Thursday, 14 October 2021

14/10/2021: 大亂鬥/櫻井/狼師

劍……鍵角


大亂鬥特別版(SSB Ultimate)的最後一名角色近日終於揭曉,是王國之心的索拉(Sora)。只要看一下reaction mashup就知道,可以讓一半實況主發瘋尖叫另一半失聲痛哭的角色可不是開玩笑的。就算是我這個沒玩過王國之心(嘛,我知道音操有露面過就是了)也知道那個由三個圈圈組成的圖案的份量有多重,地表最強法務部合作可不是開玩笑的。

雖然看看大亂鬥的電競比賽密度就知道它的遊戲周期還能撐很久,不過其地位/歷史定位應該可以暫時下一個結論了。短期來看銷量和獎項已經說明了一切:超過2400萬份為格鬥遊戲第一、18/19年最佳遊戲之一。(其實不是很想用獎項作比較,尤其是那10/10事件以後)

那麼長期來看這是個甚麼遊戲呢?比如說30年後,人們會怎樣評價這款遊戲呢?這很可能是史上最偉大的跨界合作(crossover),前無古人而且很可能很無來者。

前無古人很簡單,只有大亂鬥會讓這麼多來自不同作品的角色露面而不會互搶風頭。然後大亂鬥歷代作品每一代角色數量都有所增加,本作直接不演了告訴你Everyone is here將以前偶而跳過的角色全補上了可以怎樣輸?

至於後無來者……這個遊戲佔盡天時地利人和。

天時,在於2020的疫情大流行。

相信大家也知道封城對電子遊戲業的幫助有多大。動物之森和健身環造成現象級的流行,但不代表其他遊戲沒有因此而受惠。按統計遊戲在首發的2018賣了1200萬份,在2019賣了600萬份,在2020之後又賣了快700萬份。這個長尾在遊戲銷售周期中並不常見,此乃天時。

地利當然是Switch這個大平台,只要看歷代銷量就知道了。每一代幾乎都是該主機最暢銷的遊戲之一,但數字上仍有不小起伏。出在GameCube上的DX(英:Melee)是GC上壓倒性的最佳遊戲,曾經有70%的GC擁有者同時擁有大亂鬥DX。如此佳作在當時綜合銷量卻還是只排第五(輸2款GTA、1款NFL與1款Halo……奇怪,除了米國人誰會玩NFL?)。到了Wii的大亂鬥X(英:Brawl)的光芒被幾款Wii休閒向遊戲(還有瑪卡)蓋過,但第一年在美國的銷量已超DX歷年總和。在3DS/WiiU這個不怎麼樣的平台,大亂鬥再次成為最強遊戲之一,銷量卻只是勉強勝過六年前發售的X。

到了Switch呢?如果說Wii當年還有PS3跟XBox360成三分天下(當然Wii是曹魏)之勢,那麼Switch面對的PS5和XBox Game Pass應該是260年的三國吧。雖然18年12月發售的大亂鬥特別版不能算Switch的首發遊戲,但也肯定吃到Switch上升期的紅利(尤其考慮到Switch這個平台到現在完全沒有要衰落的跡象),此乃地利。

人和嘛……當然是櫻井政博本人。

他是大亂鬥系列之父,是最了解這個遊戲的人……但是他要退隱了。是暫時休息一下還是退休也許只有他才知道,但短期內大概是看不到他掛職做遊戲了。中文版叫的「特別版」與英文的「Ultimate」命名上也昭示了這部會是集大成之作。

大亂鬥過去幾作都出現過前代角色在下一作出沒有登場的遺憾,唯獨特別版真的把歷代角色都推出來了。而且每一個角色都經過重新建模,招式也有所調整。試回想受眾更廣的寵物小精靈(Pokemon)劍盾(SwSh)不就宣稱沒法處理如此大量的建模而沒法做全圖鑑嗎?結果登場的寵物小精靈建模比3DS時代更不堪。大亂鬥的建模除了精度完勝以外每一個動作也要獨立處理,要說大亂鬥處理一位角色的功夫可以比處理十隻寵物小精靈可以吧?那為甚麼Game Freak做不到呢?更何況大亂鬥還有第三方授權問題,就算不算米老鼠,Konami、SE、Sega這堆又有哪個是好惹的?

按照櫻井的說法,這部大亂鬥是岩田聰交代他的最後一個任務,之後聰哥同年就病逝了。遺願的重量加上他那種工作狂與執著的性格才有辦法在短短三年不到的開發周期(歷代最短)內將大亂鬥最完整的一面呈現出來。從他各種訪談(比如這個)和最後一次發表角色時長吁一口氣說終於可以休息可以看出他投放了多少心血在這部作品上。

說到人和也不得不提他開發3DS/WiiU版的班底剛做完那邊就直接搬過來開發特別版了,免去了重組班底的功夫。

這幾天下來可以看到櫻井的聲望已經直逼那幾位帶領老任以G&W為分界從傳統產業轉型成電子娛樂產業的開山祖師爺(比如汽球大戰班底那幾位),看了一下才知道他還年輕得很。一方面我們知道現在的任天堂只要繼續其獨特的遊戲哲學,很難說沒了誰就運行不下去--看看近期的熱門作如瑪卡8、風花雪月等,就連日文維基也沒有這些遊戲的製作人或者總監的資料。但另一方面他卡比和大亂鬥之父的頭銜實至名歸,也算是老任核心IP的奠基人之一了。沒了他誰還有那個資歷和號召力作出如此宏大的作品?所以大家為他引退感到婉惜也很正常。

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其實我寫大亂鬥主要真的不是想寫櫻井順便懷緬一下聰哥的,我本來是想講一下自己打傳統格鬥遊戲下來對電競水準大亂鬥對戰的感覺。我對傳統格鬥遊戲的認也很有限就是了……玩得最多的是KOF00'和02',還沒到一塊通關的程度。家機的話主要是DOA4吧,也只是勉強通過全線這樣。

大亂鬥的對戰搭上不同平台打起來立體感當然遠勝傳統格鬥遊戲,而圍繞邊緣(edge)的攻防也是後者沒有的(DOA也有自己的場地規則就是)。但大亂鬥的本質還是格鬥遊戲那一套,那就是猜招和抓距離。

在我看來,傳統格鬥遊戲與大亂鬥其中一個重大區別正是抓距離的難度。大亂鬥裡不同角色大小/命中(hitbox)面積之間極大的差異、場地大小和特效等都令玩家準確抓距離的難度大大增加。就算看的到也不代表你可以準確操控你所要的距離:大亂鬥中角色的速度(相對於角色大小)比傳統格鬥遊戲快多了。看比賽旁述或都我本人感覺到某角色的距離不對而下一秒被打中時有發生,但事實上玩家在實戰中就是難以把距離抓好。另一個距離感在大亂鬥中難以練好的佐證就是當世第一人MKLeo就是這方面的專家,當然他解讀對手的能力也是天下無敵就是。

說到MKLeo就不得不提他那隻狼師貝雷特(Byleth),在普遍認為狼師只是mid-tier的環境下只有他用狼師多次奪冠。到底是大家對狼師的理解不及MKLeo好,還是他實在太強讓你們用廢個都能贏?

其實兩個都不是,狼師最特別的地方是可以在幾種武器之間切換。一般來說一個角色的擅長攻擊範圍是相對固定的,而且角色其他數值會圍繞攻擊範圍而調整。比如說擅長短距離攻擊的角色攻防數值會較高或都攻擊(判定)更為確實(持續/廣闊),而擅長遠距離攻擊的角色可能收招比較慢等等。但狼師透過切換武器可佔盡了長/短/重兵器的便宜,但身體數值卻不會隨之而變化!當然就算是酷愛聖火的櫻井也不會如此偏幫狼師,他在遊戲中偏慢且防守(重量)一般。但MKLeo的距離感足以彌補這方面的缺點而將狼師的潛力發揮到極致。

看他用狼師打比賽真的是一種享受。除了看Game 4 Leo和那種讓二追三的快感以外,看他比賽時那種覺得選手可以XXX的煩燥感也是最少的,這就足以證明他達到了玩家心中最高水平的證明。

以上,來自大亂鬥DX玩過5分鐘(2場)、X玩過不超過1小時、沒玩過特別版的人的胡言亂語。XD

其實我也有想過買來玩,不過想到要練幾百小時才能見效就有點怕。另一個擔憂來自那個瘋起來連炸彈人R也沒法好好玩的網絡大結界……

Saturday, 9 October 2021

夢.十夜 (7) Miss Fanta



也許是攻城戰過於剌激與累人,我們所有人都陷入了怠惓的狀態。群組裡最活躍的就數熊熊,不過她做的是把我們用不到的攻城戰獎品賣出去。這類限定卡的供求都在活動剛結束時達到頂峰,買賣雙方很容易就能比價跟配對。很多獎品卡除了卡面好看以外作用並非不可替代,在有興趣的收藏家都買到手以後它們的價值就會開始暴跌。沒法及時把它們賣出去的商家多半會把它們藏起來,在一段時間後以稀有品的名義再次掛牌販售。

既然能預期卡片價值會急跌,為何會有人急著在高價出手呢?這就是終戰幻想最獨特的地方:卡片與活動以極高的頻率交替,加上遊戲內留言版的限制使得這些卡片在市場上可以引起注意的時間極短,大概只有兩三天左右。不論是買方或賣方很快就要把精力投放到下一個活動裡去,根本容不下市場機制在那邊尋找平衡。可以在這種市場下左右逢源的玩家可謂鳳毛麟角,熊熊就是其中之一。

我並沒有把攻城戰隊伍排名的第二檔獎品,「雪之華」阿莉婭(Aria)交給熊熊,而是按著她建議用160瓶水的價格在玩家論壇上叫賣。這裡的(Potion)是回復體力用的藥水,與魔法時計(Time Elixir(TE))一樣是遊戲中去除CD的道具。因為在商城中可以直接用1美元1個的價格購得,所以被當成玩家之間的交易貨幣。

想當然,擺了一天沒有人理我。

第二天我把價格從160砍到135,然後開始也在自己的留言版上叫賣。這個促銷算是起了一點效果:一位玩家還價95被拒絕後再沒下文;另一位玩家在我睡覺的時候開價110,但我醒來的時候他已經從第三者手上買到,我的留言版上還留著第三者前來問該玩家110要不要的訊息。

一般來說這些沒實戰價值也不算超絕稀有的獎品卡,價值會掉到剛開始的一半左右,這張阿莉婭也不例外。交易版上登錄的最後交易價格為70瓶水,但這代表你跳出來賣65瓶水就能賣出去嗎?不,想收藏的人都已經買到,賣不出的人乾脆收回去自己看。大家都忙著準備下一個活動,這張幾天前還大賣的卡片已經為大家所遺忘,只能躺在卡片名冊裡封塵。我的阿莉婭也不例外:70瓶水已經沒比一般扭蛋出來的六星貴多少了,一個是限量90張,另一個是無限量供應,當然是把阿莉婭收起來比較划算。

接下來的一個月裡面Alex又辦了兩場線下飯聚,一次是慶功宴、一次只是剛好想組團吃飯,兩次我都剛好都沒法出席。巧合的是卡羅也沒有現身--這真的是巧合嗎?

