Team Rocket Meets Meltan

I suck as a Pokémon trainer in Niantic’s Pokémon GO. For today’s Team Rocket takeover of all PokéStops from 4 until 5 pm local time, my Pokémon were too underpowered to put a stop to the evil doings of Rocket Grunts in my local park. While I leveled up a few of my Pocket Monsters and planned for type against the Rocket Grunts, I was just no match for them; I was not prepared for facing three 4003 CP Golbats in a row. Consequently, I managed to chase just one grunt away during that hour, and one more who lingered after the event. I caught and cleansed one shadow Pokémon, but the other got away. However, since I was at the park with time reserved for the game but not wanting to spend it getting my ass repeatedly kicked by Rocket Grunts, I decided to bust open my Mystery Box earned from transferring a Pokémon from Pokémon GO to Game Freak’s Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! Many a Meltan was then caught, as the mysterious critters spawn one after the other on opening for a half hour.

The Team Rocket takeover has begun.
She’s going to kick my ass for the next 13 minutes until I give up.
I suck. Where’s my participation trophy?
Hmm. What’s inside this inconspicuous box?
Oh hi, Meltan!
It’s a Team Rocket takeover!

So, today I learned I’m no match for Team Rocket Grunts, and it’s impressive those players who are level 40 and have Pokémon with CP over 9,000 or whatever who could turn today’s takeover into a picnic. While I was at the park for something like 90 minutes, I don’t really recall seeing much of it as my face was buried in my phone THE ENTIRE TIME. This is where I don’t understand the effort one needs to put into this game to adequately participate in such events. Is Pokémon GO supposed to be a casual game or is it supposed to be hardcore? If it’s casual, why do I have to be level 40 to kick grunt ass? If it’s hardcore, why can’t I breed some epic Pokémon like in the mainline series and send them to a gym to train?

Anyway, best photobomb ever:

Welcome to the Seventh Astral Era

After nearly six years since Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn entered Early Access on August 24, 2013, I finally completed the Main Scenario Quests for the 2.0 content. Operation Archon was a success, the Ultima Weapon has been destroyed, and I’m ready to move on to the Heavensward 3.0 content.

Ah, but not so fast.

I’m a bit of a completionist, so I thought I’d at least make some progress on the old endgame content of A Realm Reborn. Though I only sporadically played the game over the years, I knew Square Enix was constantly adding new Primal content. So, I got the early portions of the Primal Quests done. Additionally, there are the Beast Tribe Quests. The ones with the Amalj’aa I had previously unlocked. These quests are quite fun because you get to see a different side to the beast tribes you’ve been slaughtering for fifty levels. I particularly like the quests with the Kobolds.

What else?

There are some miscellaneous quests involving relic gear and what not. This would be the old endgame gear for A Realm Reborn, and it’s interesting how Square Enix manages to make a story out of everything. Most MMORPGs are like: “Go run some content, get some new currency, buy some gear.” Final Fantasy XIV makes an event of it all.

This commitment to storytelling comes out particularly strong with unlocking the hard mode of old dungeons. I’ve always hated content like this. The Mythic+ dungeons of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft are especially grievous. I want new content, not more difficult old content. This is where Square Enix comes through. You actually have to unlock the hard mode dungeons through quests, and the NPCs along the way make it perfectly clear: you’ve been here before, we need you again, things have gotten worse. I’ve yet to delve into any of these more difficult dungeons, but I am impressed. Square Enix took what I consider a lazy MMORPG trope and gave it a story. I’m finally at a point thanks to this game where I have respect for Square Enix again, something that had been slipping over time and lost in March 2010 with Final Fantasy XIII, the game that really wasn’t a game, just a cutscene-ridden piece of media more than happy to be “played” on autopilot. It’s the game I let the CPU handle a boss fight and went and made lunch. And don’t even get me started on the content Square Enix has thrown up, and continues to throw up, on Steam. But here is a shoutout to Naoki Yoshida for taking the failed 1.0 version of Final Fantasy XIV and turning it into the incredible work that it is today. His team has gotten me to take the company seriously again.

World map.
The world of Final Fantasy XIV.

