monsters and fetching stuff.  And all of that is GREAT.  It’s honestly one of my favorite RPGs, except for everything involving sex and women in relation to sex.  If a penis was involved in the decision making about something, the outcome SUCKS, but otherwise, it’s a great game.


I forgot, there is male nudity.

And lest someone get the wrong idea I’m not ANGRY about the sexism, really.  Cause my reaction was to laugh every time something else cropped up.  It’s so terrible it’s funny, in an “I’m embarrassed for you” kind of way.  It doesn’t stop me from wanting to play the other two games in the series, although it does have me wondering whether I should legally pay for them.  I’m a bit hesitant to pay actual money only to get more of the same or worse treatment of women.  But for $1.50 I got amazing value for my money.

So I do recommend the game, but with the caveat that you have to be able to laugh at some Polish idea of female characters in video games.





Kim Plays Baldur’s Gate 1 …and gives up

Yes, yes, this blog is not even a real blog, but I’ve been feeling the desire to talk about crap again.  Serious things about disability and being poor and then also video games.  (I already have places I talk about knitting and sewing and corsets.)


So at some point I will maybe possibly write a whole post about why video games are so essential to managing my disability.  The short version is sometimes I am bedridden and they’re the only thing that entertains me and keeps me from climbing the walls.

It’s been at least a month that I’ve been in bed now.  When this flare started I was distressed to discover I had no games I wanted to play.  I’ve replayed my favorites A LOT.  Most recently I played Dragon Age Inquisition six times all the way through.  And I’m finally truly bored with it.

Also I’m broke.  Beyond broke.  So buying something…not an option.  So I decided to replay one RPG that I enjoyed but have only played once: Planescape: Torment.  I intend to write a whole post about how incredibly awesome that game is, 17 years after it’s release.  I played it through in a huge marathon.  And then I was bored again.

And since I enjoyed Torment again so much, I thought, “hey, I should try Baldur’s Gate because that’s the same engine.”  And everyone says how awesome Baldur’s Gate 2 is, best RPG ever, blah blah.   But again, no money to shell out, either for the $10 GOG original version or the $20 Steam Enhanced Edition.  But lo and behold, my husband happened to own the discs for Baldur’s Gate 1.

I read up on modding the game, but discovered that the way everyone seemingly plays BG1 is through the BG2 engine, which requires owning a copy of BG2.  Which, again, I don’t.  Since I had problems with the widescreen and UI mods on Torment I decided to just go out of the box.

So, Baldur’s Gate is weird, y’all.  It starts off like many RPGs, you have a mysterious quest, people are trying to kill you, you have to fight monsters and not die while gathering party members.  Except the first weird thing is that there’s roughly a million and a half potential party members.  So you’re constantly picking people up and then dumping them for someone new, and trying to keep the old people from running around with your best gear.  And making sure your party members get along, and you meet their favorite quests in the right amount of time, or they leave.  And they sometimes come in pairs, and you can’t have one without the other.    In short, there’s almost no way to manage who you have in your party without doing internet research, and even then, it’s a constant source of stress.  (If you’re me.)

But other than being annoying, the companions don’t really add much to the game or story.  They just fight differently and sometimes whine.  (And say the SAME TWO THINGS OVER AND OVER, looking at YOU Minsc.)

The other thing about this game I noticed right away is that is is HARD.  I set the difficulty really low, not ALL the way down, but pretty far.  And I was still constantly reloading to keep from dying.  It doesn’t help that you start out with about 3 hit points.  I’m not even exaggerating there.  And ok, I made my character a bard, because I am contrary.  (Note: Don’t make your character a bard.  You are not very good at anything.)

Basically, if I hadn’t been coming right off Torment, there’s no way I could have played this game for a couple of weeks before rage quitting.  (We’ll get there.)  I was used to having only a handful of spells, and having to constantly rest, and micromanaging my party constantly in fights, etc.  But I was also used to only having characters die in fairly extreme circumstances, and then having a healer who could revive them pretty much immediately.  Not in BG1.  You have to drag their corpse back to a temple and pay a priest to revive them.  Which in practice means you’re constantly reloading to keep your characters from dying.