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日子還是要過,活動還是要打。只是沒錢衝六七星獎勵又懶得衝五星獎勵,我的目標變成拿一張四星獎勵順便把送的水打下來。

在不投入任何資源的前提下,訓練活動之類的每小時操作一次就好,像競技場的活動則大概是十分鐘一次。這種操作頻率讓你有時候覺得這手遊很煩,有時候又讓你覺得無法離開遊戲。最誇張的一次是我洗澡到一半還要把手伸出來按下戰鬥的按鈕,回想起來都覺得可怕。

「選舉活動?那是甚麼?」

競技場活動剛結束的維修完畢,我重新登入遊戲時便已看到下一個活動的公告。我們有兩天休息時間,活動在48小時--不、算上維修的話45小時後準時開放。我習慣性地按進去看新活動的介紹,想說不好看的話又能跳過了,沒想到是新類型的活動。

按照小雨的介紹,這是一個跟比拼角色人氣的活動。

終戰幻想以可怕的速度推出新的卡片。這樣得開發者可以毫無顧忌地請極大量的繪師前來繪製卡片,然後篩選出最能吸引大家課金的繪師。只要別畫的太難看,隨便一個繪師都可以為這個遊戲畫上一兩個角色。但如果這一兩個角色的沒啥人氣的話那很抱歉,我們不會再找你了。

就算是那些畫了十張以上角色卡的繪師也不能掉意輕心。一旦靈感開始枯竭而畫不出吸引玩家的作品時開發者也會毫不留情地把你從必請繪師的名單中剔除。

只有那些通過時間的考驗,以每一兩個星期一張卡的頻率畫上數十個甚至上百個角色而仍然保持大熱的繪師,會成為開發者手上會下金蛋的寵兒。他們的檔期都直接被包下來為這個遊戲繪製角色,而遊戲也會不斷推出卡池或者活動來催谷這些繪師的人氣,選舉活動就是其中之一。

像「月下劍士」戴安娜這種夢幻卡片不但是頂端玩家的追求,其人氣也廣為一般玩家所知。與她的故事有所關連的角色人氣(價格)也因為她而連帶上升了不少。但這種限量五張的排名獎勵,要復刻是不可能的。遊戲本身也嚴守著一個角色不會出超過一張卡片的原則,這種情況下要復刻某角色可以怎樣辦呢?這時候他們就要一個名份讓他們打破規矩。選舉活動就是這個名份。

兩位遊戲裡公認最熱門的繪師加上三位外卡,從每個繪師的作品中各挑出一位熱門角色。以投票給這五位角色去競逐人氣王的活動,就是選舉活動。活動中人氣最高的兩位會在日後某個活動以新的卡片(alt)、新的服裝登場。不消說這兩張卡不會是排名獎勵而是卡池大獎,這樣才能吸引大家一起課金抽卡嘛。

與其他活動不同之處是,這活動並不是單人活動,也不是攻城戰那種自己組隊的活動。玩家先會挑選自己支持的角色,然後他們可以選擇創建隊伍或者被分配到已有隊伍裡面,分配的時候系統會優先將玩家分配到人數較少的隊伍。當大部分隊伍已經滿員時,玩家會被「分配」到全新的隊伍裡面。也就是說,他們不能直接挑選自己想進的隊伍。在隊伍裡玩家就是不斷打地圖刷分,而獎勵的發放都以小隊分數而不是個人分數為基準,目的大概是要將頂端戰力打散,讓這活動成為大家都能輕鬆投入的休閒活動。

理論上組出只有大佬的隊伍幾乎是不可能的。活動剛開始那點時間裡大家一窩蜂進來報名,新建隊伍多而新進來的玩家更多,他們肯定可以被分到一滿是活躍玩家的隊伍裡。不過這裡的活躍玩家可能只是平時排三四千的玩家,隊伍的下限有保證但不能期待更多。如果太晚進入活動的話,因為太多路人建隊而沒有足夠的玩家把這些隊填滿,新進來的玩家就只能被分配到這些一隊三四人的垃圾小隊裡面。

這個分隊的想法很美好,操作上卻藏著個漏洞。

在固定時間裡進入活動的活躍玩家與自願新建隊伍的比例隨時間而下降。前面是這個比太高而產生配隊的不確定性,後面是這個比例太低而每隊分不到足夠的活躍玩家。但這個比例接近15--每隊的最大人數--的瞬間,是這個機制唯一的破綻。

這個比例是15時代表了甚麼呢?每創一隊新隊伍就有15個活躍玩家進來剛好把新建的隊伍填滿。也許時同時有兩個新隊伍和30個活躍玩家進來進來,但這個瞬間代表了可以填滿新隊伍的前提下最低不確定性的時機。

不過知道有這個漏洞也不容易執行。玩家進了隊伍就不能退出,要「犧牲」一個玩家進入活動探路的話誰也不願意。就算真的有人願意這樣做,他能得到的資訊對決策的幫助也不大:太早進入活動的話只會看到隊伍被填滿,並不代表這是建隊的最佳時機;太晚進去發時隊佈伍填不滿了這個漏洞已經不復存在了。

這個時機只能憑經驗去估算,但這個活動只是第二次舉行,跟上次相比玩家的基數也不同,各路入馬也只能用猜的賭一個時機進場,一般是活動開始後一個小時。聽說15位玩家在最佳時機同時進入分配系統的話,有三分一可以配到同一隊裡已屬不錯,有一半的話就是奇跡。七八位頂端戰力在同一隊裡加上剩下的活躍玩家,足以在隊伍排名中拿到前三的成績。

對於大部分公會來說既然沒法好好組隊,那還不如休閒一點隨便打就好--大概除了我們。

群組裡對繪師的評價出奇地一致。簡單來說就是miso老師天下第一,apt老師第二,下面空兩檔才輪到其他繪師。雖然他們也是遊戲公認最熱門的兩位繪師,但整個群組都這樣如此熱愛miso老師的話是蠻特別的。

這次出選的五位分別是:

miso老師的「月下劍士」戴安娜(Diana)。卡片的人氣不用多說,上次開發商沒有挑這張人氣王出來被罵了很久。

apt老師的白髮死神「獵魂者」埃塞雷德(Ethelred)。與戴安娜同時期且同樣罕有的夢幻卡片。有小道消息指老師對這張作畫不太滿意,一直希望有機會為角色重畫一張,選舉活動就是她的大好機會。

Ryosios老師的紅髮鎗手「暗之護衛」艾芙蓮(Evelynn)。本來只是一個普通卡池裡面的二獎,因為高人氣而得到開發者的青睞,以她為核心展開帝國地下勢力的故事。

Ryuki老師的藍髮軍裝少女「騎士學徒」露西娜(Lucina)。與某策略遊戲的女主的名字、髮色和職業都巧合地一樣。不知道是否因為這樣累積了一定的人氣。

最後是來自studio eight英氣的持槍女將「城堡」(Rook)柯拉(Kora)。雖然的不是單獨一位繪師,但它是在遊戲裡掛名繪製最多卡片的一方。從它海量的作品中這張算是具代表性的一張。十五張的產量加上她在PVP裡面如同嘆息之牆一般的表現使她創下當時活動結束的一星期內,作為排名獎勵的她十五張裡只有一張流到市場上的驚人紀錄。

雖然這五個角色都是繪師各自的代表作,但比較總是殘酷的。非正式民調顯示戴安娜的支持率稍稍領先、埃塞雷德緊追在後、其他三位基本上無望。其實誰能以新卡片的形式出現早就決定好了,但這並不影響玩家參與活動來表達他們對角色的愛。

群組裡我們早就相約好一起參加這個活動。所謂一起參加就是約好一個時間同時進入活動,試圖被分配到同一隊裡去。如果都被分到不同的隊裡,甚至是被分到垃圾隊裡去的話刷分就沒意思了。如果能把一堆群組玩家配到同一隊裡的話,我們就可以用排行榜上的分數線看看要不要衝了。

唯一的問題是要怎樣決定在哪個時間點進入活動。這次出選的五位角色都是一時無兩的角色,參與活動的玩家一定比上次更多。但是具體又多了多少呢?他們會不會在剛開服就衝進去,還是跟我們一樣先觀望再進場?

到最後我們也只能按照上次的經驗下決定。上次我們派十位玩家在活動開始的大半小時進場,結果被分到四五隊裡去,最好的一隊有三位我們群組的人。感覺上我們上次就是太早進場了,所以這次的進場時間定了在活動開始後80分鐘。

「那就兩天後見,現在我可以專心上班囉!」阿飛如此寫道。

*

--能不能讓群組的人進到同一隊並不完全是機率問題,而是堆人數的問題。堆的人數越多,能配到同一隊裡的群組玩家就越多。我一定要準時跟大家衝進活動裡面。

我是這樣告訴自己的,但我卻遲到了。

匆匆忙忙地在手機裡打開遊戲,這已經是遊戲開始兩小時後的事了。雖然晚了四十分鐘的我幾乎注定與群友無緣(除非他們定下的時間點比最佳時間晚了一截導致隊伍填不滿而我又幸運的被分配進去吧),但我還是按下了「進入活動」的按鈕。

「……哇。」在街上的我看不清楚我被配到的隊伍具體有哪些玩家,但隊裡第一個人名就讓我哇了出來。

Yukichan--先叫她Yuki好了。她是上次攻城戰排名第三的公會Super Rangers的會長。我們在攻城戰裡也有交過手,結果當然是毫無參考價值的被轟個稀巴爛。聽群裡其他人提過,其他公會一般都是領頭人在遊戲社群裡挖角或者邀請其他成名高手組成公會,只有Super Rangers的成員都像是憑空出現那樣,自出道起就牢牢霸佔著頂端戰力的寶座。

活動期間隊伍有專屬的留言板,我們隊伍的留言板已經被Yuki用英文填滿:

「DO NOT OVERWRITE----
Hi everyone! This is officially the Super Rangers Team.
SRer or not, I hope you enjoy this event with us. I'd appreciate if you play hard and go for the top prize with us!
If you are interested in our tactical discussion please visit:...」

*

雖然是人氣選舉,但在活動的日程裡這只是間場墊時間用的。四天的活動規模與七天的攻城戰或者十四天的訓練活動完全不能比。不過這樣也好,因為這個活動並沒有甚麼出彩的地方,進對隊死命刷就贏了。