While the content of Final Fantasy XIV is largely serious in tone, there is a certain amount of humor to be found in the game, the aforementioned Beast Tribe Quests with the Kobolds being one example. However, nothing in the game can prepare you for the Hildibrand Quests. I’ve only just begun them, and they are precious to me. Additionally, there is something with the Moogles, and I ran through the quests with the zombie Hab and his Cactuar friends. Who knew brilliant comedic material would eventually be found in Final Fantasy XIV?

Nashu Mhakaracca holding bombs.
Nashu Mhakaracca is my new favorite NPC.

So, the Ultima Weapon was destroyed, NPCs declared the start of the Seventh Astral Era, and the credits rolled. Yes, Final Fantasy XIV has end credits at the completion of the main story for 2.0. Seeing the end credits in a video game has always been a sign of accomplishment, and I can still remember as they scrolled over the effect of flying through space at the end of Final Fantasy II for the SNES back in 1992. Final Fantasy VII from 1997 even has its own post-credits scene. These are single player games, however, and I cannot recall ever encountering end credits in an online game because they simply do not end. There’s always more, and most MMORPG games are all about endgame anyway. That’s what the developers seem to focus on; that’s what the players bitch-and-moan about. It’s always a rush to get to endgame, and if endgame doesn’t have a shit-ton of content, gamers are going to whine. Thankfully, as previously mentioned, Final Fantasy XIV is nowhere like that. Giving the player end credits in an MMORPG is really saying something because you’re done. Literally, you’ve completed the story. You’re free to move on to other games having completed this one.

But Final Fantasy XIV is an MMORPG, and if you want to keep playing, there is a shit-ton of content to be found in the old A Realm Reborn endgame. Like, a lot. Like, holy shit. Everything I’ve already mentioned — from the Primal Quests to the Beast Tribe Quests to Hard Mode Dungeons to that crazy stuff with Hildibrand — is only scratching the surface. Somewhere, there are raids to be found, that old MMORPG trope. I know there is a series with Bahamut, but I haven’t even gotten whiff of the dragon yet. Now, I’ve begun these quests with Minfilia in the Waking Sands which I assumed served as a short little bridge to bring us to Heavensward content. You know, some tiny little quest chain released right before an expansion that sets you up for the expansion. Oh no. No, no, no. This is merely a planned move to Mor Dhona, not the beginning of an adventure into Heavensward content. I think this is related then to the Crystal Tower content with Cid, and I still have no idea where Bahamut is. Wondering just what in the Seven Hells was going on, I got on the Internet. What I found was shocking.

Minfilia is shocked.
You said it, Minfilia.

I am on a quest called “Rock-solid Protection.” It’s part of the Seventh Astral Era Quests. It’s number seven. There are ninety-three more quests in this chain. Yes, while Heavensward may be the 3.0 expansion to Final Fantasy XIV, after the 2.0 A Realm Reborn story, there is a whole ‘nother story. Spanning the chasm between A Realm Reborn and Heavensward is a quest chain which rivals that of the original story. Mind you, the credits have already scrolled. There is an expansion to be had, but here’s the thing: you can’t skip any of this. Those prudes at Foundation in Coerthas Central Highlands won’t even let you into Ishgard until you’ve run through all of this. I’m used to material being added to MMORPGs in incremental patches but nothing of this magnitude. I mean, normally, they’ll add something and have a little starter quest, but you can skip all that material and move on to the next major expansion when you come to it years later. Not with Final Fantasy XIV, and that’s a good thing. A Realm Reborn has an endgame. With a story. It’s long. And you have to play it before beginning Heavensward. There is just so much content here. Like, how? How did they manage to produce all of this? When I’m not being overwhelmed by all this content, I’m impressed Square Enix had the guts to make it so A Realm Reborn‘s endgame content is still relevant even after the introduction of Heavensward, Stormblood, and now Shadowbringers. Final Fantasy XIV makes American MMORPGs look juvenile in comparison, and that’s where I am now: embarrassed by my own culture’s video games. I haven’t felt like this in over a decade. So let’s just face it: whatever Americans can do with video games, the Japanese can do better. Except first-person shooters. We do those well. You know because we like guns.

