After my post yesterday, I picked up Gradius III again; this time, on my first try, I not only made it through the first level for the first time, I made it through the second level on that same first try. The latter is a fluke, but I am managing the former fairly reliably now. Though not as reliably as I’d like: I need to improve my strategizing/memorization. And to play the game in situations where there are few distractions from daughters and dogs: you really have to focus when the ships and bullets are flying.

I quite like the Wii classic controller, by the way. Great for games like this, with a huge D-pad.

And I made progress on Etrian Odyssey today. On the off chance that anybody reading this blog is going to play it, I will warn Spoiler Ahead! Namely, the monster at the start of the third level really is way too hard for you, but you can avoid it if you’re careful and make it to other parts of the level. Interesting touch, and I still find it a bit nerve-wracking; I don’t recall seeing a game before where most of the monsters are invisible random encounters but where the major monsters (rare, but more frequent than even mini-bosses from other games) are visible on the map and move around. So now I’m happy again: leveling up wasn’t that bad (it gave me some things to think about, since you really do have a lot of options in how you customize your character), but the real reason why I bought the game is so that I can explore the dungeons and draw maps.

I suppose I should explain the game a little further, given that I seem to be talking about it. It’s a dungeon crawler, targeted at people who spent the 1980’s mapping out dungeons (and other areas) in computer games. The nearest analogue that comes to mind is Wizardry: it’s all about delving deeper and deeper into a single dungeon, with a town at the top that exists only to give you a place to rest, save, get items, and reorganize your party. And by “mapping out”, I really do mean mapping out: your view is on the top screen, while the bottom screen contains a map that you have to draw yourself with the stylus. By default, the game will color in the floor squares that you’ve walked on, though you can turn that off; it is entirely your responsibility, however, to draw in walls, stairs, doors, chests, etc. (There are icons provided for this purpose, which you can drag to the map.)

As far as the party goes, you’re in complete control – no acquiring new characters through exciting plot developments or anything like that. You can create as many different characters as you want, choosing from nine classes (only seven are accessible to me now, though I have ideas about how to get the latter two); the leveling up system improves your basic characteristics automatically, but it also gives you customization options in terms of which spells to learn, which extra skills to buff up, etc. Quite nice, and means that, in practice, two characters from the same class can play rather differently should you choose different paths to level up along.

Plenty difficult, too – it’s not too hard to get into situations where some of your party is dead and the rest of you are trying to make it back up to the exit, and it’s also not too hard to get your whole party wiped out when exploring a new area. You definitely have to think about your approach to some of the monsters; I’m looking forward to having a well leveled-up party, where I’ll really have a range of approaches to consider when tackling a fight. I wouldn’t want most RPGs to be like this, but I can get into class/party management occasionally, and I really like the map-making aspect.

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