比如我所在的Super Rangers隊。

15名隊員裡面有9位本來就是他們公會的人,大部分都在上次攻城戰出現過。另外六人除了我還有三個活躍玩家,加起來就是13個刷子了。要知道就是算剛開活動時組成的隊伍也有一堆進去躺平混分的,一隊裡面13個活躍玩家刷起來根本擋不住嘛。最後我們隊伍排名拿了個第三,剛好可以拿到第一檔獎勵--有趣的是,他們在活動最後兩天明顯放緩了刷分速度,剛好拿第三似乎是早已計劃好的,這個等下再說。

群組裡他們的分組不好也不壞,十個群友裡有四個人進到同一隊。他們沒有像我們隊那樣吃水猛刷,不過至少也全是把體力用光身體力行地支持他們所愛的繪師了。

至於我,在這短短幾天的活動裡有了兩個收獲。

第一個收獲當然是隊伍排名獎勵。這是我第一次取得第一檔的獎勵,發給三隊一共四十五張,雖然比不上某些夢幻卡片,至少也算是非常稀有了。這張七星獎勵卡是apt老師所繪的「戰爭女神」拉娜[Lana]。畫中白髮女騎士左手持盾,右手高舉長劍,頗有女武神騎行的風范。更特別的是她身後的背景還藏了五個角色,正是這次出選的五人。可以預見的是不管這張拉娜實戰好不好用,她的收藏價值都比一般的獎勵角色更高。

順帶一提,這次排名獎勵的角色們所附帶的故事是圍繞五位背景完全不同的出選角色之間偶遇的故事。開發者把故事分成了五份放在五張獎勵角色裡面。參與獎上面的故事是第一部分,第四檔次的獎勵上面的故事是第二部分,如此類推,我手上的拉娜則代表了故事的結局--也就是說,只有拿到第一檔獎勵的人才有資格看到結局。雖說卡片可以借給別人讓他們把故事解鎖,不過如果以後每個活動的故事也這樣搞的話頂端玩家應該會被煩死,希望開發商不要持續使用這套暗黑商法吧。

另一個收獲對我來說,甚至比拉娜更重要--我遇見了某位玩家。

沒錯,那就是Super Rangers的會長Yuki。

對大部分玩家來說,玩這個遊戲的主要目的都是娛樂,有一部分是找外快。像我一樣從數字中找到樂趣的……除了我以外就只有她了吧。

隊裡留言板的連結通向了她們公會的聊天群組。當然我的權限只能看到跟這次活動有關的訊息,不過這些足以讓我了解到她們公會的指揮風格--Yuki強勢指揮,其他隊員準確地執行她的指示。

顯然我的群組裡對隊伍分配的理解Yuki也知道。比起盲目地猜測進入活動的時機,她採取了更進取的做法:從活動開始的45分鐘起每五分鐘便派一個空殼帳號進入活動,並且記錄各自隊伍人數的成長曲線。她們在上一個選舉活動也做了同樣的事情,兩者一比對就知道最佳進入活動的時機。

確定隊上有多少活躍玩家以後,她們便開始瘋狂地刷分。顯然我們隊上刷分的隊員比別隊都要多,很快我們便爬到前三,更一度進佔第一名。這時就別提Alex他們有多羨慕了--除了拉娜要借他們把故事解鎖以外,我差點就答應熊熊讓她代我把拉娜賣掉。

到了第二天一半她們忽然把刷分的步伐緩了下來。原來透過紀錄前十名的分數進度她們大概算出了其他隊伍的最大刷分能力,藉此算出與第四名的安全距離。也就是說,只要保持這個安全距離,就算下面的隊伍突然發難也不太可能反超我們。

當時我們的領先幅度遠超計算出來的安全距離。這也是理所當然的:有人數優勢又有人一直刷分很難不把別隊拋到後面。Yuki的指示是放慢刷分但不要停下來,最好讓第四名開外的隊伍直接放棄衝上來的念頭。對於我這個外人她說不需要用水,按自己步調刷分就好。

到了第四天後面的隊伍真的都放棄了,我們也順理成章地停下刷分。這幾天還有一個小插曲:終戰幻想在社交平台上發文表示只要有足夠的「讚」就會讓第三名也獲得重製。本來讚數一直都遠遠落後目標,但到了第四天突然來了一大波讚讓讚數直接達標。不知道這一波讚是開發商買的還是某位熱愛艾芙蓮、露西娜或者柯拉其中一位的玩家所買的呢?如果是後者的話希望他所支持的角色能獲得第三名吧。

就這樣,選舉活動就結束了。

戴安娜輕鬆奪下第一名,埃塞雷德的第二也是固若金湯,第三名由艾芙蓮拿下。後面三位本來就各有特色,誰贏了都不意外。不過作為普通卡池的角色,艾芙蓮在平民玩家之間的人氣會比另外兩張尊爵不凡的角色高那麼一點點吧?

我拿著拉娜心滿意足地在Super Rangers的群組裡道謝了一番,正打算退出這個不屬於我的群組時,Yuki居然給我發來了訊息。

「Thanks for joining the event and supporting miso. I hope you enjoy your Lana coz I think she will be exceptionally valuable among the top tier prize cards ^_^」

作為英文手遊大部分玩家自然也都用英文溝通,Super Rangers裡的群組也不例外。我也用英文回覆道:「I am so grateful to be part your team who absolutely smashed the event with those mighty potions. I almost feel bad to take Lana without actually spending :P」

「My strategy wouldn't have worked without you guys. You deserved to keep your Lana after all :)」

「It's impressive to find your commands carried through. Reminds me of how your team humiliated mine in the last guild battle >^<」

「Apologies for that but my team eyed at the individual ranks so we needed to smash quite a bit. You still did a great job and ranked much higher than anticipated :D」

她知道我們的排名比預期高嗎?我回覆道:「How do you know that we overperformed? But yeah we somehow defeated the Gods of Olympus, giving us the extra edge to win the second tier reward. I reckon this is the best we can do without investing a lot more, but my team probably isn't ready for that.」


「If that's the case...」


「妳有興趣成為Super Rangers的一份子嗎?」


這句用的是中文。

*

按慣例對應的卡片可以在這裡找到,出於尊重我就不把繪師的名字改掉了。miso老師天下第一!

Fanta很多活動其實本質上都是枯燥至極的機械性刷圖,甚麼策略性根本不存在--只要攻力夠高和技能夠好就行。但是只要用有趣的活動機制把刷圖包裝起來要釣玩家進去玩還是可以的,至少能釣到我這種愛研究數字的人。

說到手遊裡開辦各種不同花樣的活動,火紋英雄(Fire Emblem Heroes)也是絞絞者之一。他們光靠角色小人就能弄出十幾種不重複的活動,看那堆小人各種互動應該是不少玩家的樂趣之一吧。只要不是純刷分(比如戰渦(Tempest Trial))的活動,大多都有用數學研究的空間。我就曾經寫過關於投票戰(Voting Gauntlet)大壓制戰(Grand Conquest)的策略分析,有興趣在我的blog裡找FE Heroes標籤的文章就能看到了。

事實上手遊那個標準的戰鬥過程(抽象意義上的戰鬥,比如棒球養成的棒球賽、賽馬娘的比賽日)重複幾百幾千次以後就會變得枯燥乏味。手遊必需有其他的賣點才能將玩家留下來。比如FGO的故事和世界觀(雖然我仍然不能理解可以去pixiv委託就能收到更多高質作品的東西為何不要反而要在手遊裡瘋狂課金),比如各種音遊手遊的新曲。Fanta能留住玩家當然不是那堆換著花樣包裝無腦刷圖的活動,而是那獨步天下的出卡速度。賽馬娘就是常規內容又肝又悶玩家才會逐漸流失,不過大概cy也不會在意吧?趕快跑去新的()()割別的韭菜更好賺。

最後說說遊戲聊天群的問題。如果發生在2021的話大家用的肯定是Discord吧,但Fanta早期的2013這個時間點十分尷尬:MSN已經倒下、Skype在遊戲玩家群中並非主流、Line只限台灣人、遊戲用的RC別限港台地區而且廣告超多。當時我在Osu開會也只是用遊戲iirc+其他語音聊天室,直到後來他們才跟Discord進行整合。

說來慚愧,當年我玩Fanta的時候用的是QQ。但是如果你問我小紅和她的好夥伴們用甚麼聊天的話,那就讓我們假設MSN當時仍然是主流吧……

Friday, 1 October 2021

30/9/2021: 中文書/咖啡館/推理

好久沒有摸到實體中文書了,人在海外就是有這個不方便。又笨又重的書運起來就本來不便宜,更別說疫情期間航運瘋狂漲價,連一般空運都寄不出去,只能天價托速遞公司投送過來。

儘管如此,我還是訂了好幾本實體書滿足了一下我的書癮,其中一本便是咖啡廳6。

請別在意那瓶威士忌。本來是買來沖咖啡用的卻發現這瓶比我預期中柔滑許多,沖咖啡太浪費了直接拿來喝吧。

怎麼說呢。可以看出這本第六集比起三年前的第五集,風格改變了不少,連封面繪師都換了一個。不過莫說專業作家,就連間中寫幾個小故事的我三年前後寫出來都完全不同(看夢十夜前後就知道了),岡崎老師在後記也有提到這種轉變。這種改變並非一定是壞事,畢竟作者會變,書中角色也會變,定下硬框架有時只會令創作變得綁手綁腳。至少我看得出岡崎老師有寫出他想要的東西而我也樂在其中,這樣就夠了。

我個人對這種以藝術品為核心展開謎題的推理作品不太感冒就是。如果你本身對該藝術領域有一點認識的話也許會樂在其中,否則書中角色三言兩語可以恍然大悟,你卻還是一頭霧水。類似的作品還有京都四條的福爾摩斯(為甚麼都是京都?因為只有他們才這麼假掰吧(誤)),一些花語謎語某程度上都會引起這種感覺。古書房算是一個例外,因為作者在有關文學上花了極大篇幅作介紹;並不只是剛好把需要的情報抖出來的程度,而是讓讀者也能理解作品魅力的程度。這樣大部分讀者都可以浸沉在作者的世界中進行推理。

比起之前女主角美星小姐開天眼推理更像回歸到本格推理。這次的謎題相對簡單,該給的提示用消去法就能聯想得到,部份行為舉止的違和感也有意無意幫助了讀者往正確的方向去猜想。不過簡單歸簡單,那句說話與那個動機都給一種逆轉的味道--說起來又一集Nintendo Direct過去了,我們的逆轉7呢?