Honestly, I can’t stress enough how hard this game is, coming from modern RPGs.  I know OG gamers will be scoffing about how things were better when they were harder, but I don’t know, this is a LOT of micromanaging and redoing to make any progress.  I felt like every session I played had a 50/50 chance of either being fairly entertaining (meaning I was wandering around killing thing and mostly not constantly dying) or being just an exercise in frustration.  And it’s not just because I’ve basically played my way through RPG history in reverse.  Forum posts show up in my frustrated googles asking “was this game always this hard?”,  “why do I keep dying?”,  “I don’t remember it being this tough.”

If you try to seek help, via walkthough, guide, etc, I find the advice is super contradictory.  One walkthrough which was recommended as “the best” offers no strategy, it just tells you to kill everything and acts like it’s no big thing.  Another “spoiler free” guide I was at first trying to follow had me doing what I later read was “the hardest area of the game” when I was about level 3.

But I was really pretty determined to make it through this game.  I wanted to move on to Baldur’s Gate 2.  And I had nothing better to do.  So I persevered.  I built a pretty good party (except for the one chick who kept complaining), and I thought I was finally doing pretty well.

Until Cloakwood.  The forest itself, not much of a problem.  But every time I moved from one area to another, I was attached by multiple wyverns.  And I would die.  Or someone would die.  Or I’d barely make it through, not be able to save, click on my desired destination again, and get attacked AGAIN.  Finally, finally, I made it through cloakwood.  I made it to the mines.  And then I faced the dreaded party member dilemma.  There was a new fighter/cleric character.  My cleric was non-stop complaining.  I wanted to change.  So I did.

Except I didn’t realize I couldn’t take the new dwarf out of the mines without finishing that quest.  He glitched, making my game stop dead.  I had to go back to the beginning of the mines.  I wasn’t good enough yet to finish the mines.  And since I had to start over I thought I’d rebuild my party differently.  I’d wanted to replace Minsc with the dwarf, but if Minsc leaves, his girlfriend and my only mage leaves.  So I decided, ok, I’ll multi-class my thief into a mage.  My walkthrough recommended doing this at the level I was at.  Cool.  Then I’ll have TWO cleric/fighters which means more healing, which means less dying, right?   Except I didn’t realize making my thief a mage means I can’t use her thief skills at all.  So, ok, I’ll go get a thief.  I do this, dropping my ranger and mage.  Then I pick up a shapeshifter on a temporary basis.  Then I get to the mines again (fighting my way through wyverns, AGAIN.)

And I get the dwarf, and have my new party all ready.  And get to the end of the mine, where there is a tough mage to defeat and some traps that if you set them off, you get super difficult enemies that are really hard to kill.  So my thief, he who’s sole purpose is to detect and disarm traps?  His skill isn’t high enough to see them.  So, after dying A LOT and reading some more forums I learn there’s a cleric spell that can identify traps.  Cool.  Manage to get that spell loaded, and identify the traps.  Still can’t disarm them.

So to progress in the game at all (and I tried beating this for HOURS) I have to go all the way back to where I went back before and NOT multi-class my thief so I can actually disarm freaking traps.

Which is the point at which I’m saying FUCK IT. This isn’t any fun anymore.  There’s really hardly any story at all, just monsters to kill.  The game feels a lot more like Diablo than any other RPG I’ve played.  More strategy/action than anything.

So…yeah.  What now?  My options are currently: Neverwinter Nights, Morrowwind, or Jade Empire.  I’ve actually started both Jade Empire and Neverwinter Nights before and didn’t get very far at all.  Jade Empire was on the Xbox and I got my ass killed right away and didn’t try very hard.  I bought it a while back from GOG for $2.99 so I want to try it on PC.  I’m a huge Bioware fan and it’s one of the only of their RPGS I haven’t played.  And when I tried Neverwinter Nights I didn’t like the engine, mostly.  But I’m kinda used to that style of game at the moment, and my husband promises me it’s got better story.

So yeah, I dunno.  Non laptop alternatives are going back to Inquisition, or back to Mass Effect 2, which I was in the middle of.  ME2 is stressful to me, though.  It’s good, but the action is pretty intense and it doesn’t really RELAX me, so much as lead to me sweating and all my muscles clenched.   And it hurts my RSI in my thumb, which is one nice thing about laptop games.  Low stress on the thumb.