Hopefully by Christmas I will be caught up on Final Fantasy XIV content. I could just buy A Tales of Adventure package and skip all this story so that I can partake of Shadowbringers now, but I don’t think I’d be able to forgive myself. The content exists, and I’m going to play through it. Previously, I felt it was kind of cheap Square Enix offered such packages just like in World of Warcraft, but World of Warcraft is just leveling to endgame with some bits of mandatory story here and there. The game tramples over its previous endgame content for each expansion in an effort to get you to the current expansion’s endgame as quickly as possible. Hell, they give you level boosts with each new expansion. Basically, in a game with alts, if you’re lazy, go ahead and pay to get that alt to endgame. With Final Fantasy XIV, one character can play all classes, and each of those classes has a story. Each expansion has a story. Each of the endgames has a story. I can totally get why people would pay to skip previous content in Final Fantasy XIV. There is just so much of it that is mandatory; you can’t reasonably be expected to go through it all in a rush if you haven’t kept up. So, I won’t be playing Shadowbringers content any time soon. Seven Hells, I don’t think I’ll even be playing Heavensward content any time soon. This is going to take some time, but I’m enjoying the journey.

Shadowbringers Early Access!

Of course, I’m not ready. I’m never ready for a game’s release. With Shadowbrigners, the 5.0 expansion to Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV, I’m quite behind. Shadowbringers unfolds a new story in new zones and raises the game’s level cap from 70 to 80. Meanwhile, I have a level 50 Ninja and level 45 Warrior, and I’m somewhere near the end of the 2.0 story (I hope).

Gunbreaker quest giver
No Gunbreaker yet for me.

But that’s okay. Final Fantasy XIV is a game I feel the developers let you play at your own pace. This is on account of your character literally being able to do everything. In Final Fantasy XIV, all classes, from healer to tank to dps to gatherer to crafter are available to your one character. For example, there are now four tank classes in the game: Warrior, Paladin, Dark Knight, and Gunbreaker. You can level all of them on the same character. Meanwhile, I’ve also put some time into leveling healer and dps classes, and I’ve meddled with gathering and crafting. You can do it all on just one character, and that’s why Final Fantasy XIV is a great MMORPG. I don’t feel rushed to endgame unlike in every other MMORPG I’ve ever played because I’m afforded so much else to do.

However, I’m not far into Shadowbringers Early Access, and I have a couple complaints. The Warrior’s ability Butcher’s Block has been removed. I liked the Warrior’s old rotation of choosing whether to combo dps moves or tank moves depending on the situation, and Butcher’s Block was the third move in a tanking combo with a brutal animation and sound. It’s why I’ve played Marauder/Warrior over Gladiator/Paladin as my preferred starter tank class, and now it’s gone. Mind you, I realize this is personal preference. It doesn’t break the game, but it does make me wonder how the animator of that particular animation feels. Hopefully, it’s reused somewhere.

Butcher's Block removed
No more Butcher’s Block.

What’s more problematic playing Warrior now is that the Beast Gauge is always active. Basically, you’re always in tank mode. Now, activating Defiance doesn’t switch you into tank mode, it simply raises your Enmity (threat). You become a tankier tank but only in that you have increased threat, and there is no way ingame to accurately count this amount, though group combat does offer some indication. The side effect of the always-enabled Beast Gauge is the problem: whether you have Defiance active or not, because the Beast Gauge is always on, you are always building Wrath, a resource you can spend to activate certain Warrior abilities. And Wrath doesn’t diminish unless you spend it in combat. Which means, even outside of combat, if you have unspent Wrath, you have a ridiculous orange energy animation consuming you. It even has lightning in it. The only way to get rid of it is to switch Jobs, then switch back to Warrior. This was not thought through on the part of Square Enix. It makes me question the decision-making process of certain individuals and lose faith.

Wrath animation in camp
Don’t mind me, I’m just full of Wrath.