我記得大概十年前掀起過一次日本推理小說的熱潮,那時稍有名氣的推理小說都會被翻成中文上架。然而這熱潮兩三年就散去了,架上只剩下那些看一次就會蒙塵的作品。那時就有前輩跟我說作品就像韭菜,生出來也要時間的,收割太快就不好吃了。那時候「韭菜」一詞還沒被廣泛使用,現在回頭看的話應該說大概只是日本韭菜長的不夠快吧?

Thursday, 9 September 2021

被青梅竹馬抓來(略) (3):書上火球術下一頁百分之九十都是水球術

Character design: @kuonyuu, Illust: @蛍石 commissioned by forretrio. Pixiv
Editing and re-posting are prohibited // 無断転載、無断使用禁止です


除了班級本身特化的方向以外,學園大部分的課都是共通的。比如當作士官培養的學生會上專門為他們準備、有關政治經濟的課程,像魔法這些其他科目則會上年級共通的課。

魔法科也一樣,庫里斯只需負責魔法的部分,其他科目都是年級共通的課。當然考慮到魔法科的特殊性,開個小灶另外請一些大人物來客串並不奇怪。

魔法的存在與使用在這個世界並不是甚麼秘密,但魔法並沒有普及的原因不外乎擁有魔法資質人材的稀缺以及國家的方針。有魔法天賦的人如果想要學個簡單的火球術的話並不困難,大一點的圖書館都能找到相關的書籍。

那書本是怎樣教你的呢?

深呼吸、感受感受魔力的流動、唸出一段咒文、擺出姿勢後發射。沒經過訓練但身體有魔力的人大部分只要按著指示做都能射出火球。

你說射出來的火球跟火苗一樣弱?咒文不唸出來默念可以嗎?姿勢有點中二能不能換一個?抱歉,書上沒有寫。火球術下一頁百分之九十都是水球術,因為很多人不小心把火球亂射出去差點就把自己家給燒了。

在冒險者生涯中庫里斯遇過很多這種半吊子魔法師,尤其是在缺乏培訓體系的邊境那邊。這類魔法師多半專精於一個小分支的魔法而對其他魔法一竅不通,她們在隊伍中只能擔當固定角色而沒法為隊伍帶來質變。這類依靠天生神力的魔法師的天花板也就二三流隊伍的後排輸出,上級隊伍根本不會想要。

成為強力魔法師的關鍵在於使用魔法背後的理論基礎:為甚麼這樣可以那樣不可以,怎樣改進魔法之類的知識全被牢牢掌握在這所學園--或者說貴族與少數精英--手上。對於國家來說放著有魔法資質的平民在那成為平庸的魔法師有點浪費,把他們吸納進來成為權貴才可以確保階級的穩定性。

庫里斯對這個精英制度並沒有甚麼怨恨,更沒妄想過要打破這個圈子。既然已經接下了這份工作,思考怎樣才能教好學生才是最重要的。

能進入魔法科的有兩種人,一是高階貴族所推派的人選。這些貴族子女即便沒經過嚴苛的考試選拔也肯定在家中接受過良好的教育,包括魔法理論。唯一比較麻煩的是不少家族都在屬性上有所偏好,所以他們每個的知識背景都略有不同。另一批學生則是通過層層選拔進來的學生。他們體質上天生神力不用多說,學習能力方面必然也是最頂尖的。他們的缺點也很明顯,就是沒有接觸過像樣的魔法基礎知識。

要在一班裡處理兩批背景截然不同的學生一點也不輕鬆。自從他放出了將授課時間大幅縮減的豪言以後,來自學生與其他教師的質疑就沒有停過。畢竟這是個背負著國家未來的職位。

要同時照顧背景不同的學生們又要減少授課時數的話,照著舊有大綱走的方法肯定是行不通了。單純將部份課題刪去也不行,畢竟知識環環相扣,部份課題的缺失可能影響到剩下課題的理解。

那樣的話方法就剩一個了--重構底層的理論架構,使他們可以更快速地吸收新的知識就好了。

學園流傳下來的大綱中,理論架構是分成三年一層層疊上去的。當學生升上新的年級時他們就會接觸到更深一層的理論,然後在該學年剩下的時間裡學習這些新的理論如何應用在不同的領域上。

將這些理論基礎一口氣堆好並非不可能,只是學生會比較難理解而已。通過實踐自己學到的理論,他們可以理解到這些理論的用處和缺點。這些經驗都可以幫助理解深一層的理論。另一方面,不論是學習能力強大的平民學生還是接觸過魔法理論的貴族學生都具備「跳級」的條件。這樣教的話的確可以省去很多時間。

剩下就是教學風格的問題了。

雖然他只在學園待了半年,但他深知能不能吸引學生聽課的分別有多大。

當年教他那個老頭是個鑽研火屬性的狂熱分子。每次他上課都用最快的速度唸完,然後把時間都花在講解火魔法上面。想當然他教出來的學生中擅長火屬性的也是異常地多,多到大家都受不了而投訴,這也是傳聞中他退下來的理由之一。

出身一般的庫里斯小時候自然沒有專人指導,他當初可以打趴一整班正是因為他天生擁有的深厚魔力。但是讓他完全發揮潛力的卻是作為冒險者使他在學園那一丁點時光所學的逐漸領悟過來。所以要以實戰為目標培養他們嗎?顯然不行,實戰的危險性相當高,對初學者來說更是如此。況且他們一大部分人將來並不需要參與任何戰鬥,正如他們一大部分人並不需要成為火屬性大師一樣。

要吸引他們最直接的做法就是把理論跟他們有興趣的領域連結起來,可是初來報到的他不可能知道學生們的喜好。

只能見步行步了吧?他這樣想道。不管怎樣,然後對著學園流傳下來的課綱奮筆疾書了起來……

*

魔法屬性與適性,是今天的課題。

作為整個課程的開端,其他班級一起上的一年級魔法課是這樣的:按著課本將不同屬性的魔法簡介一遍,順便示範幾個坊間也能學會的小法術當例子甚麼火球術啦、水球術之類的。按課本的話來說就是感受一下不同屬性的魔法之間的區別。至於魔法適性就不過就是每個人最適合的屬性而已,至於適性的原理?以後再說。

按這種步調教的話能教完才奇怪。

「提醒一下大家,屬性不能光用表象去判斷喔。」

「我舉一個例子。」庫里斯像往常一樣坐在講台上開講。只見他打了一個響指,一團散發著強烈光芒的鮮藍色火焰出現在他的指頭上。只見他從不知甚麼地方掏出了一片花瓣,花瓣還沒掉到火焰上就已經化為飛灰:「這團火一看就是火魔法了吧。那這個呢?」藍色的火焰消失了,取而代之的是一朵小小的火花。另一片花瓣浮在火花上方沒有被直接點燃,而是慢慢地枯乾散開。

「覺得這個算火魔法的話舉個手~」不出意外,絕大部分有在聽講的人都把手舉了起來。

「看到有火光還是會覺得是火魔法也很正常。那這個又如何呢?」這次他攤開手掌,上面甚麼都沒有。他再次掏出花瓣,這次花瓣在手掌上方一個無形的旋風中打著圈。

「--雖然大家沒法看到,但是我掌上的空氣的確被我的魔法加熱了一點點,大概是洗澡時浴室的溫度吧。這樣我該稱它為火魔法嗎?覺得這個算火魔法的話再舉個手~」他們想了很久,最後只有三分一學生把手舉了起來。

「這次覺得不是火魔法的人比較多呢。可是我們到底該怎樣斷定甚麼才是火魔法呢?要加熱才算火魔法嗎?剛才也有加熱為甚麼不算火魔法,是因為不夠熱嗎?還是要有一團火才算火魔法?」

「要解答這些問題我們要先把魔法本身的特質與它們所造成的結果分開來看。」庫里斯意念稍動,黑板就浮現出一條線把左右分開來,左邊是「本質」,右邊是「結果」:「結果會隨外在因素而改變,而本質則相反。比如我所放出來的一團火焰把花瓣燒成飛灰,但如果我沒法花瓣拿去燒掉,化灰就不會發生。因此燒掉東西是這個魔法的結果。反過來說,這團火是每次發動同樣魔法都會生出來的,所以是這個魔法的本質。」

「我們一直使用的屬性是按魔法的本質分類的,所以你們剛才看到前兩個魔法都算火魔法喔。至於那個加熱空氣的魔法,魔法造成的空氣流動是本質,溫度的變化是結果。所以這個並不屬於火魔法喔。」

「我們將依屬性將魔法分類,不單是為了更系統地學習和研究魔法,也是考慮到魔法適性的問題。你們應該知道甚麼叫魔法適性吧?」

一位同學舉手答道:「是身體在發動不同屬性的魔法時對魔力所產生的阻力。阻力越低,施行魔法就越流暢,相對的適性也較好。」

「嗯,非常好。雖然我很想繼續討論分辨屬性的話題,不過既然提到了適性那就講一下這東西好了。畢竟你們的適性對日後個別指導的方針影響很大呢。」

「我沒記錯的話,入學測試都只會檢查你們申報最強屬性的能力吧?但事實上絕大多數人都會擁有兩個屬性以上的良好適性。即便是那些專精於單一屬性的貴族,他們的子嗣也不會因此失去其他屬性的適性。比如說皇家一直都有光屬性的傳承,但是次公主殿下的水魔法也相當優秀呢。」

「入學測試只檢查一種屬性可以確保一般學生沒資源開發其他屬性而吃虧,也能保障專精於那些長期透過遺傳強化某一屬性的家族,是個很好的評分方法。不過在學校裡把時間都放在單一屬性上就太浪費了。」

「每個屬性組合之間的配合都不完全相同。比如說老師我冰和風屬性的適性都不錯。冰魔法顯然能附到風魔法上,夾雜著冰粒的風暴殺傷力可是十分可怕的呢。」

「又比如說火跟冰這兩種屬性看似不相容,但仔細想想的話這兩種魔法也可以互相配合的。我就看過有人用冰魔法製造濃霧掩護火球的打法,更不用說本來就有些冰魔法可以為對方帶來負面效果,配上直白的火魔法簡直是天作之合。」

「因為可以操作多重屬性的魔法師帶來戰術上的靈活法,這些人在隊伍裡都是難以取代的。就算不考慮戰鬥,我聽說可以純熟操作三種屬性的人都可以輕鬆成為宮庭魔法師。這對你們不少人來說應該是當初學習魔法的時夢想吧?」

「當然每個人的興趣和適性都不一樣,我也沒要打算讓在坐每位都要開發第二屬性才行。不過想象一下還是可以的吧?這就是你們第一份作業--挑選一個你們不是最擅長的屬性,然後探討一下修練那個屬性的魔法對你們有多大幫助。探討不一定要非常嚴謹,可以從你使用該屬性的魔法時的體驗出發,腦內模擬戰得來的結論也可以。」

「這份作業算是安排個別指導的一部分,希望你們認真想一下,老師我會逐一詳細回應喔。」

「那麼~今天的課就到這裡為止了。下午是社團活動的時間,你們玩得開心一點喔。」

……

*

這所校園毫無疑問充斥著階級的氣息。貴族與平民的入學難度不同,進來以後待遇也往往不同。

與之相比,社團活動是比較平等的部分。校方一直鼓勵學生按興趣去加入或者創立社團,而且對新人的友好程度也會影響每年社團的考核。在這種環境下一堆奇奇怪怪的社團如「轉生文學俱樂部」與「地下城食材研究會」等都得以存活下來,裡面甚至不難找到貴族參與其中。

反過來說,不經社團舉辦的活動的小圈子味道就重得多了。比如學生會定期舉辦收集學生意見的會議,一般只有每個班級的代表們才能出席。

又比如,茶會。

作會貴族們的社交方式,茶會的傳統也被帶到校園裡面。與一般下午茶不同,作為主人的主辦方必須親自準備茶點以示招待之道。除非是主人的朋友或者地位匹配的人,否則沒有受到主人邀請的話是不能參與該茶會的。受邀的客人日後有機會也會舉辦茶會邀請主人參加,以示禮貌。

剛剛開學高年級學生舉辦茶會敘舊,新進來的學生舉辦茶會招兵買馬,校園裡能舉辦茶會的房間早就被搶光了。誰也沒注意到,在導師辦工室大樓的休息室裡面,此刻也舉辦了一場「茶會」。

「……你這樣是不會有人來的,」在沙發上金髮女性輕輕喝了一口茶:「很多年沒喝過你泡的茶了,至少你現在的茶藝對得起茶葉的檔次了呢。」

脫去了披風換上西裝的庫里斯在一旁正擺弄著點心,他正是這次茶會的主辦者。茶葉並不是來自他的庫存而是剛買到手的秋天第一採,特徵是帶果仁香氣的前韻與花香般的回甘。點心當然不是他自己烤的而是在帝都中有名的烘培店訂回來的。這樣辦一次茶會一點都不便宜,所以這種活動當然不會在平民學生之間流行起來,不過這點錢對冒險多年的庫里斯來說還不算甚麼。

「第一個星期讓他們玩自己的就好了,我這個茶會算是試試水溫,願者上釣嘛。」

「你的學生下課就能找你了。其他班級的學生就算想接近你,在摸清楚你的性格以前也不可能參加你的茶會。也不說你根本沒有通知任何人,你覺得有人路過剛好很閒又很想跟你喝茶的機會有多大呢?」

庫里斯並沒有反駁。他從每個點心盤上都夾出一件依鹹甜逐一放到三層的點心架上然後放到她的面前:「嘛~你還是漏了一個可能性。我把你的名字也貼在門外了,比起階級幾乎跟平民沒兩樣的我,想要見你的人也許會多一點吧?」

「那其實還有第三個可能性,就是你只是想請我過來喝茶。對吧?」她只看了庫里斯一眼便從那極力掩飾的笑容中看出個大概,不過她並不討厭在公餘的時候跟他在一起。她拈起一塊三文治放入口中,好一會後她道:「嗯,這家不錯。畢竟不是剛做出來的,麵包的口感不能要求太多。不過如果是你的話應該可以把溫度降下去以保持新鮮吧?」

正要掏出本年度剛出爐「帝都下午茶指南」炫耀一番的庫里斯只好縮回去默默的為自己湊一份點心架。他把點心架放到她對面,然後為兩人斟好了茶。一切已經準備就緒,當他以為他的二人「茶會」可以正式開始時,門外卻不合時宜地傳來敲門聲。

「不好意思,這是庫里斯老師……呃……茶會嗎?」一名男學生推門而入,庫里斯當然認出了他就是那個想用水桶坑他的學生,克萊伊。

「嗯~可以這樣說,不過非正式一點也沒關係,你是老師我今天第一位客人喔。」他轉身走向食物盤,卻聽見身後傳來一聲驚呼。

「星星星星星韻小姐是你嗎?」好歹也算貴族的克萊伊毫無禮儀地叫喊著。

「是我沒錯,你認識我嗎?」她保持著優雅的笑容回應道。

=============

這篇很早就寫好了。但我對那個屬性的世界觀一直不太滿意,一直改才拖到現在。

15年前還是那個用MSN的時代,我不知為何莫名奇妙地在狀態欄上寫了一句「魔法存在的意義為何?」然後先後遭到學姐跟老師的「關切」。並不是那種罰留堂見家長的關切,而是被詳細介紹了存在主義不同學派的見解。可惜我愛的是小說的世界觀而不是這些哲學理論。

世界上魔幻題材很多,但詳細討論魔法本質的作品幾乎沒有,歸根究抵這不是作品的重點。比較接近是以校園為題材的作品,多多少少會在上課是提到一下,不過也只是輕輕帶過而已。出名如哈利波特,裡面與上課有關的內容多不勝數,但可以稱之為理論的卻是少之又少。雖然霍格華茲參考了英式中學的3-2-2結構與英式名校的教育風格,但羅琳筆下的教學內容與地球上同齡英國學童所接受的教育深度是完全不同的。

在這方面的探討上起點的哈利同人文顯然走得更遠。作為轉生者(大部分都是轉生吧,或者至少有哈利本傳的認知)在那校園裡不是學生就是教授。學生的話多半忙著取代哈利成為救世主,但成為教授的話就不得不提到教學的內容了。詳細是哪幾本我不太方便說,但以「哈利」和「教授」為關鍵詞的話應該能找到好幾本佳作的。

另一邊廂日本的作品顯然更速食,他們更不會把精力投放在這種沒有剌激感的內容上面。多寫一節上課還不如多寫一節龍傲天開掛耍帥泡妹呢。少數的例外可以數到魔法科高中的劣等生--我絕對不會說魔法科的名字從這邊而來。實際上我考慮了好幾個不同的名字,還是叫魔法科最順口。魔劣大前期的確花了不少文筆去描述不同的魔法系統。不過這種描述最大的缺陷是,由於魔劣屬於近未來的世界線,他們對魔法的理解是以目前地球科技力為前提而作出來的。這樣就十分尷尬,一些號稱魔法能做的事,用科技的角度來看卻是不合理的。不是「魔法做出科技做不了的事」,這很正常;而是「魔法做得了的事,配合現有科技水平顯然可以發揮出比書中更強的效果」。如何詮釋未知的「科技」本來就是科幻小說的難關之一,這就是為甚麼魔幻作品取工業革命前歐洲為參照會自然很多。

這裡插一句題外話。魔幻作品中也有不少探討魔法與科技之間矛盾的作品,當中又以麻瓜和魔法界天然隔絕的哈利世界觀最為方便。我看過最有趣的一個說法是,即使在哈利的官方作品中魔法界也是明顯地衰落下去:從初代黑魔王到老佛老鄧到哈利,三代人的整體戰力都是往下的。更不用提同人裡一般用到的

始世代(阿瑟王-四位創始人)--魔世代(初代黑魔王-一戰)--祖世代(老佛學生時代-二戰後)--親世代(莉莉-詹姆四人組-老石的學生時代)--子世代(正傳)--孫世代(哈利後代)

分類,每過一代魔法戰力與傳承都呈斷崖式下跌。好幾篇同人都不約而同地問:這個是拒絕科學的後果,還是天道(有/無意識)所為?(類似的問題還有修仙題材裡面太古時代必定是靈力充沛神魔亂舞的時代,不過那個時間跨度太大也完全脫離地球框架,實在難以比較)

所以既然我有機會寫到教學的東西,當然不能錯過這個描述世界觀的機會囉。雖然我的重心還是放在自己領悟到的教育理論和方式就是。

另外很感謝各位接我委的繪師,最近的是蛍石老師和塩魚老師!托你們的福我對庫里斯有了更立體的想象,寫起來更有動力了!他們的繪圖應該會也配在小說中發出,不過看我推特就已經能看到啦。

接下來我會先回去寫夢.十夜吧。那邊的時間線也該推進一下了。

*庫里斯這次使用的是MF的秋收大吉嶺Autumnal Valley,同樣非常推薦喔。

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Neo TWEWY review (4): story and thoughts

*Spoilers alert! This part of review containing spoilers all the way up to the secret reports.

The final part of my review, on the story itself. So be warned that all spoilers are possible!


Again, it is not easy to give a full contextual analysis on the development of Rindo in the story, but I agree with what the secret report says: this is a story of Rindo taking responsibility in contrast to Neku trusting his partner in OG.



Structure

The structure is simple following the 3 weeks framework. Week 1 is an orientation and of course they failed to clinch victory. Week 2 is the transition because they now know about the game but they still failed to win, and they find something shady behind. Week 3 assuming a big story we should be facing someone above the GM level, and whoever to be the boss must have done something extraordinary that is unwrapped during the week.

NEO follows such frame closely. They spent time learning to play as a team in week 1 "just short of" reaching the top. They did well in week 2 taking other teams head on and still failed to clinch the top while discovering the truth about the Ruinbringers. Week 3 is a plain 1v1 between the team and Chiba (and his underlings). 

Puns from the past

Oh and the producers throw OG memes here and there. Whenever that happened it brings a smile on my face. 

"Focus---"
"Yo phones!"
"Tin pin slammer!"
"Still remember reaper creeper?"
...

If you want to give a message, you will probably need better encoding than a plain ternary system.

Jokes aside, most of the 2000-ish elements were gone from the game. Not only Tin Pin Slammers but also reaper creeper (which is mildly popular in the pre-computer era), folding phones (and gadgets modification like in OG), stories around phone booths (so popular in the 90s) and so on. For those who know OG so well like they have played OG yesterday like me, it's just weird to find that all the old technology had been replaced in 3 in-game years whereas it has been 13 years in reality. This is not a criticism and this is necessary, the only to blame is Square Enix who halted NEO development back in 2012.

Time reversal

What differs is how the missions are solved. This is due to the difference in mission style (as the GM changes) and also how teams interact. More importantly, how the rewind skill is utilized.

In theory you can do very complicated things with such talent. By going back and forth, one can obtain pieces of information seemingly impossible to be known in the past. These information can be used to lead the user to the correct path in the future.

This approach is observed in a number of detective games like Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney or Zero Time Dilemma(/Escape) where players have to decide which timeline to jump onto and what to do in those timelines in order to grind something fresh out of them.

Of course NEO is not a detective based game so the produced didn't bother to trick players -- in fact, the instruction to players is extremely clear as dropped by Rindo on his mental notes. (The hardest non-combat part lies on the consecutive multiple choices. Reaper's review is easy but the conversations with a Pureheart and with Shoka are so hard!)