However, don’t get me wrong. The game isn’t broken, and there’s probably somebody out there who loves that the Wrath animation continues outside of combat. Something about how this is more fitting with the Warrior’s lore. But if so, then NPCs should react differently to a Wrath-filled Warrior like those saps in Wineport to Curious Gorge. But, whatever. I’m playing the game again for Shadowbringers‘ Gunbreaker and was merely leveling Warrior to get there. But Warrior grew on me after all this time. Marauder (Warrior’s prerequisite) was my starting class nearly those six years ago when 2.0 launched and brought Final Fantasy XIV back as A Realm Reborn. It’s what I can’t change whenever I swig a Phial of Fantasia to re-enter Character Creation to modify my avatar. So I’m a bit vexed with the removal of Butcher’s Block and the kept accumulation of Wrath on account of the always-active Beast Gauge.

Gazing down into the Abyss.
He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.

Zippy Zap, We Made It to Fuchsia City!

Zippy Zap is easily my favorite move in Game Freak’s Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! In fact, I almost use it exclusively on my overpowered little electric mouse. The move is taught early in the game by a Move Tutor in Cerulean City. With it, Pikachu gets all electrified and charges his opponent with a pika, pika, PIKA! It’s so damn adorable and damaging, and the move’s animation is one of the highlights of the game.

So, with Pikachu, Zippy Zap, and a bit of a time commitment, I finally infiltrated the Team Rocket Hideout in Celadon City and faced off with Giovanni.

Let's Go, Pikachu!
We are cute.
Enter Giovanni.
Entering a world of pain.
Zippy Zap against Giovanni's Persian.

What kind of amazed me about the encounter with Giovanni is his apology for disrespecting my trainer avatar after I whooped his ass. I was not expecting such an “honor among thieves” moment in the game.

Giovanni's apology.
The Silph Scope!
Respect among trainers.

Afterwards, it was back to the Pokémon Tower in Lavender Town via Sky Dash, a secret technique in Let’s Go which serves as a replacement for Fly. Basically, it’s some Danny Deckchair balloon contraption operated by Pikachu. My first experience flying in a Pokémon game was on Charizard in Moon, so everything by comparison is either ridiculous or lame.

The flying contraption.

With the Marowak spirit calmed in the tower, I was off to wake and battle(!) a Snorlax, and then ziggety-zag through a bunch of trainers down Routes 12, 13, 14, and 15 to FINALLY arrive in Fuchsia City. FINALLY.

Finally entering Fuchsia City.

Soon I’ll get to see what this whole GO Park thing is when coupled with Pokémon GO, but for now, I need to make like a Snorlax. Meltan will be mine. Oh yes, it will be mine.

Holy Bonus EXP, Zubat!

Having grown a bit bored with Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!, I decided to detach the right Joy-Con and see what all that flinging was about. Needless to say, after a few minutes, I felt confirmed in my judgment that the whole concept was just another Nintendo gimmick. But then I remembered I had purchased the even more gimmicky Poké Ball Plus just to get Mew. So, I got that gizmo hooked up and forced myself to play through the Celadon City gym with it.

Though it was painful, I managed, assuring myself I would go back to playing Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! with the Switch in handheld mode shortly. After defeating Erika, I saw something I had never seen before: Pikachu in the bottom left corner of the screen waving the left Joy-Con back and forth. And so I did.

Soon enough, a girl fell from the sky joined by Charmeleon. In my party, Charmeleon follows my Ivysaur, and since I had Ivysaur out of its ball and walking with me, I’m going to assume that’s why Charmeleon made an appearance.

Welcome Player 2
We have come here to chew Razz Berries and kick ass. And we’re all out of Razz Berries.

So, I ran around Celadon City a bit, and it was fun trying to get my brain to control two characters on two different controllers. Seeking EXP, I headed out to the short Route 7 and bumped into the first critter I met. And then I found myself flinging TWO Poké Balls. This is a feature I had completely forgotten about in the game as I, of course, never actually previously played it with anyone.

Jigglypuff
So it’s sorta social. Demented and sad, but social.

BUT THEN THE EXP. ALL THE EXP. You get bonus EXP for flinging two Poké Balls, and it’s just nuts.

Loads of EXP
I just can’t.

Mind you, you’re burning through twice the balls, but Pokédollars are easy to come by in this game. So, anyway, the most fun I’ve had with Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! so far is playing multiplayer with myself. I wonder if it’s any fun with friends?

We need more balls.
We need more balls, Bub.