As a result the game took a much simpler approach to how Rindo uses his talent if he found that the sequence X->Y->Z didn't work then you can first rewind and correct Z to Z'. If that's not enough you rewind further to correct Y to Y' and X to X'...then you just proceed with everything corrected. That applies even to the grand final on W3D7: the team is exhausted after fighting Shiba and they won't be able to take down Soul Pulvis (the bird noise), so they go back trying to avoid the fight with Chiba; to avoid the fight you need to get someone to persuade him, so you find the reapers...

Such story is linear and easy to understand. Although some players may found that repetitive as your last conclusion coincides with your next action. I also wonder that in a number of days the rewind is actually triggered because "you possibly cannot defeat the opponent" -- but we players have proved that we are so good in the combats. Why can't we just take the fights in the hard way? Of course Rindo didn't know clearly that rewinding come at a cost, but it would be fun if we can do those fights by ourselves say in postgame. For example on W1D5 I wouldn't mind taking 20 DRS members (bet they don't have such a big team) plus the golden pig. This is just a matter of diffusion beam massacre right?

The rewind structure is mostly simple. Rindo basically have to correct 2 or 3 things before he can go ahead and change the fate except on W3D7. On that day it's 90 minutes of pure cutscenes (under autoplay) without any fights repeating the "correction" process. 

Some players may find it too long, especially who wants a damn long dialogue when you are on full gear towards the end. I had the same feeling when I first cleared OG back in 2008: it was a family gathering and I started the game with the Konishi fight after dinner. I played and fought all the way through, but it took me much longer than expected. When I finally saw the end of the day it was already 12:30AM with a few adults grunting outside. It's easy to understand why people are not happy with that. 

Still I would say such approach is good in terms of storytelling because you want to focus on Rindo and his team as much as possible throughout the 3 weeks. It is already much harder to unveil the story around Rindo as he now has many more characters around him comparing with OG, and you don't want to add further disturbance on it. 

The key characters on the final time reversal is certainly Kaie and Rhyme. The producer knew that and had them showing up at the end of the days time to time. It's like having the ingredients prep'd beforehand -- sensitive players would have already known what's going on, then the actions taken on W3D7 would come smoothly.

Impressions on the OG characters

The OG characters undoubtedly took an essential role in the game, and accounts a crucial part of player's love on the game. To those ingame characters 3 years have passed but to the players outselves 13 years have passed. This difference could cause deviation on how player expects the characters to behave in the NEO timeline. I want to express my feeling on some OG characters briefly here.

Neku: he seemed much more mature than expected. Even with his mental growth in OG (and in the new days in the final remix) he never behave like that. He is more like a big brother only giving advice when necessary. I think that's a correct decision because we need space for NEO characters to grow -- just look at what happened to Appollo Justice Ace Attroney when Phoenix Wright refused to step down.

Beat: I never noticed that his hair is blonde in OG till I looked back after his appearance in NEO. He stays the same as in 3 years ago and this is kind of expected.

Rhyme: cute and heartwarming as ever. We didn't know much about her in OG other than her interactions with Beat but her personality shown in NEO isn't very surprising either.

Shiki: she deserves more air time other than her two encounters with Neku. It would be a nice starting point for the producers to fill the gap on what happened during the 3 years. OG, the animation and the final remix all failed to explain the change in appearance for her and I kind of want to know why too.

Josh: my impression on him is seriously distorted by his outlook and voice, both much more mature than expected, even though his personality stays the same considering that he isn't really a teenager.

Sho: the mysterious character in both OG and NEO, but his background and intention is prelly clearly explained by Coco, the secret report and himself. Luckily now he is under the supervision of Coco.

Eiji "Prince F" Oji: yes please continue to F everything :D

I wonder what was Shiki doing during the fight. She can't stand in the middle of the crossing right?

Questions unsolved

The nature that everything is caused by moved made from the "higher planes" decided that the story can't possibly be decoded in full, thus the need of secret report. However the reports were in an oblique style and some questions remain unanswered. Here are the few that always tick my heart during the years:

- Josh's stance on the "old" Shibuya in OG was never clear. Was it the lack of creativity/imagination or is it simply boring that he decided to destroy Shibuya? 

- In a similar way what happened to Shijuku's inversion? This is a question even deeper: the inversion happened after the 3 weeks timeframe in OG. Is the motivation of Haz related to Josh's? Why must it be an inversion, a bold act with severe consequences, rather than purification or other form of cleansing?

- While my memories on the final remix has been fading away, I think we need more details on Coco to complete the story because she's one of the few that has clear association with both the Shibuya and Shinjuku branch. According to secret report (Neo#22) she's (not sure why it was written as "he" in the report) the one who drew the Shinjuku inversion report. If we were to know more details about that it's probably from her mouth.

- The "fact box": producers saying that NEO was made based on the facts covered by the anime. I expected an enormous amount of information (like, 10 episodes for 3 weeks plus something extra for the 2 episodes) in my anime review, but the anime turned out to be a plain reiteration of OG with little simplification to some unhandy details. The amount of detail covered in the anime is far from sufficient to withhold NEO, not to mention that the anime talked nothing about the Shinjuku inversion. So what were actually assumed in NEO? 

- Continuing my question on the facts, one of them stood out and is quite important in my eyes. The latent power is unique to players like Shiki's ability to attack with Mr.Mew, Fret's reminder or Nagi's dive. Does Shoka's teleportation counts as "player's latent power"? Or, can we say that latent power isn't exclusive to players but also reapers or UG residents? At which point do the players receive such power? 

- If Shoka's power is confusing enough then Neku's power is even more confusing. According to OG Neku has the talent to utilize various pins for different psychs which is incredibly rare...but wait, is everyone in NEO doing that? Or by saying "utilizing various pins" refers to utilizing them simutaneously like in OG combats? Or, is the Rindo team *that* special that they all have such ability to use various pins? -- this couldn't possibly be true though because Beat can't use multiple pins in OG. So back to my earlier question: what's truly assumed in NEO?

- Imagination, a term made up possibly to describe characters' potent, is never properly explained. How do we understand imagination, for example by the literal mean (Wikipedia: ability to produce and simulate novel objects, sensations, and ideas in the mind without any immediate input of the senses)? Or according to secret report (OG#1) the "true intention" of the characters...? Is that something that can even be quantified? I never found any trace about imagination in OG TWEWY nor in NEO.

Philosophical thoughts

To conclude this part of the review let's look at the story again from another perspective. There are two issues that are worth discuss based on the TWEWY world.

Uhhh...ok.

"Higher existences". The OG game was a bet between Shibuya's composer and conductor. The NEO game was a bet between an angel (presumably Kubo, NEO#1) and Shibuya's composer Josh. While it may deemed as "game" from the higher existences, it's bringing disaster to UG and RG.

One may asks the thinking process of those "higher existences" or if the consequences on UG/RG ever their consideration. On the other hand what would human (who have been associated to UG/reapers) think about those "higher existences" given their action? We have seen such conflict at the very end in OG between Neku and Josh, also on Josh's trick on Rindo at the end (although this is less consequential). 

Similar questions are asked very frequently in some religions in the form of "if your God is universally powerful then why isn't the Earth an utopia". Things aside, it would be nice to see similar discussions at the end of NEO like in OG, although the vibe may not fit too well for these topics...

"Rationalism". Haz has a completely off the ground sense as from human's judgement via his conversation with Josh and Rindo. He asked Rindo why would he risk Shibuya being destroyed just to rescue his friends and called that irrational. As a player we know that we will win and have both Shibuya and Rindo's friends saved, but what if that's uncertain? What's the "rational" answer?

If, instead, we know that we don't have both saved in the new timeline anyway what's a rational/moral choice? 

It was explained in W3D7 how time reversal worked: it's basically a shift to a parallel world to achieve whatever they want. But when they leave that parallel world it was destroyed, hence the bird noise coming from the overflowing vibes that had nowhere to go. Is it rational then to sacrifice the undesirable parallel worlds for your ideal outcome?

The exact same question was asked in the ADV game Zero Time Dilemma which I have mentioned above as well, and is a very nice game to play.

Conclusion

I am very surprised that I wrote more about the story than the mechanics because game design is always my first priority when it comes to games. That's probably because I loved the franchise so much and I know the story too well.

How is NEO's storytelling? It's an enjoyable story fitting the themes preset as in the secret reports. It might be true that the huge cast caused difficulty to develop enough on each of the protagonists, but the producer had done a good enough job on the matter. The flaw is inherited in the script that they failed to explain things in full detail. They took the same approach as in OG so similar unsolved mysteries were left behind.

Final words

Unlike solo, live or final remix, this is the true sequel to the original TWEWY game. It tried to adopt the stylus free environment and did a great job with it. 

The combat is fun and endgame content is truly challenging unless OG, albeit sometimes a bit repetitive and time consuming. Still, there are more unique bosses this time.

The artwork design is again great with more pins and brands, although the pins and threads combination sometimes feels restrictive. Songs are less striking than last time, or maybe not. 

It's a master storyteller -- any completely new player can easily dive into the story, and OG players will absolutely love it.

In overall this is a sequel that matches the quality of OG. If OG deserves a 9.5/10 as a best in an era game, then NEO will get a 8.5/10 from me.

I like how you have both unmodified and modified drop rate in OG.

The obligatory collection.

*

Further reading: 

There are toooooo many games that are Tokyo based with teenager protagonists and sell stories about growth. P5 is the most popular one, but there are many more like trip to Akiba, Megami Tensei and so on. A direct comparison between TWEWY and P5 is kind of controversial, but it's worth a read.

Kind of true and false. We have a number of these games especially from Asia. They are just not as popular. Heroism is just too popular in the West.

I can deeply feel that as a Nintendo fans. Extreme 3D quality is not necessary to make a good game, and they sometimes even backfires. A game is good because it entertains, not because of your billion dollar worth model or what your bullshit sociopolitical concept that you tried to bring in.

Saturday, 28 August 2021

Neo TWEWY review (3): artwork and music

*Spoilers alert!

The third part of my review, on artwork designs.

OG TWEWY stresses heavily how special is Shibuya as a place where mind collides that is observed by the wide range of artistic expressions around the city including brand products, music and so on.

As story progresses, NEO no longer focus just in Shibuya. Although Rindo and his team still embraces the Shibuya value this is much less obvious for the rest of the characters. 

But that shouldn't stop the producers from making good designs, right?

It's too hard for me to talk whether this pin is well-designed or that song is technically nice, so I tend to mention my favourite here. 


There were so many weird threads that can be accessed via secret reports in OG, unfortunately we do not get those in NEO. This is the funny set that I have for Fret.

Brands

The pins are well-designed and their style align with the brand impressions. With the game now being 3D, the producers also put effort on pin effects to align with the brands. 

It's easy enough to find online for a complete analysis on the brands (like this - thegamer: all brands, ranked). Instead of the 12 brands corresponding to the 12 zodiacs, there are now 15 brands in NEO. Most of them are well-made except for the brand "Black Honey Chili Cookie" that looks half-done with very few pins and threads.

My favourite is for sure Monocrow because this is what I personally like to wear: a black and white themed, simple, cool and mildly sporty wearings. Now if I have to choose another brand it's probably Cony Cony because I like Gothic rock...? Although it's likely that I do not fit to wear those fancy butler suits.

As mentioned the significance of brands is really compressed in NEO. This is bad in terms of storytelling because brand is a major sign of clashing signs in Shibuya, as glorified by the everywhere seen brand logos. In OG the shopkeepers had a stronger personality (reaction against different VIP level); the popularity boost is gone, and the brand set boosting is minimal. Why would you abolish something that important?

Of course one mystery left unsolved -- where were all the brands three years ago? All except natural puppy and Neku's favourite Jupiter of the Monkey had been "erased" from Shibuya. Yeah I know fashion is extremely competitive but a mass extinction even in 3 years? Quite unlikely.

Character designs

No complaints in the new characters. The bottom-line is that they fit the taste of 2021. 

It's clear that OG players like me would care more about how OG characters look like in three years of time. Let's say that most of them looked as expected except Josh. He looked a lot closer to a mature adult like Haz then a grown adolescent. Granted he is definitely not 15 or 18 years but like 3000 years old, but that simply violates the "3 years later" impression.

Beat, Sho and Rhyme looked as expected. Shiki's quite interesting: we know her change as in OG, but she really looked so pure in contrast to what her products under the brand of Gatto Nero.

The new outfit of Neku looked nice and it fits the mental change he underwent in OG, although I am not fully convinced that mental change could also lead to such a big change in trendy taste. It's also clear that his costume is designed by Gatto Nero...which is from Shiki, but it looks different from the rest of the clothes from the same brand.

Oh for Kariya and Uzuki I can't tell what were they wearing in OG, but they now look nice.

Character with the most significant change from OG to NEO imo.

Soundtracks

This is the hardest part for me to comment on. It's almost impossible for one to appreciate the songs ingame while keeping full pace clearing the game, so let's say I can't give a full review on the matter.

I like how the music amplifies with extra beats when you surf around the city and it's a nice way to enjoy the music, but most of the time you just want to get through the city faster...

They certainly did a great job producing music of all kinds. Hip hop, J-pop, EDMs, raps and many more already in OG with extra genres introduced: nu-metal for the postgame final boss fight. Granted I am not a big fans of that, but it fits a boss that would drive you crazy and any mistake would kill you in an instant. Another instance where I like the use of music is the BGMs for the dives. They made a few different songs that come in rounds during the chained fights to fit the 'emotion' of the noises and that's a fresh experience to me.

But are there any (new) songs that strikes my soul that I fell into love the first time I hear? Probably not. My all time favourites still lie in the OG tracks like Calling and Someday. 

To be fair when I first played OG I played the game muted, so my first impression on the OG tracks did not come when I first played the game. Instead I got them from the blooming Youtube community as well as from Osu -- TWEWY is my first Osu skin used. 

The good ol' days.

So my comment may change in the future. But as it stands the NEO (new) soundtracks are less attractive unfortunately.

Friday, 27 August 2021

Neo TWEWY review (2): ingame systems

*To make it clear, player refers to the player who plays the game, and characters refer to the in-game characters. OG refers to the original TWEWY and also the final remix if necessary, and NEO refers to NEO:TWEWY.

*Spoilers alert! This part of the review contain some spoilers but the later parts are full of spoilers.

In the second part of the review I would like to talk about the ingame system of everything. This is also part of the success of OG TWEWY. Does NEO managed to glory this part of the original game?


Yes.

Map

The map is much better than OG. I'm not saying that the old one is bad -- I learned to surf around Shibuya on my first arrival to Tokyo just by playing OG. It's just that the new map is much better. Three key differences:

- Real landscape is replicated into the game making it much closer to real life Shibuya. What OG reflects was a 2008 (or earlier) Shibuya, but NEO shows a 2021 Shibuya which raises more familiarity if you are ever there. The two new areas -- Takeshita a bit weird to count under Shibuya, but Hikarie (and the new Ginza metro station) is definitely the new landmark of Shibuya which I strongly recommend everyone to have a go. (And seriously Hikarie is full of good restaurants!)

- The new map is less fragmented. Perhaps due to technicality or whatever reason the old maps is broken into finer pieces. In OG you have to go through 7 areas to reach cat street from the crossing while it only takes 3 in NEO (via center street)! Many of the areas in OG are just so close to each other in reality (e.g. scramble crossing and Hachiko) so it's unreasonable to split them. It's much more comfortable to surf through the maps in NEO.

- Inter-connectedness. There are shortcuts everywhere and allows much faster access. For example the Hikarie - expressway underpass - bus terminal formed a ring instead of two dead ends; the far away Takeshita region can easily be accessed via Miyashita park late in the game; and Ugadawa backstreets and cat streets are much closer now. On the other hand, a few maps including Takeshita and Dogenzaka includes multiple exits to the same area, so players don't have to dash to the only designated area to teleport.

On the downside, it takes time to change from one area to the other. The visual effect is nice but I don't want to see that after playing the game for 100 hours. I am sure this is the usual slow switch issue but it's just annoying to see that every single time.

(The slow switch issue is also a problem in combating as the game lags when many things happen at the same time. This really hurts the gaming experience unfortunately.)

Another aspect of the map is the way you encounter noises. Similar to OG you scan the noises and the noises approach you when you get near. The problem is now the game is stylus free, meaning that you will need to attract noises by running near them. That means you need to run a fancy path in order to produce a big chain (instead of dragging them together in an obvious way in OG) which is painful in particular during the scramble slam (which we will talk soon in this part).

Even though the game shows the building in 3D, the camera angle is fixed for every position on the map. That means you can't appreciate Shibuya 360 degrees which is a shame. A more practical problem is that the camera angle is fixed in according to your position, so it changes sharply at some points which confuses you on your direction. This is a serious problem for the center street map as it contains multiple 90 degrees turn and has a dead end.

Threads

One of the highlights in OG, done poorly in NEO.

If you scan through the threads list for OG you will find that there is a much wider varieties of abilities given. A large pool of them disappeared due to abandoned systems in NEO (which is a pity) like puck passing, partner-side fusion moves, obstacles and so on. The fact that characters now battle in the same way eliminates the possibility of skills that boost performance on particular characters to their fighting styles. Still there are skills that should have been ported to NEO effortlessly like more SOS and defense break (on both characters and opponents) skills.

Similar to how pins work, abilities other than pure stat boosts are categorized into a certain type of wear so you cannot have multiple items on a character with similar boost. With the limited types of abilities available on NEO it becomes a multiple choice question...with 2 or 3 options only. For example the abilities given to headwears are limited to drop boost, button psych up or brand boosts...which all three are kind of boring. Almost all interesting abilities are locked to accessory only including regeneration. Without healing from the lower level killer remixes you really need regeneration from threads (in particular all the long chains during scramble slams), but that means you are locked from all other abilities fun to have.

Speak of the brands, the importance of brands in NEO is greatly weakened but we will address about this in the artwork section. At the beginning I thought that wearing a complete set would greatly boost the stats but no. Stats boosts is minimal in NEO in the first place (and almost nothing boosts attack), and wearing a complete brand PLUS wasting the headwear slot for brand boosts only bring another 10% of the total stat boosts (not your overall stats) which is like...another 50 points of defense. Wearing a complete set is purely a waste of time, although I only recognized that so late in the game when I was doing the postgame time trials.

Threads is definitely a weak point in NEO.

If Neku was around he might sense something familiar...?

Social network, side quests & dives

A replacement of swag or sticker system in OG. It's quite well designed, and saves you from running into every shop just to search for the sticker that you missed. 

Side quests is a replacement of the postgame secret report quest list. On the bright side, that allows you to do the quests when you first visited the day so you don't have to waste time doing all the story quests and encounters again (still there are unavoidable days necessary for 100% noisepedia collection -- even worse you have to do those 3 times!). 

On the other side, having all the quests being social orientated can be good or bad depending on players' taste. It is fun to watch the interaction among characters, but sometimes it's also fun to just to walk around the city and solve some puzzle (I like to do that in reality when I visit a new city).

Some of these side quests involve talking and multiple choices, but the rest are dives. That is, to erase noises on the characters to solve their problem (mentally). These noises are assigned special ability (increased damage/huge noise...) which should be familiar if you have played the final remix. These battles are quite fun, albeit slightly too hard for those who wants to get gold medal on first try. Fortunately most of them are available early in each of the days, so clearing them postgame won't be too hard.

Scramble slam

This is the annoying part of the game.

Three instances in the game were the so-called scramble slam, an UG version of battle royale where teams tries to conquer the turfs in Shibuya. To starters this is already annoying as each of them consists of like 20~30 fights, each taking considerable time. 

And if you just do these fights and nothing else, you are likely to finish with a poor score unable to get the bonus items. If you want to collect all the bonus items on your first try, you will need to farm the points using low attack pins (hence prolonged battle time) and do up to ten 10-chain battles. Instead of 20 battles you now need to do 120 battles, each taking a few minutes. Even worse, all enemies are terribly strong later in the chain because you are damn weak in week 1 or 2. Remember in OG you are only allowed to do 4-chains till postgame, but you are doing 10-chains in week 2! In fact, I had most of my level ups happening in the slam more than anywhere else. You can see that from my stream (sorry for the echo though)

The idea isn't bad, but we just don't need to experience the fatigue that three teams -- Deep Rivers Society, Purehearts, Variebeauties had throughout their loop of being stuck in UG.

Other mumbles

What else? 

Oh the lack of tinpin slammer. We have to admit that children in 2021 don't play that anymore, but it's still nice to have anyhow. At least we found Tinpin Bros walking around as cameo, and Beats talking to Neku about that. It would still be nice to have that in NEO, controlling the pins by joysticks is another challenge though...

And food system which is a complete renovate from OG. Some say the current one is better but I don't fully agree. The stat boost in OG is much more significant so it's necessary to restrict that early in the game. It doesn't matter in postgame with the sticker that keeps your hungry. In NEO the stat boost is just minimal so letting you to eat as long as you do exercises (aka fights) is fine.

Further reading:

Gamerant: 8 biggest fixes the game needs Not like I agree with everything, or let's say the only thing I think was practical is to add co-op mode. Showing the threads in-game is good on paper but hard to execute and...how can I show Rindo wearing a full set of Lolita dress?


Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Neo TWEWY review (1): gameplay

Ah...yes the obligatory ending.

*To make it clear, player refers to the player who plays the game, and characters refer to the in-game characters. OG refers to the original TWEWY and also the final remix if necessary, and NEO refers to NEO:TWEWY.

*Spoilers alert! This part of the review contain some spoilers but the later parts are full of spoilers.

Greetings sheeples of Shibuya!

I played the original TWEWY in 2008 and I had so many good memories with the game that I do not have to repeat. And finally I had my hands on NEO and I just finished everything in one go. 

Main story done in 50 hours, and 145 hours postgame content included. It's a bit slow due to the fact that I can't skip the dialogues as I was streaming, and some of them are not properly optimized.

There are too many things that I want to say when I play, but it's just too impossible to do something else when I streamed the game. Streaming is fun but probably does not suit me.

I will probably split my thoughts into four parts: gameplay, system, artwork and story but things may change. Let's start with gameplay mechanics here. 

The focus is to talk about the game from the perspective of an OG TWEWY player. Just as players being unhappy playing the trash game TLOU2 after the success of TLOU1, we the old players have high expectation on NEO to inherit the high quality game made 13 years ago recognized the best DS RPG game.

You can find my streams on my Youtube channel, although there were echo problems for all the earlier streams...

The F-prince returned...how did he change that much in 3 years?

Control & Pins

This is something that lots of TWEWY fans worried about: it was such a success because it made the best use out of the DS dual screen. Dual screen for two characters in separate screen that are controlled separately, and the bottom screen can be controlled by ever-varying stylus motions.

TWEWY was ported into iOS and Android a few years after, by then the two characters were squeezed into the same screen. How do you maintain the battling system without changing the game much? The answer given was to hide Neku's partner who will only be around upon specific motions and the partner is not going to take damage. This is an acceptable answer, because at the end of the day you can't force-split the screen anyhow. It's just that half of the charisma of TWEWY's battling system that was gone.

iPad and good enough Android devices are very good touching device for all kinds of touch based games including TWEWY. Players have no problem playing on those. Back in the days I played the Android version on a very cheap pad (~100usd, but it runs very smoothly and is still my favourite by far) and I could play the game just fine. 

Switch isn't good for intensive stylus control.

That's the biggest problem of playing TWEWY on Switch: it's hard to do all the slashes. At the end of the day I resided to a bunch of patrol rounds and tapped my progress all the way through. That is just not fun.

As for Neo, we know that the game would be on all platforms (Switch + PS4 + Epic=PC) at the same time, meaning that the control is stylus free. The expectation is high: can Square Enix make something that is stylus free, but preserves the essence of multi-tasking fights just as in the original game?

They sure did. I still prefer the original one, but they literally utilized all regular buttons on the Switch controller (except for D pad which is understandable because you don't wield two arrow pads on keyboard)! How much more can you ask for?

In Neo you can equip up to 6 pins (in late game) team corresponding to 6 players in the team. Each character is going to wield one pin only in the battle and you can only control the movement of one character at a time. Each pins is assigned a button (X/Y/L/R/ZL/ZR) and the psych is activated only by pressing that button. Even though all players are on the same field, those inactive ones know to evade and are taking minimal damages, i.e. attacks are only made towards the active character. There is a niche though: if you switch between psychs frequently the active character will switch accordingly, and it is not easy to distinguish the active character. (Another problem is that frequent shifting of active pins and hence characters would cause the camera to shift back and forth and you basically see nothing useful).

Without stylus control the possibility is greatly limited, but all the psychs in OG basically appeared in NEO, just in a slightly altered form.

X: Rapid tap; close range combat (slash/slugger/lunge)
Y: Rapid tap; non-contact psychs (darts/time bomb/mid range combats like storm, circuit break and bullets)
R: Charge; charged attacks (throwing bombs/missiles/tackles...) and some automated X psychs
L: Charge; assist and obstructive attacks (projection/trip wire) and some R-similar psychs
ZR: Hold; continuous attacks (laser/psychokinesis/automated X/long tackles/...)
ZL: Hold; assist and obstructive attacks (healing/storm/whirlwind)

With the type restriction players are directed to use a wide varieties of psyches which makes the battles more interesting. My only complain is that players are not allowed to use a 2211 combination (e.g. 2 X pins and 2 Y pins) instead of 3111. 

It is a natural choice for all four L/R buttons are controlled by holds because it would then be unhuman to tap them quickly. But still controlling R and ZR accurately and simultaneously is very hard on joycon or even pro controllers. 

In OG the attacks are basically either positive (close combat) or negative (distant combat) psychs. In NEO such classification is abandoned. Instead they used an affinity system and introduced weaknesses for the noises. Among psychs of similar nature they are usually differed by their affinity. This is a nice design as players may want to use more different pins rather than a single reliable set.

A side problem without stylus control is that you have to scroll through pins and threads in a painfully slow way.  With up to a thousand of pins and threads in the list, it is unmotivating to browse and pick the one you want.

The hype-chan that we have long waited for.

Battle

Another worry without stylus control is to aim the right opponent in the battlefield. It would be insanely absurd if psychs are activated in the directions where character are facing, because there are multiple characters around and you can only control one of them. It would be impossible for the game to determine the "proper" direction for the inactive characters.

The solution in NEO is to introduce an auto-lock system. Instead of aiming by yourself, you select a particular opponent and the characters will know to aim for that opponent (except for a few R pins where you can still control the characters by stick, but I found them impractical). This is quite handy and even allowed some no-brainer/no-watch fights. I can simply smash the buttons blindly while doing other things to get through!

To be fair though, the auto-lock system not only allowed such way of battling, but sometimes it forces you do it in that way. More precisely you are sometimes forced to do that because the battlefield is too chaotic in two ways: too many enemies and weird camera angles.

You can choose the enemies to lock on using the right joystick, but this is painful when there are many enemies. Comparing with OG, it's quite common to face 5-7 enemies in every fights. Choosing the right enemies means that you may need to input right once, check if you locked on the right opponent and repeat (up to 4+ times). This is quite annoying and time consuming when the enemies are trying to attack you! 

The camera angle depend on the enemy locked on and the position of the active character. Inactive characters tend to stay a fixed distance from the main group of enemies, so the camera won't change vastly when you switch characters. However if the characters are all moving in separate directions against the enemy (because they are using different psychs), changing the active characters will give a very chaotic view for sure. The rendering system does not help either: since nothing behind the camera is shown, sometimes the characters are simply stuck but you may not sense that except not being able to run around until you get tossed midair by those rhinos.

These are generally more of a problem for normal battles. It's much more comfortable to do those boss battles in contrasts because you don't have to worry about locking on the wrong opponent and the camera is steadily on the same guy.

Before we carry on to the next section let's not forget about the pin evolving system. The evolve chart in OG is just a complete mess and a pain to follow. In NEO everything is reduced to battle PP and you can select not to evolve which is much better. The only complain is that differentiating evolution and mutation seems to be pointless since they are mutually exclusive anyway and the formula for mutation doesn't seem very secrety after all (unlocked via FP easily).

N-Neku...?

Noise & difficulty

In OG you dodge by dragging the characters around. And in NEO, you dodge by pressing B. The difference is that by dragging you can go to the other side of the screen pretty fast and you can do it at anytime (when you drag Neku around your stylus is effectively not doing anything with the pins so he won't be attacking). On the other hand in NEO characters takes time to stop attack to dodge, and the invincible timeframe is pretty narrow. 

It is straightforward to feel that NEO is much harder even early in the game. In OG you fight against usually 2~3 noises in a single combat in early days week 1. In NEO you start with 3~5 noises as early as W1D2. It does not help that the weaker noises in the family are as aggressive as those stronger noises: both early ravens and wolves are capable of incapacitating characters in NEO. Players are required to learn to dodge these attacks (even in ordinary battles) consecutively that early in the game. Such difficulty curve is deemed inappropriate and a bit unfriendly I would say.

The difficulty curve plateaued in week 2 as players learned to deal with these noises (and equipped with better pins), but then the curve again rocketed in towards the end. You get bosses with various gimmicks (in particular the few bosses with DPS checks -- Motoi, Ayano and Shiba), then you found out that random noises are also capable of dealing significant damage to you under hard or ultimate. With more and more noises on the field it is very easy to get stuck, and when that happens you are vulnerable of taking enormous damage in a blink of eye. Jellyfish's' spin and puffers' spikes are just like...blender on the characters literally; Rhinos are so huge and most of the time not properly captured by the camera; Rexes can simply deal AOE blows...some may then think they can boost the stats indefinitely just like OG but no. NEO's stat cap is much lower and players must excel in dodging in order to stand a chance against the endgame contents.

Another big factor contributing to the difficulty curve is the use of fusion pin/killer remix. The big difference between OG and NEO is that in OG all 3 levels of fusion attacks would restore a big chunk of health while in NEO that only happens at 300%. While 300% killer remix is only made available in week 3 it poses a much greater challenge in durability. Once the 300% remix is unlocked it kinda forces you to do that every time because the lower level attacks looked like a joke comparing to the 300% one. The only upside of the lower level attacks is that you get to choose the affinity of the attacks according to the affinity of the pin that you triggered the last groove boost.

Taking W2D7 into account, you basically meet 2/3 of the bosses (say, excluding the "boss noise" that behaves just like normal noises like gorilla, emo puffer, plague giant jellyfish etc) in week 3 and they are all uniquely designed. At hard you really need to think about how to defeat these bosses after banging hard into the wall for a few times: a fixed set of pin may not be enough unless you are skillful enough to dodge all those attacks. Credits must to given to those who designed these as the boss fights are much more enjoyable than OG.

Susuki's noise form is actually the most interesting one in my eyes. It's actually similar to OG week 1 GM if not basically the same: static boss with slap, electric and dark hole attacks. His attack of a full field thunder attack is damn unique. Demanding players to hide behind the cars THEN to dodge the to-explode puffers afterwards is such genius design.

To conclude the section I want to mention those pig noises as well. In NEO most pigs can easily be slaught by usual means except for affinity-locked pigs and pig waltz -- pigs that can only be erased by matching all the colours of the pigs. Colours are only changed by dealing enough damage to the pigs, but any wide-ranged attacks could cause chaotic consequences. Even more troublesome there are bomb pigs that blows the pigs around changing colours in the undesirable way! I tried very hard with my X pins trying to lock onto the right pigs and deal damage as fast as possible, just to find out some pigs are bombed and changed colour faster than I can deal the necessary damage. After a while I finally realized that this is more like a puzzle: the pigs will diffuse in a pre-programmed way so that you can clear the stage much much easier if you wait for the bomb to trigger at least once.

*

So, what's with NEO's gameplay mechanics? 

In short, they tried very hard to bring the battle experience into switch under a 3D and stylus-free setup. It's fun and enjoyable, but at the same time it's also challenging and sometimes weird.

We will see a lot about "xxx becomes a problem because NEO is stylus free" many more times later in the review.